As we start the turn into awards season, it’s time to really see how those productions will change during a pandemic. Virtual in most cases, yes, but as the MTV VMA’s showed us Sunday night, it’s also possible to be socially distanced and wearing a couture mask if there in person. With the Emmys coming later this month, we’ll get another high-profile look at how COVID has affected live events on our TVs.
We at Paste TV also wanted to note ABC’s airing of Black Panther commercial free after the passing of its star, Chadwick Boseman, a truly luminary actor. Losing him and his talents is devastating, especially since he so expertly portrayed a multitude of iconic figures. It’s easy to shrug at performative corporate responses to grief full of brand synergy, and yet, what an gift for anyone with a TV and an antenna to see this film, uninterrupted, on broadcast.
As for the list below—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 pretty broad range of tastes.
Star Trek: Lower Decks, We Hunt Together, P-Valley
5. Wynonna Earp
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
This Week: Sexy, scary, sad, Haught—this summer finale was a love letter to fans.
Wynonna Earp, Syfy’s premiere gun-slinging, lady-loving, demon-hunting hootenanny, closed out its short summer season late Sunday evening, and holy Purgatory was it a blast. There were frog exorcisms; there were demon nuns; there was reconciliation; there was betrayal. And that was just the mid-season finale! Blink at all six episodes that made up Season 4A’s protracted run, and you’ll see the afterimage of another Earper miracle. Where these characters will land when the series comes back for Season 4B in 2021 is anyone’s guess. But given that it is Wynonna Earp we’re talking about, and this summer did leave off without resolving the storylines it set up, our favorite shitshow still has a lot of BANG to deliver until a happy ending of any kind can happen. What we can be sure of, is that while the world waits, Earpers will be out there, getting ready to fight for Season 5. Things are bleak right now; let’s hope they win. —Alexis Gunderson
4. Cobra Kai
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: The series is finally experiencing the audience it deserves, as a nuanced take on a beloved classic. Wax on!
With 11 award nominations (one Emmy included), the Golden Tomato Award for Best TV Drama, and a 94% rating on Rotten Tomatoes, you don’t need us to tell you that Cobra Kai is more than worth your time. Still: Cobra Kai is more than worth your time. Bringing William Zabka and Ralph Macchio back to reignite their ’80s-era Karate Kid rivalry just as the various tender/hurting teens in their lives are finding themselves in desperate need of mentorship from an ass-kicking sensei or two, Cobra Kai is a feast of brutal sentimentality, awkward puppy love and heartbreakingly scruffy nostalgia—and, of course, killer karate set pieces. As Paste’s own Amy Amatangelo put it in her review of the first season, “[Cobra Kai] excels at not allowing anyone to be truly evil or angelic, understanding that human beings are complex and cannot be summed up by a one-line character description.” And now it’s available on Netflix. —Alexis Gunderson
3. Ted Lasso
Network: Apple TV+
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
This Week: Anything this hopeful and positive is winning with us right now.
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
2. Lovecraft Country
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
This Week: Continual WTF moments.
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
1. I May Destroy You
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
This Week: A tough, beautiful cathartic finale.
There may be few series as difficult but as important right now as Michaela Coel’s new 12-episode HBO show I May Destroy You. The Ghanaian-British creator and star explores the pain, confusion, and eventual road to healing regarding the rape experienced by her London-based lead, Arabella. Playing out as a series of vignettes, the season is tied together by a close-knit group of friends who must confront everything from their own biases to sexual crimes perpetrated against them.
Coel is taking on a lot here, and while the journey of these friends trying to make it can feel familiar, it’s coming to audiences from a new perspective—instead of young white adults in New York, we have young black adults in London. That distinction is important in a number of ways, and Coel also leans in to the Millennial nature of it all by showing Arabella’s obsession with her social media influence and ways she seeks to monetize without being exploited (which feels impossible). There’s also an early scene where a white casting director asks Terry if she’s wearing a wig, if she can wash it, and to please take it off to show them her “real” hair. The way Terry responds (hesitant, uncomfortable, and ultimately rebuffing) mirrors in some ways the moments of assault shown in the series. It upsets her but she tries to brush it off, much like everyone else responding to controlling or aggressive behavior.
All of this adds up to a weighty, ambitious attempt to wade through incredibly difficult subject matter, but one that also seeks to balance with earnest optimism and a desire for healing. There are many, many scenes of the friends just having fun, of getting annoyed with one another, of professing their undying love. That movement back and forth, to the past and present (to an imagined future), between feelings and experiences and traumas and desires, covers some of the series’ other uncertainties in ways that are both compelling and true. But more than anything, it’s a thought-provoking work that should make us consider our own relationship to trauma, experienced by ourselves or others, as well as hopefully this new cultural awakening to the many, many different kinds of sexual assault. —Allison Keene
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