Paste‘s TV Power Rankings

Week of 11/6/2017

TV Lists power rankings
Paste‘s TV Power Rankings

It’s a week of flux on Paste’s Power Rankings, with The Deuce and American Vandal no longer eligible and several new titles joining the fray. But it’s the strength of two regular vote-getters that really shakes things up this time around, with a pair of season-best episodes cornering the top slots.

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.

Honorable Mentions:
black-ish, Jane the Virgin, Mike Judge Presents: Tales From the Tour Bus, Nathan For You, Shameless, Supergirl

Network: Showtime
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible

There’s a grittiness to motherhood that’s rarely seen on TV. The dirty laundry that piles up. The children in mismatched clothes. The empty refrigerator. The lack of sex. Frankie Shaw brings all of that to light in her new Showtime series, in which she plays Bridgette Bird, a single mother raising her child in South Boston, against the terrific Rosie O’Donnell as Bridgette’s mother, Tutu. Though SMILF still has plenty of room for improvement—the pilot episode includes at least one scene that pushes the boundary between “cringe comedy” and just cringing—its (mostly) tongue-in-cheek title points to Shaw’s winking intelligence, and her potential to become a major comic voice. —Amy Amatangelo and Matt Brennan (Photo: Lacey Terrell/SHOWTIME)

9. Mindhunter
Network: Netflix
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable mention

The name and the description may have you assuming that this is a typical network procedural: FBI agents interview psychopaths in order to catch murderers. But this is as much Mad Men as it is Law & Order. Produced by David Fincher and Charlize Theron, the story follows two real-life agents, Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff, the original King George III in Hamilton on Broadway) and Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), along with consulting psychologist Dr. Wendy Carr (Anna Torv) in the FBI’s nascent Behavioral Science Unit. Joe Penhall’s series is based on a similarly titled true crime book. Interviewing and cataloguing convicted serial killers (a phrase the trio invents) leads to them helping on active cases, but it also affects each of their personal lives in different ways. Cameron Britton is particularly unforgettable as notorious murderer and necrophiliac Edmund Kemper. —Josh Jackson (Photo: Merrick Morton/Netflix)

8. Big Mouth
Network: Netflix
Last Week’s Ranking: 6

Netflix’s new animated series, from creators Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin, follows four friends through the earliest stages of puberty: Andrew (John Mulaney) sports inconvenient erections; Nick (Nick Kroll) awaits his first pubic hairs; Jessi (Jessi Klein) begins menstruating at the Statue of Liberty; Jay (Jason Mantzoukas) conceives rococo ways to get off with his pillow. It’s wickedly bawdy—one episode’s end credits roll over an extended description of Andrew’s dad’s testicles—and devilishly funny—another uses a note-perfect Seinfeld send-up to explain the blowjob “head push” and the term “mons pubis”—but as implied by its theme song, Charles Bradley’s “Changes,” the series is sweeter than it appears at first blush. Its goal is to cut through the humiliations of sex, to break through the shame shellacked atop our “gross little dirtbag” selves to reveal the perfectly normal yearning underneath: for pleasure, for touch, for emotional connection; for approval, confidence, intimacy, love. By admitting, as Andrew does in the series premiere, that “everything is so embarrassing”—and not only for teens—Big Mouth squares a space in which there’s no question that can’t be asked, and no answer that applies the same way to everyone. It’s the streaming version of your sex-ed teacher’s anonymous slips of paper, except the laughs aren’t sniggers—they’re hard-won, empathic guffaws. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Courtesy of Netflix)

7. Better Things
Network: FX
Last Week’s Ranking: 4

Take everything that was already great about Better Things and give it even more humor, pathos, daring, charm. That’s Season Two—a marvel. This week, the series continues to be a Paste Power Rankings stalwart with “Arnold Hall,” which introduces Sam’s (Pamela Adlon) difficult ex-father-in-law and memorably features her and Frankie’s (Hannah Alligood) escalating series of insults and pranks at a hilariously inappropriate bar mitvah. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Jessica Brooks/FX)

6. Transparent
Network: Amazon
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable mention

Transparent is as messy and rangy, as prickly and strange, as the Sunday brunch that defines its Season Four premiere, unable, and unwilling, to offer a singular “angle” or obvious “take.” The latest season, ineligible after this week, is so thickly descriptive of the Pfeffermans, alone and together, that it seems more suited to the slow meting-out of the cable drama than it does the swift gulp of the binge: It is, in other words, the rich, ragged, sometimes frustrating, often sublime, always hard-to-peg series that most benefits from the rise of streaming’s “long tail”—in the absence of Amazon, it likely wouldn’t exist—and most suffers from the short cultural shelf life that comes with it, from the demand for easily assimilated pans and paeans, for bomb-throwing essays and bite-sized quick hits, for the immediate and polarizing reaction, positive or negative, that might secure one among countless stories its moment in the sun. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Amazon Prime Video)

5. The Good Place
Network: NBC
Last Week’s Ranking: 1

The Good Place enters its awkwardly timed midseason hiatus on a strong note with “Derek,” guest starring the very funny Jason Mantzoukas as the boyfriend/bottomless void dweller Janet (D’Arcy Carden) creates at Eleanor’s (Kristen Bell) suggestion. Glitchy and combative, with wind chimes for genitals, he’s just the latest in the series of ethical-philosophical-comic creations offered up by creator Michael Schur and company, who continue to make The Good Place the best sitcom on TV. —Matt Brennan

4. Stranger Things
Network: Netflix
Last Week’s Ranking: 3

Stranger Things Season Two is full of the same kinds of joyful moments of television that made its breakout first season so fun. If ‘80s nostalgia, plucky kids, pre-teen awkwardness, scary-but-not-terrifying monsters, goofy minor characters and emotional reunions aren’t your thing, I get it, go ahead and skip this one. But if you loved the first season, loved Goonies and E.T. and the John Hughes canon, you may find yourself binging all nine episodes in a weekend. The world gets a little bigger than Hawkins, Indiana, and the stakes get a little higher, but at its heart, six kids must face up to their monsters, metaphorical and real, to a perfect ‘80s soundtrack. —Josh Jackson

3. Alias Grace
Network: Netflix
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible

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Adapted by Sarah Polley from Margaret Atwood’s historical novel, and directed by Mary Harron with forthright shudders of psychological horror, this sterling Canadian limited series is a tightly constructed marvel. In Canada in 1859, “celebrated murderess” Grace Marks (the brilliant Sarah Gadon) submits to an interview with Dr. Simon Jordan (Edward Holcroft), and their ongoing conversation unearths a pattern of violence and trauma, which Alias Grace spins into a scintillating mystery, an intricate biographical portrait, a lushly appointed period drama, and a ferocious treatment of the distance between what “the world at large” deigns to call harm and the countless ways men cause it. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Sabrina Lantos/Netflix)

2. Vice Principals
Network: HBO
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable mention


“Venetian Nights,” the second-to-last episode of Vice Principals, reaches manic new heights for the series, which is really saying something for a show whose second episode saw its two lead characters tear apart and burn down the house of their main rival. The long brawl throughout the high school between enemies-turned-friends-turned-enemies Neil Gamby (Danny McBride) and Lee Russell (Walton Goggins) was a sprawling moment of chaotic catharsis, a fight two seasons in the making between two self-obsessed characters who have repeatedly tried to screw each other over. “Venetian Nights” also summed up the core dynamic between Gamby and Russell: Gamby might be a short-tempered blowhard, but despite his selfishness, he still wants to do what’s best for the school he wants to lead, and can’t bring himself to shoot Russell despite his obsession with making his would-be assassin pay. Russell only cares about power and respect, caring little for the teachers and students at North Jackson outside of how their performance reflects on him, and had no problems shooting Gamby at the end of Season One. To the show’s credit, Russell still isn’t a completely one-sided villain—the glimpse of his childhood from earlier this season shows how someone could become as petty and venal as he. By the end of Sunday’s episode, Gamby shows himself to be not just a better man than Russell but a more cunning strategist, finally outsmarting his enemy while also uniting the teachers, students and cafeteria crew, who were most suffering under Russell’s dictatorial rule. If Gamby does rise to the principal’s office in next week’s finale, it might actually feel earned, as he’s proven he has more leadership ability than anybody thought possible. —Garrett Martin (Photo: Fred Norris/HBO)

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

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Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna’s one-of-a-kind musical comedy continues to push boundaries, both in its balanced-on-a-knife’s-edge depiction of the jilted Rebecca Bunch (Bloom) and in its willingness to take on nearly every genre of music under the sun. But “Josh’s Ex-Girlfriend Is Crazy,” with its play on the series’ title, transforms the criticisms that trailed Season One—namely, the worrisome premise—into a wildly surprising, dark-hearted masterpiece. With reference to Swimfan and the revenge/slasher genre, the almost non-musical episode is a radical zig in the already impressive zag of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s third season, a bona fide stunner that counts among the very best TV episodes of the year. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Robert Voets/The CW)

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