When can something be totally gross and one of our favorite episodes of television? When Outlander is involved. The third episode of this fourth season had us all talking. As did the fourth episode of the final season of Homeland which gave us a reason to start watching again. (Stop crying Carrie, we are back!)
We can be fickle viewers but we always give shows a chance to get back in our good graces and right their wrongs.
The rules for the Power Rankings are simple: Any 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—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. We’re merciless: a bad episode can knock you right off this list. So much good TV is available right now.
This is Us (NBC), I Am Not Okay with This (Netflix), The Sinner (USA), The Magicians (Syfy), Legends of Tomorrow (CW), Everything’s Gonna Be Okay (Freeform).
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
Very well known: The McDonald’s Monopoly game.
Less well known: The fact that there were almost no legitimate major prize winners during the game’s run in the 1990s.
In their fascinating six-part HBO documentary series McMillions (styled McMillion$), writers and directors James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte present a $24 million dollar crime that tangentially affected every one of us who purchased a cup or fry box with a Monopoly playing piece on it from 1989-2001. What starts as an anonymous tip to the sleepy Jacksonville FBI office turns into a twisty tale of greed and fraud that ultimately includes an undercover operation in Vegas. The best part of that last bit, in fact, is a shot of a white board in the reenactment that reads: “Vegas!! RUSE.”
It’s that kind of humor that helps keep McMillions driving pluckily along in its first three episodes, bolstered by archival footage of the video filmed as part of of the RUSE by the FBI, as well as nostalgic commercials and period-appropriate flourishes. Though this was not a victimless crime, the stakes do allow for a welcome playfulness in the series’ style, which also naturally extends to the interviewees involved in this sprawling plot. But while McMillions is a surprisingly fun examination of the con and the con men, it’s also a worthy portrayal of the toll that predatory offers take on those most vulnerable to their poisoned charms. —Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: 7
It feels like a miracle that Miracle Workers got a second season on TBS, but the fact that it’s as funny and strange as creator Simon Rich’s first oddball take on the afterlife should have comedy fans praising the heavens. This time around, Miracle Workers: Dark Ages (as the anthology series’ second entry is called) sets its hilarious cast in another setting well-worn by comedies with a British pedigree: The Middle Ages. Breakout Geraldine Viswanathan is a Shitshoveler—literally, it’s her last name—whose dad (Steve Buscemi) and local layabout prince (Daniel Radcliffe) are always getting her into something … when she’s not breaking the mold by trying to, say, read. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a good touchstone here, with everything from old-timey doctors to executions getting a light satirical jab. The humor is quick, witty, and understated, made even more unique by the brilliantly offbeat deliveries of its stars. If ever there was a show that felt like an Eddie Izzard stand-up routine turned into a series, it would be Miracle Workers, which continues to be both one of the smartest and delightfully dumbest shows on TV. -Jacob Oller
Last Week’s Ranking: 10
At the end of the first season of Narcos: Mexico—which tracked the rise of the Guadalajara cartel—we met our narrator, Walt Breslin (Scoot McNairy), who had just arrived in Mexico to carry out Operation Leyenda. It was a new breed of international meddling by the U.S. that ignored traditional methods to achieve its goals; in the first episode of the new season, we see Walt and his fellow drug enforcement agents kidnapping a doctor in Mexico and smuggling him back to the United States to be tried and convicted for being part of another agent’s murder. It sets the stage for what is essentially a U.S.-sanctioned vigilante group, as Walt continues to narrate and educate us on the political machinations in both America and Mexico that allowed for, encouraged, and profited from these operations.
Narcos: Mexico is smart, dense, and has a flare for the dramatic that keeps each episode interesting (and will have you, once again, running to Wikipedia to compare characters and events to their real-life counterparts). Cartel boss Félix’s (Diego Luna) machinations are truly brilliant, surprising his friends and enemies alike, and the show’s chronicling of these moves is extremely elegant and engrossing. But he’s always chasing a peace that cannot exist.
Narcos: Mexico’s 80s setting is full of big gold jewelry and flowing blouses and oversized sunglasses, but it never feels cartoonish. It just augments the sense of a world that is both more colorful and more dangerous than most dare to tread. As such, the difference between spending time with the plaza bosses and being back in the U.S. is visually striking. When we’re with Walt, colors become dull, interiors are dark, and Scott McNairy has never looked wearier. And yet, that cartel lifestyle is not glorified; it haunts and hurts its players. We remain on Walt’s side; its his dogged pursuit of getting justice for Kiki, and what happened in that house when Félix made the fateful decision to torture and kill him, that makes him heroic. He knows that the game is rigged, but he tries his damnedest to make it all matter anyway. —Allison Keene
Network: CBS All Access
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
The most important thing to know about Star Trek: Picard is that while bringing back one of the franchise’s most iconic characters might seem like a deliberate retreat to the past, the CBS All Access series is much more about the new: New characters, new mysteries, and a whole new era of the Trek universe to explore.
Set in the year 2399, almost 30 years after the end of Next Generation, Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) has lost faith in the organization to which he had devoted his life. The show begins with him in retirement/retreat at the Chateau Picard vineyard in France, spending his days puttering around the vines with his trusty pitbull Number One, and his nights dreaming of lost friends and better times.
However, the arrival of Dahj (Isa Briones), a terrified young woman who seems to know him without knowing why, pulls him out of his self-imposed exile. To go into further detail about what happens would be to spoil the show’s biggest twists. This is not an adventure-of-the-week story, but instead a mystery that only gets more complex episode by episode. And while that mystery is deeply grounded in the show’s history, it is fresh and new enough to make Trek newcomers feel somewhat welcome.
Picard isn’t above moments of nostalgia but it also features a firm commitment to moving the franchise forward not just in time, but in what kind of stories Trek is capable of telling. This is a show that is more complicated and mature than what came before, but in the best ways, ways which do not discredit the past, but show it’s always possible to change and grow—whether you’re a 79-year-old man, or a 54-year-old franchise.—Liz Shannon Miller
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
It was only recently announced that Better Call Saul would be ending with its sixth season, though it wasn’t necessarily shocking news, given that with each passing year it’s been harder for one of TV’s best shows to ignore the future it’s been creeping towards. Season 5 is smart about how it acknowledges that, specifically in regard to increasing the Breaking Bad prequel’s engagement with what came canonically before but narratively after.
The final 13-episode season will mean that Saul will have run for 63 episodes, one more than Breaking Bad. Like everything else about this show, that was a deliberate choice. That said, Season 5 of Saul doesn’t necessarily feel like the beginning of the end. Instead, it’s more like the end of the beginning, given that after the events of the Season 4 finale, Jimmy McGill has now officially embraced the Saul Goodman identity—legally and professionally, at least.
Saul is the first persona we ever saw Bob Odenkirk wear in this universe, but thanks to the four seasons that have come before, we recognize it for the mask that it is. However, Jimmy seems to be getting more comfortable with wearing it, especially when this season pushes him to make some choices that prove reminiscent of his original introduction: In the words of Jesse Pinkman, “You don’t want a criminal lawyer… you want a ‘criminal’ lawyer.”
But Better Call Saul is a show whose fundamental foundation is built on the idea that every action has consequences, seen or unseen. In comparison to The Good Place, a show all about ethical debate, Better Call Saul isn’t searching for answers: The characters might debate ideas of moral relativism, but the sure and steady hand of creators Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan knows what is right and what is wrong—and it is never afraid to reveal what can happen when that line gets crossed. —Liz Shannon Miller
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
The eighth and final season of Homeland begins less than a year after the seventh season finale, with Carrie (Claire Danes, forever queen of the glorious ugly cry) in a medical treatment facility in Germany trying to account for the 180 days in captivity she can’t recall.
Her mind, addled by the lack of her bipolar medication, sees things in a fuzzy blur, a series of fraught images and incomprehensible clues. She’s failed the polygraph test and, in an homage to how the series began, those interrogating her think Russia may have turned her during her time in captivity. She’s adamant there’s no way that could have happened but begins to doubt herself. Could she now be a double agent Brody (Damian Lewis) once was? The show comes full circle with a sledgehammer.
Carrie’s mental state is fragile at best. So, of course her mentor Saul (Mandy Patinkin), now the National Security Advisor to President Warner (Beau Bridges) pulls her into a mission in Afghanistan where Saul is trying to end the war and forge peace with both the Taliban and Afghanistan. No one else can do what Carrie can do. Her mental well-being be dammed. While over the years, the series has devolved into a caricature of itself—like executive producers Alex Gansa and Howard Gordon other series 24, it gets more preposterous with each passing season that only Carrie and Saul can do the job that needs to be done. But then, just as I’m about to write off this final season, something happens at the end of the fourth episode that pulls me right back in. Just like Carrie, I can’t seem to let go.—Amy Amatangelo
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
The smartest choice Saturday Night Live has made in years is slotting John Mulaney into an annual hosting gig. He’s pretty much the perfect host: he’s a hilarious stand-up and fantastic performer who wrote for the show for years, giving him intimate first-hand knowledge of what goes into producing an episode. He puts his own stamp on every episode he hosts, and the rest of the cast and writing staff has so far risen to the occasion, resulting in the best episodes of the last three seasons.
This weekend was Mulaney’s third time hosting, and although it wasn’t the revelation that his first episode was, it was still far better than a typical SNL. Mulaney set the tone with another excellent monologue, where he delivered a solid eight minutes of new material about dads, their lack of friends, their love of World War II, and a whole lot more. As good as some of the sketches were this week, Mulaney’s monologue was easily the highlight—a decent chunk of top-notch comedy from one of the most gifted and confident comedians working today. —Garrett Martin
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
Jason Segel’s charming new series is a puzzle box: four strangers band together to try and put together clues relating to two warring secret institutes. And yet, Dispatches from Elsewhere wraps all of that up into an optimistic and charming exploration of selfhood. Like a kind of Amélie-by-way-of-Philadelphia, its central characters (played by Segel, Andre Benjamin, Sally Field, and Eve Lindley) wander the city through warm, candy-colored hidden rooms divining cryptic patterns and uncovering unexpected vistas they never knew existed—both within the visual landscape and inside their very souls. It has quite a bit in common with the late, great Lodge 49, as our heroes step outside their comfort zones to try and unpack what it all means (and what “it” even is) in sweet, earnest ways. —Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
As our own Keri Lumm said of Outlander’s new season, it feels like a warm hug of familiarity. But after kicking off with the joy of a wedding, Outlander soon movies into worthy and complicated considerations of living in the past while having modern knowledge—particularly of medicine that could help your family and community. As Claire (Caitriona Balfe) expands her medical practice, Jamie (Sam Heughan) must wrestle with promises he’s made to the Crown in order to keep his American land where his family has made a homestead. The America Revolution inches closer, with the Frasers at the center of it all, of course. But Outlander is at its best when its focusing on the personal stories (including one surprisingly horrific story detour that may also be one of the show’s most outstanding) within these larger historical contexts, most especially the partnership and enduring romance between Jamie and Claire, which remains TV’s most loving and aspirational. —Allison Keene
Network: BBC America
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
Now in his second season as showrunner, Chris Chibnall hasn’t been shy about messing with the 75 years of Doctor Who canon that preceded his reign, but Jodi Whitaker’s charmingly manic portrayal of the Doctor has given him some cover with fans. And most importantly, he’s kept it interesting, surprising us with a historic new incarnation of the Doctor mid-season, and a massive revelation about the Doctor’s own origin story in the Series 12 finale, “The Timeless Children”—featuring not just one, but two of the Doctor’s most iconic nemeses. Ultimately, the new team has kept the long-running sci-fi series feeling as fresh and vital as ever. —Josh Jackson
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