Not only is there no way we could watch all the TV there is right now, there’s also no way we could pay for it all. Every day seems to bring a new streaming service. (Although, we here at Paste TV remain unconvinced that Quibi is actually a thing.)
One tech disruptor took on the streaming platforms and made our list this week. While the talk of coronavirus dominated the news, we took comfort in the stellar episodes some of our favorite series offered up this 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.
Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (NBC), Miracle Workers Dark Ages (TBS), The Sinner (USA), Everything’s Gonna Be Okay (Freeform), Better Things (FX)
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Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
If you haven’t heard of tech… erm, disruptor?… MSCHF, it’s not for their want of trying. Not really a company that sells things (though they have), or one that makes things (though they have), or one that can even be defined by a single identity at all, their business is going BIG and HARD and CHAOTIC, so long as whatever idea they go all in on, it gets a lot of attention.
With their latest drop (as they call these experiments), the six-channel ‘pirate’ streaming site allthestreams.fm, they’ve certainly got ours. Hosted in Micronesia and featuring a retro design that includes a skeuomorphic CRT screen design when the video is minimized, an old-fashioned frequency dial to switch between streamers, and a series of explosively silly 90s-esque commercials for itself in which a man with a Jamaican accent hypes up viewers as random intervals, the site—which went up early Monday, and as of publication was still going strong, nary a C&D notice in sight—gives anyone with an internet connection the opportunity to watch over a stranger’s shoulder as they screen-share whatever they’ve chosen to stream on with their own subscriptions to Hulu (currently airing Atlanta, after a night of Daria and a full day of Kardashians), Disney+ (The Mandalorian, Wall-E, Black Panther), Netflix (The Office, then Snowpiercer, now Parks and Rec), HBO Now (GoT, The Two Popes, Euphoria), Prime Video (The Boys, Monk, Mr. Robot) and Showtime (Dexter, Penny Dreadful, Billions). At its peak on Monday afternoon, the total viewer count (kept in a digital readout in the top right corner of the desktop version of the site) crested around 289,000, settling closer to 230k in the day+ since.
On their own, of course, none of these shows would make the cut to be included in this week’s Power Ranking—either they’re too old (The Mandalorian), movies (Aladdin), or, like, way too old (Monk???). As an aggregate, though, what the site manages to do, stripping away as it does all semblance of user experience and limiting each viewer’s programming options to the choices six strangers have already made, is level the playing field so that what we think of as appointment-viewing prestige shows becomes indistinguishable from daytime television blocks of syndicated reruns. Honestly, throw a Supernatural block up on Netflix, or a Phineas & Ferb block up on Disney+, and the result will be almost indistinguishable from turning on your actual television any given weekday afternoon (and then losing the remote). For the general public, this level of chaos is meant just to be fun. But from where we at Paste TV are sitting, professionally living and dying by the whims of the streaming giants, it’s both disorienting and fascinating. I hope it stays up forever. —Alexis Gunderson
Last Week’s Ranking: 10
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 in its first three episodes, 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. —Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
There’s something calming about writing a review of a show which you know is going to be polarizing—not because of its quality, but because it is so keenly honed to be exactly what it’s meant to be that it’s hard to find fault with its choices. This is basically the best way of saying that the only controversial thing about FX’s Devs is whether or not you’re going to like it. There’s a very good chance you might not! But that is because while on every technical level it’s very well made, this is a show that has no interest in catering to the audience’s appreciation. Either you’re in or you’re out, and you get a sense when watching that if you’re out, Devs has no hard feelings.
The series begins with the introduction of technologically brilliant Lily (Sonoya Mizuno) and her sweet boyfriend Sergei (Karl Glusman), who live in a truly gorgeous San Francisco apartment but ride the company shuttle to the wooded suburban offices of Amaya. It’s a Google-esque operation which has an ultra-secret project knows as Devs in the works, one which Sergei hopes to join. But Sergei’s motives, not to mention the Devs project, speak to hidden dangers … And that’s about as far as one can get in describing the plot of this show, before spoiling its earliest twists. (And boy, does Devs sling about some twists.) But one can tease that what, exactly, the Devs project is hoping to achieve is a massive undercurrent of the series, one which carries with it such weight that things like treason and murder don’t feel proportionally out of place.
However, truth is very different from dreams—much like the environments Devs creates on screen are from reality. In our world, things might get a little messier, a little bleaker; but no less interesting, for better or worse. Devs has its elements of mess, all carefully cultivated by Garland to up the stakes, and some of them are haunting. This is one of those “limited series unless someone says otherwise” shows, and having watched all eight episodes, it does feel like a complete narrative.
But also, one thing that’s known about any piece of technology is that it’s hard to kill. Devs is far from obsolete today, and in the future it might have more to say.—Liz Shannon Miller
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
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
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
As our own Keri Lumm said of Outlander’s new season, it feels like a warm hug of familiarity. But after kicking off with the joy of a wedding, Outlander soon movies into worthy and complicated considerations of living in the past while having modern knowledge—particularly of medicine that could help your family and community. As Claire (Caitriona Balfe) expands her medical practice, Jamie (Sam Heughan) must wrestle with promises he’s made to the Crown in order to keep his American land where his family has made a homestead. The America Revolution inches closer, with the Frasers at the center of it all, of course. But Outlander is at its best when its focusing on the personal stories (including one surprisingly horrific story detour that may also be one of the show’s most outstanding) within these larger historical contexts, most especially the partnership and enduring romance between Jamie and Claire, which remains TV’s most loving and aspirational. —Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
Castlevania has escaped Dracula’s thrall. The big bad vampire lording over the land (and the monstrous spookery taking place in its darkest shadows) fell in the penultimate episode of the Netflix show’s second season—and, in the aftermath of Dracula’s death, all that’s really changed for the world of Castlevania is that there’s a power vacuum in Eastern Europe and its central characters have lost their external purpose. “If you don’t have your own story, you become part of someone else’s,” a mysterious Caribbean captain (Lance Reddick) tells the wandering, revenge-hungry forgemaster Isaac (Adetokumboh M’Cormack) midway through Powerhouse Animation’s latest 10 episodes. The third season of Castlevania acknowledges the futility of its original premise’s quest (killing Dracula) and finds power in redefining its characters, free from the darkness of an iconic monster’s shadow. Killing Dracula and moving on was the best thing the show could’ve done. With R-rated novelty fading from the violence, sex, and profanity, Castlevania’s third season found its latest way to be fresh: by showing its characters that it’s no longer a videogame, and that life is only harder after the final boss falls.—Jacob Oller
Network: CBS All Access
Last Week’s Ranking: 7
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: 4
Of the many things we will miss about having Elizabeth Warren as a presidential candidate, Kate McKinnon’s inspired impersonation of the take-no-prisoners Massachusetts senator is high on the list. Fact met fiction when Warren guest starred as herself on the late-night sketch show. Warren’s comic timing was impeccable (“I was the dog” she deadpanned.) and her ability to make us all laugh after a tough political week was most welcome. Add in the return of former cast member Rachel Dratch’s Debbie Downer (a character primed for the coronavirus), Cecily Strong’s Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started a Conversation With at a Party (who had lots to say about the “Qdoba virus”) and McKinnon covering herself in saran wrap in one sketch and Saturday Night Live took on the burgeoning global pandemic with aplomb. —Amy Amatangelo
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
No matter how you feel about Hulu’s documentary, the fact that it even happened was big news in terms of premieres this week. In director Nanette Burstein’s ambitious four-part series, there is footage pulled together from Clinton’s historic 2016 presidential campaign, her time as President Obama’s Secretary of State, her early days in the White House as First Lady, alongside even fuzzier, more personal footage from before her time in politics: her 1969 commencement speech at Wellesley, her time at Yale Law School, and even some clips from her early childhood growing up in the Illinois suburbs back in the 1950s. Clinton is noble and intelligent and untouchable in the way public figures’ public images tend to be. Burstein conducts interviews with everyone, from Clinton’s former campaign managers, to her husband Bill, to her childhood friends, to members of the press, to Clinton herself. It’s a thorough exploration of the political and societal factors that impacted Clinton’s rise to power, and her ultimate fall from would-be grace. It is meant to show how forces outside of Clinton’s control tried to tear her down (namely, misogyny), and how she became a martyr in the press. But also, ultimately, how her biggest flaw was (and is) how she has a “responsibility gene” that prevents her from showcasing the “greatness of spirit” that the public naturally craves.
It also feels disjointed to experience so many different iterations of a person who never quite speaks freely (the most unfiltered she gets is when she talks trash about Bernie Sanders, whom she calls a “career politician” that “nobody likes”), when the ultimate message of the entire documentary is about how she herself is the target of “constant character assault.” Then there’s also the selective omissions—in the fourth and final episode of the documentary, footage of Clinton on the actual night of the devastating 2016 elections is noticeably absent. “I don’t think anyone wants to see that,” she quips distractedly while typing away on her phone. But, in fact, that’s exactly what viewers would want to see: the relatable, human breakdown that comes after three-and-a-half hours’ worth of build-up to that one crucial moment. This could have made all the difference.—Joyce Chen
Last Week’s Ranking: 6
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
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