New year, new list: The first Paste Power Rankings of 2019 brings with it so many new titles—with only one holdover from our last Power Rankings of 2018—that it truly feels like a fresh start. And, with an awards show, a choose-your-own-adventure TV movie/extended episode, a hard-to-watch docuseries, a delightful reality show, and a children’s program comprising the top five, 2019 is already looking to be as varied as a viewer could hope. Here’s to much, much more of the same.
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.
Counterpart, Fresh Off the Boat, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Speechless
The degree to which Netflix’s excellent sci-fi series Travelers has continuously flown under the radar is so spooky, one might almost be convinced that psychic time travelers from a post-apocalyptic future really have been quietly taking over the bodies and lives of our friends and family at the moments of their historic death as part of a slow-growth conspiracy to prevent nuclear apocalypse, and we’re all just too wrapped up in our current cultural shitstorm to have noticed. Travelers, whose third season dropped on Friday only to be immediately drowned for oxygen by the flash of the Chilling Adventures of Sabrina holiday special and the bang of the final season of Voltron: Legendary Defender, has been quietly compelling sci-fi storytelling since its low-key beginning, and from what I’ve treated myself to of Season Three so far, is only getting more creatively self-assured and philosophically complex as time goes on. Plus: It continues to feature a knockout performance from Patrick Gilmore as non-Traveler David Mailer, who is one of the most endearing models of television’s “new masculinity; I’ve seen in the past couple years. —Alexis Gunderson (Photo: Netflix)
Network: Disney Channel/Disney XD
With the nimble visual comedy skills of producing partners Jeff “Swampy” Marsh and Dan Povenmire driving the storytelling—and their previous series, Phineas and Ferb, providing a rock-solid framework whenever the stories’ combined weirdness threatens to spill over—the sheer volume of details at play in “The Phineas and Ferb Effect,” the crossover event/season premiere of Milo Murphy’s Law, never feels like too much. In fact, between the brief “Previously on…” recap delivered by a suspicious Dr. Doofenshmirtz in the cold open, and the two series’ common Marsh-Povenmire vocabulary (heavy on optimistic science nonsense, visual gags and winkingly delivered puns), “The Phineas and Ferb Effect” works equally well for fans of Milo Murphy’s Law and fans of Phineas and Ferb, even if you’re familiar with one and not the other. Been waiting for a year to see how Milo Murphy’s Law’s Pistachion epic plays out? Great! This special’s got you. Been hoping against hope that Phineas and Ferb would eventually come back in one form or another? Awesome! This special not only has your back, but hints heavily at more to come: “And remember, we’re just on the other side of town, so feel free to cross over anytime!” Milo tells the old crew as they take off at the episode’s end. “We will,” Phineas says. “See you soon!” —Alexis Gunderson (Photo: Disney Channel)
Network: Amazon Prime Video
I say this with all the sincerity in the world: Becky Sharp is terrible—and thank God for it.
Brought to life by Olivia Cooke (Bates Motel), the Becky Sharp of Gwyneth Hughes’ dreamily sardonic adaptation of William Makepeace Thackeray’s novel is the dark changeling version of all the intrepid pro-woman, anti-elite heroines that television critics now adore. Born to a lowly artist and French opera girl and orphaned at a young age, Becky is introduced to the audience as a clever young woman justifiably incensed at the lot fate has handed her, and is set up as the protagonist for viewers to root for as she attempts to bootstrap her way into a position of greater security on her era’s still-limited social ladder. As far as comparisons go, just imagine what you might get if you crossed Kate Beckinsale’s Love & Friendship with Heath Ledger’s A Knight’s Tale: Period drama staging so lavish is verges on clownish and a protagonist who seems to exist just slightly out of the time she’s stuck in, with a few truly resonant emotional threads buried amidst what is otherwise seven full hours of tightly performed, very funny satire, all wrapped up with a big, irreverent bow. —Alexis Gunderson (Photo: Robert Viglasky/Amazon Prime Video)
The real question here, for my purposes, is not “Is The Masked Singer any good?” It’s “What even IS The Masked Singer?” This electric Kool-Aid acid test of a talent show, hosted by Nick Cannon, features 12 celebrity (“celebrity”) contestants performing the usual familiar hits for a panel of (problematic as hell) judges, including Robin Thicke, Jenny McCarthy, Ken Jeong, and Nicole Scherzinger. The twist is that the contestants are hidden within large, brightly colored costumes that can only be described as “monstrous”—think Where the Wild Things Are, if you re-read it while high on Percocet. To be clear, I am not saying that I liked the first episode. I’m not even sure the first episode is more than a projection of my imagination. But as Paste’s Whitney Friedlander noted when I sent out this week’s Power Rankings poll, none of that matters: “Everyone is here for it, even if we’re hate-watching it.” —Matt Brennan (Photo: Michael Becker/FOX)
Network: BBC America
The first season with the 13th Doctor (Jodie Whittaker) finished without a single encounter with one of her chief nemeses, and their omission was felt. The Daleks are collectively one of the greatest sci-fi villains of all time, a stand-in for Nazism, for forced conformity, for warmongering and the proliferation of mass weaponry. The Daleks killed millions of Time Lords in the Time War and the Doctor has had to defeat them countless times throughout the show’s history. As a result, their reappearance in Doctor Who’s New Year’s Day special, “Resolution” is unnerving enough (“I am your pilot now” is a horrifying statement) to propel the new Doctor’s greatest challenge yet, as well as the moving reunion between Ryan (Tosin Cole) and the father (Daniel Adegboyega) who’d abandoned him when he needed him most. In this, “Resolution” reflects the same areas of strength and weakness that have come to define Chris Chibnall’s leadership of the series, as Doctor Who heads into a long hibernation: Season 12 is slated to debut in 2020. —Matt Brennan and Josh Jackson (Photo: James Pardon/BBC America)
Don’t quote me yet, but I think Netflix maybe has the notoriously slippery kids book-to-screen adaptation formula solved. I mean: To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before, Dumplin’, and, for some good but mostly ill, 13 Reasons Why. Then, and more impressively: A Series of Unfortunate Events. In the vast and increasingly stormy ocean of original Netflix content, A Series of Unfortunate Events, based on the sharply unrelenting book series by Lemony Snicket (Daniel Handler), has been from the very first title card an unsinkable dinghy of exquisitely executed vision—a phrase which here means, to quote the youth, iconic. Honestly, between the killer casting, the grotesquely perfect costuming and set design, the ever-changing, always ominous titles sung by Count Olaf (Neil Patrick Harris), and the truly astonishing, straight-from-the-source body count, this kids’ series is such fun television it’s almost offensive. And now, with its newly released third season—planned from the start, in an act of network wisdom I hope will be become an industry trend, to be its last—A Series of Unfortunate Events is also a model of satisfyingly complete storytelling. Covering the final four books in Snicket’s 13-volume series, the seven episodes of this final season rise to the artistic and narrative challenges set by the first two, introducing compelling new characters (portrayed by Allison Williams, Max Greenfield, Morena Baccarin and Peter MacNicol) and bringing back all the old favorites (including Tony Hale, Kerri Kenney and Joan Cusack), while still finding the time to tie up all the loose plot and character threads the series ever introduced into a weirdly hopeful, Baudelaire-shaped bow. It’s so satisfying, and so sweet, and no spoilers here, but reader: I cried. —Alexis Gunderson (Photo: Eike Schroter/Netflix)
Tidying Up with Marie Kondo will convince the most cynical among us that it’s reasonable to derive joy from every single thing in your house, and that anything you’re hanging onto that doesn’t provoke a joy reaction should be seriously held to account. What’s interesting about Tidying Up is that it isn’t especially voyeuristic—and that seems to be what makes it work. Kondo skims the spaces she enters, maintaining a polite distance (she mostly speaks Japanese, which keeps a certain veneer of non-enmeshment between her and her generally English-speaking, Angeleno subjects). Most of the heavy lifting is done when she leaves, in solitude. She has a “method,” but she also has a point: minimizing, paring down, organizing, all the things she calls “tidying,” are about closing the gap between who you want to be and who you are on a given day. —Amy Glynn (Photo: Denise Crew/Netflix)
Lifetime’s exhaustive (and exhausting) six-part docuseries about the allegations of sexual assault, domestic violence/abuse, and sexual misconduct with minors levied against R&B musician R. Kelly has not met with universal acclaim: Vulture’s Angelica Jade Bastién argues in her trenchant review that Surviving R. Kelly focuses less on healing or reckoning than on trauma itself. But through searing interviews with a wide range of subjects, including a host of Kelly’s accusers, the series has generated renewed attention to long-standing claims—and, perhaps more importantly, to the personal, political, and industrial forces arrayed to dismiss, discredit, or otherwise gloss over those claims. Surviving R. Kelly may be flawed, but it nonetheless offers one example of how to continue to press the demands of #MeToo and #TimesUp into the movement’s second year in the spotlight. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Courtesy of Lifetime)
Love it or hate it, consider it a circular, self-conscious gimmick or an attempt to capture the modern experience, exploitation, and commodification of grief, Black Mirror’s super-sized choose-your-own-adventure episode, starring Fionn Whitehead as a young developer adapting a choose-your-own-adventure novel into a video game in the year 1984, promises to change the way we watch television. While not the only recent experiment of its ilk—Steven Soderbergh’s Mosaic premiered, on HBO and in app form, in January 2018—it is, given Netflix’s footprint, likely to be the most influential, with an increasing number of interactive experiences that blur the line between TV and video games just as Netflix has already blurred the line between movies and TV almost to the vanishing point. Add to that Netflix’s mastery of the increasingly common “surprise premiere” trope—poor Angie Tribeca tried the same thing at the same time, which went over like a lead balloon—and the prospect of the streaming service collecting data on our in-show decisions and “Bandersnatch” starts to seems like the start of an adventure in which none of us will have much choice. Congratulations? —Matt Brennan (Photo: Netflix)
As ever, the Golden Globes had its winners and losers, and I’m not just talking about the nominees. But for the “power” in “Power Rankings,” awards shows remain unmatched: As Vulture’s Josef Adalian reports, calling the telecast a “ratings win” despite a small downtick from 2018 in total viewers, the Globes were the most-watched non-sports, non-news event since… The Oscars, in March. The ensuing cultural conversation sets the agenda for the coming months, at least through the end of “awards season,” from the rightful scrutiny of Best Picture winners Green Book and Bohemian Rhapsody to the reflections on Asian representation and gender parity offered by Sandra Oh and Regina King, respectively. In light of the ongoing Kevin Hart controversy, The Hollywood Foreign Press Association can even breathe a sigh of relief about Oh and co-host Andy Samberg’s middling performance: At least they didn’t screw this up as badly as the Academy! —Matt Brennan (Photo: Kevin Winter/Getty Images)