Paramount+ giveth and Paramount+ taketh away. On the one hand, the new mega-streamer launched with a nice collection of TV shows (here’s our list of the 25 best), including classic and nostalgic selections from its many networks (CBS, MTV, Comedy Central, Nickelodeon, and more). But bizarrely, the one thing it didn’t have was Oprah’s interview with Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, which blew up on regular CBS with 17.1 million viewers. That’s the biggest audience since last year’s Academy Awards, and yes, that includes football. So I guess the lesson is that sometimes the new-fangled stuff is overrated, and an antenna is still worth having!
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.
Honorable Mention: Young Rock (NBC), For All Mankind (Apple TV+), Men in Kilts (Starz)
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: Uhhh is Melanie going to make it?
In its first season, Snowpiercer had the difficult task of weaving in storylines from the well-known film and creating new avenues in which to tell its story on a weekly basis to sustain itself for seasons to come. One of the most important tweaks was the introduction of Andre Layton (Daveed Diggs), a Tailie who is called up to be the train’s detective when a series of murders had everyone terrified. It was a clever way to give us a reason to see how the Snowpiercer train—1,001 cars long—operates, and gave context to the many characters who populate it. But soon, a more interesting mystery arose: was the eponymous Mr. Wilford actually aboard the train he created? Or had it been secretly taken over by the chief of Hospitality and Voice of the Train, Melanie Cavill (Jennifer Connelly)?
In its second season, and you can feel that story really settling in to some interesting character arcs now that the initial rebellion has taken place. It also takes some quiet risks; for instance, we almost immediately see Layton deferring the democracy the lower classes fought for in favor of martial law. He doesn’t really have a choice—in the Season 1 finale, the train was taken over by a smaller but stronger supply train called “Big Alice,” carrying both Mr. Wilford himself (Sean Bean) and Melanie’s daughter Alex (Rowan Blanchard) who she thought had died seven years earlier. Still, as the de facto leader of the revolution, it stings.
It’s refreshing, however, that the series’ women get some of the best arcs. Miss Audrey (Lena Hall), in particular, gets a complex exploration of her traumatic past with Wilford that only really begins about halfway through Season 2. Tilly (Mickey Sumner) hesitantly turns to faith to cope with the horrors she has witnessed, while Alex is torn between supporting her absentee mother or staying loyal to her mentor.
Even for those of us who enjoyed those first episodes, Snowpiercer Season 2 is a realigned but richer experience. It still feels like a mirror, though in different ways than before. Now, like our real lives, it’s about finding a way forward and adjusting to new normals. We’re not off the train yet, but there’s a hope one day we might be. —Allison Keene
Network: HBO Max
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
This Week: Beautiful, devastating, a must-watch.
From the beginning of It’s a Sin, the show’s ending is foreseeable. And yet it’s impossible to resist hoping for a different outcome: in a 1980s London plagued by AIDS, maybe these gay men we’ve come to know and love can make it out of the epidemic unscathed. Maybe government officials—and, inherently, the rest of the world—will take notice of the crisis as it unfolds and try to do something to help these men. But, no; Russell T. Davies’ limited series is a tragic, albeit masterful, retelling of the AIDS epidemic.
The main group—including the fashionable Roscoe (Omari Douglas), sweet Colin (Callum Scott Howells), guardian angel Jill (Lydia West), and lanky Ritchie (Olly Alexander) at the forefront—forms in and around London, at clubs, bars, apartment parties, becoming a larger and larger group of friends as they do. Then they’re crashing in an apartment together, tossing around witty nicknames and cups of tea.
It’s a Sin explores the HIV/AIDS illness as it unfurls in gay clubs and communities around the city—though it never villainizes or blames them for the crisis. Despite being a series almost entirely about the HIV/AIDS epidemic, It’s a Sin does not dawdle in statistics or tragedy. By energizing the show with a spirited cast, a storyline about growing up, and plenty of scenes that follow the joy of their kinship, Davies has created a tale that can entertain while still spotlighting an imperative point of discussion. —Fletcher Peters
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
This Week: An under-the-radar comedy.
Kenan has quietly become the best of NBC’s new wave of sitcoms, with better jokes than Young Rock and greater consistency than Mr. Mayor. The key to the show’s success is the core of its cast. Kenan Thompson, Chris Redd, and Don Johnson all have charisma to spare, and almost immediately gelled into a rock solid comic trio. The list of producers also includes some notable comedians, including Sam Jay, Langston Kerman, and Yassir Lester, so it’s stacked with great comic talent on both sides of the camera. It still has kinks to work out—Kenan’s homelife, with his brother Redd and father-in-law Johnson, has greatly overshadowed the scenes set at his job, and a barely-seen Fortune Feimster has been totally wasted so far—but Kenan has a strong foundation to build on if it gets a second season. Last week’s episode shows it might already be shoring things up: unlike the first two episodes, the workplace subplot didn’t drag things down. Kenan’s worth keeping an eye on. —Garrett Martin
Network: HBO Max
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
This Week: Pure devastation.
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: 1
This Week: We’ll say hello again…
WandaVision, 2021’s best show so far by a country mile, has come to its conclusion. What will our Fridays be like without it? WandaVision was never meant to be the first MCU TV show to arrive on Disney+ —that distinction was supposed to go to Falcon and Winter Soldier (premiering in two weeks). But because of pandemic delays and switcheroos, Wanda was our introduction instead. And it was a helluva thing. Not an easy entry point, and yet, fascinating, wondrous, and deeply emotionally resonate.
However, an expansive exploration of grief and loss is not what some viewers signed up for, and it’s understandable that it wasn’t everyone’s cup of tea. But focusing on a comic-y “Big Bad” of the season was to miss the point—it was depression, from Episode 1 onward. Even those who hadn’t watched the movies leading up to WandaVision (or didn’t remember the finer points of the relationship between Wanda and Vision, which was never a focus) could tell there was something horrific lurking under the surface of the technicolor world we were presented with. In time, all was mostly revealed.
But as cathartic as “The Series Finale” was in regards to Wanda’s emotional state and working through her grief, it still felt rushed. Sometimes the best finales are not the ones that leave you wondering “how the heck are they going to wrap this up??” but the ones that already kinda did wrap it up and instead focus on the repercussions of that. WandaVision tried to have it both ways, with mixed results. But it’s position atop our Power Ranking stands—wherever Wanda goes next, we’ll follow. Book of the Damned be, well, damned! —Allison Keene
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