This week’s incredibly eclectic power list includes a devastating Netflix miniseries, a much-anticipated Amazon comedy, a long-awaited conclusion to a critically acclaimed series and one of TV’s favorite game show makes its debut appearance. Summer TV is in full swing!
The rules for the power list are simple: Any series on TV qualifies, whether it’s a comedy, drama, news program, animated series, variety show or sports event. It can be on a network, basic cable, premium channel, Netflix, Amazon, Hulu, YouTube or whatever you can stream on your smart TV, as long as a new episode was made available the previous week—or, in the case of shows released all at once, it has to have been released within the previous six weeks.
The voting panel is composed of Paste editors and TV writers with a pretty broad range of tastes. We’re merciless: a bad episode can knock you right off this list. So much good TV is available right now.
Honorable Mentions: Vida, Jane the Virgin, Catch 22, The Hot Zone, The Spanish Princess and The Unauthorized Bash Brothers Experience.
Last Week’s Ranking: 9
Jen (Christina Applegate) and Judy (Linda Cardellini) meet not so cute at a grief support group. Jen’s husband died three months ago in a hit and run accident. Judy’s fiancé died eight weeks ago of a heart attack. They develop a friendship over their mutual anguish and their love of Facts of Life (Jen is a Jo, Judy a Tootie). Before long Judy is moving into Jen’s guest house and a beautiful friendship is formed. Or is it? The series, rooted in terrific performances from Applegate and Cardellini, is a fascinating mix of humor and pathos. The show deftly balances both extremes and pull both off. After watching the second episode, I had no idea what Dead to Me was really up to and that’s just the way I like it. And good news: The series, which ends on quite the cliffhanger, was just picked up for a second season.—Amy Amatangelo
Network: DC Universe
Last Week’s Ranking Not Ranked
Swamp Thing adapts dual sides of its comic character’s mythos. Some of the darker, stranger, more horrific elements of Alan Moore’s take on the character meet the supporting cast that preceded the writer’s tackling of the tragic mossy monster. The result is a fully-established community flecked with lurking evil, more akin to the supernatural “gravitational pull” (as one local puts it) of Castle Rock than most superhero TV. Dr. Abby Arcane (Crystal Reed) is concerned first with more worldly threats. She links up with out-of-town biologist Alec Holland (Andy Bean) to look into the same problem and some weird, accelerated plant growth.
The first two episodes are rife with sweaty swamp town politics, a stark class divide, and some seriously grotesque effect work. With a lot of practical vine monsters and committed acting, exciting scenes (like one of Abby and Alec escaping a morgue) are delightfully gross and tangible. Almost as tangible is the bad blood and old relationships between Abby and the rest of town. Abby’s position in the town is almost as important as the mysterious swamp illness plaguing it, which means her relationships (even her single day spent with Alec before he becomes Swamp Thing) are all given ample screen time. The cast of weirdos is begging for very weird, very Annihilation-style deaths. Ian Ziering’s cocky actor, Jennifer Beals’ snarky sheriff, Henderson Wade’s earnest cop, and Kevin Durand’s eccentric soon-to-be Floronic Man all steal scenes like horror movie victims can, making their marks early . . . in case they don’t stay late. Because the kills we do get to see in the first two episodes will make gorehounds proud, it’s worth watching alone for the promise of bigger, better, and more tendril-filled deaths.—Jacob Oller
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
James Holzhauer raked in $2,382,583 during his 32-day reign as Jeopardy! champion, but nothing last forever and that includes an amazing winning streak. Holzhauer was finally defeated by Emma Boettcher, a librarian from Chicago. Fans of the show thought he might topple Ken Jennings record of 2.5 million, but it was not meant to be. Holzhauer’s last episode felt like the end right from the start. During the introduction time, he did not speak; instead Alex Trebek held up a hand-written get-well card from Holzhauer’s daughter. Additionally, Holzhauer was wearing a purple ribbon on his shirt, which among other things, is worn for pancreatic cancer awareness, the same disease Trebek is fighting. While these were noticeable differences, the most astounding part of this loss was that Holzhauer, a professional gambler, did not bet correctly on “Final Jeopardy.” He was a little bit behind Boettcher going into the last round, and bid a paltry $1,399, which would not have bolstered his total to a high enough dollar amount to beat Boettcher. It is almost as if on this last episode he thought “go big or go home,” and chose the latter. Either way, his run made for exciting television and who knows, maybe Boettcher will be the one to beat Jennings record.—Keri Lumm
Last Week’s Ranking:Honorable Mention
What We Do in the Shadows’s cameo-filled mid-season episode got the show on our Power Ranking list a few weeks ago, but Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement’s adaptation of their vampire mockumentary stuck the landing so hard, we had to honor it again. The FX comedy had a delightfully dry finale, bolstered by the breakout duo of Nadja (Natasia Demetriou) and Laszlo (Matt Berry). The married pair of vampires still get the best lines (and give the funniest performances), though the finale laid the groundwork for a hilarious extended supernatural mythology beyond the trappings of the Staten Island housemates. “Ancestry” brings up the idea of lineage and what complications that entails, tying together the first season’s slapstick antics into a grim, prophetic whole. The passage of time is also far more important for mortals than immortals, which the finale touches on like the source film. Extending the scope actually makes the intimate conflict between the vampires and their hapless familiar bunkmate Guillermo (Harvey Guillén) even more ironic and tense. That’s a good thing for a show that—while very, very funny—also had a laissez-faire stance towards story development that could’ve made the coming second season too loose for its own good. Now that it’s going fullDracula, these Slackulas will have plenty of drive when the sleeper comedy hit returns. —Jacob Oller
Last Week’s Ranking: Not eligible
A decade has passed in Deadwood between the show’s finale and Deadwood: The Movie, and longer has come and gone in the real world. Beloved characters have vacated the town, passed away with the beloved actors behind them. Deadwood isn’t used to that much temporal space. The longest narrative gap it ever weathered over the course of its 2004-2006 run was a seven month stretch hastening an affair and a bonanza gold mine. It’s a show where events and episodes occur over hours, where the threat of even minor change can send its entrenched group of outcasts to the brothel-worn mattresses. Time, and the perspective its passage brings, is new for the show. But its addition only serves to cement its legacy as one of the best ever. The show’s danger returns while much of its humor has gotten drier with age. Deadwood’s compelling volatility, which could often see a punchline cut to a bloody punch, has mellowed and smoothed its edges. The movie’s decision to use complacency and its speed bumps to invite and explore new dangers takes some getting used to, especially with its bumpy pacing. That said, Deadwood: The Movie is still compellingly shot and deliciously composed. Series (and HBO) mainstay Daniel Minahan slips the two-hour production into the proper aesthetic like no time had passed at all. As a series capper, it’s a satisfying, loving end that fulfills old Deadwood’s imperfect promises while mostly avoiding the pitfalls of nostalgia.—Jacob Oller
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
Naturally, a miniseries about two of Broadway’s greatest treasures and their complicated, co-dependent marriage would have quite the show-stopping finale written by Joel Fields and Steven Levenson and directed by Thomas Kail. Emmy voters both above and below the line should note Michelle Williams in all her glorious age makeup depicting a middle-aged Gwen Verdon who’s still got it when it comes to showing a young Debbie Allen (Kelcy Griffin) how to rock a top hat and cane (even if she’s spent the past few years shilling as a corporate retreat for-hire). And executive producer Lin-Manuel Miranda both covering the Jerry Jeff Walker classic “Mr. Bojangles” for a soon-to-be-ruined sentimental moment between Bob Fosse (Sam Rockwell) and his daughter with Verdon—a number that was choreographed by the real Nicole Fosse—and guest-starring as actor Roy Scheider to depict a famous scene from the legendary director-choreographer’s semi-autobiographical film All that Jazz were made for Twitter.
Meanwhile, if you ever had any doubt about the depths of Fosse’s mind games, there’s the moment he makes ex-girlfriend Ann Reinking (Margaret Qualley) audition to play herself, with a script made from dialogue she actually told him, in All that Jazz. And if you ever doubted Bob Fosse and Gwen Verdon’s (unconventional) love for each other, trust the looks on Rockwell and Williams’ faces as they show him dying in her arms on the sidewalk outside of the revival of their musical, Sweet Charity.—Whitney Friedlander
Network: Amazon Prime
Last Week: 3
In its long awaited second season, Fleabag, which unfolds in six delightfully perfect installments, remains as sharp and as witty as ever. Our heroine, still reeling from the death of her best friend and her culpability in what happened, is still struggling. “I want someone to tell me how to live my life because I think I’ve been doing it wrong,” she wails in the fourth episode. But living your life is difficult when you have a sister who blames you for all her problems (“We’re not friends. We are sisters. Get your own friends,” Claire tells her) and a father who gives you a therapy session as a birthday gift (which leads to a delightful cameo from Fiona Shaw). Fleabag cuts to the core of the female experience. Whether it’s Fleabag rightly explaining that how your hair looks can be the difference between a good day and a bad day or guest star Kristen Scott-Thomas, whose character receives a women in business award in the third episode, only to rightly decry it as the “fucking children’s tables of awards,” explaining menopause as “it’s horrendous and then it’s magnificent.”
Over these six episodes there are, among other things, miscarriages, a return of an iconic object from the first season, and an obsessed stepson whose mantra is “Where’s Claire?” The series succeeds because it never has distain for its characters and their tragic dysfunction. It never mocks them. It merely lays them bare for everyone to see. Martin’s stifling cruelty. Claire’s overwhelming unhappiness. Their dad’s desperation not to be lonely. The godmother’s narcissism as a cover for her acute insecurity. I don’t want to say too much about the relationship between Fleabag and the priest because the way it unfolds is so perfect and surprising and, in the end, redeeming. But I will say that Andrew Scott, who wears a priest’s robe very well, creates a priest that is fully realized. A real person who swears and makes mistakes but is still devoted to his faith. Their love story is one of salvation.—Amy Amatangelo
Last Week: 7
Maybe this is a good time for a drama about Chernobyl. I mean, as it becomes increasingly tempting to give in to apocalyptic ideation, I guess it’s useful to remember that the apocalypse already happened, and not even that long ago (I was a teenager and remember it vividly), and we apparently survived it.
In April 1986, the reactor at the Chernobyl nuclear power plant, in present-day Ukraine, exploded, leaving a large number of first-responder widows and a legacy of environmental annihilation. The incident and its aftermath are the subject of a new, five-part drama on HBO. Let me start by saying people with mood disorders should weigh the pros and cons carefully before tuning in: It’s possibly the worst thing I have ever seen on TV. And I don’t mean poorly done. (It’s unfortunately brilliant). I mean Chernobyl is devastatingly realistic and really, really devastating, so be prepared for graphic depictions of what it’s like to die of radiation poisoning. Or what it’s like to be recruited to the task force that has to destroy radioactive housecats, milk cows and puppies. I literally couldn’t sit through the first episode. I had to watch it ten minutes at a time.
The outstanding cast is led by Stellan Skarsgård as Boris Scherbina, a Kremlin apparatchik, and Jared Harris as Valery Legasov, the nuclear physicist who makes the government understand they cannot lie and obfuscate their way out of a nuclear disaster. Emily Watson rounds it out as Ulana Komyuk, a Byelorussian scientist determined to find out what really happened in order to keep it from ever happening again. The production is HBO-grade excellent. The soundtrack is a testament to the terrifying sound of a chattering Geiger counter. Writer and producer Craig Mazin is relentless in his depiction of human corruption and environmental breakdown, and director Johan Renck gives Lars von Trier a run for his melancholic money. It is an anatomy of fear and incompetence and hopelessness and baseness and self-destructiveness. It is desolate and desperate and excruciating and horrible. Horrible. Horrible. And it should be.—Amy Glynn
Network: Amazon Prime
Last Week’s Ranking: Not eligible
Neil Gaiman’s passionate fans can safely dive into this adaptation of Good Omens; since the author served as showrunner and handle the script himself, his vision comes through very much intact. The six-part series follows the angel Aziraphale (Michael Sheen) and the demon Crowley (David Tennant) as they team up to avert the apocalypse. It has sensibilities that recall the work of Terry Gilliam and the films of Powell and Pressburger. It’s funny, eccentric (sometimes downright hammy) and quite poignant, and it’s got a totally delightful script and a mostly amazing cast, including Frances McDormand as the voice of God and Benedict Cumberbatch as the voice of Satan. But for all its virtues the standout feature of Good Omens is the incredible chemistry between Tennant and Sheen, who make sparks fly every time they appear onscreen together. Happily for us, that’s most of the show.—Amy Glynn
Last Week’s Ranking:Not eligible
Antron McCray. Kevin Richardson. Yusef Salaam. Raymond Santana. Korey Wise.
I will admit that up until When They See Us, Ava DuVernay’s searing four-part miniseries, I knew these men as only the “Central Park Five.” That they were, to me, first the perpetrators of a horrific crime and later exonerated victims of a racist and rigged legal system. You cannot look away from When They See Us or shelter yourself from the blinding truth. The harrowing episodes will leave you devastated but also in awe of how McCray, Richardson, Salaam, Santana and Wise came out on the other side of what happened to them and are leading happy, productive lives today. The story itself is overwhelmingly powerful. But there are several key decisions DuVernay makes that turns When They See Us into one of the year’s, if not the decade’s best, programs. One is the casting of five relatively unknown actors to play the boys. The “Central Park Five” were 14-16 years old in 1989 and Marquis Rodriguez, Ethan Herisse, Jharrel Jerome, Asante Blackk and Caleel Harris not only look young but portray the absolutely vulnerability and fear that their real-life counterparts must have felt. The devastating fourth episode is a tour-de-force performance for Jerome, the only actor to play both the younger and older version of his character. It is a traumatic hour and Jerome is nothing short of phenomenal. When They See Us is exceedingly difficult to watch. It cut me to my very core. When you see it, I’m sure it will do the same to you.—Amy Amatangelo