Let’s be real: WandaVision is just operating on another level. Yes, there’s a lot of great TV that we’re enjoying right now, but the one show that every single member of the Paste TV team mentions in our Power Ranking email chain is WandaVision. And it’s of little wonder, right? It’s perhaps the only appointment series on right now that is accessible for everyone. It’s fun, it’s exciting, and we just can’t get enough.
The rules for the Power Rankings are simple: Any current 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 (ending Sunday) —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.
Mr Mayor (NBC), Snowpiercer (TNT), Everyone Is Doing Great (Hulu), The Equalizer (CBS), Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (NBC), The Snoopy Show (Apple TV+)
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: Tune your cable dial for some delightful comedy.
So 2021 is already a lot, but our prescription is to take your weekly dose of Alan Tudyk in Resident Alien. The fantastically talented Tudyk finally gets to lead his own show in essentially a dual role as Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle and the alien who has secretly crash-landed on Earth and assumed the dead doctor’s appearance for safety. Much actual hilarity does ensue when the imposing local sheriff (Corey Reynolds) demands Vanderspeigle’s help in solving the murder of the lone town doctor in nearby Patience, Colorado. With an entertaining ensemble of quirky townspeople as support, the series unfolds like the mad cousin of Northern Exposure mashed up with John Carpenter’s Starman. And Tudyk is on point serving up a weekly Master’s class in physical comedy and pitch-perfect line readings. Plus, there’s an inspired side plot about a single kid in town who can see what Harry actually is, and their mutual détente of deep dislike is sublime. Get on this one—it’s the tension release valve you need. —Tara Bennett
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: Skeldale House takes bets on James handling the Darrowby Fair and it is wholesome.
As has been written about many times in this space, book-to-television adaptations can be a tricky beast to wrangle. But I can joyously report that the same warmth, humor, and gentle stories that fill my own well-worn copies (and much-played audiobooks) of James Herriot’s autobiographical novels comes through beautifully in this new television version of All Creatures Great and Small.
Throughout the six episodes (and a Christmas Special), airing in the U.S. on PBS Masterpiece, we follow the daily life at Skeldale House, a veterinary practice that young James (Nicholas Ralph) joins as he graduates from school. Run by a good-hearted but difficult-to-please taskmaster, Siegfried Farnon (Samuel West)—who has fired every other assistant he has ever had—James must prove himself not only to his new boss, but also to the local farmers suspicious of newcomers and more modern methods of treatment.
Spiritually reminiscent of some of the best series to recently feature on Masterpiece, including The Durrells in Corfu, Victoria, and Downton Abbey, All Creatures Great and Small is the sort of show that is built upon a tender kindness. It is never saccharine, but wears its wholesomeness on its sleeve as we travel across the Yorkshire dales and experience the ups and downs of rural life. The show doesn’t shy away from difficult decisions James and the others must make, and one episode in particular is absolutely heartbreaking. But the series is always balanced by a plucky confidence in its storytelling and its tone, which ultimately keeps things light and cozy. This tenderly drawn slice of life champions honor, character, and the care of animals, and is a wonderful treat and a balm for the soul. —Allison Keene
Network: Apple TV+
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
This Week: Spa day!
Apple TV+’s clever anachronism-as-translation series returns more sure of itself. Not only have the musical drops become bolder (Sofi Tukker slotting in comfortably next to Volbeat, Monika Krause, and Cakes Da Killa feat. Rye Rye) and the slangy bits of dialogue more natural (“I’m at all of the balls; I’m a baller” could only ever work in the context of Dickinson), but the dimensions of the period-specific world as it exists beyond Emily’s brain have also deepened.
The most compelling element of this second season, though, always comes back to Emily. I mean, of course it does. Hailee Steinfeld is a magnetic performer, her sense of both comedic and tragic timing almost preternatural. But while her take on Emily was equal parts relatable and arresting from the minute she stepped into the frame in Season 1, Season 2 gives her even more to work with: namely, the question of fame, and whether or not it’s dangerous to seek it out; and also the question of love, and whether or not the world needs or deserves to know where your heart lives.
Honestly, the more Americans we can get thinking about how poetry and love and capital-T Truth can answer a moment of deep social and political divide, the better. That said, if all you want out of television this month is a bunch of shrewd Yankee witches claiming the right to be weird af and get lit off Emily’s dope-ass rhymes, Dickinson can do that for you, too. —Alexis Gunderson
Network: Amazon Prime
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
This Week: Dominique Tipper deserves all of the awards for that finale.
All the pieces The Expanse fans love are still in play in Season 5, from Amos (Wes Chatham) dispassionately busting skulls to Camina Drummer (Cara Gee) glaring rail-daggers through anyone who crosses her, to Avasarala cursing her way into the highest (like, to-the-Moon highest) halls of power while dressed to the jewel-toned nines. But where fans might be expecting to see Amos bust those skulls with Holden, Naomi (Dominique Tipper), and Alex (Cas Anvar) around to keep him grounded, or Drummer glare those rail-daggers while working to help the Belters achieve peaceful stability, or Avasarala doing her power-sweeping through the halls of the UN, loving husband and/or Bobbie just a call away, this season finds them all scattered across the solar system, thrown into settings and character combinations we’ve never seen.
Now, how well this will work for you will absolutely vary. Having its core characters so dramatically isolated means that the action in Season 5 is, by necessity, much slower than a lot of fans will be used to—and The Expanse already had the capacity to be a pretty slow show. (A generous description would be meditative, but an honest one might allow for ponderous.)
That said, when it comes to The Expanse, it is still a deeply satisfying, multisensory experience, and for all that the interpersonal stories are smaller this season, it is still as beautiful to look at as ever. —Alexis Gunderson
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This Week: “She recast Pietro?” Also: Rolling the credits during an argument.
In the Marvel comics, Wanda Maximoff is a reality-bending enchantress known as Scarlet Witch. Her power set is immense, and we have never seen the full scope of it within the movie universe—it’s too big, really, when you compare the fact that she and an actual god (Thor), and a wizard (Doctor Strange), are equals on a team with a Russian spy (Black Widow) carrying a gun, and an archer (Hawkeye). There are limits.
Not, however, when it comes to WandaVision itself, which is where we finally get to see the Marvel machine slightly unleashed. Marvel’s forays into television have not been altogether fantastic. But these new Disney+ series expand the story of characters we know from the movies in way that the movies simple did not have time to do. It also allows WandaVision creator Jac Schaeffer and director Matt Shakman to put a uniquely stylized and deeply emotional spin on a story that would have (had this been a movie) otherwise been shackled by the mandated aesthetics of the overall MCU.
As such, in WandaVision, Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen) is also unleashed. She has used her immense power to create an insular world where she and her lost love, Vision (Paul Bettany), get to live happily ever after in classic sitcoms based on the likes of The Dick Van Dyke Show, Bewitched, and I Love Lucy. For fans of classic television, this is no satire; despite a few over-the-top ham moments, it is a loving homage to these series.
But of course, it’s not real. Throughout these half-hour episodes (both the ones we experience and the ones Wanda and Vision are living through), the world outside of this coping fantasy begins to creep in. First with bursts of color, then occasional off-script moments. Wanda stops these right away by rewinding and reliving the situation without the disruption. A clean story, nothing to disturb them. Just a husband and wife living a normal life in perfect suburbia (with the occasional advertisement for a Hydra watch or a Stark Industries toaster, of course).
Soon, however, Wanda is spinning out of control. Reality is closer than ever, and the teases we get to the world outside of Wanda’s creation, one where Vision is gone, get increasingly overt. She will have to come to terms with the truth soon, but it will hurt. And yet, I don’t really want reality to impede on Wanda’s created life at all. WandaVision’s core conceit—that sometimes you just want to escape into television, into fantasy, into a daydream—couldn’t be more meta. Let’s stay here in this happiness just a little while longer. The world outside is so dark. —Allison Keene
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