Even though many current TV series eschew rigid network seasons and episode counts, we’ve still been getting random clusters of great finales landing all at once over this past year. This week, in addition to a triumphant conclusion to Heels, What If…? brought its wonderfully out-of-the-box hero story to a close (for now), Evil took a bow for what has been an excellent season, and even though Ted Lasso’s finale was controversial, it still has us excited for where things could go in Season 3.
Now is the time to catch up on all of those finales and everything else on our list, by the way, because there are some heavy-hitter series landing in the next two weeks…
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.
Evil (Paramount+), The Great British Baking Show (Netflix), Maid (Netflix), Muppets Haunted Mansion (Disney+), What If…? (Disney+), Ted Lasso (Apple TV+)
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
This Week: It continues to haunt us…
Honeyed snacks, candy-colored walls, and a larger-than-life doll all sound like a child’s fantasy come to life. But inside the world of Squid Game on Netflix, innocent nostalgia comes with a body count as 456 individuals compete to the death in playground games for $45.6 billion Korean won (or $38.6 million American dollars). All on the brink of financial ruin and desperate for a way out, the players are pitted against each other by the rich and powerful for entertainment, until there’s just one victor left standing.
Though it hasn’t been out long, the South Korean drama already boasts significant accolades. It’s the first Korean show to ever top Netflix’s U.S. Top 10, it’s the platform’s number one series across the globe, and it’s currently on track to become the most popular Netflix series ever—usurping period romance Bridgerton. Created by genre-spanning filmmaker Hwang Dong-hyuk, Squid Game’s plot line will feel familiar to anyone who’s seen The Hunger Games or Battle Royale, the Japanese cult favorite that popularized the battle royale genre. Yet rather than take place in any dystopian landscape, Squid Game grounds its premise through a real-world, contemporary setting. The “last-man-standing” hook means there’s a predictability to how it all plays out, but Hwang is less concerned with subverting the battle royale formula as much as digging into the human stakes that make it tick.
Manipulated by fine print, the Squid Game competitors aren’t initially aware of the life-or-death consequences they’ve signed up for. After the first game’s mass casualties, a loophole gives them the chance to opt out from playing and return safely to their empty bank accounts. The choice seems like a no-brainer from an outside perspective. But as the essential second episode reveals, there are no good options for those on society’s margins, and a worry-free existence where money isn’t a daily stressor seems impossible to obtain. The games are bad—but who’s to say the real world isn’t worse? —Annie Lyons [Full Review]
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
This Week: A rare series that handles both horror and religion equally well.
On Midnight Mass’ Crockett Island, every islander feels rife with misfortune. The recent oil spill nearly annihilated the fish supply, tanking the island’s local fishing economy. Their homes splinter and peel in neglect to the ocean’s elements. The majority of residents have fled the island for lack of opportunity, leaving a paltry few behind. Only two ferries can take them to the mainland. Hope runs in short supply—and a major storm brews on the horizon.
Everything beyond that for this seven-episode series is a true spoiler, but what can be said is that even with its dabblings in the supernatural, Midnight Mass (created by The Haunting’s Mike Flanagan, in his most recent collaboration with Netflix), is a show that burrows inwards instead of outwards. With both the physical claustrophobia of Crockett’s setting and the internal suffering of characters placed in center stage, Midnight Mass concerns itself with horrors within: addictive tendencies, secret histories, and questions of forgiveness and belief. At one glance, it’s a series that’s mined Catholic guilt for gold. In another, it’s a measured, yet spooky take on group psychology, the need for faith in sorrow, and the ethics of leadership with such vulnerable followers, weighing whether these impulses represent human goodness, evil, or simply nothing at all.
“Blessed are those who have not seen and have believed.” Midnight Mass offers a chance for anyone to be doubting Thomas or true believer. What difference is a miracle from a supernatural event, anyway? —Katherine Smith [Full Review]
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This Week: The meta “fanfic” episode was just delightful (like this show always is).
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]
Network: FX on Hulu (included in your Hulu subscription)
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: We love it when puppets get flung, and this week did not disappoint.
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]
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
This Week: #Justice4Crystal finally arrived with this excellent finale. (Now can we please get Season 2?)
Created by Loki’s Michael Waldron—with Mike O’Malley serving as showrunner—Heels follows brothers Jack (Stephen Amell) and Ace (Alexander Ludwig) Spade as they navigate their way through the world of local, independent professional wrestling in their small, fictional Georgia hometown of Duffy. The series begins nearly a year after the shocking death of their father, “King” Tom Spade (David James Elliott), a local hero who left behind a legacy and big shoes to fill. He also left behind the family business, the Duffy Wrestling League (DWL). Family man Jack, who plays a heel in DWL and hold the company’s championship belt, takes over the responsibilities of running the promotion (booking wrestlers, writing the storylines, courting sponsors, and everything else he can possibly do to grow the DWL), while devil-may-care Ace—the promotion’s top face—has dreams of making it big in professional wrestling and finally getting out of Duffy the way Wild Bill did.
Heels is a series that sets out to not just push back the metaphorical curtain (as opposed to the literal curtain) on the world of contemporary professional wrestling, but to examine how the lines of reality can be blurred—something professional wrestling takes to another level. That’s especially true when wrestling is literally your family’s whole life, the thing that you hope puts food on the table. Heels asks the questions one would expect a show about professional wrestling to ask: When does kayfabe (the established “fake” world of wrestling) become a shoot (the real world)? When does a shoot become kayfabe? What happens when those worlds co-exist? And in the specific case of Heels, how do these characters balance work and family when both are inextricably linked? It’s territory that Heels has its characters absolutely thrive in from the very moment we meet them. —LaToya Ferguson [Full Review]
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