Like many of our favorite TV shows, Paste’s TV Power Rankings are back from winter break. In our case, it’s a clean slate: None of the series or episodes considered this time around aired in 2017. (We were about ready to see that one go, dunno about you.) And even though the real competition begins in the coming weeks—January is the new September—the first list of 2018 has all the variety one could hope for: sitcoms, dramas, documentaries, musicals, Oprah Winfrey. You get a show! And you get a show! You, too! Everyone gets a show!
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.
Our food supply system is broken, corrupt, dirty, inhumane, and riddled with fraud. If you are not aware of this, you need to be. If you are, chances are good that Netflix’s new true crime series, Rotten, will contain at least some stories you’re familiar with, and probably a few things you didn’t know. Either way, I’m designating it mandatory viewing for people who buy food in the United States. And I say that despite the fact that the series is not a breathtaking work of art. The subject matter’s simply that crucial. —Amy Glynn (Photo: Netflix)
Network: The CW
“Nathaniel Needs My Help!” is actually the first episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s crazy brilliant third season that made me [facepalm]—and no, not because Rebecca (Rachel Bloom) cooks up that long-lost-sister-from-your-father’s-secret-family story to please (?) her new beau. But for all the wincing I did as Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin) stalks a potential surrogate for Darryl (Pete Gardner), the whole thing is saved by Gardner’s gloriously goofy rendition of “My Sperm Is Healthy” and, most especially, by Amy Hill’s blindingly funny “Get Your Ass Out of My House” as Josh’s (Vincent Rodriguez III) fed-up mother. Even when it’s not quite clicking on all cylinders, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is one of my favorite shows on TV. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Scott Everett White/The CW)
In “Working Girl,” Bow (Tracee Ellis Ross) struggles to readjust to work after maternity leave and Dre (Anthony Anderson) tries to convince her to stay home—giving black-ish the opportunity to weigh the pros and cons of working motherhood. From initial horror (“What the @&%! did you just say to me?”) to frustration to success and finally to Bow’s decision, the series offers its usual careful consideration of a fraught subject, focusing not on the decision itself—to stay home—but on the freedom to decide. Even funnier is a B-plot in which Ruby (Jenifer Lewis) coaches Jack (Miles Brown) and Diane (Marsai Martin) to “game the system” and manipulate their (white) teacher to get out of a math test—only for the youngsters to get gamed by their (black) substitute. “Let me let you in a little secret,” Ruby advises. “Rules are for ugly people.” —Matt Brennan (Photo: ABC/Byron Cohen)
The black-ish spin-off got off to a bit of a clunky start as Zoey (Yara Shahidi) introduced her Breakfast Club group of friends to the audience. But by the second episode, which premiered alongside the first, the comedy had firmly established its voice and this new world for Dre and Bow Johnson’s oldest daughter. College is full of temptations—the desire to be liked above all else, drugs, romantic possibilities. While Zoey crushes on Aaron (Trevor Jackson), she struggles to write a paper on Ruth Bader Ginsberg (one version starts out “the Ruth, the Ruth, the Ruth”). Overwhelmed by college, she takes Vivek (Jordan Buhat) up on his offer of Adderall. She buys way too much online and crashes hard. It will only be a one-time thing. Except, of course, it’s not. This surprising yet totally realistic direction for the series sets the stage for a truly authentic look at college. And the cast surrounding the delightful Shahidi is terrific. I’m particularly partial to track star twins Jazz and Sky (Chloe and Halle Bailey), who have hilariously perfected the version of themselves they show to the world. Spin-offs are hard and establishing a show as its own unique series while staying true to the mothership isn’t easy. grown-ish could teach a college-level class on how to do it. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: Freeform)
Last Man on Earth is a weird show. Really weird. And what I love about it is that it totally leans into and makes no apology for its oddness. Last season, the show spent an episode on Kristen Wiig’s Pamela, a character we had never seen before. This season, it’s Fred Armisen’s Karl we’re introduced to, while he’s in the midst of a horrible date. (It involves him ordering a soup to split and discussing his boil in detail.) At first it appears Karl is just a sad sack, until he’s defrosting a head in his microwave while preparing a roast (he clearly attended the Hannibal Lecter School of Cooking). Only a show as absurd as Last Man on Earth could make a serial killer funny. We follow Karl as he uses painting as a ruse to lure his victims (“It’s like Matisse mixed with Shakespeare with just a little Rhea Perlman on top”) until, hilariously unable to escape, he’s eventually the last person remaining at a Mexican prison. In the episode’s final moments, he meets an unsuspecting Phil (Will Forte) and Todd (Mel Rodriguez). The half-hour is the perfect vehicle for Armisen’s quirky style, and you have to love a show that has cameos from both Leighton Meester and Martin Short. With its unique voice and non-conforming storytelling style, there’s no other show quite like Last Man on Earth. —Amy Amatangelo
The Good Place returns from winter hiatus on a high note with the positively Kirkegaardian (but funnier) “Leap to Faith”—the opposite of which, as Eleanor (Kristen Bell) helpfully points out, is “sit of doubting.” In another of the series’ trademark twists, Michael (Ted Danson) only appears to be preparing to shuffle the gang off to a more traditionally torturous Bad Place, and our heroes only appear to flee to the Medium Place. In fact, Michael’s come to appreciate his human companions, and Eleanor’s “leap into faith” is to trust the clues she spies in a demon’s vicious roast. Add in Drunk Janet and “Maximum Derek” and it turns out The Good Place can throw one helluva rager. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC)
Francis Whately’s documentary follows Bowie from the “Reality Tour” to the quiet retirement following his on-stage heart attack and then dives into the final blast of creativity that gave us his last two records and the stage show Lazarus. What’s Bowie-grade magical about it is that he does this with a serious paucity of material. Bowie did not undertake those last recordings with a media entourage documenting his every move: Indeed, the collaborators signed NDAs and worked in total secrecy. Bowie chose to be a cipher at the end, and Whately kluges together a picture of those five years from a combination of archival footage and posthumous interviews with collaborators; band-members; longtime producer Tony Visconti; videographers (the discussion of how the video for “Valentine’s Day” was put together was especially fascinating for me; I think it’s an amazing piece of art). The end result is pretty stunning, and one I think the notoriously private Bowie would have appreciated. It’s not a hagiography; it’s not a tacky dive into his private life. It’s a documentary about the making of his last works, and as such, it works. —Amy Glynn (Photo: Jimmy King/courtesy of HBO)
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)
The red carpet phenomenon, launched by Joan Rivers way back in 1996, had devolved into a snarkfest of critiquing outfits, hair, makeup and jewelry and utter absurdity (lest I remind you of the Mani Cam). Reese Witherspoon began an “Ask Her More” campaign in 2015, but it never quite caught on in the way it should have. But 2017 saw Hollywood exposed for the sexism, harassment, and sexual violence that permeates the industry. It would have been ludicrous to follow that with typical red carpet shenanigans. So all the women wore black, totally negating any discussion of the color of the night or such nonsense. Reporters were forced to discuss the issues and the “Time’s Up” and “Me Too” movements. Actresses including Michelle Williams, Meryl Streep and Emma Watson brought activists as their dates and deftly redirected the questions back to the issues if a reporter wasn’t on point. Debra Messing called out E! for not paying their female talent equally. It was a reckoning. Yes there were missteps—an E! correspondent called the network’s coverage “woke”; Carson Daly seemed flabbergasted that Justin Timberlake, as famous as he is, was there to support his wife, Jessica Biel; and not enough men were asked about “Time’s Up”— but there’s no way red carpets can ever return to the way they were. This was a much-needed paradigm shift. Maybe, in time, fashion will sneak back in (after all, fashion is fun and designers are artists that deserve recognition), but time is most certainly up on the sexist red carpet of yesteryear. —Amy Amatangelo
The recipient of this year’s Cecil B. DeMille Award for “outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment” followed in Meryl Streep’s roomy footsteps by bringing the house down. Winfrey’s speech was as multifold as her storied career: a graceful description of the power of representation; a loving tribute to the free press; a thoughtful disquisition on the need to protect women of all classes from sexual harassment and assault; and, finally, an incandescent call to action—to believe women—that glanced back (over the courageous life of Recy Taylor) and forward (“A new day is on the horizon!”) at the same time. Let’s set aside the “Oprah 2020” chatter for a moment and focus on the matter at hand: A black woman in a racist, sexist business, one of the three or four most influential figures in media of the last 40 years, spent nine minutes on national television Sunday night encouraging the silent to speak and the loud to listen. And through it all, she held us rapt. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Paul Drinkwater/NBCUniversal via Getty Images)