It’s a banner week for linear TV on the Paste Power Rankings. Though The Haunting of Hill House continues to dominate the conversation on Twitter (for good or for ill), blasts from the past from Doctor Who and This Is Us, plus The Conners’ attempt to move on without Roseanne Barr, are all leading contenders, too. There’s even a PBS documentary in the mix. Streaming isn’t everything!
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.
Charmed, Derren Brown: Sacrifice, Shameless, Wanderlust, Will & Grace
Last Week’s Ranking: 8
A trafficked ring-tailed lemur. Popcorn problems. The lost final chapter of Don Quixote. And Gassing Up the Miata. Netflix’s new miniseries, Maniac, has its imperfections. But it proves that even if reality might be a debatable construct, metaphors and tropes and symbols are pretty stinkin’ permanent. Writer Patrick Somerville (The Leftovers) and director Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective) have created something that’s as much like visual poetry as any TV show I can recall seeing recently-and unlike most poetry, it’s also freaking hilarious. Annie (Emma Stone) is profoundly depressed, prone to substance abuse and lying, and has some serious issues with a sibling. Owen (Jonah Hill) might be schizophrenic, and he’s under a lot of pressure from his wealthy family over a legal matter, and he has some serious issues with a sibling. Arguably, neither of them is a good test subject for a highly experimental pharmaceutical trial, but this one happens to be for a series of pills to “cure” all the ills of the psyche, and they’re both hard up for money… and for answers, closure… relief. The result? A surrealist masterpiece. —Amy Glynn (Photo: Michele K. Short/Netflix)
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
It continues to be a shame that, despite critics’ and others’ calls for better diversity and representation in Hollywood, one of the largest groups of people not to be accurately represented on screen are those with disabilities. The matter is only especially frustrating when it seems that, when they are shown, these characters tend to be beset with such sadness and pain. And while HBO’s biopic certainly feeds into this problem, it is nonetheless still a story to be told. Peter Dinklage is fascinating as Hervé Villechaize, the gregarious and reckless Fantasy Island star whose life spiraled out of control either in spite of or because of his fame (depending on how you look at it), and who takes Jamie Dornan’s troubled journalist on quite a crazy night. This is not a perfect movie—it could lose a half hour and be fine—but Villechaize’s is certainly a life worth celebrating. —Whitney Friedlander (Photo: Steffan Hill/HBO)
Last Week’s Ranking: 6
The second season of Netflix’s animated sex-ed comedy is more unwieldy than the first, losing the element of surprise and adding way, way too much of that gross-out nincompoop, Coach Steve. Still, Big Mouth, from creators Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett, might be the flat-out funniest comedy on TV, pulling off a one-liner/sight gag hit rate to rival BoJack Horseman (without the despair) and The Good Place (without the profound philosophical questions). Highlights include a Planned Parenthood explainer episode in the form of a pop culture-inspired anthology—replete with an ingenious, contraception-themed Bachelor spoof—a ribald two-parter set at a school sleepover, and the addition of David Thewlis as the nefarious Shame Wizard, though the series’ MVP remains (of course) Maya Rudolph as the Hormone Monstress, offering a multi-episode master class in voice acting. (The way she pronounces “pharmacy” should be in the MoMA.) “I’m horny all the time,” Andrew Glouberman (John Mulaney) laments at one point, summing up Big Mouth’s laugh riot, ‘and I’m makin’ bad choices.” Let’s hope there are still many more to come. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Netflix)
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
Developing a conscience isn’t just a terrible way to make money, it’s a dangerous idea. Especially if you’re as deep in the shit as Vincent (James Franco). He, along with many characters in this week’s episode of The Deuce, are feeling antsy in their current predicament. Whether you’re itching in your marriage, your job, or your current relationship with morality, “The Feminism Part” is here to give you an out: It just won’t be the one you want. Larry’s (Gbenga Akinnagbe) gotten way too soft for the pimp world as he’s fallen head-over-dick for the life of a porn star. Irene (Roberta Colindrez) and Shay (Kim Director) see their relationship fall apart when the latter gets cabin fever after being locked away to avoid her ex-pimp and her love affair with heroin. Paul (Chris Coy) slept around so much as stress relief that’s it’s affected his home life. Even Eileen (Maggie Gyllenhaal), having directed an entire artsy feature, is still being shoved out of production discussions by the patriarchal hairballs in charge. It’s enough to make anyone crazy to get out. —Jacob Oller (Photo: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
NOVA’s new program, “Addiction,” is a calm, educated look at how opiate addiction happens, why it’s surging in certain areas, and what needs to change if we want that trend to reverse. It tracks doctors at Stanford, public health officials in West Virginia, controversial safe injection sites (in particular, one in Vancouver; they’re not currently legal in the U.S.), a teen with an improperly diagnosed disorder who got taken on a seriously nasty roller coaster ride courtesy of conventional medicine and its attitudes toward “addicts,” and a scion of upper-tier privilege who was also misdiagnosed and whose resources, education and attentive parents could not save him from his own dopamine receptors. There is some agonizing footage of what happens when babies are born in opioid withdrawal that’s still making my skin crawl as I write this. There’s a lot of detailed, clear-headed research into how addiction works, how humans have evolved to respond to dopamine (the neurotransmitter that mediates pleasure and “reward” responses) and how chemicals that bind to dopamine receptors can, over time, reduce their function and even their numbers, creating a vicious and verifiably not-choice-based circuit of escalating need for those chemicals. Since we know this, it’s curious to note that people who become addicted to opioids are not considered medical patients with a medical problem. They become pariahs, criminals, outcasts. “Addiction” does its small part to change that. —Amy Glynn (Photo: Courtesy of WGBH)
Network: The CW
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
It’s no “Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend Is Crazy”—last season’s Swimfan-inspired non-musical masterpiece—but “I Am Ashamed” is a fun, mostly lighthearted spin on the Halloween episode. (You know, minus all the “rooftop killer” and “murder house” references.) With mentions of Hocus Pocus and The Craft, appearances by Patton Oswalt and everyone’s favorite witch, Kathy Najimy, and the debut of “The Cringe,” Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s fresh take on the “Monster Mash,” “I Am Ashamed” may not move the narrative forward much, but it works as a delightful collection of in-jokes (A Brief History of the Covinas) and sight gags (a peach that cannot sit). Oh, and it features our first glimpse of the series’ fourth and final theme song! Even when it’s taking a breather, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend does not disappoint. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Scott Everett White/The CW)
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
Like a phoenix from the ashes, The Conners rose to create a solid, funny and poignant premiere in the wake of Roseanne’s demise. Oh, I’m sorry. Am I being too dramatic? That’s because everything about the show’s creation has been over-the-top in the melodrama department, from Roseanne’s abrupt cancellation to Roseanne Barr tweeting an all caps “I AIN’T DEAD, BITCHES!” immediately after The Conners premiere aired. I didn’t expect Barr to go quietly into that good night, but she couldn’t even let the actors and crew she claims to care so much about enjoy the premiere in peace. She also immediately release a statement in conjunction with her rabbi about the power of forgiveness and criticizing The Conners for killing her character via an opioid overdose.
But no matter. Led by John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf and Sara Gilbert, the premiere worked and worked well in spite of all the backstage troubles. No one does droll delivery like Gilbert. But Gilbert has always infused Darlene with much more than merely sardonic lines. And now, as a mom struggling to raise her two children and deal with the loss of her mother, Gilbert is where she belongs, front and center on the series. Metcalf brought humor and pathos as Jackie tried to figure out how to fill in for her sister. Goodman was especially terrific in his scenes with Dan’s grandson, Mark (Ames McNamara). Hopefully the series will continue to move on from the mess that created it—and have the last laugh. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: ABC)
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
The aesthetic of The Haunting of Hill House makes it work not only as horror TV, but also as a deft adaptation of Shirley Jackson’s classic novel. The monsters, ghosts, and things that go bump on the wall are off-screen, barely shown, or obscured by shadow. The series even goes back to some of the first film adaptation’s decisions, in terms of camera movement and shot design, in order to develop uneasiness and inconsistency. Well, maybe “inconsistency” is the wrong word. The only thing that feels truly inconsistent while watching it is your mind: You’re constantly wary of being tricked, but the construction of its scenes often gets you anyway. By embracing the squirm—and the time necessary to get us to squirm rather than jump—The Haunting of Hill House is great at creating troubling scenarios, and even better about letting us marinate in them. —Jacob Oller (Photo: Steve Dietl/Netflix)
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
I took an entire class in high school that solely covered The Vietnam War, and I still don’t think I fully understood the devastating impact of the draft until last week’s This Is Us. In an hour that jumped and hopped through time, we learned why Jack (Milo Ventimiglia) enlisted and saw the formation of his loving and protective relationship with his younger brother, Nick (a well-cast Michael Angarano). There were callbacks galore, as viewers saw the origins of Jack’s signature hands-on-face move, got a hint about where Kevin’s necklace came from, and discovered that Jack’s heart problems long preceded last season’s fire. Even though we all knew both Jack and Nick served in Vietnam, I still held my breath as Nick and Jack watched the live televised draft. The hour was a showcase for Ventimiglia, who so convincingly plays Jack as a young man, and also for the series’ trademark storytelling structure, bending and twisting time to show how we are all connected. One of the final shots, featuring the babies born on Nick’s birthday who would also eventually head into a foreign country to fight in a war they didn’t fully understand, was devastating. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo by: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)
Network: BBC America
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
I had to pause “Miss Rosa” 26 minutes in—at the moment Ryan (Tosin Cole) agrees to pour coffee for Rosa Parks (the excellent Vinette Robinson)—because I was so smitten with this episode I needed to tell someone. It’s infectiously funny, with quips about Banksy and the iPhone; it’s terrifically compelling, with a “course of history” plot and outsized stakes; and it’s engaged—with no small amount of depth—in one of the most consequential individual political acts of the 20th century. (Not exactly a ‘safe” episode, huh?) I’m new to the fandom, but seeing the Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) and her companions race to protect the birth of the Civil Rights Movement made this episode my very favorite under Chris Chibnall’s leadership, and the first time I think I’ve truly understood why the series is so dearly beloved. It’s a knockout. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Coco Van Oppens/BBC America)