The holidays have not slowed TV down. The medium continues to churn out new shows, new episodes and series finales as if we don’t have so much to do to get ready for all the impeding joy headed our way. There are Maisels, Mandalorians and monarchies all demanding our attention.
Now more than ever you need a discerning eye to help you determine what to watch. As always, we are here to help. 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 Morning Show (AppleTV+), Dollface (Hulu), Crisis of Infinite Earths (CW)
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
At first glance, Hulu’s Reprisal is a noir thriller made from very familiar pieces. A revenge tale that involves muscle cars and strip clubs, how inventive! Only, in this case, it actually kind of is because this is a show that puts a very feminist spin on a traditionally male-driven genre. This is a show that’s predominantly built around female rage and agency, and every woman in it is a layered, complex character with a history and agenda of her own.
Timeless alum Abigail Spencer stars as Doris Quinn, a woman done wrong by her brother, a gangland leader who dragged her behind a moving vehicle and left her for dead. She’s back to get her revenge, and her story is one full of the strange satisfaction that comes from watching someone who’s spent their life being underestimated by others finally get the chance to hit back. Spencer’s performance alone is worth the price of admission, as she walks the fine line between politeness and fury, with an almost visible anger simmering under her skin.
Reprisal has more than a few flaws—it’s at least two episodes too long, and the show really drags whenever one of its primary women (or Doris’ Monster Squad) isn’t onscreen. Plus, it’s honestly hard to muster up a lot of interest in the various emotional wounds of a group of men who feel like cardboard secondary characters on their best day. But given that we don’t often get to see female-fronted revenge stories that aren’t about seduction, Reprisal’s not a bad way to spend a weekend.—Lacy Baugher
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
Created for television by Jason Richman and based on Greg Rucka’s comic book limited series of the same name (Rucka also writes for the show), Stumptown is a modern-day hardboiled detective drama that follows Dex Parios (Smulders), a former Marine investigator with a gambling problem, a drinking problem, and a monster-sized case of undiagnosed PTSD when she stumbles her way into a gig as Portland’s new favorite private investigator.
As a detective procedural on an alphabet network, the story that follows traces a fairly standard shape: A civilian (Dex) has a case land in her lap that parallels a formative tragedy/mystery from her past and her mixed success with that case sparks the idea that, hey, there might be some kind of career to be made out the whole detection game. The difference in this case is that does all that with a handcrafted Pacific Northwest cedarwood scalpel. The formulaic parallels aren’t the surgical part—it’s the finesse will which all the exposition and characterization necessary to introduce Dex’s world, including the tiny but sympathetic support system she has in her brother Ansel (a very charming Cole Sibus) and best friend Grey (Jake Johnson, who was born for a hipster-brewer beard and shearling denim jacket). This is especially true about Dex’s military background, which sets up both her exceptional hand-to-hand combat skills and her cynical loner attitude as natural consequences of the life she’s lived, rather than convenient coincidences for the hardboiled story the show wants to tell. —Alexis Gunderson
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
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
7. Castle Rock
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
There’s something so satisfying, so pleasurable, when a series returns for its second season and immediately reveals itself to have surpassed the first. So it is with the first three episodes of this second go-round for Castle Rock. Yes, there’s still something of an over-reliance on wink-wink references to the King canon, but so far, this Misery-influenced season feels less like fan service and more like a fever dream—the kind you can’t wake from. The kind that pops, unbidden, into your mind when you’re just hoping to move on with your day. The kind that follows you, moist and staring, out of the hole you dumped it in.
Much of the success of these episodes is due to the fascinating, fearless performance of Lizzy Caplan, playing a pre-Misery Annie Wilkes with seemingly bottomless panache. It’s a turn that’s both terrifying and funny, yet she plays Annie with enough emotional honesty that it’s still somehow possible, even easy, to invest in her journey. In this case, the journey is somewhat literal—Annie and her daughter Joy (Eighth Grade’s powerhouse Elsie Fisher) criss-cross the country, Annie finding temporary work as a nurse so she can easily steal her self-prescribed cocktail of antipsychotics. But an accident strands them in Castle Rock and throws them in the path of Ace Merrill (King alumnus Tim Robbins), and things go sideways in a big way. The performances are intimate and honest, but the scares are visceral and grotesque. It’s a cockadoodie delight.—Allison Shoemaker
6. The Crown
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
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
5. The L Word: Generation Q
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
Period sex and menopause. Yes my friends, The L Word is back and subtly is not on the agenda. Bette (Jennifer Beals wearing pantsuits that are better than ever), Alice (Leisha Hailey) and Shane (Katherine Moening) are joined by, as the title suggests, a new cast of characters navigating their lives, loves and careers in Los Angeles. Bette is now running for mayor and mom to an adolescent Angie (Jordan Hull). Alice has her own talk show and Shane is, well, Shane-ing it up as only she can (of course she has sex with the flight attendant on her private plane, of course she does). The L Word, at its very best, was a juicy soap opera that put lesbian characters front and center and gave them plot lines, melodrama, romances, and love triangles that had been previously only been given to straight characters. Lots has changed in the world since the original series went off the air 10 years ago but, with the current administration, so much hasn’t. The L Word: Generation Q is poised to pick up where its elders left off with complex new characters and soapier than ever stories. —Amy Amatangelo
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
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
3. Silicon Valley
Last Week’s Ranking: 6
In Silicon Valley’s penultimate episode, Pied Piper lost out on a mega-payout deal to put its technology onto AT&T’s phones and network because of a powerful but flawed Chinese knockoff. In a fit of despair, the men (plus Monica) ended up partnering with Russ Hanneman to use their tech for his Burning Man-esque “Russfest.” While most of that was a disaster, it did lead to Pied Piper’s compression software being merged with Gilfoyle’s AI creation, Son of Anton, which then created an incredibly smart and complex system that won AT&T back to their side. (It’s worth noting that AT&T is also HBO’s parent company, which is another fun bit of meta narrative layering.)
And thus, Silicon Valley’s final season has followed a familiar but successful format that has seen it through its previous five: Pied Piper does something extraordinary, there are unexpected consequences and a lot of cringe tension, and then at the last second everything is saved—which is extraordinary, and leads to unexpected and cringey consequences, etc.
Naturally, that is exactly where we found the company in the series finale, “Exit Event,” (written and directed by Alec Berg) which (like most of the show’s season finales) amped up that formula to an incredible degree. The Pied Piper deal with AT&T was saved, and yet, it was also discovered that with PiperNet the guys had built a monster capable of decrypting every digital stronghold in the world, including nuclear codes. The robot revolution has arrived, hurried on by Pied Piper. A “10 years later” documentary bookended the episode and let us know what happened to our favorite awkward coders, whose ultimate failure ended up saving the world like they intended all those years ago. It just wasn’t the way they intended it to happen. —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 with strong ronin influences (which only runs for 30 minute weekly episodes—imagine!), The Mandalorian immediately dominated the zeitgeist by introducing one of the cutest creatures of all-time: Baby Yoda. This incredibly adorable puppet creature has captured our hearts and united the world. Disney gonna Disney. —Allison Keene
1. The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
When it comes to the show’s particular brand of entertainment, your enjoyment of The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel is down to whether or not you want to buy into this escapist world and showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino’s very specific dialogue patterns and set aesthetics. People talk in this show, and I mean talk, and the series’ pace is a whirlwind of nightclubs and jokes and stage performances. The third season is even more indulgent than the first two in those terms; the introduction of Shy Baldwin and his Big Band sound remind one a little bit of watching HBO’s Treme, which would just wander into a musical interlude and stay there for as long as it liked. Maisel is visually dazzling, full of colorful patterns, opulent settings, and lavish fabrics.
In that and more, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel continues to be a pleasant escapist parade of sartorial and financial fantasy, even if the individual stories may not be quite as interesting or as emotionally involving as in the past. Midge’s charmed life is now taking her across the country to do standup, some of which lands and some of which does not, and Rachel Brosnahan continues to be exceptionally adept at balancing Midge’s girly charms with her more mature, profane frustrations. So is Maisel prestige? Is it Important? Does it matter? As glittery fun, whether or not it ultimately sticks with you, it’s greatly entertaining and very, very funny. And for those who have enjoyed the first two seasons, that should be reasons enough to buy another ticket to the show. —Allison Keene
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