It’s the last edition of the Paste TV Power Rankings for 2017, and with a number of streaming regulars nearing the end of their six-week run on the list, the 10 spots are chock-full of newcomers. We’ve got Christmas specials, a 100th episode, an (unexpected) series finale, and a memorable installment of Shameless, in addition to a few of the usual suspects—a veritable holiday fruitcake of TV delicacies. It’s the perfect time to catch up on any shows you’ve missed, because by the time we return on Jan. 9, the onslaught of winter debuts and midseason premieres will already be in full swing.
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.
Future Man, Lady Dynamite, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, SMILF
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
Ambitious but flawed. Flawed but ambitious. No matter what your perspective, A Christmas Story Live! suffered from being a story we know but a musical we don’t. (There was no “Oh, I can’t wait until they sing ‘Summer Lovin’!” moment.) Having the narrator (Matthew Broderick) weave in and out of the action is probably a theatrical convention that works best on stage, some of the 1940s parenting stings a bit in 2017 (should you really wash a child’s mouth out with soap?) and, at times, the cameras struggled to capture the full scope of the production. But let’s talk about what did work: Chris Diamantopoulos’ amazing costume change before the show stopping number “A Major Award.” The always glorious Jane Krakowski flawlessly tap dancing her way through “You’ll Shoot Your Eye Out!” Maya Ruldolph’s heartfelt rendition of “Just Like That,” a song mothers everywhere can relate to. And those amazing kids! Led by Andy Walken (who is only 11 years old) as Ralphie, the young cast had not one flub as they sang and danced for three hours. They were a joy to watch. Look, live musicals aren’t easy, and it’s easy to be snarky about them. But let’s spread a little Christmas cheer, shall we? —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: FOX)
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
While Film Twitter wants to argue that Get Out and I, Tonya aren’t actually comedies, those of us at TV Twitter are rolling our eyes and pointing out creator John Wells’ long-running Showtime series as the very definition of the word “dramedy.”
And while titling Shameless’ December 17 episode “Occupy Fiona” suggests that the focus will be on Emmy Rossum’s female lead and her battle to better herself without selling out, it’s co-star Jeremy Allen White who steals the show. In an act of wishful optimism for his own recovery and future as much as a frustration over the fact that all his father figures—never mind his own pops—fail him, White’s Lip continues his crusade to save two backsliding fellow AA members from themselves. One, his former professor played by Alan Rosenberg, flames out exponentially during his trial for a DUI and is sent up the river. In a particularly tense confrontation scene at the jail, Lip realizes how easily he could end up on the other side of the table. —Whitney Friedlander (Photo: Paul Sarkis/SHOWTIME)
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
She’s Gotta Have It may not be the revolution it was in 1986, but Spike Lee’s serial remake of his own first feature is more refined in almost every way, while kicking the formal bravado into overdrive. There’s a ten-minute vigil mourning Donald Trump’s election. There’s Requiem for a Dream-like butt injections. There’s a full-on dance sequence to “Raspberry Beret.” Its lead is smarter, braver, and more complex than ever while tackling social threats with infectious energy and relatable vulnerability. If this doesn’t more than make up for a first-timer’s misjudged scene, I don’t know what does. Doing it again may be a rarity, but when Lee does it this well, I’d be happy for that to change. —Jacob Oller (Photo: David Lee/Netflix)
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
Speechless gave us a witty, quick-paced holiday episode that turns on themes of fulfillment and forgiveness, with the show’s signature aversion to sap. When Dylan (Kyla Kenedy) falsifies an essay to get the family a “service” dog, JJ (Micah Fowler) teaches her what it’s like to get the silent treatment from someone who can’t speak. Maya (Minnie Driver) has a run-in with Ray’s (Mason Cook) girlfriend’s mom, with whom it turns out she has a bit of a history. Jimmy (John Ross Bowie) develops an insatiable desire for free turkeys from the grocery where Kenneth (Cedric Yarbrough) works part-time. This show has found a lot of great ways to underscore its central point-that we’re all disabled from communicating clearly in one way or another-and this Christmas episode is a deft, densely packed and full-hearted bit of comedy that reminds us we all have barriers and they’re worth trying to overcome. High-energy, quirky and dynamic, this episode is rich in feeling and blessedly unsentimental. And, even if only for a moment, everyone does get what they want for Christmas. —Amy Glynn (Photo: ABC)
Network: BBC America
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable mention
Max Landis’ off-the-wall adaptation of Douglas Adams’ beloved series was canceled yesterday, making this weekend’s Season Two finale a goodbye to the holistic detective Dirk Gently (Samuel Barnett) and his sidekick, Todd (Elijah Wood). The supernatural insanity was dialed up this season, as Dirk’s latest case involved a boy in Bergsberg, Montana, whose dreams became reality, including the creation of an entire magical land of Wendimoor. As the boundaries between Bergsberg and Wendimoor became fluid and the dark agents of Project Blackwing circled nearer, Dirk began losing faith that everything connecting was necessarily for the good. The show was full of ridiculous fun and a terrific cast and served as a perfect vehicle for Max Landis’ peculiar imagination. —Josh Jackson (Photo: Katie Yu/BBC America)
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
In a bit of genius stunt casting, Paula Abdul, an icon of the early 1990s, guest starred as Holly, a music teacher set to help the HOA Christmas carolers. The only problem is that Jessica (Constance Wu) doesn’t like to have her authority usurped and she likes to always be right and the best. That’s not exactly the Christmas spirit. Now in its fourth season, the series has a lot of fun inside jokes, so we got to see the return of Jessica Town and Jessica’s interesting take on Santa Claus. There were some terrific lines (Jessica on bringing store bought cookies to a holiday party: “I can taste the laziness. We all can.”) and a plot about going to see Titanic. But the episode really stood out for the thoughtful way Fresh Off the Boat continues to deal with Nicole’s (Luna Blaise) coming out, as she has her first real crush on the coffee shop girl. “I knew this day would come. You need my help with a girl,” Eddie (Hudson Yang) exclaims. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: ABC)
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
Godless, Netflix’s amazeballs seven-part Western, takes place in the No Man’s Land of La Belle, New Mexico. Most of the town’s men have died in a catastrophic accident, and that’s pretty much OK with the ladies. Now, I need to digress for a moment and say that in times when gun violence is an especially freighted issue, there’s probably at least a master’s thesis to be had from a revival of the Western genre. There, I’ve got that on the record. Now: This show is the dictionary definition of “bingeable.”
I’ll spare you the plot and just say this seven-hour movie (which is what it essentially is) has a great cast (Wow, Merritt Wever! Just wow is all), including Sam Waterston, Kim Coates and Scott McNairy, and, as in many of the best Westerns, one of the principle characters is the landscape itself. This is one lavishly and beautifully shot vision of 1880s Santa Fe. I mean gorgeous. I mean like Howard Hawks would watch it and go “Yup.” If you love Westerns, this is definitely one to try. If you don’t, check it out anyway; it’s very likely to seduce you. —Amy Glynn (Photo: Ursula Coyote/Netflix)
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
From a neon sign that reads “slay” and an eerie synth jingle to a painting of a dead man and a play about Charles Manson, Season Two of Sarah-Violet Bliss and Charles Rogers’ superb comedy is littered with half-frightful, half-funny details; the episode titles (“Murder!” “Suspicion” “Obsession,” etc.) might’ve been culled from the poster for one of Hitchcock’s classics. Indeed, if the first season’s search for Chantal Witherbottom (Clare McNulty) once reminded me of Vertigo, the second completes the connection: Dory (Alia Shawkat) and co. are the series’ Scottie Fergusons, unraveled not by the chase, but the capture. Shifting from mystery to (psychological) horror, and buoyed by standout comic performances from Meredith Hagner and the relentlessly funny John Early, Search Party is as witty and strange as ever. What sophomore slump? —Matt Brennan (Photo: TBS)
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
While it would have been entirely reasonable for Brooklyn Nine-Nine to settle back into its groove of comedic consistency in the episodes immediately following its landmark 99th, the series instead went hard on every iterative thing it does best for last Tuesday’s 100th: Holt (Andre Braugher) finally agreed to participate in a workplace Christmas gift exchange; the squad went to intradepartmental war with the Paul Scheer-led Cyber Crimes Division stealing their bandwidth one floor down; Gina (Chelsea Peretti) returned triumphant from her too-long maternity leave; Jake (Andy Samberg) and Rosa’s (Stephanie Beatriz) friendship was plumbed for more depth than ever before. Oh, and Rosa—following the moment she had with Boyle (Joe Lo Truglio) in episode 99—came out to the squad and her parents as bi.
In its signature way, Brooklyn Nine-Nine handled this landmark bi-visibility character development with gravity, compassion and a willingness, through Olga Merediz’s and Danny Trejo’s terrific turns as Rosa’s hurtfully out-of-step parents, not to blunt the spikes this kind of revelation unleashes—all with the perfect balance of character-specific humor. (“Global warming… what a bitch, right?!” Jake muses hysterically while trying to bridge the awkwardness between Rosa and her parents. “We all gon’ drown!”) But it is Holt’s final speech to Rosa, when the squad descends upon her apartment to pick up Family Game Night where her parents cut her off, that truly brings home what this show is when it is playing at its best: “Diaz, you should be very proud of yourself. I know things aren’t exactly where you want to be right now, but, I promise you—they will improve. Every time someone steps up and says who they are, the world becomes a better, more interesting place. So, thank you.” —Alexis Gunderson (Photo: FOX)
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
In its second season creator Peter Morgan’s lavish treatment of the reign of Queen Elizabeth II retains much of what made the first such a notable achievement: Claire Foy’s utterly captivating performance as the flinty monarch; the impeccable period detail; a sense of historical scope that outstrips its forebears, Morgan’s 2006 film The Queen and 2013 play The Audience. But to call The Crown’s sophomore effort merely “lavish” seems unfair. Rather, as time marches on—Season Two is set between the Suez Crisis, in 1956, and the Profumo affair, in 1963—the series elaborates a thoughtful style and episodic structure that fleshes out the supporting characters, including Elizabeth’s husband, Philip (Matt Smith), and sister, Margaret (the standout Vanessa Kirby), by turning the focus away from the queen herself. It’s a surprisingly full-throated examination of Britain’s public life, and its public figures’ private ones, capped by a mesmerizing midseason coup, “Beryl,” that suggests The Crown is still discovering the true extent of its powers. Good news, that: Olivia Colman has already signed on to play Elizabeth in Seasons Three and Four. —Matt Brennan