It’s never been truer that TV shows cannot rest on their laurels. They are only as good as their last episode. And as such, this summer saw some strange occurrences. The final season of Orange is the New Black came and went with little fanfare. Same with The Handmaid’s Tale which once was the series that launched a thousand think pieces. And everyone here at Paste collectively agrees we are better off ignoring the current season of 13 Reasons Why.
But still the great shows break through all the TV noise and we make sure to give them their weekly due, whether it’s a beloved SYFY series in its final season or the Netflix comedy that we are all hoping sees a fourth season.
The rules for the power 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 four weeks.
The voting panel is composed 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. So much good TV is available right now.
Watch Paste TV editor Allison Keene and editor-in-chief Josh Jackson discuss this week’s list from the new Paste Studio in Atlanta:
Carnival Row (Amazon Prime), The Terror (AMC), BH90210 (Fox), and Lodge 49 (AMC).
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
One of Syfy’s longest running (and most rollicking) summer series, the space-marauding Killjoys has only grown more emotionally complex and mythologically dense as the years have progressed. For all that the series has benefitted these past few seasons as its bench characters have blossomed (Pree+Gared=4ever) and the knotty plot ball that is the Yala/Aneela/Hullen/Lady mystery has unfurled, it is still at its best when Dutch (Hannah John-Kamen), Johnny (Aaron Ashmore) and D’avin (Luke Macfarlane) are given free rein to go absolutely ham on one of their classic, goofy, rock-‘em-sock-‘em Killjoy missions.
Imagine our ecstasy, then, as last Friday’s outing, “Cherchez La Bitch,” not only let the central trio revel in old-school Killjoy shenanigans to sneak Johnny’s tech onto a Lethian “militainment” base (a scheme that obliged Dutch and D’av to stage an impromptu puppet show recounting made-up Lethian military history for a crowd of credulous tourists), but also entertainingly pulled together the remaining Westerly crew—pretty-boy warlord Pree (Thom Allison) and his lunk of a husband, Gared (Gavin Fox), of course, but also Zeph (Kelly McCormack), Turin (Patrick Garrow) and Fancy (Sean Baek)—to get the last plotty ball rolling for the quad’s final showdown with The Lady. So efficient, so effective, so fun. The rest of this final season is going to be a blast. — Alexis Gunderson
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
The third season of Netflix’s GLOW kicks off with a very bizarre choice. Debbie (Betty Gilpin) and Ruth (Alison Brie) are being interviewed in character as Liberty Bell and Zoya the Destroyer by a local TV station in Las Vegas (where their now nightly show is taking place). It’s launch day for the space shuttle Challenger, and the two characters play up their U.S. vs U.S.S.R. rivalry by making encouraging and disparaging remarks about the shuttle in turn. Everything they say, positively or negatively, is exceptionally cringe-worthy because we know—as is revealed moments later—that the Challenger would explode, killing everyone on board. It’s GLOW!
This juxtaposition is a jarring way to start the season, but it does ultimately capture a theme that runs through the remaining nine episodes. GLOW can be and often is bubbly fun. But beneath that exterior is a more complicated truth, something that these women handle and fight through both inside and outside of the ring.
GLOW will always be a show that understands femininity in a way few others do, and is often a pop-filled good time. But Season Three seems like it also wants to dive into some deeper issues in order to stand up and fight for the rights of all women. The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling gathered for the shuttle launch looking for hope and found a disaster. We come to this series looking for comfort and find, instead, a rallying cry. Sometimes it’s messy, but that’s what GLOW is all about. The women try, and fail, and try again. They weather the sadness and the chaos. Choices are made, mistakes happen. And they try again.—Allison Keene
8. The Righteous Gemstones
Last Week’s Ranking: 7
In HBO’s new comedy The Righteous Gemstones, Danny McBride plays Jesse, the oldest son of the Gemstone clan of showbiz preachers, the flamboyant heir apparent to his legendary father Eli, who’s played with equal parts solemnity and menace by John Goodman. Eli turned the gospel into a chain store, opening up churches throughout the Southeast, and bringing his whole family into the business. In addition to the permed Jesse, there’s Adam DeVine’s Kelvin, who has the fauxhawk and designer jeans of a Christian pop star, and daughter Judy, who chafes at her family’s unwillingness to treat her as an equal, and who’s played by Vice Principals’ breakout star Edi Patterson. Jennifer Nettles of the band Sugarland cameos in flashbacks as the family’s now-dead (and very Tammy Faye-esque) matriarch, whose passing weighs especially heavy on Eli.
It’s not saying much to call a TV family dysfunctional, but the Gemstone children are immediately introduced as being uniquely fractious. They present a united front on TV or in front of their parishioners, who they openly treat as marks behind the scenes, but don’t try to hide their contempt for and disappointment with one another when the cameras are off. Much of what makes the show so enjoyable is the way these three gifted comic actors play off one another as their entire world threatens to unravel. As with McBride’s previous HBO shows, Gemstones delicately balances the ridiculous and extreme with surprisingly subtle character moments that keeps the show from drifting too far away from legitimate emotion and humanity. Even McBride’s Jesse, who is largely a hateful blowhard who deserves every bad thing that happens to him, has moments of levity and regret that humanize him; his relationship with his children might be terrible, but he earnestly seems to want their love and respect, even as he blows everything up again. It’s a worthy addition to McBride’s HBO oeuvre—another messy, honest, exaggerated and realistic look at Southern charlatans desperate for fame, power, and success in a modern South that can too easily fall prey to their schemes. Praise the Lord and pass the loot, indeed. —Garrett Martin
Last Week’s Ranking: 9
This season of Mindhunter picks up almost exactly where Season One left off—with FBI Agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) mid panic attack at the hospital where he was getting hugged by multiple murderer Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton).
When his partner, Agent Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), picks him up from the hospital, he tells Holden to keep it to himself because the FBI may not trust him to go speak with serial killers if they know he might break down in the middle of an interview. But panic seems like the only appropriate response to what the behavioral science unit faces this season. The first three episodes of the season, directed by David Fincher, even feel like a panic attack, with darkness, fear, and paranoia coming in from every direction.
Meanwhile, the most vulnerable in society are getting hurt: children. In Atlanta, black children are disappearing, and their mothers and families are doing their best to get law enforcement to take their disappearances seriously. But the mayor doesn’t want it publicized that there may be a predator in Atlanta. And local police don’t like that the FBI is suggesting the deaths may all be connected. Powerful men open and then cut off the investigation at their own discretion, and wreck lives in the process.
Tench, Wendy and Holden are fascinated by the extremes of serial killers, and Mindhunter asks who benefits from that fascination. The perception is that it’s safe for us to consider them in a removed or academic setting, and yet, the show presents these very real crimes in gruesome detail to remind us of the humanity at stake. Holden had to relearn this lesson himself, when he tried to study Kemper on his own. He thought he could keep an intellectual distance from Kemper’s horrors, but he ended up in the arms of a man who has taken lives, viscerally reminding him of the flesh and blood that Kemper has damaged. Like Holden, the show is intentionally trying to shake viewers up instead of letting us be casual voyeurs. —Rae Nudson
6. Chasing the Cure
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
Ann Curry hosts this fascinating and engrossing live show that investigates the mysterious illnesses of its weekly guests. The series has an interactive component as well where viewers can call, text, or write-in with their experiences and suggestions about what a path to healing might be for these patients, which are evaluated by a panel of doctors (in addition to further testing by specialists). Yes each story is heartbreaking, but Chasing the Cure seeks to be educational and not exploitative by having its doctors explain common misconceptions, or why the viewer suggestions are plausible but don’t fit the bill here (or why sometimes they do). It’s very careful to not provide all of the details for treatment lest viewers at home try and substitute it for their own healthcare, and yet one thing that becomes abundantly clear is how broken the American healthcare system is. Several of the “mystery” illnesses are due to the patients not being able to afford the specialists and testing they need. Perhaps we’ll all eventually end up on this series looking for answers and hope … —Allison Keene
5. The Great British Baking Show
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
The U.K.’s super-soothing low-key competition series has returned, and for once, U.S. audiences are getting to see it only a few days after our English counterparts. Netflix is releasing the new episodes, known as Collection Seven, weekly on Fridays. It’s a great change for fans who are tired of avoiding spoilers and also want to be able to talk about the show with others who don’t have time to binge it all at once. As for the new season itself, it’s as charming as ever, as hosts Noel Fielding and Sandi Toksvig both gently and wryly encourage the amateur bakers as they prepare their stunning creations for judges Paul Hollywood and Prue Leith. The vibe remains the same (though the cast is especially young this year)—it all remains incredibly fun and wholesome to watch. —Allison Keene
4. David Makes Man
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
Expectations are the last thing you should be bringing into OWN’s first original teen-centric series. David Makes Man transcends expectations. It transcends genre. It just… transcends. Much of this transcendence is due, of course, to creator Tarell Alvin McCraney’s particular line of naturalistic poetic genius. If you’ve seen Moonlight or High Flying Bird or Choir Boy, the fact that young David Young’s story both defies easy description and delivers deeply human realness on every page won’t be a surprise. But while David Makes Man would be excellent no matter how it traveled from McCraney’s imagination to OWN’s screen, the version we get to watch rises to exceptional thanks to the presence of two things: Akili McDowell’s astounding work as teen hero David (a.k.a. DJ / Dai), and the textural shimmer of the team’s dreamy, innovative visual style.
So much of David Makes Man depends on the inner churn David experiences as he tries to balance the daily struggle to survive life in the Ville without falling into the drug-dealing world that got his deceased father-figure killed, the academic expectations that seem to exist in a vacuum at the magnet school he buses to every day, and the quotidian social pressures to fit in and not be weird (slash, not be embarrassed by his corny-ass mom) that every middle-schooler in human history has had to face. More often than not, McDowell is asked to communicate that tightrope walk with just his eyes, or his balled fists, or his quicksilver mask of a school-day grin. It’s so much, but McDowell delivers every detail with such heartfelt naturalism that it’s hard to remember David isn’t real. It’s genuinely astounding. —Alexis Gunderson
3. On Becoming a God in Central Florida
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
On Becoming a God in Central Florida is the next bold career choice for Kirsten Dunst, one that only confirms that there is arguably a Kirsten Dunst role for every day of the week or emotional state. The series is set in an “Orlando adjacent” town in 1992 where Dunst’s Krystal Stubbs, a water park employee and former beauty pageant queen, sets out to take down FAM (Founders American Merchandise), the multi-billion dollar multi-level marketing scam that brainwashed her husband Travis (Alexander Skarsgård) and ultimately ended up ruining her family and home life. Specifically, the Garbeau System of FAM, created by a Colonel Sanders-doppelganger in the form of Obie Garbeau II (Ted Levine).
Created by newcomers Robert Funke and Matt Lutsky—in their first major project and especially first-ever television show— and bounced around from ABC to AMC to YouTube Premium to Showtime, On Becoming a God in Central Florida is a series that caused me to, numerous times as I watched the first season, write in my notes, “What is this show?” But it was always in a good way, as I found myself in awe of what I was watching. With every hard left turn and 180 the series takes, the tone somehow manages to remain consistent. In fact, even through its trippier moments—like Krystal’s bird disease-driven “odyssey” in the fourth episode or in the introduction of Louise Garbeau’s (Sharon Lawrence) therapy method—the series continues to play them straight (or at least on the same level) as everything else in the show; no character ever addresses those bizarre moments. That’s a point that can make it easy to miss certain jokes and gags at first, but On Becoming a God in Central Florida excels because of how subtle it is—despite being a show whose very premise of Florida, the ‘90s, and pyramid schemes (and really, cults in general) suggests that “subtlety” is a concept that’s out the window altogether. This is not a series that is in a rush, even if the “get-rich-quick” component would make it seem so.
While On Becoming a God in Central Florida could easily work as a limited series—with a final scene that could easily be answered by the series co-creators in postmortems if it doesn’t make it past the first season—it also creates a perfect concept for a second, with an unexpected potential for the future from a show that took a while to even find the right home.—LaToya Ferguson
2. The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
There is a moment in Netflix’s The Dark Crystal: Age of Resistance—a prequel to Jim Henson’s beloved Dark Crystal movie (which is great but you do not need to have seen it before this)—where two ancient characters are recounting an important tale to our heroes. It’s about the beautiful land of Thra, and an event many years past that caused an imbalance and blight within the crystal that stands at the center of their world. All of the answers they seek will be “brought to life by that most ancient and sacred of arts…” they’re told, with a dramatic pause as the character looks right at the camera and breathes out: “Puppetry!”
“Oh nooo!” our heroes groan, and one immediately falls asleep.
That is the bias that Age of Resistance acknowledges it’s up against—but folks, get over it. Allow this incredible production to sweep you away in an epic fantasy journey, one that is able to so much more deeply and fully explore the world Henson and Frank Oz imagined with the original film. You can liken it to Lord of the Rings or Game of Thrones or any high fantasy series you like, but after ten magical hours it truly stands on its own as a gorgeous, innovative, emotional, joyous, and exceptional wonder. If that sounds hyperbolic, it’s only because that’s exactly the kind of sincere enthusiasm the show engenders. Get past any hesitance over the puppets (which are actually outstanding), turn subtitles on to help you remember all of the character names, and immerse yourself in this incredible world.—Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
HBO’s Succession, from creator Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show, The Thick of It) is dressed up as a prestige drama, but it’s actually one of TV’s most acid comedies. Once you embrace that, Succession unlocks as a never-ending battle of power and prestige with medieval royal overtones that is also wonderfully aware of how absurd that kind of story is. As one observer of the Roy family comments, “watching you people melt down is the most deeply satisfying activity on planet Earth.”
In Season Two, Logan (Brian Cox) is back in full health and full power, having survived and subverted Kendall’s (Jeremy Strong) late-season attempts at a coup—incidentally, one of TV’s most horrifically sad sequences of events. It left Kendall completely broken, a dead-eyed robot who now lives in service to his father’s wishes. But all of the spoiled siblings are cowed (except for Connor (Alan Ruck), still deludedly considering a Presidential bid) with Logan’s return. He’s a bully, frightening even his oldest friends, yet knows exactly how to emotionally manipulate everyone back into his thrall. They may complain and privately plot against him, but no one dares speak a word to disfavor them in his presence.
Succession is not made to be binge watched. It’s engrossing, as a world that’s easy to immerse oneself in, but there is a kind of shadowy, icky feeling that follows you when you’ve consumed too much. That’s not the show’s fault; it’s easy to laugh at Tom (Matthew Macfayden) getting upset that he’s “not in the right panic room!” when he discovers Shiv (Sarah Snook) is in a more posh stronghold, but seeing Waystar encourage a dotcom to not unionize before gutting them, or how even a supposedly ethical organization might well sell out to partisan interests when there’s enough money is just depressingly real. Succession is a combination of Tom’s exclamation “what a weird family!” and Logan’s “Money wins. Here’s to us.” And it has us fully in its thrall.—Allison Keene