When it comes to TV, sometimes one person’s treasure is another person’s trash.
This week there were two very different shows—Modern Love and Watchmen—that conjured up equally strong opinions in very divergent directions. The shows got us all talking (a pre-requisite for the power rankings) and demonstrated how, particularly in the age of Peak TV, there’s something for every kind of viewer. We also say goodbye to three of our favorites, which had excellent season (or series?) finales this past week.
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.
Arrow (The CW), Stumptown(ABC), Peaky Blinders (Netflix) and Press (PBS).
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
Four episodes into Season Four of The Good Place, we’re already feeling a sense of urgency as the revolutionary comedy series barrels toward its ultimate conclusion—although oddly, it doesn’t always seem as if the show itself is feeling that same impetus to accelerate, even if the fate of the universe is at stake. Instead, episodes like the most recent “Tinker, Tailor, Demon, Spy” have instead been a bit on the insular side, withdrawing from the Judge’s impending decision on the fate of the human race to return to the interpersonal relationships of our beloved Soul Squad. This most recent story was almost a bottle episode, as the gang’s plans were upended by the arrival of defecting demon Glenn (Josh Siegel), who also carried a dire accusation, claiming that Michael (Ted Danson) was working to sabotage the current experiment.
That accusation, along with the kind of examination of continuity that The Good Place does so well, turned the episode into a suspicious game of cat and mouse, even as we also saw tidbits to keep fans on the hook, such as the deepening of the relationship between this version of Eleanor (Kristen Bell) and Chidi (William Jackson Harper). “Tinker, Tailor, Demon, Spy” actually turned out as a surprisingly satisfying, self-contained tale, even though it didn’t make much progress in advancing the ultimate plot, which is this “final” experiment to determine the fate of mankind. With only 10 episodes left in the series, one gets the sense that things are about to start moving very quickly, so perhaps the first quarter of this season was simply the deep breath before the plunge. —Jim Vorel
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
One of TV’s brightest gems has one of the strangest names, which means that the series may have passed you by. There’s still time! The Durrells in Corfu is in the midst of its fourth and final season in the U.S., where we will say goodbye to this English family living in Greece in the 1930s. It sounds very posh, but in fact Louisa Durrell (the exceptionally charming Keeley Hawes) moved her four children from England after the death of her husband because they were struggling financially. Life is (or was, at this time) cheap in Corfu, where the family takes up residence in a wonderfully ramshackle and remote house right on the water—which also lacks electricity or other modern conveniences. The series is loosely based on the real story of the Durrells in a trilogy written by Louisa’s youngest son Gerry (portrayed in the series by Milo Parker). Like all good TV families, they love each other, constantly yell at each other, and also mildly insult one other.
But the less known about the gentle twists the final season takes the better. Suffice it to say that the family continue to have their adventures, but the feeling of things winding down is acute in these last episodes. For those returning to the series, you will be greeted with all of the easy-going, low-key, and whimsical touchstones that have made the show so good over the years. And if you are just now considering catching up, you are in for a treat. (Durrells has a total of 26 episodes, which is not an insurmountable number even in Peak TV!) And you will be the one urging people to get past the strange names of the title (which will no longer be strange to you) and give this wonderful show a chance. It is a soothing, deeply engaging alternative to the sound of fury of so many current dramas. There’s nothing supernatural or world-ending, there’s no excessive violence or gruesome horror. It’s just a quirky little family in an unfamiliar place who bring with them a heaping amount of laughter and joy. And in doing so, Durrells has made itself an essential watch.—Allison Keene
Network: The CW
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
Ah, Legacies. The chill summer vacay vibes and post-Hope narrative resetting of the Vampire Diaries’ double-spinoff’s season opener last week was great, but it was obviously one big wind-up for this past week’s second episode, “This Year Will Be Different,” because, man, nothing quite screams Your favorite hot CW monster mash is BACK like a resurrected Hope Mikaelsen (Danielle Rose Russell) and a bearded Alaric Saltzman (Matthew Davis) teaming up in the middle of Mystic Falls’ wide-open town square to take down a rampaging, purple-blooded troll/cyclops as Hope’s unwitting phoenix ex-boyfriend sits with his back turned on a park bench not twenty feet away, bopping along to the intermittently diegetic soundtrack of Volbeat’s punk-rockabilly track, “Die to Live.” Well, I say nothing, but then I get flashes of MG (Quincy Fouse) and Kaleb (Chris Lee) further cementing their vampiric brotherly bond over girl talk and popcorn, Lizzie (Jenny Boyd) awkwardly starting to embrace her Year of Yes, and Alexis Denisof making his franchise debut as Professor Vardemus, the Salvatore School’s foppish new warlock headmaster, and the dial of my love for Julie Plec’s latest, weirdest TVD joint yet spins to way past eleven.
All this to say, in case you haven’t gotten the memo, you should be watching Legacies. Season One is on Netflix now. If you run, you might beat the next Malivore monster to the punch. — Alexis Gunderson
Network: Facebook Watch
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
The highest praise I can give Sorry for Your Loss is that it made me watch TV on Facebook, something I had avoided doing and still don’t like. But the show is just that good—raw, emotional, intense, beautiful—that it becomes a weekly necessity. The series follows Leigh Shaw (Elizabeth Olsen) as she navigates life after her husband Matt (Mamoudou Athie) suddenly passes away, an event that completely shatters her life. We first met her several months after she left her job, moved back in with her mother Amy (Janet McTeer) and sister Jules (Kelly Marie Tran), and started picking up some work at Amy’s fitness studio. But mostly Leigh is adrift, and the only person who seems to somewhat understand her pain is Matt’s brother Danny (Jovan Adepo), someone Leigh never previously got along with.
In Season Two, those dynamics are at the forefront. Almost a year has passed since Matt died, and even though the Season One finale left Leigh in a place where it seemed like she was ready to start living life on her own terms again, she remains mostly in limbo. It’s also Christmas, which exacerbates everything. All three women are spiraling, and struggling to define themselves in a world that has suddenly been so changed.
Season Two doesn’t feel quite as emotionally overwhelming as the first, which is a fair reflection of Leigh’s place in her own life (and not a negative mark against the show at all). As she starts to move forward, tentatively, so does the show. There are fits and starts in both cases, but Sorry for Your Loss continues to be an authentic and moving series. And yes, it is definitely worth watching TV on Facebook for (which is, by the way, totally free).—Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: 9
I’m not quite sure CBS knows Evil is on its network because Oh. My. God. did you see last week’s episode? The final twist was too shocking to spoil here but suffice to say 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. I’m still haunted by last week’s jaw-dropper and I think you will be too. —Amy Amatangelo
Network: Amazon Prime
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
Where can you find Anne Hathaway, Catherine Keener, Tina Fey, John Slattery, Jane Alexander, Dev Patel and the hot priest from Fleabag?
In Amazon’s delightful, surprising and poignant new eight-episode anthology series Modern Love. Based on the must-read and ever popular New York Times first person column of the same name, each installment stands alone with the vibrant city of New York with all its positives and negatives being the one recurring character. Like the column, the series explores all kinds of love — including romantic, parental, platonic and self. It examines, among other things, the tribulations of dating, the struggles of marriage, and the difficulties with raising children.
The Modern Love column ranges from 1500 to 1700 words. Getting published is highly competitive and a career pinnacle. It’s the brevity of the stories that pull the reader in. At that word count, there’s no room for filler or fluff. Every word is precise and with intent.
The episodes, which run from 28 to 34 minutes, follow the same approach. In a TV landscape full of bloated episodes, pointless dialogue and unnecessary scenes, the precise conciseness of Modern Love is nothing short of glorious. There’s no room for anything extraneous. The installments have the unique ability to instantly introduce a character to the audience and have viewers feel as if they know them intimately. I’ve watched shows for years where I feel like I know the characters less.—Amy Amatangelo
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons’ graphic novel Watchmen, like Fight Club and Starship Troopers, has a knack for getting itself misunderstood. Frankly, that’s mostly because white guys in the demographic that usually watches this kind of thing are used to a certain kind of messaging and a certain status quo interpretation. Action heroes kill stuff. It’s awesome. Rah, rah, violence. Move along, see the sequel in a year. Past behavior is hard to escape; it’s also hard to criticize without accidentally dipping back into old habits. Watchmen’s HBO sequel series from Damon Lindelof isn’t perfect in this regard, but it’s easy to watch, tough to pin down, and well worth working through.
The show becomes more and more about the traumas suffered by our progenitors, how they’ve lived on through us, and how we respond to their effects. It susses out the ways the government would attempt reparations for black Americans robbed of historical wealth—including the racist backlash against and cringe-inducing videos used to inform those receiving them. This applies to oppression and inequality, sure, but an entire episode digs into the 9/11-like aftershocks resonating into the American psyche from Ozymandius’ space squid drop on NYC. The past comes for everyone in the show.
Unlike some other prestige TV with muddled messaging, Watchmen doesn’t leave you feeling empty. The thematic throughline of the past’s haunting echoes and tangible consequences can get hammy at times, but it’s still a fascinating concept for a sequel series that nobody asked for. Clever, mean, blood-in-the-mouth humor meshes with politics warped and wild in this alt-present where Robert Redford is president and peace was forced upon the world by a murderous genius. Coping with this reality, moving on from the sins of the past, and figuring out how to find a just future—that’s a journey riddled with pitfalls, but one Watchmen makes irresistible.—Jacob Oller
Last Week’s Ranking: 8
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
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
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: 3
In a sea of Puzzle Box Television, Jim Gavin’s chilled-out, languid respite Lodge 49 offers something different. There is a mystery, about the potential existence of magical scrolls that belong to the fraternal order’s True Lodge (ones that may hold alchemical keys), and while it does drive some of the narrative, it’s all so esoteric and blissed-out that whether or not they exist is never the point. Back on Earth, Dud (Wyatt Russell), his sister Liz (Sonya Cassidy), and his lodge friend Ernie (Brent Jennings)—really everyone at the lodge—are just trying to figure their own lives out.
As such, Lodge 49 is still primarily a show about discovery: of the self, of history, of arcane knowledge. Everyone is haunted by friendly ghosts from their pasts, often in ways that make these spirit guides feel very real and tangible. They are meant, like the Knights of the Lynx Lodge, to both fought against and learned from. The show is an unhurried meditation and a quirky delight. There is something quiet and nice about a show that is, well, quiet and nice.
When Liz tells her placement counsellor at TempJoy that she feels like her life isn’t heading anywhere, nothing has been accomplished, and she has no idea what she wants or where she’s going, he replies, “from what I’ve seen, your feelings are in line with the larger work force.” That’s part of the show’s sly, winking tone that never feels at odds with its sincerity. In both cases it’s heartfelt and real. “LIFE IS GOOD!” Now get off your laurels and live it. Right after a dreamy afternoon at the beach, maybe. —Allison Keene