Paste Power Ranking: The 5 Best TV Shows on Right Now, from Bridgerton to The Wilds

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<i>Paste</i> Power Ranking: The 5 Best TV Shows on Right Now, from <i>Bridgerton</i> to <i>The Wilds</i>

Bridgerton has finally arrived, and the Paste TV hive is all over it. While there were plenty of other worthy shows on TV this past week, really it’s all about Bridgerton. Its influence was felt across the Power Ranking, as every selection (save one) makes for a good post-Bridgerton watch. Because we now live for Bridgerton. Have we mentioned Bridgerton?

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.

Honorable Mention: His Dark Materials (HBO), Star Trek: Discovery (CBS All Access), Hilda (Netflix), A Teacher (Hulu)

5. The Expanse

Network: Amazon Prime
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
This Week: The only entry to not be defined by romance—y’know, just to mix it up.

All the pieces The Expanse fans love are still in play in Season 5, from Amos (Wes Chatham) dispassionately busting skulls to Camina Drummer (Cara Gee) glaring rail-daggers through anyone who crosses her, to Avasarala cursing her way into the highest (like, to-the-Moon highest) halls of power while dressed to the jewel-toned nines. But where fans might be expecting to see Amos bust those skulls with Holden, Naomi (Dominique Tipper), and Alex (Cas Anvar) around to keep him grounded, or Drummer glare those rail-daggers while working to help the Belters achieve peaceful stability, or Avasarala doing her power-sweeping through the halls of the UN, loving husband and/or Bobbie just a call away, this season finds them all scattered across the solar system, thrown into settings and character combinations we’ve never seen.

Now, how well this will work for you will absolutely vary. Having its core characters so dramatically isolated means that the action in Season 5 is, by necessity, much slower than a lot of fans will be used to—and The Expanse already had the capacity to be a pretty slow show. (A generous description would be meditative, but an honest one might allow for ponderous.)

That said, when it comes to The Expanse, it is still a deeply satisfying, multisensory experience, and for all that the interpersonal stories are smaller this season, it is still as beautiful to look at as ever. —Alexis Gunderson


4. A Suitable Boy

Network: Acorn TV
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
This Week: Romantic tensions hit an all-time high.

The BBC One series, gorgeously directed by Mira Nair (Monsoon Wedding), is available on Acorn TV in the U.S. and runs for six hourlong episodes. Building in both scope and emotional weight as it goes, A Suitable Boy is indeed filled with many suitable and unsuitable relationships throughout. Crossing class, religious, and prejudicial divides in 1950s India, the story introduces us to a number of interconnected families residing in Calcutta and a small village in the north. But the main focus is on Lata Mehra (Tanya Maniktala), a university student whose very Mrs. Bennett-esque mother Rupa (Mahira Kakkar) is determined to arrange a proper marriage for her.

As Lata works through her feelings for her admirers alongside her feelings of duty to her family, she is surrounded by a dizzying number of plots that investigate the social hierarchies across India, in both cities and the country. The most fascinating is that of a playful son of a politician, Maan Kapoor (Ishaan Khatter), who falls in love with a beautiful singer (Saeeda Bai, played by Tabu) many years his senior. Banished to the hinterlands to work through his own feelings and obligations, the roguish Maan (the sort who casually teases his Urdu teacher reading the Quran by asking “any good?”) ends up learning important truths about himself and is forced to finally grow up.

This only dips a toe into A Suitable Boy’s engrossing stories, which do take a little while to get going (especially after introducing so many characters and so many disparate plots to start, which means not all of the land evenly). Despite its short run, though, the series takes its time. In many ways it’s a languid meditation on love, yet simultaneously full of bustling settings and possibilities. Nair has created an atmosphere that is both foreign and familiar, full of intimate spaces and period flourishes. It’s modern, but also bound by the custom of arranged marriage that makes every relationship about much more than just the couple. —Allison Keene


3. Tiny Pretty Things

Network: Netflix
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: If you’ve enjoyed the delights of a Bridgerton binge, pirouette over here.

Netflix’s Tiny Pretty Things is exactly what someone might expect from a bad teen murder soap opera. The dialogue is often tired, the archetypes are predictable, the villains are cartoonishly villain-y, and the cliches are too numerous to count. At first, each character is more archetype than human. There’s a misunderstood Muslim boy who gets a hard time from his roommate for praying, a spoiled rich blonde girl who gets everything she wants, a gay boy who hooks up but can’t commit, and an Asian girl who pushes herself because of her Tiger mom. There’s every trope you could imagine at a high school for dancers: bulimia, backstabbing, addiction to pain killers, a teacher sleeping with a student, and a jerk choreographer. And yet by the end of the 10-episode first season of Tiny Pretty Things, I wanted to see what happened next.

I consider Center Stage to be the best dance movie and Pretty Little Liars to be an off-the-rails treat, and if you agree, you will probably also like Tiny Pretty Things—though Tiny Pretty Things is not as good as either. It doesn’t push the teen murder show genre forward, but it does solidly do its job of creating an enticing whodunnit filled with teenage drama. Where Pretty Little Liars could drag out its mysteries to unsatisfying endings, Tiny Pretty Things doles out new clues in a timely and satisfying way, with an ending that complicates the story and sets the show up for a new season and a new mystery.

Just as the story meshes better over the season, the acting improves as well. The show is most interesting when the students band together instead of being antagonists, creating layered relationships instead of one-note enmity. The dialogue, though, never rises as high as the dancers leap across the stage. The sex is extremely explicit for a show about teenagers, so much so that I wouldn’t be comfortable watching with an actual teen, and all the brunette boyfriends tend to blur together. Yet, even with all its over-the-topness and cliches, by the end of the season, there were characters I was rooting for and people I was shipping. It’s not great television, but it is a fun ride and you know what you’re getting—and sometimes that’s enough. —Rae Nudson


2. The Wilds

Network: Amazon Prime
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: We are a little late to this, but hey! We’re here now!

On paper, The Wilds sounds like a ripoff of Lost, but with teenage girls: after a plane crash, a group of girls land on a mysterious island where they have to not only endure the unknown, but also each other. Like Lost, each episode explores the backstory of one girl, weaving in their pre-crash struggles with identity, heartbreak, abuse, and more with their on-island battle to survive.

The Wilds’s plotting makes for a strong thriller that lends itself to an easy binge, and the characters are well-drawn and multilayered. But the true triumph of the show is how it portrays the peaks and valleys of being an adolescent girl—they are angry at the hands they’ve been dealt, confused about values they’ve been taught to believe, and determined to reach their goals by any means necessary. They are strong but not impervious; they are catty, they are suspicious, and they are loving. 

The Wilds is a show I absolutely wasn’t checking for, but after the first episode’s surreal beach-funeral-at-dusk acapella rendition of Pink’s “Raise Your Glass,” you’ll be hooked, too.  —Radhika Menon


1. Bridgerton

bridgerton-main-2.jpg

Network: Netflix
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: The romance juggernaut has landed, and Paste TV is all-in.

All hail Bridgerton, Netflix’s lush, swoony adaption of a set of romance novels that is the perfect way to close out 2020 (that is to say, thirsty). The series focuses on a London family with eight children, all of whom were blessed with good genes and five (or six?) of whom are currently of marriageable age. And thus, in this Regency-era setting, the game is afoot with the quippy, mysterious gossip Lady Whistledown as our guide. There are balls and rakes and other things that had a completely different meaning in the 1800s, but one thing that has not changed is how electrifying the buttoning of a glove or the slight touch of hands can be in the right context. The show also gets pretty explicit at times, but does so with a nearly revolutionary female gaze for a period drama. As such, it is as pearl-clutching as one can get (and not a show to watch with one’s family).

Although all of the Bridgerton siblings appear during the show’s eight episodes, the first season focuses primarily on eldest daughter Daphne (Phoebe Dynevor) as she enters society and attempts to secure a marriage proposal. Initially the talk of the town, her standing falls with the arrival of a beautiful newcomer, so to escape a loveless marriage with an unsavory man chosen for her by her eldest brother, Daphne strikes a deal with the extremely handsome and newly titled Duke of Hastings (Regé-Jean Page), a committed bachelor with twice the bodice-ripping hero energy any one man should possess. In a classic fake-dating scenario, the Duke pretends to court Daphne in order to raise her value in the marriage market, while their agreement keeps women from throwing themselves at him. It’s a win-win situation … until the two develop real feelings for one another, of course. Bridgerton isn’t perfect, but it’s a candy-colored, gloriously anachronistic romp that brings a new vivacity to bonnet dramas (leaving most of the bonnets aside, for one), and is great fun. —Allison Keene and Kaitlin Thomas



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