Paste’s Power Rankings: The 10 Best Shows on TV Right NowIllustration by Christine Fernando TV Lists Power List
All around us, people are trying to convince us it is Fall. Dunkin Donuts is all about apple cider donuts and pumpkin iced coffee. CVS is chock full of Halloween candy. And every day, emails arrive reminding us it’s time to pick out our Halloween costume.
Well we here at Paste TV aren’t having it. We are enjoying the final lazy, hazy days of summer and all that summer TV has to offer—whether it’s the return of The Affair in all its moody Montauk glory (with a side of global warming) or Succession which has us buzzing about our collective and nearly inexplicable crush on Kendall Roy.
The rules for the power list are simple: Any 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—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. We’re merciless: a bad episode can knock you right off this list. So much good TV is available right now.
Honorable Mentions: Animal Kingdom (TNT), Lodge 49 (AMC), Glow (Netflix), and This Way Up (Hulu).
Last Week’s Ranking: 8
I’m going to be honest. I’m not exactly sure what I am watching (like in a legit WTF is happening kind of way) but I kind of love how wonderful and weird this bizarro version of the iconic and beloved iconic series is. Just as the original 90210 broke the mold and set the foundation for all teen dramas to follow, this six-episode series breaks the mold on reboots and may very well inform all that follow.
Tori Spelling, Jason Priestley, Shannen Doherty, Jennie Garth, Ian Ziering,
Gabrielle Carteris, and Brian Austin Green all return to play heighten versions of themselves. They gather for the 30th anniversary of the show (technically it’s been 29 years since the show premiered by why quibble?) in Las Vegas. Tori has six children (instead of the five she has in real life) and is married to Nate (Ivan Sergei who co-starred with Spelling in the 1996 the Lifetime movie Mother, May I Sleep with Danger a.k.a. the greatest made-for-TV movie ever made). Like the real Tori, TV series Tori has big financial problems and a loving, supportive husband who just doesn’t seem to understand their monetary issues. Jennie Garth is on her third marriage and has a daughter who wants to be an actress. As in real life, Tori and Jennie are best friends and, just like in the series, it was their idea to get the gang back together.
But, like I said, it’s weird. Not as weird as the time Brandon and Dylan went to a sweat lodge or Kelly joined a cult, but close. You’re not watching them be Donna and David and Kelly and Brandon which, in many ways, is very nice. Those characters can live on as we remember them. Things start to get really bizarre, though, when the series merges this meta version of their real lives with the soap opera antics of the show’s heyday. It’s kind of genius. There’s not just the throwback music (I ,for one, appreciated hearing Color Me Badd one more time) but there are obsessive fans, devious writers, extramarital affairs and who knows what else the show has cooked up. “We’re not going to be here forever but we made something that will be,” Tori says in the premiere. Damn straight you did, Tori. Damn straight. —Amy Amatangelo
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This season of Mindhunter picks up almost exactly where Season One left off—with FBI Agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) mid panic attack at the hospital where he was getting hugged by multiple murderer Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton).
When his partner, Agent Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), picks him up from the hospital, he tells Holden to keep it to himself because the FBI may not trust him to go speak with serial killers if they know he might break down in the middle of an interview. But panic seems like the only appropriate response to what the behavioral science unit faces this season. The first three episodes of the season, directed by David Fincher, even feel like a panic attack, with darkness, fear, and paranoia coming in from every direction.
Meanwhile, the most vulnerable in society are getting hurt: children. In Atlanta, black children are disappearing, and their mothers and families are doing their best to get law enforcement to take their disappearances seriously. But the mayor doesn’t want it publicized that there may be a predator in Atlanta. And local police don’t like that the FBI is suggesting the deaths may all be connected. Powerful men open and then cut off the investigation at their own discretion, and wreck lives in the process.
Tench, Wendy and Holden are fascinated by the extremes of serial killers, and Mindhunter asks who benefits from that fascination. The perception is that it’s safe for us to consider them in a removed or academic setting, and yet, the show presents these very real crimes in gruesome detail to remind us of the humanity at stake. Holden had to relearn this lesson himself, when he tried to study Kemper on his own. He thought he could keep an intellectual distance from Kemper’s horrors, but he ended up in the arms of a man who has taken lives, viscerally reminding him of the flesh and blood that Kemper has damaged. Like Holden, the show is intentionally trying to shake viewers up instead of letting us be casual voyeurs. —Rae Nudson
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
Baskets was always both strange and funny, embracing a now rarely-seen physical comedy when it came to Chip’s (Zach Galifianakis) failures. But as it’s progressed, the series has leaned in to its sweeter side to its benefit. The change has also come as the series has moved away from the shadow of Louis CK, in the wake of his scandal, and become entirely co-creator Jonathan Krisel’s show. Krisel also directs the series, which overlays a beautiful, distinctive, and indie film-like filter to the story of what is essentially an ordinary Bakersfield family. But nothing about Baskets is ordinary, most especially its most earnest character, Chip’s mother Christine, played by Louie Anderson. Anderson has brought such a gentle, recognizable persona to Christine in the most genuine terms.
Season Four just concluded the series’ run with a muted but hopeful finale. There aren’t many shows that focus on regular, Costco-loving people going through familiar things in such extraordinarily quirky ways quite like Baskets did, and its silly, uplifting, frustrating, and charming presence will certainly be missed. As for Chip, Christine, and the rest, the future looks bright. For now, peace out! —Allison Keene
7. The Righteous Gemstones
Last Week’s Ranking: 7
In HBO’s new comedy The Righteous Gemstones, Danny McBride plays Jesse, the oldest son of the Gemstone clan of showbiz preachers, the flamboyant heir apparent to his legendary father Eli, who’s played with equal parts solemnity and menace by John Goodman. Eli turned the gospel into a chain store, opening up churches throughout the Southeast, and bringing his whole family into the business. In addition to the permed Jesse, there’s Adam DeVine’s Kelvin, who has the fauxhawk and designer jeans of a Christian pop star, and daughter Judy, who chafes at her family’s unwillingness to treat her as an equal, and who’s played by Vice Principals’ breakout star Edi Patterson. Jennifer Nettles of the band Sugarland cameos in flashbacks as the family’s now-dead (and very Tammy Faye-esque) matriarch, whose passing weighs especially heavy on Eli.
It’s not saying much to call a TV family dysfunctional, but the Gemstone children are immediately introduced as being uniquely fractious. They present a united front on TV or in front of their parishioners, who they openly treat as marks behind the scenes, but don’t try to hide their contempt for and disappointment with one another when the cameras are off. Much of what makes the show so enjoyable is the way these three gifted comic actors play off one another as their entire world threatens to unravel. As with McBride’s previous HBO shows, Gemstones delicately balances the ridiculous and extreme with surprisingly subtle character moments that keeps the show from drifting too far away from legitimate emotion and humanity. Even McBride’s Jesse, who is largely a hateful blowhard who deserves every bad thing that happens to him, has moments of levity and regret that humanize him; his relationship with his children might be terrible, but he earnestly seems to want their love and respect, even as he blows everything up again. It’s a worthy addition to McBride’s HBO oeuvre—another messy, honest, exaggerated and realistic look at Southern charlatans desperate for fame, power, and success in a modern South that can too easily fall prey to their schemes. Praise the Lord and pass the loot, indeed. —Garrett Martin
6. The Affair
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
The Affair has always been a fascinating show to watch because much like its characters, it has never feared following its instincts down the wildest paths possible, even if those instincts lead to some terrible choices. Since the first season, the series has broadened its focus beyond the complicated lives of Noah (Dominic West) and Alison (Ruth Wilson), whose initial affair during a moody Montauk summer kicked off a chain of events which includes vehicular homicide, drug dealing, a “you’re not the father” storyline worthy of Maury Povich, jail time, an interlude in Paris, Brendan Fraser, the shocking death of a key protagonist, and, of course, so many more affairs than the singular nature of the title would indicate.
The biggest twist so far has been common knowledge for a while, ever since the announcement that Anna Paquin would be joining the cast in the role of Joanie Lockhart—Cole (Joshua Jackson) and Alison’s grown-up daughter—meaning that at least one section of the show would take place decades from the present day. The first three episodes only begin to ease us into the future world in which Joanie lives, where the technology is advanced but the climate is on the brink of collapse, and there’s clearly more to come as Joanie returns to Montauk to explore her past. But in these early appearances, Paquin’s performance fits perfectly into the show’s emotionally raw vibe, communicating the same existential dissatisfaction that does, in fact, echo the mother she never got to grow up knowing. And so far, the production design and near-future details dropped into the background have just the right degree of subtlety to not overwhelm the human drama in play.
But with watching four seasons of this show, and readying to see its final chapters, comes a reminder of the only true thing this show believes in: there is no such thing as the truth. It’s an undercurrent which can sweep you away into an ocean of uncertainty; hopefully, this final season of The Affair finds a way to remain true to that ethos, while also delivering an ending that may not reveal all, but still proves satisfying.—Liz Shannon Miller
5. The Terror: Infamy
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
There is no shame, in good times or bad, in craving light, escapist fare. If you need less Chernobyl and more Holey Moley in your life, that’s fine. And if that is you, then there’s good news and bad news with regard to Infamy, the evocative, chilling second season of AMC’s anthology series, The Terror. So here’s the good news: Showrunner Alexander Woo and his team have crafted a hell of a ghost story (or, more accurately, a kaidan), continuing the first season’s knack for mixing together mythology, ambiguity, genre, and striking imagery to chill the bones. If you want a good scare, you’re in great shape. The bad news—and it’s only bad news if you don’t have it in you to confront the horrors of the real world—is that no ghost could be more unsettling than the historical and depressingly everyday nightmares that The Terror has in store. In this case, the historical event being explored is an American (and sadly timely) one: the internment of Japanese Americans in camps during the Second World War.
If the body horror or creeping dead don’t turn your stomach sour, the reminder of the ugliness of the past (and the present) surely will. But if you’re ready and willing to experience it, the rewards are considerable. It’s captivating, provoking and complex, as eager to earn your stunned silence as it is to send you pushing back from the television in revulsion. Most importantly, it never sacrifices story and especially character in pursuit of those reactions. The Terror might use terror (and its cousin, dread) to unlock doors in your stomach and psyche, but it’s not a parlor trick. There are horrors of worlds beyond ours, and horrors of our own making. By confronting its characters with both, Woo and AMC make the latter much, much harder to ignore.—Allison Shoemaker
4. David Makes Man
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
Expectations are the last thing you should be bringing into OWN’s first original teen-centric series. David Makes Man transcends expectations. It transcends genre. It just… transcends. Much of this transcendence is due, of course, to creator Tarell Alvin McCraney’s particular line of naturalistic poetic genius. If you’ve seen Moonlight or High Flying Bird or Choir Boy, the fact that young David Young’s story both defies easy description and delivers deeply human realness on every page won’t be a surprise. But while David Makes Man would be excellent no matter how it traveled from McCraney’s imagination to OWN’s screen, the version we get to watch rises to exceptional thanks to the presence of two things: Akili McDowell’s astounding work as teen hero David (a.k.a. DJ / Dai), and the textural shimmer of the team’s dreamy, innovative visual style.
So much of David Makes Man depends on the inner churn David experiences as he tries to balance the daily struggle to survive life in the Ville without falling into the drug-dealing world that got his deceased father-figure killed, the academic expectations that seem to exist in a vacuum at the magnet school he buses to every day, and the quotidian social pressures to fit in and not be weird (slash, not be embarrassed by his corny-ass mom) that every middle-schooler in human history has had to face. More often than not, McDowell is asked to communicate that tightrope walk with just his eyes, or his balled fists, or his quicksilver mask of a school-day grin. It’s so much, but McDowell delivers every detail with such heartfelt naturalism that it’s hard to remember David isn’t real. It’s genuinely astounding. —Alexis Gunderson
3. On Becoming a God in Central Florida
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
On Becoming a God in Central Florida is the next bold career choice for Kirsten Dunst, one that only confirms that there is arguably a Kirsten Dunst role for every day of the week or emotional state. The series is set in an “Orlando adjacent” town in 1992 where Dunst’s Krystal Stubbs, a water park employee and former beauty pageant queen, sets out to take down FAM (Founders American Merchandise), the multi-billion dollar multi-level marketing scam that brainwashed her husband Travis (Alexander Skarsgård) and ultimately ended up ruining her family and home life. Specifically, the Garbeau System of FAM, created by a Colonel Sanders-doppelganger in the form of Obie Garbeau II (Ted Levine).
Created by newcomers Robert Funke and Matt Lutsky—in their first major project and especially first-ever television show— and bounced around from ABC to AMC to YouTube Premium to Showtime, On Becoming a God in Central Florida is a series that caused me to, numerous times as I watched the first season, write in my notes, “What is this show?” But it was always in a good way, as I found myself in awe of what I was watching. With every hard left turn and 180 the series takes, the tone somehow manages to remain consistent. In fact, even through its trippier moments—like Krystal’s bird disease-driven “odyssey” in the fourth episode or in the introduction of Louise Garbeau’s (Sharon Lawrence) therapy method—the series continues to play them straight (or at least on the same level) as everything else in the show; no character ever addresses those bizarre moments. That’s a point that can make it easy to miss certain jokes and gags at first, but On Becoming a God in Central Florida excels because of how subtle it is—despite being a show whose very premise of Florida, the ‘90s, and pyramid schemes (and really, cults in general) suggests that “subtlety” is a concept that’s out the window altogether. This is not a series that is in a rush, even if the “get-rich-quick” component would make it seem so.
While On Becoming a God in Central Florida could easily work as a limited series—with a final scene that could easily be answered by the series co-creators in postmortems if it doesn’t make it past the first season—it also creates a perfect concept for a second, with an unexpected potential for the future from a show that took a while to even find the right home.—LaToya Ferguson
Last Week’s Ranking: 6
The category is: Summer’s Best Shows. In its second season, the FX drama, set against the backdrop of Madonna’s “Vogue,” dives deeper and more tragically into the reality of the trans community in the early 90s. It’s an unflinching look at the ongoing fight and struggle for acceptance and equal rights. Yet there’s still so much joy in the series. From the delight of a dance audition to Elektra’s (Dominque Jackson) ever-fabulous put-downs, to the weekly ballroom competitions, the series never fails to delight. Special shout out to MJ Rodriquez, whose Blanca is the true heart of the series. More than anything, Pose reminds us that family is often the one you make, not the one you are born into, and that there’s nothing like having the support of the ones you love.—Amy Amatangelo
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
HBO’s Succession, from creator Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show, The Thick of It) is dressed up as a prestige drama, but it’s actually one of TV’s most acid comedies. Once you embrace that, Succession unlocks as a never-ending battle of power and prestige with medieval royal overtones that is also wonderfully aware of how absurd that kind of story is. As one observer of the Roy family comments, “watching you people melt down is the most deeply satisfying activity on planet Earth.”
In Season Two, Logan (Brian Cox) is back in full health and full power, having survived and subverted Kendall’s (Jeremy Strong) late-season attempts at a coup—incidentally, one of TV’s most horrifically sad sequences of events. It left Kendall completely broken, a dead-eyed robot who now lives in service to his father’s wishes. But all of the spoiled siblings are cowed (except for Connor (Alan Ruck), still deludedly considering a Presidential bid) with Logan’s return. He’s a bully, frightening even his oldest friends, yet knows exactly how to emotionally manipulate everyone back into his thrall. They may complain and privately plot against him, but no one dares speak a word to disfavor them in his presence.
Succession is not made to be binge watched. It’s engrossing, as a world that’s easy to immerse oneself in, but there is a kind of shadowy, icky feeling that follows you when you’ve consumed too much. That’s not the show’s fault; it’s easy to laugh at Tom (Matthew Macfayden) getting upset that he’s “not in the right panic room!” when he discovers Shiv (Sarah Snook) is in a more posh stronghold, but seeing Waystar encourage a dotcom to not unionize before gutting them, or how even a supposedly ethical organization might well sell out to partisan interests when there’s enough money is just depressingly real. Succession is a combination of Tom’s exclamation “what a weird family!” and Logan’s “Money wins. Here’s to us.” And it has us fully in its thrall.—Allison Keene