It was a wild week in live TV. From the Presidential “debate” (as it can only be loosely called) to Saturday Night Live’s terrible reenactment of it, to Mickey Rourke’s Masked Singer meltdown, the best television this week was definitely scripted (with one notable exception). And there was, for once in these pandemic-stricken months, a decent amount of it to choose from!
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.
Last Tango in Halifax (PBS), The Good Lord Bird (Showtime), Fargo (FX), Bob’s Burgers (Fox), PEN15 (Hulu)
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: Gloriously fun empty calories.
Emily Cooper (Lily Collins) is a young marketing executive who gets the dream gig of going to Paris for a year when her firm buys Savior, a Paris-based boutique marketing firm for luxury brands. I was originally going to say that if Sex and the City and Younger had a baby, it would be Emily in Paris. But since the show takes place in France, it’s far more appropriate to tell you that if Sex and the City and Younger had a mistress it would be Emily in Paris.
What? You think I’m being too stereotypical? Well mon petit chous let me tell you, this little bon mot from executive producer Darren Star leans in hard to stereotypes we have about the French. They are very open with sex. They have very open marriages. They have utter disdain for Americans. They smoke a lot.
But this 10-episode series has such a joie de vivre it’s easy to ignore its faults and savor its deliciousness. It’s the TV equivalent of a buttery, flakey croissant that you devour. Each episode leaves you wanting more—even if its airy plots are quickly forgettable. —Amy Amatangelo
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: Educational, poignant, hilarious and charming just when we needed it most
Well it was certainly a week in politics. Tax evasion! A sh$*%t show of a “Presidential debate!” The nomination of a Supreme Court Justice as a super spreader event! A President with COVID-19 still not wearing a mask! The political landscape is a nightmare. Thankfully black-ish was here for us when we need them the most with two back-to-back episodes directed by Academy Award winner Matthew A. Cherry. In the first half-hour, Junior (Marcus Scribner) discovers he’s been purged from the voter rolls and gets a very special “Schoohouse Rock”-ish lesson in voting, complete with a delightful Tracee Ellis Ross as the Voting Right Acts of 1965 (who goes from joyous on the Dick Cavett Show to depressed on Jimmy Kimmel). In the second half-hour, wonderfully animated by Cherry, Dre (Anthony Anderson) decides to run for Congress with the help of Stacey Abrams (as herself). The episode is funny (check out Ruby reading “Black Twitter Digest”) and a poignant look at how elections are won in America. “Anyone can go from the outhouse to the White House,” Dre tells us. But more importantly, democracy belongs to the people, and black-ish won’t let us forget it.—Amy Amatangelo
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This Week: Even though they sent the wrong baker home, the show remains a genuine delight.
On your mark, get set … bake! Yes, there is one good thing about 2020 it is the iconic tent being raised with bakers are baking once again. The Great British Baking Show (aka Bake-Off to our UK friends) has taken some new coronavirus-related safety measures by having its hosts, judges, and bakers all in a quarantine bubble together, and the result is something that feels very normal in an otherwise extremely abnormal time. The biggest non-COVID change is the departure of co-host Sandi Toksvig and the entrance of comedian and actor Matt Lucas. He and Noel Fielding bring a silly sweetness to one of TV’s altogether sweetest shows—even though the premiere delivered some of some of the series’ most difficult and even outrageous challenges yet (I will never not be haunted by those cake busts). —Allison Keene
Network: HBO Max
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
This Week: What in Sol’s name did we just watch? And when is Season 2?
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
Network: Apple TV+
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
This Week: Did the finale just drop the funniest sports scene ever?
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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