Paste‘s Power Rankings: The 10 Best Shows on TV Right Now
Week of 10/8/2018Header photo: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures TV Lists power rankings
The end of two summer stalwarts (Lodge 49 and Better Call Saul) and the return of two network favorites (Fresh Off the Boat and Speechless, both part of ABC’s revived “TGIF”) means that the broadcast season is in full swing and cable is in a moment of transition this week, with a handful of new and returning streaming titles filling out the list. Oh, and this space adventure, Doctor Something? That returned this week with its 841st episode overall—and one of its most significant. That’s not a big deal or anything, is it?
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.
The Deuce, Flight of the Conchords: Live in London, Forever
10. American Vandal
Last Week’s Ranking: 7
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)
9. Fresh Off the Boat/Speechless
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
Of all the remakes, revivals, and reboots happening these days, perhaps the most welcome is the idea that families want to watch television on a Friday night, that the end of the week should not be a vast wasteland of repeats or bingeing dark Netflix dramas. ABC moved Fresh Off the Boat and Speechless, two of its critically acclaimed comedies, to Friday, and each premiere featured a clever homage to the opening credits of the TGIF comedy block of the ‘80s and ‘90s—bonus points for getting to hear Minnie Driver sing—and guest stars from that era. Jaleel White (you know and love him as Urkel) was a used car salesman on Boat (at a dealership owned by Kareem Abdul-Jabbar!), and Ben Savage (the boy who met the world) popped up as a realtor on Speechless. But beyond the stunt casting and inside jokes, the comedies reminded viewers why they’re so beloved. Jessica (Constance Wu) had to deal with her book being a flop (solution: deny you ever wrote a book), while the Speechless cast travelled to London to meet Maya’s (Driver) father (John Cleese). The hourlong block offered up a mix of poignancy and humor and gave viewers a reason to be thankful to watch TV on Friday night again. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: ABC/Richard Cartwright)
8. BoJack Horseman
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
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)
7. King Lear
Network: Amazon Prime
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
Set in an alt-now version of England, the latest adaptation of King Lear, starring Anthony Hopkins, is blessedly immune to Revamp the Script To Be Timely Disease (though it’s trimmed to two hours), so prepare to have to focus a little bit: You’re gonna get 115 minutes of AP English words and a lot of what a Joe Bob Briggs review might once have termed “soliloquy-fu.” Every character in this adaptation is cast brilliantly, from Lear’s three daughters (Emma Thompson, Emily Watson and Florence Pugh, respectively) to the various schemers and plotters in his inner circle (Jim Broadbent as Gloucester and Tobias Menzies as Cornwall stand out, but then again, so do Andrew Scott as Edgar, Jim Carter as Kent, and Karl Johnson as the Fool. And you know what? Basically everyone with a line. Seriously, it is wall-to-wall brilliant acting). Broadbent, Thompson and Hopkins are all utterly masterful in interpreting Shakespeare’s complex 400-year-old diction and making it feel modern, approachable and powerful. Hopkins’ increasingly demented ranting, capering and jeering are eloquent as hell and profoundly discomfiting to watch. Thompson is honed like a high-end chef’s knife. Broadbent is an elocutionary magician; Jim Carter exudes his hallmark gravitas and I’m not sure who currently does bat-shit crazy better than Andrew Scott. The production design is sleek and cogent and a bit creepy, both opulent and bleak. There’s affecting use of cinematography—it doesn’t come across as a camera trained on a stage play—yet it retains its form in a way that reminds you that it is a stage play at heart. After all, Lear is timely in every time and place, because men in power are reliably arrogant, judgmental, and keen to maintain a grip on their power at all costs, and it is always tragic. —Amy Glynn (Photo: Ed Miller/Amazon Prime Video)
6. The Good Place
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
For the fans who worried that Season Three’s particular narrative leap would put an end to The Good Place’s well-established punny extra-ness when it comes to gross themed restaurants, Australia’s Americana-drenched Cowboy Skyscraper Buffet at the center of last week’s Trevor-ful episode must have felt like a deep-fried (and, for the Americans in the group, deeply mortifying) gift. Sure, the rest of the episode was delightful—it’s The Good Place; it always is—but while Team Cockroach’s dynamics crackled with all the new-timeline energy of this version of our characters continuing to get to know each other, and the show’s plottier elements sparked under the constraints thrust upon Janet (D’Arcy Carden) as she joined Michael (Ted Danson) and Trevor (Adam Scott) interfering on Earth, it was the loaded-gun table buzzer, the Manifest Destiny “kick anyone out of any chair you want for a few bucks” seating policy, and the “half an apple pie, blended with Southern Comfort and Coca Cola and served in a Chevy hub cap” drink special of the ol’ Cowboy Skyscraper Buffet that viewers will remember about this episode until the heat death of the universe. —Alexis Gunderson (Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
A trafficked ring-tailed lemur. Popcorn problems. The lost final chapter of Don Quixote. And Gassing Up the Miata. Netflix’s new miniseries, Maniac, has its imperfections. But it proves that even if reality might be a debatable construct, metaphors and tropes and symbols are pretty stinkin’ permanent. Writer Patrick Somerville (The Leftovers) and director Cary Joji Fukunaga (True Detective) have created something that’s as much like visual poetry as any TV show I can recall seeing recently-and unlike most poetry, it’s also freaking hilarious. Annie (Emma Stone) is profoundly depressed, prone to substance abuse and lying, and has some serious issues with a sibling. Owen (Jonah Hill) might be schizophrenic, and he’s under a lot of pressure from his wealthy family over a legal matter, and he has some serious issues with a sibling. Arguably, neither of them is a good test subject for a highly experimental pharmaceutical trial, but this one happens to be for a series of pills to “cure” all the ills of the psyche, and they’re both hard up for money… and for answers, closure… relief. The result? A surrealist masterpiece. —Amy Glynn (Photo: Michele K. Short/Netflix)
4. Better Call Saul
Last Week’s Ranking: 6
I’m not alone, among critics, in finding the construction of Gus Fring’s (Giancarlo Esposito) underground meth lab this season’s weak link, so seeing it come to a head—and, one can only hope, a conclusion—in “The Winner” is something of a relief, even if it consumes too much of the episode for this finale to qualify as one of the series’ greats. Still, from its flashback to Jimmy (the brilliant Bob Odenkirk) and Chuck (Michael McKean) at karaoke on the day of the former’s elevation to the bar, to Kim’s (Rhea Seehorn) crestfallen expression, on learning that Jimmy’s “sincere” plea for reinstatement is another example of crocodile tears, Better Call Saul finishes its fourth season by underscoring Jimmy’s belief that turnabout is fair play. Before formally adopting the name we always knew he would (“It’s all good, man,” he quips), he flashes a sense of profound disillusionment with the legal system he’d once hoped to master. “You didn’t get it,” as he explains to an applicant for the scholarship Hamlin, Hamlin & McGill awards in Chuck’s name. “You were never gonna get it.” And neither will he. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Nicole Wilder/AMC/Sony Pictures)
3. Big Mouth
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
The second season of Netflix’s animated sex-ed comedy is more unwieldy than the first, losing the element of surprise and adding way, way too much of that gross-out nincompoop, Coach Steve. Still, Big Mouth, from creators Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Mark Levin, and Jennifer Flackett, might be the flat-out funniest comedy on TV, pulling off a one-liner/sight gag hit rate to rival BoJack Horseman (without the despair) and The Good Place (without the profound philosophical questions). Highlights include a Planned Parenthood explainer episode in the form of a pop culture-inspired anthology—replete with an ingenious, contraception-themed Bachelor spoof—a ribald two-parter set at a school sleepover, and the addition of David Thewlis as the nefarious Shame Wizard, though the series’ MVP remains (of course) Maya Rudolph as the Hormone Monstress, offering a multi-episode master class in voice acting. (The way she pronounces “pharmacy” should be in the MoMA.) “I’m horny all the time,” Andrew Glouberman (John Mulaney) laments at one point, summing up Big Mouth’s laugh riot, ‘and I’m makin’ bad choices.” Let’s hope there are still many more to come. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Netflix)
2. Lodge 49
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable mention
In its magnificent season finale, Lodge 49 sends its characters back in time, underground, and across the ocean, but its ultimate concern, as always, is the here and now. (“I’m on a clock,” Linda Emond’s Connie says at one point, reflecting on her terminal illness. “So what? So is everybody.”) As Dud (Wyatt Russell) mourns the impending closure of the lodge, Liz (Sonya Cassidy) reckons with her debts, and Ernie (Brent Jennings) searches for magic to forget “the grind,” the episode emerges as the perfect distillation of one of the year’s best new series—funny and mystical and angry and wise, run through with the faith that people are decent, even as our institutions are corrupt. There are multiple ways of describing Lodge 49’s “benevolent universe,” to crib from Blaise (David Pasquesi), but perhaps the most powerful is to quote the section of The Tempest from which the finale draws its title:
Full fathom five thy father lies.
Of his bones are coral made.
Those are pearls that were his eyes.
Nothing of him that doth fade,
But doth suffer a sea-change
Into something rich and strange.
This summer, there has been no richer, or stranger, series on TV. I’m already awaiting the start of Season Two. —Matt Brennan
1. Doctor Who
Network: BBC America
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
The plot of “The Woman Who Fell to Earth” is fairly unremarkable for Doctor Who: No one is going to be dressing as Tim Shaw at the next Comic Con. But it’s nonetheless a good introduction to a new Doctor (Jodie Whittaker, the 13th—and the first woman), her new companions, and one of the key things I love about Doctor Who. The Doctor isn’t just an optimist, she’s the optimist. That hasn’t been true of every arc of every Doctor, but the Doctor comes by her optimism honestly: Not through blithe ignorance, but through more experience than is easy to imagine, and through a grounding in her encounters with humanity. I’m already in love with Whittaker’s refreshing contrast to Peter Capaldi’s 12th Doctor, an atypically gruff incarnation, who was brilliant in his own portrayal but carried a deep sadness behind the Doctor’s eternal zest for life. The regeneration process, a genius device to keep the show ever-fresh with new faces, is like a re-birth. The Doctor is always the Doctor, but with different traits and likes and style. Whitaker has more of the childlike wonder that Christopher Eccleston brought to the first of the rebooted Doctors, number nine, back in 2005. —Josh Jackson (Photo: Sophie Mutevelian/BBC America)