One subset of Peak TV (even in pandemic times) is Christmas TV. The holiday wars have been in full swing on Lifetime and Hallmark for quite some time now, and even Netflix has (of course) gotten in on the action. Because the holiday season on TV starts pretty much as soon as Halloween night has wrapped, Netflix’s very Christmas-focused series Dash & Lily was released pre-Thanksgiving when no one was really ready for it. Now, however, is the time to check it out—as our own Radhika Menon writes in her review. Time has no meaning in 2020, and it certainly doesn’t when it comes to streaming. What’s old is new again! Treat yo’self.
Speaking of 2020 (and it rapidly coming to a close), be sure to hop on over and check out our ranked list of the 25 best TV shows of 2020.
As for this week, 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.
The Crown (Netflix), Grey’s Anatomy (ABC), Bhaag Beanie Bhaag (Netflix), Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access), Natalie Palamides’ Nate: A One Man Show (Netflix)
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: An episode was pulled because a number featured called a real sex line? Sounds about right!
It’s been a rough year, to say the least. So rough that globally heightened anxiety and pain has changed our tolerance for dark, gritty entertainment. Even Black Mirror’s writer has taken a break from working on the show, since the world now seems like one particularly long and twisted episode from that dystopian anthology series.
It’s in this climate that Animaniacs—the zany, satirical slapstick show about three cartoon characters causing mayhem—returns after 22 years off the air, and it couldn’t be more welcome. It’s not an escape from reality, as the reboot leans into its political commentary, but it’s a much more colorful, joyful version of it, where nearly any problem can be solved with a giant hammer pulled out of one’s pocket. Animaniacs only wants one reaction from audiences of any age, and that’s laughs. It succeeds tremendously.
Hulu’s rebooted series maintains the same core of the original series, bringing back Steven Spielberg as a producer and many of the same voice actors, composers, and writers who created it. Each 24-minute episode block consists of three shorts of varying length, usually two starring the Warner brothers Yakko (Rob Paulsen) and Wakko (Jess Harnell), and the Warner sister, Dot (Tress MacNeille), with the middle segment going to Pinky (Paulsen) and the Brain (Laurice LaMarche). Without any narrative throughline, Animaniacs remains a show you can watch in any order and enjoy.
That’s the word that keeps coming to mind when thinking about this show: joyful. Animaniacs may not match other animated shows’ high-brow humor or enthralling stories, but it’s able to contain so much unadulterated fun that the other things I may be looking for don’t seem to matter. Hulu’s new season isn’t a reimagining of the original; it’s a continuation. And in the 22 years since they left the airwaves, the Warner Siblings haven’t missed a beat. —Joseph Stanichar
Network: HBO Max
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
This Week: A true popcorn thriller (with the best wardrobe on TV).
The Flight Attendant, based on Chris Bohjalian’s 2018 novel of the same name, is a taut, crisp whodunit, darkly comedic and wildly suspenseful. The eight-episode series is also a true star turn for Kaley Cuoco (The Big Bang Theory), who shows off a much broader range than she ever had the opportunity to on her long-running CBS comedy. A bubbling, popcorn thriller, the cliff-hanger ending to each episode entices you to keep going; it’s HBO Max’s best reason yet for subscribing to the streaming platform.
Cuoco stars as Cassie Bowden, who jet sets from international destination to international destination. When she’s not in the sky for Imperial Airlines, she’s flying high as a party girl who drinks to the point of blacking out, is fond of one-night stands, has a gold lamé dress at the ready in her carry-on luggage, and sustains herself on a breakfast of Diet Coke and pickles. She’s a train wreck, but a train wreck who gets to work on time, is kind to children and animals, and loved by her friends. And after a whirlwind encounter with the dashing Alex Sokolov (Michiel Huisman) on a trip to Bangkok, might be on the hook for murder.
The entire story truly rests in Cuoco’s capable hands. Her knack for comic relief is securely intact, but she also easily dives into the depths of Cassie’s terror and uncertainty. Her journey is our journey. Her terror is our terror. She may be an unreliable narrator, but she’s a highly entertaining one. —Amy Amatangelo
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: So great! So gross!
Big Mouth isn’t shy about pointing out the way its pubescent cast continues to mature as we enter Season 4 and Nick, Andrew, Jessi and co. enter 8th grade. In fact, Big Mouth has never really been shy about anything, has it? The Netflix series’ willingness to affront has always been both its heart and its crutch—like South Park before it, putting vile things into the mouths of characters we perceive as “children” is always good for a cheap laugh. Of course, the deeper crux of Big Mouth is the argument that these characters aren’t “children”—that they’re young adults entering their teenage years, and can’t be treated like innocents or shielded from the nightmarish aspects of our society and culture forever. Kids this age get depressed. They suffer from anxiety. They discover their sexuality and orientation. They transition. And they need help along the way; help that we have to be prepared to give them. Season 4 pushes its exploration of sexuality and race to uncomfortable new vistas, but you can rest assured that occasionally making you squirm (as well as laugh) is fully intended. —Jim Vorel
Network: BBC America
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: Adorable, heartbreaking, essential.
Baby chimps are absolute maniacs. This is clear from the start of BBC America’s documentary series Baby Chimp Rescue. But what is just as apparent is their capacity and need for love and care, especially since every single chimpanzee we meet is a survivor. Before arriving at the Liberia Chimpanzee Rescue and Protection home run by American couple Jimmy and Jenny Desmond, all of these rescued babies saw their mothers killed for bushmeat. With many of the babies sustaining bullet and shrapnel wounds and broken bones from the capture, they were then illegally sold as pets.
With the help of a team of local carers, the Desmonds have devoted their lives to rehabilitating these chimpanzees—including an ambitious but necessary move to a protected land area to help with overcrowding issues. The series details all of this and more, including the Desmonds’ relationship with local law enforcement to assist with confiscations and the arrest of poachers. But nothing is more compelling than the story of a chimp who has lived their life in bondage—often chained, beaten, and neglected—end up rescued, loved, and socialized within the sanctuary. That moment where a timid, traumatized chimp eventually stumbles in with the others to enjoy play and the embrace (and tickles!) of their new found family will bring joyful tears. Watching these scamps crawling all around a car, beeping the horn, licking the windshield, and half-destroying everything with insatiable curiosity will make you laugh. Seeing them run back to their carers and hug and cuddle them will make you cry again. These little fiends are absolute legends.
The series also stands as an innate call to action, as the Desmonds raise funds to build their expanded sanctuary. Its highly effective; you want to help every single one of these rescued chimps, and assist the Desmonds with their work in any way you can (and I haven’t even mentioned the pack of rescue dogs who also bond with the chimps. Everything is the actual best). But the show also doesn’t push in that direction; it just reveals the highs and lows, the successes and frustrations, of running such an operation. It’s not just about the cute baby chimps, it’s also about a larger need for conservation, and end of deforestation, and a crack down on illegal animal trade—which is often unfortunately born out of the dire financial hardships faced by locals. There’s no quick or easy answer to any of it. Nevertheless, in this small corner of Liberia, the Desmonds have found a way to make a huge, meaningful impact in the lives of these incredibly smart, playful, loving baby chimps. And we are blessed to be able to get a little glimpse into this very special world. —Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This Week: Grogu vibes, badass Boba Fett hits the scene, and Mando becomes a better dad.
Disney+’s The Mandalorian, a.k.a. “Hot Space Daddy and His Tiny Puppet Son,” a.k.a. “The Baby Yoda Show” is back. And like its first season, it wastes no time jumping right in. One of The Mandalorian’s many successes is how it manages its time—an overlooked and under-appreciated facet of storytelling in the streaming era.
More than anything, perhaps, there is a genuine sense of excitement with each new Mandalorian episode, and not just in anticipation of what The Child will do next (although that is, admittedly, a huge part of it). Between reaction shots of The Child, excellent guest stars, and compelling Adventures of the Week, the new season includes everything that makes the show so enjoyable: it’s unique, tactile, funny, exciting, cute, and full of lore. It’s referential to Star Wars without being overly reverential to it. It’s accessible for casual fans or even those who haven’t seen a Star War (sure, there’s shorthand used that helps if you have context for it, but somewhat brilliantly it isn’t necessary). Adults can enjoy it, kids can enjoy it. It’s thrilling and silly. In short, it embodies the true spirit of Star Wars. We’re all experiencing something together each week—an increasingly rare feat in television these days—and it is good. —Allison Keene
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