After a few weeks with just one or two entries in our Top 5, Netflix is again dominating the board. If you release 700,000 TV shows a year, some are bound to stick, right? When Netflix hits, it hits big, and we’re really enjoying everything from the bombastic Squid Game to the meditative Maid. As always though, don’t forget to check out our Honorable Mentions; Hulu is making a comeback from its slow start to 2021, but Disney+ is also quietly serving up some great animated twists on its mega Marvel and Star Wars franchise. Elsewhere on the dial (though not on our list), while Apple TV+ has found huge success with Ted Lasso, its gorgeous but dry new series Foundation has yet to find its footing.
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.
What We Do in the Shadows (FX on Hulu), What If…? (Disney+), Star Wars: Visions (Disney+), Great British Baking Show (Netflix), Evil (Paramount+)
Network: Apple TV+
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: Ned’s heel-turn hurts in all the right ways.
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]
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: Sad but beautifully crafted.
Life can change on a dime—or be defined by it. In Netflix’s affecting miniseries Maid, this granular type of cost benefit analysis dominates the consciousness. With little calculations churning on the upper right hand corner, each quarter counts. But missing a dollar? Young mother Alex Langley (Margaret Qualley) masters a momentary worried furrowed brow over money before springing on a smile for her daughter, Maddy (Rylah Nevaeh Whittet)—her tightrope walk must be executed flawlessly, lest she panic her daughter about how dire their stakes truly are.
A story cast across 10 hourlong episodes, Maid honors its source material, Stephanie Land’s New York Times best-selling memoir Maid: Hard Work, Low Pay, and a Mother’s Will to Survive, through Molly Smith Metzler’s keen direction. There’s a cheap way to cover poverty in America that’s all shock value stills and cliches, but Maid goes for the gradual build up, a Tetris-like operation of stacking roadblock after roadblock, sprinkled with generational trauma that implicitly informs characters’ decisions before they even realize it. Disasters are written and wrought from years in the making. For Alex, her freedom from doom requires not only a mastery of explicit survival measures (housing, food, gas, childcare, government programs, safety from abuse, flexible work hours), but also a deep understanding of self.
There’s tremendous grit demonstrated throughout Alex’s entire arc. But Maid troubles the waters of American bootstrapping narratives, emphasizing time and time again how one individual’s survival depends upon a network of support. Beyond just rapport, Maid calls for honest clarity on the state of living in this country while poor—a game of stringing together impossible victories until your body breaks or you catch a lucky break. This fragility permeates the show in the same way as the Lenny Abrahamson-style natural light: painfully beautiful. But like the show itself, this light only illuminates Alex safely when she’s ensconced in the homes of the wealthy. Visibility and beauty comes with a price. With Alex’s face constantly crunching the calculus of survival, Maid never lets the audience forget it. At that point, the ugly mess of poverty becomes the viewer’s responsibility to witness—and a group imperative to scrub such a blot from the American narrative. —Katherine Smith [Full Review]
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This Week: A beautiful meditation on faith, death, and what it means to truly live.
On Midnight Mass’ Crockett Island, every islander feels rife with misfortune. The recent oil spill nearly annihilated the fish supply, tanking the island’s local fishing economy. Their homes splinter and peel in neglect to the ocean’s elements. The majority of residents have fled the island for lack of opportunity, leaving a paltry few behind. Only two ferries can take them to the mainland. Hope runs in short supply—and a major storm brews on the horizon.
Everything beyond that for this seven-episode series is a true spoiler, but what can be said is that even with its dabblings in the supernatural, Midnight Mass (created by The Haunting’s Mike Flanagan, in his most recent collaboration with Netflix), is a show that burrows inwards instead of outwards. With both the physical claustrophobia of Crockett’s setting and the internal suffering of characters placed in center stage, Midnight Mass concerns itself with horrors within: addictive tendencies, secret histories, and questions of forgiveness and belief. At one glance, it’s a series that’s mined Catholic guilt for gold. In another, it’s a measured, yet spooky take on group psychology, the need for faith in sorrow, and the ethics of leadership with such vulnerable followers, weighing whether these impulses represent human goodness, evil, or simply nothing at all.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Midnight Mass offers a chance for anyone to be doubting Thomas or true believer. What difference is a miracle from a supernatural event, anyway? —Katherine Smith [Full Review]
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: A new viral sensation has arrived, and it’s bloody.
Honeyed snacks, candy-colored walls, and a larger-than-life doll all sound like a child’s fantasy come to life. But inside the world of Squid Game on Netflix, innocent nostalgia comes with a body count as 456 individuals compete to the death in playground games for $45.6 billion Korean won (or $38.6 million American dollars). All on the brink of financial ruin and desperate for a way out, the players are pitted against each other by the rich and powerful for entertainment, until there’s just one victor left standing.
Though it hasn’t been out long, the South Korean drama already boasts significant accolades. It’s the first Korean show to ever top Netflix’s U.S. Top 10, it’s the platform’s number one series across the globe, and it’s currently on track to become the most popular Netflix series ever—usurping period romance Bridgerton. Created by genre-spanning filmmaker Hwang Dong-hyuk, Squid Game’s plot line will feel familiar to anyone who’s seen The Hunger Games or Battle Royale, the Japanese cult favorite that popularized the battle royale genre. Yet rather than take place in any dystopian landscape, Squid Game grounds its premise through a real-world, contemporary setting. The “last-man-standing” hook means there’s a predictability to how it all plays out, but Hwang is less concerned with subverting the battle royale formula as much as digging into the human stakes that make it tick.
Manipulated by fine print, the Squid Game competitors aren’t initially aware of the life-or-death consequences they’ve signed up for. After the first game’s mass casualties, a loophole gives them the chance to opt out from playing and return safely to their empty bank accounts. The choice seems like a no-brainer from an outside perspective. But as the essential second episode reveals, there are no good options for those on society’s margins, and a worry-free existence where money isn’t a daily stressor seems impossible to obtain. The games are bad—but who’s to say the real world isn’t worse? —Annie Lyons [Full Review]
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: The stunning silent episode ended up being the most talked about.
After 35 years of sharing stage and screen, it’s still a delight to watch Steve Martin and Martin Short work together. Now, along with Selena Gomez, they find themselves embroiled in a murder mystery. The endearing comedy follows the trio of true-crime obsessives as they try to crack a case in their shared apartment building.
The neighbors make an unlikely gang: Charles-Haden Savage (Martin) is a washed-up actor who used to star as a TV detective, and the overconfidence he has in his residual investigative skills thinly masks a deeply insecure man; Oliver Putnam (Short) contrasts Charles as a flamboyant former theater director with a big personality and even bigger debts; Mabel (a well-cast Gomez) is a stylish and quietly mysterious young woman who has more of a connection to the case than she initially lets on. But when they find out they share a suspicion that a tragic suicide in their building was actually a homicide, they decide to try their hand at uncovering the truth—and start a podcast to follow their investigation.
The series—and the podcast within—depend on our central trio being engaging, and the combination of personalities works out well; the cast is dynamic, earning laughs while slowly revealing morsels of their secretly lonely lives to each other. While our heroes like to complicate things, Only Murders in the Building itself keeps things simple; it’s a pleasant and enjoyable series that’s clearly made with a lot of heart. —Kristen Reid [Full Review]
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