This week, we bid adieu to three series that highlight three different ways to hit big in the current TV era. There’s Yellowjackets, a weekly release that gained steamed (and theories) throughout its season, Station Eleven which featured paired episode drops on a major platform, and The Expanse, which (though it was a weekly release) moved from linear cable to a streaming platform several seasons ago, and can be easily binged. But however you like to consume your TV, one thing we can all agree on is that there’s plenty of it!
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.
Ghosts (CBS/Paramount+), All Creatures Great and Small (PBS), Cobra Kai (Netflix), Naomi (The CW), Somebody, Somewhere (HBO)
Network: Amazon Prime Video
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: The series finale stuck the landing.
It’s hard to believe that The Expanse’s current season will be its last—the interstellar world of the Prime Video series (once upon a time of Syfy) feels bigger than ever, the kind of sandbox any TV writer would kill to play in. The cult sci-fi series’ truncated sixth installment almost seems to share that perspective, with the Rocinante’s intrepid crew continuing to explore an exponentially Ring gate-expanded universe and tangle with dangerous extremist Marcos Inaros (Keon Alexander) as if their adventures would never end. Whether this conclusion can do justice to the years we’ve spent with Captain James Holden (Steven Strait) and company is a question for another day, but in the meantime, the Rocinante’s final flights continue to exhilarate while the nuanced machinations that surround them sprawl, further cementing The Expanse as an immersive and thought-provoking small-screen accomplishment. —Scott Russell
Network: HBO Max
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: Worth watching for the dancing intro alone.
Chris Smith, aka Peacemaker, is a ridiculous character.
The red, white, and blue-clad superhero/supervillain is a walking, dudebro-talking contradiction. Peacemaker is arrogant, socially unaware, misogynistic, and culturally insensitive. His ridiculousness extends not just to his costume (that’s not a toilet seat he’s wearing on his head, that’s a beacon of freedom) or to his pet bald eagle named Eagly, but also to his most commonly used catchphrase. “I cherish peace with all my heart,” says Peacemaker in The Suicide Squad. “I don’t care how many men, women, and children I need to kill to get it.”
While Peacemaker carries some darkness, this is a James Gunn production, so it’s also filled with humor and music. The script is rich with witty banter, action scenes are destructive and wacky, and star John Cena will clearly say or do anything for a laugh. “This is my jam,” says Peacemaker while flipping through a stack of ‘80s hair metal albums from the likes of Cinderella and Faster Pussycat. “This is back when men were real men because they weren’t afraid to be women.” A few moments later he’s singing along to the Quireboys song “I Don’t Love You Anymore,” using a vibrator as a mic while wearing only tighty whities and dancing around like Axl Rose. It’s embarrassing and hilarious at the same time. This series luxuriates in its own ridiculousness, which it manages to balance with a compelling story. Bottom line, Peacemaker is just flat-out fun to watch. — Terry Terrones [Full Review]
Network: HBO Max
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: A beautiful and haunting finale for a beautiful and haunting show.
The past few years have really pushed us to consider what the end of the world might look like. And in that sense, HBO Max’s new series Station Eleven, an adaptation of the apocalyptic 2014 novel by Emily St. John Mandel, has unfortunate (or perhaps auspicious) timing. Who wants to watch a show where the world’s population has been ravaged by a pandemic, where characters suffer through what they have lost and debate if hope is a worthy investment? Who wants to inhabit a dark universe that feels just a branch away from our own?
And yet, the 10-episode miniseries pulls off an incredible feat: it is a masterpiece. The timing of our own pandemic escalates the horror and doom of the show, but also makes every emotional beat even stronger. Station Eleven’s pandemic is very different from our own: it is quick. In only a few days the world is forever changed, very few get to say goodbye. The series dives into this pain, and asks if parting is something one can learn to endure in a world that takes each character on their own path. For a series so inspired by the legacy of Shakespeare, it seems fittingly impacted by “parting is such sweet sorrow.” Station Eleven ventures to dwell on both the sweet and sorrow, that both can exist at once all the time.
While COVID-19 remains a fresh wound and Station Eleven is not for the faint of heart, it rewards the viewer by finding the artful beauty in a painful world. —Leila Jordan [Full Review]
Network: ABC (Hulu the next day)
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
This Week: Trying to get things done in the public school system? Triggering.
The best new network show of the season is already delighting viewers and dominating 2022. Quinta Brunson writes, executive produces, and stars in this ABC comedy inspired by her mother’s experience as a teacher in the Philadelphia public school system. The show is both hilarious and poignant as it lays bare the inequities in public education both for the children and those who are dedicated in their profession to enriching their lives. Keep an eye out for Tyler James Williams as a substitute and Sheryl Lee Ralph as the veteran teacher who has seen it all. —Amy Amatangelo
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This Week: One hell of a finale that left more questions than it answered.
Showtime’s new survival thriller Yellowjackets feels like such a breath of fresh air. The series is an intriguing mix of genres: part 1990s-set horror story and part modern-day mystery, with heaping doses of teenage angst and supernatural weirdness thrown on top. It honestly feels like nothing else on television right now, and though its pace is somewhat more glacial than its trailers might have initially indicated, there are moments where the tension—combined with our knowledge that many of these people aren’t going to make it out of this alive—is nigh unbearable.
The story begins in 1996 and follows the titular Yellowjackets, a New Jersey girls high school soccer team on their way to nationals. But when the private plane lent by a rich dad for the trip goes down in the Colorado mountains, they spend the next 19 months fighting to stay alive—a feat not all of them apparently accomplish. We know this because the other half of the show’s plot is set 25 years later, as several of the crash survivors (played by Juliette Lewis, Melanie Lynskey, Christina Ricci, and Tawny Cypress) find themselves visited by a nosy reporter aiming to write a book about their stories.
Ultimately, Yellowjackets is a twisty mystery that doesn’t easily give up many of its secrets, and grounds its story in a specifically female experience in a way that other series like this have never bothered to try. From awkward crushes and sexual double standards to character revelations driven by the fact that the girls’ menstrual cycles sync up… basically what I’m saying is that Lord of the Flies could never. —Lacy Baugher Milas [Full Review]
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