One of the best things about television right now is that we’re talking about it together—well, some of us are, about a couple of shows. Scripted shows, specifically. Others are talking about the embarrassing nonsense of the Floyd Mayweather and Logan Paul “fight,” but live events always draw commentary. What has been more exciting is the experience of parsing theories over Mare of Easttown and Cruel Summer, or asking “did you see that?” about the latest Hacks episode. It’s been hard to find commonality in this streaming era, but for a moment we seem to have it. With the premiere of Loki on Disney+ later this week as well, hopefully that will continue.
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.
Why Women Kill (Paramount+), Everything’s Gonna Be Okay (Freeform), The Bite (Spectrum), We Are Lady Parts (Peacock)
5. Legends of Tomorrow
Network: The CW
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: A former Hell Queen turned average mortal tries to navigate the human world, with decidedly animated results. (Seriously, part of this hour is an animated cartoon. That’s just how this show rolls.)
The CW’s bravest and most bonkers superhero show is boldly going where they’ve never gone before in its sixth season, sending the titular Legends through time to battle displaced aliens in an attempt to find their missing captain, Sara Lance. Few series are bold enough to generally sideline what is essentially its leading character when it doesn’t have to, but Legends of Tomorrow just goes for it, stranding Sara on an alien spacecraft light years away from her team, as the rest of the group must scramble both to find her and to keep the timeline intact.
Sara’s absence has allowed new team dynamics to flourish and different characters to take the lead from a storytelling perspective. The installment in which Zari must battle an alien in a pop star reality competition is definitely an instant classic, but it’s the series’ first Astra-centric episode, an hour that sees multiple Legends turned into talking household objects, before the whole show is reimagined as an animated Disney musical, that’s destined to go down as an example of this show at its absolute weirdo best. —Lacy Baugher-Milas
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
This Week: A grand finale.
Oh my darling children, the FX drama really werked in its two hour and five minute swan song.
Pose will be remembered as one of television’s most groundbreaking series. It featured the largest ensemble cast of trans actors. But what truly made it revolutionary was how it gave storylines previously confined to white heterosexuals to diverse characters instead. In the background was the vamping and the voguing at the balls, but Pose was also a sophisticated soap opera with plot twist, back stabbing, grand romances, and heartache. The series put trans characters front and center and brought audience into the fabulous ballroom culture of the 1980s and 1990s in New York City. There are other trans characters on television (notably on Saved by the Bell and 911: Lonestar), but the end of Pose leaves a huge void on the television landscape.
The final season has been a beautifully poignant one; Pose knew that family is the one you make. And Pose was a wonderful family to spend three seasons with. Let its legacy be that we don’t have to wait years for another show like Pose to walk the runway. —Amy Amatangelo
3. Cruel Summer
Network: Freeform (Next day on Hulu)
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
This Week: #TeamBoth (and Mallory is actually really sus, right?)
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
2. Sweet Tooth
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: Sweet but not saccharine.
In the wrong hands, a live-action Sweet Tooth is the definition of a nightmare waiting to happen. Happily, Netflix’s adaptation retains the lyrical qualities, rich character exploration, and compelling world-building of Jeff Lemire’s comic series, while expanding and fleshing out narrative elements that only add to its depth and resonance.
There is a warm, folksy charm to Sweet Tooth, where the core plot is told from the perspective of 10-year-old Gus (Christian Convery), a “hybrid” boy who is clearly part deer, as noted via his ears and antlers. Raised in solitude for a decade by his father, Pubba (Will Forte), inside a deep forest because of the pandemic, Gus is socially immature (to say the least) but rich in compassion. He’s inquisitive and stubborn, but deeply attached to his dad and the idyllic little cabin bubble they live within. Unfortunately, he’s incredibly unprepared for reality in the outside world.
Without every being annoying or cloying, there’s a natural wit to Convery’s entire performance that adds subtle layers to the new friendships and alliances he makes with adults and kids once he’s forced out of his bubble. In particular, his connection with Tommy Jepperd (Nonso Anozie), a loner/survivor who grudgingly saves Gus’ life and gets stuck shepherding the kid to Colorado, is a masterful evolution from mutual irritation to an earned bond that becomes one of the most important emotional arcs of the whole series.
Ultimately, there’s not a clunker amongst the eight episodes of the first season, which all manage to build up three concurrent storylines that coalesce into a deeply affecting season finale that earns its gasps and tears. —Tara Bennett
Network: HBO Max
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
This Week: $1.69 million
HBO Max’s latest series Hacks follows 25-year-old writer Ava (Hannah Einbinder) as she tries to get her comedy career back on track after losing her job due to a bad tweet. Her journey takes her to Las Vegas, where she reluctantly starts writing material for Deborah Vance (Jean Smart), a comedy veteran whose life is much like the china she collects: beautiful to behold, but cold and empty within. Deborah fills her life with work due to the absence of a personal life, which she’s eschewed ever since her husband left her for her own sister decades ago.
The show is a traditional odd couple pairing. Ava is bisexual, a Bernie supporter, and a chronic oversharer—in essence, your classic media depiction of a millennial. Deborah is brash, saying whatever she likes regardless of how others feel, and surrounds herself with gaudy opulence. Over the course of the series, they realize just how similar they are. Both of them are career-obsessed, more than a little self-centered, lack a personal life and, in the words of one side character, they’re “both psychotic bitches.”
Smart and Einbinder deftly pull off this two-hander thanks to their respective talent and excellent chemistry. Smart is at her peak here, moving from hilarious in one scene to quietly heartbreaking in the next. Deborah can be truly unlikable at certain moments, but the sensational Smart plays her with such subtlety and warmth that you still care about her—even though she has live fish pumped into her man-made lake.
With a strong cast and some stellar directorial choices, Hacks is a necessary addition to your summer watch list. —Clare Martin
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