Unusually, we are still trucking through December with a lot of great TV shows. There will be plenty to catch up on over the holidays, including a Christmas release date for Netflix’s swoony Bridgerton, which has already inspired a Paste TV fan hive. But there are also some great series that may have flown under the radar, such as A Teacher on Hulu, which (per our review) is a series that may surprise you … but we do acknowledge that SNL’s sketch making light of it is hilarious.
But don’t forget about Network TV! Perhaps our handy guide to how 9 broadcast shows are handling their COVID-19 storylines (ranked via mask emojis) can help you decide what to watch and what to skip.
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.
Baby Chimp Rescue (BBC America), Saved By the Bell (Peacock), Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access), The Wilds (Amazon)
Network: Acorn TV
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
This Week: Lata gets a new love interest, and Maan’s rakish behavior gets him thrown out of the house.
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
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: This underrated series is even more delightful, quirky, and deeply emotional in Season 2.
Hilda’s first season dropped on Netflix in 2018 without much fanfare or press, to the point where I hadn’t even heard of the show until a few weeks ago in the lead-up to its second season. When I finally sat down to check it out, I was immediately enamored by the series’ highly imaginative and mystical world, full of lovable characters, creatures, and locations for its protagonist to explore. The beautiful, often-breathtaking animation brings to life the soft, vibrant style of the graphic novels they’re based on. Upon watching its second season, I’m pleased to report that its return is even more delightful, quirky and deeply emotional than the first time around.
Hilda’s world, set in and around the city of Trolberg, has a highly specific, difficult vibe to explain: Its locations are mystical and often perilous, yet nearly every creature is adorable and has a sort of childlike attitude to the world. It’s usually the human adults who tend to cause serious problems for the series’ titular character, with the real dangers being the adults who try to stomp out its magic.
Hilda is about the joy and freedom of being a kid, and it captures the feeling of childhood passion and wonder better than most shows I’ve ever seen, bringing all these feelings rushing back regardless of the audience’s age. Underneath its gorgeous, silly surface is a layer of sadness and sentimentality that made me cry more than once, but that doesn’t mean its world is any less joyful. Just as the magical and mundane coexist in Trolberg, so does Hilda’s beauty and sadness.
It takes something special in order to make a show that can appear creepy, funny, cute and sad all at once, but whatever that something is, Hilda’s got it in spades. —Joseph Stanichar
Network: Amazon Prime
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: Season 5 goes big by getting small.
All the pieces The Expanse fans love are still in play in Season 5, from Amos (Wes Chatham) dispassionately busting skulls to Camina Drummer (Cara Gee) glaring rail-daggers through anyone who crosses her, to Avasarala cursing her way into the highest (like, to-the-Moon highest) halls of power while dressed to the jewel-toned nines. But where fans might be expecting to see Amos bust those skulls with Holden, Naomi (Dominique Tipper), and Alex (Cas Anvar) around to keep him grounded, or Drummer glare those rail-daggers while working to help the Belters achieve peaceful stability, or Avasarala doing her power-sweeping through the halls of the UN, loving husband and/or Bobbie just a call away, this season finds them all scattered across the solar system, thrown into settings and character combinations we’ve never seen.
Now, how well this will work for you will absolutely vary. Having its core characters so dramatically isolated means that the action in Season 5 is, by necessity, much slower than a lot of fans will be used to—and The Expanse already had the capacity to be a pretty slow show. (A generous description would be meditative, but an honest one might allow for ponderous.)
That said, when it comes to The Expanse, it is still a deeply satisfying, multisensory experience, and for all that the interpersonal stories are smaller this season, it is still as beautiful to look at as ever. —Alexis Gunderson
Network: HBO Max
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
This Week: Yep, the finale stuck the landing (and we’re getting Season 2!)
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 season 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
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This Week: The finale had everything, including the introduction of a new spinoff, the reintroduction of a beloved character, and a parting shot that will haunt our hearts forever (and leaves us with a lot of questions).
Disney+’s The Mandalorian, a.k.a. “Hot Space Daddy and His Tiny Puppet Son,” a.k.a. “The Baby Yoda Show” closed up shop this week, and boy was it a doozy. But from the start, the show wasted 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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