Usually we don’t mind surprises, but Veronica Mars threw everyone for a loop when it dropped the all eight episodes of its much anticipated fourth season a full week early. Fans and TV critics were left scrambling.
But we can’t blame our plucky heroine for Hulu’s faux paus. And so a character who was first introduced 15 years ago dominated the TV conversation. (Especially that shocking ending).
The rules for the power 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 four weeks.
The voting panel is composed 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. So much good TV is available right now.
Harlots (Hulu), Pearson (USA), The Rook (Starz), City on a Hill (Showtime), and Baskets (FX).
10. Molly of Denali
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
It’s not often that a children’s show makes the Power List but this one is special. The new animated PBS series Molly of Denali, follows 10-year-old Molly Mabray who lives in the fictional town of Qyah Alaska. Molly has two best friends named Tooey and Trini, parents who own a trading post, and a dog named Suki. A thoroughly contemporary character, Molly uses a computer and has a vlog where she shares her adventures with the world. The series is based on the concept of informational text, which is the way kids can learn and consume information via words, images, graphics, video and oral language.
What sets the show apart is its unique ability to be both educational and entertaining. Kids watching will see how much they have in common with Molly (voiced with aplomb by Alaska native Sovereign Bill) while also learning about Alaska native culture and customs. All the indigenous characters on the show are voiced by indigenous actors. As creative producer Princess Daazhraii Johnson says, “We’ve been so stereotyped and romanticized and relegated to the past. So we just really try to push for this sense we are modern people. That our cultures are alive and vibrant.”—Amy Amatangelo
9. Perpetual Grace, LTD
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
Creators Steve Conrad and Bruce Terris have crafted a visually distinct world full of moral quandaries, exploring the fluctuating nature of what defines a person’s character. That exists alongside scenes like Sir Ben Kingsley calmly telling the guard at a Mexican prison that he is “the pale horse of death,” just before being loaded into an ice cream truck for transportation to a Super Max facility.
The series builds out its own world in a vaguely modern southwest setting, where James (Jimmi Simpson) gets embroiled in a scheme to rob a couple running a scam church. Their son, Paul Allen Brown (Damon Herriman), repeats several times that “they’re just two old people,” but Byron (Kingsley) and Lillian (Jacki Weaver) are forces to be reckoned with—starting with the fact that James has to get hooked on methadone first to go through their detox as part of the heist. “That’s intense,” he says thoughtfully. Perpetual Grace has a weird, wry humor to it, but even more importantly it’s rooted in exceptional character work.
It’s a fascinating journey to begin, with no sense yet of how things might resolve, if they ever do. There’s no hurry to get there, though—spending time in this strange world is full of curiosities will likely keep us perpetually sustained.—Allison Keene
8. Love Island
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
So, Love Island. Love Island is peak reality television. It is all baby oil, bare skin, white teeth and abs. Just like the show’s contestants, you’re asked to leave your brain and all reason at the door. It is glitz. It is glamour. It is mind-numbing—draining, even—and I cannot stop watching it. The Love Island contestants are paired up in paradise (Fiji, to be exact), constantly caught on camera for the pleasure of viewers of everywhere and, unsurprisingly, an endless river of drama spews forth. In many ways, Love Island reminds me of the time a lot of the rich kids from my high school went to Mexico on a senior spring break. I do not know what transpired there, nor did I care. But everyone returned single, (re)coupled up, tanner than any human being should ever be, or with more vendettas then an anime antagonist. The sea levels are rising, but tan lines, white teeth and mindless entertainment are forever. I will keep watching Love Island while I shove popcorn into my mouth and I’ll forget everything I watched by sunrise the next day. And yes, I will do it all over again ad infinitum.—Cole Henry
7. Stranger Things
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
Stranger Things continues to be an unabashed celebration of the 1980s, from its own filmic references regarding style and story to the literal references of the the era. Season Three kicks off in the summer of 1985, which is not where we normally expect to find the show (formerly set in the winter and fall), but it only augments the joyful nature of the series’ non-monster moments. And that, really, is where Stranger Things shines. The creep factor is important (and super gory this year) as an almost funny juxtaposition to the otherwise happy-go-lucky look at suburban life. But it’s the friendships and coming-of-age stories, the relationships and family bonding, that really make Stranger Things great. For better or worse, the Netflix horror series’ new season is as tasty, messy, and fleeting as an ice cream cone on a hot summer’s day. Ahoy! —Allison Keene
6. Years and Years
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
Russell T. Davies’ UK series has come to HBO with very little fanfare, which is unfortunate because it deserves your attention. It’s a compelling, if imperfect, look at what life might be like in the next 15 years, as the show cruises through a number of proposed (and likely) world events through the lens of one British family. An outstanding cast helps sell the show’s dystopian vision, giving it an exceptional amount of heart. But Davies also keeps all of the tech and politics and media of the future feeling grounded in the possible. Years and Years is arresting television, with an outlandishly oversized score that pulls you in fully to a story with shocking events and the familiar mundanity that follows them. Despite the erosion of freedoms, it still feels strangely hopefully, and most of all, embraces the idea of resilience even in the face of extraordinary change. —Allison Keene
5. Big Little Lies
Last Week’s Ranking: 6
Season Two of the HBO series, written by David E. Kelly and author Liane Moriarty and directed by Andrea Arnold*, picks up about a year after the Emmy-winning first season as it investigates the fallout from both Perry’s (Alexander Skarsgard) death and the lie the women shared about its circumstances. Season Two is about consequences, and though the series doesn’t lose its edge or satirical style (particularly when it comes to Renata), it’s far more meditative and melancholic than before.
Big Little Lies is at its best when it’s primarily a character exploration, and the caliber of its cast cannot be overstated. Though the series always has been a strange blend of trauma and satire, Season Two leans into the former much more so than the latter, focusing (perhaps rightly) far more on the dynamic Celeste (Nicole Kidman) and Madeline (Reese Witherspoon) and their interior lives. If the first season was about the women coming together, Season Two is about them falling away. That’s not an unnatural result given their shared trauma and that lie, but it does leave the narrative feeling unbalanced and fractured.
While it may lack some of the bite and urgency of its first season, Big Little Lies is still an absolutely gorgeous series with a lot to unpack in terms of its complex women, the legacy of abuse, the makeshift families we form, and protecting one’s friends. There are several conversations in these early episodes about people who “want,” and women who “want” in particular. Even through the finale, the Monterey Five want for different things, but in this moment—in their lives that are full of convoluted lies and devastating consequences—most of all they want to know who they really are.
*Update: Though Big Little Lies has turned into more of a courtroom drama as it comes to the end of its new season, the real drama is behind-the-scenes regarding director Andrea Arnold, whose hard work was more or less ripped apart and redone to match the style of Season One director Jean-Marc Vallée, the full details of which you can read about here. —Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
Forgive me Pray Tell (Billy Porter) for I fell way behind on the second season of Pose. But now I am caught up and the category is: Summer’s Best Shows. In its second season, the FX drama, set against the backdrop of Madonna’s “Vogue,” dives deeper and more tragically into the reality of the trans community in the early 90s. It’s an unflinching look at the ongoing fight and struggle for acceptance and equal rights. Yet there’s still so much joy in the series. From the delight of a dance audition to Elektra’s (Dominque Jackson) ever-fabulous put-downs, to the weekly ballroom competitions, the series never fails to delight. Special shout out to MJ Rodriquez, whose Blanca is the true heart of the series. More than anything, Pose reminds us that family is often the one you make, not the one you are born into, and that there’s nothing like having the support of the ones you love.—Amy Amatangelo
3. Queer Eye
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
The Netflix reboot of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy is a complex and endearing beast that’s empathy is tempered with its extra-ness. Its Wikipedia page may refer to the makeover subjects of each episode as its “hero,” but the Fab Five of Antoni, Bobby, Jonathan, Karamo, and Tan often get progatonistic arcs of their own. That’s the joy of the new show: we never know who’s getting the makeover and if that reveal will be purely aesthetic or something more deeply transformational.
The fourth season features some fantastic outings most notably the season premiere “Without Further Ado.” Jonathan returns home to Quincy, Illinois to give the haircut of the decade to his former orchestra teacher, Kathi. A sweet old lady, who loves her community, getting her own pampering ahead of a parade in her honor will make you cry like cutting an onion at a puppy’s funeral that features a loop of the first five minutes of Up. And seeing one of the Fab Five reckon with their own past in a very tangible way makes the episode (and all the ideology they’ve dispensed over four seasons) hit so much harder.—Jacob Oller
2. Los Espookys
Last Week’s Ranking: 7
Over the too-few episodes of Los Espookys’ first season, the group of friends who made a business out of scaring people have helped a priest pull off an exorcism, created a sea monster tourist attraction for a struggling town and accidentally got an American ambassador stuck in a mirror. (She eventually escaped—but so did her reflection.) The weird, delightful humor of Los Espookys is perfectly balanced by its characters’ earnestness, especially that of Renaldo (Bernardo Velasco), the leader of their group. Renaldo loves horror and wants to share his passion with his friends, the cool and practical Úrsula (Cassandra Ciangherotti), the wealthy heir to a chocolate fortune Andrés (Julio Torres) and Úrsula’s hapless sister Tati (Ana Fabrega). But every gig they take comes with brand new issues for the friends to face, all in a world where water demons and enchanted mirrors are so normal they occur without comment. For the first time, the group might not make it through, but so far their love for each other and good attitudes are mostly intact. —Rae Nudson
1. Veronica Mars
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
When your favorite TV show returns 12 years after its series finale and five years after its fan-fueled movie, you worry. Will our plucky heroine still be the beloved character we met all those years ago? Will her reformed, former bad-boy boyfriend still deliver the sardonic one-liners with aplomb? Can the show possibly live up to the anticipated hype?
Well my little marshmallows I’m delighted to inform you that the answer to all three questions is “yes.” The fourth season of Veronica Mars is fantastic. In this age of revival-palooza, much has been lost. In the quest for a quick money grab, revivals often leave their characters in a state of perpetual arrested development.
More than with any other revival, Veronica Mars’ creator and executive producer Rob Thomas has clearly thought about where these characters would be as adults. So my “yes the show is still awesome” comes with an asterisk. Gone is the happy-go-lucky breeziness of the Kickstarter video. Gone is the assurance the movie provided that almost everyone is living their best life. The result, which is an exceedingly honest look at adulthood, might not be the Veronica Mars we thought we wanted, but it is the Veronica Mars that we need.—Amy Amatangelo