The outlines of the fall season are starting to come into focus, and while that means our TV editor is getting a little panicky about his crowded calendar, it’s also signal that the summer doldrums are coming to an end. The same might be said of this week’s Power Rankings, in which two series—The Bold Type and Claws—bid adieu (until next season, at least), two—Insecure and Better Call Saul—come aboard, and one of the most-talked about programs on TV right now—HBO’s Sharp Objects—heads for home. Trust us, now’s the time to start catching up on anything you missed.
The rules for this list are simple: Any 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—or, in the case of shows released all at once, it has to have been released within the previous six weeks.
The voting panel is comprised 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, as much good TV is available right now.
Andi Mack, Lodge 49, Orange Is the New Black, Preacher, Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story, Younger
Last Week’s Ranking: 9
And so it’s time to say goodbye to The Bold Type. Thankfully, this time we won’t have to wait a whole year before we see the fabulous and fierce trio again: The series is currently in production on its third season. “We’ll Always Have Paris” isn’t the strongest episode, as the show let romantic entanglements—never its most interesting element—take center stage. After mourning the death of his father for about a minute, Richard (Sam Page) flies to Paris to declare his love for Sutton (Meghann Fahy), while Jane (Katie Stevens) is left to choose between Pinstripe (Dan Jeannotte) and Dr. Ben (Luca James Lee). Choose you, Jane. Choose you! The only romantic strife that rang true was Kat (Aisha Dee) and Adena (Nikohl Boosheri) struggling to find a balance in their relationship. But there was Paris! And parties! And glamour! And all the things that make The Bold Type one of TV’s best celebrations of women and female friendships. I mean, I love my friends, too, but would I use my airline miles to send them to Paris? I’m not so sure. Special shout-outs for the timely story line about Jacqueline (Melora Hardin) being dismissed as aging out of her job and the even more timely story line about the gender bias in healthcare. Can’t wait to see you next year, ladies. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: Freeform)
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
Now that we’re officially in the joyfully salty, exuberantly queer muck of Season Three, two mysteries that have been roiling under Wynonna Earp’s dusty demon-hunting surface since Wynonna (Melanie Scrofano) first rolled her disastrous way back into her sister’s/Purgatory’s life are finally coming to a head: 1) Who (or what) is Wynonna’s sister, Waverly (Dominique Provost-Chalkley), if not an Earp? And 2) What happened to their mama, Michelle Gibson (Megan Follows), to make her abandon her daughters when they were tiny? Each mystery has seen hairline fractures break across its surface these last few years—Waverly’s connection with Revenant overlord Bobo Del Rey (Michael Eklund); Waverly’s ability to wield Peacemaker outside the bounds of the Earp curse; the reveal of Michelle’s decades-long residence in the medically unwell wing of the local penitentiary; Michelle’s obsession with Waverly never being told where she is—but it wasn’t until last week’s plot-churning “No Cure for Crazy” that all those pieces finally started to click together. That the picture they seem to have made is an eldritch white-faced doll demon who has possibly taken on the form of Syfy fave Zoie Palmer (Dark Matter, Lost Girl) as a cupcake-baking fiend… well, that’s a story for the rest of the season. Add the looming Bulshar horror, Nicole’s survival story, Doc’s psychological fallibility, and Jeremy’s new romantic foil in the form of a Jazz historian who took a job as a park ranger just to be closer to his dad and found a bleeding murder tree instead, and that, my friends? That is what we call a television show. —Alexis Gunderson (Photo: Syfy)
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
Claws is one of those brilliant TV soaps that fully embraces that it is, in fact, a TV soap. So it seems only fitting that its second season would go out with a bloody wedding cliffhanger of Dynasty proportions. Among the casualties were this season’s Big Bad, Franka Potente’s homicidal Russian frenemy, Zlata. She was vanquished by Clay (Dean Norris), the drug-dealing kingpin whom the TV gods shall not let die until we know the truth about what role he played in the long-ago demise of Roller (Jack Kesy) and Bryce’s (Kevin Rankin) parents. And while there was some satisfaction in seeing Niecy Nash’s Desna finally earning her boss crown (technically, it’s a necklace that literally bears the word “boss”), what would a finale like this be without a cliffhanger? Specifically: Will Virginia (Karrueche Tran) survive after being shot by those mysterious masked motorcycle riders? —Whitney Friedlander (Photo: Skip Bolen/TNT)
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
Oh, viewers, this is a calamity! Last week NBC passed on its option to renew Trial & Error for a third season. Whatever are we to do? Throw ourselves down a rum hole? Sing a neverending song? See what Mickey the Moose has to say about it? The uproarious comedy continues on with its stellar second season as Josh (Nicholas D’Agosto) fires Dwayne (Steven Boyer), only to have Dwayne save the day. The series may be a farce, but like some of TV’s best dramas it’s not afraid to shake things up and upend viewers’ expectations. Lavinia (Kristen Chenoweth) is found not guilty, but is she really innocent? Josh wrestles with that as the series takes off in a new, unexpected and, of course, hilarious direction. Here’s hoping another network or streaming platform picks up the show and we get many more seasons with the residents of East Peck. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: NBC)
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
After an electrifying debut that made Random Acts of Flyness one of the most intriguing entries into late night all year, its follow-up episode cemented it as a weekly must-watch. “Two Piece and a Biscuit” climbs on the shoulders of the erratic “What Are Your Thoughts on Raising Free Black Children?”—using every inconsistent dip in quality in the premiere as a stabilizing force—to find the mountaintop from which to shout its messages. If the first episode was the outrageous advertisement to get you in the store, the second is its meat-and-potatoes sales pitch. All of this comes as its artistically complimentary parts coalesce into an evocative and effective collage of black storytelling and the necessary mix of specificities that go along with it. —Jacob Oller (Photo: Rog Walker/HBO)
Last Week’s Ranking: 7
Bill Skarsgård knows how to play creepy. He proved that last year as Pennywise in Stephen King’s It and continues to unnerve with his portrayal of the unnamed Kid in another King adaptation, Castle Rock. As we hit the season’s halfway point at the end of “Harvest,” we finally get a clearer sense of his destructive psyche, illustrated best when the camera stays with The Kid, while we hear a child’s birthday party devolve into familial slaughter. But this psychological horror series is as heavy on character development as it is on terror in this small Maine town, with a talented cast that includes André Holland, Melanie Lynskey, Sissy Spacek, Scott Glenn, Terry O’Quinn and Jane Levy. Hulu’s attempt at “prestige horror” can occasionally feel like a tonal battle between those two words, but there’s enough of both to keep me hooked. —Josh Jackson (Photo: Claire Folger/Hulu)
Last Week’s Ranking: 8
After the niggling questions of “Closer”—namely, whether Sharp Objects grapples effectively with its self-consciously ‘Southern” setting—”Cherry” returns to the series’ strengths: its sense of foreboding, of long-buried traumas, of the sickly sweet relationship between Camille (Amy Adams) and her half-sister, Amma (Eliza Scanlen, as fearsome as ever) and of the simply sick relationship between the girls and their mother, Adora (Patricia Clarkson). In particular, two social gatherings—one a wine-soaked cry fest with Wind Gap’s unhappy wives, one a high-school rager with Wind Gap’s unhappy teenagers—suggest just how set apart the Preaker-Crellin girls are from the rest, privileged and damaged and most probably dangerous. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Anne Marie Fox/HBO)
Network: USA Network
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
Did you really think Carrie Coon was only going to get a few minutes of screen time? The second episode of the USA miniseries’ sophomore season picks up with the premiere’s (not so) surprise ending: Coon’s domineering and mysterious Vera Walker claims she’s the mother of the awkward and apparently murderous Julian (Elisha Henig). But while we wait for Julian’s custody situation and criminal charges to sort themselves out—giving Coon even more castrating dialogue with which to attack Bill Pullman’s Detective Harry Ambrose—we learn that this case comes with a heavy backstory. Julian and his victims came from a nearby cult-like community that wasn’t as reclusive as many of the locals thought. Harry’s partner on the case, Heather Novack (Natalie Paul), even lost her high-school girlfriend to this world. So she’s particularly worried when a warrant to search the property leads her to a giant slate pillar that looks to be covered in blood stains. Yes, Leftovers fans. You’re allowed to make your Guilty Remnant jokes now. —Whitney Friedlander (Photo: Peter Kramer/USA Network)
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
In keeping with the philosophy that good TV is often hard to watch, Better Call Saul’s fourth season has kicked off with two jaw-clenching teeth-grinders. Jimmy is recovering from loss the only way he can—with some consummately Midwestern emotional bottling. Some shows use guns and hostages to make your palms sweat; Better Call Saul uses a job interview. The mundane artifice the show uses to amp its emotional intensity (in pleasant and unpleasant ways) has only gotten stronger at the start of this season, with “Breathe” fitting suspense, sadness, sexual tension, and plain, hand-wringing stress into every scene of the drama—aided by an episode-stealing turn from Poorna Jagannathan as a John Hopkins doctor bribed to treat Hector and an all-time capper. —Jacob Oller (Photo: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
At first, the new season of Insecure suggests a study in contrasts: When Molly (Yvonne Orji) returns to L.A. from a luxurious getaway, eager to start work at a new, black-owned law firm, Issa (series co-creator Issa Rae) agrees to scoop her from the airport—and Molly hops in the back as if she were a fare. It’s a gag, of course—the pair’s bright peals of laughter are as central to the series’ sound as music supervisor Kier Lehman’s effortlessly hip song selections—but it’s one with an edge, as Issa, hard up for money, has been driving for Lyft after work to earn extra cash. It’s a metaphor, it seems, for their respective trajectories: Molly is once again on the rise, optimistic (if imperious); Issa is once again uncertain, sleeping on an old flame’s sofa and struggling to be heard at work.
But Insecure isn’t in the business of fulfilling expectations. In fact, if there’s one feature that can be said to define the series—and that distinguishes it from the traditional sitcom, to which Season Three explicitly refers—it’s an openness to change, to the swerves and switchbacks by which its particular slice of modern black life doubles as the medium’s most pungently funny portrait of thirtysomethings: Insecure captures the feeling, as The Outline’s Brandy Jensen so impeccably puts it, of being “late to your own life,” then expands the thought to the length of a TV series. Which is why it’s telling that Molly and Issa, despite the appearance of a major gulf in their outlooks, both use the same phrase to describe their own—and the series’—ongoing transformations. “I’m on some ‘know better, do better’ shit,” Molly celebrates early in the season premiere, the title of which, “Better-Like,” already contains its own hedge. “I just think we know better,” Issa says later, as Daniel (Y’lan Noel) moves in to kiss her, setting off a sudden chill in the room. In Insecure, as perhaps in life, to be 30 or 31 or 33 is to confront a case of the know-better blues: The keen and often dispiriting sense that learning from your last mistake doesn’t mean you can prevent yourself from making the next one. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Merie W. Wallace/Courtesy of HBO)