The earth was scorched. Devastation abounded, while others rejoiced. We are talking, of course, about Upfronts week, the annual event where broadcast networks present their new and returning shows to advertisers. That means last week was a rollercoaster of emotions as many beloved shows received news of their cancellation (we will miss you most of all Speechless) while other got the word that they will be back for years to come (hi This is Us and your three year renewal).
The show that got the most attention was Fresh Off the Boat, which was picked up for a sixth season to the dismay of star Constance Wu, who had a profanity ridden Twitter meltdown over the news. Therefore, some of the most discussed shows didn’t even air new episodes last week. And with only one episode left Game of Thrones is going to have to do a lot to get back in fans’ good graces as it’s off the power list for the second week in a row.
The rules for the power 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. So much good TV is available right now.
Fosse/Verdon, The Spanish Princess, Better Things, The Good Fight, Jane the Virgin, The Goldbergs and Brooklyn Nine-Nine.
Network: PBS Masterpiece
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
Written by Victor Hugo and published in 1862, Les Misérables is known as one of the great novels of the 19th century. And as the title implies, it’s all about misery, of a sort that’s difficult for most of us to imagine. The most recent retelling of the novel—which many people familiar with the story through the stage musical and its screen adaptations may not have read—is brought to you by Masterpiece, and it lives up to the name. There have been many prior versions of the tale, and most of them condense it to two or three hours. The beauty of turning Les Misérables into a miniseries is that we get a long view of the characters, finding new sides to well-known figures—Lily Collins’ Fantine, Dominic West’s Jean Valjean, David Oyelowo’s Javert—and finding depth in those, like Olivia Colman’s Madame Thénardier, who often come across as one-note. This Les Misérables may be the best one yet. —Keri Lumm
Network: You Tube Premium
Last Week’s Ranking: 7
Last year, Cobra Kai, the YouTube Premium series that continues The Karate Kid story, was a delightful surprise. No one, certainly not TV critics, could have predicted that the first season would be so great. What a relief to report that the second season remains a highly entertaining and remarkably nuanced blast. Ralph Macchio and William Zabka are still fantastic as Daniel and Johnny, now grown men with their adolescent rivalry still intact more than three decades later. Against the backdrop of an homage to the 1980s (gotta love those slow-motion action sequences and music montages), Daniel opens the Miyagi-Do as a tribute to his sensei, Mr. Miyagi (the late Pat Morita). Johnny, reunited with his own sensei, Kreese (a still sinister Martin Kove), struggles with how to teach his students honor while living by his creed of no mercy. The season ends on a devastating note, with a hint at a familiar face who might be part of Season Three (please oh please). The young cast is terrific and Macchio, who must have a portrait in the attic aging somewhere, is great. But I must call specific attention to Zabka, who brings such depth to his role—balancing humor and Johnny’s great one-liners with the struggles of a man for whom life hasn’t worked out the way he planned. If he doesn’t get an Emmy nomination this July, it might be time to sweep the leg of the Television Academy. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: YouTube Premium)
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
In making the move from FOX to Netflix, Lucifer seems to have found its way back to its Season One groove—and I’m ready to reclaim my faith. Fast, tense, and dramatically dense seems to be the show’s new guiding principle. Gone are the airy filler episodes of overlong seasons past; gone are any nonsensical backslides in character development meant to keep the story from burning itself out ahead of broadcast schedule. What does that leave behind? Well, just about everything that made Lucifer so fun and innovative from the beginning: Amenadiel’s (D. B. Woodside) back-footed angelic earnestness. Mazikeen’s (Lesley-Anne Brandt) stone cold demonic awkwardness. Linda’s (Rachael Harris) human steadiness. Dan’s (Kevin Alejandro) counterbalancing ambivalence. Ella’s (Aimee Garcia) boppy cheerfulness. Little Trixie’s (Scarlett Estevez) wry self-possession. Chloe’s shining moral compass. Lucifer’s (Tom Ellis) hidden, self-hating brokenness. The killer soundtrack. Tom Ellis’s abs. Add Inbar Lavi as Lucifer’s effervescently naïve old flame, Eve—yes, that Eve—plus Maze singing the sexiest cover of “Wonderwall” that’s ever been sung, and a big dance finale too sublime to put into words, and you’re cooking with some real (dramatic) Hellfire. —Alexis Gunderson
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
I’ve watched a lot of television whose nuanced self-possession has sharpened my understanding of what it means to be human but I genuinely can’t remember the last time I came out on the other side of a binge seeing the base tenuousness of the society we’ve made for ourselves with such terrifying new clarity. The Society, Netflix’s new high-tech, aged-up take on Lord of the Flies, manages the trick with a simple bus ride. Although teen television has been peddling in intensely dark moral allegories for decades now, it is difficult to articulate just how existentially devastating The Society gets, or how quickly. The Society gives its modern, existentially engaged audience a co-ed spread of hormonal high schoolers, left behind by a fleet of school buses that, returning from an aborted end-of-year camping trip, drop them off in the middle of the night in an empty, uncanny double of their idyllic New England hometown, where they discover the next day that not only is all satellite and internet connection to the outer world gone, but that all roads out of town end abruptly in impenetrable forest. The Society isn’t remotely interested in spending a lot of time on the whys or wheres of the teens’ new reality. The only thing it cares about is sinking into the psychological nightmare of a bunch of underprepared kids realizing not only that they’re all alone in the universe, but that it’s on them to make up and enforce all the boring, hard rules required to sustain a civilized society.—Alexis Gunderson
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
Jen (Christina Applegate) and Judy (Linda Cardellini) meet not so cute at a grief support group. Jen’s husband died three months ago in a hit and run accident. Judy’s fiancé died eight weeks ago of a heart attack. They develop a friendship over their mutual anguish and their love of Facts of Life (Jen is a Jo, Judy a Tootie). Before long Judy is moving into Jen’s guest house and a beautiful friendship is formed. Or is it? Netflix is keen on keeping the pilot’s big reveal a secret. I watched it with my husband and didn’t even let him know there was a secret and he still guessed it within minutes of the show’s opening. But no matter. The series, rooted in terrific performances from Applegate and Cardellini, is a fascinating mix of humor and pathos. The show deftly balances both extremes and pull both off. After watching the second episode, I have no idea what Dead to Me is really up to and that’s just the way I like it. —Amy Amatangelo
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
The co-star and co-creator of Comedy Central’s dearly missed Detroiters, Saturday Night Live alum Tim Robinson is equally comfortable on either side of the camera—he’s a fantastic sketch comedy writer who’s just as good of a performer, and who has carved out a unique and immediately recognizable niche in both. And he puts both skills to brilliant use in his new Netflix show, I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson.
Robinson is a master of embarrassment. His sketches tend to focus on two types of characters: People who tell small lies that grow larger and more obvious as they refuse to come clean, and people who are too irrational, confused, or stubborn to understand what’s happening—or refuse to understand because that would require admitting their own ignorance. This might sound like typical cringe comedy turf, but Robinson keeps it fresh by extending ideas behind all bounds of logic, resulting in characters or situations so utterly absurd that you won’t even think of comparing them to such cringe comedy forefathers as Larry David or Ricky Gervais. —Garrett Martin (Photo: Lara Solanki/Netflix)
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
A sharp, realistic, a two-person character study written by Nick Hornby and directed by Stephen Frears, State of the Union consists of ten episodes that are approximately ten minutes each. You can watch the whole series in less time than it will take you to watch one and a half episodes of Game of Thrones. Louise (Rosamund Pike) and Tom (Chris O’Dowd) meet up in the pub right before going into their weekly marriage therapy sessions. What has happened to their relationship and why they need therapy will be revealed over the course of the ten episodes. It’s a painful, honest and often very funny look at what goes into a marriage. —Amy Amatangelo and Amy Glynn
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
FX’s charming What We Do in the Shadows pulled out all the vampiric stops this week (vampire shows don’t raise stakes out of principle), as director Taika Waititi and writer Jemaine Clement used all the goodwill they’ve developed in the worlds of comedy and Marvel movies to unite pop culture vampires into the hilariously dry episode “The Trial.” The inept vampiric housemates are taken before the Vampiric Council due to a potential vampire-on-vampire crime. And going beyond Staten Island introduces the series to a plethora of incredible cameos in one of the season’s funniest episodes. The hilarious Kristen Schaal and Dave Bautista pop up alongside former vampire portrayers Waititi, Clement, Jonny Brugh, Paul Reubens, Evan Rachel Wood, Danny Trejo, and a scene-stealing Tilda Swinton. Robert Pattinson, Tom Cruise, Kiefer Sutherland, and Brad Pitt all get namechecked as council members. Oh, and Wesley Snipes— Blade himself—shows up via Skype. Game of Thrones may have assembled some huge battles, but in the world of vampire comedy shows, this cast is unmatched.—Jacob Oller
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
Don’t let the similar art fool you: Lisa Hanawalt’s Tuca & Bertie doesn’t have much else in common with Bojack Horseman. (I mean, that’s just the way Hanawalt draws.) Netflix’s new cartoon looks at the stresses and joys of being a woman today, from lack of respect in the workplace to balancing romance with friendships, but in an absurd reflection of our real world full of talking humanoid animals. Tiffany Haddish and Ali Wong voice the adventurous toucan and repressed songbird of the title, respectively, and between their great performances and the nuanced writing of Hanawalt and her team, Tuca & Bertie reveals a keen understanding of life without struggling to seem profound. Also it’s packed so full of sight gags and background jokes that you’ll probably keep your finger on the rewind button the whole time.—Garrett Martin
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
Both satisfying and depressing, the series finale of the eerily prescient Veep was an insult fest of a political satire. Julia Louis-Dreyfus’s Selina Meyer became president in her own right. But she lost all the people who mattered along the way. This includes her daughter Catherine (Sarah Sutherland) and her wife Marjorie (Clea DuVall) and their baby son, who severed ties after Selina made the Faustian deal with a conservative politician to re-illegalize gay marriage in exchange for his electorates. And it includes Kent Davison (Gary Cole), her senior strategist who could not stand by and watch the conspiracy theorist and fake-news spouter Jonah Ryan (Timothy Simons) become her vice president and therefore a heartbeat away from ruining democracy as we know it. But the hardest hit was the loss of Gary Walsh (Tony Hale), Selina’s loyal assistant who was too sweet to see the handcuffs coming when she set him up to take the fall for a crime he didn’t commit. Say what you will about the death of Varys (Conleth Hill) on Game of Thrones that happened on the channel earlier that night; the betrayal of Gary—a decision, we learn from the coda, that he never really processed—hit way harder than a quick extinction by dragon fire.
What made the finale work so well is Selina’s (and sometimes her team’s) insistence that everybody does things like this in order to win. From Vince Foster’s suicide during Bill Clinton’s administration to the imprisonment of Michael Cohen now with Donald Trump in office, she’s right and that is sickening. But, in its seven seasons, Veep has been nothing if not honest.— Whitney Friedlander