Eventually, COVID-related production delays may affect the number TV shows premiering. But not as of yet! April has been filled with new and returning shows, meaning that our Honorable Mentions list is stuffed with (glorious) leftovers that didn’t quite make the cut this week. Scripted TV may be at its peak, but it’s hard to compete with Disney singalongs and Michael Jordan documentaries.
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. And be sure to check out our new section, This Week, which explains the show’s rank on the list.
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.
Killing Eve (BBC America), Insecure (HBO), Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist (NBC), Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO), Belgravia (Epix), Bosch (Amazon Prime).
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: The most hilarious episode of the season gave Holt and Kevin a chance to go full John Wick after their fluffy boy is kidnapped.
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
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
This Week: Even more chemistry than Breaking Bad!
Who hasn’t, at some point, fantasized about just running off and leaving it all behind? No time to pack, no time to think, just go. That is, essentially, the premise of HBO’s new half-hour series Run. Merritt Wever and Domhnall Gleeson star as a pair of college exes (Ruby and Billy) who, 17 years later, are making good on a promise that if one texted “RUN” to the other and they responded in kind, they would do just that. Their plan—involving planes, trains, and automobiles—thus ensues over the course of a week, where the duo then decide to stay together or never see each other again.
It sounds glamorous, but the reality is anything but. Slowly, we learn the truth about Billy and Ruby’s lives outside of this adventure, and where they are now (at the age of mid-30s-ish). Most of the early episodes take place on a cross-country Amtrak train, a wonderful cramped space that director Kate Dennis incorporates into the beats of the story itself. There are moments of fantasy or excitement, but mostly the interactions (between two people who have been apart for almost two decades) are believably awkward. There’s a lot of emotional honesty hidden between their conversations though, as they flirt with the natural rapport of people who were once in love yet hold back so many truths about themselves.
When Run is at its most authentic, it truly shines as a character study, honestly searching for how something so outlandish would really work. In those moments, it never shies away from the truth that we can’t run from ourselves, and Wever and Gleeson plays that sadness with aplomb. But again, once things start spiraling so out of control that it reaches territory that can never be undone in these characters’ lives, it has the potential to lose some of that authenticity as it moves towards bigger and bigger moments (it’s the same problem Killing Eve has had as it’s continued). In Wever and Gleeson we trust, though, as we watch two people do everything we, at the moment, cannot: Get on trains, share small spaces, and just run away from it all. —Allison Keene
Network: CBS All Access
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This Week:What is Memo 618? Plus, the return of David Lee and a Spin City mini-reunion
What is Memo 618? After kicking off the fourth season with Diane’s (Christine Baranski) trippy hallucination that Hillary Clinton actually won in 2016 (not, it turns out, as wonderful as we would have thought), the CBS All Access drama launched its season-long mystery of “What is memo 618 and what does it mean?” Reddick, Boseman & Lockhart has joined forces with a much bigger, much more powerful firm headed by Gavin Firth (comedy veteran John Larroquette at his smarmiest). The new firm is fond of gargoyles and, in a running gag, really likes their dogs. Along the way there’s the delightful return of divorce lawyer David Lee (Zach Grenier), the beloved nemesis of The Good Wife and Michael J. Fox’s conniving Louis Canning. Lucca (Cush Jumbo) has a new best friend she might not need in wealthy cosmetic mogul Bianca Skye (Chasten Harmon), and Julius (Michael Boatman) is finding that being a federal judge is not all that he dreamed of. Fret not! Diane and her fabulous statement necklaces are ready to well, fight the good fight in the search for the truth. Over two series and 11 seasons, creators Michelle and Robert King have crafted worlds rich in beloved characters and ripe with intriguing plots. Its smart humor zigs and zags throughout each installment. Like its predecessor, the series works as a political drama, an interpersonal one, and even as a case of the week. But more than anything, The Good Fight continues to provide the group therapy we all need to deal with the current administration. It’s the fever dream we’ve all been waiting for.—Amy Amatangelo
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: Flawed but fascinating, this documentary (featuring “former Chicago resident” Barack Obama) was the talk of the Twitterverse.
Unlike Playing For Keeps, the excellent Michael Jordan book by the late Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and author David Halberstam, ESPN’s documentary The Last Dancecomes with Jordan’s participation. That means the first two episodes were surface-deep, and a little bit reductive. And yet … they were also utterly compelling. If that sounds paradoxical, it’s because Michael Jordan himself is so fascinating that even the most basic story of his life can’t fail to compel. What defines the Jordan legend, more than his greatness at basketball and more than his championships, is his pathological competitiveness. It’s impossible to overstate the relentless, furious internal engine that drove him, and the viciousness of his all-consuming drive to be the best. He could be cruel to his teammates and opponents, but it was always in the service of winning, of dominating.
On these terms, The Last Dance succeeds marvelously, and you can bet I will be watching all 10 episodes. There is a degree to which, in 2020, Michael Jordan is a comfort food for Americans of a certain age who were awe-struck children when he was at the height of his powers. There can only be one Michael Jordan, and ESPN’s documentary will deal almost exclusively with the story we already know—the one about the consummate winner who overcame every obstacle on the court. I’ll enjoy that quite a lot for what it is, because the Jordan story is unmissable in any version, and the images are stunning (one major reason to watch is to relive his most famous moments, and for something that no book could deliver—a visual reminder of his physical gifts). And yet, there’s no escaping the conclusion that this is all a re-tread, slickly made as it may be. The soul of this man is still locked away, and these filmmakers, perhaps bound by the limits of what ESPN and Jordan himself will abide, are not the ones to use, or even find, the key.
As life grows more uncertain, there’s a part of us—of me—that would forgive everything in the face of that certainty. Jordan is a safe way to indulge in the nostalgic fantasy of permanence, of inevitable victory. —Shane Ryan
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: A winner for families and Disney devotees—now when is the next one?
Turns out we all needed a spoonful of sugar. Disney used its considerable access to a swath of talent to present a delightful hour of stars singing their favorite Disney tunes from their homes. There was Donny Osmond singing Mulan’s “I’ll Make a Man Out of You” with his grandchildren (happy tears!); Josh Gad, Luke Evans and Alan Menken performing “Gaston” from Beauty & the Beast; and Derek Hough, Julianne Hough and Hayley Erbert doing a delightfully energetic and special-effects filled rendition of “Be Our Guest” from Beauty & the Beast. Oh you wanted more? I give you Moana herself (Auli’I Cravalho) singing “How Far I’ll Go” and surprise guest Beyonce with an extreme close-up take on “When You Wish Upon a Star.” The whole thing ended with the cast of High School Musical reuniting for “We’re All In This Together.” Led by unflappable and adaptable host Ryan Seacrest (is there any show he’s not on these days?), it was an hour truly filled with joy that both children and their parents deeply needed. Oh, and let’s not forget the kitchen envy that could be had by watching. The Disney songbook is deep, and this special scratched the surface of the tunes that could be sung. Here’s hoping they make this, at the very least, a monthly occurrence. —Amy Amatangelo
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
This Week: Adventure! Romance! Peril! The best kind of Outlander episode.
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: Honorable Mention
This Week: Unfairly overlooked, this is one of TV’s sweetest and most emotionally fulfilling shows.
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: Not Eligible
This Week: One of our staff’s favorite shows remains a very silly salve amidst serious streaming TV.
In its first season on FX, What We Do in the Shadows took Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi’s film to a delightfully banal Staten Island. It was a laid-back good time filled with the hilarious injection of out-of-touch vampires Nandor (Kayvan Novak), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), and Laszlo (Matt Berry) into the land of the living. Things are still hilariously dull in Season 2, but the jokes don’t need too much energy—or even have to be that funny. In the long-nailed hands of these undead roommates, even a protracted “updog” bit slays.
What We Do in the Shadows’ new episodes begin by slowly settling into a sitcom. Still, the groundwork laid last season helps this one stay low-key. We stay in the mansion more. The bigger visual gags aren’t massive setpieces, but sustained silliness. Novak, Berry, Demetriou, and Mark Proksch as energy vampire Colin Robinson sell entire scenes with a look and a deadpan, even if it’s something as high concept as the vampires finding out they’ve all got ghosts of themselves. Nandor’s familiar, Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), is the show’s dynamic center, and it is upon his sagging shoulders that the new season’s plot rests, as he grapples with his genetic predisposition to slay vampires as a descendant of Van Helsing.
Since the undead housemates are still wanted by the Vampire Council, the possibility is still there for a cameo-laden episode later in the season. However, the swaggering silliness of the first episodes shows the acceptance of a smaller, more sustainable comedy that’s less concerned about plotting the future of the undead and more about un-living in the moment. —Jacob Oller
Last Week’s Ranking: 7
This Week: Kim. Damn. Wexler. (And one of TV’s most anxiety-inducing scenes ever).
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
This Week: An excellent period piece that is exceptionally relevant today (and don’t miss those historical parallels to the Warren and Sanders campaigns)
Equality is at the heart of Mrs. America. The series, which starts in 1971, examines the national debate taking place over the Equal Rights Amendment, meant to put women on the same legal footing as men. For some housewives across America, though, the amendment was concerning because it was ushered in by second-wave feminists who (they believed) threatened to dismantle traditional family values. And at the head of that anti-ERA movement was Illinois housewife and mother of six, Phyllis Schlafley (an elegant Cate Blanchett).
Phyllis is the nexus of everything happening in Mrs. America, but each episode also spends time with one or two other important women on the opposite side of the movement, from Gloria Steinem (Rose Byrne) to Betty Friedan (Tracey Ullman) to the first black woman to run for President, Shirley Chisholm (Uzo Aduba). Where the limited series, created by Dahvi Waller, really excels (and manages to eschew the issues of other series dealing with similar topics) is that it’s not overly reverential to these real-life characters. It also, crucially, doesn’t treat them as caricatures—there is a deep, recognizable, and very true humanity to each of these women that is immediately authentic, as they move in and out of each other’s lives.
Mrs. America is juggling a lot, but it never feels like too much. Like the ever-present (worthless) question of “can a woman have it all?” Mrs. America does have it all, and more. It illuminates an essential part of the women’s liberation movement and the real women behind it (and against it) in ways that are engrossing, enlightening, and sometimes enraging. —Allison Keene
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