Paste Power Ranking: The 5 Best TV Shows on Right Now, from Animaniacs to Big Sky

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<i>Paste</i> Power Ranking: The 5 Best TV Shows on Right Now, from <i>Animaniacs</i> to <i>Big Sky</i>

You know that we’re back in a strong TV moment when there isn’t room for Paste TV’s beloved son Baby Yoda on the list this week. Granted, “The Siege” had some all-time Child moments (including electrical engineering and spitting up), but too many side quests spoils the show. The Power Ranking is ruthless!

Truly, there was a lot of good TV this week, including some that finally received a bit of conversational buzz. For all of the great shows that have aired in 2020 (and to that end, keep an eye out for our Best of the Year lists coming soon!) very few have really entered the zeitgeist. But this past week, all of the shows on our list lit up the Twitterverse. It’s not always a sign of quality, true, but it sure is fun to talk about TV together again.

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 Great British Baking Show (Netflix), Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access), The Mandalorian (Disney+), A Teacher (Hulu)

5. Supernatural

Network: The CW
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
This Week: We say goodbye to a long, long-running franchise.

Supernatural has come to a close, allegedly*.

(*It’ll take the heat death of the universe swallowing us all whole before I believe it.)

It was nearly impossible to imagine Sam (Jared Padalecki) and Dean (Jensen Ackles) going on to any kind of life that didn’t revolve around hunting. Sure, at various points over the years, they’d each said they wanted to take a stab at regular-dude life, but regardless of the extent to which their story was revealed this past season to have been the result of Chuck/God obsessively pulling their narrative strings, they’d also each grown into men too driven by the need to keep everyday people safe from monsters to ever really be able to give hunting up. And so, hunt they did. For awhile, anyway.

Obviously we’ll never know what was really in the cards, pre-COVID-wise for the series finale, “Carry On,” but considering how short the episode ended up being (after accounting both for the enormous ad breaks and for the fact that it ended four whole minutes before its broadcast hour was even up), it’s likely something got cut, and just as likely that something was something that would have involved more beloved characters congregating in a COVID-era production than was safe. And I get it—for a show all about family and togetherness, that’s a tough break. But like Dean told Sam, in his genuinely great final monologue, “What it all came down to was, it was always you and me. It’s always been you and me.” Honing the focus down to just Sam and Dean, together and alone, might have been the best choice they could have made after 15 sprawling seasons, pandemic or not.

However you ended up feeling about the finale, the fact of the matter is, Sam and Dean have officially fought their last fight (*or HAVE they?) Television will evolve; the world will move on. But the legacy of the love those brothers had for each other, that will carry on. —Alexis Gunderson


4. The Crown

Network: Netflix
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This Week: We can’t get over Gillian Anderson and Emma Corrin’s performances.

The Crown, Netflix’s lush and lavish detailing of Queen Elizabeth II’s rein over the United Kingdom, parks its historical tour bus in the late 70s and 80s for its fourth season, primarily tracking the rise and fall of Margaret Thatcher (Gillian Anderson) and Lady Diana Spencer (Emma Corrin). As Prince Philip (Tobias Menzies) tells Diana late in the season, everyone and everything in their lives revolves around one woman—but that Diana seems to be confused as to who that woman is. It’s not a surprise. Throughout its run thus far, Peter Morgan’s series has always made a case for the crown and for Elizabeth specifically. But Thatcherism, and to a much larger degree Diana’s celebrity star power, so fundamentally changed the way they are perceived that one leaves Season 4 wondering what, exactly, the future of the crown should be.

To that end, Season 4 is caught up almost exclusively in the drama of Charles (Josh O’Connor) and Diana’s marriage, and the “third party” who continued to plague it, Camila Parker Bowles (Emerald Fennell). These personal moments are juxtaposed with increasingly caustic matters of state, led by England’s infamous “Iron Lady.” Among all of that, Elizabeth (Olivia Colman) gets rather sidelined; with more Windsors than ever to track, the storytelling is more scattershot than in the past. Still, the new season remains mesmerizing and heartbreaking in turn, never letting any of its larger-the-life figures off the hook, but allowing for complex portrayals (especially from Anderson and Corrin, who are uncanny) that are extraordinarily gripping, compelling, and even educational. If you aren’t reading Wiki alongside watching the show, you’re missing out on half the fun.

When Philip tells Diana that everyone is an outsider in the palace except the one woman around whom everything revolves, we see the profile of Colman’s impressively placid Elizabeth. But despite Philip’s admonishments that Diana is making everything about herself, The Crown follows suit. In its parting Season 4 shot, of a forlorn princess staring out into the abyss while surrounded by that fickle family, we see the first major fissure in the previously unquestioned purpose of a modern sovereign—one that we know will only grow larger with time. —Allison Keene


3. The Spanish Princess

Network: Starz
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: Yep, heads are rolling! (And it was incredibly sad).

Starz’s lavish historical drama The Spanish Princess is back for a dramatic Part 2, which details the doomed romance of Catherine of Aragon (Charlotte Hope) and Henry VIII (Ruairi O’Connor). Picking up post-coronation, things are looking bright for a resurgence of “Camelot” in England—but that happiness does not last.

The other queens of these War of the Roses series (The White Queen, The White Princess) have had a certain amount of influence thanks not only to their wit and wiles but in their ability to produce heirs. Catherine doubles down on the first, but falters in the latter; she is shown unabashedly as a warrior queen—in striking pregnancy armor—one who is more than able to rule and provide good counsel to Henry. But her inability to produce a son for Henry erodes his confidence and ultimately his adoration for her. Increasingly, she’s essentially patted on the head and sent to the shadows to focus on her pregnancy rather than matters of state.

There are some things that are consistent both within this overall anthology and in the series by which all Starz historical shows are measured: Outlander. There are equals parts battles and romances, and the set designs, careful costuming, cozy exteriors, and rainy gray moors create a fantastic aesthetic. And it’s very, very female-driven. While history focuses on Henry and his mistresses and wives, The Spanish Princess continues to show us that Catherine is the beating heart of this court, and one of the only things holding it all together. While Henry is wrapped up in himself and his legacy, Catherine—over and over again—displays her unyielding optimism and loyalty to England itself. Like in the first installment, Charlotte Hope carries this series on her petite shoulders, summoning a constant inner strength from Catherine as she recovers from repeated losses. She is a warrior, after all—even though there is a simmering dread on our part knowing this is a battle she will not conquer. —Allison Keene


2. Big Sky

Network: ABC
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: Helluva twist at the end there! A bold move for network TV.

Look, sometimes you just want a big prime time drama on a (free!) network that is also a murder mystery and takes place somewhere with a view. ABC’s Big Sky is all of that, a flashy show full of capital-D Drama. Still, despite copious establishing shots and some mountains, it doesn’t feel particularly Montanan; it’s not even remotely Twin Peaks-y regardless of its diners and fir trees. But it has lots of pretty people, a damn fine twist at the end of its opening hour, and I would have easily binged it had that been an option.

Almost everything from the very first minute onward is a spoiler, except to say that three detectives (Kylie Bunbury, Katheryn Winnick, and Ryan Phillippe) quickly get involved in a case to find two missing teen girls (Natalie Alyn Lind, Jade Pettyjohn) in the hinterlands of Montana. There’s also a long-haul truck driver (Brian Geraghty), a state trooper (Brian Carroll Lynch), and a non-binary sex worker (Jesse James Keitel) in the mix. Let’s go!

Despite some of the more ridiculous parts of Big Sky—or maybe because of them—the show is genuinely worth investigating. And you will want to watch it when it airs so you aren’t spoiled by the many twists that will undoubtedly immediately hit social media. For a little while, until it potentially runs fully off the rails, we might finally have a grab-your-popcorn drama to discuss at the virtual watercooler again, folks. And that’s big. —Allison Keene


1. Animaniacs

Network: Hulu
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: A classic returns as zany and relevant as ever.

It’s been a rough year, to say the least. So rough that globally heightened anxiety and pain has changed our tolerance for dark, gritty entertainment. Even Black Mirror’s writer has taken a break from working on the show, since the world now seems like one particularly long and twisted episode from that dystopian anthology series.

It’s in this climate that Animaniacs—the zany, satirical slapstick show about three cartoon characters causing mayhem—returns after 22 years off the air, and it couldn’t be more welcome. It’s not an escape from reality, as the reboot leans into its political commentary, but it’s a much more colorful, joyful version of it, where nearly any problem can be solved with a giant hammer pulled out of one’s pocket. Animaniacs only wants one reaction from audiences of any age, and that’s laughs. It succeeds tremendously.

Hulu’s rebooted series maintains the same core of the original series, bringing back Steven Spielberg as a producer and many of the same voice actors, composers, and writers who created it. Each 24-minute episode block consists of three shorts of varying length, usually two starring the Warner brothers Yakko (Rob Paulsen) and Wakko (Jess Harnell), and the Warner sister, Dot (Tress MacNeille), with the middle segment going to Pinky (Paulsen) and the Brain (Laurice LaMarche). Without any narrative throughline, Animaniacs remains a show you can watch in any order and enjoy.

That’s the word that keeps coming to mind when thinking about this show: joyful. Animaniacs may not match other animated shows’ high-brow humor or enthralling stories, but it’s able to contain so much unadulterated fun that the other things I may be looking for don’t seem to matter. Hulu’s new season isn’t a reimagining of the original; it’s a continuation. And in the 22 years since they left the airwaves, the Warner Siblings haven’t missed a beat. —Joseph Stanichar



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