Last week was a tough one. TV grieved along with us at the sudden death of Kobe Bryant and eight others in a tragic helicopter crash. The Grammys, which were held at the Staples Center where the LA Lakers play, deftly reacted to Bryant’s passing. Artists ranging from host Alicia Keys to Lizzo to John Legend all paid tribute to Bryant. NBA players, stunned by shock and grief, took 8 and 24 second shot clock violations in tribute to Bryant’s jersey numbers. At times like these, TV can pull us all together. It is a medium like no other.
From a captain’s triumphant return to a Netflix series that restores our faith in reality TV, the Power Rankings this week are eclectic, and indicative of the sheer range of options available to a TV fan.
The rules for the Power Rankings 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.
Supernatural (CW), The Outsider (HBO), Work in Progress (Showtime), Shrill (Hulu), Everything’s Gonna Be Okay (Freeform) and The Good Place (NBC).
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
Netflix’s UK-based series Sex Education returns just as frank and charming and awkward as ever in Season 2, as Otis (Asa Butterfield) finds his off-books sex clinic in peril now that his mum (Gillian Anderson) has become the school’s official therapist. In true high school form, though, Otis spends most of his time being confused about whether or not he’s really in love with his girlfriend Ola (Patricia Allison) or still pining for his friend Maeve (Emma Mackey), who has her own dramas to contend with at home. This isn’t helped by the fact that Otis and Ola’s parents are also now dating. What a world! But in just eight episodes, Sex Education’s new season gets to the heart of being a high schooler in wildly entertaining form, including some very emotional subplots around Maeve’s mother return, super jock Jackson (Kedar Williams-Stirling) sabotaging his sports career, and the fantastic Eric (Ncuti Gatwa) navigating his own love triangle with two boys who could not be more different.
But alongside all of this standard (and great) teen drama is a show that actually seeks to both educate and normalize a very, very wide variety of sex practices and beliefs, in the hopes of making its teens (and adults) less insecure about their bodies and desires. (Including its best, though much darker subplot, where sweet Aimee—played by Aimee Lou Woods—must confront a trauma over an incident aboard a bus). The smart, diverse, colorful, affecting series is a great binge watch that, unexpectedly, also features so truly exceptional real estate… —Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: 6
Watch Cheer, Netflix’s new and extremely popular documentary about a nationally ranked college cheer squad centered in a small Texas town, because you were a cheerleader and/or because you want the sport to be validated. Watch it to hate on it because you have a grudge against some cheerleaders who were mean to you in high school. Or watch it because you simply want to marvel at head coach Monica Aldama’s boot collection. But, whatever brings you to the six-part series, just keep in mind that these people are very much athletes and deserve as much news stories about both championships and concussions that the football players they’re cheering on receive. Because, as they tell you multiple times in the show, this is not the movie Bring It On. —Whitney Friedlander
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
Last season, The Magicians made a bold choice to kill off the oft-presumed main character of this fantasy journey. Grief may have changed some viewers’ relationship to the show, but it hasn’t changed The Magicians. The show is still snappy fun in between magical crisis after magical crisis. The Magicians has always been about trauma, grief, and pain, and Season 4 continues that journey in a cathartic and touching way as characters process that death. Whether an individual viewer will want to watch will likely depend on how they have come to feel about his death. As Julia says in Season 3, “When things happen they leave a mark. Figuring out how to deal with it takes time.”
Characters keep trying, trying, trying to make themselves feel better when they just won’t. Margo and Eliot interact with an actual brick wall in Fillory, but they and the other characters also hit a metaphorical one. They must decide to either crash into their grief or let it go and run the other way. When something does go right and a character comes back unharmed, it felt like such a relief I could have laughed. When another decides to remember the truth instead of lying or ignoring the pain, it was a revelation.
Because it’s The Magicians, I’m sure the relief will be short lived. These bits of grace are a good reminder that life goes on, and the show must, too.—Rae Nudson
Network: BBC America
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
The producers of Planet Earth and Blue Planet are at it again, bringing us stunning nature documentary footage from across the globe. This time, the series is broken up into seven parts to represent seven continents, with a programming shift that has put the Australia episode first (so we can see what, exactly, is currently being lost in that country’s fire crisis). Though similar to other recent documentaries in some ways, and narrated once more by the legendary David Attenborough, Seven Worlds, One Planet stands out by framing its exploration of each continent’s flora and fauna with animations of how the landmasses formed and changed from Pangea onwards. Australia’s isolation has, accordingly, left it with some incredibly strange and wondrous creatures, which the documentary team examines with cutting-edge technology—including the use of drones. Prepare to be stunned by the incredible footage, and then remember to heed the calls of conservation so that these documentaries don’t become about our history rather than our present. —Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
On paper, Netflix’s new reality series The Circle seems like a disaster waiting to happen. The show follows eight contestants sent to live in a fancy apartment building who are forbidden from interacting with each other except via an in-house, Alexa-like social media platform known as “The Circle.” Their goal? Become its most popular “influencer” to win a $100,000 prize. In short, it pretty much sounds like something that could only take place in a fairly deep level of hell.
In such an anonymous, competitive atmosphere, how long could it possibly take before the contestants start telling lies, backstabbing, and sabotaging one another? Or just straight up attacking their rivals for the most petty and superficial of reasons? Viewers can’t really be blamed for tuning in expecting a complete train wreck. The real surprise is that The Circle doesn’t give them one.
Instead, the series turns expected reality television tropes on their heads, ultimately shunning catty competition and calculated betrayal in favor of genuine emotion, real friendship, and a positive message about being and accepting who you are. No matter how they choose to play, many genuine moments of authenticity and connection take place, often times in what feels like a direct contrast to everything we expect from this genre.
Yes, The Circle is the sort of silly, addictive television that most will dismiss out of hand. It’s not exactly prestige television, and it won’t reinvent the way you understand the power of drama. But it might change the way you think about people, a little bit, and how we relate to one another in this increasingly scary modern world. No matter how much it wants to be a story about technology, The Circle is a warm, wholesome reminder that humanity and sincerity matters, even in the face of that which encourages our worst selves. And that’s a reality competition worth watching. Heart emoji. Praise hands emoji. Send message.—Lacy Baugher
Network: Pop TV
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
“After an award-worthy trilogy of decades together,” Moira Rose (Catherine O’Hara) tells her daughter early in the final season of the exemplary Schitt’s Creek, “your father and I still astonish each other.” Of the many things Pop TV’s deeply empathetic comedy gets right—and make no mistake, Schitt’s Creek gets pretty much everything right—the rarest is that exact quality: astonishment. The denizens of this far-from-bustling town quietly astonish each other with great frequency; like most people, they are almost always more than they seem.
What’s most, yes, astonishing about that fact is that in its return, Dan Levy’s series remains as funny—sometimes acidly, sometimes daffily, never cheaply—as ever. It’s tempting to fold Schitt’s Creek in with excellent shows like Parks and Recreation or the rebooted One Day at a Time, warm-hearted stories about good people taking care of each other. Schitt’s is, at its heart, a story about care, and it is every bit as good as those two series. But it’s tender rather than warm, a gentle thing, as a fragile yet resilient as two beautiful wings pushing mightily to emerge from a chrysalis. Four wounded people were forced to set up camp in Schitt’s Creek, though perhaps none of them truly acknowledged their hurts. To say life in a small town healed them would be to turn Levy’s marvelous series into something much smaller and more shallow; the Rose’s found, stabilized, and even healed their wounds individually, as a family, and with the help of the people who crossed their paths. Of course, those people had wounds, too, which is something—sometimes the only thing—they all shared. —Allison Shoemaker
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
I’m not quite sure CBS knows Evil is on its network because Oh. My. God. did you see last week’s episode? I can’t believe the same network that airs like 50 different versions of NCIS is airing this meditation on evil from the same people who brought you The Good Wife. Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers) is a forensic psychologist who becomes something of a believer when she meets priest-in-training David Acosta (Colter) and tech expert Ben (Aasif Mandvi) and they begin to investigate the inexplicable. The always creepy (in the best way) Michael Emerson is also on hand as Leland Townsend, a mysterious character who epitomize the title of the series. Truly my only complaint about this drama, which gets better with each passing episode, is that may be too creepy for me. The show produces the kind of scares that stay with you long after the lights go out.—Amy Amatangelo
Network: Apple TV+
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
Boasting a robustly talented set of executive producers, including Kumail Nanjiani and Emily V. Gordon, Apple TV+’s anthology series Little America may be its best to date. Over the course of eight half-hour episodes, Little America explores immigrant stories inspired by real events that are unique and full of heart. Though each story is incredibly different in terms of time and place, the series is united by a gorgeous, cinematic style and a theme of finding one’s home—often through unconventional means. The experiences are awkward, bittersweet, funny, raw, and triumphant, as each lead character follows their heart to create a new life in a new world. Some episodes feature recognizable actors, others do not; all will basically make you cry from their wonderful storytelling.
With each episode telling a complete vignette, Little America is worth savoring instead of bingeing (even though all episodes are available now). The segments end with a picture and a micro epilogue regarding the real person at the heart of the story, putting a point on the fact that these experiences are happening all around us every day. There’s no agenda beyond a hopeful note for a country deeply divided and fueled by vitriol to be reminded of these very grounded, human stories— ones that should unite us in the varied and often beautiful tapestry of American life. —Allison Keene
Network: BBC America
Last Week’s Ranking: 9
When Doctor Who kicked off its second season with Jodie Whittaker, only the fate of the universe is at stake. The two-part Bond-inspired “Spyfall” began with Earth’s top spies getting taken out by a mysterious new threat involving a nasty trifecta: a new extra-dimensional alien race, a nefarious tech company stomping all over our privacy and one of the Doctor’s biggest nemeses. It’s a lot for the Doctor to handle, even with the help of her three trusty companions and a couple of bonus historical figures (Ada Lovelace for the win), and that was just the start. But don’t panic; the Doctor is back. —Josh Jackson
Network: CBS All Access
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
The most important thing to know about Star Trek: Picard is that while bringing back one of the franchise’s most iconic characters might seem like a deliberate retreat to the past, the CBS All Access series is much more about the new: New characters, new mysteries, and a whole new era of the Trek universe to explore.
Set in the year 2399, almost 30 years after the end of Next Generation, Jean-Luc Picard (Patrick Stewart) has lost faith in the organization to which he had devoted his life. The show begins with him in retirement/retreat at the Chateau Picard vineyard in France, spending his days puttering around the vines with his trusty pitbull Number One, and his nights dreaming of lost friends and better times.
However, the arrival of Dahj (Isa Briones), a terrified young woman who seems to know him without knowing why, pulls him out of his self-imposed exile. To go into further detail about what happens would be to spoil the show’s biggest twists. This is not an adventure-of-the-week story, but instead a mystery that only gets more complex episode by episode. And while that mystery is deeply grounded in the show’s history, it is fresh and new enough to make Trek newcomers feel somewhat welcome.
Picard isn’t above moments of nostalgia but it also features a firm commitment to moving the franchise forward not just in time, but in what kind of stories Trek is capable of telling. This is a show that is more complicated and mature than what came before, but in the best ways, ways which do not discredit the past, but show it’s always possible to change and grow—whether you’re a 79-year-old man, or a 54-year-old franchise.—Liz Shannon Miller
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