Though there have been a few recent whiffs (The Mosquito Coast on Apple TV+ being one), we have a host of excellent series to watch right. We said goodbye to Amazon’s great superhero series Invincible and hello to the return of The CW’s Legends of Tomorrow for its final season. And while the neverending misery of The Handmaid’s Tale on Hulu is tough to take right now, it does get better. Plus there’s a new Netflix anime, Yasuke, which—though a bit tropey—still elevates a forgotten Black samurai hero.
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.
Honorable Mention: Invincible (Amazon Prime), Legends of Tomorrow (The CW), Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (NBC), Pose (FX), Younger (Paramount+)
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
This Week: Everyone is sus.
Is there such a thing as a sober, carefully considered obsession? If so, that’s what we encounter in the HBO limited series Mare of Easttown, a show that is ostensibly about a series of deaths in a hardscrabble Pennsylvania town, but is, in reality, about the heavy pain of being alive. The plights of our time are all on display in the series—poverty, depression, drug addiction, suicide—and the debilitating effects are handled with masterful subtlety. This is a Kate Winslet vehicle through and through, and for an actor once described as having the “soul and attitude of a jobbing actress, trapped in the body of a movie star,” here again we see her embodying a pained, difficult character who is not always sympathetic. As Mare Sheehan, police detective and former high school basketball star, she has suffered, and suffered, and suffered some more in ways that leave her defiant, sarcastic, and cynical, but too tough to be broken. It’s not an easy psychological space to occupy, but Winslet, looking appropriately haggard except in the rare cases when she decides to be beautiful—moments of hope that are almost more painful than the perpetual fatigue of reality—is more than equal to the task, carrying the show with all the brilliance you’d expect from somebody so talented. If you come to Mare for Kate Winslet, as many will, you won’t be disappointed.
There can be a nagging tendency, when depicting “strong women,” to atone for years of under-representation on the screen by turning them into invulnerable super women, conflating the two genres—drama and comic book—that should be kept separate. Mare stands out for its realistic depictions of this strength, highlighting not just the impressive resilience of its women, but the ways in which the need for this resilience takes its toll, both over time and in harsh, shattering moments. When those characters falter, or even break, it only serves to highlight that underlying strength; these are portraits written and directed by human beings with a deep understanding of how life works on the psychological margins. —Shane Ryan
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
This Week: Finally, a show that gets Native inclusion right.
Rutherford Falls has all the makings of a typical Michael Schur sitcom: a catchy little jingle of a theme song, with mirrored musical interludes sprinkled into the story; topical pop culture references; an endearing slew of quirky characters; workplace banter. If you’ve even remotely enjoyed the comedies that have come before it (like Parks and Rec or Brooklyn Nine-Nine), you’re sure to enjoy Peacock’s latest addition to the bunch. The concept blends a traditional workplace comedy with deeper, more dramatic topics surrounding colonialism, Indigenous land, and, of course, “cancel culture”—all of which, when tossed around with clumsy humor, can land like a rotten egg on linoleum. Fortunately, with quick-witted writing and easy-going performances, Rutherford Falls opens unsuspecting, nuanced discussions on the once-fraught subjects.
The most controversial aspect about watching Rutherford Falls? You’ll have to subscribe to Peacock, NBC’s relatively new streaming platform that houses most of Schur’s other series. If that bounty hasn’t seduced you yet, let Rutherford Falls be the straw that breaks the camel’s back: it may not be perfect, but it’s more than worthy of a friendly stream. In other words, it’s Peacock’s first original show with real promise—best to get started now, in case it hits the masses like a true protege of The Office or Parks and Rec might. —Fletcher Peters
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: A truly delightful reunion where we saw our OG Ducks return, all grown up!
Firstly it must be said that The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers—the continuation of the franchise which began in 1992—is extremely validating. The Disney+ series doubles a group therapy for all the parents out there traumatized by how intense youth sports have become.
Game Changers understands this and has built its entire premise around this distressing phenomenon. It’s been 29 years since Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez, reprising his role) led the ragtag “District 5” hockey team to victory in the peewee championship. Two movies and an animated series followed, and now nearly three decades later, the Ducks are the reigning champions. They’re ruthless and nasty. Their parents bring private coaches to practice and employ sports psychologists. They are now—I know this will be hard to hear—the bad guys. In the series premiere, 12-year-old Evan Morrow (Brady Noon) gets cut from the team. “At this age, if you can’t be good at hockey, don’t bother,” the Ducks’ callous coach (Dylan Playfair) tells him.
That doesn’t go over well with Brady’s mom Alex (Lauren Graham), who decides to take matters into her own hands. Graham’s always charming schtick, which she perfected on Gilmore Girls, is on full display as the enthusiastic mom that just wants her son to be happy, and for the game of hockey to bring him the same joy it once did. So they create a new team of misfits who look, no surprise, very similar to the kids from the original movie. Those comfortable beats are welcome, though; this new series isn’t a game changer, unlike the advent of the original franchise. But it is a delight. And that’s something to quack about. —Amy Amatangelo
Network: Freeform (Next day on Hulu)
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
This Week: We are absolutely obsessed.
I had to give up taking notes on Cruel Summer, Freeform’s new 90s-set teen mystery series, about 2,000 words in. That said, the very density that prompted me to get 2,000 words deep in a meticulous kind of madness before changing course is precisely the thing that’s likely to turn Cruel Summer into the internet’s next big generation-spanning hit. Truly, from its complex, triple-layered timeline to its compellingly intimate POV-flipping narrative structure to its viscerally accurate mid-90s details, Cruel Summer is custom-built to be an object of social media obsession.
In the one corner, you have Aurelia’s Jeanette Turner, who at any given moment is a sweetly awkward 15, or a recently popular 16, or a universally despised 17, and who may or may not be guilty of compounding another girl’s trauma. In the other corner, you have Holt’s Kate Wallis, who at any given moment is a universally beloved 15, or a freshly traumatized 16, or an acidly angry 17. In between them, you have a gulf of not-knowing—a not-knowing that at any given moment might come from one character’s inherent duplicity, the natural gaps in another’s first-hand knowledge of a situation, or the fundamental unreliability of memory even before intense emotion is involved. There are some truths that are more real for some characters, and less for others; some realities that are more tangible in one moment than they are in the next.
The likelihood that one girl is lying and the other telling the truth hangs over Cruel Summer like a thundercloud, but in giving the audience just one walled-off chunk of each girl’s side of the narrative at a time, the possibility that they’re both telling a story that’s true to them is just as present. In floating the mid-90s media’s take on Jeanette and Kate to the top of its story over and over again, Cruel Summer adds an important third perspective on the nature of reality, and all the ways in which it can be warped in the name of “truth.” —Alexis Gunderson
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This Week: As a friend messaged me, “I would kill and die for the Crows.”
Since Game of Thrones, all the cable and streaming networks have been looking for its successor. For many reasons, not many have ignited on a zeitgeist scale. Shadow and Bone feels like the first real contender. It lands across the board with its production value, tone, visual effects, and engaging characters, culminating in an exhilarating season finale which all points to a potential large-scale hit.
As a non-reader of Leigh Bardugo’s Grishaverse novels, but a great admirer of richly crafted, adapted fantasy on television and film, I went into Netflix’s Shadow and Bone cold. All I expected was that—as with most intricate world-building that transitions from page to screen—there’s often a steep learning curve in the pilot, as the language, regions, factions, and magical terminology gradually makes sense. Costumes can be a big visual shorthand with that, and let me tell you, this series offers a level of visual embroidery porn I was not prepared for.
This fabric cheat sheet was deeply appreciated, because the drab military wear of orphans-to-First Army BFFs, cartographer Alina Starkov (Jessie Mei Li) and tracker Malyen “Mal” Oretsev (Archie Renaux) make it clear these two outsiders are nothing in the eyes of those they report to in their encampment on the edge of the Unsea, or the Shadow Fold, a black magic cloud of evil mojo created by a Grisha hundreds of years ago. It splits the country of Ravka in two, making access to needed foods, supplies, and resources dire. Impossible to cross without Grisha help (and even then, there’s no guarantee because of the volcra monsters flying inside, ready to attack), it’s a sore point for the entire world. In particular, the leader of the Grisha, General Kirigan (Ben Barnes), a.k.a. the Darkling, is a Shadow Summoner obsessed with fixing the Fold. But can only do that with the powers of a Sun Summoner, someone who has never existed in their history… until now.
Of particular success is how well Heisserer and his writers set up the required mythology in eight episodes without being exhausting, all the while deftly laying an emotional foundation. The show also weaves an ensemble of support characters into strong B and C stories that are interesting enough to exist on their own, yet masterfully bump in and out of lead’s journey throughout. Here’s hoping Shadow and Bone takes off as our next great fantasy obsession. —Tara Bennett
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