The summer of women’s stories continues this week, with an eerily timed episode of The Handmaid’s Tale topping the list, Luke Cage (with Alfre Woodard’s standout antagonist) leaping onto it at No. 2, and stalwarts The Bold Type and Younger once again turning in strong episodes. Plus, the little rom-com that could, Set It Up, makes an appearance, as Netflix tries to revive the long-languishing genre all on its own. Swoon!
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.
The Affair, Claws, Dietland, The Expanse, Pose
Network: YouTube Premium
Last Week’s Ranking: 9
YouTube Premium already went hard this summer with Cobra Kai, but with the new gritty teen superpower thriller Impulse (adapted from the same books as middling 2008 film, Jumper), released the first week in June, they are showing not just how willing they are to enter the prestige streaming fray, but how prepared they are to look great. Starring the thoroughly effective Maddie Hasson (The Finder, Twisted) as Henry, a teen whose constant new-girl status and only slightly less constant mystery seizures had already pushed her into lonerdom long before she started manifesting destructive teleportation abilities, Impulse strikes just the right balance between High Teen Drama and Big Sci Fi Conspiracy—as in, it sticks to the network’s strengths and leans heavily on the former, dipping only occasionally into the latter as a mysterious adult teleporter keeps his family on the run from equally mysterious pursuers, abandoning any who get too close (including Keegan-Michael Key) in the Arctic for a grisly demise.
Henry’s personal story will obviously intersect with this bigger world eventually, but the series knows well enough how to be interesting in a teen-human way as it takes its time getting there. This does, unfortunately, include an added-for-television sexual assault plot point to trigger Henry’s powers, but it’s at least handled with more consistent care than most, not just within the show as an ongoing trauma that informs in a million different ways every aspect of Henry’s life afterwards (Henry’s kind-of stepsister is particularly good in this arc), but in the RAINN card placed at the end of every episode. Only Sweet/Vicious has done this plot point better. At least here, Henry has not just friends (including Tatiana Maslany’s brother, Daniel, as an enthusiastically observant autistic classmate), but powers to help her find her way back to herself. I am here for it. The first season is only available behind Premium’s paywall, but enough preview episodes are available on regular YouTube to succeed in seducing you to at least pulling the trigger on the service’s free 1-month trial. —Alexis Gunderson
9. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Last Week’s Ranking: 8
Kimmy’s greatest asset has always been its ability to cram an innumerable amount of jokes and pop culture references into a neon-hued 30-odd minute show that is really about a grown woman (played by Ellie Kemper) who is stunted with an unimaginable level of PTSD. After all, her childhood was spent in a bunker, as a victim of kidnapping and serial rape. Those gags were certainly on point for the first half of Season Four, which hit Netflix on May 30 (the other half will be released later). I’m still laughing about Tituss Burgess’ character, Titus Andromedon, saying, “OK, you know how Al Gore invented the Internet? Well, he also invented a rhythm for it. It’s called the al-gore-ithm. It learns about you and picks things it knows you like,” when he teaches Kimmy how to binge watch. Or Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) quipping, “Tourists are too savvy now. I blame NBC’s Smash” when she can’t sell tickets to a school play in Times Square.
But the season’s pièce de résistance is clearly the third episode, “Party Monster: Scratching the Surface.” A parody of the true-crime drama trend for which Netflix only has itself to blame, the episode gives voice to Kimmy’s now imprisoned captor, Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm)—a little too much voice, actually. The fake reverend leads a naïve documentarian right into his clutches and turns an innocent never-meet-your-idols moment into a petition for his release through fabricated evidence and MRA tactics. It’s topical, scary and (somehow) funny. Luckily, none of this will completely falter our heroine, who spends the remaining part of the season accepting that she can use her experience to stop young boys from growing up to be perverts and assholes.
Will it work? The sixth episode ends with spies seemingly running surveillance outside her apartment. Given the show’s propensity for stunt casting, we really hope this is nothing dire and just some big joke about Philip and Elizabeth Jennings from The Americans coming back for one more gig. (Hey, Kimmy’s new season did premiere on the same day as the FX series’ finale). —Whitney Friedlander (Photo: Eric Liebowitz/Netflix)
8. The Late Late Show with James Corden
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
From the moment Corden deadpanned the lyrics to “Help,” we knew last week’s edition of his late-night show’s Carpool Karaoke stunt was going to be something special. And really, given all the heartache and suffering in the world, it was comforting to take a breather for almost half an hour and watch the Late Late Show host and Sir Paul McCartney pal around Liverpool. I’m an Anglophile through and through who most definitely grew up in a Beatles household (my brother’s name is Paul; don’t believe my mother’s lies that this is in honor of her Grandpa Phil). I have never been more jealous of a group of pubgoers than I was of those who got to see the musician and his band perform in a tiny watering hole during the segment’s final moments.
But even if you don’t have an affection for the Four Lads from Liverpool, it’s hard not to accept that Corden’s visit home to the U.K. was a metaphorical security blanket for many. It paired so nicely with other segments from the week, such as a promotional stunt with Andrew Lloyd Webber. Ostensibly that was to promote Webber’s musical adaptation of “School of Rock,” but it was really about Corden dressing as either a cat, Eva Peron, a Biblical figure, or the Phantom of the Opera himself as he attempted to turn London traffic jams into more enjoyable events for his Crosswalk the Musical segment. —Whitney Friedlander
Network: TV Land
Last Week’s Ranking: 7
It’s all out in the open now. In the final moments of “The End of the Tour,” Liza (Sutton Foster) learns that Charles (Peter Hermann) knows the truth about her age. How can he trust someone who lied to him for months and months? Lying was a theme as Charles’ estranged wife Pauline (Jennifer Westfeldt) attempts to lie on her book tour and not let on that she and Charles are no longer together. That Marriage Vacation is just a work of fiction (and, by the way, a work of fiction you can actually buy). Josh (Nico Tortorella) is sleeping with everyone to try to get over his most recent break-up, and Lauren (Molly Bernard) gives him a pep talk. (Side bar: We don’t think the show is setting up a Josh/Lauren romance, do we?) And the show continues to delightfully troll real-life people. This time it’s Jake Devereux (Jason Ralph), a former speechwriter for President Obama who’s shopping around his new book and decides he wants to work with both Kelsey (Hilary Duff) and Zane (Charles Michael Davis). Does his name sound a lot like real life former Obama speechwriter Jon Favreau, who like Jake has a popular podcast? Yes, I think it does. God, this show is so much fun. —Amy Amatangelo
6. Queer Eye
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
Just four months after Season One, Queer Eye is back with eight new, tear-filled episodes, including heartwarming makeovers of a devout woman and her gay son, a twentysomething slacker, and a trans man fresh off top surgery. The reboot leans into the sensation it caused when it first premiered in February, with adorable anti-chef Antoni taking a backseat for macaroni salad and breakout star Jonathan Van Ness coining several more highly quotable lines, but that’s sort of the genius of the smaller episode order: By the time you start to tire of the formula, you’re already out of new material. “Always leave them wanting more” is a TV cliché for a reason. It works. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Courtesy of Netflix)
5. The Bold Type
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
The theme of the episode was body positivity, so let’s just pause for a moment and appreciate the fact that a show featuring women in their twenties so deftly took on this issue. Sutton (Meghann Fahy) had a jewelry shoot that showed the three best friends with their pimples, stretch marks, cellulite and all the other imperfections women beat themselves up about. This was, of course, after Sutton grappled with whether or not to use Adena (Nikohl Boosheri) for the photo shoot Oliver (Stephen Conrad Moore) had entrusted her with, and the series explored how far you should go to help a friend and what it means to take risks at your job. Jane (Katie Stevens) and unemployment do not get along, so Jane tries to get her old job at Scarlet back—only to be told by Jacqueline (Melora Hardin) that she’s better off learning from her mistake and not taking the easy solution of returning to Scarlet. Jacqueline is not having it from snooty new board member Cleo Williams (Siobhan Murphy), who thinks she can control the editorial direction of the magazine and doubles down by writing a letter from the editor all about body positivity. Of course, there’s a cute and charming doctor (Luca James Lee) for Jane to flirt with/interview because The Bold Type isn’t that serious. But every episode confirms my belief that everyone would just be a little bit happier if they gave an hour of their time each week to The Bold Type. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: Freeform)
4. Set It Up
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
Where have all the romantic comedies gone? Not to the movie theaters, that’s for sure. Meg Ryan, Sandra Bullock and even Katherine Heigl brought forth that fluffy, entertaining love story that has all but disappeared. (I adore 27 Dresses, and you should, too). The kind of film where there are no explosions or special effects and the plot isn’t hard to follow. Thankfully, Netflix is bringing back that kind of romantic comedy. When I read the log line for Set It Up, I sent Paste TV editor Matt Brennan an email declaring the movie “1000% rated for Amy.” Zoey Deutch and Glen Powell as overworked assistants trying to set up their bosses, played by Lucy Liu and Taye Diggs? YES, PLEASE! The movie is as delightful as it sounds. Powell is charming. Deutch is adorable. And if you don’t know the whole thing ends with them falling in love, then you need to watch While You Were Sleeping and The Proposal and call me in the morning. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: Netflix)
Network: Comedy Central
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
When Detroiters debuted last year, it quickly established itself as one of television’s most unabashedly silly shows, a sitcom with all the aesthetic trappings of sketch comedy—operatic bursts of emotion, cartoonish side characters, whimsical flights of narrative fancy—that alchemically coalesces into full, often moving half-hour stories. In Detroiters, silliness is not a way of accenting seriousness; it is a triumph over seriousness, a bold and brightly colored affirmation that yes, actually, life is pretty funny. Superficially a show about two buddies (Veep’s Sam Richardson and SNL’s Tim Robinson) making dumb lo-fi commercials for Detroit businesses, Detroiters is deeply interested in friendship—whether it can survive the stresses of growing up and apart, how it adapts to the demands of a business partnership—and family. Its generosity is one of its greatest strengths: while its stakes are often (and effectively) exaggerated, its characters, with rare exceptions, are rooted in an emotional reality; every major player is allowed the dignity and texture of an inner life. —Seth Simons (Photo: Comedy Central)
2. Luke Cage
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
To say Luke Cage has upped its game in Season Two is putting it really mildly. I don’t remember the last time I saw a TV show take this huge of an artistic leap from one season to the next. The writing is so. Flipping. Good. Ham-handed conceits have been replaced with winking, sophisticated self-referentiality. Repetition has been replaced with extrapolation. Ponderous flashbacks are now hashed out in real time; there’s no “for those of you just joining us, here’s how Luke Cage became Luke Cage,” and yet you could watch this season without having seen the first one and you wouldn’t be lost at all. Marvel-Netflix-Industrial-Entertainment-Complex: I concede. Luke Cage Season One seemed laden with untapped potential. It has in fact been tapped. Season Two is a 13-hour mic drop. —Amy Glynn (Photo: David Lee/Netflix)
1. The Handmaid’s Tale
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
Long story short: This episode is about violation. Physical violation (there are two rape scenes), sure, but also violation of codes, of rules, of mores. At the end-game stage of the pregnancy the gloves are seriously off. Fuses that were lit all over the other episodes are buzzing rapidly toward powder kegs. The balance of control between Nick (Max Minghella) and mealy-mouthed Eden (Sydney Sweeney) shifts again. The eternal power struggle between Serena, Commander Waterford (Joseph Fiennes) and Offred oscillates almost constantly. In the opening scene, we see Emily (Alexis Bledel) enduring a “ceremony,” upon completion of which her Commander promptly dies of a heart attack. Emily stomps him in the groin on her way out of the room. Later, Offred basically does the same thing to Fred Waterford when he waxes imperious at her request to be reassigned to her daughter’s district, letting him know who has the real power by reminding him that the baby isn’t his. And the mother (pun intended) of all battles for control ensues in the strangest place: An empty house where Offred is brought face to face with her stolen daughter, Hannah (Jordana Blake, and OMG excruciating). Seem familiar? That’s exactly the point. —Amy Glynn (Photo: Photo: George Kraychyk/Hulu)