Perhaps the biggest drama on television last week were the ongoing impeachment hearings, which Saturday Night Live correctly spoofed as a spin-off of Days of Our Lives (which is having its own cancellation rumors drama). TV is a flat circle, folks!
But in our little TV world, there was nothing bigger than Disney+ finally launching its much-heralded streaming service. Yes there were problems. Yes some content still isn’t available. But between being able to walk down the memory lane that is Lizzie McGuire and getting to meet adorable baby [spoiler] on The Mandalorian, Disney+ made a Mickey Mouse size impact on the TV landscape.
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.
Evil (CBS), Mr. Robot (USA), Silicon Valley (HBO), This is Us (NBC), High School Musical: The Musical: The Series (Disney+) and Dollface (Hulu).
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
Every week, Grey’s Anatomy is my TV panacea. The series wraps me in its warm blanket of romantic strife, high-stakes medical cases and workplace hijinks. Each week, for one brief hour, the show allows me to escape into the world of Grey Sloan Memorial Hospital and temporarily put aside my worries. But here’s the thing: the drama has been doing this for 16 seasons and just celebrated its 350th episode. I say this with love but take that Fleabag and your two, six-episode seasons. Shonda Rhimes and company make it look so easy to do what they do that we forget that when the show has been at it since George W. Bush was president. The milestone episode found Meredith (Ellen Pompeo) at risk of losing her medical license (long story) and brought back not only the doctor whose incompetence killed McDreamy but also the patient from the show’s very first episode. Was the parade of former patients who arrived in front of the medical board to testify to Meredith’s greatest a totally schmaltzy and emotionally manipulative move? Absolutely. But I loved it all the same. Grey’s Anatomy remains my person.—Amy Amatangelo
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
Perhaps we didn’t need a second season of this quirky UK series about two disaffected teens who go on an unexpectedly fraught road trip that ends up delivering them their souls, but we got one, and it’s very good. End of the F*ing World returns with new episodes that clarify the Season 1 finale—essentially, whether or not one of our leads met their demise—and also introduces a new character with a connection to our teen heroes; namely, that she wants to kill them. By shifting perspectives, it re-introduces us to James and Alyssa two years later, and ultimately ends with more hope and a clearer conclusion than before. It’s not as wonderful as that first run of episodes, but its existence is certainly no affront to fans. Both chapters of this short TV journey are well worth taking. As long as this is, in fact, the end. —Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: 9
The Cry, a four-part psychological thriller from the BBC (now making its way to AMC), is definitely not just for people who need re-schooling on “gaslighting,” an abnormal psychology term that’s been abused in a pathology-obsessed and relentlessly finger-pointing cultural moment, but for sure it can also do that for you. This excruciating breakdown of a toxic marriage will keep most people on the edges of their chairs.
The four hours of The Cry cut back and forth relentlessly, chopping past and present narratives into spliced, stochastic, and muddled webs of connected moments. Joanna (Jenna Coleman) is the young mother of a colicky newborn. Her husband, Alistair (Ewen Leslie), wants to go from Scotland to his childhood home outside Melbourne, where his first wife has absconded and “stolen” his teenage daughter, Chloe (Markella Kavenagh), after their marriage fell apart. The day Alistair and Joanna arrive, after a harrowing flight with a shrieking baby and a cabin full of resentful co-passengers, they make a pit stop at a convenience store and, after leaving the car unattended for just a minute, find the baby is not in the car seat.
The truth is, heroes and villains are pretty thin on the ground. Most of us are a lot more complicated than that, more blinkered, more inconsistent, more capable of shifting in response to context, sometimes in ways that shock everyone, especially ourselves. Many people are manipulative; very few are true gaslighters. Anyone can be lied to and not see it, but not everyone is susceptible to deliberate and sustained psychological torture—it takes a unique set of personality traits and circumstances for someone to be destabilized enough to accept that kind of abuse. When it does happen, though, the results can be spectacular and horrible, and not just for the victim. The Cry is an intelligent psychological thriller that will focus and refocus your suspicions and loyalties, all the while evocatively demonstrating the shifting power dynamics, rotating roles and changing presumptions that characterize a marriage where something has gone terribly, terribly wrong. —Amy Glynn
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
Despite all the mystery surrounding her long, hermetic life, it’s hard to imagine that the real Emily Dickinson (she of the poetic syntax so wildly removed from the style of her time that it wasn’t until 1955 that publishers stopped editing all her linguistic ecstasies into comparatively dull normalcy), wouldn’t get a kick out of Dickinson, Alena Smith and Hailee Steinfeld’s lovingly weird imagining of the poet’s young adulthood. Dickinson is so fun and so strange and so tireless in handing out little moments of character development, with wildly original mood setting, you could watch thousands of hours of television and still not think to expect, of course, the Dickinson who scrawled out “Wild nights – Wild nights!” and left behind thousands of scraps of genius in a locked chest would dig it.
To be clear, this is not me saying that rapturous anachronisms of Dickinson will be to everyone’s taste. Would Emily’s parents, in reality or as played here by Toby Huss and Jane Krakowski, be into it? Nah. Emily’s peers? Sue (Ella Hunt)—yes. George (Samuel Farnsworth)—yes. Everyone else—it depends. You? Who’s to say! Death showing up in the guise of Wiz Khalifa in a black silk top hat inside a ghostly black carriage to take Emily (Steinfeld) away from the funeral of her bosom friend/true love Sue’s last remaining sister (as Billie Eilish’s “bury a friend” pulses underneath the dialogue almost too quiet to hear) will read to many as try-hard poptimist-adjacent gimmick, and it feels likely that Apple is trying to buy the affections of a Gen Z audience through clout rather than substance.
But with such gorgeous cinematography, costuming, and metatextual design, and with every actor putting in such fun, charming, deeply specific (read: often deeply odd) performances—and with Smith and Steinfeld, especially, so blazingly self-confident in their vision—it seems entirely likely that Dickinson will be one of the brightest debuts of 2019. I genuinely want to be shut up in the prose of its walls, for as long as Emily will have me. —Alexis Gunderson
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
All good things must come to an end, and that is true for BBC’s Poldark which aired on PBS Masterpiece Theater. The show mastered the art of the love triangle with many different players: Ross, Elizabeth, George, Demelza, and Francis were all connected by love, and at times hate. While the conflicts and unrequited love were painful to watch at times, what made the show great was that it was able to present us with what love is, and that although it might be real, it isn’t always true. While Season 5 was met with mixed reviews, the series managed to give fans a finale that gave closure, or in some instances even hope, for their characters. Ross, you remained Pol-dark and handsome, and fans will always love you—even though now they will just have to watch you on re-runs. —Keri Lumm
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel Watchmen, like Fight Club and Starship Troopers, has a knack for getting itself misunderstood. Frankly, that’s mostly because white guys in the demographic that usually watches this kind of thing are used to a certain kind of messaging and a certain status quo interpretation. Action heroes kill stuff. It’s awesome. Rah, rah, violence. Move along, see the sequel in a year. Past behavior is hard to escape; it’s also hard to criticize without accidentally dipping back into old habits. Watchmen’s HBO sequel series from Damon Lindelof isn’t perfect in this regard, but it’s easy to watch, tough to pin down, and well worth working through.
The show becomes more and more about the traumas suffered by our progenitors, how they’ve lived on through us, and how we respond to their effects. It susses out the ways the government would attempt reparations for black Americans robbed of historical wealth—including the racist backlash against and cringe-inducing videos used to inform those receiving them. This applies to oppression and inequality, sure, but an entire episode digs into the 9/11-like aftershocks resonating into the American psyche from Ozymandius’ space squid drop on NYC. The past comes for everyone in the show.
Unlike some other prestige TV with muddled messaging, Watchmen doesn’t leave you feeling empty. The thematic throughline of the past’s haunting echoes and tangible consequences can get hammy at times, but it’s still a fascinating concept for a sequel series that nobody asked for. Clever, mean, blood-in-the-mouth humor meshes with politics warped and wild in this alt-present where Robert Redford is president and peace was forced upon the world by a murderous genius. Coping with this reality, moving on from the sins of the past, and figuring out how to find a just future—that’s a journey riddled with pitfalls, but one Watchmen makes irresistible. —Jacob Oller
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
Like the exceptional SundanceTV series Rectify, Showtime’s Back to Life picks up when the 30-something Miri (Daisy Haggard) returns to her small hometown after being in prison for 18 years. But this series never flashes back to that time, because Miri’s focus is on starting over and getting a second chance—if only anyone would let her actually achieve it.
The charming and wryly funny series (running an economic six half-hour episodes) is also created by Haggard and co-written by Laura Solon. The duo take the familiar canvas of a small British seaside town where a crime was committed and everyone has secrets, and subverts our expectations of where the story goes next. Yes there is something of a mystery as far as what Miri did, but the script has fun playing with our assumptions (like having Miri’s mother Caroline, played by the great Geraldine James, pluckily hiding the knives before she comes back downstairs). Neighbors write terrible messages on the family’s fence, they harass Miri, or whisper like cowards about rumors they’ve heard. But through it all, Miri puts on a brave if exasperated face, appreciating her freedom and hoping that some day people can forget what she did.
The key to Back to Life’s success is how it dances along the line of humor and grief, like when Miri returns to her room—untouched since she was a teenager—and sees posters of David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, and Michael Jackson. “Last one standing,” her mother says, gesturing to a bedside poster of Jamie Oliver. “Thank God he’s still with us,” Miri replies dryly. In a late episode moment, Miri notices that her parents have made a cup of tea for an effigy doll of her that someone left in their front garden. “Well, she was cold,” her mother says, almost breaking into a laugh—I nearly did the same. Back to Life is a quiet and emotionally genuine series that hinges on the fantastic interactions among its characters. It examines the fallout of this past tragedy through the mundanity of daily life, including the lies we hold on to that mask truths we don’t want to confront. —Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
The new chapter of Netflix’s opulent celebration of the monarchy, The Crown, opens in 1964 and concludes with her Silver Jubilee in 1977. It’s a decade-plus of big changes for the royal family, although as the series makes its turn into the ‘70s, fewer have to do with big political moments and instead mark personal upheavals. In an era of binge, Peter Morgan’s historical drama continues to distinguish itself as a series devoted to episodic storytelling, almost acting like an anthology within itself. Some episodes land better than others, but a lot of it comes down to personal preference to the kinds of stories being told. What unites each season are gorgeous aesthetics, an intimate look at an otherwise unknowable famous family, and an acting showcase from some of Britain’s best (like the Harry Potter franchise, eventually every British actor will appear in The Crown).
To that end, Season 3 introduces us to a new cast to reflect the new timeframe: Olivia Colman replaces Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II, Tobias Menzies is now Prince Philip (formerly played by Matt Smith). Margaret transforms from Vanessa Kirby to Helena Bonham Carter, we have a new Queen Mother in Marion Baily, and are introduced to Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor), Princess Anne (Erin Doherty), and new Prime Minister Harold Wilson (Jason Watkins).
The weight of the crown itself is felt throughout, mainly in how unhappy it makes all of these very privileged people who constantly consider “the life unlived.” Each of these serve as a brief glimpse of possibilities that are never allowed to materialize because of the realities of position and duty, but that sacrifice in the face of something greater becomes increasingly harder to defend as the years go on. But in this moment, Elizabeth is at a point where all she knows is that she must simply carry on. And so, indeed—as the series takes great pains to argue—must the crown. —Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
There can never be too many Janets. That’s what we learned last week as all the Janets (and D’Arcy Carden who now rivals Tatiana Maslany in her ability to play so many disparate characters) banded together, yes even the Bad Janets (What up, ding dongs?) and Roller Blading Janet. They’re all on a text chain now and are uniting to stop the Judge (Maya Rudolph) from restarting humanity with her “wiper-outer thingy.” We also got to see the gang plan out the funerals of their dreams—Tahani (Jameela Jamil) had to wear sweat pants! We have been patiently waiting this season for The Good Place to become forking great again. As the beloved NBC comedy barrels towards its series finale, this final season has been good but not the combination of hilarity and high stakes we’ve come to expect from the series. Now the show is back to its expected greatness providing episodes that are thrilling, always surprising and hilarious (you gotta love the shout out to Ally McBeal and the homage to Weekend at Bernies). Plus Michael (Ted Danson) let us know which Friend would make it to The Good Place. The show is there for us. —Amy Amatangelo
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
One of the year’s most anticipated series—arguably the most anticipated—coincided with the launch of a brand-new streaming service. It was no small thing to combine the genesis of Disney+, with its robust back-catalogue of childhood favorites, alongside a new Star Wars TV show. But Disney is very good at corporate synergy, especially since it now owns so many beloved pop culture properties.
As one would expect from a Star Wars property, a fully-formed fantasy world is immediately presented to us here, filled with interesting characters and lively backgrounds. It has a cinematic quality. Things click and whir and bleep and boop alongside foreign chatter and a host of interesting creatures. The world of The Mandalorian immediately feels lived in, so even though we don’t know much about this particular story yet, there’s no time wasted with setup.
But aside from being a very fun space western (that only runs in 30 minute weekly episodes—imagine!) The Mandalorian has already immediately captured our hearts and the zeitgeist by introducing one of the cutest creatures of all-time. No spoilers here but seriously, this thing is really, really cute. —Allison Keene
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