Paste Power Rankings: The 5 Best TV Shows on Right Now, from Roll Calls to Ted Lasso

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<i>Paste</i> Power Rankings: The 5 Best TV Shows on Right Now, from Roll Calls to <i>Ted Lasso</i>

Slowly but surely, live events are making their way back to our TVs. No one is there in person to see them, but they are indeed happening in a virtual space. From the return of basketball to the Democratic National Convention, to DC’s own Comic Con-esque event “DC Fandome,” there are ways to work around a pandemic that aren’t all on Zoom (although a lot of them are still on Zoom). What it has also shown us is that the virtual space has allowed more people access to these events than in-person versions have in the past. Will that hold?

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 broad range of tastes.

Honorable Mention: We Hunt Together (Showtime), The Muppets (Disney+), Wynonna Earp (Syfy), P-Valley (Starz)

5. I May Destroy You

Network: HBO
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: One of TV’s most ambitious and affecting series.

There may be few series as difficult but as important right now as Michaela Coel’s new 12-episode HBO show I May Destroy You. The Ghanaian-British creator and star explores the pain, confusion, and eventual road to healing regarding the rape experienced by her London-based lead, Arabella. Playing out as a series of vignettes, the season is tied together by a close-knit group of friends who must confront everything from their own biases to sexual crimes perpetrated against them.

Coel is taking on a lot here, and while the journey of these friends trying to make it can feel familiar, it’s coming to audiences from a new perspective—instead of young white adults in New York, we have young black adults in London. That distinction is important in a number of ways, and Coel also leans in to the Millennial nature of it all by showing Arabella’s obsession with her social media influence and ways she seeks to monetize without being exploited (which feels impossible). There’s also an early scene where a white casting director asks Terry if she’s wearing a wig, if she can wash it, and to please take it off to show them her “real” hair. The way Terry responds (hesitant, uncomfortable, and ultimately rebuffing) mirrors in some ways the moments of assault shown in the series. It upsets her but she tries to brush it off, much like everyone else responding to controlling or aggressive behavior.

All of this adds up to a weighty, ambitious attempt to wade through incredibly difficult subject matter, but one that also seeks to balance with earnest optimism and a desire for healing. There are many, many scenes of the friends just having fun, of getting annoyed with one another, of professing their undying love. That movement back and forth, to the past and present (to an imagined future), between feelings and experiences and traumas and desires, covers some of the series’ other uncertainties in ways that are both compelling and true. But more than anything, it’s a thought-provoking work that should make us consider our own relationship to trauma, experienced by ourselves or others, as well as hopefully this new cultural awakening to the many, many different kinds of sexual assault. —Allison Keene


4. The Umbrella Academy

Network: Netflix
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
This Week: In its final week on the list, we say goodbye to our sexy trash.

The first season of Netflix’s The Umbrella Academy was a superhero series for those who don’t really like superhero shows, an exploration of family, failure and the pain associated with being asked to live up to a destiny you never asked for. For the seven Hargreeves children who comprise the titular team, their powers have generally been more of a curse than a blessing, and their resulting mental problems, various substance addictions, and general loneliness are proof positive of that. But this is a show whose whole is much more than the sum of its parts, and that is what makes all the difference.

Though the siblings seem to spend all their time running from the end of the world, the show never treats their efforts as futile. It never gives up on them, even when it occasionally appears as if they have given up on each other. And that’s oddly more comforting than ever before now, as the show returns for Season 2 amidst a real world that feels as messy and dangerous as any paradox that Number Five’s (Aidan Gallagher) time travel could accidentally create.

As usual, The Umbrella Academy soars when it’s about the relationships between our multiple leads, and Season 2 is particularly good about giving us new pairings between and among the main group. Yes, the show has multiple apocalypses, but it also never despairs. We literally see the world burning, but things never feel truly bleak. And though this is in the strictest sense a comic book adaptation, at its heart it’s really just a story about family, forgiveness, and hope. —Lacy Baugher


3. Ted Lasso

Network: Apple TV+
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
This Week: An object lesson in the humor of emotional maturity and basic decency.

Seven years ago, NBC Sports released a very funny sketch starring Jason Sudeikis as an American football coach named Ted Lasso who manages to get hired as the manager of Tottenham, one of the top soccer clubs in England’s Premier League, which is one of the best leagues in the world. The comedy is the culture clash—a shouting alpha male with a southern accent trying to figure out a totally unfamiliar sport in a strange place, too stubborn to adapt and bringing all the wrong lessons over from America. As soccer becomes more familiar in the U.S., that sketch becomes increasingly quaint, since even your average deep-south gridiron jock knows more and more all the time about the world’s most popular sport. Which makes the premise of Ted Lasso the 2020 TV show questionable; can you really translate a premise that’s thin in the first place, and extend it to a ten-episode season even as soccer becomes less and less exotic to us all the time?

Wisely, creators Sudeikis and Bill Lawrence didn’t really try. Now focused on AFC Richmond, a middling English soccer club facing relegation, the success of the show begins and ends with Sudeikis (whose Lasso is almost pathologically nice as a coach and motivator rather than tactical genius), but the rest of the cast is also superb. In short, I found it genuinely moving more than it was uproarious, although the climactic scene in the final episode might be one of the greatest athletic set pieces in comedy history, and will make any sports fan bust a gut. There’s also something very timely about the fact that the competitive drama here isn’t about winning a glorious championship, but about avoiding the shame of relegation. And yet, when faced with the unofficial AFC Richmond credo, “it’s the hope that kills you,” Lasso disagrees. “It’s the lack of hope that comes and gets you,” he tells his team, and whether or not that’s strictly correct is irrelevant. What actually matter is, do you believe? —Shane Ryan


2. Lovecraft Country

Network: HBO
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This Week: Still scary good

Lovecraft Country, an adaptation of Matt Ruff’s book of the same name, belongs more in a series of Weird Tales issues than in the current understanding of H.P. Lovecraft’s tentacle-ridden boogiemen, non-Euclidean geometry, and otherwise unknowable Old Ones. It’s a true pulp story, collected by showrunner Misha Green straight from the mill and bound with an exciting cast and setting to enrich its adventure. Savvy and sensational, you’ve never seen Lovecraft like this.

Ranging from Chicago’s South Side to the eerie East Coast where Lovecraft’s tales haunted their hapless sailors and professors, Lovecraft Country tracks the cruel magicks of legacy while pointing out at every turn that its genre’s legacy is steeped in racism. Just because Lovecraft was a racist dickhead on a cosmic scale doesn’t mean Atticus Freeman (Jonathan Majors) doesn’t love his brand of fiction. Tic and his Uncle George (Courtney B. Vance) kick off the series on a Jim Crow-defying quest to find Atticus’ missing father (Michael K. Williams)—who’s off in search of their family’s secretive and spooky “birthright”—accompanied by Tic’s childhood friend Letitia (Jurnee Smollet).

While Lovecraft Country’s plot moves fast, fast, fast—with head-spinningly quick consequences seemingly abandoned, only to manifest as high concept plots themselves—there’s so much good to hold onto that its pages turn themselves. Thanks to its perspective, the exploration of wild dreams and strange justifications of an unjust society, as well as the magical bounties residing in its oppressed corners, shines. Turns out lots of genre tropes become more interesting when the lead looks like someone other than Logan Lerman. Lovecraft Country does the work, whether through its in-universe interrogation of patriarchal systems inside of inherently racist structures, confrontation of closeted shame and the drag scene, or through utterly bomb needledrops. Each episode’s conceit is fascinating enough to deserve its own thinkpiece; each episode’s twist a shocking and gruesome delight. —Jacob Oller


1. DNC National Roll Call

What was it about the DNC roll call that was so affecting? Was it seeing a rich tapestry of Americans against the wide and varied landscape of our country proclaiming their hopes alongside enthusiastic endorsements of a Presidential nominee? Yeah, that was probably it. The “we’re in this together” of the state roll call was enough to even break through the cynicism of Twitter the night it aired. Though there were many speaker highlights throughout the Democratic National Convention, none were perhaps as deeply felt as those coming from the far-flung delegates representing this country on the ground level. From the cattle ranches of Montana to the John Lewis mural in Georgia to the calamari (!) of Rhode Island, there was a rare glimpse of optimism. It felt like, despite this politically fractured, pandemic-filled 2020, this land might actually be made for you and me. —Allison Keene



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