The unexpected defines this week’s Power Rankings, with a summertime Christmas episode, a Brady Bunch homage on the subject of abortion, YouTube’s second strong debut in as many months, and a big reveal. Most surprising of all, perhaps—and far more importantly—broadcast journalists stepped up to the plate in their extensive coverage of the crisis on our southern border, depicting an American atrocity unfold in real time. Let us hope new organizations’ laser-like focus on the human rights abuses perpetrated in our name continues until every child in question is reunited with his or her family.
The rules for this 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 six weeks.
The voting panel is comprised 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, as much good TV is available right now.
Dietland, The Expanse, Legion
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
Is there a word for the penultimate episode of a season that always, inevitably, has shit go down? These episodes are Franz Ferdinand and the finales are World War I. In Westworld’s “Vanishing Point,” a few poor Archdukes bite the bullet and send the remaining protagonists hurtling towards the Valley Beyond (and its clone-creating Forge) equipped with a heaping helping of self-loathing on top of their already crippling sociopathy. Most especially, it’s an episode of comeuppance for characters we weren’t sure it’d matter to. William’s (Ed Harris) delusions inflicted it upon him, Dolores’ (Evan Rachel Wood) intimate betrayal inflicted it upon her. And now we’re stuck waiting to see if they (or we) really care. —Jacob Oller (Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO)
Network: YouTube Premium
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
YouTube Premium already went hard this summer with Cobra Kai, but with the new gritty teen superpower thriller Impulse (adapted from the same books as middling 2008 film, Jumper), released the first week in June, they are showing not just how willing they are to enter the prestige streaming fray, but how prepared they are to look great. Starring the thoroughly effective Maddie Hasson (The Finder, Twisted) as Henry, a teen whose constant new-girl status and only slightly less constant mystery seizures had already pushed her into lonerdom long before she started manifesting destructive teleportation abilities, Impulse strikes just the right balance between High Teen Drama and Big Sci Fi Conspiracy—as in, it sticks to the network’s strengths and leans heavily on the former, dipping only occasionally into the latter as a mysterious adult teleporter keeps his family on the run from equally mysterious pursuers, abandoning any who get too close (including Keegan-Michael Key) in the Arctic for a grisly demise.
Henry’s personal story will obviously intersect with this bigger world eventually, but the series knows well enough how to be interesting in a teen-human way as it takes its time getting there. This does, unfortunately, include an added-for-television sexual assault plot point to trigger Henry’s powers, but it’s at least handled with more consistent care than most, not just within the show as an ongoing trauma that informs in a million different ways every aspect of Henry’s life afterwards (Henry’s kind-of stepsister is particularly good in this arc), but in the RAINN card placed at the end of every episode. Only Sweet/Vicious has done this plot point better. At least here, Henry has not just friends (including Tatiana Maslany’s brother, Daniel, as an enthusiastically observant autistic classmate), but powers to help her find her way back to herself. I am here for it. The first season is only available behind Premium’s paywall, but enough preview episodes are available on regular YouTube to succeed in seducing you to at least pulling the trigger on the service’s free 1-month trial. —Alexis Gunderson
8. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
Kimmy’s greatest asset has always been its ability to cram an innumerable amount of jokes and pop culture references into a neon-hued 30-odd minute show that is really about a grown woman (played by Ellie Kemper) who is stunted with an unimaginable level of PTSD. After all, her childhood was spent in a bunker, as a victim of kidnapping and serial rape. Those gags were certainly on point for the first half of Season Four, which hit Netflix on May 30 (the other half will be released later). I’m still laughing about Tituss Burgess’ character, Titus Andromedon, saying, “OK, you know how Al Gore invented the Internet? Well, he also invented a rhythm for it. It’s called the al-gore-ithm. It learns about you and picks things it knows you like,” when he teaches Kimmy how to binge watch. Or Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) quipping, “Tourists are too savvy now. I blame NBC’s Smash” when she can’t sell tickets to a school play in Times Square.
But the season’s pièce de résistance is clearly the third episode, “Party Monster: Scratching the Surface.” A parody of the true-crime drama trend for which Netflix only has itself to blame, the episode gives voice to Kimmy’s now imprisoned captor, Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm)—a little too much voice, actually. The fake reverend leads a naïve documentarian right into his clutches and turns an innocent never-meet-your-idols moment into a petition for his release through fabricated evidence and MRA tactics. It’s topical, scary and (somehow) funny. Luckily, none of this will completely falter our heroine, who spends the remaining part of the season accepting that she can use her experience to stop young boys from growing up to be perverts and assholes.
Will it work? The sixth episode ends with spies seemingly running surveillance outside her apartment. Given the show’s propensity for stunt casting, we really hope this is nothing dire and just some big joke about Philip and Elizabeth Jennings from The Americans coming back for one more gig. (Hey, Kimmy’s new season did premiere on the same day as the FX series’ finale). —Whitney Friedlander (Photo: Eric Liebowitz/Netflix)
Network: TV Land
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
One thing we love about Younger (OK, we love everything about Younger, but you know what we mean) is its continual willingness to upend its central premise. As the seasons have progressed, many characters have discovered that Liza (Sutton Foster) is actually a fortysomething mom of a college student and not the millennial she purports to be. But Charles (Peter Hermann) has remained in the dark. Not anymore, as the season premiere found Edward L.L. Moore (Richard Masur) outing her to Charles in an attempt to distract from his sexual harassment allegations. That, kids, is what we refer to as a game-changer. But Charles doesn’t immediately confront Liza, and instead grapples with the fact that the woman he’s fallen in love with has been lying to him for years. Meanwhile, a blissfully unaware Liza snags a deal with Reese Witherspoon, thrusting the Millennial imprint—and, by extension, Liza—into the spotlight. Oh, and Charles realizes that he must end things with his not-so-ex-wife, Pauline (Jennifer Westfeldt); Josh (Nico Tortorella) is dumped by his wife; we were all taught how to slide into someone’s DMs; and Debi Mazar got to be her best Debi Mazar. So, to recap, in one half-hour episode the series continues to troll real-life literary culture, move the show’s love stories forward, have a believable of-the-moment plot and be wildly entertaining and funny. Name me another show that can accomplish all that in such a short amount of time. Go ahead. I’ll wait.—Amy Amatangelo (Photo: Courtesy of TV Land)
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable mention
We’ve talked a lot about TNT’s Southern-fried crime drama’s unique ability to mix the absurd with the serious, what with its takes on everything from opioid abuse to autism. Sunday’s episode, the second of Claws’ sophomore season, might be one of the best examples of this. Titled “Cracker Casserole” (because this show gives zero fucks about being PC), it tackled the topic of abortion in one of the smartest and fairest ways we’ve seen on television. Not only was there a Brady Bunch-inspired montage that succinctly summed up how varied women’s beliefs on the subject can be, but we also saw Harold Perrineau’s Dean—a rape and abuse survivor thanks to a neglectful foster system—offer up a poignant monologue to picketing pro-lifers, arguing that they only cared about his life while he was in utero. Because this is Claws, this happens as Dean’s now-fiancée, Virginia (Karrueche Tran), is fighting her way past these naysayers to the clinic to the tune of Awkwafina’s “My Vag.” And we haven’t even mentioned that this episode also includes a storyline for the group of day laborers that Carrie Preston’s Polly has turned into wannabe Magic Mikes. Their first gig was performing in a commercial for an oxy shop. —Whitney Friedlander (Photo: Skip Bolen/TNT)
5. The Handmaid’s Tale
Last Week’s Ranking: 8
The skeleton key to this episode isn’t an image. It’s actually the title. “Smart Power” means a number of things here: the power of intellect, the wisdom to wield power judiciously, the way intelligence (both connotations) can drop a bigger bomb than an actual bomb ever could. Knowing the power of your own value and the value of your own power even when the system tries to confuse you. It’s the bitter understanding of the power Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) has forfeited and the wounded, guilt-ridden attempts by Aunt Lydia (Ann Dowd) to find some way to exert her power, such as it is, for good (while also being quite willing to use it to torture people). It’s the power of love and connection and common ground, the power of names, the power of truth. It’s Offred (Elisabeth Moss) learning to navigate Gilead’s draconian landscape without losing herself and to understand, in a continuous stream of small revelations, how much power she actually has, even if it seriously doesn’t look like it right now. In Gilead, the easy thing to do would be to become Janine (Madeline Brewer), so pummeled by the system that she’s like a babbling child (albeit one who can suddenly yell “suck my dick” at someone who has the authority to shoot her for shooting her mouth off). June has no such protective shell: She’s too smart, and too willful, to give in. —Amy Glynn (Photo: George Kraychyk/Hulu)
4. Queer Eye
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
Just four months after Season One, Queer Eye is back with eight new, tear-filled episodes, including heartwarming makeovers of a devout woman and her gay son, a twentysomething slacker, and a trans man fresh off top surgery. The reboot leans into the sensation it caused when it first premiered in February, with adorable anti-chef Antoni taking a backseat for macaroni salad and breakout star Jonathan Van Ness coining several more highly quotable lines, but that’s sort of the genius of the smaller episode order: By the time you start to tire of the formula, you’re already out of new material. “Always leave them wanting more” is a TV cliché for a reason. It works. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Courtesy of Netflix)
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable mention
Co-creator Ryan Murphy’s second great TV series of the year (after The Assassination of Gianni Versace) is the blistering, brightly colored dance musical I never knew I always wanted—even in the depths of winter and despair. As written by Janet Mock and Our Lady J, “Giving and Receiving,” set at Christmastime, finds ballroom emcee Pray Tell (the electric Billy Porter) and dance instructor Helena (Charlayne Woodard) grieving those lost to the AIDS crisis of the 1980s, and Elektra (Dominique Jackson) considering gender confirmation surgery after her first doctor’s visit in nearly a decade. And yet, in the pain there is love; in the darkness there is light: From a young couple’s blooming romance to the preparations for Snow Ball, Pose once again highlights the boundless joy of one’s chosen family. As Elektra promises her charges, “Mother has a plan to deck these fucking halls!” Amen to that.—Matt Brennan (Photo: Jeffrey Neira/FX)
2. The Bold Type
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
We need more TV that makes us happy, so I cannot stress enough how much you need to be watching The Bold Type. It celebrates women from different backgrounds and perspectives while having terrific, often thought-provoking plotlines. In the two-hour Season Two premiere, Kat (Aisha Dee) returned from her trip with Adena (Nikohl Boosheri) ready to embrace the fact that she’s in a relationship with a woman. No more hiding. She also has renewed energy for her job as social media director at Scarlet. Jane (Katie Stevens) has begun her new job at Incite, while Sutton (Meghann Fahy) is still working hard as a fashion assistant for Oliver (Stephen Conrad Moore). The series mines pop culture for current, clever storylines, has a fairly accurate portrayal of being a journalist in 2018, and understands that women should not have to suppress their sexuality to be treated fairly in the workplace. Do I sound like I’m making too much of a TV show? I’m not. It is so important for there to be shows like this—shows that celebrate women, their differences, their supportive friendships, their hopes and dreams. It is The Bold Type. Hear it roar.—Amy Amatangelo (Photo: Freeform)
1. Jacob Soboroff, MSNBC / Gayle King, CBS
Networks: MSNBC, CBS
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
Even before the United States’ human rights abuses at the southern border reached a horrifying new nadir Monday, with ProPublica’s release of audio recorded in a U.S. Customs and Border Protection facility housing children separated from their parents, MSNBC correspondent Jacob Soboroff had made a searing introduction to U.S. government concentration camps for children, and CBS This Morning host Gayle King co-anchored the program from McAllen, Tex. In doing so, both forced their viewers—many likely at home, getting their own children ready for the day, or ready for bed—to confront what amounts to state-sanctioned child abuse. Soboroff and King’s reporting from the field, a lead swiftly followed by other networks, is only a small first step, but if their empathic directness serves as a model for even a modicum of sustained focus on the magnitude of the United States’ moral abomination, it will have more than earned its spot on this list. —Matt Brennan