In our first Power Ranking of December, TV is already fully in the holiday spirit. We’ve had the Legends of Tomorrow animated special “Beebo Saves Christmas,” as well as the Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist Christmas movie, and the advent of Annie Live! on NBC.
But our regular TV shows are… perhaps not so jolly. Succession emotionally devastated us this week, Yellowjackets continues to be gleefully savage, and PEN15 is a little too accurate in its portrayal of middle school awkwardness. Remember to balance your intense TV watching with some holiday fare as well, folks! There is certainly plenty of it.
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.
The Big Leap (FOX), Ghosts (CBS), The Great (Hulu), The Wheel of Time (Amazon)
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
This Week: An iconic exploration that also shows the fracturing band living their best Paddington (tea and marmalade) life.
Growing tension between members of The Beatles at this point in their partnership isn’t a surprise as their rift during the production of their last two records is well documented, most notably in the 1970 documentary Let It Be. But for director Peter Jackson, who has taken nearly 60 hours of unseen footage shot over 21 days along with more than 150 hours of unheard audio to make the new docuseries Get Back for Disney+, this dust up is a clear sign that the fracturing of The Beatles started well before the band’s January 1969 recording sessions. The group clearly misses the focus provided by manager Brian Epstein; at one point in Get Back Paul McCartney even laments the loss of Epstein by saying, “Daddy’s gone away.”
What is surprising is finally being able to visually witness the love between The Beatles that every fan of the group has always felt in their music. The docuseries features touching moments filled with laughter, soul-shaking music, and incredible inspiration, concluding with a thrilling eight song rooftop performance that has now become iconic. It’s the first time it’s been shown in its entirety and is The Beatles last live performance as a group. For anyone who loves the band, it’ll likely be something you’ll watch over and over again. It’s also a beautiful reminder that when The Beatles come together, no band has ever been better. —Terry Terrones [Full Review]
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: The show’s junior high specificity continues to be perfectly painful.
PEN15 Season 2 Part 2 leaves us with an emotional and satisfying conclusion to the beloved series. These final episodes with Maya and Anna are fraught with conflict, ranging in importance from bat mitzvah drama and failing Dance Dance Revolution routines to Anna’s parents’ contentious divorce and Maya’s deep insecurities. Like any middle schoolers, Anna and Maya perceive every small inconvenience as a catastrophe, but no matter how immature the situation, PEN15 always approaches the girls’ perspective with immense care and respect. The years separating Maya Erskine, Anna Konkle, and Sam Zvibleman from their time in middle school haven’t trivialized junior high dramatics; instead, they’re now able to thoughtfully reflect on the impact these arguably momentary experiences are having on Maya and Anna’s lives.
Despite Maya and Anna’s surface-level conflicts throughout, PEN15 reiterates its simple core belief: that with a best friend you’ll get through anything, whether it’s the sudden death of a loved one or being taken advantage of by someone you were vulnerable with, or any of the other million problems we face in our lives, big or small. —Kristen Reid [Full Review]
Network: Apple TV+
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: Time travel, Sylvia Plath, a coming out moment… this episode had it all in typically charming style.
To be honest, there’s little to say about this third and final season of Dickinson that I didn’t already cover in my reviews of the first and second seasons. Sharp and irreverent, weird and sexy, and just anachronistic enough to have something to say without getting tiresome, Dickinson has been wholly and idiosyncratically itself since the day it premiered.
Does this final season include Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) descending into hyper-realistic daydreams, Lavinia (Anna Baryshnikov) dabbling in ever-weirder performance art, and Austin (Adrian Briscoe) chafing at the disconnect between his heart and his father’s/society’s expectations? Absolutely! Does it feature some of 2021’s most delightfully weird comedians making cameo appearances as some of the late 1800s’ most delightfully weird historical figures? I mean, obviously! Does it weave today’s slang and woke af politics into the social scene of 1862 Amherst? Slay, queen! Of course it does!
That said, Emily herself continues this season to prove a constant wash of genius and heart. Steinfeld’s sharp, zealous performance—which stands out in a field full of similarly sharp, zealous performances thanks to the raw joy with which she approaches even the deepest pits of Emily’s imagined personal inferno—makes this hope entirely multi-dimensional. It is the hope that can give Death (Wiz Khalifa), himself, hope; the hope of springtime flowers blooming, dying, rotting, then blooming again. And that, if nothing else, seems like the right note for a show like Dickinson to end on. —Alexis Gunderson [Full Review]
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
This Week: Never underestimate the savagery of teen girls. (Also Misty is next-level…)
Showtime’s new survival thriller Yellowjackets feels like such a breath of fresh air. The series is an intriguing mix of genres: part 1990s-set horror story and part modern-day mystery, with heaping doses of teenage angst and supernatural weirdness thrown on top. It honestly feels like nothing else on television right now, and though its pace is somewhat more glacial than its trailers might have initially indicated, there are moments where the tension—combined with our knowledge that many of these people aren’t going to make it out of this alive—is nigh unbearable.
The story begins in 1996 and follows the titular Yellowjackets, a New Jersey girls high school soccer team on their way to nationals. But when the private plane lent by a rich dad for the trip goes down in the Colorado mountains, they spend the next 19 months fighting to stay alive—a feat not all of them apparently accomplish. We know this because the other half of the show’s plot is set 25 years later, as several of the crash survivors (played by Juliette Lewis, Melanie Lynskey, Christina Ricci, and Tawny Cypress) find themselves visited by a nosy reporter aiming to write a book about their stories.
Ultimately, Yellowjackets is a twisty mystery that doesn’t easily give up many of its secrets, and grounds its story in a specifically female experience in a way that other series like this have never bothered to try. From awkward crushes and sexual double standards to character revelations driven by the fact that the girls’ menstrual cycles sync up… basically what I’m saying is that Lord of the Flies could never. —Lacy Baugher Milas [Full Review]
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: Dick pics and emotional devastation, naturally.
In some ways, HBO’s Succession is America’s version of The Crown. Focusing on the lavish, petty corporate overlords of a rotten cabal, the show’s machinations are both fully present and menacingly medieval. Unlike The Crown, Jesse Armstrong’s show doesn’t venerate its billionaire royal family, The Roys—it lampoons them, and exposes them as actually being as vain and stupid as they believe the bulk of America to be. In its bombastic second season, the show rose to both comedic and dramatic heights, from “Boar on the Floor” to Kendall’s season-ending mic drop that promised an explosive third outing. But Season 3 is actually more subdued, and occasionally a little too stuck in the endless tread of the Roy siblings’ backstabbing and creatively vile behavior towards one other to gain power and, most importantly, Daddy’s affection.
The essential guessing game of Succession is “what is Logan thinking?” followed by what is everyone else thinking in response to that. It creates an air of extreme anxiety, both for those involved and for viewers, because even though there are no heroes here, we want to champion someone. Even if you want to support Kendall and his genuinely good ideas about cleaning up the company if he were in power, you can’t trust him because he’s arrogant, insecure, and unstable. Along with his siblings, he’s a master of self-sabotage. The actors are all exceptional in conveying these tenuous moments when the various factions meet and clash—as the camera flits from face to face, you can see their shifting alliances even when they would never, ever admit to any of them.
It is in this way that Succession continues to be one of the best shows about royal in-fighting on TV. It’s the Wars of the Roses, it’s Machiavelli, it’s the last days of Rome. It’s addictive, but it’s also depressing. Because even in its most grandiose comedic moments, there is truth to Succession’s cynical world that makes us realize yes, these idiots are absolutely in charge of our world and no, there’s not really anything we can do about it. —Allison Keene [Full Review]
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