With winter series starting to wind down and spring premieres gaining steam, it’s a time of transition on the Paste TV Power Rankings, with two newcomers to the list (grown-ish, finding its Season One groove, and Jessica Jones, newly eligible) and a number of titles reaching the end of their reign. (Let’s hope it’s not goodbye, One Day at a Time—just ta ta for now.) Still, it’s a stalwart that leads the week, a series whose famed “twists” have retained their capacity for surprise.
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.
Black Lightning, Counterpart, Jane the Virgin, Marvel’s Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable mention
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: Not ranked
Grown-ish hasn’t always clicked on all cylinders in its freshman season, but the college-campus spinoff of ABC’s black-ish, starring Yara Shahidi as Zoey Johnson, continues to, well, grow on me. In recent weeks, the series has begun to supplement hoary subplots about Adderall abuse and hookup culture with the sort of bold, topical humor and clever plotting that defines its parent program: The (mostly) ladies-only intervention of “Un-break My Heart,” set during a blackout, or this week’s “It’s Hard Out Here for a Pimp,” which finally, and rather brilliantly, puts the series’ supporting cast to full use. Focusing on the difficulties black women face when it comes to dating, especially those, like Jazlyn and Skylar (Chloe and Halle Bailey), of darker complexion, the episode is so frank and funny about race, romance, and the intersection thereof that I can even forgive it Zoey’s forgettable B-plot. It deserves inclusion on our list for that Ozark gag alone. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Freeform/Tony Rivetti)
Last Week’s Ranking: 7
The Virginia-born child of Korean parents, renowned chef David Chang is deeply interested in how foodways travel, intersect, and melt together. What begins to hit you once his new docuseries finds its groove—the second episode, for me; your mileage may vary—is that this is legitimately something beyond the super-trope established by Tony Bourdain all those years ago (Chef Seeks Wisdom in Travel and Eating the World). Chang is not a Bourdanian. He’s after something else: the notion that real authenticity isn’t about purity. On the contrary, it’s about recognizing diversity of contribution, making connections, and not being a damn snob. He doesn’t need you to be dazzled. He wants people to be open to one another. And, as one Vietnamese Houstonian notes in the series’ shrimp debate: “Food is the bridge.” —Amy Glynn (Photo: Netflix)
Last Week’s Ranking: 6
The Killing’s Veena Sud returns with another searing look at how an adolescent’s tragic death ricochets through a community. When narcotics officer Pete Jablonski (Beau Knapp) hit and kills Brenton Butler with his car, his boss forces him to cover up the crime while Brenton’s parents (a stellar Regina King and Russell Hornsby) search for answers. Even in her hungover state, functioning alcoholic and assistant prosecutor K.J.Harper (Clare-Hope Ashitey) knows something is not right. Michael Mosley is Joe “Fish” Rinaldi, the homicide detective not wanting to see this as anything less than an open-and-shut case. K.J. and Fish are a terrific pairing: Their reluctant rapport is the series’ biggest strength. As with The Killing, the characters and performances outshine the sometimes meandering and cliched story. Seven Seconds tells an imperfect but thought-provoking story of whose lives are valued, how good people do bad things, and how bad people can still be good. As the grieving mother, King is devastating. As a parent myself, her performance cuts me to my very core. Ashitey is a revelation, creating a character that will simultaneously infuriate you and evoke your sympathy. You’ll root for her even when she’s doing so much self-destruction. And the pilot’s final image, of Brenton’s blood sprawled over the Jersey City snow, will haunt you for days. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: Jojo Whilden/Netflix)
Last Week’s Ranking 4
“Mercury,” set in the aftermath of the bombings of U.S. embassies in Nairobi and Dar es Salaam and the subsequent U.S. airstrikes near Khost, Afghanistan, homes in, as I wrote in my column on the series, on the suspense of the unmade connection, the lost lead, the thread left dangling. As FBI agent and extremely good date Ali Soufan (the charming Tahar Rahim) explains, with reference to cancer, liquid metals, and Terminator 2, the challenge posed by al-Qaeda is as much ideological as it is tactical. It’s an insight his boss, John O’Neill (Jeff Daniels), tries to pass along, only to be stymied by personal problems; it’s one also buried in the CIA’s overly protective approach to intelligence. From the obstacle course at an Afghan training camp to the endless rows of anonymous analysts at an NSA warehouse, “Mercury” suggests not the impossibility of finding Osama bin Laden, but the frustration of coming so close and failing anyway. As a child’s T-shirt warns, emblazoned with the extremist’s image, “YOU MISSED.” —Matt Brennan (Photo: JoJo Whilden/Hulu)
Network: CBS All Access
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
The Good Fight creators Michelle and Robert King and Phil Alden Robertson understand character, almost preternaturally so: The sight of Diane Lockhart (Christine Baranski) in the season’s second episode, angling for a client at a heating oil depot in a white fur and black sunglasses, says more about her—glamorous, but tenacious; elegant, but not (too) stuck up—than reams of dialogue ever could. From here, The Good Wife spinoff, a habit-forming blend of politics, pop culture, humor, and high tech rolled into the silky cigarette of a legal procedural, doubles down on its giddy provocations (Bernadette Peters’ Lenore Rindell testifying under oath that it’s possible to mishear “Vail” as “jail”), its seductive banter, and its reliance on scene-snatcher Sarah Steele. It’s all to the good on TV’s most fun show of the moment, though “Day 415” is especially high on this list for a subplot it begins to wrap up: The less time spent on Ponzi-schemer Henry Rindell (Paul Guilfoyle), the better. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Elizabeth Fisher/CBS)
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
While on the surface this would seem to be Donatella’s (Penelope Cruz) narrative, she’s really rather incidental to the story. “Ascent” is about the drive to rise above one’s circumstances, but it’s also about the fundamental difference between a narcissist (Darren Criss’ Andrew Cunanan) and a maker (Edgar Ramirez’s Gianni Versace). Both might seek, be drawn to, find celebrity, money, access, privilege, attention. One of them does it by giving the world something. The other has nothing to give and resents the notion that he should. The myth of Narcissus is a poorly understood one; people tend to think Narcissus was in love with himself. Read the texts carefully and you’ll understand that his problem was of a fundamentally different nature—he didn’t have a self to love. The reflection in the pond that besotted and tormented him, the unattainable perfect Other, was his own face, and he didn’t realize it, and that failure of recognition drowned him. It drowns most of them, ultimately. It’s just a matter of how many people they destroy along the way. —Amy Glynn (Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FX)
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
In its sophomore effort, Jessica Jones digs deeper into the issues that made Season One interesting—in particular, power, control, and female anger. Season Two doubles down on that in a way that feels extremely of the moment (and showrunner Melissa Rosenberg saw to it that, among other things, all the episodes were directed by women). As a treatise on the complexities of female road-rage in all its varied facets, it’s excellent. It also makes the wise choice to deepen Jessica (Krysten Ritter, still killing it) and Trish’s (Rachael Taylor) complicated relationship, delving into their shared past. That was definitely the least fleshed-out aspect of the first season, and it’s a much-needed asset here. —Amy Glynn (Photo: David Giesbrecht/Netflix)
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
There are two incredible things about Hiro Murai’s direction of “Sportin’ Waves” that must be noted. First, his lighting is consistently groundbreaking. Houses are low-lit and low-key, malls are reflective and uncomfortable, late-night drug deals are pitch-black and sweaty, corporate offices are white and oppressive. Nobody is lighting TV like this, which is why most TV shows don’t look like they live anywhere or are from anywhere. His underexposure and light always remind you that you’re looking at a place, and when those visual elements change, the sense of place does, too. Second, even when he makes a fake music video (hocking Yoohoo, of all things) to be mocked late in the episode, it still looks inventive and engaging. And at least it’s better than the acoustic white girl cover of Paper Boi that’s the last straw for Alfred (Bryan Tyree Henry). He’s over robbin’ season. As for Atlanta’s “Robbin’ Season”? It’s so good so far that I can’t wait to see where it goes next. —Jacob Oller (Photo: Guy D’Alema/FX)
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
NBC’s popular melodrama loses the thread from time to time, and the two-season build-up around the “mystery” of Jack Pearson’s (Milo Ventimiglia) untimely death tested my patience more than once. But let’s give credit where credit is due: Plenty of more “prestigious” series would have dropped the subplot about Déjà (Lyric Ross), Randall (Sterling K. Brown) and Beth’s (Susan Kelechi Watson) foster daughter, as soon as she returned to her mother. In “This Big, Amazing, Beautiful Life,” written by Kay Oyegun and directed by Rebecca Asher, This Is Us refuses to forget her; in fact, the series turns in one of the finest episodes of its second season, a focused, sensitive, ambitious depiction of the young girl’s background that also deepens our understanding of her mother. It’s yet another signal that This Is Us has the strength beneath its surface gimmicks to grow for years to come. As “twists” go, this one might be its most impressive yet. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Ron Batzdorff/NBC)