Without a Disney+ mega franchise series this past week, what was a TV watcher to do? Well, turns out there are still some great shows out there, although we are hitting a rather thin moment between various COVID delays that may make that a little more difficult in weeks to come. But now is the time to really expand your viewing horizons: Try embracing subtitles; watch a docuseries (especially Allen vs Farrow, which was a convincing conviction of Woody Allen); feel old by checking out the Real World: Homecoming reunion; feel young by rewatching your childhood favorites. Or just try out some of our recommendations below!
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.
For All Mankind (Apple TV+), Men in Kilts (Starz), Snowpiercer (TNT)
Network: HBO Max
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
This Week: The fallout of the crime is both predictable and absolutely heartbreaking.
Through five episodes, the limited Swedish series Beartown tells the story of Peter Andersson (Ulf Stenberg), a retired NHL player who returns to his hometown (Bjornstad, which translates to “Beartown”) with his wife and two children to coach the semi-professional hockey team. Bjornstad is a failing, dilapidated town steeped in Nordic misery, and the hockey team is a perfect reflection of the people: sad, old, and almost hopeless. Andersson, who comes with his own tragic burden—his young son died while he lived in North America—decides that the only way he’ll continue is if he can coach the junior team. There, he can utilize the talents of Kevin Erdahl (Oliver Dufaker), the son of his former rival, a prodigious talent who spends hours outside his home on the cold winter nights, slapping puck after puck into a net hung with targets.
There’s an almost Robert Altman-esque vibe to many of the scenes, in the sense that overlapping conversation and seemingly improvised bits of dialogue add credibility to a party scene, or a locker room speech, or the chatter of parents in the stands. Through these methods, director Peter Gronlund establishes a wonderful flow that nearly goes unnoticed amid the story and the drama, but that is essential to the world-building which seems to capture a viewer so effortlessly. And it should come as no surprise that the hockey scenes are also executed extremely well, which is quite an effort considering that this is only a “sports” show in the loosest sense.
This ingredient and all others cohere seamlessly, and you’re left with a show that transcends noir even as it elevates it. It’s clear that noir generally—and Scandi-noir specifically—hold a special appeal to modern audiences, and it’s clearer still that in the race to pump out as many as possible, some of the vibrant energy of what makes it special has been lost. There is no serial killer in Beartown, there is no religious iconography, no mass conspiracy, no last-minute twists to justify hours of uncertainty. There are only human beings, lost in a landscape, subject to the nightmares and redemptions that have plagued and absolved us from the start, and from which we’re called upon to rise even as the earthly world extends its cold, familiar shackles. —Shane Ryan
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
This Week: A heartbreaking episode that saw viewers saying “ciao” to a beloved character.
We are still dealing with the pandemic. But on TV, so many medical series have moved on (see The Good Doctor). Or, if they haven’t, the dramas have their doctors cherry picking when they actually wear PPE with an inconsistency that defies all logic (hi New Amsterdam). But not Grey’s Anatomy. Currently in its 17th(!!) season, the crown jewel of ABC’s scripted series has embraced COVID-19 with an unwavering and honest aplomb. How honest? Its title character, the indestructible Meredith Grey (Ellen Pompeo), succumbed to COVID and has been intubated and unconscious throughout the majority of the season. Her unconscious state, this limbo between life and death, is represented by a beach where Meredith is lingering. There, to the utter delight of longtime viewers, she has seen the ghosts of Grey’s Anatomy past including her husband Derek (Patrick Dempsey) and her best friend George (T. R. Knight). Somehow through it all, the show is still delivering on its trademark beats that has made it so beloved. There are still supply room hook-ups, awkward encounters with exes, interpersonal angst, innovative surgeries, workplace melodrama and medical mysteries. But Grey’s unflinching look at the pandemic and its real-life consequences reminds us with each episode about the devastation and lives lost. Educational, informative and wildly entertaining. Few shows achieve that elusive hat trick. Grey’s Anatomy remains our forever person.—Amy Amatangelo
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
This Week: Alien Harry had a heart-to-heart with Dead Harry and it was deep. But it was one-upped by Harry’s chat with a sushi-doomed octopus alien voiced by Nathan Fillion.
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: HBO Max
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
This Week: The final week of eligibility and we are here to say watch this show!
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: Not Eligible
This Week: Attendez!
Ok, so Call My Agent! isn’t new. But for whatever reason, a lot of people (including those at Paste TV!) are suddenly finding and very much enjoying this French comedy-drama about a Parisian talent agency and the lovably infuriating folks who staff it. Created by Fanny Herrero, Call My Agent (also known as “Dix Pour Cent” —ten percent) is excellent at balancing and integrating both its character work and Actor of the Week storylines, where real French celebrities (some of whom, in later seasons, are more well-known to American audiences) play heightened versions of themselves. A behind-the-scenes look at French TV and moviemaking (which is basically the same as it is in America), Call My Agent is just as focused on the various personal dramas at ASK, an agency at war first with a rival agency and then with itself, and its lopsided “work is life” mentality. With four short seasons (each running six episodes), the series is entertaining simply as a clever take on the industry, but what makes it truly great is how it grounds that storytelling in relatable characters and the neverending carousel of their triumphs and woes. In other words, oui, worth the subtitles. Allons-y! —Allison Keene
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