Paste’s TV Power Rankings

(Week of 1/15/18)

TV Lists power rankings
Paste’s TV Power Rankings

With Monday’s commemoration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, it’s an eight-day week for the Paste TV Power Rankings, which means we’ve fudged the rules a bit. Last Tuesday’s This Is Us is in; so are tonight’s debuts of The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, on FX, and Corporate, on Comedy Central. Plus, we’ve got a bunch of new streaming titles making their first appearance on the list. As the winter TV season continues to heat up, expect the competition to get fiercer and fiercer.

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.

10. This Is Us
Network: NBC
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible

This Is Us Fifth Wheel.jpeg
“It will give them something to talk about in therapy.” It’s a joke most parents have made. I’m certainly guilty of it. But it’s rooted in the knowledge that as parents we make so many decisions every day—some big, some small, some well thought out, some impulsive. And we know deep down that everything we do could have a lasting effect on our children. And so it was with Kevin (Justin Hartley), who is crumbling under the pressure of never being the one his parents worried about, never being his mom or dad’s favorite. I mean, they went on vacation and didn’t even tell him. It all came to bear in a heartbreaking therapy session lead by the incomparable Kate Burton. This Is Us knows that our past informs not just our present, but our future. Are Kate’s food issues rooted in grief or her mother’s constant nagging? Would Kevin be a different person if he wasn’t always struggling to get his parents’ attention? Like the Pearson family, the drama hasn’t always given Kevin his due. “The Fifth Wheel” finally did. (Sidebar: Why oh why can’t they do something about Miguel’s awful aging makeup?) —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)

9.The End of the F***ing World
Network: Netflix
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked

James (Alex Lawther) is 17 and kills enough small animals that he truly believes he’s a psychopath. Alyssa (Jessica Barden) is 17 and kills nothing, not that her words lack for trying. Both are unbelievably good at being at the wrong intensity levels for normal human interaction: Barden goes loud and acerbic, while Lawther shuts down so completely it’s hard to tell if he was born or simply emerged from the Britain’s collective post-punk sigh, like a Promethean clay figure stirring from Athena’s breath. But The End of the F—ing World doesn’t want your morbid fascination. Or, unlike almost every other show with similar subject matter, it doesn’t want it to stay morbid. A show about a boy bent on killing his road trip partner as the two high schoolers run away from home sounds more like the grisly true-crime TV we’ve been groomed to enjoy since news channels realized fear, violence and tragedy attracted eyeballs. Yet the The End of the F—ing World gives the middle finger to this Nightcrawler-esque worldview, finding hope in a world of psychopaths, within the context of a TV landscape that loves them. —Jacob Oller (Photo: Courtesy of Netflix)

8. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
Network: The CW
Last Week’s Ranking: 9

“Nathaniel Gets the Message!” continues in the promising vein of “Getting Over Jeff.” and last week’s “Nathaniel Needs My Help!”—bringing more of the ensemble into the fold, forced to face their own foibles as Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) focuses, as best she can, on her treatment. (Let’s reiterate, as best she can: She still meddles, embarrassingly, in the relationship of Valencia’s new clients.) Musically, this is the message of the sun-spotted “Without Love, You Can Change the World”; narratively, it’s at the center of Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III), Nathaniel (Scott Michael Foster), and White Josh’s (David Hull) halting attempts to move forward from the crossroads in their lives. It culminates in the hilarious striptease of “Fit Hot Guys Have Problems, Too,” which, I confess, earns the series a spot on this week’s Power Ranking for its beefcake factor alone. Take it off! —Matt Brennan (Photo: Greg Gayne/The CW)

7. Corporate
Network: Comedy Central
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible

Forget the tolerable drudgery of The Office: Comedy Central’s new sitcom depicts office life as the surreal, artificial, Kafkaesque hell of man’s own making that it is. Corporate might seem cynical, but its creators would tell you it’s just being realistic. Anybody who’s ever had to check into a cubicle for 40 or more hours a week in order to subsidize their true goals will be able to relate. —Garrett Martin (Photo: Courtesy of Comedy Central)

6. Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams
Network: Amazon Prime Video
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible

If you’re in the mood for some serious dystopian foxfire, riddled with existential dread and quirkily romantic, you’re in for a treat. This anthology of wonderfully filmed episodes can be seen in whatever order pleases you, and the subject, style and genre vary broadly, though the episodes share a sumptuous production sensibility and terrific casting.

The what-ifs span numerous worlds and times and alternate realities, but each questions the fundamental human-ness of humans and they do it in some awfully clever and affecting ways. Timothy Spall plays a railway worker who finds himself in an alternate world where that thing you wish hadn’t happened actually never did. Geraldine Chaplin plays a 300-year-old woman on a mission to see Earth before she dies. Jack Gore’s father (Greg Kinnear) is replaced by an alien, and no, it’s not an overactive imagination and angst about his parents’ imminent divorce: The dude’s an alien. Each episode is richly imaginative, directed with seat-edge-gripping tension, and peopled with strikingly strong performers (Chaplin, Spall, and Benedict Wong, as a cynical tour-spaceship operator, are standouts, but there’s not really any significant dead space here). Some are post-apocalyptic, some are not. Some have a decidedly dystopian feel and some are just plain old neurotic. Each clocks in at a little under an hour, and while sci-fi isn’t always my go-to genre, I didn’t find a single episode of Philip K. Dick’s Electric Dreams to be anything but compelling. —Amy Glynn (Photo: Amazon Prime Video)

5. My Next Guest Needs No Introduction with David Letterman
Network: Netflix
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible

David Letterman’s first guest on his new show is Barack Obama. Their conversation in a small theater is warm and funny and personable but mostly a serious talk about serious issues and if our current leadership is capable of addressing them. The field segments see Letterman talking to US Congressman John Lewis while walking across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Alabama, while talking about the civil rights movement that Lewis helped lead in the 1960s and our current president’s terrible track record on civil rights issues.

We don’t need another talk show making jokes about Trump, though. We have almost a dozen of those already, more if you count news parodies. Instead of the same predictable jokes and lazy Trump impressions, Letterman uses the first of his new show’s field segments to have a serious discussion with a national hero about America’s defining issue, an eternal flaw rooted in the very foundation of our country, and one that our current president and the party and voters who support him are intent on exacerbating. Instead of mocking Trump’s vanity, arrogance and ignorance, My Next Guest presents a clear rebuke to a dangerous, hateful worldview that helped bring Trump to power, one that Trump himself either ascribes to or has no problem exploiting. —Garrett Martin (Photo: Joe Pugliese/Netflix)

4. The Good Place
Network: NBC
Last Week’s Ranking: 5

Good Place Best Self.jpg
“Best Self” is a useful reminder that the The Good Place is more than the sum of its (endlessly brilliant) gags: As the gang tries to flee the neighborhood in a hot-air balloon, it’s the complications of being human that propel the episode forward, in particular the struggle to improve—or accept—one’s self. (”’You’re not better than me’ was my yearbook quote” is perfect.) Though it never relinquishes its madcap humor, “Best Self” is among the The Good Place’s warmest episodes to date, centering on a sort of end-of-the-world party at which the characters trade stories, hopes, fears—and dance moves to Lorde. “The real Bad Place,” Michael (Ted Danson) says, screwing up the idiom but nailing the series’ topsy-turvy compassion, “was the friends we made along the way.” —Matt Brennan (Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC)

3. Black Lightning
Network: The CW
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible

In case you’ve been stuck in one of STAR Labs’ definitely illegal metahuman containment cells for the past year and haven’t already seen ads and trailers across the Internet, all over The CW, and even in NBA commercial breaks, Salim Akil’s Black Lightning series brings to life not only the first black superhero to lead a live-action DCU television property, but the first lead who is a superheroing veteran, the first who’s a father of grown children, the first who’s regularly, physically affected by the systemic evils festering in the community he’s sworn to protect. Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) may have taken on the crime lords and criminal politicians plaguing the darkest corners of Star City, but as a rich white man in his non-vigilante life, the only Glades-born violence he had to worry about facing when he walked out his front door was that which was personally directed at him as a poorly disguised vigilante; Jefferson Pierce—a black man living in what might as well be Belair-Edison or Inglewood or Ferguson, for all that the series is unflinchingly reflective of both gang and police violence indiscriminately threatening black communities in our real world—has no such luxury. Black Lightning is a stellar, heart-pounding post-retirement outing. —Alexis Gunderson (Photo: The CW)

2. The Chi
Network: Showtime
Last Week’s Ranking: 3

The Chi functions as a resounding response to President Trump’s continual attacks on Chicago. It serves as eloquent proof that the people who inhabit the city are much more than statistics. That there is a complex vitality to the city and the people who live there. The president seems to delight in demonizing Chicago, particularly by focusing on the city’s crime rate. But The Chi pulls back the layers to reveal the causes of the strife and the real people behind the headlines. Like the neighborhoods you live in, there are people who care about their community, parents who love their children, adults who work hard. The Chi is about the choices we make every day. But it’s also about life—the crushes, the friendships, the families that are the very fabric of our existence, on the south side of Chicago and everywhere. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: Matt Dinerstein/SHOWTIME)

1. The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story
Network: FX
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible

On the morning of his 1997 murder, the Italian fashion designer (Edgar Ramirez) strolls through his Miami Beach palace in a flowing, fluorescent robe, the camera retreating skyward as he breakfasts by the pool; the corresponding image of his killer, Andrew Cunanan (the magnetic, frightening Darren Criss), peers in on the con man as he tosses off his matching pink cap and vomits into a toilet, then pauses for a glimpse of the message etched into the bathroom stall: a rough drawing of two dicks, with the caption “Filthy faggots.” From here, The Assassination of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story, which premieres tonight on FX, unspools in reverse, tracing the lives of its two main characters back to their childhoods—and among its constants is that unutterable word, that unforgivable commonplace, that useful descriptor, that reclamation. The “crime” in this season of American Crime Story is the assassination of Gianni Versace, certainly, but it’s also, doubtless, homophobia itself, socialized and self-inflicted, individual and internecine: At the heart of the anthology’s magnificent second act is a potent, political, possibly even dangerous reconsideration of what it means to be called a faggot, and then what it means to become one. —Matt Brennan

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