Once again, there is but one show that can conquer the might of Succession, and that is the excellent Only Murders in the Building, which took a bow this past week on its first season. But like the squabbling Roy siblings, who will take the crown next week? For now, enjoy this collection of some of the best TV episodes we’ve seen in long time (or until next week, probably).
Also, hey, in the sea of Netflix Honorable Mentions below, don’t forget about USA! Both Chucky and The Sinner are worth your time.
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.
Squid Game (Netflix), The Baby-Sitters Club (Netflix), Chucky (Syfy/USA), Great British Baking Show (Netflix), Maid (Netflix)
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
This Week: Yes sometimes this show is like TV vegetables, but vegetables are good for you!
Dopesick is not messing around. It can be heavy handed, but its aim is true. Over eight episodes, seven of which were available for review, the series—based on Beth Macy’s non-fiction book Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America—chronicles the rise of America’s devastating opioid epidemic through the astronomically successful sale of OxyContin. Jumping around between 1986 and 2005, the fictionalized Dopesick follows members of the Sackler family, federal regulatory agencies, and sales reps complicit in the spread of OxyContin alongside the investigators and district attorneys who have worked to stop them. Meanwhile, patients suffer gravely throughout.
Adapted by Danny Strong and directed by Barry Levinson, Dopesick is certainly not a light watch. Drenched in blues and grays and with a stoic narrative tone, the series is full of terrible, damning factoids. It’s difficult to watch, frankly, because in 2021 we know both how this all ends up and still continues on, so the tension of seeing a good doctor, who deeply cares about his patients, be taken in by the lies about the drug’s safety is agonizing.
It’s why, for all its faults and lulls, I wanted to keep watching. Every reveal is damning and essential. I wanted to quote all of it: the lies, the greed, the manipulations, the horror. No one who supported the Purdue Pharma side comes out looking good—particularly the FDA. Even those with good intentions were bamboozled, but there is no room for absolution here. When it comes to OxyContin, Dopesickis clear: there is only pain and reckoning. —Allison Keene [Full Review]
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: The excellent series returns with a shocking moment in its premiere.
HBO’s Insecure has always been a show about growth while chasing fulfillment, both personally and professionally. In Season 1, Issa’s (Issa Rae) feelings of stasis at work and in her relationship led her to lash out and threaten the bedrocks of her life; the aftermath then put her on a rocky path to self-discovery, which is still ongoing.
Over the course of four seasons, Issa, her best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji), her on-again off-again boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis), and their circle of romantic interests, friends, and coworkers have evolved from lost and confused young adults to confident, successful people who have made inroads towards achieving their life goals. But as a show about Millennials, Insecure’s final season leans into this generation’s most incisive fear: why do I still feel so far from where I should be?
As the show enters its fifth and final season, these thoughts on at the forefront. It’s not uncommon to suffer from imposter syndrome, the feeling of self-doubt that tells you that you’re somehow unworthy of your achievements. But alongside these meditations, the fun parts of Insecure are still there. The parties, the one-line zingers, the hookups and relationship drama, the mirror raps, and the humanistic portrayals of complicated friendships still fill the screen with so much heart. It’s what the show does best: it shines a light on real people living their lives and dealing with issues in authentic and believable ways. Only now, our favorite characters are committed to growing from their experiences. —Radhika Menon [Full Review]
Network: FX on Hulu (included in your Hulu subscription)
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
This Week: An unexpectedly intense episode and ending that we can’t stop thinking about.
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: 2
This Week: Poisoned donuts (?), big apartments, and a grown sibling spat in a child’s bedroom.
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]
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This Week: A fittingly fantastic finale. And Steve Martin is a national treasure.
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]
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