Paste‘s Power Rankings: The 10 Best Shows on TV Right Now
Week of 9/3/2018Header photo: Michelle Faye/Wynonna Earp Productions, Inc./Syfy TV Lists power rankings
We’re back (and slightly belated) this week after a late-summer hiatus and the Labor Day long weekend. And… BOOM! As promised, the fall season is upon us. First, though, it’s time to say some farewells. To recent regulars Younger and Rest in Power. To the first half (or thereabouts) of Better Call Saul, The Sinner, and Insecure’s current seasons. And, of course, to the dog days, a time before there were dozens of new and returning series coming to the airwaves each week. Because there are almost sure to be new titles on the list come next Tuesday. (We’re looking at you, The Deuce.)
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.
Castle Rock, Lodge 49, Mayans M.C., The Purge
10. Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story
Network: Paramount Network
Rest in Power starts with an acceleration of images: First, Trayvon Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, becoming emotional during a pre-trial deposition; then, faster, the indelible iconography of the ordeal, the bag of Skittles and the black hoodie; finally, approaching a blur, the markers of a historical moment, Colin Kaepernick and Black Lives Matter, Dylan Roof and Donald Trump. By the time it arrives at Monday night’s searing conclusion, Jenner Furst and Julia Willoughby Nason’s six-hour docuseries—wide-ranging, provocative, polemical—fulfills the promise of this fretful beginning, emerging as perhaps the definitive treatment of an American tragedy, the consequences of which reach far beyond one family, one community, one case. As Fulton reminds us, there are exactly 71 seconds unaccounted for in the fatal exchange between the 17-year-old Trayvon and his killer, neighborhood watch member George Zimmerman, on that late February evening in 2012: “71 seconds. And it changed America.” —Matt Brennan (Chachi Senior/Paramount Network)
Network: TV Land
I know there’s #TeamCharles and #TeamJosh but let’s be honest: for five seasons Younger has been working on putting Charles (Peter Hermann) and Liza (Sutton Foster) together, throwing road block after road block in their way. But as the fifth season drew to a close suddenly there were no more impediments. Charles knew the truth about Liza’s age. He was no longer her boss. His ex-wife was decidedly his ex-wife. They were—dare I even say it out loud—happy. It’s an unfamiliar emotion for the pair as evidence by their perplexed (and reminiscent of The Graduate) look as they walked down the New York street. They’ve worked so hard to be together. Now what? It’s a great open-ended place to leave the series. Add in Josh’s ex-wife showing up pregnant—a soap opera plot twist staple—and we can’t wait for this breezy, summer series to return next year. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: TV Land)
8. All or Nothing: Manchester City
Network: Amazon Prime
At the beginning of the 2017-2018 English Premier League Season, Manchester City Football Club allowed a camera crew to film in their most private spaces—in pre-match strategy meetings; inside the locker room during half-time talks and post-game celebrations; in the homes and cars of players; and in hospital as they dealt with injury after injury. The result is the latest installment of the Amazon Prime original docuseries All or Nothing. The eight-episode season captures a team fighting for four different trophies and the emotional highs and lows that come with both winning and falling short. Led by arguably the best manager in the world—and one of the most entertaining—Pep Guardiola, in his second season with the club, the pressure on the players is enormous: to play quick-passing, high-pressing, always-attacking football without mistakes. And whether you’re a Man City diehard or not, there’s much to love about the chance to see how some of the world’s best players work and live. —Josh Jackson (Photo: Amazon Prime Video)
7. Wynonna Earp
After the third season’s heavy, emotionally fraught first half, Wynonna Earp was due for a riot fest. Cue “I Fall to Pieces,” in which retiring-Sheriff Nedley (Greg Lawson) throws Wynonna (Melanie Scrofano) and almost-Sheriff Haught (Kat Barrell) into a locked room with the task of clearing out his Safe o’ the Supernatural, and the two of them promptly manage to break enough cursed objects that they invoke a full day of slapstick-level bad luck. That Wynonna and Nicole butting heads this spectacularly requires the audience to pretend the last two years of individual growth and mutual admiration never happened is beside the point: Watching Purgatory’s two ginger outcasts squabble their way past the town’s proudly homophobic and xenophobic kingmaker, Bunny (Jann Arden), past a drinking contest with a biker bar full of Revenants, past a six-foot-tall zombie lawn gnome in violent search of a new wife, and ultimately past the last (previously invisible) shreds of their own lingering animosity towards one another is just the joyful mayhem we needed. Fair warning, though—with the episode ending on a hat trick of emotionally fraught kickers, two of which may have aligned with the code word moments Kat Barrell and Dominique Provost-Chalkley alluded to in their interview with Paste earlier this summer, it may very well be that this is the last bit of joyous mayhem we’ll get for awhile. So, you know, gird your vampire loins, bunker down with your local fireman, batten the lesbian sheriff hatches—summer may be over, but the Earp curse is only burning hotter. — Alexis Gunderson (Photo: Michelle Faye/Wynonna Earp Productions, Inc./Syfy)
6. The Sinner
One of the reasons that The Sinner remains such compelling television is that the lines between good and bad are so fuzzy and blurred. Every character resides in a gray, murky area. At first Vera (Carrie Coon) seemed like the nefarious mastermind behind the Mosswood Grove cult. But perhaps she is also a victim? Maybe she actually was trying to do her best to protect Julian (Elisha Henig). As an obsessed Harry (Bill Pullman) gets closer to the complicated truth of Mosswood—while also seemingly befriending Vera—he alienates all those around him including his lifelong friend, Jack (Tracy Letts). But the real revelation continues to be the standout performance from Natalie Paul as rookie detective Heather Novack. Paul’s expressive face speaks volumes and the scenes that flash back to her adolescent years (where she convincingly looks much younger) continue to be season’s highlights. At the halfway point of the eight-episode arc, The Sinner is perfectly poised for a thrilling conclusion. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: Peter Kramer/USA Network)
5. To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before
The number of films I’ve seen in my life that have made me wish I had a filmmaker’s eye for the art can be counted on one hand. With Susan Johnson’s instant classic, the fake-dating rom-com To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before (written by Sofia Alvarez and based on the terrific YA novel by Jenny Han), I’m ready to drop everything and enroll in film school. It is not just sweet and rich and warm and weird and gutting and funny and full-to-bursting with the romantic hero looking at the romantic heroine in that devastating way so necessary to great rom-coms, it is expertly cast, gorgeously scored, and shot with such 1980s-esque stylistic idiosyncrasy that every scene is fine art. Between Lana Condor as the awkward daydreaming lead, Lara Jean Covey, Noah Centineo as our collective new teen dream, Peter Kavinsky, Anna Cathcart as Kitty, Lara Jean’s scene-stealing “heathen” of a little sister, and John Corbett as the progressive version of 10 Things’ OB-GYN single father hovering in a jovially healthy way in the background of his daughters’ lives, I have found it impossible to watch this movie without a grin plastered across my face for its entire 99 minutes.
I’m not the only one. As a Netflix original, To All the Boys has also managed to accomplish in a single weekend what generally only the most interesting television can do these days: It united all of Twitter, Instagram and Tumblr (where it premiered at the top of Fandometrics; Movies rankings) in one big shout of unjaded enthusiasm, with every one of us—so typically beaten down by endless bad news cycles or critical conversations of problematic art—pressing “Play” and remembering what emotional warmth and teen friendship and the daydream of a cute boy’s (or girl’s) look of pure love feels like. This is the pop culture content we want in the dog days of 2018; this is the pop culture content we need. Thank you, Lara Jean and Peter. Your fans have broken the Internet. Let’s see you in the sequels. —Alexis Gunderson (Photo: Netflix)
“Fresh-Like,” full of somethings old and new, is the perfect emblem of Insecure’s know-better blues: Season Three’s first major turning point captures the flux of one’s early thirties, as Issa (Issa Rae) and Molly (Yvonne Orji) alike try to break free of past mistakes. (Also representative of the age, in this 31-year-old’s estimation? Issa singing “You are my greatest love!” to a taco.) The episode finds Issa sorting trash from keepsakes in her new apartment, strolling through her old neighborhood with Nathan (Kendrick Sampson), her new flame, and—in the culmination of the season’s strongest subplot yet—finally deciding to leave We Got Y’all, where she’s finally run out of patience being encircled by white faces. Even in the midst of change, “Fresh-Like” suggests, all that brought us to life’s turning points continues to operate, whether under the surface or (ahem, Molly) out in the open. “Every time I claim a new me, I end up in some old shit,” Issa says in the episode, and at this stage of the season it has the ring of a warning. Truer words… —Matt Brennan (Photo: Merie W. Wallace/HBO)
3. America to Me
For his latest project, director Steve James—known for nonfiction classics like Hoop Dreams, about two African-American high-school students in Chicago who are striving for the NBA, and The Interrupters, about those who try to mitigate violence in Chicago’s South Side—says that he didn’t want to go to the obvious places to see the problems of race and racism in this country; he wanted to look at where it plays out every day, in front of people who believe themselves to be progressives. So he returned to a setting he knew well: the high school where his own kids matriculated, and one that, like so many other places, has had its share of conflicts regarding race and society. The result is Starz’s new miniseries America to Me, both a time capsule of hope and a prelude to our current moment, in which it seems increasingly untenable to bury our heads in the sand. And that’s kind of the point of America to Me: Racism, even when it isn’t the cross-burning kind, is so ingrained in our society that it’s almost unavoidable even by those who recognize it and want to help. —Whitney Friedlander (Photo: Starz)
2. Better Call Saul
Look, I loved Breaking Bad. I do think it’s the best show I’ve ever seen, except maybe The Wire. But that doesn’t mean I haven’t grown attached to my new friends on Better Call Saul and worry if they will survive as we get closer to the two series’ inevitable collision. Last week, with “Talk,” I watched a gravely injured Nacho (Michael Mando) help Gus Fring (Giancarlo Esposito) start a turf war with a rival cartel before possibly literally spilling his gun-riddled guts all of his papa’s couch. This week, in “Quite a Ride,” I watched Kim Wexler (Rhea Seehorn) and her perfectly clipped hair and mix-and-match office separates stand up for the downtrodden as a public defender—risking her own career when some of these people don’t deserve it.
Neither of these characters are in the original series, which makes me both worried for them and even more suspicious of Bob Odenkirk’s lead on Saul, Jimmy McGill. “Quite a Ride” opens with a flash-forward to the end of Breaking Bad, when Jimmy, then going as Saul Goodman, is shredding documents and destroying his office before high-tailing it to Omaha and a job operating a mall Cinnabon. This week also saw Saul when he was still going as Jimmy—still a restless criminal lawyer who can’t stay straight for a measly nine months. What did you do between those occurrences, Jimmy? And who did you hurt? It had better not have been Kim. —Whitney Friedlander (Photo: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)
1. Adventure Time
Network: Cartoon Network
In its four-part series finale, Adventure Time chooses the most elegant exit it can, aided by plenty of strange jokes, and gorgeous animation both graceful and oblique. (This is truly the best it’s has ever looked.) It’s all capped off by former Adventure Time storyboard artist and Steven Universe creator Rebecca Sugar’s simple, tear-jerking song “Time Adventure,” a loving rumination on memory, change, growth, and the eternity of inner lives and the bonds between them, all with the easy refrain, “You and I will always be back then.” My partner has never seen Adventure Time. I’ve seen most of it. We both sobbed. —Jacob Oller (Photo: Cartoon Network)