This week it was incredibly tough to just pick five shows, but some truly excellent premieres and finales made their case. And while TV is back to reaching its Peak status, it bears mentioning that Broadway is also back, baby! The Tony Awards’ broadcast and concert over the weekend notably showed its audience all in masks… something the Emmys controversially did not. COVID-19 continues to battle out on TV, scripted and live, in confusing ways.
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.
Only Murders in the Building (Hulu), Ted Lasso (Apple TV+), Doom Patrol (HBO Max), Evil (Paramount+), Sex Education (Netflix), What We Do in the Shadows (FX)
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: It’s Prue vs False Prue as this British gem returns for a new season.
One of television’s most soothing and wholesome series returns with its hosts, judges, and contestants back in a COVID-safe bubble, which again has made for instant and heartwarming camaraderie among them. Though the Great British Baking Show (or Bake-Off to our UK friends) may feel a little different now that it’s on Channel 4 for the second year instead of the BBC (more surreal hosts and more urgency inside of the tent), the joy that the series continues to deliver is welcome and familiar. As the bakers gather to whip up their signatures, technicals, and showstoppers, they encourage one another and provide interesting tidbits and occasional disasters throughout. With Netflix once again airing the episodes weekly, only a few days after their UK debut, it has also provided another excellent anti-binge appointment-TV program to set your clocks by—never overbaked nor underdone. —Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: A perfect ending.
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]
Network: FX on Hulu (included in your Hulu subscription)
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
This Week: A heartwarming finale that included an axe vs tornado.
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]
Network: HBO Max
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: “Don’t worry: on March 13, 2020, your life is about to change!”
When last we left The Other Two’s Dubek clan, 14-year-old Chase (Case Walker)—aka viral pop singing sensation ChaseDreams—had just bombed at the VMAs and decided to retire from music altogether to attend college. While that choice might have made it seem like the Dubeks would then no longer be in the public eye, that news was immediately followed by the season-ending reveal that matriarch Pat (Molly Shannon) would be hosting her very own daytime talk show. As a result, Brooke (Heléne Yorke) and Cary (Drew Tarver) would continue to remain “The Other Two” of the celebrity family, only in a new, different kind of embarrassing way.
As this season will have a two-episode a week structure, each The Other Two drop will come from a place of both Chase and Pat’s current status. But while Brooke and Cary are still the most obvious “other two,” this second season works in interesting ways to both help them grow and become successes in their own right while also continuing to highlight just how big of a mess they both are.
Plus, the show’s biting humor and wit remain from moment one. The amount of jokes in just the first 30 seconds of the season premiere—even in just onscreen text—is an instant reminder of just how dense and astute of a comedy machine The Other Two is. As the series exists in such a realistic, relatable, and recognizable world, all of those comedic moments where it’s just slightly askew continue to hit hard, especially when it comes to the celebrity culture in which these characters find themselves in. But above all, The Other Two remains proof positive that satire and parody doesn’t need to come from a harsh place to work, even in—again—this climate. —LaToya Ferguson [Full Review]
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: An engrossing, exceptional series full of devout beauty and horror.
On Midnight Mass’ Crockett Island, every islander feels rife with misfortune. The recent oil spill nearly annihilated the fish supply, tanking the island’s local fishing economy. Their homes splinter and peel in neglect to the ocean’s elements. The majority of residents have fled the island for lack of opportunity, leaving a paltry few behind. Only two ferries can take them to the mainland. Hope runs in short supply—and a major storm brews on the horizon.
Everything beyond that for this seven-episode series is a true spoiler, but what can be said is that even with its dabblings in the supernatural, Midnight Mass (created by The Haunting’s Mike Flanagan, in his most recent collaboration with Netflix), is a show that burrows inwards instead of outwards. With both the physical claustrophobia of Crockett’s setting and the internal suffering of characters placed in center stage, Midnight Mass concerns itself with horrors within: addictive tendencies, secret histories, and questions of forgiveness and belief. At one glance, it’s a series that’s mined Catholic guilt for gold. In another, it’s a measured, yet spooky take on group psychology, the need for faith in sorrow, and the ethics of leadership with such vulnerable followers, weighing whether these impulses represent human goodness, evil, or simply nothing at all.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Midnight Mass offers a chance for anyone to be doubting Thomas or true believer. What difference is a miracle from a supernatural event, anyway? —Katherine Smith [Full Review]
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