Sometimes there’s a tension in our TV Power Ranking between what is buzzy and what is truly great. For instance, the highly-anticipated Hawkeye premiered this past week on Disney+, and though it had some standout moments (Rogers: The Musical, LARPing, Pizza Dog), it had too many dips to survive a toe-to-toe match with Showtime’s uber-creepy and enthralling Yellowjackets. And while Succession continues to deliver meme-able moments and incredible acting from Jeremy Strong and Matthew Macfadyen (in this episode in particular), we were less than thrilled with the overall wheel-spinning of “Too Much Birthday.” But the Wheels weaves what the Wheel will, and elsewhere on the virtual dial The Wheel of Time delivered an epic hour that sets up some genuine excitement for what might come next.
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.
True Story (Netflix), Dickinson (Apple TV+), Insecure (HBO), Succession (HBO), Hawkeye (Disney+)
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: New horrors are revealed alongside some killer ‘90s needle drops.
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]
4. The Beatles: Get Back
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: The Fab Four get an insightful and personal documentary treatment.
Growing tension between members of The Beatles at this point in their partnership isn’t a surprise as their rift during the production of their last two records is well documented, most notably in the 1970 documentary Let It Be. But for director Peter Jackson, who has taken nearly 60 hours of unseen footage shot over 21 days along with more than 150 hours of unheard audio to make the new docuseries Get Back for Disney+, this dust up is a clear sign that the fracturing of The Beatles started well before the band’s January 1969 recording sessions. The group clearly misses the focus provided by manager Brian Epstein; at one point in Get Back Paul McCartney even laments the loss of Epstein by saying, “Daddy’s gone away.”
What is surprising is finally being able to visually witness the love between The Beatles that every fan of the group has always felt in their music. The docuseries features touching moments filled with laughter, soul-shaking music, and incredible inspiration, concluding with a thrilling eight song rooftop performance that has now become iconic. It’s the first time it’s been shown in its entirety and is The Beatles last live performance as a group. For anyone who loves the band, it’ll likely be something you’ll watch over and over again. It’s also a beautiful reminder that when The Beatles come together, no band has ever been better. —Terry Terrones [Full Review]
3. The Great
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
This Week: One of TV’s most bombastic and best-acted series.
As Archie (Adam Godley) puts it, “Russia… a prehistoric creature all anger and thoughtless disregard for life. Anarchic and selfish, lacking reason. These are the things we must face down metaphorically.” But Tony McNamara’s bombastic The Great, returning for another 10-episode season on Hulu, faces these things down literally. What makes the show so excellent is not that it solves any of these problems, or even comes close—it’s that its characters constantly yearn and strive and lash out and cry with a mixture of humor and humanity unlike anything else on television. Perhaps these is nothing more Russian than that.
In Season 2, we see how the power dynamic has shifted after the success of the coup. Catherine (Elle Fanning) has Peter (Nicholas Hoult) cornered and imprisoned. This assertion of dominance alongside her pregnancy is enough to control Peter through a love he has now discovered for her (and crucially their forthcoming son, Paul). But Catherine’s feelings for her violent, chaotic husband are similarly complex. And so, The Great Season 2 is essentially a flamboyant Russian divorce of sorts, full of artfully vulgar dialogue, indiscriminate violence, and the constant threat of death on all sides from everyone.
Like Russia itself, The Great is an amalgam of many disparate parts, all of which ultimately fall in line if by duty or destiny. Led by an outstanding cast, the series remains a strange, funny, ridiculous, trundling carnival of ideas, genres, and characters. It is great in both size and quality—ambitious, reckless, and always a joy.—Allison Keene [Full Review]
2. The Wheel of Time
Network: Amazon Prime Video
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
This Week: An episode that showed the series at its best, expanding the lore and story in fantastic ways.
“The wheel weaves as the wheel wills,” and for Amazon Prime Video’s new fantasy series, it wills it quickly. Running an economic eight hourlong episodes, The Wheel of Time is a brisk entry to Robert Jordan’s massive novel series, which evidently contains 2782 distinct characters. Amazon’s version doesn’t have quite that many, not yet, but I can genuinely say that as a newbie to the franchise it took me several episodes and many tabs to understand what anyone’s name actually was. And yet, this adaptation—developed by Rafe Judkins—does everything it can to be accessible to viewers unfamiliar with the source material.
It doesn’t hurt that the fantasy beats are familiar: There is a battle between light and dark, as well as a Chosen One (the “Dragon Reborn”) who will fight to save humanity—or destroy it in the process. There are critters and creatures and a magic that can only be wielded by women, plus a cult looking to eradicate the use of magic, pretenders to the would-be throne, and a hellish army of darkness. Navigating all of this are four young adults (any of whom could be the fabled savior) shepherded by a powerful sorceress named Moraine (Rosamund Pike).
The Wheel of Time teases out so much, but whether or not it eventually fills that out—or if its surface-level telling of this story will lead viewers to a deeper connection with the series itself—is uncertain. For now, it’s a fun ride. —Allison Keene [Full Review]
1. The Great British Baking Show
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
This Week: It should have been a 4-way final, but the excellent season ended on a high note. (And yes, we cried).
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 since its move from the BBC to Channel 4 (and with 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