Now that the Oscars are in the books, we here at Paste TV are back to regularly scheduled programming. (Well, almost: The Academy Awards telecast may not be what it once was, but it’s still a heavy enough hitter to lead the Power Rankings.) That means a very special series premiere, a sublime docuseries parody, a heartfelt episode of Broad City, and the season finale of True Detective, in addition to a bunch of streamign stalwarts. You can almost smell Emmy season just around the corner.
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.
The Daily Show with Trevor Noah, The Dragon Prince, The Good Doctor, The Magicians, Miracle Workers, PEN15, This Is Us
10. Whiskey Cavalier
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
ABC’s Whiskey Cavalier, which enjoyed a plum post-Oscar premiere Sunday night, uses star Scott Foley’s appeal to the fullest effect. Foley is Will Chase (code name Whiskey Cavalier), an FBI agent still nursing a broken heart (and listening to “Total Eclipse of the Heart” on a continuous loop) when he’s paired up with CIA operative Frankie Trowbridge (Lauren Cohan). Together, they’re sent on covert operations to save the world with a rag-tag joint task force that includes expert computer hacker Edgar Standish (Tyler James Williams) , deft psychologist Susan Sampson (Ana Ortiz), exasperated CIA analyst Jai Datta (Vir Das) and team leader Ray Prince (Josh Hopkins at his smarmiest).
Foley is, for lack of a better word, a hoot. He’s able to pull off silly lines like “I have my feelings. My feelings don’t have me.” He does, as one character puts it, have “this whole Captain America thing going on.” But his sincerity is offset by his self-deprecating charm. Will’s Achilles heel is that he empathizes too much with other people—something that can really get him into trouble. And while I’m not as familiar with Cohan’s work, she has crackling chemistry with Foley. If Will is too much in touch with his feelings, Frankie keeps hers at bay, never wanting to let anyone in. We’ve seen this dynamic before, of course, but that doesn’t make it any less entertaining. Their back-and-forth banter is the heart of the series. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: ABC/Larry D. Horricks)
9. Broad City
Network: Comedy Central
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable mention
“Yaaasss queens,” pot jokes, secret handshakes with Bed Bath & Beyond workers, and celebrity cameos aside, at its core, Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer’s cult hit has been about the support systems needed to survive in the wilds of New York City. And that’s why it seems like everything has been building to last week’s episode, “Artsy Fartsy.” The midway point of Broad City’s final season, which Jacobson wrote and Glazer directed, finds Ilana and her long-time paramour Lincoln (Hannibal Buress) accepting that they want different things in life and are better off as friends. Meanwhile, Abbi steps out of her comfort zone: Not only does she try to ingratiate herself into the art scene she so wishes she could join, but, much like real-life Abbi, she also begins to explore her sexuality thanks to a run-in with a hot ER doc (Veep’s Clea DuVall). Oh, and it ends with a woman dressed as a giant vagina. —Whitney Friedlander (Photo: Comedy Central)
8. Russian Doll
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
Netflix, if you’re reading this: Please don’t renew Russian Doll.
Renew Natasha Lyonne. Renew Amy Poehler. Renew Leslye Headland. Renew Charlie Barnett. Renew Rebecca Henderson and Greta Lee as hot mess hipster art friends ready to make parties across the Netflix spectrum that much spikier and sparklier. Renew Elizabeth Ashley as every Netflix heroine’s no-bullshit therapist (but make it fashion) mom-figure. Renew sharp, funny women directing sharp, funny women written by sharp, funny women. Renew that hair. Renew every damn thing about Russian Doll that helped make it such a brambly triumph of black comedy, macabre ennui and existential optimism. (Everything, that is, except Dave Becky in a producer’s chair—if Broad City can change precedent after four seasons, new series can avoid setting one altogether.) Just, please, don’t renew Russian Doll. It is, in the eight shaggy, smartly-constructed puzzlebox episodes of its debut season, nearly perfect. —Alexis Gunderson (Photo: Netflix)
7. One Day at a Time
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
I promised myself I would savor the third season of One Day at a Time. That I would space out watching the 13 episodes, treasuring each one. I would relish how each precious half-hour was simultaneously timeless and cutting edge. I would marvel at the series’ ability to be quietly groundbreaking. I would reflect on how it made Cuban culture at once unique and intimately relatable.
Instead, I devoured it. The series is so excellent and so compulsively watchable I couldn’t help myself. It’s like that old commercial for Lay’s potato chips: “Betcha you can’t watch just one.” In a seemingly impossible feat, the third season of this cherished comedy is even better than the two that preceded it—and the two that preceded it were pretty awesome. For its third outing, the series goes deeper on the challenges of modern parenting, addiction struggles, and living with anxiety and depression. It explores with great nuance what makes a family. It is pioneering in its ability to treat Elena’s (Isabella Gomez) same-sex relationship as a high-school first love, with all the drama and issues that accompany that regardless of gender. Justina Machado and Rita Moreno are, of course, reliably fantastic as the mother/daughter matriarchs of the family, but the season really gives Todd Grinnell, as handyman/landlord Schneider, a chance to shine. Alex (a terrific Marcel Ruiz) also gets a complex storyline, which is honest in its admission that adolescent issues aren’t easily solved. Now I’m off to watch the third season again. ¡Dale One Day at a Time, dale! —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: Ali Goldstein/Netflix)
6. True Detective
Last Week’s Ranking: 7
Anyone who went into the True Detective finale feeling nervous about the show’s potential to walk through all the doors it had opened in one hour—you were right. There just isn’t enough bandwidth for that. And as a meta-treatise on the elusiveness of “closure,” Season Three, which has generally favored the philosophical, doesn’t entirely work. What definitely does work is what has always worked, which is the chemistry between Hays and his partner, Roland West (Stephen Dorff); it’s seriously poignant. The relationship between Wayne and Amelia (Carmen Ejogo) is generally well-realized, too, but Wayne’s real marriage is to Roland, and this is nicely echoed in the scene where Roland offers to come and live with Wayne. Time is a flat circle. Except when it’s a Möbius strip. —Amy Glynn (Photo: Warrick Page/HBO)
5. The Umbrella Academy
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
As a fan of Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá’s comic book, I was a little skeptical of Netflix’s adaptation of The Umbrella Academy. I assumed it’d flatten out the comic’s esoteric edges in an attempt to make it more like other superhero shows. The first episode almost immediately calms those fears, though, revealing a series as weird and idiosyncratic as the comic. Imagine if Wes Anderson directed a Grant Morrison adaptation, complete with a mansion-spanning sad-superhero dance break to Tiffany’s “I Think We’re Alone Now.” If that’s not your cup of coffee, maybe find something else to stream. —Garrett Martin (Photo: Christos Kalohoridis/Netflix)
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
Though shot in an active maximum-security prison and with many incarcerated men and prison staff taking their first turn in front of the camera, Madeleine Sackler’s O.G. is not about filming less-than-conventional actors in a gimmicky way; it’s naturalistic and tempered and organic. It’s committed to a plot-by-accretion, character-driven style, but it’s spare, tightly paced, and contains zero beard-stroking nonsense. It’s visually sophisticated, with subdued colors and bright panes of sunlight and beautifully rendered transitions and lavish close-ups. There is lovely, measured, intelligent use—and manipulation—of sound, muting background chatter in a way that ironically amplifies one’s focus on it, or zeroing in on one sound element to create a sense of tension or hypervigilance or anger or confusion. Louis (Jeffrey Wright), an incarcerated man at the end of a 24-year prison term, proceeds under a veneer of detached calm, but he is in fact a pretty emotional man. He cares. About his family. About the pain he caused someone else’s family. About doing better, being better. He’s not a bodhisattva; there’s tremendous anger in him, and resentment, and wrath and defensiveness and humiliation. And, it seems—as his release draws closer and as he agrees to a confrontation with his victim’s sister—considerable fear he would rather not make visible. Fear of something happening to jeopardize his freedom, and perhaps greater fear of attaining it. —Amy Glynn (Photo: HBO)
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
“The p-word,” to quote John Wayne Bobbitt’s urologist (of all people), is a microcosm of the case, itself a microcosm of its cultural moment. The discomfort journalists, police officers, attorneys, and, yes, doctors evince in the series, faced with the very word “penis,” anatomizes the political atmosphere in which the Bobbitts grabbed hold of the American imagination—and, indeed, our own. By the midpoint of the first episode, Lorena laces together patriarchal mores, the media circus, and the limits of the law into a damning portrait of a nation so ill-equipped to deal with the substance of the case that it turned instead to the adolescent humor of Saturday Night Live, David Letterman, and Robin Williams. In an archival clip from Jenny Jones, John Wayne’s brother, Todd Biro, claims that he’d have killed Lorena if he’d had the chance, and the camera captures a man in the audience, applauding vigorously, as the woman seated directly in front of him stares into the distance, bemused. Cut to: Surgeon General C. Everett Koop calling violence against women “an overwhelming moral, economic, and public health burden.” Cut to: Anita Hill testifying against Supreme Court nominee Clarence Thomas. Cut to: the acquittal of political scion William Kennedy Smith in a highly publicized Palm Beach rape case, and, around the same time, the explosion of the Tailhook scandal, in which more than 100 Navy and Marine Corps officers were accused of committing sexual assaults during a four-day conference in Las Vegas. Down to multiple on-camera interviews, with the Bobbitts’ neighbors and others, in which the subjects describe their personal encounters with domestic violence, Lorena picks at the scab of “sensational” stories and finds a raw and bloody scourge. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Amazon Prime Video)
2. Documentary Now!
Last week’s Ranking: Ineligible
The Season Three premiere of IFC’s parodic docuseries, from Fred Armisen, Bill Hader, Seth Meyers, and Rhys Thomas, lampoons last year’s Netflix sensation, Wild Wild Country, replete with an aloof mystic (Owen Wilson’s Father Ra-Shawbard), his wily advisor/defender/usurper (Necar Zadegan’s exceptionally funny Ra-Sharir), and a series of escalating municipal indignities in the rural Oregon county where their cult sets up shop. With “Batsh*t Valley,” Documentary Now! of course nails the absurdities of the scenario—unashamed appeals to cult members for money, battles over pumpkin-carving contests and the installation of speed bumps—but as always, it’s the aesthetic balloon of Wild Wild Country that it pops most confidently. In its use of sweeping flyovers, faux archival news clips, and an occasional melodramatic montage, it underscores the excesses of the “prestige” docuseries as surely as American Vandal. —Matt Brennan (Photo: IFC)
1. The 91st Academy Awards
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
Perhaps the biggest winner of the 91st Academy Awards was the telecast itself: After an unprecedented swirl of pre-air controversy, the ceremony went off mostly without a hitch. (We’ll admit we were a little disappointed to miss out on the Oscars in full meltdown mode.) Efficient though unexceptional, this year’s edition underscored a moment of profound flux for both the Academy and the broader industry: For each progressive achievement (Black Panther claimed historic firsts in Costume Design and Production Design) there was something retrograde to match (the success of Green Book); for every moment of sincerity (Olivia Colman’s night-defining acceptance speech, after upsetting Glenn Close), there was another of smarm (Rami Malek’s forgettable march to victory). Still, we were watching, chattering, and occasionally delighting in Hollywood’s biggest night. That counts for something, even—maybe especially—as times change. —Matt Brennan (Photo: Matt Petit – Handout/A.M.P.A.S. via Getty Images)