There is a manageable amount of television on right now, which means you can easily peruse all of the scripted shows in our Top 5 this week, test out a few Honorable Mentions, and still have time for a little videogame reprieve with Games Done Quick. There’s not a lot of TV right now, but most of what’s out there is actually really good.
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: Muppets Now (Disney+), I May Destroy You (HBO), Star Trek: Lower Decks (CBS All Access), Wynonna Earp (Syfy), P-Valley (Starz), In My Skin (Hulu)
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
This Week: We still love our dysfunctional family.
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
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: Join in the fun, and don’t forget to donate!
On the free streaming / gaming platform Twitch you can catch the great semi-annual event Games Done Quick, a charity live stream that raises money through viewer and corporate donations. All virtual this year, GDQ will again be championing Doctors Without Borders over the course of the week, as gamers gather to show off their skills at beating beloved titles as quickly as possible, or with specific challenges dictated through donation incentives. As a rare live event with user integration built-in, it’s a unique, fun, silly, raucous good time had by all, from the E-sports competitors to those watching from home. Its winter version, Awesome Games Done Quick, will return for more marathon streams and events in January. —Allison Keene
Network: Apple TV+
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: Sweet and inspiring—and without making the title character an idiot.
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
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: The series finale was THE Marvel event of the summer.
It’s almost a marvel (sorry) Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has lasted as long as it has. Hydra has come and gone; the Inhumans have come and gone; even the inimitable Agent Peggy Carter (RIP) has come and gone. Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., though—it’s held on. More than that, in its quiet way (quiet, at least, relative to the greater MCU), it’s thrived. The cast’s palpable family chemistry can be thanked for much of that—the paternal bond between Clark Gregg’s Coulson and Chloe Bennet’s Daisy is especially lovely—but just as important has been the fact that every season that S.H.I.E.L.D. has defied ratings odds and come back, it’s been to a completely different kind of genre landscape than it left behind. From spy vs. spy to mutant family drama to alien horror story, time loop apocalypse and long haul space adventure, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’s greatest weapon has always been its ability to evolve, adapt, and keep things fresh.
But while each of the series’ previous six seasons have been plenty entertaining (the occasional episode rising, even, to dazzling), it’s only now, as it’s gone full-on pulpy time-traveling mystery/costume drama for its seventh (and final) season, that Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. has reached the kind of gleefully bonkers heights that have made other franchise oddballs like Legends of Tomorrow (of the Arrowverse) and Legacies (of the TVD-verse) so consistently fun to watch. Like, Daisy, Yo-Yo and Mack dressed up to blend in at a 1931 speakeasy run by a mustachioed Patton Oswalt? Please! How about Simmons infiltrating an Area 51-esque base circa 1955 dressed up as S.H.I.E.L.D. Director Peggy Carter, only to be found out by Agent Carter’s own Daniel Sousa (Enver Gjokaj)? Or LMD!Coulson getting knocked so cold he wakes to a 1950s noir world, complete with black and white graphics and a hard-boiled inner monologue? What about Sousa getting plucked from his should-have-been death in 1955 to go time traveling to the ‘70s with the rest of the team on the Zephyr, only to turn into a real old man yelling at clouds at his first sight of Daisy in bell bottoms, hacking Hydra with her tiny computer? Yes, yes, and oh heck, yes. Add in bespoke, era-appropriate title cards and/or opening sequences—detective noir; sci-fi pulp; 70s action drama—and you’ve got the kind of farewell season most series could only dream of. And this summer especially, that’s just what Marvel fans need. —Alexis Gunderson
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: A stunning and scary start.
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
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