Paste Power Ranking: The 5 Best TV Shows on Right Now, from Narcos: Mexico to Dickinson

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<i>Paste</i> Power Ranking: The 5 Best TV Shows on Right Now, from <i>Narcos: Mexico</i> to <i>Dickinson</i>

The power of our reigning champion Succession aside, votes for the latest Power Ranking were all over the place once again. But one trend that did unify television viewing this past week was, as our own Amy Amatangelo put it, “women working through their break-ups via song.” Taylor Swift’s appearance on SNL and Adele holding court with her star-studded special were certainly highlights. But then again, so was the otherwise-maligned Mayor of Kingstown for including a scene where Hawkeye himself, Jeremy Renner, used a bow and arrow. That’s synergy, folks.

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 Big Leap (FOX), Dopesick (Hulu), The Shrink Next Door (Apple TV+), Chucky (USA/Syfy), The Great British Baking Show (Netflix)

5. Narcos: Mexico

Network: Netflix
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: A farewell to an under-the-radar favorite.

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The third and final season of Netflix’s compelling Narcos: Mexico widened its focus and gained a new narrator as it entered a new decade (the 1990s), but the game remained the same. The stories that Narcos and Mexico have told over their combined seasons have familiar ebbs and flows: A dealer or grower has a grand idea to become a distributor or networker, and next thing you know, a new cartel is born. Soon there’s a challenger, guns come out, and there’s a new order to things. Again and again, from Pablo Escobar and the Cali Cartel in Colombia to Félix Gallardo, Amado Carillo Fuentes, the Arellanos, and El Chapo in Mexico, the cycle of violence is as predictable as it is savage.

The other important half of Narcos, of course, has focused on the DEA and their role in that cycle of drug leaders and territory disputes; once the traffickers begin getting cozy with officials, the Americans start to take note and follow the money. And that money gets spent, in this season, with those high-level narcos trying to get in league with politicians and “tame” trafficking—a losing endeavor.

When it’s at its best, Narcos echoes HBO’s excellent series The Wire, which investigated all sides of the drug trade in the inner city of Baltimore, and the many systemic failures of the War on Drugs. Narcos does the same, if not as elegantly in its execution. But also like The Wire, there aren’t many satisfying conclusions, and high-level investigations tend to get stopped as soon as people with political power start to get named. Because again, the true power lies not in the violent warring of the traffickers, but in the quiet halls of supposed justice. And the narcos, meanwhile—no matter how wealthy and powerful they become—are still vulnerable to the bullets that define their empires. —Allison Keene

4. Yellowjackets

Network: Showtime
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: Yep, teen girls can be brutal.

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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]

3. Dickinson

Network: Apple TV+
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
This Week: An appearance by Walt Whitman (Billy Eichner) and Louisa May Alcott (Zosia Mamet)—plus an important declaration of love.

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To be honest, there’s little to say about this third and final season of Dickinson that I didn’t already cover in my reviews of the first and second seasons. Sharp and irreverent, weird and sexy, and just anachronistic enough to have something to say without getting tiresome, Dickinson has been wholly and idiosyncratically itself since the day it premiered.

Does this final season include Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) descending into hyper-realistic daydreams, Lavinia (Anna Baryshnikov) dabbling in ever-weirder performance art, and Austin (Adrian Briscoe) chafing at the disconnect between his heart and his father’s/society’s expectations? Absolutely! Does it feature some of 2021’s most delightfully weird comedians making cameo appearances as some of the late 1800s’ most delightfully weird historical figures? I mean, obviously! Does it weave today’s slang and woke af politics into the social scene of 1862 Amherst? Slay, queen! Of course it does!

That said, Emily herself continues this season to prove a constant wash of genius and heart. Steinfeld’s sharp, zealous performance—which stands out in a field full of similarly sharp, zealous performances thanks to the raw joy with which she approaches even the deepest pits of Emily’s imagined personal inferno—makes this hope entirely multi-dimensional. It is the hope that can give Death (Wiz Khalifa), himself, hope; the hope of springtime flowers blooming, dying, rotting, then blooming again. And that, if nothing else, seems like the right note for a show like Dickinson to end on. —Alexis Gunderson [Full Review]

2. Arcane

Network: Netflix
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
This Week: You don’t need to know anything about League of Legends to enjoy this great series.

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Netflix and RiotGame’s Arcane, based on the decade-old League of Legends multiplayer online battle arena game, is a revelation. Stunningly crafted in a mix of 2D and 3D by French animation studio Fortiche Productions, Arcane is created and showrun by League video game architects Christian Linke and Alex Yee. For 10 years, the duo and their studio have cultivated a passionate and massively dedicated community of eight million players who have immersed themselves in the games, tie-in comics, and music videos that make up the complex mythology of the world. But as so many videogame-to-movie adaptations have proved, even hit games have a rough time translating to a new medium. It’s the perpetual challenge for even the best creatives: finding the right balance of fan service while engaging non-gamer audiences.

Not unlike other heavy world-building series like Game of Thrones or Shadow and Bone, Arcane mostly concerns itself with political and familial conflicts in a world where magic exists. If you happen to be a gamer, the art deco-meets-steampunk aesthetics of Piltover and Zaun will immediately draw parallels to the lauded Bioshock games. If you’re not, it doesn’t matter because a huge part of the appeal of the series is getting lost in how visually immersive every frame of this show is. The textures, lighting, and color palettes—dank and neon in the under city, which juxtaposes against the more pastel and metallic topside—are a feast for the eyes.

Even if you have no interest in picking up any kind of gaming console, do yourself a favor and give Arcane a try. It has more mature storytelling and emotional resonance than many live-action shows do right now. And it deserves to be lauded as the new benchmark for what can be done when it comes to successfully translating worthy videogame universes into a different medium while refusing to dumb down or simplify complex storytelling. Arcane is a world worth getting lost within. —Tara Bennett [Full Review]

1. Succession

Network: HBO
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This Week: Piss-madness, an imaginary dead cat, and a rabbit eating a bagel. This show does not quit.

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In some ways, HBO’s Succession is America’s version of The Crown. Focusing on the lavish, petty corporate overlords of a rotten cabal, the show’s machinations are both fully present and menacingly medieval. Unlike The Crown, Jesse Armstrong’s show doesn’t venerate its billionaire royal family, The Roys—it lampoons them, and exposes them as actually being as vain and stupid as they believe the bulk of America to be. In its bombastic second season, the show rose to both comedic and dramatic heights, from “Boar on the Floor” to Kendall’s season-ending mic drop that promised an explosive third outing. But Season 3 is actually more subdued, and occasionally a little too stuck in the endless tread of the Roy siblings’ backstabbing and creatively vile behavior towards one other to gain power and, most importantly, Daddy’s affection.

The essential guessing game of Succession is “what is Logan thinking?” followed by what is everyone else thinking in response to that. It creates an air of extreme anxiety, both for those involved and for viewers, because even though there are no heroes here, we want to champion someone. Even if you want to support Kendall and his genuinely good ideas about cleaning up the company if he were in power, you can’t trust him because he’s arrogant, insecure, and unstable. Along with his siblings, he’s a master of self-sabotage. The actors are all exceptional in conveying these tenuous moments when the various factions meet and clash—as the camera flits from face to face, you can see their shifting alliances even when they would never, ever admit to any of them.

It is in this way that Succession continues to be one of the best shows about royal in-fighting on TV. It’s the Wars of the Roses, it’s Machiavelli, it’s the last days of Rome. It’s addictive, but it’s also depressing. Because even in its most grandiose comedic moments, there is truth to Succession’s cynical world that makes us realize yes, these idiots are absolutely in charge of our world and no, there’s not really anything we can do about it. —Allison Keene [Full Review]

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