How often do you get to say a TV show reminds you of the time the rich kids at your high school went on spring break to Mexico and everyone returned single, (re)coupled up, tan or with more vendettas then an anime antagonist?
That my friends is the beauty of Love Island, the CBS adaptation of the UK juggernaut that’s quickly becoming the show of summer. We here at Paste TV cast a wide net when it comes to considering the medium we love most. We’ve got you covered from the prestige TV to the Love Island of it all.
The rules for the power list 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.
Harlots (Hulu), Sweetbitter (Starz), Animal Kingdom (TNT), City on a Hill (Showtime), and Baskets (FX).
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
The sound of a helicopter, in this age of television, tends to telegraph something ominous: A dystopia, probably, in which an authoritarian power closes in from above, spotlight blazing down as they track our desperate, fleeing hero. But at the Tour de France, which runs for 21 days every summer and will resume with its 11th of 21 stages on Wednesday, the faint sound of whirring rotors is—would you believe it—a comfort. It’s the serene soundtrack to this beautiful race in which hundreds of the best athletes in the worlds, decked out in bright colors, hunch over $15,000 bikes and speed through hundreds of kilometers of French terrain. Each day they’re gasping their way up steep, sometimes unpaved mountain passes, streaming in shifting lines past green countryside and sprinting with reckless, rocking fury to the finish line. The competition rivets, if you enjoy cycling, and if you don’t, the Tour doubles as scenic (perhaps even therapeutic?) background TV. Airing from about 7 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. ET each day, it’s a perfect calling card for the French tourism board—along with the ranks of cyclists, those helicopters show us sprawling vineyards, ancient castles, and lovely towns plucked from medieval days. It’s a moving, visual feast.—Shane Ryan
Last Week’s Ranking: 9
On paper, SYFY’s Krypton is a Superman prequel, which follows the story of the Man of Steel’s grandfather, Seg-El (Cameron Cuffe), as he struggles to make sure the timeline in which his grandson exists is preserved. However, the series’ second season has grown into something much more complex and interesting than any of us could have ever predicted. With compelling original characters, lesser-known figures drawn from classic DC Comics lore and perhaps the best version of General Zod (Colin Salmon) ever committed to screen, the series’ connection to Superman has never felt less important to the thrilling, twisty story it’s currently telling. Plus, Krypton is chock full of tremendous female characters, each with their own arcs, goals and lives outside of the men around them. (Personally, I’d die for Wallis Day’s Nyssa Vex, but to each their own.) If, for whatever reason, you stayed away when this show first premiered – it’s time to give Krypton a try. It’s that rare sci-fi prequel that isn’t a slave to its own mythology, but rather is willing to reinvent it instead.—Lacy Baugher
Last Week’s Ranking: 6
Memory loss spy thrillers and the allegorical antics of mutants have gotten lots of play in pop culture, but combining them—like in Starz’s new sci-fi series The Rook—sounds a bit messy on the surface. Too many warring genre vocabularies talking at the same time makes for an unintelligible conversation. However, it’s possible to thread the needle; or, at least make it an enjoyable jumble. Showrunners Lisa Zwerling and Karyn Usher fill their adaptation of Daniel O’Malley’s novel with style and a few gripping performances, which are more than enough to jog our memories about why we like these stories in the first place.
The Rook is about the Checquy, a British secret service that fends off unnatural threats with some unnatural powers of their own. There’s a queen (Joely Richardson), a king (Adrian Lester), and yes, some rooks. There’s even an American out-of-towner (Olivia Munn) to make it an international force. Some share a consciousness. Some are super-strong, but not Superman-level unstoppable. Others have more vague and flexible powers, like control over the local atmosphere. And one of them wiped Myfanwy Thomas’ (Emma Greenwell) memory.
We meet Myfanwy as an amnesiac who apparently belongs to the agency and has half a dozen dead bodies on her hands. Gaunt, stressed, and in a body she doesn’t recognize, Myfanwy (pronounced like “Tiffany,” the show helpfully explains) is a relatable Jason Bourne. She doesn’t have full control over her lightning-like ability and seems to have had a drunken tryst with her four co-workers that share a single consciousness. If that’s not enough to get you on board, this show and its sense of fun simply aren’t for you. The Rook’s memory-loss thriller is ambitious, beautiful, and full of great performances.—Jacob Oller
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
Over the too-few episodes of Los Espookys’ first season, the group of friends who made a business out of scaring people have helped a priest pull off an exorcism, created a sea monster tourist attraction for a struggling town and accidentally got an American ambassador stuck in a mirror. (She eventually escaped—but so did her reflection.) The weird, delightful humor of Los Espookys is perfectly balanced by its characters’ earnestness, especially that of Renaldo (Bernardo Velasco), the leader of their group. Renaldo loves horror and wants to share his passion with his friends, the cool and practical Úrsula (Cassandra Ciangherotti), the wealthy heir to a chocolate fortune Andrés (Julio Torres) and Úrsula’s hapless sister Tati (Ana Fabrega). But every gig they take comes with brand new issues for the friends to face, all in a world where water demons and enchanted mirrors are so normal they occur without comment. For the first time, the group might not make it through, but so far their love for each other and good attitudes are mostly intact. —Rae Nudson
Last Week’s Ranking: 7
Season Two of the HBO series, written by David E. Kelly and author Liane Moriarty and directed by Andrea Arnold*, picks up about a year after the Emmy-winning first season as it investigates the fallout from both Perry’s (Alexander Skarsgard) death and the lie the women shared about its circumstances. Season Two is about consequences, and though the series doesn’t lose its edge or satirical style (particularly when it comes to Renata), it’s far more meditative and melancholic than before.
Big Little Lies is at its best when it’s primarily a character exploration, and the caliber of its cast cannot be overstated. Though the series always has been a strange blend of trauma and satire, Season Two leans into the former much more so than the latter, focusing (perhaps rightly) far more on the dynamic Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) and their interior lives. If the first season was about the women coming together, then so far this is about them falling away. That’s not an unnatural result given their shared trauma and the lie that will surely come out, but it does leave the narrative feeling unbalanced and fractured.
While it may lack some of the bite and urgency of its first season thus far, Big Little Lies is still an absolutely gorgeous series with a lot to unpack in terms of its complex women, the legacy of abuse, the makeshift families we form, and protecting one’s friends. There are several conversations in these early episodes about people who “want,” and women who “want” in particular. Each of the Monterey Five want for different things, but in this moment—in their lives that are full of convoluted lies and devastating consequences—most of all they want to know who they really are.
*Update: Though Big Little Lies has turned into more of a courtroom drama as it comes to the end of its new season, the real drama is behind-the-scenes regarding director Andrea Arnold, whose hard work was more or less ripped apart and redone to match the style of Season One director Jean-Marc Vallée, the full details of which you can read more about here. —Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
Stranger Things continues to be an unabashed celebration of the 1980s, from its own filmic references regarding style and story to the literal references of the era. Season Three kicks off in the summer of 1985, which is not where we normally expect to find the show (formerly set in the winter and fall), but it only augments the joyful nature of the series’ non-monster moments. And that, really, is where Stranger Things shines. The creep factor is important (and super gory this year) as an almost funny juxtaposition to the otherwise happy-go-lucky look at suburban life. But it’s the friendships and coming-of-age stories, the relationships and family bonding, that really make Stranger Things great. For better or worse, the Netflix horror series’ new season is as tasty, messy, and fleeting as an ice cream cone on a hot summer’s day. Ahoy!—Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
Creators Steve Conrad and Bruce Terris have crafted a visually distinct world full of moral quandaries, exploring the fluctuating nature of what defines a person’s character. That exists alongside scenes like Sir Ben Kingsley calmly telling the guard at a Mexican prison that he is “the pale horse of death,” just before being loaded into an ice cream truck for transportation to a Super Max facility.
The series builds out its own world in a vaguely modern southwest setting, where James (Jimmi Simpson) gets embroiled in a scheme to rob a couple running a scam church. Their son, Paul Allen Brown (Damon Herriman), repeats several times that “they’re just two old people,” but Byron (Kingsley) and Lillian (Jacki Weaver) are forces to be reckoned with—starting with the fact that James has to get hooked on methadone first to go through their detox as part of the heist. “That’s intense,” he says thoughtfully. Perpetual Grace has a weird, wry humor to it, but even more importantly it’s rooted in exceptional character work.
It’s a fascinating journey to begin, with no sense yet of how things might resolve, if they ever do. There’s no hurry to get there, though—spending time in this strange world is full of curiosities will likely keep us perpetually sustained.—Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
So, Love Island. Love Island is peak reality television. It is all baby oil, bare skin, white teeth and abs. Just like the show’s contestants, you’re asked to leave your brain and all reason at the door. It is glitz. It is glamour. It is mind-numbing—draining, even—and I cannot stop watching it. The Love Island contestants are paired up in paradise (Fiji, to be exact), constantly caught on camera for the pleasure of viewers of everywhere and, unsurprisingly, an endless river of drama spews forth. In many ways, Love Island reminds me of the time a lot of the rich kids from my high school went to Mexico on a senior spring break. I do not know what transpired there, nor did I care. But everyone returned single, (re)coupled up, tanner than any human being should ever be, or with more vendettas then an anime antagonist. The sea levels are rising, but tan lines, white teeth and mindless entertainment are forever. I will keep watching Love Island while I shove popcorn into my mouth and I’ll forget everything I watched by sunrise the next day. And yes, I will do it all over again ad infinitum.—Cole Henry
Network: Nat Geo and PBS
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
Nat Geo marked the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 moon landing with a slate of space specials, headlined by Apollo: Missions to the Moon. The feature-length documentary by Tom Jennings covers NASA’s moon program from the fatal Apollo 1 in 1965 to the conclusion of the program with Apollo 17 in 1972. The ancillary programs are generally shorter, and cover quite a bit of terrain: There are films about scientists looking for signs of life on Europa and running the first mission to Pluto. There’s a spotlight piece on Neil Armstrong and a film about the Hubble space telescope. There’s a peek inside SpaceX as it continues its work toward putting humans on Mars and an admittedly difficult-to-watch program on the 1986 explosion of the space shuttle Challenger.
Of these, the most interesting are Journey to Europa and The Armstrong Tapes; the former for especially high-quality photography and the special sauce that is Neil Degrasse Tyson, and the latter for the picture it paints of what being an astronaut really means (hint: these folks are not “normal.” They are a cross between Buddha and Iron Man). These programs illuminate why we do this, and why science is so eternally preoccupied with what else is out there.—Amy Glynn
PBS also celebrated the anniversary with the three-part Chasing the Moon from filmmaker Roger Stone, as well as 8 Days: To the Moon and Back, and will have more themed programming throughout the month. You can check out PBS’s full Summer of Space lineup here. —Editor
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
Russell T. Davies’ UK series has come to HBO with very little fanfare, which is unfortunate because it deserves your attention. It’s a compelling, if imperfect, look at what life might be like in the next 15 years, as the show cruises through a number of proposed (and likely) world events through the lens of one British family. An outstanding cast helps sell the show’s dystopian vision, giving it an exceptional amount of heart. But Davies also keeps all of the tech and politics and media of the future feeling grounded in the possible. Years and Years is arresting television, with an outlandishly oversized score that pulls you in fully to a story with shocking events and the familiar mundanity that follows them. Despite the erosion of freedoms for these formerly comfortable middle-class westerners, it still feels strangely hopefully, and most of all, embraces the idea of resilience even in the face of extraordinary change. —Allison Keene