Paste‘s Power Rankings: The 10 Best Shows on TV Right Now

Week of 9/17/2018

TV Lists power rankings
Paste‘s Power Rankings: The 10 Best Shows on TV Right Now

Last Friday’s “Streamageddon”—or, if you prefer, “Streamtember 14”—means a near-handful of titles from Netflix (twice over), Hulu, and Amazon Prime joins the Paste Power Rankings this week, adding to two holdovers (Atypical and City of Joy) for complete domination. Well, almost complete domination: Close to the top of the list you’ll find two titles that have appeared here regularly since early August, both approaching the end of strong seasons. Baby showers and meth labs will not be denied.

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.

Honorable Mentions:
Kidding, Lodge 49, The Sinner, You

10. America to Me
Network: Starz
Last Week’s Ranking: 8

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)

9. The Deuce
Network: HBO
Last Week’s Ranking: 2

The Deuce may be realizing that it’s bitten off more than it’s willing to chew—and its characters are realizing they don’t like the flavor of what they’ve ordered. That makes for some some messy reckoning in “There’s an Art to This,” which doesn’t necessarily shape itself into greatness; there’s only so much of this an episode can fit before becoming exhausting, especially when James Franco gesticulates like he’s the Fonz. Unevenness aside, living in The Deuce is such a joy that even the most slapdash segments are worth powering through the velour fluff. It’s easy to take the incredible costumes and sets-within-a-set for granted because they seem so effortlessly lived-in, but the beautiful period clothing—and the rawness of a slightly-unbuttoned blouse here, or a misaligned dick sticking out of some briefs there—make the design of the show its best feature. Well, aside from Maggie Gyllenhaal howling at the climax of Sam the Sham and the Pharaohs’ “Li’l Red Riding Hood.” Nothing beats that. —Jacob Oller (Photo: Paul Schiraldi/HBO)

8. Atypical
Network: Netflix
Last Week’s Ranking: 5

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)

7. The First
Network: Hulu
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible

The First is Hulu’s contribution to the burgeoning clutch of recent programs to take on the increasingly inevitable-seeming human colonization of Mars. It stars Sean Penn (in his first significant TV role) as Tom Hagarty, a diffident ex-astronaut who’s got a difficult relationship with a corporation and its awkward yet driven leader, Laz Ingram (Natascha McElhone), as well as a troubled situation with his troubled daughter, Denise (Anna Jacoby-Heron). It’s the fairly near future (the 2030s) in New Orleans, and Ingram’s corporation is on the brink of beginning the colonization of Mars when something really terrible happens because of a quarter. Hijinks, dear readers: They ensue. The series is artful, very well-acted, and takes on some fairly significant questions. The question of whether we should be attempting to colonize another planet, sure. But that is in many ways the least significant question posed by this script. Much more in the foreground are things like: What is our relationship to the planet we’re currently on? What does it mean to be a pioneer, and how do we weigh the impact on other people against the urge to seek new ground? These characters are all struggling with dual impulses: to keep their feet on the ground and to fly away. It’s a very well-articulated equipoise, and I’m eager to see where it goes. —Amy Glynn (Photo: Paul Schiraldi/Hulu)

6. City of Joy
Network: Netflix
Last Week’s Ranking: 4

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)

5. Forever
Network: Amazon Prime
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible

Perhaps no show is more suited for the binge-watch era than Amazon’s new dramedy, Forever. You watch the first episode thinking you know what the show is going to be about, only to have those expectations completely upended. Then you spend the second episode thinking, “OK, now I really know what the show is going to be about,” only to have your expectations, formed by years of watching TV, completely upended again. (And no, if you’ve gotten this far without learning what the big twist in the series is, I’m not about to be the one to ruin it for you.) The double bait-and-switch the series pulls off works because we are waiting only seconds between episodes, and so we can enjoy Forever even though it truly begins in the third episode, as June (Maya Rudolph) and Oscar (Fred Armisen) explore their marriage and the notion of forever. Pro tip: If you don’t want to invest in the entire series, just pop in on the sixth episode, which is essentially a stand-alone episode. Hong Chau and Jason Mitchell are phenomenal as a couple whose timing is never quite right. It’s thirty minutes that will break your heart. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: Amazon Prime Video)

4. Insecure
Network: HBO
Last Week’s Ranking: 7

Oh, I hope we get to see Tiffany (Amanda Seales) have the baby this season. Because we’ve all had friends like Tiffany: She’s clearly lost sight of the fact that she’ll have an actual baby to take care of after all the balloons, cake, party favors and hilarious portraits fade away. But what Insecure does so well is show things from Tiffany’s perspective. Her best friends are so wrapped up in themselves that they don’t even think to offer to throw her a baby shower. And Kelli (Natasha Rothwell) is struggling to figure out how to keep her friendship with Tiffany as her best friend navigates becoming a mom for the first time. That is the epitome of life in your thirties, where everything changes. After pulling off the great fake out that Lawrence (Jay Ellis) wouldn’t be on this season, viewers finally got a look at Lawrence’s life post-Issa (career success, lots of sex, a bout of chlamydia). When Issa and Lawrence exchange pleasantries at the baby shower, it seems like they both have finally moved on. (Or have they? Lawrence definitely seemed more wistful.) And what’s up with Nathan (Kendrick Sampson), who appears to be ghosting Issa after declaring his feelings for her? Only two episodes left to find out. It’s stressful-like. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: Merie W. Wallace/HBO)

3. American Vandal
Network: Netflix
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible

The first season of Dan Perrault and Tony Yacenda’s American Vandal applied murder-level seriousness to a harmless crime, taking that imbalance to narrative and comic heights by never stretching beyond its small scope. By drilling down into all the avenues of relatable weirdness that teens navigate regularly in the high school social scene, the series plumbed investigative depths that didn’t need to be gritty to be engaging. Much of that still applies as Peter (Tyler Alvarez) and Sam (Griffin Gluck) return—as the show’s most consistent comic element—to battle wits with basketball stars, overly religious students, and the mystery of the Turd Burglar. A new season, a new school, a new prankster: American Vandal is like the true crime mysteries it parodies in almost every way. In Season Two, St. Bernadine’s, a Catholic high school, has been attacked by weaponized diarrhea in a lemonade-poisoning incident more heinous and humiliating than dick drawings could ever be. And that’s just the tip of the turtlehead in the gross-out follow-up to one of last year’s best new shows. The stakes are higher and the relationships more tangled this season, even if it’s not as wildly funny as its novel debut. —Jacob Oller (Photo: Netflix)

2. Better Call Saul
Network: AMC
Last Week’s Ranking: 1

Were it not for the return of BoJack Horseman, “Something Stupid” would have secured Better Call Saul’s place atop the Power Rankings yet again this week. For the split-screen montage of Kim (Rhea Seehorn) and Jimmy’s (Bob Odenkirk) diverging routines alone, it counts among the most artfully constructed episodes of one of TV’s most artful series—and that’s before we get to the first-person tour through the future home of Wexler McGill, an adventure inside Mike Ehrmantraut (Jonathan Banks) and Gus Fring’s (Giancarlo Esposito) “Big Rock Candy Mountain,” or the juicy push and pull of Kim and Jimmy’s relationship. It remains to be seen whether her attempts to keep Jimmy out of jail will, per Frank and Nancy Sinatra’s perfectly chosen ballad, “go and spoil it all,” but “Something Stupid” is, in itself, something beautiful to behold. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures Television)

1. BoJack Horseman
Network: Netflix
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible

BoJack Power List Main.png
BoJack Horseman, like the depressed, pill-popping star of its Hollywoo satire, may be getting on in age, but in its fifth season it remains as audacious as ever. As BoJack (Will Arnett) films a prestige drama named Philbert—produced by his agent, Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris), co-written by his closest friend, Diane Nguyen (Alison Brie), and co-starring Diane’s ex-husband, Mr. Peanutbutter (Paul F. Tompkins), Netlfix’s wickedly funny, pitch-dark original series tackles its usual array of topical material, most especially #MeToo, with its usual blend of rapid-fire quips, industry inside baseball, and marrow-deep pathos. All this and it still squares space for a travelogue in Vietnam, a flashback to a country childhood, an installment that takes places across four Halloweens (and four romances), and another, the extraordinary “Free Churro,” almost entirely comprised of BoJack’s wrenching eulogy for his mother. BoJack Horseman, are you Season two through Nine of The Simpsons right now? Because you’re one of the best animated series in the history of television. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Netflix)

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