Survival is the name of the game this week, starring two beloved, back-from-the-dead TV series, multiple knifings in a Russian prison, the dismemberment of a corpse, ultra-dark alternate timelines, and a theme park run amok. Don’t worry, though! Change is on its way: With several stalwart series concluding in the next few weeks, Paste’s TV Power Rankings are almost ready for summer.
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, The Expanse, Evil Genius, Little Women, Motherland, Silicon Valley, Vida
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
Until Brooklyn Nine-Nine miraculously survived its own “peak TV” cancelation gauntlet this weekend, NBC’s Timeless, a time travel series that was canceled at the end of its first season, then un-canceled three days later after enormous fan outcry, held the most made-for-TV survival story to date. Just off the end of its second season and still hovering on the edge of NBC’s bubble, it may need some of B99’s mojo to rub off. Because this little show? That treats history and historic underdogs and the dangers of weaponized technological advancement with more respect and quietly radical, inclusive humanity than just about any other time travel show out there? It desperately needs to get another season. Not necessarily because the Big Story is so captivating that we need to know how all the conspiracies come together—that arc is fine and fun, but not dire—but because the compassion and intellectual rigor with which Lucy (Abigail Spencer), Wyatt (Matt Lanter), Rufus (Malcolm Barrett), Jiya (Claudia Doumit), Agent Christopher (Sakina Jaffrey), Conor (Paterson Joseph) and even, occasionally, laser-focused former-enemy Flynn (Goran Visnjic) face the moral knottiness of infiltrating past timelines—and their utter commitment to progress and reparative equity and individual humility—is a weekly master class in how to keep getting better at being human. This weekend’s two-part finale, featuring one timeline in which the team supported a badass Harriet Tubman (Christine Horn) and one in which the lives of multiple of their own team members were the core plot points but Lucy used her walk-and-talk to underscore the shameful truth of San Francisco’s oppression of its Chinese residents in the 1880s rather than rehash their personal problems, was a perfect example of this, but so was last week’s, which saw Reagan’s attempted assassination serve as the fulcrum for a focus on the importance of Agent Christopher’s wife and kids, and the thunderous changes honesty about one’s identity make across time, and so was the week previous, which saw women’s suffrage nearly snuffed out. And so on, and so on. The major death and final shock-shot of a cliffhanger make for an acute desire for renewal, but it is the heart at Timeless’s core that turns that desire into a necessity. —Alexis Gunderson (Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)
9. The Handmaid’s Tale
Last Week’s Ranking: 8
“Other Women” is a very, very complicated episode, though its beginning is straightforward. Here is where we get into the very heart of Margaret Atwood’s sweet spot: power dynamics between women. Because Gilead might be a place where women are not allowed to work, or read and write, or have their own bank accounts, but if you think that’s as simple as “patriarchy,” you’d be very much mistaken. Gilead’s not only a patriarchy. It’s also a bat-shit crazy matriarchy where the alpha position is always shifting. Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) is not a “patriarch,” not even literally: Offred’s (Elisbeth Moss) baby doesn’t have his DNA. —Amy Glynn (Photo: Hulu)
8. Cobra Kai
Network: YouTube Red
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
Cobra Kai is a real television show.
Maybe this is obvious to some of you, but when YouTube Red first announced a TV series based on The Karate Kid story, the whole thing sounded like a joke: at best a campy, kitschy paean to 1980s nostalgia, at worst a crass money grab. But the 10-episode series is neither. Instead, it’s a rich story that revisits Daniel LaRusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) 34 years after Daniel’s crane kick won him the karate tournament. But, as suggested by the title—which takes its name from Johnny’s dojo—the show has flipped the script, putting Johnny at the center. “My whole life went downhill with that kick,” Johnny says in the premiere. One of the biggest takeaways is that it’s all about perspective: My favorite moment in Cobra Kai finds Johnny re-telling the entire plot of the first movie from his point of view. Just as Wicked helped us see The Wizard of Oz from the Wicked Witch’s angle, Cobra Kai is Johnny’s story. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: YouTube Red)
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable mention
“Chapter 14” presents a series of different Davids (Dan Stevens), varying paths among infinite timelines, as explained by a drugged-out David eating cold fries in a diner. “There’s this thing, this multiple worlds theory from like quantum mechanics, right? And every thing we do, there’s like a million possible outcomes, choices. And each outcome actually happens, like a tree growing branches… In another timeline, I’m like a billionaire or homeless or married in the suburbs with like 2.3 kids,” he says. And we see all of those possibilities and more. A couple are candidates for the darkest timeline. Legion’s second season has been Great Television. “Chapter 14” is Pretty Great Television. The sense of risk-taking and rule-breaking is still there. And yet, I miss the playfulness of the first few episodes. I miss the Jon Hamm interludes. And I desperately want to see where this is all heading. —Josh Jackson (Photo: Suzanne Tenner/FX)
6. Dear White People
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
In its second season, Justin Simien’s campus comedy continues to impress. The density of its political allusions (“Please tell me you’re about drag this Kirkland Signature Ann Coulter!”) is exceeded only by its cultural ones (an Empire parody that snatches the soap’s proverbial wig); the ambition of its unorthodox structure, with each episode given over to a single character, is surpassed only by the ambition of its dizzying array of hot-button issues, from the history of racism at elite universities to abortion rights to the effects of social media. That it submits exactly none of these to the after-school special treatment is a tribute to Simien, his writers’ room, and his talented, young cast, dancing from subject to subject so deftly that it never feels like homework. Dear white people—no, dear all people—watch this show. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Tyler Golden/Netflix)
5. Killing Eve
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
Killing Eve’s Russian sojourn—in which Villanelle (Jodie Comer) shivs Nadia and two guards inside a foul prison, though not before pissing off Konstantin (Kim Bodnia) by playing with his car’s glove box; in which Eve (Sandra Oh) questions her relationship to Carolyn (Fiona Shaw, in note-perfect “ready for the Bolshoi” furs) after the latter goes weak-kneed for her Russian contacts (including Konstantin)—continues the first season’s devilish balancing act, with flashes of humor and violence coming in unsettling tandem. “Oh, dear!” Villanelle cries as she whacks a guard across the face in the early going, and “Take Me to the Hole!” is just as invigorating. —Matt Brennan (Photo: BBC AMERICA/Sid Gentle Films Ltd 2018)
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
The culmination of Donald Glover’s media empire didn’t necessarily have to coincide with the end of Atlanta’s second season, but it certainly helps drive some points home. After his music video for “This is America” smashed YouTube records, his SNL performance won praise, and he debuted in the biggest sci-fi franchise on the planet—all in the same week—ending Earn’s season arc might feel like a bit of an afterthought for the polymath. But with “Crabs in a Barrel,” Glover finds a through line in his disparate interests and reckons with the systems he faced to succeed in each. They’re all components of the entertainment industry. The stress, the silliness, the exploitation, and the rock-star feeling that’s too attractive to ignore. Atlanta, especially this Earn-centric episode, is two clenched fists and a popped forehead vein. Whether it’s the “religious” Lyft driver that refuses to listen to the GPS while she sings her gospel or the entertainment lawyer that came “highly recommended” but whose clients are disappointing one-hit wonders and reality TV stars, people seem disappointingly imperfect to a man that needs perfection to drag himself back up. —Jacob Oller (Photo: Curtis Baker/FX)
Last Week’s Ranking: 7
A record spins, a flywheel hums, and an hourglass trickles in James Delos’ (Peter Mullan) apartment, which is furnished with a plethora of reminders that time’s seemingly finite nature is ultimately cyclical. Westworld co-creator Lisa Joy makes her directorial debut with this week’s “The Riddle of the Sphinx,” and it’s a doozy, anchored by one recurring set piece. Alongside the thoughtful direction and skillful technique on display later in the episode, pairing William’s (Ed Harris) memory of his wife’s bathtub suicide with the pouring rain and a host who, like a teenager, is so detached from death as to think he’s mastered it, what may be the series’ finest hour to date offers several powerful reminders of time’s forward march. When Katja Herbers’ ass-kicking character is revealed to be William’s daughter, Emily, the game becomes one of mortality and the reckoning levied against those that would mess with it, in either direction. “Hi, Dad,” and goodbye to any doubts that Westworld’s second season wouldn’t surpass its first. —Jacob Oller (Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO)
2. The Americans
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
As you sow, so shall you reap: The phrase is both the premise of “Harvest”—with its near-Biblical violence, its hideous reckonings—and its main mechanism, the self-referential gesture of its defining montage. Creeping through the Jennings’ home as Philip (Matthew Rhys) and Elizabeth (Keri Russell) make their way back from Chicago, Stan Beeman (Noah Emmerich, the episode’s center of gravity) pauses on a family photograph, and flashes back to Season Four: To William, in the throes of Lassa fever, describing his KGB colleagues as “Couple kids. American dream.” In Paige’s (Holly Taylor) bedroom, his hand brushes the cross she once wore around her neck, and I found myself in the midst of a flashback: To the third season’s “Born Again,” with Paige’s baptism in her newfound faith, or perhaps the fifth’s “The World Council of Churches,” when she ultimately abandons it. Before Stan departs, he even searches the Jennings’ garage again, as in the pilot episode: Here, The Americans’ most important harvest is of the seeds planted across the series’ evolution, as if to say to the doubters, “Our long con paid off.” In fact, from the moment Philip stashes Henry (Keidrich Sellati) at the neighbors’ again, “Harvest” near about bursts with flickers from the series’ past, and three episodes from the series’ conclusion, it brings The Americans to its most consequential moment: the turning point of a final season that so far deserves consideration alongside Breaking Bad’s, The Sopranos’, and a handful of others’ as the medium’s all-time best. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Eric Liebowitz/FX)
1. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
When celebrities are just as upset as you are that your favorite show has been canceled, it crosses some kind of pop cultural divide. Stars! They really are just like us! And so it was that when FOX unceremoniously canceled Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Lin-Manuel Miranda tweeted his outrage in all caps: “I ONLY WATCH LIKE 4 THINGS. THIS IS ONE OF THE THINGS,” the Hamilton star wrote. He was joined by Mark Hamill, Sean Astin and the Backstreet Boys (they really didn’t want it that way). The show’s cancelation launched hundreds (rough estimate) of think pieces about the series and what it has meant to the TV landscape (in summary, the series is awesome). A mere 31 hours after FOX axed the show, NBC picked up the beloved comedy for a 13-episode sixth season. It’s easy to see why the show is so adored. Sunday’s episode, the season’s penultimate, highlighted the Nine-Nine’s trademark mix of smart humor and poignancy as Jake (Andy Samberg) and Terry (Terry Crews) attended to last-minute wedding details (so many beige napkins to choose from), Amy (Melissa Fumero) and Rosa (Stephanie Beatriz) caught an elusive criminal (who smells delicious) and Captain Holt (Andre Braugher) got one step closer to becoming commissioner (not bad for an old man). All this plus Allison Tolman was back as Holt’s rival, Olivia Crawford. How excited are we that the show was saved from cancelation? To quote Jake quoting his all-time favorite movie, “Yipee ki-yay motherfucker!” —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: FOX)