When you watch a good drama, you also need to balance it out with a comedy. Brought low by the emotional abuse present in Maid? Revel in the whimsies of amateur investigators in Only Murders! Depressed by the metaphorical vampiric cabal behind America’s opioid epidemic in Dopesick? Spend some time with charmingly dopey literal vampires in WWDITS. Spooked by the philosophies in Midnight Mass? Head on over to the Muppets Haunted Mansion!
There’s plenty of great TV to choose from and you’ll find some of our favorites this week below. And in particular, if you have Netflix, check out our Honorable Mentions list; the streaming service’s bench is very deep with great shows right now.
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.
Midnight Mass (Netflix), Chucky (USA/Syfy), The Baby-Sitters Club (Netflix), Great British Baking Show (Netflix), You (Netflix), Squid Game (Netflix), Muppets Haunted Mansion (Disney+)
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: Margaret Qualley is magnetic, and the show is so nuanced that even the villains are multi-dimensional.
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]
Network: FX on Hulu (included in your Hulu subscription)
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
This Week: We didn’t know we needed to see Nandor in ‘80s workout gear and a blowout, but we’re thankful for it.
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: Not Eligible
This Week: A powerful, difficult, and damning chronicle of America’s opioid epidemic.
Dopesick is not messing around. It can be heavy handed, but its aim is true. Over eight episodes, seven of which were available for review, the series—based on Beth Macy’s non-fiction book Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America—chronicles the rise of America’s devastating opioid epidemic through the astronomically successful sale of OxyContin. Jumping around between 1986 and 2005, the fictionalized Dopesick follows members of the Sackler family, federal regulatory agencies, and sales reps complicit in the spread of OxyContin alongside the investigators and district attorneys who have worked to stop them. Meanwhile, patients suffer gravely throughout.
Adapted by Danny Strong and directed by Barry Levinson, Dopesick is certainly not a light watch. Drenched in blues and grays and with a stoic narrative tone, the series is full of terrible, damning factoids. It’s difficult to watch, frankly, because in 2021 we know both how this all ends up and still continues on, so the tension of seeing a good doctor, who deeply cares about his patients, be taken in by the lies about the drug’s safety is agonizing.
It’s why, for all its faults and lulls, I wanted to keep watching. Every reveal is damning and essential. I wanted to quote all of it: the lies, the greed, the manipulations, the horror. No one who supported the Purdue Pharma side comes out looking good—particularly the FDA. Even those with good intentions were bamboozled, but there is no room for absolution here. When it comes to OxyContin, Dopesickis clear: there is only pain and reckoning. —Allison Keene [Full Review]
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: The Roys are back and as creatively vicious as ever.
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]
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
This Week: Only Sazz could unseat Succession; Jane Lynch as Steve Martin’s “stunt double” was genius, and a comedic gift that kept on giving.
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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