Paste‘s Power Rankings: The 10 Best Shows on TV Right Now
Week of 6/4/2018Header photo: CBS All Access TV Lists power rankings
The Paste TV Power Rankings were off last week following the Memorial Day holiday, but TV itself sure as heck wasn’t: The season finales of two of the year’s best series (Killing Eve and The Good Fight) and the year’s best made for TV movie (The Tale) aired over the long weekend, in one of the more telling signs that “peak TV” has yet to peak. And so, since they’re all too damn good to leave out, we cheated a bit this week—any program to air a new episode since May 22 was eligible. Choosing just 10 titles to highlight? It’s a tough job, but somebody’s gotta do 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 Break with Michelle Wolf, Cobra Kai, Legion, Pose
10. Dear White People
Last Week’s Ranking: 7
In its second season, Justin Simien’s campus comedy continues to impress. The density of its political allusions (“Please tell me you’re about to drag this Kirkland Signature Ann Coulter!”) is exceeded only by its cultural ones (an Empire parody that snatches the soap’s proverbial wig); the ambition of its unorthodox structure, with each episode given over to a single character, is surpassed only by the ambition of its dizzying array of hot-button issues, from the history of racism at elite universities to abortion rights to the effects of social media. That it submits exactly none of these to the after-school special treatment is a tribute to Simien, his writers’ room, and his talented, young cast, dancing from subject to subject so deftly that it never feels like homework. Dear white people—no, dear all people—watch this show. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Tyler Golden/Netflix)
Last Week’s Ranking: 8
If last week’s “Phase Space; was about the cycle of trial and errors that is creation, this week’s Westworld (“Les Écorchés”) is about how the very act of creation also implies destruction—and how the two are unavoidably linked. The act of playing God (and I do mean “playing”) comes in many forms in the multiple layers of Westworld’s reality, whether it’s the programmer-program relationship, the father-daughter relationship, the boss-lackey relationship, or the writer-character relationship. None of these even touch the outside world, and they’re only small diversions that add up to the second season’s slowly unveiled main secret. Well, the most central secret to the show’s world so far: Westworld’s purpose is to play God 2.0 and replicate life. —Jacob Oller (Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO)
8. Killing Eve
Network: BBC America
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
I have my qualms about the season finale of Killing Eve, the first episode of the series to give me pause creator Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s narrative direction. (For one, it sets up another cat-and-mouse game for Season Two, which I fear could become limiting. We shall see.) That said, the climactic confrontation between Eve (Sandra Oh) and Villanelle (the Emmy-worthy Jodie Comer) was more than worth the wait, as the former destroys the latter’s Paris apartment (not to mention stabs her) and the latter dishes the former one of the season’s best lines. “I have lost two jobs, a husband and a best friend because of you,” Eve complains. “Yeah,” her quarry replies, “but you got some really nice clothes out of it.” —Matt Brennan (Photo: BBC America)
7. The Chris Gethard Show
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
Chris Gethard created a show that felt less like a talk show and more like a club where everyone was invited and the only rule was to laugh. After years on public access and a second start on cable at TruTV, it has felt as though The Chris Gethard Show was finally mainstream, but as yet there’s no renewal in sight. Still, the season finale was the perfect sendoff if the show is ultimately canceled. The episode, titled “Stop Apologizing for Your Dreams,” stayed true to form, even including a call from a pregnant woman in labor! Until we hear official word that the show is canceled, our fingers will remain crossed, but if this was the last episode of The Chris Gethard Show, it went out a high note. —Keri Lumm (Photo: truTV)
6. The Handmaid’s Tale
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
“After” is, in a nutshell, about reclamation. Thirty-one Handmaids and 26 Commanders go, if you’re Gilead-pious, back to God. So many of them that Gilead reclaims Emily (Alexis Bledel) and Janine (Madeline Brewer) from the Colonies and puts them back in their red cloaks. Offred (Elisabeth Moss) reclaims the story of her “abduction” when Commander Cushing attempts to pressure her into naming names. In Canada, Moira (Samira Wiley) reclaims a big piece of her past, the memory of a baby she had as a surrogate ($250K for a healthy baby!) and, after days looking though the vast archive of unclaimed, unnamed victims of the war, proof that her partner, Odette (the obstetrician who cared for her during the pregnancy) is indeed dead. Offred reclaims her humanity in the moment she calls Serena (Yvonne Strahovski) by her first name. Later, on seeing Janine and Emily back from the Colonies, she finds herself moving through the market whispering to the other Handmaids, “My name is June.” Before long, they’re all doing it. They transit, from the faceless, interchangeable bodies we saw in the first scene, to the people they used to be. They remember themselves. —Amy Glynn (Photo: George Kraychyk/Hulu)
5. Joe Pera Talks with You
Network: Adult Swim
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable mention
If you aren’t familiar with comedian Joe Pera, imagine a guy in his early 30s who dresses, talks and acts like he’s a kindly Midwestern grandpa. A lesser performer would turn this kind of character into a stereotype, into a cross between a live-action Ned Flanders and a witless nerd parody from a 1980s sitcom. Pera never resorts to that. His mild-mannered pleasantness and love of small-town life is a warm respite from our jaundiced, mean-spirited culture. Like most of his work, Joe Pera Talks With You can be seen as a reaction to the kind of cringe comedy that became huge in the ‘00s. It’s built on awkwardness, especially when Pera has to interact with other characters his own age, who are prone to the thoughtlessness, irritability and disrespect we expect today (and who are often played by the show’s co-writer and producer Conner O’Malley). There’s definitely humor in Pera’s discomfort, but there’s empathy there, too. Pera doesn’t wind up in uncomfortable situations because he’s petty or selfish, like Larry David or David Brent, but for the completely opposite reason: he’s so dedicated to respecting others and doing what he thinks is right that he routinely comes close to punishing himself to placate others. It’s a gentle show that can unleash a wicked bite when it wants to, and one of the best comedies of the year so far. —Garrett Martin (Photo: Adult Swim)
4. The Good Fight
Network: CBS All Access
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
This is how much I loved the glorious second season of The Good Fight: It didn’t even bother me that after 14 plus hours of labor, Lucca’s (Cush Jumbo) make-up and hair were still in pristine condition. She seemed to deliver her baby with only one medical professional and a room full of family and friends. (If the Kings want to consult with me about what delivering a baby is actually like, I’m available). But that is the smallest of small quibbles, as the finale brought all terrific plot lines that weaved in and out of the season to bear. There was Diane (Christine Barankski) in a fabulous outfit (naturally) and back with Kurt (Gary Cole), realizing it wasn’t enough to protect her corner of the world from Trump— she needed to start fighting back. There was a cliffhanger involving a Stormy Daniels-type character that should lead us right into Season Three. There was a fully recovered Adrian Boseman (Delroy Lindo) outsmarting the Republican task force charged with protecting the lawyers from attacks. There was social commentary on the news cycle and another appearance by the ever fabulous Margo Martindale. The freedom of being on CBS All Access and having a shortened season has given the Kings a creative surge. It seems blasphemous to say this, but I’m going to: The Good Fight may be even better than The Good Wife. Gasp! No show is funnier. No show is more biting. No show has a deeper bench of recurring characters. And no show is more poised to take on the absurdity of today’s political climate. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: CBS All Access)
3. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
Kimmy’s greatest asset has always been its ability to cram an innumerable amount of jokes and pop culture references into a neon-hued 30-odd minute show that is really about a grown woman (played by Ellie Kemper) who is stunted with an unimaginable level of PTSD. After all, her childhood was spent in a bunker, as a victim of kidnapping and serial rape. Those gags were certainly on point for the first half of Season Four, which hit Netflix on May 30 (the other half will be released later). I’m still laughing about Tituss Burgess’ character, Titus Andromedon, saying, “OK, you know how Al Gore invented the Internet? Well, he also invented a rhythm for it. It’s called the al-gore-ithm. It learns about you and picks things it knows you like,” when he teaches Kimmy how to binge watch. Or Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski) quipping, “Tourists are too savvy now. I blame NBC’s Smash” when she can’t sell tickets to a school play in Times Square.
But the season’s pièce de résistance is clearly the third episode, “Party Monster: Scratching the Surface.” A parody of the true-crime drama trend for which Netflix only has itself to blame, the episode gives voice to Kimmy’s now imprisoned captor, Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm)—a little too much voice, actually. The fake reverend leads a naïve documentarian right into his clutches and turns an innocent never-meet-your-idols moment into a petition for his release through fabricated evidence and MRA tactics. It’s topical, scary and (somehow) funny. Luckily, none of this will completely falter our heroine, who spends the remaining part of the season accepting that she can use her experience to stop young boys from growing up to be perverts and assholes.
Will it work? The sixth episode ends with spies seemingly running surveillance outside her apartment. Given the show’s propensity for stunt casting, we really hope this is nothing dire and just some big joke about Philip and Elizabeth Jennings from The Americans coming back for one more gig. (Hey, Kimmy’s new season did premiere on the same day as the FX series’ finale). —Whitney Friedlander (Photo: Eric Liebowitz/Netflix)
2. The Tale
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
Let me start here: Jennifer Fox has just done something utterly brilliant, and you need to see it. Be prepared to feel uncomfortable, because The Tale, adapted from her narrative memoir of the same name, will do a number on your head, in the way that a particularly vivid nightmare sometimes can, whether you personally have a childhood sexual abuse story or not.
Now I have to say the other thing. A lot of people appear to be calling The Tale the movie “for the #MeToo movement.” But this film was made three years ago. It’s not a response to or the property of any movement, any hashtag; it’s not finally, finally pulling back the veil on the terrible stories no one ever told until now. We have always told these stories. They have always existed and we have always told them. We just didn’t do it with hashtags. To even characterize this film as “a story about sexual abuse” would be a shallow read on a very deep work of art. The Tale is, at a certain level, “about” sexual abuse. But focus on that for too long and you’ll miss the astonishing, courageous, gorgeous mosaic of ways in which it is deliberately, doggedly and totally not. And that’d be your loss. —Amy Glynn (Photo: Kyle Kaplan/HBO)
1. The Americans
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
Who knows what would have happened: This begins to suggest the gestalt of “START,” its central principle, which is the belief that regret—a kissing cousin to grief—is both inevitable and impossible. After all, the only characters The Americans kills off, in its jaw-dropping series finale, are Philip and Elizabeth, disguises removed as our protagonists become Mischa and Nadezhda once more. And yet the losses they sustain are calamitous: a best friend, a son, and finally a daughter, to say nothing of the Gregorys and Marthas and Young Hees they’ve collected and discarded along the way. You must simply get used to it, as Elizabeth says, capping off one of the decade’s best dramas. By the time you reflect on the choices that brought you here, “here” is already where you are. —Matt Brennan (Photo: FX)