Paste Power Rankings: The 10 Best TV Shows on Right Now, from Dark Ages to WestworldIllustration by Christine Fernando and Soleil Collins TV Lists Power List
Well TV fans, you don’t need us to tell you that these are strange and scary times.
Yet there is something comforting in maintaining some semblance of normalcy amid all the chaos. TV has always provided an escape from the troubles of the real world, and we need that escape more than ever. So, as we do every week, we gather the Paste TV crew (remotely of course!) to come up with this week’s Power Rankings.
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.
Honorable Mentions: On My Block (Netflix), Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (NBC), Legacies (The CW), Everything’s Gonna Be Okay (Freeform), Better Things (FX), Devs (FX on Hulu)
10. Dispatches from Elsewhere
Last Week’s Ranking: 7
Jason Segel’s charming new series is a puzzle box: four strangers band together to try and put together clues relating to two warring secret institutes. And yet, Dispatches from Elsewhere wraps all of that up into an optimistic and charming exploration of selfhood. Like a kind of Amélie-by-way-of-Philadelphia, its central characters (played by Segel, Andre Benjamin, Sally Field, and Eve Lindley) wander the city through warm, candy-colored hidden rooms divining cryptic patterns and uncovering unexpected vistas they never knew existed—both within the visual landscape and inside their very souls. It has quite a bit in common with the late, great Lodge 49, as our heroes step outside their comfort zones to try and unpack what it all means (and what “it” even is) in sweet, earnest ways. —Allison Keene
9. Miracle Workers: Dark Ages
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
It feels like a miracle that Miracle Workers got a second season on TBS, but the fact that it’s as funny and strange as creator Simon Rich’s first oddball take on the afterlife should have comedy fans praising the heavens. This time around, Miracle Workers: Dark Ages (as the anthology series’ second entry is called) sets its hilarious cast in another setting well-worn by comedies with a British pedigree: The Middle Ages. Breakout Geraldine Viswanathan is a Shitshoveler—literally, it’s her last name—whose dad (Steve Buscemi) and local layabout prince (Daniel Radcliffe) are always getting her into something … when she’s not breaking the mold by trying to, say, read. Monty Python and the Holy Grail is a good touchstone here, with everything from old-timey doctors to executions getting a light satirical jab. The humor is quick, witty, and understated, made even more unique by the brilliantly offbeat deliveries of its stars. If ever there was a show that felt like an Eddie Izzard stand-up routine turned into a series, it would be Miracle Workers, which continues to be both one of the smartest and delightfully dumbest shows on TV. —Jacob Oller
8. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
There are certain things that are always true in the world of television. 1) It is very difficult to be as good in your seventh season as you were in your first. 2) Few shows really thrive once they are cancelled by one network and picked up by another. Brooklyn Nine-Nine, now in its seventh season and its second on NBC, is defying all the odds. It remains a hilarious workplace comedy with inside jokes and call backs, quick-witted word play and terrific physical comedy. It does all this while never making its characters too outlandish and grounding the shows plots in real human emotion. This season has found Raymond Holt (the formidable Andre Braugher) struggling with no longer being a captain while Jake (Andy Samberg) and Amy (Melissa Fumero) try for a baby. Through it all, some noice and toit hijinks ensue. I love this show more than Terry (Terry Crews) loves yogurt.—Amy Amatangelo
7. Legends of Tomorrow
Network: The CW
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
For those weary of the Arrowverse or of superhero shows in general, Legends of Tomorrow remains an intoxicating breath of fresh air. The series began by assembling a ragtag crew of characters from elsewhere in the CW’s superhero universe, and while it was always a bonkers good time, it has grown into a series that continues—even into its fifth season—to surprise and delight as one of TV’s smartest. Filled with meta humor and history-tinged hilarity as our crew of sundries travel through time to stop demons, hellspawn, magical creatures, and other power-hungry baddies from altering the past, the series will often gut-punch you with incredible emotional storylines and reveals that illustrate how wonderfully deep it all really is. The writers and actors are all clearly having a good time, and viewers can’t help but mirror that positivity and excitement. As a show that is never afraid to mix things up, cut things that aren’t working, change up entire narratives, or replace old characters as alt-timeline versions of themselves, Legends of Tomorrow continues to reinvent itself and only get better as it goes. One of TV’s best kept secrets, it’s also one you really cannot miss. (You can catch up on previous seasons on Netflix, and use this guide to figure out where to start). —Allison Keene
6. Carmen Sandiego: To Steal or Not to Steal
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
Kids these days live on screens, and while the adults in their lives know that there are plenty of downsides to that fact, it at least has the side-effect of giving them a chance to develop a more sophisticated relationship with the mechanics of storytelling than any generation to come before them. For another, Carmen Sandiego, which in its newest Netflix iteration takes the red-coated thief of Millennial viewers’ youths and transforms her into a kind of modern-day, glob-trotting Robin Hood, isn’t just any artistically daring animated family series—it’s one that boasts the exact kind of high-stakes, adrenaline-drenched narrative structure that all good “choose your own adventure” stories need. Carmen Sandiego: To Steal or Not to Steal is the plucky wunderkind who takes that hypothesis’ potential and turns it into something real. Something deep? No, not really. But something fun, for sure. And at a time when there’s so much good TV that it can easily feel like work just to think about catching up on a sliver of it, fun is all it needs to be.—Alexis Gunderson
5. Star Trek: Picard
Network: CBS All Access
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
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
Last Week’s Ranking: 9
Very well known: The McDonald’s Monopoly game.
Less well known: The fact that there were almost no legitimate major prize winners during the game’s run in the 1990s.
In their fascinating six-part HBO documentary series McMillions (styled McMillion$), writers and directors James Lee Hernandez and Brian Lazarte present a $24 million dollar crime that tangentially affected every one of us who purchased a cup or fry box with a Monopoly playing piece on it from 1989-2001. What starts as an anonymous tip to the sleepy Jacksonville FBI office turns into a twisty tale of greed and fraud that ultimately includes an undercover operation in Vegas. The best part of that last bit, in fact, is a shot of a white board in the reenactment that reads: “Vegas!! RUSE.”
It’s that kind of humor that helps keep McMillions driving pluckily along through its revealing finale, bolstered by archival footage of the video filmed as part of of the RUSE by the FBI, as well as nostalgic commercials and period-appropriate flourishes. Though this was not a victimless crime, the stakes do allow for a welcome playfulness in the series’ style, which also naturally extends to the interviewees involved in this sprawling plot. But while McMillions is a surprisingly fun examination of the con and the con men, it’s also a worthy portrayal of the toll that predatory offers take on those most vulnerable to their poisoned charms. And finding out that the grandson of one of the con men flips burgers at a McDonald’s now? Priceless. —Allison Keene
3. Better Call Saul
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
It was only recently announced that Better Call Saul would be ending with its sixth season, though it wasn’t necessarily shocking news, given that with each passing year it’s been harder for one of TV’s best shows to ignore the future it’s been creeping towards. Season 5 is smart about how it acknowledges that, specifically in regard to increasing the Breaking Bad prequel’s engagement with what came canonically before but narratively after.
The final 13-episode season will mean that Saul will have run for 63 episodes, one more than Breaking Bad. Like everything else about this show, that was a deliberate choice. That said, Season 5 of Saul doesn’t necessarily feel like the beginning of the end. Instead, it’s more like the end of the beginning, given that after the events of the Season 4 finale, Jimmy McGill has now officially embraced the Saul Goodman identity—legally and professionally, at least.
Saul is the first persona we ever saw Bob Odenkirk wear in this universe, but thanks to the four seasons that have come before, we recognize it for the mask that it is. However, Jimmy seems to be getting more comfortable with wearing it, especially when this season pushes him to make some choices that prove reminiscent of his original introduction: In the words of Jesse Pinkman, “You don’t want a criminal lawyer… you want a ‘criminal’ lawyer.”
But Better Call Saul is a show whose fundamental foundation is built on the idea that every action has consequences, seen or unseen. In comparison to The Good Place, a show all about ethical debate, Better Call Saul isn’t searching for answers: The characters might debate ideas of moral relativism, but the sure and steady hand of creators Peter Gould and Vince Gilligan knows what is right and what is wrong—and it is never afraid to reveal what can happen when that line gets crossed. —Liz Shannon Miller
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
The Hosts have left the murder-happy amusement park of carnal sin to give humanity a taste of its own medicine in Season 3 of HBO’s Westworld, where the mythical conflict of creator and creation continues to follow its tragic and violent course. Revolts against a progenitor pantheon—for example, in the Greek War of the Titans—rarely result in fuzzy feel-good fun for the victors (or those over which they rule), but like most things in the labyrinthine sci-fi, it’s the flavor rather than the fact that makes the show fun. While its ambitions have certainly changed since its first screenshot-able season encouraged fans to play Where’s Waldo in the forums, Westworld is still a good time with its looming war on the horizon—and it’s even halfway comprehensible this time around. Don’t worry! There’s still plenty to be confused about. Westworld is 100% back on its bullshit and, depending on how much you like your TV to be a rug-yanking crash course in skepticism, still presents beautiful illusion after beautiful illusion for you to doubt. Westworld at its most narratively accessible and visually unambitious. Season 3 may have expanded its story to a worldwide class conflict, but it still feels like its scope scaled down for the better as it hurdles towards a conclusion perhaps tragically predestined to reverse the power dynamics of the original park.—Jacob Oller
1. Last Week Tonight with John Oliver
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
With no studio audience, no set beyond a glass table and a blank seamless wall, John Oliver was the steadying presence we’ve all craved in this time of uncertainty. Tackling Trump’s bizarre and misguided public addresses and his administration’s failing response to its biggest challenge yet, Oliver delivers more actual helpful information during a sometimes surreal comedy set (or just by playing a Tik Tok hamster video) than Trump has during a series of frustrating deliveries. The Last Week Tonight crew is showing the world what can be accomplished even when your office and regular set are closed for coronavirus exposure. The HBO show will be on hiatus for at least a week, which is a shame. We could use John Oliver daily right now.—Josh Jackson
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