The only thing bigger than The Muppet Show landing on Disney+ is the NASA rover Perseverance landing on Mars, but it’s close. But frankly, Stanley Tucci talking about pasta is in the running over on CNN. It’s the Tooch!
Then there’s the HBO documentary is Allen v. Farrow is … well, we’re still processing.
There’s certainly a lot of great TV vying for attention this week, but below you’ll find our favorites. And yeah, that #1 will look familiar—she’s going to be hard to dethrone, folks!
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.
Snowpiercer (TNT), All Creatures Great and Small (PBS), Men in Kilts (Starz), Kenan (NBC)
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: Don’t miss this quietly great series.
So 2021 is already a lot, but our prescription is to take your weekly dose of Alan Tudyk in Resident Alien. The fantastically talented Tudyk finally gets to lead his own show in essentially a dual role as Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle and the alien who has secretly crash-landed on Earth and assumed the dead doctor’s appearance for safety. Much actual hilarity does ensue when the imposing local sheriff (Corey Reynolds) demands Vanderspeigle’s help in solving the murder of the lone town doctor in nearby Patience, Colorado. With an entertaining ensemble of quirky townspeople as support, the series unfolds like the mad cousin of Northern Exposure mashed up with John Carpenter’s Starman. And Tudyk is on point serving up a weekly Master’s class in physical comedy and pitch-perfect line readings. Plus, there’s an inspired side plot about a single kid in town who can see what Harry actually is, and their mutual détente of deep dislike is sublime. Get on this one—it’s the tension release valve you need. —Tara Bennett
Network: Apple TV+
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: An alt history that, for once, is better than ours. Also: guns on the moon!
It’s no secret that in its 1983-set sophomore season, For All Mankind is putting guns on the moon.
Guns. On the moon.
In the timeline of For All Mankind, the meticulously crafted alt-history science fiction series from Ronald D. Moore, Matt Wolpert, and Ben Nedivi that turns the Space Race on its head by imagining it was the Soviets who landed the first man on the moon, guns are just the latest in a long line of things our own space program hadn’t even considered launching into orbit before 1983: Guns. Television sets. A lunar research base. A lunar mining operation. A Martian rover. The Bob Newhart Show. Black people. Women.
There’s a lot more going on in the second season of For All Mankind than the issue of guns on the moon, of course—as it did in its first season, the series continues to excel at balancing its sprawling ensemble of characters, all of whom are driven by a dizzying array of motivations, with the precise textural demands of a well-dressed period piece. Moreover, it sets itself apart as the rare prestige streaming series that not only makes use of its episodes’ hour-plus runtimes, but treats them as unique pearls, strung together to make a complete streaming necklace. Watch with your pause button at the ready, and have at least one person over the age of 50 on hand (and/or a browser open to Wikipedia) to make sense of the dozens of historical changes the show wants to establish. They clearly had a lot of fun imagining every bit of it; you deserve to get in on that fun, too. —Alexis Gunderson
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: A charming yarn with some very fun wrestling cameos.
A cute and nostalgic network TV journey through a celebrity’s early years would probably not work under any other circumstances than those of Young Rock. The NBC series brings together the comedy savvy of Nahnatchka Khan (Don’t Trust the B— in Apt 23 and Fresh Off the Boat) and the well-established charisma of wrestler-turned-actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson, hopping through several timelines to give a colorfully embellished but seemingly emotionally genuine survey of The Rock’s childhood.
There are plenty of Easter eggs for wrestling fans in particular, who will undoubtedly enjoy (or bristle) at depictions of famous figures like André the Giant, the Iron Sheik, and Macho Man Randy Savage. Even for those like myself who have no real context for the history of the industry being represented, it all helps build out Young Rock’s candy-colored, comedically-heightened world.
While fans of Khan’s previous work may be disappointed by a dulling of her signature surrealist humor, there are still some sharply funny moments throughout Young Rock, and the show is certainly brimming with warmth. Johnson is charming as always, and he manages to come off as genuine. The first episode’s title, “Working The Gimmick,” really sets up a wary expectation for all that follows. But the goal of wrestling is entertainment, and Young Rock provides that in spades; it’s a sweet show, and earnestly likable. So even if viewers do feel like we’re being worked, do we mind? —Allison Keene
Network: HBO Max
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: As our EIC put it, “that something so sad can be such a satisfying watch is a tribute to the way it celebrates life among so much death.”
From the beginning of It’s a Sin, the show’s ending is foreseeable. And yet it’s impossible to resist hoping for a different outcome: in a 1980s London plagued by AIDS, maybe these gay men we’ve come to know and love can make it out of the epidemic unscathed. Maybe government officials—and, inherently, the rest of the world—will take notice of the crisis as it unfolds and try to do something to help these men. But, no; Russell T. Davies’ limited series is a tragic, albeit masterful, retelling of the AIDS epidemic.
The main group—including the fashionable Roscoe (Omari Douglas), sweet Colin (Callum Scott Howells), guardian angel Jill (Lydia West), and lanky Ritchie (Olly Alexander) at the forefront—forms in and around London, at clubs, bars, apartment parties, becoming a larger and larger group of friends as they do. Then they’re crashing in an apartment together, tossing around witty nicknames and cups of tea.
It’s a Sin explores the HIV/AIDS illness as it unfurls in gay clubs and communities around the city—though it never villainizes or blames them for the crisis. Despite being a series almost entirely about the HIV/AIDS epidemic, It’s a Sin does not dawdle in statistics or tragedy. By energizing the show with a spirited cast, a storyline about growing up, and plenty of scenes that follow the joy of their kinship, Davies has created a tale that can entertain while still spotlighting an imperative point of discussion. —Fletcher Peters
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This Week: “It was Agatha all along!”
In the Marvel comics, Wanda Maximoff is a reality-bending enchantress known as Scarlet Witch. Her power set is immense, and we have never seen the full scope of it within the movie universe—it’s too big, really, when you compare the fact that she and an actual god (Thor), and a wizard (Doctor Strange), are equals on a team with a Russian spy (Black Widow) carrying a gun, and an archer (Hawkeye). There are limits.
Not, however, when it comes to WandaVision itself, which is where we finally get to see the Marvel machine slightly unleashed. Marvel’s forays into television have not been altogether fantastic. But these new Disney+ series expand the story of characters we know from the movies in way that the movies simple did not have time to do. It also allows WandaVision creator Jac Schaeffer and director Matt Shakman to put a uniquely stylized and deeply emotional spin on a story that would have (had this been a movie) otherwise been shackled by the mandated aesthetics of the overall MCU.
As such, in WandaVision, Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) is also unleashed. She has used her immense power to create an insular world where she and her lost love, Vision (Paul Bettany), get to live happily ever after in classic sitcoms based on the likes of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched, and I Love Lucy. For fans of classic television, this is no satire; despite a few over-the-top ham moments, it is a loving homage to these series.
But of course, it’s not real. Throughout these half-hour episodes (both the ones we experience and the ones Wanda and Vision are living through), the world outside of this coping fantasy begins to creep in. First with bursts of color, then occasional off-script moments. Wanda stops these right away by rewinding and reliving the situation without the disruption. A clean story, nothing to disturb them. Just a husband and wife living a normal life in perfect suburbia (with the occasional advertisement for a Hydra watch or a Stark Industries toaster, of course).
Soon, however, Wanda is spinning out of control. Reality is closer than ever, and the teases we get to the world outside of Wanda’s creation, one where Vision is gone, get increasingly overt. She will have to come to terms with the truth soon, but it will hurt. And yet, I don’t really want reality to impede on Wanda’s created life at all. WandaVision’s core conceit—that sometimes you just want to escape into television, into fantasy, into a daydream—couldn’t be more meta. Let’s stay here in this happiness just a little while longer. The world outside is so dark. —Allison Keene
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