This is the second week in a row where duck-related content on Disney+ has risen to the top of the Power Ranking, and you know what? So be it! It’s wholesome and we like it.
Not everything on the list is wholesome; Amazon’s Invincible is a bloody delight akin to The Boys. But take advantage of the fact that new TV shows have slowed a bit in March to catch up with something unexpected. Maybe even something about ducks….
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.
The Irregulars (Netflix), Genius: Aretha (NatGeo), City of Ghosts (Netflix), Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (NBC), Genera+ion (HBO Max), For all Mankind (Apple TV+)
Network: Amazon Prime
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: A strong and bloody start.
These days, there’s plenty of superhero greatness soaring through TV programs. Robert Kirkman is the latest to enter the discussion, bringing another of his beloved comic book serials to television with Invincible. A coming-of-age story meets a classic superhero tale, this new animated adventure brings all the twists, turns, and frenzy we’ve come to expect from Kirkman’s episodic programs (you may recognize his name from The Walking Dead).
Invincible follows Mark Grayson (Steven Yeun), a seemingly dull 17-year-old kid. That is, until he finally inherits larger-than-life superpowers from his mega-cool dad Nolan (J.K. Simmons), also known by his hero name, Omni Man. Once he discovers his powers, the series becomes (a more brutal) Finding Nemo meets Iron Man, as the father and son learn how to grow from one another and coexist as heroes. And it’s not just these two bouncing into flight and sinking punches; two entire associations battle villains in the series, one of which is completely made up of sassy teenagers. The more heroes the better, right?
Invincible balances wild fight sequences with the actual logistics of these highly dangerous, orchestrated circumstances: these heroes wield their powers aggressively, of course, but they also have complex systems to evacuate areas and do damage control. Not only that, they reckon with their status as icons in society, and grasp what it means to “save” people. A flying start with stellar performances from both Yeun and Simmons, the future of Invincible is sure to excite. —Fletcher Peters
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: An alien convention, a murder solved, and D’arcy got to find the body in the freezer.
So 2021 is already a lot, but our prescription is to take your weekly dose of Alan Tudyk in Resident Alien. The fantastically talented Tudyk finally gets to lead his own show in essentially a dual role as Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle and the alien who has secretly crash-landed on Earth and assumed the dead doctor’s appearance for safety. Much actual hilarity does ensue when the imposing local sheriff (Corey Reynolds) demands Vanderspeigle’s help in solving the murder of the lone town doctor in nearby Patience, Colorado. With an entertaining ensemble of quirky townspeople as support, the series unfolds like the mad cousin of Northern Exposure mashed up with John Carpenter’s Starman. And Tudyk is on point serving up a weekly Master’s class in physical comedy and pitch-perfect line readings. Plus, there’s an inspired side plot about a single kid in town who can see what Harry actually is, and their mutual détente of deep dislike is sublime. Get on this one—it’s the tension release valve you need. —Tara Bennett
Network: HBO Max
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: A stunning finale.
Through five episodes, the limited Swedish series Beartown tells the story of Peter Andersson (Ulf Stenberg), a retired NHL player who returns to his hometown (Bjornstad, which translates to “Beartown”) with his wife and two children to coach the semi-professional hockey team. Bjornstad is a failing, dilapidated town steeped in Nordic misery, and the hockey team is a perfect reflection of the people: sad, old, and almost hopeless. Andersson, who comes with his own tragic burden—his young son died while he lived in North America—decides that the only way he’ll continue is if he can coach the junior team. There, he can utilize the talents of Kevin Erdahl (Oliver Dufaker), the son of his former rival, a prodigious talent who spends hours outside his home on the cold winter nights, slapping puck after puck into a net hung with targets.
There’s an almost Robert Altman-esque vibe to many of the scenes, in the sense that overlapping conversation and seemingly improvised bits of dialogue add credibility to a party scene, or a locker room speech, or the chatter of parents in the stands. Through these methods, director Peter Gronlund establishes a wonderful flow that nearly goes unnoticed amid the story and the drama, but that is essential to the world-building which seems to capture a viewer so effortlessly. And it should come as no surprise that the hockey scenes are also executed extremely well, which is quite an effort considering that this is only a “sports” show in the loosest sense.
This ingredient and all others cohere seamlessly, and you’re left with a show that transcends noir even as it elevates it. It’s clear that noir generally—and Scandi-noir specifically—hold a special appeal to modern audiences, and it’s clearer still that in the race to pump out as many as possible, some of the vibrant energy of what makes it special has been lost. There is no serial killer in Beartown, there is no religious iconography, no mass conspiracy, no last-minute twists to justify hours of uncertainty. There are only human beings, lost in a landscape, subject to the nightmares and redemptions that have plagued and absolved us from the start, and from which we’re called upon to rise even as the earthly world extends its cold, familiar shackles. —Shane Ryan
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
This Week: Sam and Bucky finally meet up, and Isaiah gets introduced.
The Falcon and the Winter Soldier may kick off with a brutal, cinematic-quality action sequence, but that’s not really what sets the tone for the MCU’s latest superhero TV show—or at least, it shouldn’t.
More interesting is that, for Sam/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), their time with the Avengers has been a kind of extended military tour of duty. Now, Sam is trying to reconnect with his widowed sister and her sons, and save his family’s fishing business. When they go to apply for a loan, there’s a cheeky reference to “how do [the Avengers] make money?” with no good answer. “Isn’t there some kind of Hero’s Fund?” the loan officer asks. This and the general hesitation for the loan to be approved feels like a not-so-coded reference to very real issues and biases faced by veterans, especially BIPOC veterans. Meanwhile, Bucky’s issues are largely internal. He isn’t in financial trouble, but he has no friends or family. When his therapist tells him that he’s free now, he answers “to do what?” He’s 106 years old, has no history and no life, and finds the modern world overwhelming and alienating.
Whereas Wanda Maximoff was ensconced in her own world, TFATWS is very firmly in our own. (It also presupposes a much deeper knowledge of the Marvel movies than Wanda did, with lots of casual references to them and a lack of introduction for anyone else.) Tonally it’s along the lines of The Winter Soldier and the start of Civil War, at least regarding political jockeying and America-centric military issues. That’s both good and bad. On the one hand, the series could delve into some very worthy considerations of what it means to serve, to come home, to feel unmoored by a world that has moved past you; it could even reach Wanda-levels of introspection and emotional resonance regarding consequence. On the other, it could devolve into more of how this first episode starts: Call of Duty-esque mumbo jumbo, murder, explosions. That vibe has its place (like, say, innumerable blockbusters and more than a handful of network TV shows). But six episodes is not a lot of time to spend time doing both, at least not well. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will need to pick a side: for America’s sake, I hope it’s the right one. —Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: A worthy franchise expansion.
Firstly it must be said that The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers—the continuation of the franchise which began in 1992—is extremely validating. The Disney+ series doubles a group therapy for all the parents out there traumatized by how intense youth sports have become.
Game Changers understands this and has built its entire premise around this distressing phenomenon. It’s been 29 years since Gordon Bombay (Emilio Estevez, reprising his role) led the ragtag “District 5” hockey team to victory in the peewee championship. Two movies and an animated series followed, and now nearly three decades later, the Ducks are the reigning champions. They’re ruthless and nasty. Their parents bring private coaches to practice and employ sports psychologists. They are now—I know this will be hard to hear—the bad guys. In the series premiere, 12-year-old Evan Morrow (Brady Noon) gets cut from the team. “At this age, if you can’t be good at hockey, don’t bother,” the Ducks’ callous coach (Dylan Playfair) tells him.
That doesn’t go over well with Brady’s mom Alex (Lauren Graham), who decides to take matters into her own hands. Graham’s always charming schtick, which she perfected on Gilmore Girls, is on full display as the enthusiastic mom that just wants her son to be happy, and for the game of hockey to bring him the same joy it once did. So they create a new team of misfits who look, no surprise, very similar to the kids from the original movie. Those comfortable beats are welcome, though; this new series isn’t a game changer, unlike the advent of the original franchise. But it is a delight. And that’s something to quack about. —Amy Amatangelo
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