Paste Power Ranking: The 5 Best TV Shows on Right Now, from What If? to Nine Perfect Strangers

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<i>Paste</i> Power Ranking: The 5 Best TV Shows on Right Now, from <i>What If?</i> to <i>Nine Perfect Strangers</i>

It says a lot about where we are in the Peak TV era that a great star-studded show like Nine Perfect Strangers could debut so quietly on Hulu this week. There are so many diamonds in the rough out there, and we at Paste are here to help you navigate where to spend your attention. We watch a lot of TV, and each week vote on our current favorites to consider putting on your streaming queue (our picks are not not always on a streaming service but… they usually are!) And yes, our perfectly strange nine are definitely in the mix this week.

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.

Honorable Mention: The Good Fight (Paramount+), Modern Love (Amazon Prime), Legends of Tomorrow (The CW), Brooklyn Nine-Nine (NBC), The Chair (Netflix)

5. Heels

Network: Starz
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
This Week: Ladies and gentlemen: Chris Bauer.

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Created by Loki’s Michael Waldron—with Mike O’Malley serving as showrunner—Heels follows brothers Jack (Stephen Amell) and Ace (Alexander Ludwig) Spade as they navigate their way through the world of local, independent professional wrestling in their small, fictional Georgia hometown of Duffy. The series begins nearly a year after the shocking death of their father, “King” Tom Spade (David James Elliott), a local hero who left behind a legacy and big shoes to fill. He also left behind the family business, the Duffy Wrestling League (DWL). Family man Jack, who plays a heel in DWL and hold the company’s championship belt, takes over the responsibilities of running the promotion (booking wrestlers, writing the storylines, courting sponsors, and everything else he can possibly do to grow the DWL), while devil-may-care Ace—the promotion’s top face—has dreams of making it big in professional wrestling and finally getting out of Duffy the way Wild Bill did.

Heels is a series that sets out to not just push back the metaphorical curtain (as opposed to the literal curtain) on the world of contemporary professional wrestling, but to examine how the lines of reality can be blurred—something professional wrestling takes to another level. That’s especially true when wrestling is literally your family’s whole life, the thing that you hope puts food on the table. Heels asks the questions one would expect a show about professional wrestling to ask: When does kayfabe (the established “fake” world of wrestling) become a shoot (the real world)? When does a shoot become kayfabe? What happens when those worlds co-exist? And in the specific case of Heels, how do these characters balance work and family when both are inextricably linked? It’s territory that Heels has its characters absolutely thrive in from the very moment we meet them. —LaToya Ferguson [Full Review]


4. Ted Lasso

Network: Apple TV+
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: “I’m afraid my spouse is going to leave me for Roy Kent.” – Paste Staff

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The success of Apple TV+’s Ted Lasso, with its emphasis on kindness, positivity, and respect, probably shouldn’t have been a surprise. A comedy about an American football coach (Jason Sudeikis) who takes a job as the manager of a struggling English Premier League team was the perfect escape from the global pandemic that had forced us inside, fostered uncertainty, and fed our collective anxiety. But it also slipped into the TV space that had previously been occupied by heartwarming shows like Schitt’s Creek and Parks and Recreation, two comedies that similarly dealt in overwhelming kindness and left lasting impressions on viewers who’d grown weary of the darkness of the antihero age, or who needed a break from everyday life.

In Season 2, the series has doubled down on what works—Ted’s ability to lead, Rebecca’s (Hannah Waddingham) strength, Keeley’s (Juno Temple) PR acumen, and Nate’s (Nick Mohammed) keen insight into the team—while also finding new and fun ways to explore characters like Roy (Brett Goldstein) and Jamie (Phil Dunster). Basically, Ted Lasso as a whole remains a delightful and quirky comedy that highlights the best of humanity, revealing how kindness and humility can be a conduit to happiness and success. It’s still the show we all needed last year, but it’s also the show that we need today. Because if there’s one thing the show has taught us, it’s that there is no bad time for Ted Lasso. —Kaitlin Thomas [Full Review]


3. Reservation Dogs

Network: FX on Hulu (included in your Hulu subscription)
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This Week: Sometimes you learn important lessons about weed. And deer.

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FX has found its niche in telling close-up, intimate stories extremely well, and Reservation Dogs is no exception. It focuses on four friends—Bear (D’Pharoah Woon-A-Tai), Elora (Devery Jacobs), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), and Cheese (Lane Factor)—who accidentally form an unofficial “gang” dubbed the “reservation bandits,” because of their penchant for light crime. Their hope is to get enough money to get to California, an ideal that’s always just out reach.

The lived-in, slightly surrealist comedy is a low-fi exploration of an Indigenous community in Oklahoma, whose leads shuffle around the “rez” among other misfits and sundries, and stumble into a variety of adventures that range from stealing a chip van to dealing with a snarky and overworked healthcare system. FX has touted Reservation Dogs, created by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi, as revolutionary. In many ways it is; it features an all-Indigenous writers room, for one. But the show makes its boldest statement by not feeling like it’s making a statement at all. It’s an easy-going show, foul and funny, specific and accessible. It’s not about the kids being noble heroes or crime-loving villains; they’re just people. But they are also Indigenous people, which does mean something, and is all-too-rare to see on television—especially portrayed in such a wonderfully casual way.

But more than anything, Reservation Dogs is a perfect summer series, one that takes places on languid afternoons and moves at an unhurried pace. The kids make plans, scrounge for food, wander around, get into fights. They don’t talk or act like adults, and they’re not beaten down by cynicism. They have hopes and dreams, a love for family, an un-ironic embrace of community, and make a lot of silly mistakes. To say there is an innocence or even wholesomeness to Reservation Dogs would not be to quite hit the mark on how casually crass the show can be (it is ultimately a comedy for adults); but like its leads, it has a good heart. The friends are trying their best and hold each other close, even as they rib one another for their choices. It’s this balance that the show gets so right; not overly precious nor incredibly vulgar, just truth with an edge. Or as they would say, “Love ya, bitch.” —Allison Keene [Full Review]


2. Nine Perfect Strangers

Network: Hulu
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: An emotional and enigmatic start.

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A lottery winner, a drug-addicted former footballer, and a grieving family walk into a bar. Well, more like a smoothie bar. Nine Perfect Strangers, the latest collaboration between author Liane Moriarty and Nicole Kidman, is a captivating limited series on Hulu that follows a group of individuals all brought to the gorgeous Tranquillum House for a wellness retreat. As they learn more about their cryptic host, Masha (Kidman), and what brought them there, it’s clear nothing is as peaceful as it seems.

Each guest has come to Tranquillum in search of help, spiritual guidance, or just some good ole fashioned R&R. Francis (Melissa McCarthy) is a novelist looking for inspiration and relaxation after an online relationship turned out to be a scam; Tony (Bobby Cannavale) is struggling with opioid addiction following a sports injury; married couple Jessica (Samara Weaving) and Ben (Melvin Gregg) have lost their spark; Carmel (Regina Hall) is reeling from family drama and motherhood-induced insecurities; and the Marconi family (Asher Keddie, Michael Shannon, and Grace Van Patten) are looking to reconnect after a death nearly tore their family apart. The ninth and final guest, Lars (Luke Evans), is the most guarded and doesn’t make it immediately clear why he has arrived.

Despite her seemingly bizarre ways of healing, Masha truly wants to help all of the Tranquillum House visitors, and believes that she is. Her ideas are weird and fascinating, and encourage the guests to look within to finally get over whatever is holding them back from the happiness she knows is possible in all of their lives. Once they give in completely to her, the results are empowering and at times, frightening. Nine Perfect Strangers takes us along for the ride—a trippy, intense, exhilarating ride—and like the guests of the Tranquillum House, it’s best if we just buckle in and let it happen. —Kristen Reid [Full Review]


1. What If…?

what-if-tchalla-main.jpeg

Network: Disney+
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: We say goodbye to Chadwick Boseman.

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Disney’s alt-MCU animated series What If…? kicked off with a pleasant-enough gender-swapped Captain America story, which retold the events of The First Avenger with an enhanced Peggy Carter helming the WWII mission instead. But the show has really started to shine with its second episode, “What If… T’Challa Became a Star-Lord?” Not only is the charming episode a poppy, fun homage to a truly alt-universe take on the events of Guardians of the Galaxy and Black Panter—along with some very fun in-jokes regarding Thanos-the-efficient-farmer, Yondu, and Nebula—it is most importantly some of final voice work done by Chadwick Boseman before his death one year ago. The episode serves as a reminder of his exceptional talent, a true “what if?” to a life cut short by cancer. —Allison Keene



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