As we head into Thanksgiving, where you might (hopefully) find a little more time to watch some of the 527+ scripted shows from 2019, we at Paste are here to provide you with 10 great options (and a few more in our Honorable Mention section). Though we are still very much charmed by Disney+’s Mandalorian (well, mostly Baby Yoda), don’t sleep on some of Apple TV+’s new series like Dickinson and For All Mankind. And while everyone is raving about Watchmen on HBO, there’s a beautiful, quiet series also doing great work over on Showtime called Back to Life. The Power Rankings contain multitudes!
The rules for the Power Rankings 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.
Honorable Mentions: The Dragon Prince (Netflix), Rick and Morty (Adult Swim), Dickinson (Apple TV+), Dollface (Hulu), Daybreak (Netflix), His Dark Materials (HBO), End of The F***ing World (Netflix)
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
I’m not quite sure CBS knows Evil is on its network because Oh. My. God. did you see last week’s episode? I can’t believe the same network that airs like 50 different versions of NCIS is airing this meditation on evil from the same people who brought you The Good Wife. Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers) is a forensic psychologist who becomes something of a believer when she meets priest-in-training David Acosta (Colter) and tech expert Ben (Aasif Mandvi) and they begin to investigate the inexplicable. The always creepy (in the best way) Michael Emerson is also on hand as Leland Townsend, a mysterious character who epitomize the title of the series. Truly my only complaint about this drama, which gets better with each passing episode, is that may be too creepy for me. The show produces the kind of scares that stay with you long after the lights go out.—Amy Amatangelo
9. For All Mankind
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
America has never lost gracefully. Exploring alternate histories where America loses usually involves the country’s moral stance defeated by a great political evil. The Nazis win World War 2; the British suppress the revolution. But what if the loss was more complicated than that? More ideologically gray. Less focused on Superman’s truth and justice, and more on his American Way. Apple TV+ asks this question with alt-history For All Mankind’s opening, where the Soviet Union stuns a watching world by beating the U.S. to the moon, and answers it with an enthralling drama dedicated to the flawed pursuit of greatness.
It’s certainly appropriate for a show about the best pilots in the world to have a great pilot episode, but its early success is matched by a show where politics and science branch in ways pleasing for space junkies and astro-nots alike. The sprawling sociopolitical butterfly effects—like how the Nixon administration reacts to, and is affected by, losing the first leg of the space race—are just one of the pleasures to be found in Ronald D. Moore, Matt Wolpert, and Ben Nedivi’s creation. After seeing eight episodes of the ten-episode season, For All Mankind has already set itself apart as the must-see show of Apple TV+.
NASA, pushed as much by a president needing a political victory as by their own wounded pride, shoots for sci-fi. And the writing is smart. Potentially saccharine rah-rah patriotism is undermined by dashed hopes and a permeating need for American exceptionalism that is, in this version of events, proven untrue. Instead, the series works towards a new national culture in its large scale and quiet, workhorse dignities in its small scale. America gets back to its scrappy roots through its space program.
Those scrappy (bordering on irresponsible) elements—government employees doing their best at the behest of their overlords—see a powerhouse turn underdog. Nothing’s more humanizing than trying to break ground with equipment from the lowest bidder. Avoiding the truly sappy by showing the scars left by the program (the fuck-ups, the deaths, the near-misses, the battered relationships) earns the show its most moving moments. Rather than pure golden glow, For All Mankind leaves you smiling and ugly crying at the same time, amazed that humanity has achieved so much despite all its stupid pettiness. Unlike the space program it follows, For All Mankind pursues greatness, succeeds, and plants an Apple flag for the world to see. —Jacob Oller
8. Sorry for Your Loss
Network: Facebook Watch
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
The highest praise I can give Sorry for Your Loss is that it made me watch TV on Facebook, something I had avoided doing and still don’t like. But the show is just that good—raw, emotional, intense, beautiful—that it became a weekly necessity. The series follows Leigh Shaw (Elizabeth Olsen) as she navigates life after her husband Matt (Mamoudou Athie) suddenly passes away, an event that completely shatters her life. We first met her several months after she left her job, moved back in with her mother Amy (Janet McTeer) and sister Jules (Kelly Marie Tran), and started picking up some work at Amy’s fitness studio. But mostly Leigh is adrift, and the only person who seems to somewhat understand her pain is Matt’s brother Danny (Jovan Adepo), someone Leigh never previously got along with.
In Season 2, those dynamics are at the forefront. Almost a year has passed since Matt died, and even though the Season 1 finale left Leigh in a place where it seemed like she was ready to start living life on her own terms again, she remains mostly in limbo. It’s also Christmas, which exacerbates everything. All three women are spiraling, and struggling to define themselves in a world that has suddenly been so changed.
Season 2 didn’t feel quite as emotionally overwhelming as the first, which is a fair reflection of Leigh’s place in her own life (and not a negative mark against the show at all). As she starts to move forward, tentatively, so does the show. There are fits and starts in both cases, but Sorry for Your Loss continues to be an authentic and moving series, one that finds Leigh fighting to not stay tethered to Matt’s ghost anymore in the finale. And yes, it is definitely worth watching TV on Facebook for (which is, by the way, totally free).—Allison Keene
7. Silicon Valley
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
Silicon Valley’s sixth and final season starts with a scene that plays out with eerie timing, as Richard (Thomas Middleditch) awkwardly addresses Congress about data mining, a la Mark Zuckerberg’s own flailing appearance in real life. But as with everything in Big Tech, Silicon Valley makes these headline-inspired scenes it own, slotting into a familiar formula—but one that works so well—as Richard and his cohorts swear they aren’t data mining at Pied Piper when, in fact, they (accidentally) most definitely are.
The MVP of the series continues to be Zach Woods as Jared, whose mysterious background and neverending manifesting anxieties continue to provide the series with an emotional core. But as the show winds down, it seems clear that Pied Piper may well become the monster it was hoping to dismantle with its original idea of a decentralized internet. Even Hooli is being cannibalized by Amazon, as tech giants in the show and in the real world continue to consolidate into (as the show puts it) massive kingdoms larger than any the world has ever known. It’s a terrifying prospect that also rings true—the very foundation of what makes Silicon Valley’s charmingly cynical view of tech so essential. —Allison Keene
6. Mr. Robot
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
Beginning its fourth and final season with some big shifts for its characters (including at least one shocking death), Mr. Robot remains awe-inspiring for the ways in which it plays with the concept of what you can do on television. Few shows have ever delivered the same level of creative spark on a week-by-week basis, but that’s because Sam Esmail is only one man; the creator and auteur has truly made his mark on the TV landscape with each inventive choice. The season continues to focus on the increased threat presented by the mysterious Whiterose (B.D. Wong) and Elliot’s (Rami Malek) efforts to take her down, was a strong opening that delivered a few major twists. It’s all-consuming television that never takes its foot off the accelerator, except for the occasional moment of grieving that reminds us that these characters might be caught up in a crazy global conspiracy, but that doesn’t make them any less human. —Liz Shannon Miller
5. Back to Life
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
Like the exceptional SundanceTV series Rectify, Showtime’s Back to Life picks up when the 30-something Miri (Daisy Haggard) returns to her small hometown after being in prison for 18 years. But this series never flashes back to that time, because Miri’s focus is on starting over and getting a second chance—if only anyone would let her actually achieve it.
The charming and wryly funny series (running an economic six half-hour episodes) is also created by Haggard and co-written by Laura Solon. The duo take the familiar canvas of a small British seaside town where a crime was committed and everyone has secrets, and subverts our expectations of where the story goes next. Yes there is something of a mystery as far as what Miri did, but the script has fun playing with our assumptions (like having Miri’s mother Caroline, played by the great Geraldine James, pluckily hiding the knives before she comes back downstairs). Neighbors write terrible messages on the family’s fence, they harass Miri, or whisper like cowards about rumors they’ve heard. But through it all, Miri puts on a brave if exasperated face, appreciating her freedom and hoping that some day people can forget what she did.
The key to Back to Life’s success is how it dances along the line of humor and grief, like when Miri returns to her room—untouched since she was a teenager—and sees posters of David Bowie, Jimi Hendrix, and Michael Jackson. “Last one standing,” her mother says, gesturing to a bedside poster of Jamie Oliver. “Thank God he’s still with us,” Miri replies dryly. In a late episode moment, Miri notices that her parents have made a cup of tea for an effigy doll of her that someone left in their front garden. “Well, she was cold,” her mother says, almost breaking into a laugh—I nearly did the same. Back to Life is a quiet and emotionally genuine series that hinges on the fantastic interactions among its characters. It examines the fallout of this past tragedy through the mundanity of daily life, including the lies we hold on to that mask truths we don’t want to confront. —Allison Keene
4. The Good Place
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
All good things must come to an end, and so too must The Good Place. So here we are watching Michael, Eleanor, Chidi, Jason and Tahani trying to save humanity with the assistance of the ever-helpful Janet. While the stakes are decidedly higher (no big deal but humanity may be eliminated) and the twists even more shocking (Phoebe is the only Friend worth saving ??), the humor remains razor sharp, the pop-culture references on-point, and the inherent sweetness of the series inspirational. Humans can get better, can learn from their mistakes and, against all odds, will try to do the right thing. Can a network comedy do all that? You better forking believe it. — Amy Amatangelo
3. The Crown
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
The new chapter of Netflix’s opulent celebration of the monarchy, The Crown, opens in 1964 and concludes with her Silver Jubilee in 1977. It’s a decade-plus of big changes for the royal family, although as the series makes its turn into the ‘70s, fewer have to do with big political moments and instead mark personal upheavals. In an era of binge, Peter Morgan’s historical drama continues to distinguish itself as a series devoted to episodic storytelling, almost acting like an anthology within itself. Some episodes land better than others, but a lot of it comes down to personal preference to the kinds of stories being told. What unites each season are gorgeous aesthetics, an intimate look at an otherwise unknowable famous family, and an acting showcase from some of Britain’s best (like the Harry Potter franchise, eventually every British actor will appear in The Crown).
To that end, Season 3 introduces us to a new cast to reflect the new timeframe: Olivia Colman replaces Claire Foy as Queen Elizabeth II, Tobias Menzies is now Prince Philip (formerly played by Matt Smith). Margaret transforms from Vanessa Kirby to Helena Bonham Carter, we have a new Queen Mother in Marion Baily, and are introduced to Prince Charles (Josh O’Connor), Princess Anne (Erin Doherty), and new Prime Minister Harold Wilson (Jason Watkins).
The weight of the crown itself is felt throughout, mainly in how unhappy it makes all of these very privileged people who constantly consider “the life unlived.” Each of these serve as a brief glimpse of possibilities that are never allowed to materialize because of the realities of position and duty, but that sacrifice in the face of something greater becomes increasingly harder to defend as the years go on. But in this moment, Elizabeth is at a point where all she knows is that she must simply carry on. And so, indeed—as the series takes great pains to argue—must the crown. —Allison Keene
2. The Mandalorian
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
One of the year’s most anticipated series—arguably the most anticipated—coincided with the launch of a brand-new streaming service. It was no small thing to combine the genesis of Disney+, with its robust back-catalogue of childhood favorites, alongside a new Star Wars TV show. But Disney is very good at corporate synergy, especially since it now owns so many beloved pop culture properties.
As one would expect from a Star Wars property, a fully-formed fantasy world is immediately presented to us here, filled with interesting characters and lively backgrounds. It has a cinematic quality. Things click and whir and bleep and boop alongside foreign chatter and a host of interesting creatures. The world of The Mandalorian immediately feels lived in, so even though we don’t know much about this particular story yet, there’s no time wasted with setup.
But aside from being a very fun space western (that only runs in 30 minute weekly episodes—imagine!) The Mandalorian has already immediately captured our hearts and the zeitgeist by introducing one of the cutest creatures of all-time. Seriously, Baby Yoda is really, really cute — even if it is perfect capitalist engineering by Disney. —Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel Watchmen, like Fight Club and Starship Troopers, has a knack for getting itself misunderstood. Frankly, that’s mostly because white guys in the demographic that usually watches this kind of thing are used to a certain kind of messaging and a certain status quo interpretation. Action heroes kill stuff. It’s awesome. Rah, rah, violence. Move along, see the sequel in a year. Past behavior is hard to escape; it’s also hard to criticize without accidentally dipping back into old habits. Watchmen’s HBO sequel series from Damon Lindelof isn’t perfect in this regard, but it’s easy to watch, tough to pin down, and well worth working through.
The show becomes more and more about the traumas suffered by our progenitors, how they’ve lived on through us, and how we respond to their effects. It susses out the ways the government would attempt reparations for black Americans robbed of historical wealth—including the racist backlash against and cringe-inducing videos used to inform those receiving them. This applies to oppression and inequality, sure, but an entire episode digs into the 9/11-like aftershocks resonating into the American psyche from Ozymandius’ space squid drop on NYC. The past comes for everyone in the show.
Unlike some other prestige TV with muddled messaging, Watchmen doesn’t leave you feeling empty. The thematic throughline of the past’s haunting echoes and tangible consequences can get hammy at times, but it’s still a fascinating concept for a sequel series that nobody asked for. Clever, mean, blood-in-the-mouth humor meshes with politics warped and wild in this alt-present where Robert Redford is president and peace was forced upon the world by a murderous genius. Coping with this reality, moving on from the sins of the past, and figuring out how to find a just future—that’s a journey riddled with pitfalls, but one Watchmen makes irresistible.—Jacob Oller
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