Television seems to be unaware that it’s only February, as season and series finales abounded last week. Even the traditional TV networks, which have stubbornly clung to the archaic TV schedule of yesteryear, said goodbye to a beloved, Emmy nominated comedy and the superhero show that began the current domination. The lovely series finale of The Good Place was so forking good, there’s no way it couldn’t top this week’s list.
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.
Sex Education (Netflix), Joe Pera Talks With You (Adult Swim), Everything’s Gonna Be Okay (Freeform), and Shrill (Hulu).
Last Week’s Ranking: 6
On paper, Netflix’s new reality series The Circle seems like a disaster waiting to happen. The show follows eight contestants sent to live in a fancy apartment building who are forbidden from interacting with each other except via an in-house, Alexa-like social media platform known as “The Circle.” Their goal? Become its most popular “influencer” to win a $100,000 prize. In short, it pretty much sounds like something that could only take place in a fairly deep level of hell.
In such an anonymous, competitive atmosphere, how long could it possibly take before the contestants start telling lies, backstabbing, and sabotaging one another? Or just straight up attacking their rivals for the most petty and superficial of reasons? Viewers can’t really be blamed for tuning in expecting a complete train wreck. The real surprise is that The Circle doesn’t give them one.
Instead, the series turns expected reality television tropes on their heads, ultimately shunning catty competition and calculated betrayal in favor of genuine emotion, real friendship, and a positive message about being and accepting who you are. No matter how they choose to play, many genuine moments of authenticity and connection take place, often times in what feels like a direct contrast to everything we expect from this genre.
Yes, The Circle is the sort of silly, addictive television that most will dismiss out of hand. It’s not exactly prestige television, and it won’t reinvent the way you understand the power of drama. But it might change the way you think about people, a little bit, and how we relate to one another in this increasingly scary modern world. No matter how much it wants to be a story about technology, The Circle is a warm, wholesome reminder that humanity and sincerity matters, even in the face of that which encourages our worst selves. And that’s a reality competition worth watching. Heart emoji. Praise hands emoji. Send message.—Lacy Baugher
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
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: 8
Last season, The Magicians made a bold choice to kill off the oft-presumed main character of this fantasy journey. Grief may have changed some viewers’ relationship to the show, but it hasn’t changed The Magicians. The show is still snappy fun in between magical crisis after magical crisis. The Magicians has always been about trauma, grief, and pain, and Season 4 continues that journey in a cathartic and touching way as characters process that death. Whether an individual viewer will want to watch will likely depend on how they have come to feel about his death. As Julia says in Season 3, “When things happen they leave a mark. Figuring out how to deal with it takes time.”
Characters keep trying, trying, trying to make themselves feel better when they just won’t. Margo and Eliot interact with an actual brick wall in Fillory, but they and the other characters also hit a metaphorical one. They must decide to either crash into their grief or let it go and run the other way. When something does go right and a character comes back unharmed, it felt like such a relief I could have laughed. When another decides to remember the truth instead of lying or ignoring the pain, it was a revelation.
Because it’s The Magicians, I’m sure the relief will be short lived. These bits of grace are a good reminder that life goes on, and the show must, too.—Rae Nudson
Network: Apple TV+
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
Boasting a robustly talented set of executive producers, including Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, Apple TV+’s anthology series Little America may be its best to date. Over the course of eight half-hour episodes, Little America explores immigrant stories inspired by real events that are unique and full of heart. Though each story is incredibly different in terms of time and place, the series is united by a gorgeous, cinematic style and a theme of finding one’s home—often through unconventional means. The experiences are awkward, bittersweet, funny, raw, and triumphant, as each lead character follows their heart to create a new life in a new world. Some episodes feature recognizable actors, others do not; all will basically make you cry from their wonderful storytelling.
With each episode telling a complete vignette, Little America is worth savoring instead of bingeing (even though all episodes are available now). The segments end with a picture and a micro epilogue regarding the real person at the heart of the story, putting a point on the fact that these experiences are happening all around us every day. There’s no agenda beyond a hopeful note for a country deeply divided and fueled by vitriol to be reminded of these very grounded, human stories— ones that should unite us in the varied and often beautiful tapestry of American life. —Allison Keene
Network: CBS All Access
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
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: 4
The puzzles embedded in Evil episode titles are a lure, but so is the premise itself, as are its many twists and moments of absurdity. (John Glover sweating blood from the back of his neck while Carol Channing’s voice blasts from a possessed Alexa? Yes, please.) The wildness gets you through the door; the horror, the weirdness keeps you entertained, and all the while, creators Robert and Michelle Kings slip in stuff that’s not so immediately arresting—stuff that, unlike the puzzle, cannot easily be solved or broken down. Could God create a nine-year-old psychopath? Can something be mundane and miraculous at once? What is evil to the believer, what is it to the non-believer, and how are they different? “Book 27” introduced a new one, which will, in turn, lead to many more: What’s the morality on murdering a serial killer who’s threatened to slice through the necks of your four children, who then enters your home and leaves a gift basket?
Those questions, for which there is no easy answer and perhaps no answer at all, are what you might call the reason for the season, and it goes hand in hand with Evil’s disinterest in providing comfortable answers to even its most binary questions. It’s not just the big issues that dwell in the gray. The characters do, as well. Much of the wiggly ambiguity this season has stemmed from one of two things: The struggles of David (Mike Colter), a priest-in-training and recovering sex and drug addict whose devotion is linked in part to a promise he made to a dying fiancée and in part to his own fears about death, the latter addressed directly in one of the best scenes in “Book 27;” and in the mind of the supremely logical Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers, casually giving one of the best performances on TV), whose practical, decisive brain is often at war with her primal instincts (and own lapsed Catholicism) when it comes to all things demonic. But that struggle changed dramatically in the finale, as Kristen fully latched onto the belief that the cloven-hoofed demon she sees in a dream (voiced by Broadway legend Michael Cerveris) is also in some way Leland “Jake Perry from Iowa” Townsend (Michael Emerson). It’s yet another question of perspective and reality, truth and what seems like truth, morality, and ethics. It’s another gray area, in a series intentionally laced through with gray. That’s the Kings’ sweet spot. —Allison Shoemaker
Network: The CW
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
The CW’s Arrow wasn’t ever going to be a show that wrapped up in a neat bow, granting miraculous happy endings to everyone or ending with a heartwarming group hug. The CW’s first ever superhero property has always been prickly and difficult, a dark and generally bittersweet story that’s as much about the sacrifices of heroism as it is its victories. “Fadeout,” the series finale, honors that journey, refusing to give fans a miracle resurrection of the series’ hero, Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell), even as its recreation of the multiverse brings back several long-missing fan favorites. (Hi, Tommy Merlyn! We missed you!).
Instead, the finale chooses to celebrate Oliver’s legacy, illustrating how the show’s arc may have begun with one rich kid vigilante out for revenge, but ultimately expanded to include a dedicated squad of heroes, some with superpowers and some not, all determined to make the world a better place. Guest cameos from Supergirl’s Kara Zor-El (Melissa Benoist) and The Flash’s Barry Allen (Grant Gustin) reminds us that Oliver’s story doesn’t end with his death—his life’s work still impacts characters across six other series, including the upcoming Superman and Lois spinoff. What is a legacy? Planting seeds in a garden you’ll never get to see grow. Though Oliver’s eventual bittersweet happily-ever-after-life reunion with Felicity (Emily Bett Rickards) in a sparklingly clean and safe version of Star City says maybe you do, eventually. But not until after the work is done.—Lacy Baugher
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
Do you remember the year Coldplay performed at the Super Bowl? How about Maroon 5? Tom Petty? The Who? My guess is you do not, because despite great fanfare leading up to the performance, halftime shows are usually a huge disappointment, never quite reaching the energy and spectacle needed for such a big venue. That all changed this week when Shakira and Jennifer Lopez took the Miami stage as sheer forces of nature to be reckoned with. Their dance moves were incredible (Be in awe of a 50-year-old Lopez hanging vertically from a pole). Their costumes were sexy, but not in way that would offend parents or the FCC. There was such an unabashed joy and enthusiasm to their performance. It was infectious. By the time JLo’s daughter Emme took the stage for the finale, you knew you were watching the best halftime show in years.—Amy Amatangelo
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
It’s time to say goodbye to Netflix’s BoJack Horseman, and wow, what wacky adventures we’ve had with this cartoon horse, huh? So many shenanigans! Like the time he stole the D from the Hollywood sign, and the time he and his pals snuck into the Nixon Presidential Library to shoot a scene for a movie, and the time he nearly slept with the 17-year-old daughter of a longtime friend, and took a young woman on a bender that led to her dying of a heroin overdose, and traumatized his co-star by choking her on set while high out of his mind…
Watching and loving this show about the misdeeds of a former sitcom star who happens to be a cartoon horse has never been an easy experience. The animal puns, the clever rhymes, the savage moments of Hollywood satire—they’ve always been this show’s brightly-colored surface, a seductive cover for one of TV’s most raw shows about isolation and loneliness, and how those things can feed the darkness within us all.
Like all stories which set out to examine the morality of mortality, the ending was always going to be essential to really judging the series as a whole (which is why the choice to split the final season into two parts; was so frustrating). BoJack dying would have been easy. BoJack finding real redemption would have been easy. But BoJack Horseman has never been a show about the easy path—and when a character tries to take the easy path, it’s always a cautionary tale. So it’s to creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s credit that the series chooses an ending that feels incomplete, that brings with it some catharsis but plenty of untied threads. It’s a bit of a mess, but a mess that feels awfully appropriate.
But there’s perfection in those imperfections, a bravery in leaving behind some mess. And that’s really the thing: when a show like this ends, the question often becomes what did it leave behind? In the case of BoJack, it won’t be hard to remember the punnery and wit, the beautiful art design, or Character Actress Margo Martindale. But hopefully, its lasting legacy is the way it changed how we approach the genre of animation, and how it challenged us to really, really look at ourselves—to see the ugliness within, as well as the beauty, and acknowledge them as two sides of the same coin. —Liz Shannon Miller
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
All good things must come to an end, and so too must The Good Place. So here we have stayed, watching Michael, Eleanor, Chidi, Jason, and Tahani trying to save humanity with the assistance of the ever-helpful Janet. While the stakes were decidedly higher this season (no big deal but humanity may be eliminated) and the twists even more shocking (Phoebe is the only Friend worth saving ??), the humor remained razor sharp, the pop-culture references on-point, and the inherent sweetness of the series inspirational. Humans can get better, can learn from their mistakes and, against all odds, will try to do the right thing. Could a network comedy do all that? You better forking believe it. — Amy Amatangelo
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