Two days before Halloween, is there anything scarier that what your monthly bills might look like if you paid for Netflix and Hulu and Disney+ and AppleTV+ and Amazon Prime and …? We could go on and on.
You need the Power Rankings more than ever. Who else will remind you that the sad horse is who you should be watching this week?
The rules for the Power Rankings are simple: Any 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—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. We’re merciless: a bad episode can knock you right off this list. So much good TV is available right now.
Catherine the Great (HBO), Mr. Robot(USA), The Durrells in Corfu (PBS) and Impulse (YouTube Premium).
10. This is Us
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
It’s easy to dismiss This is Us, now in its fourth season, as an emotionally manipulative drama guaranteed to make you cry. But the series has always shined in its quieter moments when it ignores the tricky conceit of its premise, when it’s not so caught up in establishing and revealing mysteries. This season the show has begun to fully explore the long-lasting ramifications of Jack’s (Milo Ventimiglia) death in Season Two. We see how losing their father when they were seniors in high school changed the trajectory of the Big Three’s lives—from Kevin’s (Justin Hartley) impulsive marriage to Randall’s (Sterling K. Brown) college choice to Kate’s (Chrissy Metz) romantic ones. Hartley, in particular, is having a great season. Often Kevin is the series’ comic relief and he still is but beneath Kevin’s jovial exterior, Hartley conveys a man still not quite at ease with his life, still searching for answers and still trying to connect with the father he lost years ago.—Amy Amatangelo
9. Modern Love
Network: Amazon Prime
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
Where can you find Anne Hathaway, Catherine Keener, Tina Fey, John Slattery, Jane Alexander, Dev Patel and the hot priest from Fleabag?
In Amazon’s delightful, surprising and poignant new eight-episode anthology series Modern Love. Based on the must-read and ever popular New York Times first person column of the same name, each installment stands alone with the vibrant city of New York with all its positives and negatives being the one recurring character. Like the column, the series explores all kinds of love — including romantic, parental, platonic and self. It examines, among other things, the tribulations of dating, the struggles of marriage, and the difficulties with raising children.
The Modern Love column ranges from 1500 to 1700 words. Getting published is highly competitive and a career pinnacle. It’s the brevity of the stories that pull the reader in. At that word count, there’s no room for filler or fluff. Every word is precise and with intent.
The episodes, which run from 28 to 34 minutes, follow the same approach. In a TV landscape full of bloated episodes, pointless dialogue and unnecessary scenes, the precise conciseness of Modern Love is nothing short of glorious. There’s no room for anything extraneous. The installments have the unique ability to instantly introduce a character to the audience and have viewers feel as if they know them intimately. I’ve watched shows for years where I feel like I know the characters less.—Amy Amatangelo
8. Sorry for Your Loss
Network: Facebook Watch
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
The highest praise I can give Sorry for Your Loss is that it made me watch TV on Facebook, something I had avoided doing and still don’t like. But the show is just that good—raw, emotional, intense, beautiful—that it becomes a weekly necessity. The series follows Leigh Shaw (Elizabeth Olsen) as she navigates life after her husband Matt (Mamoudou Athie) suddenly passes away, an event that completely shatters her life. We first met her several months after she left her job, moved back in with her mother Amy (Janet McTeer) and sister Jules (Kelly Marie Tran), and started picking up some work at Amy’s fitness studio. But mostly Leigh is adrift, and the only person who seems to somewhat understand her pain is Matt’s brother Danny (Jovan Adepo), someone Leigh never previously got along with.
In Season Two, those dynamics are at the forefront. Almost a year has passed since Matt died, and even though the Season One finale left Leigh in a place where it seemed like she was ready to start living life on her own terms again, she remains mostly in limbo. It’s also Christmas, which exacerbates everything. All three women are spiraling, and struggling to define themselves in a world that has suddenly been so changed.
Season Two doesn’t feel quite as emotionally overwhelming as the first, which is a fair reflection of Leigh’s place in her own life (and not a negative mark against the show at all). As she starts to move forward, tentatively, so does the show. There are fits and starts in both cases, but Sorry for Your Loss continues to be an authentic and moving series. And yes, it is definitely worth watching TV on Facebook for (which is, by the way, totally free).—Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: 6
I’m not quite sure CBS knows Evil is on its network because Oh. My. God. did you see last week’s episode? I can’t believe the same network that airs like 50 different versions of NCIS is airing this meditation on evil from the same people who brought you The Good Wife. Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers) is a forensic psychologist who becomes something of a believer when she meets priest-in-training David Acosta (Colter) and tech expert Ben (Aasif Mandvi) and they begin to investigate the inexplicable. The always creepy (in the best way) Michael Emerson is also on hand as Leland Townsend, a mysterious character who epitomize the title of the series. Truly my only complaint about this drama, which gets better with each passing episode, is that may be too creepy for me. The show produces the kind of scares that stay with you long after the lights go out.—Amy Amatangelo
6. Saturday Night Live
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
For a series that often traffics in cynicism, there was so much joy on this week’s Saturday Night Live it was downright infectious. With Chicago native Chance the Rapper as both the host and the musical guest (who voiced his support for the striking Chicago Public School teachers at the outset), it was impossible to watch the late-night sketch show without a huge grin on your face. From the opening skit, which featured a return of Daryl Hammond’s smarmy Bill Clinton to Chance the Rapper’s monologue rap—an homage to loving things that are second best—to Jason Momoa giggling through his surprise cameo everyone seemed to be having an outright blast. The 90 minutes featured both Angel and California Dreams getting name checked and Cecily Strong and Chance flying through the air. Forty-five seasons in, the grandfather of sketch shows continues to surprise.—Amy Amatangelo
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel Watchmen, like Fight Club and Starship Troopers, has a knack for getting itself misunderstood. Frankly, that’s mostly because white guys in the demographic that usually watches this kind of thing are used to a certain kind of messaging and a certain status quo interpretation. Action heroes kill stuff. It’s awesome. Rah, rah, violence. Move along, see the sequel in a year. Past behavior is hard to escape; it’s also hard to criticize without accidentally dipping back into old habits. Watchmen’s HBO sequel series from Damon Lindelof isn’t perfect in this regard, but it’s easy to watch, tough to pin down, and well worth working through.
The show becomes more and more about the traumas suffered by our progenitors, how they’ve lived on through us, and how we respond to their effects. It susses out the ways the government would attempt reparations for black Americans robbed of historical wealth—including the racist backlash against and cringe-inducing videos used to inform those receiving them. This applies to oppression and inequality, sure, but an entire episode digs into the 9/11-like aftershocks resonating into the American psyche from Ozymandius’ space squid drop on NYC. The past comes for everyone in the show.
Unlike some other prestige TV with muddled messaging, Watchmen doesn’t leave you feeling empty. The thematic throughline of the past’s haunting echoes and tangible consequences can get hammy at times, but it’s still a fascinating concept for a sequel series that nobody asked for. Clever, mean, blood-in-the-mouth humor meshes with politics warped and wild in this alt-present where Robert Redford is president and peace was forced upon the world by a murderous genius. Coping with this reality, moving on from the sins of the past, and figuring out how to find a just future—that’s a journey riddled with pitfalls, but one Watchmen makes irresistible. —Jacob Oller
4. The Good Place
Last Week’s Ranking: 10
Five episodes into Season Four of The Good Place, we’re already feeling a sense of urgency as the revolutionary comedy series barrels toward its ultimate conclusion—although oddly, it doesn’t always seem as if the show itself is feeling that same impetus to accelerate, even if the fate of the universe is at stake. Instead, episodes like “Tinker, Tailor, Demon, Spy” have instead been a bit on the insular side, withdrawing from the Judge’s impending decision on the fate of the human race to return to the interpersonal relationships of our beloved Soul Squad. These episodes turned out as a surprisingly satisfying, self-contained tale, even though they don’t always make much progress in advancing the ultimate plot, which is this “final” experiment to determine the fate of mankind. With only nine episodes left in the series, one gets the sense that things are about to start moving very quickly, so perhaps the first quarter of this season was simply the deep breath before the plunge. —Jim Vorel
3. Silicon Valley
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
Silicon Valley’s sixth and final season starts with a scene that plays out with eerie timing, as Richard (Thomas Middleditch) awkwardly addresses Congress about data mining, a la Mark Zuckerberg’s own flailing appearance in real life. But as with everything in Big Tech, Silicon Valley makes these headline-inspired scenes it own, slotting into a familiar formula—but one that works so well—as Richard and his cohorts swear they aren’t data mining at Pied Piper when, in fact, they (accidentally) most definitely are.
The MVP of the series continues to be Zach Woods as Jared, whose mysterious background and neverending manifesting anxieties continue to provide the series with an emotional core. But as the show winds down, it seems clear that Pied Piper may well become the monster it was hoping to dismantle with its original idea of a decentralized internet. Even Hooli is being cannibalized by Amazon, as tech giants in the show and in the real world continue to consolidate into (as the show puts it) massive kingdoms larger than any the world has ever known. It’s a terrifying prospect that also rings true—the very foundation of what makes Silicon Valley’s charmingly cynical view of tech so essential. —Allison Keene
2. Castle Rock
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
There’s something so satisfying, so pleasurable, when a series returns for its second season and immediately reveals itself to have surpassed the first. So it is with the first three episodes of this second go-round for Castle Rock. Yes, there’s still something of an over-reliance on wink-wink references to the King canon, but so far, this Misery-influenced season feels less like fan service and more like a fever dream—the kind you can’t wake from. The kind that pops, unbidden, into your mind when you’re just hoping to move on with your day. The kind that follows you, moist and staring, out of the hole you dumped it in.
Much of the success of these episodes is due to the fascinating, fearless performance of Lizzy Caplan, playing a pre-Misery Annie Wilkes with seemingly bottomless panache. It’s a turn that’s both terrifying and funny, yet she plays Annie with enough emotional honesty that it’s still somehow possible, even easy, to invest in her journey. In this case, the journey is somewhat literal—Annie and her daughter Joy (Eighth Grade’s powerhouse Elsie Fisher) criss-cross the country, Annie finding temporary work as a nurse so she can easily steal her self-prescribed cocktail of antipsychotics. But an accident strands them in Castle Rock and throws them in the path of Ace Merrill (King alumnus Tim Robbins), and things go sideways in a big way. The performances are intimate and honest, but the scares are visceral and grotesque. It’s a cockadoodie delight.—Allison Shoemaker
1. BoJack Horseman
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
What is the worst thing you’ve ever done? How hard do you have to work to avoid thinking about it every day? And do you actually deserve to escape it? Netflix’s BoJack Horseman has, nearly since the beginning of the series, ascended beyond the surface level aspects of its premise: An animated satire about a washed-up sitcom star (who happens to be an anthropomorphic horse). And that transcendence has always been courtesy of the show’s obsession with examining questions like the ones above. In many ways, Season Six begins like many others — with BoJack (Will Arnett) determined to make his life better, despite whatever setbacks/emotional trauma he’d endured over the course of the previous season. This time, this is even more explicit, because at the end of Season Five, BoJack made the decision (with some help from Diane (Allison Brie)) to go to rehab. His time there stretches across multiple episodes, even after a somewhat easy-to-predict inspirational montage where BoJack’s difficulties with sharing, crafts, therapy and yoga are overcome.
As an unabashed fan of BoJack, I have personally spent untold hours inflicting one of the lamest cards in the critics’ deck of cliches upon friends, family and random acquaintances: “You have to watch until [This Episode].” For me, that episode is Season One’s “The Telescope,” where the show’s understanding of how to invoke the past collides in a haunting way with the present, revealing the true potential of this series. It’s also an episode which reveals how BoJack’s use of flashbacks is perhaps its greatest, most deadly emotional superpower: No one can withstand how the dance of nostalgia, hard truth, and real consequences lead to damaged, even broken lives. This is a long-term train of thought that BoJack Horseman is close to completing. But waiting another three months for the show’s final thoughts is going to be rough. —Liz Shannon Miller
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