Paste Power Ranking: The 5 Best TV Shows on Right Now, from Away to Ted LassoIllustration by Christine Fernando and Soleil Collins TV Lists
You don’t need us to tell you that TV right now is pretty thin. There are still new series premiering, but most marquee comedies and dramas initially slated for spring (that networks held back after production slowed due to COVID-19) are now coming later in the fall. We’re in a bit of a dead zone. New series like Woke, Julie and the Phantoms are tonal mishmashes, while others are just bad (The Duchess). So the Power Ranking this week is pretty similar to last week—same great shows, slightly different order. But what can we say? Good TV doesn’t go out of style!
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.
Honorable Mention: Noughts + Crosses (Peacock), Woke (Hulu), The Boys (Amazon), Lovecraft Country (HBO)
5. A.P. Bio
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
This Week: Don’t let the fully released third season of this great series get buried on your streaming dial.
Few shows illustrate the fundamental problems with broadcast TV in the 21st century better than A.P. Bio. Mike O’Brien’s hilarious sitcom ran for two seasons on NBC, and despite good reviews and a great cast (including Patton Oswalt, It’s Always Sunny’s Glenn Howerton, and SNL writer Paula Pell), it barely made a dent in the pop culture consciousness. It didn’t get the audience a network show needs to stay alive, but also didn’t get the hype and word-of-mouth buzz that seems to be lavished exclusively on streaming or pay cable shows these days. It was a show stuck between audiences—the people who would most love it never saw it because they’ve largely tuned broadcast out, and the people who still regularly watch the legacy networks didn’t vibe with its slightly surreal tone or surface-level cynicism. That’s a shame, because A.P. Bio is one of the funniest, sweetest, and most charming sitcoms in years.
Thankfully the show’s getting another chance to win people over. A.P. Bio’s third season just launched on Peacock, and it’s lost nothing in the transition to streaming. There’s a long list of reasons that this show is so good: Beyond obvious strengths like the cast and the writing, probably the two most foundational elements to the show’s success is its tone and its setting. A.P. Bio immediately established its own unique voice, one that trickily dances between seemingly opposite notes. And by setting it in a high school, a setting rife with comic potential that’s weirdly underexplored by sitcoms, it found a backdrop almost everybody is familiar with but that hasn’t been done to death. —Garrett Martin
4. Raised by Wolves
Network: HBO Max
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
This Week: The kind of show where you have to go all or nothing.
There are no wolves in Raised by Wolves, but the ambitious HBO Max series from writer/creator Aaron Guzikowski (Prisoners) raises a handful of kids, plenty of hell, and the bar for meaty sci-fi TV. Starting simply enough—with two factions of survivors, whose religious war has demolished Earth, landing on the only other inhabitable planet the species knows about—Raised by Wolves builds out an in-depth sci-fi world through the language of a survival story and the inherently human question of the soul. Even if Ridley Scott (Alien, Blade Runner) only directed the first two episodes, his maverick touch is felt throughout the confident show.
There might not be a bloody battle or alien confrontation in each episode, but the drama is compelling and built of character-driven moments. That makes the action, when it does happen, intensely exciting and anxiety-ridden. With such finite scope, each moment of possible loss is heavily weighted and gorgeous to look at. While rustic and detailed in its production design, the variety of visuals go from Tatooine’s desert starkness to hyper-glitchy simulation interfaces to war-torn Earth cities in flashbacks. Each new development, nicely metered-out in doses of mystery, plotting, and payoff, is a natural occurrence cropping up as we run our hands through the series’ dense texture. Don’t worry, that’s all part of the Scott/Guzikowski vibe: honestly-performed, slow-burn devotion to themes nestled into a pulpy shell.
Smart and crunchy rather than sleek and slick, Raised by Wolves won’t be for everyone. It’s tragic, thought-provoking sci-fi that works through its problems rather than relying on big flashy twists. But for those itching for something unabashedly weird and devoted to its own rules, the show won’t disappoint. Deceptively intimate, the story of repopulation—and the war for humanity’s future—is a family drama living inside a honed genre universe. It’s a world built to last and a show built for fans of Scott’s particular brand of imperfect, muscly fence-swings. —Jacob Oller
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
This Week: Continuing to provide such hope about what’s possible when people work together towards a common glorious goal.
Away is a 10-episode crowd pleaser. It’s a blockbuster TV series during a time when blockbuster movies aren’t in theaters (or at least they shouldn’t be). Hilary Swank headlines as American astronaut Emma Green. She leaves her husband Matt Logan (Josh Charles) and her 15-year-old daughter Lex (Talitha Bateman) to command a three-year mission to Mars, heading up an international crew comprised of Russian astronaut Misha Popov (Mark Ivanir), British botanist Dr. Kwesi Weisberg-Abban (Ato Essandoh), Indian astronaut Ram Arya (Ray Panthaki), and Chinese chemist and astronaut Lu Wang (Vivian Wu).
The series is awe-inspiring in scope, and the scenes in space are gorgeous. Knowledge of the particulars of space travel is woven throughout the narrative, both what’s possible and the daily physical struggles astronauts endure. The special effects are so precise and authentic you feel like you are in space with the astronauts.
Executive producer Jason Katims perfected the art of feel-good TV with series including Friday Night Lights and Parenthood. He knows it’s the little moments that make the big moments important and that interpersonal drama drives a series. At first it seems like the series is leaning too far into the stereotypes about the countries the astronauts are from, but as the story progresses, their outer façades are peeled back to reveal a more complex, nuanced characters. The notion that countries and people can work together to achieve greatness is the consistent and very welcomed undercurrent to the series, making the drama not only inspirational but aspirational.
Ultimately, Away manages to be a fine escapist, inspirational series—one that provides an opportunity to at least feel away if we can’t actually be away. —Amy Amatangelo
2. Cobra Kai
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This Week: It’s the retro-vibe TV show we need.
With 11 award nominations (one Emmy included), the Golden Tomato Award for Best TV Drama, and a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, you don’t need us to tell you that Cobra Kai is more than worth your time. Still: Cobra Kai is more than worth your time. Bringing William Zabka and Ralph Macchio back to reignite their ’80s-era Karate Kid rivalry just as the various tender/hurting teens in their lives are finding themselves in desperate need of mentorship from an ass-kicking sensei or two, Cobra Kai is a feast of brutal sentimentality, awkward puppy love and heartbreakingly scruffy nostalgia—and, of course, killer karate set pieces. As Paste’s own Amy Amatangelo put it in her review of the first season, “[Cobra Kai] excels at not allowing anyone to be truly evil or angelic, understanding that human beings are complex and cannot be summed up by a one-line character description.” And now it’s available on Netflix. —Alexis Gunderson
1. Ted Lasso
Network: Apple TV+
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
This Week: “Ted Lasso is my current hero.” – Paste EIC Josh Jackson
Seven years ago, NBC Sports released a very funny sketch starring Jason Sudeikis as an American football coach named Ted Lasso who manages to get hired as the manager of Tottenham, one of the top soccer clubs in England’s Premier League, which is one of the best leagues in the world. The comedy is the culture clash—a shouting alpha male with a southern accent trying to figure out a totally unfamiliar sport in a strange place, too stubborn to adapt and bringing all the wrong lessons over from America. As soccer becomes more familiar in the U.S., that sketch becomes increasingly quaint, since even your average deep-south gridiron jock knows more and more all the time about the world’s most popular sport. Which makes the premise of Ted Lasso the 2020 TV show questionable; can you really translate a premise that’s thin in the first place, and extend it to a ten-episode season even as soccer becomes less and less exotic to us all the time?
Wisely, creators Sudeikis and Bill Lawrence didn’t really try. Now focused on AFC Richmond, a middling English soccer club facing relegation, the success of the show begins and ends with Sudeikis (whose Lasso is almost pathologically nice as a coach and motivator rather than tactical genius), but the rest of the cast is also superb. In short, I found it genuinely moving more than it was uproarious, although the climactic scene in the final episode might be one of the greatest athletic set pieces in comedy history, and will make any sports fan bust a gut. There’s also something very timely about the fact that the competitive drama here isn’t about winning a glorious championship, but about avoiding the shame of relegation. And yet, when faced with the unofficial AFC Richmond credo, “it’s the hope that kills you,” Lasso disagrees. “It’s the lack of hope that comes and gets you,” he tells his team, and whether or not that’s strictly correct is irrelevant. What actually matter is, do you believe? —Shane Ryan
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