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The best TV in early 2023: From more Star Trek to a surprising Harrison Ford

Clockwise from upper left: Pedro Pascal in HBO's The Last of Us, Robert Flack from PBS' American Masters: Roberta Flack, Jane Lynch from Starz's Party Down and Harrison Ford in Apple TV+'s Shrinking.
HBO/PBS/Starz/Apple TV+
Clockwise from upper left: Pedro Pascal in HBO's The Last of Us, Roberta Flack from PBS' American Masters: Roberta Flack, Jane Lynch from Starz's Party Down and Harrison Ford in Apple TV+'s Shrinking.

The best thing about the start of a new year, especially in media, is the excitement of fresh possibilities.

No negative reviews – at least, not yet. No crazymaking stars or offscreen personal scandals. Nothing but captivating premises, cool performers and exhilarating creative swings.

In that spirit, I've cobbled together a short list of my most-anticipated TV and media projects in the New Year. Bearing in mind that when I wrote a similar list last year, the now-shuttered CNN+ and lackluster Law & Order revival were both on it – hey, I'm a media optimist — let's take a rosy-eyed look at what's coming in early 2023.

The Last of Us (HBO) Jan. 15 – Admittedly, the premise sounds like a mash-up of The Walking Dead and The Road, centered on two people who develop a father-daughter bond while traveling across a post-apocalyptic America ravaged by zombies animated by a killer fungus. (Yes. Fungus. Look it up.) But when one of those two characters is played by The Mandalorian star Pedro Pascal and one of the storytellers is Craig Mazin, the creator of HBO's Chernobyl miniseries, you get a show which far transcends its genesis as a popular video game. Toss in heart-wrenching performances from guest stars like Nick Offerman, Murray Bartlett, Melanie Lynskey and Gabriel Luna – along with Bella Ramsey's star-making turn as the girl who teams up with Pascal's character – and you have one of the best TV shows of early 2023 at hand.

The Daily Show's rotating hosts (Comedy Central) Jan. 17 – Following the surprise departure of host Trevor Noah, the late night news satire will feature a long procession of guests in the big chair until Comedy Central can figure out who should get the job permanently. Folks like Hasan Minhaj, Leslie Jones, Al Franken and D.L. Hughley have already been announced; frankly, I can't wait to see the show's current correspondents, like Roy Wood Jr., Desi Lydic and Dulce Sloan get their chance to run things for a bit. This is a crucial time for late night TV; as some question whether the genre is on its last legs, this experiment/tryout/stalling tactic gives Daily Show producers lots of opportunity to prove the program has a continued relevance.

Michael Chiklis in the season premiere episode of <em>Accused</em>.
Shane Mahood / Fox
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Fox
Michael Chiklis in the season premiere episode of Accused.

Accused (Fox) Jan. 22 — In a new twist on the cops-n-crime TV procedural formula, executive producer Howard Gordon (Homeland, 24) presents a 15-episode anthology series adapted from a BBC program, featuring a different person each week accused of a horrific crime. The narrative starts with the beginning of their trial, then jumps back in time to show how they landed in such a terrible spot — from a father accused of helping his son pull off a school shooting to a deaf woman accused of kidnapping a baby she carried to term as a surrogate. Performers include Michael Chiklis and Wendell Pierce; Marlee Matlin and Billy Porter each step up to direct an episode. While some of the crimes can be pretty outlandish — and tough to wrap up in an hourlong episode — some stories dig deep into topical, compelling issues.

Roberta Flack singing in a 1971 concert.
Leroy Patton / EBONY COLLECTION/PBS
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EBONY COLLECTION/PBS
Roberta Flack singing in a 1971 concert.

American Masters: Roberta Flack (PBS) Jan. 24 – During her heyday in the 1970s, hipper-than-thou music critics took shots at Flack for being too polished or reserved — an emotive singer whose classical roots and mastery of quiet moments never fit their view of what a Black female singer should be. But with a string of affecting hits to her credit – from Killing Me Softly with His Song to The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face and her iconic duets with Donny Hathaway, Where Is the Love and The Closer I Get to You – Flack had enormous impact. Finally, she gets the American Masters treatment from PBS, with a documentary that explores how her prodigious talent was matched by her commitment to the civil rights struggle. This is an especially poignant time to release such a career retrospective, coming just a few months after Flack revealed she has the brain disease known as amyotrophic lateral sclerosis — popularly known as Lou Gehrig's disease — which has made it impossible for her to sing and difficult to talk.

Jason Segel and Harrison Ford appear in the Apple TV series Shrinking.
/ Apple TV
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Apple TV
Jason Segel and Harrison Ford appear in the Apple TV series Shrinking.

Shrinking (Apple TV+) Jan. 27 – Of all the roles I least expected an 80-year-old Harrison Ford to tackle at this point in his career, a crusty therapist mentoring a younger analyst going through a personal crisis might be at the top of that list. But Ford is an exciting supporting player in this dramedy, which features series co-creator Jason Segel as a therapist who breaks every rule and begins speaking with brutal honesty to his patients — getting more directly involved in their lives amid his own significant struggles. Given the show's other creators include Ted Lasso co-star Brett Goldstein and Lasso co-creator Bill Lawrence, it's a safe bet there's some unpredictable, high-quality TV coming.

Jonathan Frakes as Riker and Patrick Stewart as Picard.
Trae Patton / Trae Patton/Paramount+
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Trae Patton/Paramount+
Jonathan Frakes as Riker and Patrick Stewart as Picard.

Star Trek: Picard, season three (Paramount+) Feb. 16 – The new Trek series on Paramount+ often stumble when they work too hard to avoid the classic benchmarks of the franchise, forgetting there's a reason Star Trek and its spinoffs have lasted nearly 60 years. That was a problem with the first two seasons of this show, focused on Patrick Stewart's Capt. Jean Luc Picard as an aging, galaxy-hopping legend. Which is why I was so excited to see the upcoming third season regain a bit of old school Trek mojo, reuniting Picard with characters from the '80s/'90s-era Next Generation series, including Jonathan Frakes' Will Riker, Michael Dorn's Worf and Gates McFadden's Beverly Crusher. Along the way, we learn new secrets about Picard's life and get a bracing, updated vision of how his crew has moved into their golden years. Finally, Paramount+ has delivered the Picard revival series all us fans have been waiting for.

Jane Lynch from the original run of Party Down.
Jill Greenberg / Starz
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Starz
Jane Lynch from the original run of Party Down.

Party Down (Starz) Feb. 23 - For years, Starz's criminally-underseen 2009 comedy about a dysfunctional group of workers at a catering company was mostly known for the big careers its stars and producers had aside from the show. From co-creator/executive producer Paul Rudd — yes, THAT one — to onscreen stars Adam Scott, Jane Lynch, Ken Marino, Megan Mullally and Jennifer Coolidge, the show had a pedigree that was particularly prescient. So it makes sense Starz would get the band back together once again, with Scott, Marino, Rudd, Mullally and Lynch on board for a six-episode third season — catching up with the Party Down crew's surprise reunion 10 years after the original series ended.

Samantha Bee at a press event in 2018.
Monica Schipper / Getty Images for Turner
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Getty Images for Turner
Samantha Bee at a press event in 2018.

Samantha Bee: Your Favorite Woman, stage show, starting April 7 – Never one to let a series cancellation get her down, Samantha Bee has bounced back from last year's untimely end of her TBS show Full Frontal with a stage tour currently planned for 15 cities, starting with the Victoria Theater in Newark, N.J. From her days as a correspondent on The Daily Show, Bee has always fought for her place in the comedy world, and this tour seems like no exception — a bold reminder that Bee will keep bringing her bracing vision to audiences in whatever forum she can manage.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Eric Deggans is NPR's first full-time TV critic.