After a pretty darn serious stretch around Halloween, comedies finally gain the upper hand on the Paste Power Rankings this week. One catch: Neither HBO’s new British import, Sally4Ever, nor the 13th season finale of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, are conventional as far as comedy is concerned. Still, the leading pair, plus a disturbing nonfiction film from Independent Lens and a streaming drama from Sundance Now, means that newcomers reign. And that’s before the deluge of new series to come before next week. Buckle up!
The rules for this list 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 six weeks.
The voting panel is comprised 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, as much good TV is available right now.
Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Fresh Off the Boat, The Haunting of Hill House, Mars
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
People! Are you spending your time watching good TV? The kind that will win awards, make you think, and lead to endless thoughtful discussions with family and friends? Well, my dear viewers, you’re doing TV all wrong. Come with me into the wonderful world of 9-1-1, which began last week’s episode with a woman standing naked over a freeway overpass because she wanted to get her husband’s attention and featured Jennifer Love Hewitt singing a karaoke version of “Islands in the Stream.” This wonderful show is a gift from the TV gods, a delightful and preposterous weekly diversion. But just when you are about to dismiss the drama as pure escapist fluff, there’s a beautiful montage of an older gay couple, flashing back to the day they met and all the adventures they shared. Of course, one of them is then smashed to death by an errant vehicle and the other dies of a broken heart. But the fact that the series can have such a poignant moment amidst such over-the-top shenanigans is what makes it unique. I can say with confidence, there is nothing else like it on TV. You need to be watching. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: Jack Zeman/FOX)
Last Week’s Ranking: 6
Imagine all the camp and circumstance of creator Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s other series, The CW’s Riverdale, but with more blood and without the stringent Standards and Practices limitations that network TV requires. Mad Men’s Kiernan Shipka stars as the titular half-witch in this horror series based on Aguirre-Sacasa’s own comics. Someone much more in line with Harry Potter’s Hermione Granger than the bubbly and bright version of the character that Melissa Joan Hart played on the sitcom, Sabrina, the Teenage Witch, this Sabrina is a juvenile conjurer for the woke generation. She stumps for inclusivity, takes on bullies and is defiant of elders who tell her to slow down and learn the basics of magic before jumping ahead to the advanced stuff. (In this version, sadly, her cat doesn’t talk. Sorry to bum you out, Salem GIF lovers). Why should she sign her name in the Book of the Beast and let Satan—some guy she’s never even met—have jurisdiction over her body?
While Sabrina grapples with whether to embrace her destiny and align herself with the Dark Lord’s sinister plot, she has to jockey for screen time with some other scene-stealing characters. Homeland’s Miranda Otto and Shaun of the Dead’s Lucy Davis deliciously portray the bickering aunts entrusted to look over Sabrina and her cousin, Ambrose (Chance Perdomo) with sound bite-worthy precision. Gavin Leatherwood’s warlock Nicholas Scratch puts a modern-day spin on the trope of the bad boy with supernatural powers. But the real breakout stars are a trio of sorceresses known as the Weird Sisters, played by The 100’s Tati Gabrielle, Stranger Things’ Abigail F. Cowen, and newcomer Adeline Rudolph. —Whitney Friedlander (Photo: Courtesy of Netflix)
Last Week’s Ranking: 7
“America is where it’s always been,” Jemele Hill tells us. “It’s confused.”
So opens the first episode of LeBron James’ three-part docuseries, Shut Up and Dribble, which premiered three days before the midterm elections. Taking as its thesis the fact that men’s basketball, like all sports in America, has always been steeped in racism and politics, Shut Up and Dribble brings the historical receipts to every “I just want my sports to be sports” argument you’ve ever heard. Even in the first episode, which starts with Bill Russell’s appearance on the scene and ends on a big red Bulls’ eye of a cliffhanger, the series shows a confident deftness, finessing historical footage, interviews with basketball and pop culture luminaries, and Hill’s narration into something not just special, but greater than the sum of its parts. Basketball is great, but Shut Up and Dribble shows us the forces within it that, for good and ill, are greater. —Alexis Gunderson (Photo: Showtime)
Network: BBC America
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
Though the subject matter is quite different, “Demons of the Punjab” episode follows much the same template as “Miss Rosa,” in which the science-fictional adversaries—in this case, a species of demon assassins—pale in comparison to the historical ones. As the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) explains at one point, the partition of India in 1947, where she and the companions land in search of Yaz’s (Mandip Gill) grandmother, led to the deaths of more than one million people and the displacement of an another 10 million on top of that, not to mention sociopolitical tensions between the two countries that continue to this day. And, as with “Miss Rosa,” the episode is a stunner, rich and resonant for both the star-crossed romance between Umbreen (Amita Suman), a Muslim, and her Hindu first love, Prem (Shane Zaza), and its mournful sense of all that’s lost when we wall ourselves off from our neighbors. “We didn’t change when a line was drawn,” Prem claims. “But we did,” his brother, Manish (Hamza Jeetooa), replies. In a way, they’re both right, and “Demons in the Punjab” is very astute on this tension between personhood and nationhood. Airing on the 100th anniversary of the armistice that ended the First World War, as nationalism and its dire consequences are once again in the forefront of our thoughts, it’s hard to fathom a more fitting episode. I think we can safely say that period drama is this Doctor Who’s strong suit. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Ben Blackall/BBC America)
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
In Jed Mercurio’s exquisite actioner, there are no rooftop chases, no ticking clocks, no fisticuffs with the villain’s henchmen. Instead, the six-part series finds suspense in watchful camerawork and careful pacing, and it’s this thorough control that makes Bodyguard worthy of your next TV obsession: It refuses shortcuts, rejects ellipses, until it approaches the effect of real time. Rather than treat this as a gimmick, though, Mercurio, star Richard Madden, and directors Thomas Vincent and John Strickland use the technique to create potent echoes of protagonist David Budd’s torturous vigilance, and indeed the nation’s. A veteran of the war in Afghanistan, David receives an assignment to protect Home Secretary Julia Montague (Keeley Hawes), a rising political star with her eye on 10 Downing Street—and a reputation as a national security hardliner. The result is an ingenious layering of form atop function, all within the context of a taut political thriller: The series is less of 24 or House of Cards than Homeland at its most momentous, stripped of all but its hero’s ability to see what others miss. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Sophie Mutevelian/World Productions/Netflix)
Network: Sundance Now
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
The four hours of The Cry cut back and forth relentlessly, chopping past and present narratives into spliced, stochastic and muddled webs of connected moments. It takes a few minutes to get your footing and, while this could have been an on-the-nose flop as a technique, it’s not. It’s brilliantly done and highly evocative of the bizarre, flashback-riddled, lost-time landscape of trauma. Joanna (Jenna Coleman) is the young mother of a colicky newborn. Her husband, Alistair (Ewen Leslie), wants to go from Scotland to his childhood home, outside Melbourne, where his first wife has absconded and “stolen” his teenage daughter, Chloe (Sophie Kennedy Clark), after their marriage fell apart. The day Alistair and Joanna arrive, after a harrowing flight with a shrieking baby and a cabin full of resentful co-passengers, they make a pit stop at a convenience store and, after leaving the car unattended for just a minute, find the baby is not in the car seat. The psychological thriller is definitely not just for people who need re-schooling on “gaslighting,” an abnormal psychology term that’s been abused in a pathology-obsessed and relentlessly finger-pointing cultural moment, but for sure it can also do that for you. This excruciating breakdown of a toxic marriage will keep most people on the edges of their chairs. —Amy Glynn (Photo: Sundance Now)
Network: Amazon Prime Video
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
Walter Cruz (Stephan James) is a young veteran who, along with his friend Shrier (Jeremy Allen White) and a few dozen more, has checked into the Homecoming facility to help adjust to civilian life. And it’s weird. Things are off, but we can’t really put our fingers on why. We also meet Julia Roberts’ Heidi Bergman, Walter’s caseworker, who immediately appeals to our need for stability—until we realize, thanks to a multi-year flash forward where she’s working as a waitress with only fuzzy memories of Homecoming, that she’s not stable at all. What the hell happened between now and then? And, wait, what exactly was going on then, anyways? Directed by Mr. Robot’s Sam Esmail, Amazon Prime’s Homecoming is a blessed 10 half-hour episodes. That alone should be enough to get you in the door. What will keep you there is a stunning story of purpose, justice, and the work ethic that powers both the evil of America and the forces trying to save it. You will be sucked into one of the year’s most compelling mysteries. —Jacob Oller (Photo: Tod Campbell/Amazon Prime Video)
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
The Cleaners doesn’t have the jaw-dropping cinematic fireworks of, say, Blue Planet, but if it doesn’t leave you with your mouth hanging uneasily open, I’d advise checking in with your doctor. This one-hour documentary from Independent Lens is compact. Small. Dark, in both visual palette and subject matter. It’s a little like looking at a black hole, which is perhaps a more significant cinematic achievement than I’m giving it credit for—because that heavy, static, darkened sensibility is actually pretty rife. Let me start here: Your perception of reality is being curated by a group of basically clandestine content moderators in the Philippines, who work for a third-party company contracted with Facebook, Twitter, Google and other major platforms. Their job is to scrub those platforms of offensive, illegal or incendiary content. It’s really exciting when a documentary is artistically groundbreaking and so timely and compelling in its subject matter that everyone who can get in front of a screen should watch it. It’s also rare. But The Cleaners is just that. —Amy Glynn (Photo: Courtesy of Gebrueder Beetz Filmproduktion)
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
Sally4Ever might be the funniest TV series of 2018. I realize that’s a bold statement to make for any series, especially this early into its existence, but when it comes to the work of comedy writer/director/actress Julia Davis, it’s best not to bet against her. From Human Remains to Nighty Night to the original version of Camping, Davis’ approach to comedy—through the lens of humanity’s much less flattering sides—is always dreadfully funny. Just as It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’s 13th season somehow ended with one of the most poignant, emotionally affecting sitcom moments of all time, Sally4Ever is a comedy that says nothing can ever truly be poignant, because all people are terrible. Every single one of them. (It’s a sentiment that means her comedy isn’t exactly for everyone.) Basically, it’s the opposite of The Good Place: Nothing’s sacred to Julia Davis, even when the characters she writes—especially the ones she plays, like Emma here—somehow think every dumb thing they say and do is. —LaToya Ferguson (Photo: Courtesy of Sky)
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
It’s rare for any series in its 13th season to surprise its viewers, much less a comedy down a main cast member—Glenn Howerton, now on NBC’s A.P. Bio—and long settled into its winsomely nasty sense of humor. In “Mac Finds His Pride,” though, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia combines gross-out laughs, queer representation, and modern dance into one of the most jaw-dropping half-hours of this, or any, year. Getting the Paddy’s float ready for Pride, Frank (Danny DeVito) tries to lift Mac (Rob McElhenney), who’s recently come to realize he’s gay but doesn’t feel like he fits in yet, out of his funk. The pair stops in at a BDSM club and a drag bar (both all wrong), with Frank nursing an infected, bleeding nose in ways that’d make the most seasoned member of the gang retch, before finally arriving at the prison where Mac’s father is incarcerated. (“Some cuts you just can’t plug up,” Frank remarks later: Only It’s Always Sunny could turn a hot glue-sealed head wound into a metaphor for repressed emotions.) The six-minute sequence that concludes the episode, featuring McElhenney, dance partner Kylie Shea, and an audience of mesmerized inmates, is beyond extraordinary—a wrenching coming out more than worthy of one of this century’s very best, and most audacious, comedies. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Patrick McElhenney/FX)