The Power Ranking used to be the 10 best shows on TV this week, but once the pandemic shutdown began we reduced the number to better match the diminished overall number of the series available. This is the first week since then that I have seriously considered bumping it back to 10. July 2021 has been full of great television, including some excellent premieres just this past week. While we’re holding with 5 for now, don’t sleep on our Honorable Mentions—they are just a sliver away from being top picks.
Speaking of celebrating great TV, the Emmy nominations didn’t do a half-bad job of it this year. I can’t believe I wasn’t filled with spittin’ rage like I normally am. Still, the Emmys were upstaged by the Television Critics Association award nominations later in the week, which even more accurately pinpointed the best TV of the past year.
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.
Naomi Osaka (Netflix), Kevin Can F Himself (AMC), This Way Up (Hulu), McCartney 3,2,1 (Hulu), Legends of Tomorrow (The CW)
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: Devi is so messy but she’s trying!
Never Have I Ever centers on Indian-American high-schooler Devi Vishwakumar (Maitreyi Ramakrishnan) as she navigates the drama of friends, boys, and grief after the loss of her father. Series creator Mindy Kaling loosely based the show on her own upbringing as a second-generation Indian without significant ties to her heritage, while also tapping into the feelings of loss she felt as an adult after her mother’s death. Never Have I Ever was a watershed moment for representation in Hollywood—not just because the main character had brown skin, but also because she was allowed to be impulsive and selfish and, at times, genuinely unlikeable.
Everything that made Never Have I Ever special in the first season is back and even better in Season 2. Yes, Devi is still a messy character, the type who makes you slap your forehead after everything she does, but watching her grief manifest in vulnerable ways still makes her worth rooting for. John McEnroe continues to be a great narrator for Devi’s inner dialogue, and the parallels between their hotheadedness become even more apparent. And the Vishwakumar family dynamics are still true to life, especially for immigrant families everywhere. Never Have I Ever doesn’t skip a beat in its return, and remains entertaining, challenging, and a joy to spend time with. —Radhika Menon [Full Review ]
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
This Week: Such a tightrope act of giving us deeply flawed characters, some total jerks, but making them incredibly watchable. Thumbs up.
The White Lotus, from Enlightened creator Mike White, tracks the intertwined relationships between groups of wealthy vacationers at the titular Hawaiian resort. With spectacular production design and a magnificent ensemble cast, The White Lotus is a pleasure to watch—even as the miniseries gets progressively darker as the weeks go on and seemingly idyllic vacations begin falling apart. Also attempting to cultivate a conversation on class and privilege, The White Lotus explores the often horrific ways ultra-rich patrons treat the working-class staff members they so deeply rely on. —Kristen Reid [Full Review ]
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This Week: “I’ve been waiting for hit on CornCob TV for a looooong time….”
It’s tough out there for a follow-up. The “sophomore slump” is real, but even more real is how people seem almost giddy to dislike something they were previously into. Even before watching its second season I was worried that I Think You Should Leave was primed for that kind of reaction—it seems like just the kind of thing that would fall prey to the boom-and-bust cycle of pop culture in the internet age. Although critics and comedy deep divers were on board with Tim Robinson years before I Think You Should Leave, the surprise success of that first season was, for many, accompanied by the sense that it was something secret and obscure they had personally discovered. Its growth in popularity was spread through word of mouth and social media, eventually becoming one of the most memed TV shows of the last few years.
In the new set of episodes, which might start off a little slowly for some (though still contain gems), Robinson has the same fascination with embarrassment and the failure to read social cues that drove the first season. Once again a typical sketch revolves around a character—often played by Robinson, occasionally by a guest star like Tim Heidecker or Patti Harrison or Bob Odenkirk—who does something inappropriate, embarrassing, or simply weird in public, and then doubles down on it, refusing to acknowledge any weirdness or wrong-doing no matter how much pressure or criticism they get from others. It’s a pattern that still works, and the show veers away from it just enough to keep it fresh throughout the second season.
Robinson and his co-writers (which include the show’s co-creator Zach Kanin and MacGruber co-writer John Solomon) make comedy that’s very specific and focused, and yet whose basic ideas can be applied to an almost endless spectrum of concepts and situations. I don’t see any reason I Think You Should Leave couldn’t continue on for several seasons to come, as long as the show is able to avoid the backlash and online criticism that seems to be the fate of anything that gains any modicum of success these days. If you’re worried I Think You Should Leave’s second season will disappoint you, don’t: it’s still tremendous. —Garrett Martin [Full Review ]
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
This Week: Mandy Patinkin is making a good show even better this season.
Five seasons into its run, The Good Fight isn’t showing any signs of slowing down or being less audacious of a series in terms of tackling topics of the day. That’s true even in how it handles the exit of two integral characters, Delroy Lindo’s Adrian Boseman and Cush Jumbo’s Quinn. In the premiere episode “Previously On,” it uses that story point as a catch-up device to brilliantly tell an imaginary season’s worth of stories to explain why and how they’ve exited the narrative. What’s left are Diane Lockhart and her husband Kurt (Gary Cole) navigating a marriage after his possible insurrection involvement on January 6th, Liz Reddick (Audra McDonald) mulling over making the firm one with all Black partners again, Jay (Nyambi Nyambi) suffering long-haul COVID and seeing visions of Frederick Douglas, and Marissa (Sarah Steele) attempting law school while also helping in Mandy Patinkin’s faux court experiment that’s attempting to rectify the broken justice system. Plus, the Cases of the Week. It’s brilliant madness already, but we’re entirely here for it. —Tara Bennett
Network: Apple TV+
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: Just delightful.
In this six episode series from executive producer Lorne Michaels, Melissa (Cecily Strong) and Josh (Keegan-Michael Key) are two New York doctors who embark on a camping trip designed to bring them closer together. They get lost along the way and find themselves stranded in the town of Schmigadoon! Despite their continued efforts, they are unable to leave until they find true love. Turns out, that means that Melissa and Josh aren’t as in love as they (particularly Melissa) thought they were.
The series manages to be simultaneously an adoring homage to the genre and a spot-on satire of it; every trope is lovingly upended, every plot difficulty laid bare. (Let’s be honest, women didn’t fare too well in the classic musicals. I mean there is a “what can you do but love him?” song about an abusive husband in Carousel.) Melissa explains the reproductive system in a little ditty that’s very similar to “Do-Re-Mi” from The Sound of Music. “Why are they laughing? Nothing even remotely funny just happened?” Josh wonders at the end of one number. There’s references to “color-blind casting” and at the start of a dream ballet, Melissa exclaims, “We’re not having a dream ballet. They’re annoying and stupid and slow everything down.” Will you enjoy the show if you’ve never seen a musical and have no context for what’s being spoofed? Maybe. But this truly is a series for Broadway fans. —Amy Amatangelo [Full Review ]
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