For the first time since we revived Paste’s Power Rankings last fall, one network lands all three of the top slots—and no, we’re not going to reveal it in the introduction. Not that the others are also-rans. Three Netflix titles earned a spot on this week’s list, and new entries Howards End (Starz) and Killing Eve (BBC America) are likely to be mainstays for multiple weeks. Which means getting off that honorable mentions list is harder than ever.
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.
black-ish, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Good Fight, One Strange Rock, Santa Clarita Diet, Star v. The Forces of Evil
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
Paterno’s most grimly compelling through line is not its portrait of the late Penn State football coach’s (Al Pacino) precipitous fall from grace, or even Pulitzer Prize-winner Sarah Ganim’s (Riley Keough) intrepid investigation of the child sexual abuse scandal surrounding Paterno’s former assistant, Jerry Sandusky. It’s the ways in which the Paterno family, Penn State officials, the campus, the community, the media, and the culture at large wall themselves off from—blind themselves to—the reality of the situation. Their careful language, their legalese, their euphemisms: These, as George Orwell understood, are often the germ of the greatest crimes, the Newspeak that suffocates justice in the name of protecting power. In sports reporters’ softball questions, anchors’ bland patter, and authorities’ reflexive no comments, in buried reports, purloined files, and most of all the Paternos’ own conversations, director Barry Levinson’s film identifies and condemns the whitewashing of criminal conduct with conviction that its examination of its main character never musters. To watch Paterno’s wife, Sue (Kathy Baker), vomit upon reading the indictment, then deflect the issue of “moral obligation” to the district attorney, or to see the Paternos wince at the use of “fuck” or “rape” to describe the facts of the case, is to see that the problem of language is no abstraction, and no accident. “You choose words, you choose your reality,” as Ganim’s editor tells her. And Paterno, by choosing euphemism, chose blindness. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Atsushi Nishijima/HBO)
9. Jessica Jones
Last Week’s Ranking: 7
In its sophomore effort, Jessica Jones digs deeper into the issues that made Season One interesting—in particular, power, control, and female anger. Season Two doubles down on that in a way that feels extremely of the moment (and showrunner Melissa Rosenberg saw to it that, among other things, all the episodes were directed by women). As a treatise on the complexities of female road-rage in all its varied facets, it’s excellent. It also makes the wise choice to deepen Jessica (Krysten Ritter, still killing it) and Trish’s (Rachael Taylor) complicated relationship, delving into their shared past. That was definitely the least fleshed-out aspect of the first season, and it’s a much-needed asset here. —Amy Glynn (Photo: David Giesbrecht/Netflix)
8. On My Block
Last Week’s Ranking: 6
Netflix’s new dramedy On My Block is one big, irreverently cocksure nod to all the (whitest) parts of the modern cultural canon one would least expect to find in a coming-of-age story about brown 14- and 15-year olds just trying to survive daily life on their gang-ruled streets. And for the first couple of episodes, all this slangy allusiveness makes for a story that feels shaggy at best, structurally unsound at worst; the central characters are cohesive and convincingly earnest as a dysfunctional friend-family unit—not least because the actors are actual, not adult, teens—but taken individually they seem to be leading entirely different shows. When the final credits hit, though, it’s clear that not one second of the season’s 10 short episodes was wasted: Every line was measured out, every background track meticulously calibrated, every initially jarring tonal shift set up precisely for a singular cumulative effect that lands in the season’s final moments like a punch to the chest you realize too late you should have seen coming from a mile away. —Alexis Gunderson (Photo: Netflix)
7. Killing Eve
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
Look, it shouldn’t be a big deal in 2018 that a show, written and executive produced by a woman, stars two women in roles typically assigned to men. But it is. Thankfully, Killing Eve, which has already been picked up for a second season, has a lot more going for it than a compelling back story. Sandra Oh stars as Eve Polastri, an MI5 security officer who knows she can do more than sit behind a desk. She’s figured out that there’s a highly skilled female assassin, Jodie Comer’s Villanelle, carrying out stealth, untraceable killings all over the world. Written by Phoebe Waller-Bridge and based on the novellas by Luke Jennings, this is a very different series than Waller-Bridge’s beloved Amazon series, Fleabag. Yet what the series does have in common with Fleabag is Eve, a fully realized and fully flawed character who is smart but still makes mistakes, is kind yet can still be cruel, is loyal yet still not completely trustworthy. Eve doesn’t act like your typical heroine, and Villanelle isn’t your typical villain. For one thing, I really appreciated how sexy Villanelle could be while remaining fully clothed. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: Nick Briggs, BBC America)
6. Howards End
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
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)
5. A Series of Unfortunate Events
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
You probably don’t have to be a bookworm, or a kid, to appreciate this adaptation of a series of ironic, lachrymose, self-parodying children’s stories, because the series is just so damn funny, not to mention seamlessly styled, well-cast and well-acted. It does also happen to be an adaptation that should delight fans of the books because it generally knows exactly how much or how little to deviate from its source material to adapt to the constraints (and liberations) of episodic television. It retains the slightly steampunk, highly absurdist, semi-Gothic and delightfully wordsmithy sensibility of its source material and adheres remarkably well to character and plot. My suggestion? Don’t binge watch this show! Let it breathe. Like a fine wine. Because it’s kind of a masterpiece. —Amy Glynn (Photo: Photo: Eike Schroter/Netflix)
4. Jane the Virgin
Network: The CW
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
Jane the Virgin is never not on a roll, but it came back from its brief Easter hiatus last Friday with an exuberant vengeance. The series’ two most emotionally compelling story arcs right now are Petra’s (Yael Grobglas) discombobulating joy at her own bi-romantic awakening, and the world-upending lightning strike of Xiomara’s (Andrea Navedo) recently discovered breast cancer, but while “Chapter Seventy-Nine” gave both plenty of challenges to grow from—Petra’s slightly more fun than Xo’s—it also made the smart decision to move both arcs briefly to the periphery, letting the emotionally transformative fallout of each woman’s new reality blow through the lives of their friends and family. In some cases—Jane’s explosive, exasperated I LOVE YOU! to Petra when trying to diffuse drama between her and JR (Rosario Dawson), and the awkward hug punctuated by Petra’s embarrassed peck to Jane’s hairline that followed; Rogelio’s (Jaime Camil) poaching of actual Mario Lopez’s celebrity nanny; Alba’s (Ivonne Coll) patriotically frustrated jabs at the holes in our democratic fabric—this fallout was squawkingly funny (bonus points for the magically morphing Presidential portraits in Alba’s daydreams). In others—Rafael’s (Justin Baldoni) insecurity at Jane’s divided attention; Rogelio’s inability to maintain control of his ego in the face of Darcy’s (Justine Machado) judginess; Alba’s desperation to mother a recovering Xo in lieu of studying for her rapidly approaching citizenship exam—it illuminated serious character and story elements we hadn’t seen in a long time. In all cases, it demonstrated yet again just how nimble, capable, and beautifully honest a piece of television Jane the Virgin is. —Alexis Gunderson (Photo: Paul Sarkis/The CW)
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
Noah Hawley, whose Fargo series is also carefully stylized, takes advantage of the freedom provided by a comic-book fantasy world to follow every bizarre idea in Legion to its most surreal conclusion. The plot twists like an Escher painting, and the characters—isolated by the strangeness of their powers—struggle with normal conversation and relationships. Our protagonist, David (Dan Stevens), can’t even seem to trust his own memories. It’s that weakness that we see in the Season Two opener, which begins a year after the events of Season One. He’s hiding something about his year away from his love interest, Syd (Rachel Keller), and at the end of the episode we see that he believes that a future version of Syd was behind the abduction, telling David to help the Shadow King find his body. But David’s memories have long proven to be an unreliable narrator to both David and the audience.
It’s a strong return for one of the most imaginative shows on television. Scenes like the Shadow King planting a delusion in David’s mind—illustrated with Aubrey Plaza killing a baby chick so that a black, slimy mutated version of the chick can thrive—or Melanie Bird (Jean Smart) tripping and envisioning a crippled horse-faced man are possibly more fantastical than most moments in Season One. And that’s where the joys of Legion lie: offering something strange and wonderful and new in a world full of gritty, grounded drama. —Josh Jackson (Photo: Prashant Gupta/FX)
2. The Americans
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
This interest in the meaning of work, both its cost and its worth, is the central feature of “Tchaikovsky,” elaborated in so many contexts that the episode maintains its focus despite covering an immense amount of narrative terrain. There’s Stan explaining to Aderholt (Brandon J. Dirden) that his move from the FBI’s Counterintelligence Division to run-of-the-mill “murderers, drug dealers, and corrupt politicians” has been a godsend, yet becoming newly embroiled with Gennadi and his wife, Sofia (Darya Ekamasova). There’s Philip (Matthew Rhys), anxious and distracted at the travel agency, and soon upset over the loss of a client, sounding so depressed on the phone that even Henry (Keidrich Sellati)—not the most observant child in TV history, clearly—picks up on it. And then there’s Elizabeth, in conversation with Claudia (Margo Martindale), sniffing at the artist (Miriam Shor) in her care. “I don’t know why people spend their life doing that,” she says, unable to appreciate the woman’s sketches. “At least her husband is doing something.” —Matt Brennan (Photo: Patrick Harbron/FX)
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
There aren’t many shows that would attempt the other-dimensional horror of David Lynch while sending a damning message about success in a tightly-packaged parody. But Atlanta isn’t most shows. It’s certainly not most comedies. “Teddy Perkins” wrings out any fun you might get from the series and leaves us with a dry metaphor that demands work. Darius (Lakeith Stanfield), who is driving a U-Haul to a pickup, learns that there’s no such thing as a free lunch. Or a free rainbow-keyed piano, as the case may be. The episode’s two biggest touchstones are Get Out (thanks to Stanfield and the captivity of a black man) and Lost Highway (thanks to the general fucked-up-ness of everything that goes down and its white-faced antagonist). While Darius maintains his position because of a “two regret life limit pact,” there’s real terror all around him, threatening him with far more than regret. —Jacob Oller (Photo: Matthias Clamer/FX)