The Olympics are here! There are lots of great things happening! Despite the ethical dilemma of watching it at all! But the real question is: how and where do we watch it? NBC has been something of a disaster on that front. Peacock was not the bastion of live free content that was promised, nor are the VODs accessible without a subscription (at least on its app). The sports themselves are scattered to the four cable winds—skateboarding on CNBC? As one of our writers said, “I’m usually an Olympics junkie, but am having a hard time getting into it this time. Maybe it’s the lack of a crowd. Or it is the cluster when it comes to viewing. I don’t like the nighttime clip shows.” I couldn’t have said it better myself. So while the Olympics don’t have a dedicated spot on the Power Ranking because NBC is a mess, we’re giving them the full intro to say… Go Team USA!
The rules for the Power Rankings are simple: Any current 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 (ending Sunday) —or, in the case of shows released all at once, it has to have been released within the previous four weeks. The voting panel is composed of Paste Editors and TV writers with a pretty broad range of tastes.
Dr. Death (Peacock), High School Musical: The Musical: The Series (Disney+), Evil (Paramount+), I Think You Should Leave (Netflix), Never Have I Ever (Netflix), The Good Fight (Paramount+)
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
This Week: We really need a vacation.
The White Lotus, from Enlightened creator Mike White, tracks the intertwined relationships between groups of wealthy vacationers at the titular Hawaiian resort. With spectacular production design and a magnificent ensemble cast, The White Lotus is a pleasure to watch—even as the miniseries gets progressively darker as the weeks go on and seemingly idyllic vacations begin falling apart. Also attempting to cultivate a conversation on class and privilege, The White Lotus explores the often horrific ways ultra-rich patrons treat the working-class staff members they so deeply rely on. —Kristen Reid [Full Review ]
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: One of the most underrated gems out there (and a great show about sisterhood.)
I don’t know if the UK and Ireland invented the six episode comedic/confessional TV format, but their writers have certainly perfected it. This Way Up, created by and starring Aisling Bea, stands alongside similarly-styled series like Fleabag, Back to Life, and Catastrophe: A 30s-ish woman on the brink of a breakdown attempts to sort out her life and career in awkward ways, using wry, sharp humor as a mask over deep emotional pain. And for some of us, it is a searing reflection.
In this version of what has proven to be a darkly winning formula, Bea’s Áine is introduced as coming straight out of rehab for a deep depression and nervous breakdown that left her suicidal. Her protective older sister Shona (Sharon Horgan) arrives to take her home, and the two immediately define themselves as an inseparable pair; they fuss, rib each other, and are absolutely one another’s anchor. Shona is confident with Áine that she will be fine, but turns back to the the nurse with an implied ”...right?” The answer isn’t worked out yet.
This Way Up is essentially a collection of incredibly well-wrought micro-vignettes, elevating common experiences with warmth and humor in a way that gets to the very essence of the emotions behind them. And those emotions are often monsters. Áine continues to battle the darkness that sent her to rehab in the first place, but it usually happens in quiet moments. Otherwise, she makes fun of herself, never stops talking, and makes constant jokes to deflect personal questions or from delving too deep into what’s really going on with her or how she feels.
This Way Up’s scope is exceptionally tight; it’s a taught, intense experience. The entire series, so far, can be watched in less than six hours. It’s an easy binge in some ways—Bea and Horgan are genuinely hysterical. In other ways that emotional depth and blunt realness can be overwhelming. But like everything in This Way Up, it comes out of love. If there is a Season 3, hopefully it jumps beyond that first wave to see Áine on the other side, where she wants to be, and where she belongs. Or at the very least, continuing to fight her way up. —Allison Keene [Full Review]
Network: Apple TV+
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This Week: We love a sweater-wearing rogue.
In this six episode series from executive producer Lorne Michaels, Melissa (Cecily Strong) and Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) are two New York doctors who embark on a camping trip designed to bring them closer together. They get lost along the way and find themselves stranded in the town of Schmigadoon! Despite their continued efforts, they are unable to leave until they find true love. Turns out, that means that Melissa and Josh aren’t as in love as they (particularly Melissa) thought they were.
The series manages to be simultaneously an adoring homage to the genre and a spot-on satire of it; every trope is lovingly upended, every plot difficulty laid bare. (Let’s be honest, women didn’t fare too well in the classic musicals. I mean there is a “what can you do but love him?” song about an abusive husband in Carousel.) Melissa explains the reproductive system in a little ditty that’s very similar to “Do-Re-Mi” from The Sound of Music. “Why are they laughing? Nothing even remotely funny just happened?” Josh wonders at the end of one number. There’s references to “color-blind casting” and at the start of a dream ballet, Melissa exclaims, “We’re not having a dream ballet. They’re annoying and stupid and slow everything down.” Will you enjoy the show if you’ve never seen a musical and have no context for what’s being spoofed? Maybe. But this truly is a series for Broadway fans. —Amy Amatangelo [Full Review ]
Network: Apple TV+
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: A bit of a shaky Season 2 premiere, but Roy. Kent.
The success of Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso, with its emphasis on kindness, positivity, and respect, probably shouldn’t have been a surprise. A comedy about an American football coach (Jason Sudeikis) who takes a job as the manager of a struggling English Premier League team was the perfect escape from the global pandemic that had forced us inside, fostered uncertainty, and fed our collective anxiety. But it also slipped into the TV space that had previously been occupied by heartwarming shows like Schitt’s Creek and Parks and Recreation, two comedies that similarly dealt in overwhelming kindness and left lasting impressions on viewers who’d grown weary of the darkness of the antihero age, or who needed a break from everyday life.
In Season 2, the series has doubled down on what works—Ted’s ability to lead, Rebecca’s (Hannah Waddingham) strength, Keeley’s (Juno Temple) PR acumen, and Nate’s (Nick Mohammed) keen insight into the team—while also finding new and fun ways to explore characters like Roy (Brett Goldstein) and Jamie (Phil Dunster). Basically, Ted Lasso as a whole remains a delightful and quirky comedy that highlights the best of humanity, revealing how kindness and humility can be a conduit to happiness and success. It’s still the show we all needed last year, but it’s also the show that we need today. Because if there’s one thing the show has taught us, it’s that there is no bad time for Ted Lasso. —Kaitlin Thomas [Full Review]
Network: AMC / AMC+
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: The tension has escalated to such an insane point, we cannot wait for the finale.
The New Yorker’s Anthony Lane once wrote, “the most volatile compound known to man is that of decorum and despair.” This proves ever-true in Kevin Can F—k Himself, AMC’s strange, emotionally-resonate hybrid series. In it, we follow the travails of Allison (Annie Murphy), a long-suffering wife whose husband’s world is a low-brow sitcom. When Kevin (Eric Petersen) is on screen, their lives are illuminated by stage lights and augmented by a laugh track—almost always at Allison’s expense. The fictional audience guffaws over Kevin’s infantile interests and behaviors, as Allison tries to find anything positive about the marriage she has felt trapped in for 10 years. Humiliated, ignored, and gaslighted throughout, Allison tries to keep up a good face while inwardly falling apart. Then as soon as Kevin leaves the room, the studio goes with him; Allison is left alone in the quiet of a drab house, feeling the full weight of her crippling frustration as the laughter fades away.
But desperate times lead to desperate measures, and after a particularly stinging bit of news, Allison hatches a plan to take back her life—by taking her husband’s. Kevin Can F—k Himself (which hits its sitcom beats almost too well) is ambitious and experimental, and it’s far more than satire. It’s also the kind of show that doesn’t feel like it could run forever, or even possibly past this season. There’s a growing “Too Many Cooks” meta-chaos that is building in each episode, and eventually Allison will have to find a way out, whatever that looks like. Here’s hoping the show takes a cue from its leading lady and makes some bold moves on the road to freedom. —Allison Keene [Full Review]
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