Paste Power Ranking: The 5 Best TV Shows on Right Now, from Mare of Easttown to Younger

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<i>Paste</i> Power Ranking: The 5 Best TV Shows on Right Now, from <i>Mare of Easttown</i> to <i>Younger</i>

Friends, we can finally report that there were a number of great premieres this week to bolster the Power Rankings. But even current series rose up to match that quality, including a Falcon and Winter Solider episode that should have (at least 90% of it) aired much earlier in its short season. Elsewhere, The Simpsons absolutely roasted Morrissey, which is the kind of calling-out we frankly need in our comedies. It’s nice to be nice, especially when social media can be so dark, but some well-written, well-placed jabs at the rich and powerful (or just celebrities in general) is something we could use a lot more of.

Fight the power! Except the Power Rankings, of course. They are infallible.

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 Moodys (FOX), The Mighty Ducks: Game Changers (Disney+), Rebel (ABC), For All Mankind (Apple TV+), Invincible (Amazon)

5. Spy City

Network: AMC+
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: A stylish old-school spy show that does the genre proud—too bad it’s hidden on AMC+

Go in with pure excitement, leave the dread behind. The best compliment I can pay the Spy City is that it feels like 10 episodes of TV jammed into six. If that sounds like a weak compliment, it’s not; it means the people who created the show really, really cared about plot, have a lot of ground to cover, and are not going to futz around in telling their story. The other very good compliment I should give: The writers of Spy City trust that you’re smart, they write to your level, and if you’re not smart and you fall behind or drop off? Too bad. Go watch Gangs of London.

The story, written by William Boyd (a renowned Scottish novelist about whom I know embarrassingly little), is that a British MI6 agent named Fielding Scott is sent to Berlin to find a mole within the ranks who won’t stop leaking critical information. His mission comes not long after he put his own career at risk when he was forced to kill another British agent in self-defense—for reasons that remain mysterious—and the two narratives eventually intertwine. As Scott, Dominic Cooper is so good that you’ll find yourself wishing he would play the character for the rest of his life. By turns brooding, calculating, arrogant, funny, reckless, charming, and ruthless, he’s about as perfect for the role as anyone could hope for. 

It will sound reductive, but when you combine the quality of Boyd’s writing and the quality of Cooper’s performance, the rest of the cast could have been played by Gilbert Gottfried wearing various wigs, set on the surface of the moon, and it would still have been a pretty good show. But it’s more than just good, because the attention to detail in all aspects is phenomenal. —Shane Ryan

4. Younger

Network: Paramount+
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: The frothy, fun show returns for its final bow.

As the saying goes, age ain’t nothing but a number. That’s a concept Younger, which moves to Paramount+ for its seventh and final season, has long played with. In the show’s original conceit, recently divorced Liza Miller (Sutton Foster, winsome as ever) quickly realized that no one wanted to hire a fortysomething woman for an entry level publishing job. So she pretended to be twentysomething (Foster is gorgeous so just go with it). As the seasons progressed, everyone from her work buddy Kelsey (Hilary Duff), to her much younger tattooed boyfriend Josh (Nico Tortorella), to her boss Charles (Peter Hermann) eventually found out. The age reveals were big and dramatic. As was the Josh/Liza/Charles love triangle that the show milked for all its worth for five seasons. Last season Charles and Liza finally got together. But, of course, that can’t last.

Led by creator and executive producer Darren Star, the show is such fizzy, fluffy fun. Once you start watching you won’t want to stop. Debi Mazar is still hilarious as Liza’s best friend Maggie Amato. Bernard gets some terrific one-liners. “I’m so glad Josh impregnated her into our lives,” she says of Josh’s ex-girlfriend Claire (Phoebe Dynevor). Even the throwaway jokes on the show are so much fun. Liza attends a fundraiser for the Children’s Literary Fund which goes by the acronym CLIT. “They better hope those kids don’t read,” Kelsey says. The dialogue is so enjoyable you can excuse the occasional awkward product placement like when everyone is gushing over Dove chocolate.

I’m still not ready to say goodbye to the series. A spinoff starring Duff’s Kelsey is in the works which honestly would be delightful. But the bottom line is that the series remains young at heart, and I just want to keep turning the pages. —Amy Amatangelo

3. Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist

Thumbnail image for zoeys-extraordinary-playlist-boty.JPG

Network: NBC
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
This Week: An important storyline about post-partum depression.

There’s nothing on TV quite like Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist.

Where else can you find exuberant musical numbers, razor sharp satire of the tech world, snappy, pop-culture infused dialogue (“You look like a sad Emma Stone Halloween costume”), groundbreaking choreography, and an eloquently honest portrayal of grief? Nowhere else, that’s where. Zoey represents all the potential network TV has to take big, creative swings and hit the mark.

In its second season, Zoey (deftly portrayed by Jane Levy)—who hears other characters inner most thoughts through song—is still reeling from the death of her father (Peter Gallagher) and faced with a daunting promotion at work while trying to decide between her two suitors Max (Skyar Astin) and Simon (John Clarence Stewart). There are some big changes (Lauren Graham is out, Harvey Guillén is in—at least for awhile), but it all works perfectly to create the kind of joyful, cathartic series we need right now. —Amy Amatangelo

2. The Falcon and The Winter Soldier

Network: Disney+
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
This Week: The show is finally doing something… a little too late. But hello, Selina Meyer!

The Falcon and the Winter Soldier may kick off with a brutal, cinematic-quality action sequence, but that’s not really what sets the tone for the MCU’s latest superhero TV show—or at least, it shouldn’t.

More interesting is that, for Sam/Falcon (Anthony Mackie) and Bucky/Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan), their time with the Avengers has been a kind of extended military tour of duty. Now, Sam is trying to reconnect with his widowed sister and her sons, and save his family’s fishing business. When they go to apply for a loan, there’s a cheeky reference to “how do [the Avengers] make money?” with no good answer. “Isn’t there some kind of Hero’s Fund?” the loan officer asks. This and the general hesitation for the loan to be approved feels like a not-so-coded reference to very real issues and biases faced by veterans, especially BIPOC veterans. Meanwhile, Bucky’s issues are largely internal. He isn’t in financial trouble, but he has no friends or family. When his therapist tells him that he’s free now, he answers “to do what?” He’s 106 years old, has no history and no life, and finds the modern world overwhelming and alienating.

Whereas Wanda Maximoff was ensconced in her own world, TFATWS is very firmly in our own. (It also presupposes a much deeper knowledge of the Marvel movies than Wanda did, with lots of casual references to them and a lack of introduction for anyone else.) Tonally it’s along the lines of The Winter Soldier and the start of Civil War, at least regarding political jockeying and America-centric military issues. That’s both good and bad. On the one hand, the series could delve into some very worthy considerations of what it means to serve, to come home, to feel unmoored by a world that has moved past you; it could even reach Wanda-levels of introspection and emotional resonance regarding consequence. On the other, it could devolve into more of how this first episode starts: Call of Duty-esque mumbo jumbo, murder, explosions. That vibe has its place (like, say, innumerable blockbusters and more than a handful of network TV shows). But six episodes is not a lot of time to spend time doing both, at least not well. The Falcon and the Winter Soldier will need to pick a side: for America’s sake, I hope it’s the right one. —Allison Keene

1. Mare of Easttown

Network: HBO
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: “Does it sound like she’s ordering a hoagie at the Wawa?” You betcha!

Is there such a thing as a sober, carefully considered obsession? If so, that’s what we encounter in the HBO limited series Mare of Easttown, a show that is ostensibly about a series of deaths in a hardscrabble Pennsylvania town, but is, in reality, about the heavy pain of being alive. The plights of our time are all on display in the series—poverty, depression, drug addiction, suicide—and the debilitating effects are handled with masterful subtlety. This is a Kate Winslet vehicle through and through, and for an actor once described as having the “soul and attitude of a jobbing actress, trapped in the body of a movie star,” here again we see her embodying a pained, difficult character who is not always sympathetic. As Mare Sheehan, police detective and former high school basketball star, she has suffered, and suffered, and suffered some more in ways that leave her defiant, sarcastic, and cynical, but too tough to be broken. It’s not an easy psychological space to occupy, but Winslet, looking appropriately haggard except in the rare cases when she decides to be beautiful—moments of hope that are almost more painful than the perpetual fatigue of reality—is more than equal to the task, carrying the show with all the brilliance you’d expect from somebody so talented. If you come to Mare for Kate Winslet, as many will, you won’t be disappointed.

There can be a nagging tendency, when depicting “strong women,” to atone for years of under-representation on the screen by turning them into invulnerable super women, conflating the two genres—drama and comic book—that should be kept separate. Mare stands out for its realistic depictions of this strength, highlighting not just the impressive resilience of its women, but the ways in which the need for this resilience takes its toll, both over time and in harsh, shattering moments. When those characters falter, or even break, it only serves to highlight that underlying strength; these are portraits written and directed by human beings with a deep understanding of how life works on the psychological margins. —Shane Ryan

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