You know Paste’s TV Power Rankings are competitive when you consider that not one but two long-running series turned in all-timers this week—and neither earned the top slot. (A wee roast of the lyin’ White House press secretary and other flunkies intervened.) Coupled with the return of The Best Drama on Television, at least as far as the Emmys are concerned, and you’ve got quite a field on your hands. Enjoy!
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.
Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Expanse, The Good Fight, Lost in Space, Silicon Valley
Network: Amazon Prime Video
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable mention
My ode to Bosch’s first three seasons as one of Amazon’s quietly excellent workhorses focused on two things: how the series functions as a contemporary noir, and how it eschews heavy-handed musical cues to score its story, leaning instead on long silences punctuated by the ambient background noise of everyday life in Los Angeles. With the caveat that the script goes so minimal in the series’ fourth season that a stark score (and more diegetic runs of jazz, Bosch’s signature preference) has to be brought in just to keep the audience’s eyes on the screen, this formula remains intact. In fact, Season Four is Bosch’s strongest yet, taking advantage of the robust identity it built in those early, quiet noir years and using it as a foundation to build out its most criminally and emotionally complex stories to date.
In a feat of pure storytelling acrobatics, the central investigation—a race to determine who murdered a beloved local civil rights attorney on the eve of a legacy-making police brutality trial, before the city’s impassioned social justice activists, justifiably mistrustful of corrupt law enforcement investigating their own, reach a breaking point—succeeds in delivering a nuanced look at one of the thorniest, most deeply entrenched issues facing the country today, neither letting bad cops and corrupt city officials off the hook, nor villainizing the activists’ standing up against them, even as the latter are positioned, necessarily, as a danger to the force as the investigation drags. Instead, Bosch is firm in using the corruption at its force’s core to demonstrate how effective good policing and better precinct management can be, and takes every opportunity to show the activists’ motivations as utterly valid and worthy of respect, even if the efficiency of the investigation is held up because of them. The rest of the precinct’s work, meanwhile, continues throughout, and includes two terrific minor arcs that highlight the brusquely fantastic work Amy Aquino has been putting in since minute one as Sergeant Grace Billets, and the quiet comic relief Troy Evans and Gregory Scott Cummins have been providing as the mellowly competent Detectives Crate and Barrel. And while everything in Bosch’s (Titus Welliver) professional world would be plenty to pack into a single, 10-episode run, Season Four also includes an out-of-the-blue shock in his personal life that lands like a punch to the chest, and puts him and his family—including his work family, Billets and half-estranged partner J. Edgar (Jamie Hector)—on a compelling, if painful, new path. It is a lot for 10 episodes, told with as few words as possible, but it is fantastic. Catch up now. —Alexis Gunderson (Photo: Amazon Prime Video)
9. Howards End
Last Week’s Ranking: 10
With room to breathe, writer Kenneth Lonergan and director Hettie MacDonald’s adaptation of the classic novel balances E.M. Forster’s sense of drama and humor, romance and politics, more delicately than the beloved Merchant/Ivory film—though perhaps with less punch. Leads Philippa Coulthard, as the vivacious Helen Schlegel, Hayley Atwell, as her more practical older sister, Margaret, and Matthew Macfadyen, as a warmer (and much hotter) Mr. Wilcox than Anthony Hopkins’, all acquit themselves well. But in Starz’s four-hour miniseries, it’s the supporting characters—Tracey Ullmann’s Aunt Juley, Rosalind Eleazar’s Jacky Bast, and most especially Alex Lawther’s note-perfect Tibby—are the true revelation. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Starz)
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
The biggest reunion in this week’s Westworld isn’t between any of the characters—though there are a few meetings that you might’ve been expecting—but between the audience and a reason to care about the central quest. Ah, motivation outside of speculation! In the mysterious trenches of Season One, it was sometimes hard to discern if you were watching because you liked the characters or because it was a dozen-hour-long word problem you were assigned by your social media feeds. But now, thanks to “Reunion”—which continues the season’s focus on the characters behind the park and its effect at large on a real human population, in the form of, among other things, a series of extended flashbacks—it’s never been more worth watching. —Jacob Oller (Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO)
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
After a string of existential one-offs for the characters of Atlanta, “North of the Border” sees the show’s central posse reconvene for a somewhat normal episode. Earn (Donald Glover) and Paper Boi (Brian Tyree Henry) are working out the routine of a touring rapper and, as usual, nobody’s pleased but the blissful Darius (Lakeith Stanfield)—unless you’ve got a jicama allergy. Still, director Hiro Murai continues to make every setting the show ventures out to feel even more like itself. A crappy college campus, an apartment complex, the groupies and roommates: They’re like the boiled-down essences you’d find in a stand-up set. These environments are heightened truth, a stretched story, not quite fantasy but just a little more than reality. That can be funny. It can also be intensely disturbing. —Jacob Oller (Photo: Guy D’Alema/FX)
Last Week’s Ranking: 6
“Chapter 12” is almost a bottle episode, but that bottle is Syd’s mind. David (Dan Stevens) is trapped there, replaying scenes from her life over and over again, beginning with Syd (Rachel Keller) crawling through an igloo representing her mother’s vaginal canal. Now we see her for what she is: a survivor. A flawed, sometimes selfish, sometimes vindictive, damaged, cynical woman—one who doesn’t seem quite as different as Future Syd. There’s a coldness to her that David didn’t see, and so we didn’t see. But he sees it now and embraces it in one of the most intense and well-acted conversations in the entire series. “It’s about the things you survived,” David says. “As it’s written, ‘The world breaks everyone, and afterward, some are strong at the broken places.’” —Josh Jackson (Photo: Suzanne Tenner/FX)
Last Week’s Ranking: 8
The red scarf, the black van, the vice president’s “doll box.” The blockaded street, the narrow escape, the congressional testimony. The sugar pill, the president’s statement, the prisoner exchange. The profusion of details in “Paean to the People”—which, in concert with “All In,” forms Homeland’s finest one-two punch since “There’s Something Else Going On” and “13 Hours in Islamabad”—is misleading, because it’s an episode, a season, of subtraction, not addition. By the time “Paean” reaches its jet-black conclusion, with Carrie (Claire Danes), mad-eyed and disoriented, released into Saul’s (Mandy Patinkin) custody on an Estonian bridge, President Keane (Elizabeth Marvel) has long since resigned; Franny is scarcely a memory; Brody and Quinn and Aayan and Dante are milestones on the path to the present, or perhaps back to the past, as we’re left with the two stalwarts we started with. It’s happened haltingly, with missteps and strange detours and more than the series’ fair share of clumsy plotting, but from the sheer ludicrousness of “Enemy of the State,” Homeland has made a profound transformation. As with Keane’s stirring, unflinchingly honest Oval Office address, the Season Seven finale caps off the series’ return to first principles, which is how Homeland saved itself. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Kata Vermes/SHOWTIME)
4. The Handmaid’s Tale
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
As the new season of The Handmaid’s Tale begins, the truck in which we saw Offred (Elisabeth Moss) leaving the Waterford house has delivered her, along with the rest of the renegade Handmaids, into a floodlit stadium full of hangman’s nooses. It’s a fakeout, and whether most of them are relieved or disappointed is hard to tell. Mayday comes for her at the obstetrician’s office. They hide her in a warehouse, where she burns her clothes and cuts her hair and, in a wrenching and bloody sequence cuts the red tag from her ear, her last voiced-over words are “I am free.” (I guess it’s a relative term.)
In the second episode we get a glimpse of life in the Colonies, where “Unwomen” (lesbians, defiant Handmaids, the infertile of low economic status, sex workers, collaborators against the republic—you know, “undesirables”) are sent to perform brutal manual labor in a vain attempt to re-fertilize ground more barren than any Commander’s wife and probably more poisonous too. It alternates with scenes of Offred poking around what turns out to be the abandoned offices of the Boston Globe, hoping Mayday is coming to get her out of Gilead. Not an Unwoman (an ultra-woman, really) but certainly an Un-Handmaid, June’s solitary confinement in a ruin of the free press is every bit as much a race against time as the lives of the women wasting and dying in the Colonies. There’s sweaty toil and sweaty sex. There’s waiting to die and waiting to live. There is violence against women by men, but it’s violence against women by women that ends up being truly unforgivable. —Amy Glynn (Photo: George Kraychyk/Hulu)
3. Killing Eve
Network: BBC America
Last Week’s Ranking: 9
Critics were sent the first four episodes of Killing Eve early, which somehow gave me the mistaken impression that this BBC America series was only four episodes long. So I was, to use a technical term, freaking out by the end of this episode. We talk here at Paste talk about pinpointing the moment when a series goes from good to great to absolutely-can’t-miss TV. “Sorry Baby,” which is the midway point of the eight-episode first season (phew!), culminates with the nail-biting, breathless confrontation between Eve (Sandra Oh) and Villanelle (Jodie Comer) and solidly moves the series into the realm of appointment television. The hour ends on such a thrilling cliffhanger. But before that, Eve, reeling from Bill’s death, declares “I want to kill her. With my bare hands.” Villanelle lets her handler, Konstantin (Kim Bodnia), know who is truly in charge (only she could turn the gift of a stuffed animal into a threat). And, in a pretty good surprise, poor, sad-sack Frank (Darren Boyd) is revealed to be a traitor. While the plot of Killing Eve is now ticking along at a thrilling pace and the shocks keep coming (intentionally running over your former lover), it’s the clever script (”I am not a pumpkin”) and stellar performances that truly set the show apart. Oh’s heartbreaking facial expressions. Comer’s devil-may-care smirk. Thank goodness this show has already been renewed for a second season. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: Nick Briggs/BBC America)
2. The Americans
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
At its most compelling, The Americans is about slippages: between stasis and change, citizen and country, faith and doubt; between parent and handler, child and charge; between past and present, us and them, you and I. After all, no character remains perched at one of these poles for long—secretaries become spies and dissenters disciples, hardliners soften and targets resist. So it is in “The Great Patriotic War,” as Elizabeth’s (Keri Russell) cutting comment on Paige’s (Holly Taylor) liaison with a congressional intern — “sounds like you made quite the impression” — segues into her fateful request that Philip (Matthew Rhys) lean on Kimmy (Julia Garner) to join her in Greece. Elizabeth’s plan, which involves blackmail and a Bulgarian prison, is a desperate one, and Philip is reluctant to participate. “She’s just a kid,” he protests. “Not anymore,” Elizabeth replies. That they might just as easily be talking about Paige—and this before she beats up a cowardly suitor and his aggressive wingman in a crowded bar—soon emerges as the crux of one of The Americans’ finest hours, which condenses the series’ central tactic, the element of disguise, into its most threatening. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Jeffrey Neira/FX)
1. Michelle Wolf, White House Correspondents’ Dinner
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
Though lily-livered White House Correspondents’ Association president Margaret Talev threw the night’s headliner under the bus, comedian Michelle Wolf succeeded where much of the political press has failed: She made speaking truth to power great again. Her performance wasn’t the smarmy set piece of the shill, but the rough-hewn act of the interloper, and coupled with C-SPAN’s perfectly timed cutaways to Wolf’s targets—Kellyanne Conway’s bloodless stare, Sarah Huckabee Sanders’ nodding grimace—only underscored her effectiveness. That much of the media twisted itself in knots to distance themselves from Wolf turns out, in this vein, to be her coup de grâce: After all, her stabs at the president were nothing compared to her evisceration of his hangers-on, and there’s nothing political reporters love more than self-righteously proving someone else’s point. —Matt Brennan