With a few heavy-hitters out of the way this week, we’ve been able to give space to a couple of shows we’ve enjoyed immensely, but which haven’t had a chance to muscle in to our main Power Ranking yet (or enough). Delightful new seasons of The Baby-Sitters Club and The Great British Baking Show have been keeping our TV watching cozy, and we salute them for their sincere goodness. But don’t sleep on our Honorable Mentions, either: Legends of Tomorrow just aired its 100th episode, Love Life has been retooled for a better Season 2, and Ghosts on CBS (based on the excellent UK series, now on HBO Max) is much better than it has any right to be—and gets better and better every week.
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.
Legends of Tomorrow (The CW), Love Life (HBO Max), Dopesick (Hulu), Ghosts (CBS), Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: A rare truly sweet show.
When it comes to The Baby-Sitters Club, which debuted last year at the precise time we needed it most, Netflix resisted the temptation to age up the central characters and thus nailed the tone and themes of Ann M. Martin’s beloved book series. With a diverse cast and socially conscious storylines bringing the show into the modern day, the series manages to update its source material for a new generation while keeping its earnest and good-natured approach to coming-of-age stories. That latter part in particular is what has made it appealing to those who grew up reading the novels and who might still have fond memories of both the original 1990 TV series and the 1995 feature film. Thankfully, all of that remains true in the show’s upcoming eight-episode second season.
One thing that the first season cemented for many of us is that we’re never too old to enjoy shows like The Baby-Sitters Club, either because of the obvious nostalgia factor or because of the heartwarming sincerity of their approach toward what can be an awkward period. When done well, like it is here, it makes for a timeless story and thus a universally appealing viewing experience. And while Stoneybrook is clearly a fantasy of idealized suburban existence, the show should be commended for being true to itself (and its source material) and dedicated to depicting healthy relationships at home, with friends, and with one’s self. In the end, there’s little to complain about with regards to The Baby-Sitters Club Season 2 as the show remains a comforting escape from the frustrations and fears of the real world. In fact, the only real downside is that there are only eight episodes as opposed to ten in Season 1. Whether that is a result of the pandemic is unclear, but when it comes to this show, I’ll take whatever I can get. —Kaitlin Thomas [Full Review]
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
This Week: Kudos for going back to focusing on the friendship between Issa and Molly, which at its best powers the whole show.
HBO’s Insecure has always been a show about growth while chasing fulfillment, both personally and professionally. In Season 1, Issa’s (Issa Rae) feelings of stasis at work and in her relationship led her to lash out and threaten the bedrocks of her life; the aftermath then put her on a rocky path to self-discovery, which is still ongoing.
Over the course of four seasons, Issa, her best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji), her on-again off-again boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis), and their circle of romantic interests, friends, and coworkers have evolved from lost and confused young adults to confident, successful people who have made inroads towards achieving their life goals. But as a show about Millennials, Insecure’s final season leans into this generation’s most incisive fear: why do I still feel so far from where I should be?
As the show enters its fifth and final season, these thoughts on at the forefront. It’s not uncommon to suffer from imposter syndrome, the feeling of self-doubt that tells you that you’re somehow unworthy of your achievements. But alongside these meditations, the fun parts of Insecure are still there. The parties, the one-line zingers, the hookups and relationship drama, the mirror raps, and the humanistic portrayals of complicated friendships still fill the screen with so much heart. It’s what the show does best: it shines a light on real people living their lives and dealing with issues in authentic and believable ways. Only now, our favorite characters are committed to growing from their experiences. —Radhika Menon [Full Review]
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: The Jurgenator is back in what is proving (!) to be an excellent season.
One of television’s most soothing and wholesome series returns with its hosts, judges, and contestants back in a COVID-safe bubble, which again has made for instant and heartwarming camaraderie among them. Though the Great British Baking Show (or Bake-Off to our UK friends) may feel a little different since its move from the BBC to Channel 4 (and with more surreal hosts and more urgency inside of the tent), the joy that the series continues to deliver is welcome and familiar. As the bakers gather to whip up their signatures, technicals, and showstoppers, they encourage one another and provide interesting tidbits and occasional disasters throughout. With Netflix once again airing the episodes weekly, only a few days after their UK debut, it has also provided another excellent anti-binge appointment-TV program to set your clocks by—never overbaked nor underdone. —Allison Keene
Network: FX on Hulu (included in your Hulu subscription)
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
This Week: Love it or leave it, the finale took a swing and set up a fascinating Season 4.
What We Do in the Shadows Season 3 finds the vampires, as well as Guillermo, a little more introspective as they go about their daily (or nightly) routines. Just a little. They begin exploring their pasts and their very roots in new ways, and take on new, hliariously unearned positions within the Vampire Council. Expanding the show’s world in this way is the right move, giving further bizarre context to our leads so that they are more than just (excellent) punchlines and outrageous accents. Any good fantasy or supernatural series needs to come stocked with lore, and the way What We Do in the Shadows continues to weave these elements in makes the jokes land even harder.
The new season does reintroduce some other supernatural factions, but for the most part it’s interested in small stories that really play to the well-honed strengths of its cast. It’s clear that What We Do in the Shadows has a lot of confidence going into these new episodes (the show was also recently renewed for Season 4), and that it’s operating on its own terms. It does its best work that way, especially as it balances the particular strangeness of the vampire world with the everyday mundanity of ours. It’s always a treat to see the vampires move between those spaces, desecrating the ancient traditions of their kind—mostly on accident—and meeting a range of confusion, politeness, or curious acceptance when traveling to, say, Atlantic City.
When writing a review of a series that has been running for several years, the bottom line is letting entrenched viewers know if it is, indeed, still good, and to provide some general expectations. So yes, What We Do in the Shadows is still very, very good—maybe even better than ever. And if you aren’t caught up, well, there’s no better time. —Allison Keene [Full Review]
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
This Week: The king takes his Power Ranking crown. Also, Mondale!!
In some ways, HBO’s Succession is America’s version of The Crown. Focusing on the lavish, petty corporate overlords of a rotten cabal, the show’s machinations are both fully present and menacingly medieval. Unlike The Crown, Jesse Armstrong’s show doesn’t venerate its billionaire royal family, The Roys—it lampoons them, and exposes them as actually being as vain and stupid as they believe the bulk of America to be. In its bombastic second season, the show rose to both comedic and dramatic heights, from “Boar on the Floor” to Kendall’s season-ending mic drop that promised an explosive third outing. But Season 3 is actually more subdued, and occasionally a little too stuck in the endless tread of the Roy siblings’ backstabbing and creatively vile behavior towards one other to gain power and, most importantly, Daddy’s affection.
The essential guessing game of Succession is “what is Logan thinking?” followed by what is everyone else thinking in response to that. It creates an air of extreme anxiety, both for those involved and for viewers, because even though there are no heroes here, we want to champion someone. Even if you want to support Kendall and his genuinely good ideas about cleaning up the company if he were in power, you can’t trust him because he’s arrogant, insecure, and unstable. Along with his siblings, he’s a master of self-sabotage. The actors are all exceptional in conveying these tenuous moments when the various factions meet and clash—as the camera flits from face to face, you can see their shifting alliances even when they would never, ever admit to any of them.
It is in this way that Succession continues to be one of the best shows about royal in-fighting on TV. It’s the Wars of the Roses, it’s Machiavelli, it’s the last days of Rome. It’s addictive, but it’s also depressing. Because even in its most grandiose comedic moments, there is truth to Succession’s cynical world that makes us realize yes, these idiots are absolutely in charge of our world and no, there’s not really anything we can do about it. —Allison Keene [Full Review]
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