Cable news really had its moment this past week. Instead of an election night, CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, as well as the broadcasters got almost a full week of non-stop coverage opportunities during this historic election with so many swing states in the balance. Our nerves were shot. The chaos of Gritty reigned in Philly. Georgia made a stand. Meanwhile, Twitter fell hard for stats nerd Steve Kornacki, and the memes were hot ’n heavy. No matter where you were watching throughout the week, though (or listening, perhaps to NPR) it was probably a shock when the AP called Pennsylvania and the election, rather casually, Saturday morning. Helluva week!
On the scripted side of the dial, the Supernatural fandom got their own watershed moment when (as our own Alexis Gunderson puts it) “slash-ship Destiel becoming more or less explicit canon after 12 long years of just having to read between the lines.” Great TV shows continue to premiere, great episodes continue to land. Paste TV favorite Wayne got new life moving from YouTube Premium to Amazon. Things are starting to look up.
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: The Good Lord Bird (Showtime), Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access), Wayne (Amazon Prime), Soulmates (AMC), RWBY (Rooster Teeth), The Spanish Princess (Starz)
5. The A Word
Network: Sundance TV
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: A beautiful, wry family drama enters its third season (you can catch up with 1 & 2 on Amazon).
This wonderful UK series, now in Season 3, follows a relatable family navigating life with their son Joe (Max Vento) who is diagnosed with autism. Initially, parents Paul (Lee Ingleby) and Alison (Morven Christie) dismiss the then five-year-old’s communication issues and don’t believe anything is “wrong” with their son—despite their family’s attempts to suggest there may be a problem. The first two seasons covers Alison and Paul accepting that Joe is different from the other children at his school, but that he is wonderfully unique in his own ways (like through his encyclopedic knowledge of 70s and 80s British albums, into which he constantly escapes, and his love of walking). Still, The A Word never shies away from the difficulties that the family faces, especially in Joe’s parents attempts to understand their often inscrutable son.
Taking place in the stunning Lake District, the foggy moors and windswept mountains may mirror the tumult of the character’s inner lives, but the series is never dour. Running a short six episodes in each season (with a year or two break in between), The A Word is cheeky and clever, but most of all emotionally authentic. It’s a stunning character drama, one that deals with hard truths in matter-of-fact ways. Humor covers many wounds, expressing love is as foreign as taking flight, and understanding yourself and your own motivations remains a mystery to most. But there are many personal triumphs, too, especially regarding the show’s natural inclusions of many different disabilities, including deafness, different expressions of autism, and more. There’s always plenty of humor as well, and warmth, but it’s never saccharine. Characters are generally worried, unsure, and hopeful in turn, about pretty much everything. It’s real, and it’s grounded (characters also repeat outfits, dress comfortably in workout gear, and consistently wear the same coats—a very relatable touch).
And that’s really the core of it: The A Word is exceptionally authentic in everything it does. Beautiful? Yes. Emotionally sound? Absolutely. Funny? Very much so. But above all, it rings true, and leaves you a little better off than you were before. —Allison Keene
4. The Great British Baking Show
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
This Week: This week came right down to the wire—no thanks to a piping hot tent.
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, one that has assembled a fantastic group of personalities this year—though I will never not be haunted by those cake busts. —Allison Keene
3. The Mandalorian
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This Week: Baby Yoda has a sneaky snack, and the weekly adventure was terrifying.
Disney+’s The Mandalorian, a.k.a. “Hot Space Daddy and His Tiny Puppet Son,” a.k.a. “The Baby Yoda Show” is back. And like its first season, it wastes no time jumping right in. One of The Mandalorian’s many successes is how it manages its time—an overlooked and under-appreciated facet of storytelling in the streaming era.
More than anything, perhaps, there is a genuine sense of excitement with each new Mandalorian episode, and not just in anticipation of what The Child will do next (although that is, admittedly, a huge part of it). Between reaction shots of The Child, excellent guest stars, and compelling Adventures of the Week, the new season includes everything that makes the show so enjoyable: it’s unique, tactile, funny, exciting, cute, and full of lore. It’s referential to Star Wars without being overly reverential to it. It’s accessible for casual fans or even those who haven’t seen a Star War (sure, there’s shorthand used that helps if you have context for it, but somewhat brilliantly it isn’t necessary). Adults can enjoy it, kids can enjoy it. It’s thrilling and silly. In short, it embodies the true spirit of Star Wars. We’re all experiencing something together each week—an increasingly rare feat in television these days—and it is good. —Allison Keene
2. The Queen’s Gambit
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
This Week: We love chess faces.
You would be forgiven for thinking The Queen’s Gambit is based on a real chess player, perhaps introducing us to a forgotten but pivotal name in the game. Thankfully it is not, freeing it from the confines of what could be stodgy biopic traps. Instead, the seven-episode limited series, based off Walter Tevis’ 1983 novel of the same name, positively soars.
Gorgeously shot and lovingly crafted, The Queen’s Gambit takes place in the late 1950s and ‘60s, and focuses on a young chess prodigy, Beth Harmon (Anya Taylor-Joy). Tragedy and fantasy engage in a complicated dance in Scott Frank’s scripts, as Beth is fed (and quickly develops an addiction to) tranquilizers as an eight-year-old child, something that opens her mind up but (obviously) plagues her throughout her young adult life.
And yet, The Queen’s Gambit is secretly a sports story. Chess has never been more kinetically riveting. Deftly edited and full of stylish montages, the moves that come so easily to Beth are not easily explained to viewers. There is a depth of knowledge that defies casual understanding, but it is also never a barrier. Beth is almost supernaturally gifted, brilliant at chess yet hindered by a mind that also finds solace in addictions of various kinds. It’s a story usually told about a man, but part of what’s so refreshing about The Queen’s Gambit is that, despite one or two quick comments, this is really not about Beth being a woman (or more accurately, a girl). The show doesn’t need to make a statement.
Because The Queen’s Gambit is a work of fiction (that title, by the way, is mentioned 33 minutes into the first episode and then dispatched with), it tells exactly the engrossing character story it wants to, and how. That might sound obvious, but it’s no small thing. With excellent pacing and a sure sense of itself out of the gate, The Queen’s Gambit is a work of art—riveting, radiant, and simply spellbinding. Like Beth, it triumphs through its devotion to a love of the game. —Allison Keene
1. Speeches from President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris
As mentioned in the intro, it was a historically long week with a historic number of votes and a historic outcome. But once the Associated Press finally called the election for Joe Biden, relief erupted through half of the nation. In his speech, Biden spoke to both halves of the country in a spirit of unity—yes, all Americans, specifically mentioning the oppressed, those with disabilities, and those who have lived in fear. He acknowledged science is real! It’s the little things … I could go on, but you should just watch. Harris, the first woman VP, also spoke to all of the BIPOC girls watching who saw that this is possible in this country. Basically, everything we as a nation needed to hear. And it was a relief. —Allison Keene
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