It’s the season for special events, as The Olympics follow the Super Bowl, the Grammys, and the Golden Globes onto Paste’s Power Rankings. Speaking of celebrations, since our last ranking, Fresh Off the Boat celebrated the Lunar New Year, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend marked the end of its excellent third season, and Queer Eye returned, fresher than ever. So stop counting American medals a moment and join us as we select the best of the week in TV.
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.
Last Week’s Ranking: 9
Netflix’s new sci-fi series Altered Carbon rivals HBO’s Westworld in terms of both beautifully constructed future worlds and naked bodies that are essentially ciphers, devoid of human soul. The cyberpunk noir show follows a resistance fighter revived into a new body, or “sleeve,” centuries after his revolution has failed. To win his freedom he must solve a murder mystery for one of the super-elite ancient Meths (short for that Biblical old-timer Methuselah), who buy new cloned bodies to house their back-up personalities, housed in a data core at the base of the brain stem. The technology, which allows for resurrection of the dead and instant travel across star systems, raises questions about religion, justice and familial relationships, like when agnostic police detective Kristin Ortega brings her grandmother home in the body of a pierced, tattooed convict to celebrate All Hallows Eve—her neo-Catholic family believes a soul brought back from the dead can never rest. It’s hard sci-fi without much of a sense of humor, but the acting (Joel Kinnaman, James Purefoy, Renée Elise Goldberry), directing (Game of Thrones’ Miguel Sapochnik handles the pilot) and visual effects give the genre a claim to prestige television, and the hardboiled drama and blockbuster-worthy fight scenes have so far kept me coming back for more. —Josh Jackson (Photo: Netflix)
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
Leave it to John Oliver and co. to still find ways to remind President Trump that he’s the worst. To be fair, the HBO news show’s first episode of 2018—which, coincidentally, happened to air over President’s Day weekend—didn’t bash our current commander-in-chief for any specific reason. Instead, the writers let several other countries do it by spotlighting the various Trump impersonators who are killing it overseas (yes, even in Russia). The episode culminated in a few things that do make America, great, though: the ability to nap in a kid’s bed that looks like the Batmobile; the fun of dressing up like a Tyrannosaurus Rex; and the chance to do both of these things while the New York City Gay Men’s Chorus sings an a cappella rendition of the Smash Mouth classic “All Star.” —Whitney Friedlander
Network: BBC America
Last Week’s Ranking: 6
Still narrated by the irreplaceable Sir David Attenborough and still wall-to-wall mesmerizing, the seven episodes of Blue Planet II have stunning photography, enhanced by a lush score by Hans Zimmer and a beautiful, shimmering, crackling, scuttling, subtly ringing quality to the sound editing, so you really feel as though you’re in the water. You’ll see some images familiar to those who enjoyed the original series—the way a whale carcass on the ocean floor feeds an entire community of deep-sea dwellers for months or years; the relationship between turtles (and corals) and the moon. The sense of vastness and mystery and infinite diversity is still very much there and very much amazing. Now, though, there is no question that the time for pure celebration of the interlocking diversity of sea life (which includes us) is over. It’s time, not to despair, but to act. —Amy Glynn (Photo: Paul Williams/BBC America)
Network: The CW
Last Week’s Ranking: 10
Rachel Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna’s indispensable musical comedy caps off its finest season yet with a full-on reckoning for “loose cannon” Rebecca Bunch (Bloom). As she comes to see her “crushing, overwhelming amounts of guilt”—manifested as visions of her stalker, Trent (Paul Welsh)—for what it is, Rebecca attempts to come clean, infuriates her best friend, Paula (Donna Lynne Champlin), and maybe even commits attempted second degree murder. In this, “Nathaniel Is Irrelevant” is a brilliant balancing act: Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s Season Three finale sees through the series’ renewed focus on the supporting cast—Valencia (Gabrielle Ruiz) in love; Heather (Vella Lovell) in labor; Darryl (Pete Gardner) the proud papa—while folding in Rebecca’s pungent realization that she finally does, per the second season’s theme, “truly want to be held responsible for my actions.” —Matt Brennan (Photo: Patrick Wymore/The CW)
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
With an assist from legendary producer Norman Lear, Mike Royce and Gloria Calderon Kellett’s multi-cam sitcom, which follows a Cuban American family in Los Angeles, has only grown more confident in the offseason—its combination of the topical and the timeless, the silly and the sincere, has become the leading engine of the form’s revival. Covering everything from LGBTQ rights and immigration to dating and depression, the series is anchored by the two extraordinary women at its center: Rita Moreno and Justina Machado, whose chemistry as mother and daughter find fullest in expression in two wrenching late-season entries. If the inseparable pair aren’t nominated for Emmys come summer, there should be a steward’s inquiry. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Netflix)
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
Over the course of its last four seasons, Fresh Off the Boat has made good work out of the expected American holiday fodder—Jessica’s (Constance Wu) creation of a Chinese, female Santa and Louis’ (Randall Park) painfully intense enthusiasm for Halloween are both classics of the sitcom holiday form—but the series’ biggest genre coup has been its establishment of the Lunar New Year episode as a new (to most Americans) holiday episode to look forward to.
Cue this season’s exceedingly funny Lunar New Year installment, “Ride the Tiger,” which used a we’re all speaking Mandarin as a New Year’s feast game! cold open gag to launch a ruthless and fully-Mandarin Jessica vs. Evan (Ian Chen) A-plot, put a B-plot bow on Emory’s (Forrest Wheeler) long year of Zodiac-predicted bad (puberty) luck, and dropped Eddie (Hudson Yang) into a delightfully petty C-plot red envelope fight club with Grandma Huang (Lucille Soong) and Big Auntie (Wai Ching Ho). Thanks to the careful holiday episode groundwork the series put in for the last two and a half seasons, which has turned at least some of the symbols and rituals of the Lunar New Year into a common vocabulary for the audience, new jokes—Deidre’s (Rachel Cannon) benevolently racist use of a Cantonese holiday greeting, despite the Huangs’ repeated references to (and actual use of) Mandarin; red envelopes being turned into bartering chips; Louis’ advice to Emory to “ride the Tiger low, and with measured enthusiasm”; Connie Chung—were able to be layered into “Ride the Tiger” with zero explanatory commas.
In short: Fresh Off the Boat’s Lunar New Year episodes are never to be missed. Or, to quote Ken Marino’s benevolently clueless newscaster two seconds after booking Jessica on the Lunar New Year-adjacent morning show to appease Connie Chung: “Diversity, checked!” —Alexis Gunderson (Photo: ABC/Kelsey McNeal)
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
It’s easy for makeover shows to get mean. The powerful, well-manicured elite versus the slobbering masses makes for entertaining TV with huge transformations, but those shows lack the emotional oomph to justify their existence outside of vicarious “treat yourself”-ness. Thanks to a new Fab Five composed of Tan, Jonathan, Antoni, Karamo, and Bobby, Netflix’s Queer Eye reboot (note the dropped For the Straight Guy) is forging a new path towards togetherness with unapologetic empathy inside its confidence-building makeovers. Each episode approaches a Georgian you may not expect—be it a Trump-voting cop or a gay man struggling to come out of the closet—with open arms and willing ears. With plenty of specific, actionable tips made more general by the expertise of the five, the show still gives the big reveals and side-by-sides you need to scratch your self-improvement itch. But what makes this iteration of the series truly great is the camaraderie between the five and each subject they work with. A frank discussion about asking “Who’s the husband and who’s the wife?” in a gay relationship opens the door to the kind of two-way conversations that are necessary in developing social consciousness. Bobby and Karamo shine as the most cogent speakers and help establish the relationships needed for anyone’s heart to truly change. Content Warning: Every episode may necessitate tissues. —Jacob Oller (Photo: Netflix)
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
Last week’s emotional heavyweight “House by the Lake” focused on the psychological torture and eventual murder of architect David Madson (Cody Fern). But the hint is that the killer of Gianni Versace (Edgar Ramierez), Andrew Cunanan (Darren Criss), got to Madson via Jeff Trail (Finn Wittrock), the man he bludgeons with a hammer in the first minutes of the episode, so we’ve been primed to expect this week’s installment to take us back to how Trail got wrapped up in this horrible spiderweb. The fifth episode of American Crime Story’s second season is the first not to have an actual murder in it, but trust me, it’s doesn’t make anything less painful: “Don’t Ask Don’t Tell” is a layered meditation on uniforms and conformity, masks and unmaskings. It moves back and forth in time in a way that’s easy to track but a little hard to describe; there’s a logic to this episode that poets will recognize. It turns on symbol and metaphor at least as much as plot, and it has a lot of layers of commentary on… well, on the nature of identity, when you get down to brass tacks. —Amy Glynn (Photo by Ray Mickshaw/FX)
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
Much has beenmade of the weird turn of events that has now christened Jimmy Kimmel— someone who came to national notoriety thanks to his and Adam Carolla’s tauntingly misogynistic commentary as buxom women jumped on trampolines on Comedy Central’s The Man Show—as the tearful voice of the American public.
But thank goodness he is.
After yet another mass shooting, this time in Parkland, Fla., Kimmel once again used the opportunity that his late-night program’s opening monologue allows him to address the social and political injustice in our country. Choking up when speaking of last week’s senseless tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Kimmel dared President Trump and his cronies to finally do something: “Every reasonable American, Republican or Democrat, knows that something has to be done,” Kimmel said into the camera, adding that he just wants politicians to remember that they work for the people—not the NRA. They may not be listening, but Kimmel’s audience sure is. —Whitney Friedlander
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
From openly gay competitors Adam Rippon and Gus Kenworthy refusing to be cowed by the presence of militant homophobe Mike Pence to the sporting détente between North and South Korea, the XXIII Winter Olympics Games have featured no shortage of stories that reach far beyond the field of play. In tandem with NBC’s wall-to-wall coverage, including its (mostly) finely honed primetime package, it’s this sense of the Olympics’ ongoing cultural currency that has made it the inescapable subject of water cooler conversations, break room gaggles, and social media discussions across the country since the opening ceremony on Feb. 9. But at the core of it all is what ABC’s Wide World of Sports famously labeled “the thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat”: Nathan Chen’s masterful six quadruple jumps and Madison Chock and Evan Bates’ heartbreaking freak fall; Chloe Kim’s smiling insouciance and Maddie Bowmans wrenching disappointment; the flipped bobsled, the tied heat, the overtime goal, the perfect run. The whole world is watching PyeongChang right now. And so are we. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Harry How/Getty Images)