Due to COVID-related production delays, TV is really starting to slow down. There are still plenty of worthwhile shows on the air and oodles more on streaming, but starting this week we’re cutting our Power Rankings down to 5 to better reflect the current entertainment landscape. But that also means, with this even more limited list, you have no excuse not to check out all of these great series.
As noted last week, while we believe TV is a balm during a moment of great upheaval, and a time for self-care among the uncertainty of our daily life, it’s not a place to hide. To that point, on the non-fictional side we encourage you to plug in and watch Late Night with Seth Meyers’ Amber Ruffin detail a lifetime of traumatic run-ins with the police, as well as John Boyega’s speech at the Black Lives Matter protest in London. Also, do not miss John Oliver’s take from Last Week Tonight on the history of policing, and its ties to white supremacy.
The rules for the Paste 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: I May Destroy You (HBO), What We Do in the Shadows (FX), The Great (Hulu), Big Flower Fight (Netflix), Barkskins (National Geographic)
Last Week’s Ranking: 10
This Week: The big Molly/Issa conversation came to a head.
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
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: The Fab Five return for a strong new season.
The Netflix reboot of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is a complex and endearing beast that’s empathy is tempered with its extra-ness. Its Wikipedia page may refer to the makeover subjects of each episode as its “hero,” but the Fab Five of Antoni, Bobby, Jonathan, Karamo, and Tan often get progatonistic arcs of their own. That’s the joy of the new show: we never know who’s getting the makeover and if that reveal will be purely aesthetic or something more deeply transformational.
The fifth season of Queer Eye starts off with a transformation drastic and impactful enough to convert nonbelievers, and turn those on the fence into the truly devout. It then moves on to both bread-and-butter confidence cases as well as previously unexplored areas, where even conversations about credit and bank accounts can be as emotional as a heartfelt familial reunion. Basically, the love and vulnerability of this positive show remain powerful throughout. —Jacob Oller
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: Speaking to a difficult truth about emotional labor.
Nothing excuses a double homicide. But the eight-part second season of Dirty John (now an anthology) begins to unravel what drove its lead to a violent act, and sheds light on the long-term effects of clinging to your anger and rage. Based on a true story, Betty Broderick (Amanda Peet) married Daniel Broderick (Christian Slater) when she was 19 years old. She had four children, suffered a still birth and a miscarriage, and worked multiple jobs to put him through medical school and law school. When Dan finally found success as a medical malpractice lawyer, he left Betty for Linda Kolkena (Rachel Keller), his much younger receptionist. He did this cruelly by denying for years that anything was going on, then by moving Betty into a new house under the ruse that they were all going to live their together. Dan was president of the San Diego Bar Association and used his legal connections to make it hard for Betty to find a lawyer. He also sent her to jail and put her in a psychiatric hold. When Linda moved in with him, before they were married, it was her voice Betty had to hear on the answering machine.
But this isn’t what people remember about the story. They may remember the 1992 made-for-TV movie staring Meredith Baxter. They may have listened to the L.A. Times podcast. They may recall the incessant vulgar messages Betty left on his answering machine and that she drove her car into his house. And they definitely remember that in November of 1989 Betty broke into Dan’s new home and killed Dan and Linda in their sleep.
Showrunner Alexandra Cunningham never forgets whose story she is telling, and Dirty John is the TV equivalent of a compelling page turner. From the Dynasty-esque outfits and hair to the fabulous 80s laden soundtrack, Cunningham peppers the series with wonderful ‘80s touches. There’s a certain camp to the series, but it never distracts from the central theme: That far too often our society casts a woman aside in favor of the man. And that’s the dirty truth. —Amy Amatangelo
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
This Week: We didn’t expect a fantasy dance sequence, but so many things about this great miniseries are unexpected!
In 2001, Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? was not just a popular program, it was a cultural icon. The game show, which originated in Britain in 1997, became a mega-phenomenon across the globe. As chronicled by the ITV miniseries Quiz, airing on AMC in the U.S., the show’s format was something special from the very start. The response to it was as well. Fans began talking with one another, scheming even to get in the audience and compete for a chance at the hot seat. And, allegedly, three of them conspired to “steal” the one million pound prize in an extraordinary manner: coughing. It was a major scandal, and yet, one that was almost immediately forgotten because the day after it happened, it was 9/11.
Of course, living in a time of coronavirus makes all of the coughing on the show feel especially tense, but Quiz—written by James Graham and directed by Stephen Frears—makes this reenactment reverberate emotionally as well. Weaving its story among three different timelines and perspectives, Quiz (running a mere three hourlong episodes) is fair to all involved, which is not a small thing when there is so much to potentially lampoon. The tone is light and whimsical from the start (cheeky even), because while this is fraud, it’s not necessarily life or death. The miniseries wisely lets its story speak for itself, without making fun of or being mean-spirited towards the eccentric but unexpectedly endearing couple at its core.
What Quiz is, above all, is an acting showcase. Matthew MacFadyen (Succession) and Sian Clifford (Fleabag) star as the otherwise ordinary, middle-class couple in question, Charles and Diana Ingram, who plot to get onto the quiz show. More accurately, it begins with Diana’s oddball brother Adrian (Trystan Gravelle) who—along with his sister and father—are pub quiz fanatics. But then things start to get tricky. As Celador producer Paul Smith (Catastrophe’s Paul Bonnar) says of the brand-new Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? format: “Everybody loves a good pub quiz, a uniquely British invention that combines our love of drinking and being right.” —Allison Keene
Network: The CW
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
This Week: A finale fight involving Shake Weights, Red Bull, and Sisqo’s “Thong Song” in the Museum of Historical Mistakes. We have no choice but to stan.
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
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