Several new and returning titles jump into the Paste Power Rankings mix this week, and with some big names attached: Jim Carrey (Kidding), Penn Badgley (You), and Maggie Gyllenhaal, still reigning supreme over The Deuce. But it’s AMC’s stalwart Better Call Saul, after playing second fiddle to series finales and rom-com sensations all summer, that finally lands in the top slot this week. The way the series’ fourth season is going, it may be tough to dethrone. Any takers?
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.
All or Nothing: Manchester City, Castle Rock, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Shameless, The Sinner, Wynonna Earp
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
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)
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
Kidding’s pilot episode finds the new series less than fully cooked—both the wide-eyed innocence of Jim Carrey’s grieving children’s show host and the serial killer vibes thrown off by his surviving son need more careful calibration—but it nonetheless outlines the dark comedy’s strengths. Among them: Judy Greer and Catherine Keener, deadpans intact, as the long-overlooked women in a famous man’s life; an occasionally arresting aesthetic, both in the design of Mr. Pickles’ program and the unsettling camera angles; and a trenchant examination of the difference between “person” and “persona,” care of our protagonist’s highly pragmatic father, Sebastian (Frank Langella). “You’re a minted image, a trusted brand,” he says near episode’s end, and though Kidding isn’t there yet, it’s worth keeping an eye on. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Erica Parise/SHOWTIME)
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
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)
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
The ladies head to Coachella to see Beyoncé in “High-Like,” and though they don’t, in fact, see Beyoncé—it’s a long story—their shenanigans fuel one of Insecure’s zaniest episodes ever: Issa (Issa Rae) pretends to be a ghost, Molly (Yvonne Orji) becomes “Molly Squared,” Tiffany (Amanda Seales) sobs in a well organized closet, and Kelli (Natasha Rothwell) does the most. (Who’s laughing?! Shut up. It’s you.) Oh, and did I mention Lawrence (Jay Ellis) returns? Still, what brings “High-Like” back into the season’s primary current is a quieter, hungover moment in a 7-Eleven parking lot, in which the bloom of youth suddenly seems to sour. “Everything’s different now,” the pregnant Tiffany says to Issa, confessing that she’s been pushing herself to party so she doesn’t feel left out. “Like, we’re different now.” Amen. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Merie W. Wallace/HBO)
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
Netflix’s quiet, thoughtful comedy returns for its second season without the hype that surrounds many of the streaming giant’s shows. And that’s OK. The story of Sam (Keir Gilchrist), an 18-year-old with autism, and his family speaks for itself. This season, the comedy hilariously follows Sam as he searches for a new therapist (he swears one was actually a rabbit because she eats so many carrots) while also dealing with his family falling apart. The premiere picks up right after the end of last season’s finale with Sam’s dad, Doug (Michael Rapaport), discovering that Sam’s mom, Elsa (Jennifer Jason Leigh), is having an affair. Everyone tries to hide this fact from Sam, but, of course, things like this don’t stay secret for long. As Sam’s sister Casey, Brigette Lundy-Paine turns in one of TV’s most underrated performances. Yes, this family is unique, but all families are—and the series deftly captures both the comedic moments and the heartbreaking ones. Atypical remains a show more people show be watching. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: Netflix)
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable mention
“Nature Boy,” first recorded by Nat King Cole in the 1940s, frames “The Mysteries”—an episode full of the strange enchantments the song describes, from the passing of the torch of Sovereign Protector and a pool of shooting stars to the arrival of an imposter. Such is creator Jim Gavin’s Lodge 49, an eccentric fable of life in late-capitalist Long Beach, Calif., as Sean “Dud” Dudley (Wyatt Russell), his dark-humored sister, Liz (Sonya Cassidy), and his new friend/fellow lodge member, Ernie (Brent Jennings), try to rediscover their sense of purpose—or find it in the first place. Ultimately, as the Larry Loomis (Kenneth Welsh) explains before he shuffles off this mortal coil, the mysteries in question are as much a means to an end as an end in themselves: “It does help people,” he says, echoing the series’ loving credo. “It gives ‘em a sense of something bigger and rosier than grinding it out ‘til you die.” —Matt Brennan (Photo: Jackson Lee Davis/AMC)
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
Netflix’s new documentary, Madeleine Gavin’s City of Joy, which follows activist Christine Schuler Deschryver and OB-GYN Dr. Denis Mukwege on a journey to help victims of sexual violence in the Congo reclaim and rebuild lives that are often utterly shattered by it, is a piercing little film, by turns appalling and uplifting. It manages to go straight to the heart of a complex issue and contend with it eloquently, bravely, and concisely. It’s firmly in the “you need to know about this” category. Both at a geopolitical level, because it is not a crisis you’re going to find getting a lot of play in U.S. news media and it really is shocking to see what’s going on behind the scenes—your corporate and government corruption conspiracy theories will be calmly, coolly and thoroughly validated—and at a much more personal level, because it is crucial to understand how much can be done to heal people who have endured horrific experiences. This film will show you a deeply needed example of the power of compassion and support even in the face of the unimaginable. —Amy Glynn (Photo: Paula J. Allen/Netflix)
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
Lifetime’s newest genre-bender, You, is fatally charming. Adapted from Caroline Kepnes’ novel of the same name, the series is explicitly bout stalking—Penn Badgley’s Joe is both star and narrator, his narration directed not at you the viewer, but at you, his stalking victim, Beck (Elizabeth Lail). And yet, from the dreamy staging of the used bookstore where Joe meets Beck, to the romantic affability with which he engages her in their few conversations, to the tender generosity with which he treats random outsiders—elderly ladies leaving their brownstones, the kid neighbor who needs a respite from his single mom’s bad relationship—You’s pilot is constantly daring you to forget that Joe’s character is anything but pure. Even when he’s getting off to Beck’s evening rituals while spying on her from across the street. Even when he’s silently enduring the cold spray of her shower as he hides behind her curtain after she’s come home early on the day he set aside to snoop through her things. Even as he leads her true dick of a kinda-boyfriend down an abandoned alley under pretense of being a culture journalist interested in the dick’s artisanal soda start-up. Even as that pretense turns so, so violent. (No spoilers, but, like—don’t expect this show to go easy on anyone’s sensibilities, not least the audience’s.) We have recently reached the point in the #MeToo movement when the sea of grays in between the black-and-white binaries of “good men” and “bad men” or “forgivable” and “unforgivable” or “dick” and “violent psychopath” are all that can be seen for miles, and, at least from the pilot, it looks like that sea of grays is Joe’s happy home. I absolutely dread but still cannot wait to see what comes next. — Alexis Gunderson (Photo: Lifetime)
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
Welcome to the 366. It’s been five years since we watched porn beat the pimps and the mob beat the cops. But sex work is still work, and moneymakers came out on top of the new scene, too. Part of that is Club 366, owned by the mob and run by ambitious doofus Vincent Martino (James Franco). With tight pants, no bras, and some Foghat-ass wigs, The Deuce admires the substance under the flashy surface of New York City’s 1970s slime. In the Season Two premiere, “Our Raison d’Etre,” the battle between surface and depth rages on, as the title hints. Directed by Alex Hall and written by series creators David Simon and George Pelecanos, the episode finds the characters trying to take a break from the hustle and enjoy themselves a little. But most everyone in The Deuce seems to get pleasure from that hustle—even those at the top of their game. —Jacob Oller (Photo: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
We’ve been told repeatedly that this season of Saul is inching closer and closer to the world of its predecessor/sequel, Breaking Bad. And while the season’s sixth episode, “Piñata,” isn’t as much about re-introducing us to old characters as others have been, it is about reminding the audience of both shows’ themes: Never take anyone for granted, least of all the meek.
The episode opens by going even further back in time than its setting in the early-to-mid-aughts, giving us a peak at what star Bob Odenkirk’s Jimmy McGill looked like during his days of skimping off the top of a 1993 Oscar pool. But it also shows the origin story for what made him decide to dream bigger than the Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill mail room. (Sibling rivalry will get ya every time; enjoy that eventual guest actor Emmy nomination, Michael McKean). And an extra-special scene at the end reminds us that nobody messes with Jimmy, no matter what year it is or what moniker he’s using at the time.
But the most standout work is done by the person who’s sitting calm, collected and waiting: Gus Fring. With the pace of a metronome, actor Giancarlo Esposito warns a comatose Hector Salamanca (Mark Margolis) that his pain is far from over. It’s a chilling monologue from writer Gennifer Hutchison that kind of makes you briefly forget how things end for the both of characters in Breaking Bad. —Whitney Friedlander (Photo: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)