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 within the past 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 broad range of tastes. TV is good right now and there’s a lot of it, so we’re here to help you find only the best. Below is what we’re enjoying right now. Happy viewing!
For the Week of January 23rd:
5. The Legend of Vox Machina
Network: Prime Video
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: The new seasons levels up.
In the first episode of The Legend of Vox Machina’s second season, Vex’ahlia (Laura Bailey) nails exactly why Vox Machina are such extraordinary heroes: “We’re all frustrated and scared, but the fight’s not over.” It’s that conviction, that determination to fight against all odds that propels Vox Machina and their Legend through adventures of guts, glory, and heart, all culminating to create a satisfying continuation that still captures the spirit of Critical Role while elevating its source material to new heights.
Overall, The Legend of Vox Machina is an impressive feat, but never more so than in this second season, which is truly a masterclass of adaptation. Like Season 1, it aims to dilute over 80 hours of tabletop gameplay into just 12, 30-minute episodes, while also relaying information learned across the panels of comic books and scribed in the pages of novels. Importantly, the series manages to balance those call-outs for seasoned fans, while still remaining perfectly accessible to the average viewer, whether as a gateway into Critical Role’s larger world, or simply as a fun fantasy adventure to keep up with week to week. There’s a sincerity to these heroes that makes them feel both relatable and grounded, yet still larger than life, and their adventures—no matter how silly or violent or heartfelt—remain the stuff of legend. —Anna Govert [Full Review]
4. All Creatures Great and Small
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
This Week: One of TV’s best kept secrets!
It’s actually very difficult to write a review of All Creatures Great and Small, because everything I said in my initial review of the show remains true. Now, there’s just more of it. And what a wonderful gift to chase away the winter doldrums once again as the Channel 5 series, airing in the US on PBS Masterpiece, returns us to a bucolic pre-war Yorkshire and the inhabitants of Skeldale House, the preeminent veterinary practice in the region. (Or so its lead surgeon, Samuel West’s Siegfried Farnon, likes to say—and it is most likely true.)
The show continues to capture the spirit (if not abide by the letter) of James Herriot’s books, giving us a wholesome and cozy setting that can nevertheless be emotionally intense when it comes to the hardships of rural life. And yet, the storylines about the animals the capable and caring James looks after—and what they mean to their humans—are always wonderful. The bottom line is that, once again, All Creatures is a delight. It’s lovingly and beautifully made. It’s a throwback that feels familiar, and yet doesn’t always play out exactly as expected. Even when it does, it’s charming enough to make each decision work. It’s not out to prove itself, make statements, or feel pressured to bring in dark storylines just to feel more modern. It knows just what it’s about, and we love it for that. —Allison Keene
3. Abbott Elementary
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
This Week: “You telling me that cat believes in God?!”
Sometimes there’s that magical moment when you realize you are watching something truly exceptional. From the moment I watched the pilot of ABC’s Abbott Elementary, I knew the show was much more than typical network sitcom drudgery (lame punchline, tinny laugh track, repeat). There was a grounded sweetness to the show. It was neither saccharine nor sardonic. We were introduced to the teachers of Philadelphia public school: the earnest Janine (series creator Quinta Brunson), veteran teachers Melissa (Lisa Ann Water) and Barbara (Sheryl Lee Ralph), as well as reluctant substitute Gregory (Tyler James Williams), the socially inept Jacob (Chris Perfetti), and the self-centered and clueless principal Ava (Janelle James). As a group, they immediately clicked; their combined comedic beats were perfect. The pilot was hilarious but also moving, all while shedding light on the underfunded public school system without being patronizing or exploitative, and the rest of the first season continued in kind.
So far, Season 2 is everything you would want and expect the show to be. Warm, hilarious, relatable, and damn if it doesn’t sometimes make me cry. —Amy Amatangelo
2. That ‘90s Show
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: Absolute nostalgia bait but… it works!
The world of That ‘70s Show returns in Netflix’s grunge-era revival That ‘90s Show, which picks up with the children of OG fan favorites and brings the action back to the tried and true basement of Red and Kitty Forman for a whole new generation of misspent youth. It’s a series about the fleetingness of summer, and of youth, and (these days) Netflix shows in general. It’s also a lot of fun, especially for fans of That ’70s Show. It’s the same type of silly, goofy, heartfelt and funny as the old show—with just enough newness to make you glad Netflix brought the franchise back for a few more “BURNS!” and love triangles. It doesn’t try to reinvent the sitcom, or even improve it. It’s the TV equivalent of putting on a comfortable pair of sweat pants, and trading your Led Zeppelin shirt in for a Pearl Jam hoodie. But sometimes? That’s more than enough. —Trent Moore [Full Review]
1. The Last of Us
Network: HBO (streaming on HBO Max)
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This Week: We learned more lore, like, be very afraid of Clickers!!
You wouldn’t think puns would work as connective tissue between characters in any television series, yet alone a brutal post-apocalyptic drama, but it does just that whenever 14-year-old Ellie (Bella Ramsey) throws them at 50-something Joel (Pedro Pascal) throughout the first season of The Last of Us. In a world as dark and dangerous as the one viewers see onscreen, measured humor goes a long way.
Humor is one of the many tools that series creators/writers Craig Mazin (Chernobyl) and Neil Druckmann (designer of the videogame the series is based on) use to build layered characters to tell a heartbreaking, yet inspiring story filled with loss, hope, determination, and redemption. And it all revolves around Ellie and Joel.
Pascal positively shines as Joel, perfectly balancing the physical aspects of the role with an emotional heft that’s hard to pull off in a character who is a man of action and few words. But the breakout star of The Last of Us is Ramsey. The actor, who was a scene stealer as Lady Mormont in Game of Thrones, is a wisecracking badass and certain to be a fan favorite. Together, the duo make a team that’s easy to root for and more importantly, care about. Complex characters combined with stellar acting, a wonderfully paced story, and an emotionally engaging plot make The Last of Us a brilliant series that is now the template all other videogame-to-TV adaptations should follow. —Terry Terrones [Full Review]
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