Paste Power Ranking: The 5 Best TV Shows on Right Now, from A Suitable Boy to Discovery

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<i>Paste</i> Power Ranking: The 5 Best TV Shows on Right Now, from <i>A Suitable Boy</i> to <i>Discovery</i>

As will be explored more in-depth later this week with our list of how well TV shows are handling mentions of COVID-19, one show that is really standing out from the rest is Grey’s Anatomy. The long-running ABC series—which has seen several fan favorite characters return recently via Meredith being in a coma—included the names of those who have lost their lives to COVID-19 in the U.S. (so far, hauntingly) at the end of its broadcast last week. As our own Amy Amatangelo notes, “the message that there is a life behind every single number in these horrific statistic was a powerful one;” Radhika Menon added that it was “a gut punch.” Not every series knows how or if it should incorporate coronavirus narratives into its story (Pro Tip: They shouldn’t), but Grey’s is setting the bar for how to do it right.

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: Baby Chimp Rescue (BBC America), His Dark Materials (HBO), Big Mouth (Netflix), The Wilds (Amazon), Grey’s Anatomy (ABC)

5. Star Trek: Discovery

Network: CBS All Access
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: A solid new season continues to deliver excellent character moments.

In the 18 months that have passed since that game-changing finale dropped, fans have only been able to hope that the promise such a big swing held would ultimately pan out. I can absolutely confirm: Season 3 of Star Trek: Discovery is poised to be the series’ best yet. Moreover, I’d argue it’s poised to be the best “new” Star Trek made to date, both in terms of what CBS All Access has produced in the last few years (sorry, Picard—you’re beautiful, but confoundingly paced) and in terms of what J.J. Abrams has brought to the big screen over the last decade. It takes everything the first two seasons did best—namely, Michael and Saru’s hard-earned friendship; the deep commitment felt by everyone aboard the Discovery to both the ideals of the Federation and science; and Georgiou, just as a general agent of chaos—while dispensing entirely with all the baggage five decades of 23rd-century Star Trek storytelling that had originally weighed it down. Now stranded some 930 years in the future, Star Trek: Discovery can tell literally any story it wants.

In any case, whether you’ve been waiting 18 long months for this day, or you’ve been on the fence about giving the whole “new” Star Trek thing a shot in the first place, Discovery is finally back, and better than ever. Thank the Federation. —Alexis Gunderson

4. A Teacher

Network: FX on Hulu
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
This Week: Weekly release hasn’t been a good choice, but in this episode, we see how Eric is coping with his trauma (or failing to) in college; a standout performance by Nick Robinson.

How do you tell a story about a 30-something teacher (Kate Mara) who has a sexual relationship (read: predatory) with her high school student (Nick Robinson) well? One that presents emotional truths without suggesting outright villainy, and yet, never lets her off the hook? One that meanwhile explores the hesitant understanding of trauma by the student himself? Extremely carefully. And that is what Hannah Fidell improbably achieves, with aplomb, in A Teacher.

The 10-episode FX on Hulu series is Fidell’s expansion (and tweaking) of her 2013 indie film of the same name. But the series, with its taught half-hour structure, doesn’t feel like a movie. It leans into its episodic structure in a way that allows it to hit upon the exact story beats it finds most crucial with deadly accuracy. There is no filler here—everything is essential.

It’s admittedly hard to garner enthusiasm for a show that is ultimately about trauma and abuse, but Fidell presents this chronicle (which starts and ends with trigger warnings of grooming, as well as links to resources) in a way that never feels like either an after-school special or a glorification of its content. It is a teacher, a student, a story. If you give it a chance (despite its misleading marketing and misguided weekly episode release), A Teacher will surprise you. It feels like an easy pass, something perhaps not worth engaging in because it is so difficult to handle this subject well (and why, perhaps, should it be handled at all?) It is, however, a stunning character study that understands all of the stakes and implications of the story it is telling. And if you saw Fidell’s 2013 film, this version is very, very different, and goes further in many ways. The story is all the richer for doing so. It is a fascinating consideration, well told. And well worth your time. —Allison Keene

3. A Suitable Boy

Network: Acorn TV
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: A charming start to an epic tale.

The BBC One series, gorgeously directed by Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding), is available on Acorn TV in the U.S. and runs for six hourlong episodes. Building in both scope and emotional weight as it goes, A Suitable Boy is indeed filled with many suitable and unsuitable relationships throughout. Crossing class, religious, and prejudicial divides in 1950s India, the story introduces us to a number of interconnected families residing in Calcutta and a small village in the north. But the main focus is on Lata Mehra (Tanya Maniktala), a university student whose very Mrs. Bennett-esque mother Rupa (Mahira Kakkar) is determined to arrange a proper marriage for her.

As Lata works through her feelings for her admirers alongside her feelings of duty to her family, she is surrounded by a dizzying number of plots that investigate the social hierarchies across India, in both cities and the country. The most fascinating is that of a playful son of a politician, Maan Kapoor (Ishaan Khatter), who falls in love with a beautiful singer (Saeeda Bai, played by Tabu) many years his senior. Banished to the hinterlands to work through his own feelings and obligations, the roguish Maan (the sort who casually teases his Urdu teacher reading the Quran by asking “any good?”) ends up learning important truths about himself and is forced to finally grow up.

This only dips a toe into A Suitable Boy’s engrossing stories, which do take a little while to get going (especially after introducing so many characters and so many disparate plots to start, which means not all of the land evenly). Despite its short run, though, the series takes its time. In many ways it’s a languid meditation on love, yet simultaneously full of bustling settings and possibilities. Nair has created an atmosphere that is both foreign and familiar, full of intimate spaces and period flourishes. It’s modern, but also bound by the custom of arranged marriage that makes every relationship about much more than just the couple. —Allison Keene

2. The Flight Attendant

Network: HBO Max
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
This Week: A damn fine twist going into the finale for this wonderfully engrossing show.

The Flight Attendant, based on Chris Bohjalian’s 2018 novel of the same name, is a taut, crisp whodunit, darkly comedic and wildly suspenseful. The eight-episode series is also a true star turn for Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory), who shows off a much broader range than she ever had the opportunity to on her long-running CBS comedy. A bubbling, popcorn thriller, the cliff-hanger ending to each episode entices you to keep going; it’s HBO Max’s best reason yet for subscribing to the streaming platform.

Cuoco stars as Cassie Bowden, who jet sets from international destination to international destination. When she’s not in the sky for Imperial Airlines, she’s flying high as a party girl who drinks to the point of blacking out, is fond of one-night stands, has a gold lamé dress at the ready in her carry-on luggage, and sustains herself on a breakfast of Diet Coke and pickles. She’s a train wreck, but a train wreck who gets to work on time, is kind to children and animals, and loved by her friends. And after a whirlwind encounter with the dashing Alex Sokolov (Michiel Huisman) on a trip to Bangkok, might be on the hook for murder.

The entire story truly rests in Cuoco’s capable hands. Her knack for comic relief is securely intact, but she also easily dives into the depths of Cassie’s terror and uncertainty. Her journey is our journey. Her terror is our terror. She may be an unreliable narrator, but she’s a highly entertaining one. —Amy Amatangelo

1. The Mandalorian

Network: Disney+
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This Week: No Grogu, but we did get a Mando’s face!

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 Grogu reaction shots, 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

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