Paste Power Ranking: The 5 Best TV Shows on Right Now, from Brooklyn Nine-Nine to Sex Education

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<i>Paste</i> Power Ranking: The 5 Best TV Shows on Right Now, from <i>Brooklyn Nine-Nine</i> to <i>Sex Education</i>

If you missed the Emmy awards this past Sunday, you can check out the winners list here, and some thoughts on the ceremony as a whole here. All great shows, bless them, but now it’s time to move on to the 2022 Emmys, because folks, so much of what we have in our Top 5 and Honorable Mention this week are worth watching, talking about, and possibly rewarding with very pointy statues (or at the very least just enjoying immensely).

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 Other Two (HBO Max), The Lost Symbol (Peacock), Back to Life (Showtime), Ted Lasso (Apple TV+), Nine Perfect Strangers (Hulu), What If…? (Disney+)

5. Sex Education

Network: Netfilx
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: This show is so tender and open-hearted, and the addition of Jemima Kirke this season is great.

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There’s a lot of darkness in high school TV right now. Shows like Euphoria, Riverdale, and now the Gossip Girl reboot are filled with fashionable teenagers who just can’t get away from local murders and scandals. In this modern landscape, Sex Education shines in not just its colorful design but its joyous take on high school angst. Yes, being a teenager sucks in Season 3 of the Netflix series. But can’t it also be funny, endearing, confusing, and above all fun?

Sex Education continues to get better and better because it knows what it’s about: these awkward, funny, and hopelessly endearing characters that have found themselves intertwined. My heart aches for them because each one displays a different kind of pain that comes from growing up. The show is its own kind of therapy session by getting to see the characters deal with their problems in an (eventually) healthy way.

Is growing up embarrassing? Of course. But it’s embarrassing for everyone. Growing up is only embarrassing because we feel so strongly and passionately about everything. And while dark teenage murder mysteries are fun, I can’t overstate how wonderful it is to also see the complex emotions of maturing done so well on TV. Sex Education isn’t just unafraid of awkwardness; it embraces it earnestly and turns it into a wonderful thing.

Also Aimee gets a therapy goat, and a dog show made me cry. What other series has that? —Leila Jordan [Full Review]

4. Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Network: NBC
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
This Week: A noice ending, and the final heist was pitch-perfect.

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When I put together this list of the 9 best episodes of Brooklyn Nine-Nine, back when the long-running series had just hit its milestone 99th episode, I landed on the theory that Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s comedic strength lay primarily in iteration. Ever ready to tap old set-ups for new punchlines, Brooklyn Nine-Nine had made an art, even by then, of building (and building, and building) on its own best jokes. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” I wrote, “works to ensure that its signature gags are not repetitive, but iterative—familiar enough to invoke excitement and/or fondness, but with a fresh enough twist that the gag […] gains a new layer each time it’s called back into service.”

Which is all to say, duh—what else was this week’s blow-out series finale going to be than one last heist? It had to be! And while, sure, pretty much 99% of it was utterly predictable (the remaining 1%? Chekhov’s Kool-Aid Man), there wasn’t anything disappointing about that. Rather, all that utter predictability let Brooklyn Nine-Nine do what it’s always done best: It let the characters showcase all the growth they’ve undergone across the eight years they’ve spent honing this exact set-up, filled with these exact jokes.

Nine-nine! —Alexis Gunderson [Full Review]

3. Only Murders in the Building

Network: Hulu
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
This Week: A consistent delight.

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After 35 years of sharing stage and screen, it’s still a delight to watch Steve Martin and Martin Short work together. Now, along with Selena Gomez, they find themselves embroiled in a murder mystery. The endearing comedy follows the trio of true-crime obsessives as they try to crack a case in their shared apartment building.

The neighbors make an unlikely gang: Charles-Haden Savage (Martin) is a washed-up actor who used to star as a TV detective, and the overconfidence he has in his residual investigative skills thinly masks a deeply insecure man; Oliver Putnam (Short) contrasts Charles as a flamboyant former theater director with a big personality and even bigger debts; Mabel (a well-cast Gomez) is a stylish and quietly mysterious young woman who has more of a connection to the case than she initially lets on. But when they find out they share a suspicion that a tragic suicide in their building was actually a homicide, they decide to try their hand at uncovering the truth—and start a podcast to follow their investigation.

The series—and the podcast within—depend on our central trio being engaging, and the combination of personalities works out well; the cast is dynamic, earning laughs while slowly revealing morsels of their secretly lonely lives to each other. While our heroes like to complicate things, Only Murders in the Building itself keeps things simple; it’s a pleasant and enjoyable series that’s clearly made with a lot of heart. —Kristen Reid [Full Review]

2. Reservation Dogs

Network: FX on Hulu (included in your Hulu subscription)
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
This Week: I thought this was a comedy? So why is it breaking my heart??

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FX has found its niche in telling close-up, intimate stories extremely well, and Reservation Dogs is no exception. It focuses on four friends—Bear (D’Pharoah Woon-A-Tai), Elora (Devery Jacobs), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), and Cheese (Lane Factor)—who accidentally form an unofficial “gang” dubbed the “reservation bandits,” because of their penchant for light crime. Their hope is to get enough money to get to California, an ideal that’s always just out reach.

The lived-in, slightly surrealist comedy is a low-fi exploration of an Indigenous community in Oklahoma, whose leads shuffle around the “rez” among other misfits and sundries, and stumble into a variety of adventures that range from stealing a chip van to dealing with a snarky and overworked healthcare system. FX has touted Reservation Dogs, created by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi, as revolutionary. In many ways it is; it features an all-Indigenous writers room, for one. But the show makes its boldest statement by not feeling like it’s making a statement at all. It’s an easy-going show, foul and funny, specific and accessible. It’s not about the kids being noble heroes or crime-loving villains; they’re just people. But they are also Indigenous people, which does mean something, and is all-too-rare to see on television—especially portrayed in such a wonderfully casual way.

But more than anything, Reservation Dogs is a perfect summer series, one that takes places on languid afternoons and moves at an unhurried pace. The kids make plans, scrounge for food, wander around, get into fights. They don’t talk or act like adults, and they’re not beaten down by cynicism. They have hopes and dreams, a love for family, an un-ironic embrace of community, and make a lot of silly mistakes. To say there is an innocence or even wholesomeness to Reservation Dogs would not be to quite hit the mark on how casually crass the show can be (it is ultimately a comedy for adults); but like its leads, it has a good heart. The friends are trying their best and hold each other close, even as they rib one another for their choices. It’s this balance that the show gets so right; not overly precious nor incredibly vulgar, just truth with an edge. Or as they would say, “Love ya, bitch.” —Allison Keene [Full Review]

1. What We Do in the Shadows

Network: FX on Hulu (included in your Hulu subscription)
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This Week: A Big Bang Theory slot machine and the best episode of the season yet.

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What We Do in the Shadows Season 3 finds the vampires, as well as Guillermo, a little more introspective as they go about their daily (or nightly) routines. Just a little. They begin exploring their pasts and their very roots in new ways, and take on new, hliariously unearned positions within the Vampire Council. Expanding the show’s world in this way is the right move, giving further bizarre context to our leads so that they are more than just (excellent) punchlines and outrageous accents. Any good fantasy or supernatural series needs to come stocked with lore, and the way What We Do in the Shadows continues to weave these elements in makes the jokes land even harder.

The new season does reintroduce some other supernatural factions, but for the most part it’s interested in small stories that really play to the well-honed strengths of its cast. It’s clear that What We Do in the Shadows has a lot of confidence going into these new episodes (the show was also recently renewed for Season 4), and that it’s operating on its own terms. It does its best work that way, especially as it balances the particular strangeness of the vampire world with the everyday mundanity of ours. It’s always a treat to see the vampires move between those spaces, desecrating the ancient traditions of their kind—mostly on accident—and meeting a range of confusion, politeness, or curious acceptance when traveling to, say, Atlantic City.

When writing a review of a series that has been running for several years, the bottom line is letting entrenched viewers know if it is, indeed, still good, and to provide some general expectations. So yes, What We Do in the Shadows is still very, very good—maybe even better than ever. And if you aren’t caught up, well, there’s no better time. —Allison Keene [Full Review]

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