Paste Power Ranking: The 5 Best TV Shows on Right Now, from Reservation Dogs to Heels

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<i>Paste</i> Power Ranking: The 5 Best TV Shows on Right Now, from <i>Reservation Dogs</i> to <i>Heels</i>

You can tell that we’re entering into a new TV season because our Power Ranking this week features an entirely new slate of shows. But what’s also been fun is that a number of these shows—both new and ongoing—have left our staff divided. Some loved the Ted Lasso Christmas episode, others hated it. Some of us enjoyed the whimsy of Disney+’s What If…?, others were put off by the Agent Carter erasure. The White Lotus finale was also a thing that happened.

Ultimately, as our own Tara Bennett said, we just “hope Quinn and Mobius are off doing water sports with kayaks and jet skis in nirvana together… somewhere….”

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: Ted Lasso (Apple TV+), What If…? (Disney+), The Good Fight (Paramount+), The White Lotus (HBO), UFO (Showtime)

5. Modern Love

Network: Amazon Prime
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: Even better the second time around.

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The charm of the New York Times’s “Modern Love” column is its slice-of-life, “truth is stranger than fiction” type of storytelling. From the page of a newspaper or the click of a link, the long-running Sunday Style column transports audiences around the world and immerses them in the best kinds of love stories: real ones.

The greatest triumph of Amazon’s Modern Love anthology’s second season is that it picks better stories to adapt. As a longtime reader of the column, there are always certain installments that stick with you longer than others, whether it’s because the experience is aspirational, educational, or downright recognizable. Season 1 tried too hard to pick unique stories, and it lost some of the relatability of showing a tale that everyone can see themselves in. Season 2 course-corrects and focuses on more universal experiences, like falling in love with your best friend, questioning your sexuality, wondering what it would be like to run into an ex on the street, or meeting a stranger in your own rom-com-style meet cute. Kit Harrington, Minnie Driver, Anna Paquin and other A-list stars join the new episodes, but it’s Dominique Fishback, who headlines the fourth installment, who steals the entire show.

The standout episodes in Season 2 are often the simplest, and the best ones are even shinier than those of the first. Not all of the episodes are created equally, but as far as heartwarming storytelling goes, Season 2 of Modern Love is worth a watch from start to finish. —Radhika Menon [Full Review]

4. Untold: Malice at the Palace

Network: Netflix
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: Netflix’s new sports docuseries gets a stellar start

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If you’re a sports fan, and particularly if you’re a fan of basketball and the NBA, I encourage you to do what I did a few months ago, independent of this essay, and go watch unedited footage of the so-called “Malice at the Palace.” Even if you lived through it, even if you think you remember it, I can guarantee you that you’ll be astounded by the ferocity of the whole spectacle, from the point when Ron Artest races into the stands to fight the (wrong) fan, to Jermaine O’Neal’s haymaker that somehow managed not to kill another fan, to the full-on assault as the Indiana Pacers left the floor of the Palace of Auburn Hills, getting bombarded by everything from popcorn to water to bottles to an actual chair. We’re less than 20 years removed from it, but I guarantee you that it has been diminished in your memory from its original, unbelievable intensity.

All of which is to say that it’s an excellent subject for a sports documentary, and one which ESPN’s series 30 for 30 somehow hasn’t covered. Stepping into that vacuum is Untold, the new five-part Netflix sports documentary series with episodes planned on everything from Caitlyn Jenner to Mardy Fish.

Director Floyd Russ has managed to say something profound about what looks like nothing more than a chaotic fight at a basketball game. That microcosmic story is worth the price of admission alone, as a study in miniature of how the tension of competitive sports can provoke violent passions that look, with hindsight, truly insane. But if the minute study of what actually happened in Detroit is fascinating, so is the story of the aftermath. When you really boil down the incident to its essentials, a basketball player was assaulted from afar by a fan, attacked in response, and was defended by his teammates. Where should the blame in that situation lie? —Shane Ryan [Full Review]

3. Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Network: NBC
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: Back for its final season, it deftly tackles both the pandemic and the systemic racism in the police force—and the humor is as sharp as always.

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The bad news is, for all the fun that fans and critics had imagining the biggest turns the series might take to get away from the taint of the NYPD—USPIS, anyone?—Brooklyn Nine-Nine still looks committed to ending its run as a cop show. On the one hand, this is a bummer. On the other, though, I don’t know what more we could reasonably have expected.

The good news is, though, whatever a single half-hour broadcast comedy could possibly do to chip away at America’s hero-cop mythology, Brooklyn Nine-Nine is, in this final season, committed to at least trying.

Not to mention, these episodes are just as joke-dense and fun as their funniest pre-Season 8 episodes have been, everyone from the main cast down to the guest stars putting in their full 9-9%.

Given the series’ consistently progressive approach to what justice both can and should look like, while I can’t imagine where they’ll end up (personally, I’m hoping for the most audacious ending possible), I trust them to land somewhere good. —Alexis Gunderson [Full Review]

2. Heels

Network: Starz
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: The Georgia-set wrestling family drama successfully blurs the lines between battles in and out of the ring.

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Created by Loki’s Michael Waldron—with Mike O’Malley serving as showrunner—Heels follows brothers Jack (Stephen Amell) and Ace (Alexander Ludwig) Spade as they navigate their way through the world of local, independent professional wrestling in their small, fictional Georgia hometown of Duffy. The series begins nearly a year after the shocking death of their father, “King” Tom Spade (David James Elliott), a local hero who left behind a legacy and big shoes to fill. He also left behind the family business, the Duffy Wrestling League (DWL). Family man Jack, who plays a heel in DWL and hold the company’s championship belt, takes over the responsibilities of running the promotion (booking wrestlers, writing the storylines, courting sponsors, and everything else he can possibly do to grow the DWL), while devil-may-care Ace—the promotion’s top face—has dreams of making it big in professional wrestling and finally getting out of Duffy the way Wild Bill did.

Heels is a series that sets out to not just push back the metaphorical curtain (as opposed to the literal curtain) on the world of contemporary professional wrestling, but to examine how the lines of reality can be blurred—something professional wrestling takes to another level. That’s especially true when wrestling is literally your family’s whole life, the thing that you hope puts food on the table. Heels asks the questions one would expect a show about professional wrestling to ask: When does kayfabe (the established “fake” world of wrestling) become a shoot (the real world)? When does a shoot become kayfabe? What happens when those worlds co-exist? And in the specific case of Heels, how do these characters balance work and family when both are inextricably linked? It’s territory that Heels has its characters absolutely thrive in from the very moment we meet them. —LaToya Ferguson [Full Review]

1. Reservation Dogs

Network: FX on Hulu (included in your Hulu subscription)
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: We’re hooked.

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FX has found its niche in telling close-up, intimate stories extremely well, and Reservation Dogs is no exception. It focuses on four friends—Bear (D’Pharoah Woon-A-Tai), Elora (Devery Jacobs), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), and Cheese (Lane Factor)—who accidentally form an unofficial “gang” dubbed the “reservation bandits,” because of their penchant for light crime. Their hope is to get enough money to get to California, an ideal that’s always just out reach.

The lived-in, slightly surrealist comedy is a low-fi exploration of an Indigenous community in Oklahoma, whose leads shuffle around the “rez” among other misfits and sundries, and stumble into a variety of adventures that range from stealing a chip van to dealing with a snarky and overworked healthcare system. FX has touted Reservation Dogs, created by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi, as revolutionary. In many ways it is; it features an all-Indigenous writers room, for one. But the show makes its boldest statement by not feeling like it’s making a statement at all. It’s an easy-going show, foul and funny, specific and accessible. It’s not about the kids being noble heroes or crime-loving villains; they’re just people. But they are also Indigenous people, which does mean something, and is all-too-rare to see on television—especially portrayed in such a wonderfully casual way.

But more than anything, Reservation Dogs is a perfect summer series, one that takes places on languid afternoons and moves at an unhurried pace. The kids make plans, scrounge for food, wander around, get into fights. They don’t talk or act like adults, and they’re not beaten down by cynicism. They have hopes and dreams, a love for family, an un-ironic embrace of community, and make a lot of silly mistakes. To say there is an innocence or even wholesomeness to Reservation Dogs would not be to quite hit the mark on how casually crass the show can be (it is ultimately a comedy for adults); but like its leads, it has a good heart. The friends are trying their best and hold each other close, even as they rib one another for their choices. It’s this balance that the show gets so right; not overly precious nor incredibly vulgar, just truth with an edge. Or as they would say, “Love ya, bitch.” —Allison Keene [Full Review]

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