Paste Power Rankings: The 10 Best TV Shows on Right Now, from Sweet Magnolias to The SplitIllustration by Christine Fernando and Soleil Collins TV Lists Power Ranking
After lagging behind the other major streaming services in terms of their originals and library content, it’s really been Hulu’s year. A big part of that is their new partnership with FX. Three of our top shows are found on the platform, and they are all major standouts. Plus, you can catch a number of cable series there the day after they air (including NatGeo’s weirdo new frontier series Barkskins—eligible for next week’s ranking). After Amazon was struck a big blow last week when HBO recalled all of its series for the HBO Max service (meaning you can no longer watch older HBO series on Prime for free), Hulu has shown that the future of streaming may be in partnerships rather than going it alone. Your move, Netflix.
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.
Honorable Mention: Mythic Quest: Quarantine (Apple TV+), Holey Moley 2 (ABC), AKA Jane Roe (FX), Homecoming (Amazon Prime).
10. Dead to Me
Last Week’s Ranking: 10
This Week: It was all about the journey and not the destination this season.
As a Bloodline watcher, I can’t help but constantly expect Linda Cardellini’s Dead to Me character to say, Rayburn-style, “we’re not bad people, we just did a bad thing.” Because, essentially, that same sentiment is at the center of Liz Feldman’s diverting dark comedy series. Two women forge a friendship through grief, and then discover that their relationship is really built on lies—and neither is as innocent as they seem. And yet, neither is really fully guilty. Further, the men in their lives are not that great, but also, not exactly awful enough to justify what happens to them.
What continues to anchor the series, and makes it endlessly compelling, are the performances from excellent leads Lina Cardellini and Christina Applegate. They have a natural rapport that makes their onscreen friendship believable beyond the point of Wine Mom Energy. They are family. With Oscar and Felix personalities, they drive each other crazy but being apart is not an option. It’s hard to make lifelong friends as you age, people you can really trust and want to spend all of your time with. Jen and Judy’s relationship—and their actions—are heightened for drama of course, but there is a very real truth at the center that creates a certain ache for the kind of best friend many of us haven’t had since school. Not just a friend who you are the closest to by default, but someone you would want with you in a crisis. It’s a rare and beautiful thing—despite, again, the origins and continued ups and downs of this particular relationship.
Dead to Me keeps its world small and coincidences high, but that’s also what helps us really get to know these characters on a level that makes their emotional beats land in the moment. If the show was released weekly, its cliffhanger endings might carry more weight and anticipation, but as it is the series remains a breezy binge watch with sometimes surprising emotional gut punches—even though the new season doesn’t quite have the same spark as its first (and begins to fade as soon as it ends). Still, Dead to Me is a worthy exploration of grief and guilt, and what holding on to those things through a veil of lies can do to a person. And while it may be scattered when it comes to its moral universe, it’s overarching message is clear: No matter what you’re going through, what you really need is a friend. —Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
This Week: Run who? This is the HBO comedy you need to be watching.
Now in its fourth season, the HBO comedy remains a delicious, hilarious, thought-provoking and thoughtful ride as Issa (Issa Rae) and her friends navigate career, friendship and family in Los Angeles. This season has delved deep into the relationship between Issa and her bestie Molly (Yvonne Orji) as the foundation for their long running friendship has begun to crumble. The show understands that female friendships are tricky business. Long brewing resentments can come to a boil. The things that annoy you about someone—be it their inability to commit to a romantic relationship or follow through on a work goal—can fester. As Molly embarks on a new relationship with Andrew (Alexander Hodge) and Issa plans a huge neighborhood block party, both women nitpick at each other. Instead of celebrating their successes, they make snide comments. It’s not good. As Molly says of Issa, she loves her but she doesn’t like her right now. Passionate viewers are picking sides, but the truth is the series is doing a great job of showing both women’s perspectives. As if that was not enough fodder for a terrific season, Insecure is tackling a topic rarely seen on television as the early hints of Tiffany’s (Amanda Seales) a post-partum depression are beginning to reveal themselves. Unwilling to just coast on its previous success, Insecure forges into new arenas and offers a very honest look at female friendships and motherhood all while being hilarious (hi British Kelli!).—Amy Amatangelo
8. Legends of Tomorrow
Network: The CW
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: Zombies! Also, the ConstantZari ship finally sailed.
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
7. The Split
Network: Sundance TV
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: This solid UK legal family drama returns (and catching up is a quick, satisfying binge)
It’s difficult to explain The Split’s strange alchemy; it has issues, and yet it’s a show I don’t hesitate to recommend. The glossy British drama (running just 6 episodes a season) focuses on a matriarchal family of lawyers (minus one). The three daughters are all a mess, most especially eldest daughter Hannah (Nicola Walker) who is put in a Good Wife-esque plot through these two seasons that involves choosing between her seemingly upstanding husband Nathan (Stephen Mangan) who later gets caught up in an escort service hack, and their college best friend—and Hannah’s former boyfriend—the suave Christie (Barry Atsma).
When it comes to the women at the core of the series, the overarching (and emotional) storyline is about learning to be brave enough to forge a unique life for oneself, and that “family” can mean many different things. You might have husband and no baby, a baby and no husband, or you might have it all and then lose it all. The result is a compelling, surprising, engrossing series, and one that you genuinely get swept up in—even when it wobbles. —Allison Keene
6. What We Do in the Shadows
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
This Week: A cursed hat, a bat fight, and some major trolling (plus: they really used that CG budget this week didn’t they?)
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
5. Killing Eve
Network: BBC America
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
This Week: The series set up a strong penultimate episode that will hopefully provide a satisfying finale.
New lead writer / EP Suzanne Heathcote takes the reins for Killing Eve Season 3, which focuses on the unique relationship between beleaguered agent Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh) and flamboyant assassin Villanelle (Jodie Comer), picking up some time after the latter shot the former to end Season 2. Heathcote makes a decision to keep Eve and Villanelle separated (minus one brief and surprising scene) for most of the first episodes, which works well. There’s more to explore with them apart, although Eve’s story does again suffer somewhat when not closely tied to Villanelle. Of course the sartorially-minded superstar assassin is the more interesting thread to follow, especially as Season 3 seeks to uncover more of her past. But (so far) it doesn’t do the same for Eve, who again often feels secondary to her own story as she faces a personal wilderness working odd hours in the kitchen of a restaurant, drinking too much, and spending her nights with Cup Noodles while Villanelle believes she’s dead. In a way, she is.
In Season 2, we saw Villanelle start things off being knocked off-kilter and struggling to find her way back to the top. Now the same is true of Eve, as the series plays out its narrative seesaw. Where this all leads is uncertain (other than Season 4, for which the show has already been renewed), but so far Killing Eve’s third season remains engrossing, surprising, and strangely funny (like when Villanelle gets an incurable case of hiccups over the prospect of seeing her family again). It’s also casually brutal, something that continues to give the series its edge. Still, there is something fresh about this new exploration of what has become an old dynamic, and the episodes get better and deeper as the season progresses. It may not be as balanced as it was in that first magical outing, and some of the plot points may feel a little recycled, but Killing Eve ultimately remains a devilish delight. —Allison Keene
4. The Good Fight
Network: CBS All Access
Last Week’s Ranking: 9
This Week: The show took on transgender athletes at the Olympics in a way that was informative, entertaining, and sad.
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
3. Sweet Magnolias
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: Offers the comfort of a show The WB would have made in the late 1990s.
You’d be forgiven for not knowing Sweet Magnolias exists. Even amid a global pandemic, Netflix continues to deluge its streaming platform with new TV shows and little promotion. I write about television for a living and barely knew it was premiering. Who knew a series starring Tony winner Heather Headley and Jamie Lynn Spears could soothe the soul and provide such an escape from the daily anxiety the world is currently experiencing?
Maddie (Joanna Garcia Swisher) is in the midst of a divorce from her husband Bill (Chris Klein) who has left her for a very pregnant Noreen (Spears). (Astute viewers will remember this was much the same starting point for The WB comedy Reba where Swisher played Reba McEntire’s daughter). Maddie’s lifelong friends restaurant owner Dana Sue (Brooke Elliott) and lawyer Helen (Headley) help her through this turbulent time while dealing with problems of their own (among them an employee who is drinking on the job). There’s a simplistic reassurance to the show as it wraps the viewer in a blanket of familiarity of earnest performances, fantastic Southern accents, and enjoyable plot twists. Come on in to the world of Sweet Magnolias, y’all.—Amy Amatangelo
2. Mrs. America
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
This Week: Another Emmy for Sarah Paulson right here.
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
1. The Great
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This Week: Only one word can describe it: Huzzah!
For those who adored The Favourite, writer Tony McNamara is back with “an occasionally true story” for Hulu focused on the rise of Catherine the future great, when she was just “a 20-year-old who’s been in Russia six months, and who—with the aid of a drunken general, an angry maid, and a nervous bureaucrat—is going up against the violent regime that is Peter’s empire,” (as one character succinctly states). The 10-episode series has a crisp, fast-moving script and sumptuous costuming that looks like a traditional historical drama but feels refreshingly modern in its approach. Bathed in a Marie Antoinette meets Death of Stalin aesthetic (and never going Full Dickinson), the series’ acid, winning humor understands the familiar absurdity of an age filled with the constant juxtaposition of wealth and brutality. Emotionally affecting as a complicated dance of horror and hope, Catherine’s outright victories may be few and far between, but the journey is thrilling.
The Great begins in the mid-18th century, with Catherine’s (Elle Fanning) arrival at the Russian court as a naive German bride for Peter (Nicholas Hoult) the not-so-great and in fact very-much-awful. A script this cleverly bombastic requires very specific handling to balance its humor and drama, and both Hoult and Fanning are luminous as the ill-matched new couple. But though Catherine has a distaste (quite rightfully) for Peter, she does have a heart for her new country. “I want a strong, vibrant Russia alive with ideas, humane and progressive, where people live with dignity and purpose,” she says dreamily. “Russia?” the Emperor’s advisor Orlo (Sacha Dhawan) says in a questioning tone. “It needs to be believable.” Catherine’s maid, Marial (Phoebe Fox)—a former noble lady stripped of her position—adds, “Just tell them … no one will rape and kill you and your children, and you’ll have some bread. That would be sufficient.”
In some ways, it might be a mistake for Hulu to have released all ten hourlong episodes at once, because The Great really should be savored. The way it charts Catherine’s quiet but brave attempts to take power by growing a voice at court and discovering new things about herself is a really beautiful journey, punctuated by completely absurd events. It’s strange and wonderful and a fantastically funny ride. But it will also leave you pondering the nature of sacrifice and real change, and the courage it takes to overthrow a despot. Huzzah. —Allison Keene
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