The 10 Best TV Shows Right Now: Primal, The Righteous Gemstones, and More

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The 10 Best TV Shows Right Now: <i>Primal</i>, <i>The Righteous Gemstones</i>, and More

The line between movies and television has never been more nebulous. But usually Paste TV adheres to a strict edict: Movies do not belong on the weekly power rankings.

Still, what good are rules when you have responsibilities to your readers? And, as we all know, there is an exception to every rule. Therefore, obviously El Camino had to be included this week, bitch.

The rules for the Power Ranking 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.

Honorable Mentions: Liza on Demand (YouTube), WNBA Finals (ABC), The Durrells in Corfu (PBS), On Becoming a God in Central Florida (Showtime), Supernatural (The CW), Supergirl (The CW), and Press (PBS).

10. Riverdale
Network: The CW
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible

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I’m always a little wary when a TV show must deal with the sudden death of one of its stars. The blending of the fictional with a real-life tragedy makes for a situation ripe for, if not disaster, uncomfortable macabre or disingenuous mourning. But after the sudden passing of Luke Perry last March at the age of 52, Riverdale smartly didn’t rush to try to memorialize Perry or Fred Andrews, the character Perry played on the series. Showrunner Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa took his time and, in doing so, created a fourth season premiere, aptly titled “In Memoriam,” that was meaningful and moving. Archie (K.J. Apa) learns that his father died after being hit by a car while helping a stranded motorist. As Archie and his pals go to retrieve Fred’s body and bring him home, the show reflected not just on Fred but on Perry himself. The hour’s most beautiful moment came from Shannen Doherty, who guest starred as the woman Fred was helping when he died. Anyone who grew up watching 90210 knows the onscreen history Perry and Doherty shared—together they created one of television’s most enduring and iconic couples. But in Doherty’s poignant appearance, we got a glimpse at their off-screen friendship and what Perry had meant to her. It was a beautiful moment and a fitting tribute to one of television’s most memorable actors.—Amy Amatangelo

9. Evil
Network: CBS
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked

A priest-in-training who solves mystical mysteries? No, thank you. But! What if I told you the priest was played by Mike Colter, Luke Cage himself. And that the series is from Michelle and Robert King, the duo behind both The Good Wife and The Good Fight. See? You’re intrigued aren’t you. The pilot episode transcended its awkward premise to introduce us to Kristen Bouchard (Katja Herbers) a forensic psychologist who becomes something of a believer when she meets David Acosta (Colter) and they begin to investigate the inexplicable. The always creepy (in the best way) Michael Emerson is also on hand as Leland Townsend, a mysterious character who epitomize the title of the series.—Amy Amatangelo

8. David Makes Man
Network: OWN
Last Week’s Ranking: 5

Expectations are the last thing you should be bringing into OWN’s first original teen-centric series. David Makes Man transcends expectations. It transcends genre. It just… transcends. Much of this transcendence is due, of course, to creator Tarell Alvin McCraney’s particular line of naturalistic poetic genius. If you’ve seen Moonlight or High Flying Bird or Choir Boy, the fact that young David Young’s story both defies easy description and delivers deeply human realness on every page won’t be a surprise. But while David Makes Man would be excellent no matter how it traveled from McCraney’s imagination to OWN’s screen, the version we get to watch rises to exceptional thanks to the presence of two things: Akili McDowell’s astounding work as teen hero David (a.k.a. DJ / Dai), and the textural shimmer of the team’s dreamy, innovative visual style.

So much of David Makes Man depends on the inner churn David experiences as he tries to balance the daily struggle to survive life in the Ville without falling into the drug-dealing world that got his deceased father-figure killed, the academic expectations that seem to exist in a vacuum at the magnet school he buses to every day, and the quotidian social pressures to fit in and not be weird (slash, not be embarrassed by his corny-ass mom) that every middle-schooler in human history has had to face. More often than not, McDowell is asked to communicate that tightrope walk with just his eyes, or his balled fists, or his quicksilver mask of a school-day grin. It’s so much, but McDowell delivers every detail with such heartfelt naturalism that it’s hard to remember David isn’t real. It’s genuinely astounding. —Alexis Gunderson

7. Primal
Network:   Adult Swim  
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible

It’s so easy to think of the anachronistic caveman-dinosaur relationship as one between a boy and his dog. Chuck Jones’ first Daffy Duck cartoon introduced Casper and Fido, while Alley Oop has been riding his dinosaur since the ‘30s. Even Winsor McCay’s landmark animated character Gertie the Dinosaur was domesticated.

This collected cultural idea, from McCay’s pioneering personality work to the ubiquitous partnership between man and beast, is what Genndy Tartakovsky channels in his life-or-death Adult Swim show Primal. Lovely animation and heightened action only serve to illuminate the show’s grounded central premise: life is hard and it’s better together. Even if it takes stretching history millions of years, Primal finds an innate truth buried deep in the fossil record.

The beloved animator behind Samurai Jack and Clone Wars returned to TV after some scattered pilots and a Hotel Transylvania trilogy. What he brought with him is everything fans have come to expect from a creator whose legacy is filled with spartan storytelling and aesthetic elegance. Despite Primal’s Slipknot-but-if-cavemen font, its most pressing use of its title isn’t raw, base, animal violence, but instinctual facets of life. Things like survival, purpose, and companionship. How best to get at that than silent animation, where slapstick and gore hold equal weight?—Jacob Oller

6. Peaky Blinders
Network:   Netflix  
Last Week’s Ranking: 8

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This criminally underrated British period gangland drama (try saying that three times fast) is one of the best things you’re likely not watching. Peaky Blinders follows the story of the Shelby family, a 1920s Birmingham gang who run the drugs, horses, and larger criminal underworld of their city, all while sporting stylish newsboy caps with razor blades hidden in their brims. As the series’ fifth season begins, Peaky leader Tommy (Cillian Murphy) is now an MP—just go with it, it’ll take too long to explain—and trying to lead the Shelbys through the fallout from of Black Tuesday which wiped out all their “legitimate funds” in the stock market crash.

As a result, the family must once again embrace darker and more treacherous avenues of business, just as the world itself starts back down a more dangerous path. Peaky Blinders is maybe not the show you’d initially guess would offer up a fairly nuanced look at the insidious rise of fascism in pre-WWII Europe, but…here we are. Hunger Games star Sam Clafin gives an unctuously creepy turn as villainous Oswald Mosley, eventual head of the British Union of Fascists. But, as per usual, it’s the series’ women who steal the show, from iconic matriarch Polly (Helen McCrory) to spiraling Shelby wife Linda (Kate Phillips) and ambitious family newcomer Gina (Anya Taylor-Joy.).—Lacy Baugher

5. Saturday Night Live’s “The Grouch”
Network: NBC
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible

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Lately, some of the best skits to come from Saturday Night Live are the pre-produced segments, and that includes this past week’s Joker spoof “The Grouch.” In it, David Harbour does a pitch-perfect riff on Joaquin Phoenix’s performance, leaning into this recent trend of dark origin stories for every fictional character. In this case, it’s Sesame Street fave Oscar the Grouch, as Harbour’s character transforms into this “twisted” version of a classic. The skit even went so far as to rightfully call out Joker director Todd Philips, and yet the sketch was so funny it actually made me want to see the full version of this spoof movie. —Allison Keene

4. The Righteous Gemstones
Network:   HBO  
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked

In HBO’s comedy The Righteous Gemstones, Danny McBride plays Jesse, the oldest son of the Gemstone clan of showbiz preachers, the flamboyant heir apparent to his legendary father Eli, who’s played with equal parts solemnity and menace by John Goodman. Eli turned the gospel into a chain store, opening up churches throughout the Southeast, and bringing his whole family into the business. In addition to the permed Jesse, there’s Adam DeVine’s Kelvin, who has the fauxhawk and designer jeans of a Christian pop star, and daughter Judy, who chafes at her family’s unwillingness to treat her as an equal, and who’s played by Vice Principals’ breakout star Edi Patterson. Jennifer Nettles of the band Sugarland cameos in flashbacks as the family’s now-dead (and very Tammy Faye-esque) matriarch, whose passing weighs especially heavy on Eli.

It’s not saying much to call a TV family dysfunctional, but the Gemstone children are immediately introduced as being uniquely fractious. They present a united front on TV or in front of their parishioners, who they openly treat as marks behind the scenes, but don’t try to hide their contempt for and disappointment with one another when the cameras are off. Much of what makes the show so enjoyable is the way these three gifted comic actors play off one another as their entire world threatens to unravel. As with McBride’s previous HBO shows, Gemstones delicately balances the ridiculous and extreme with surprisingly subtle character moments that keeps the show from drifting too far away from legitimate emotion and humanity. Even McBride’s Jesse, who is largely a hateful blowhard who deserves every bad thing that happens to him, has moments of levity and regret that humanize him; his relationship with his children might be terrible, but he earnestly seems to want their love and respect, even as he blows everything up again. It’s a worthy addition to McBride’s HBO oeuvre—another messy, honest, exaggerated and realistic look at Southern charlatans desperate for fame, power, and success in a modern South that can too easily fall prey to their schemes. Praise the Lord and pass the loot, indeed. —Garrett Martin

3. Lodge 49
Network: AMC
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention

In a sea of Puzzle Box Television, Jim Gavin’s chilled-out, languid respite Lodge 49 offers something different. There is a mystery, about the potential existence of magical scrolls that belong to the fraternal order’s True Lodge (ones that may hold alchemical keys), and while it does drive some of the narrative, it’s all so esoteric and blissed-out that whether or not they exist is never the point. Back on Earth, Dud (Wyatt Russell), his sister Liz (Sonya Cassidy), and his lodge friend Ernie (Brent Jennings)—really everyone at the lodge—are just trying to figure their own lives out.

As such, Lodge 49 is still primarily a show about discovery: of the self, of history, of arcane knowledge. Everyone is haunted by friendly ghosts from their pasts, often in ways that make these spirit guides feel very real and tangible. They are meant, like the Knights of the Lynx Lodge, to both fought against and learned from. The show is an unhurried meditation and a quirky delight. There is something quiet and nice about a show that is, well, quiet and nice.

When Liz tells her placement counsellor at TempJoy that she feels like her life isn’t heading anywhere, nothing has been accomplished, and she has no idea what she wants or where she’s going, he replies, “from what I’ve seen, your feelings are in line with the larger work force.” That’s part of the show’s sly, winking tone that never feels at odds with its sincerity. In both cases it’s heartfelt and real. “LIFE IS GOOD!” Now get off your laurels and live it. Right after a dreamy afternoon at the beach, maybe. —Allison Keene

2. El Camino: A Breaking Bad Movie
Network:   Netflix  
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible

Like many (though not all) TV shows that are able to plan their series finales, Breaking Bad’s “Felina” was pitch-perfect. It was the end of Walter White (Bryan Cranston), as it needed to be, but it allowed us to have some hope in a future for Jesse Pinkman (Aaron Paul) as he sped off into the unknown.

Viewers have hoped for and imagined a happy ending for Jesse since “Felina,” that he might actually make it to Alaska and find a life for himself that was his own. And that, essentially, is what El Camino gives us. It starts the moment that Jesse drives away from that compound, but for the rest of its runtime it goes back and forth through time, as Jesse works on getting Ed the Extractor (the late Robert Forster in his final role) to find him a way out of the chaos that Walt created around them. In some ways, the plot is like an RPG quest line, wherein Jesse must do a variety of tasks before he is allowed to go to the next stage. And in true Breaking Bad fashion, it’s also full of anxiety-inducing moments where Jesse seems cornered and done for.

As he realized in a past conversation with Mike, he has a chance to start fresh, even though he can never make things right. Too much has happened; too many people have died. “I’ve gone where the universe takes me my whole life. It’s better to make those decisions for yourself,” Jane (Krysten Ritter) tells Jesse in the past. It’s time for Jesse to start living for himself. He’s ready, bitch! And I’m glad we got to see it. —Allison Keene

1. Succession
Network:   HBO  
Last Week’s Ranking: 1

The only thing that could possibly knock off the long-anticipated El Camino from the Number One spot would be our Number One Boy and the Succession finale, and so they did. “If it is to be said, so it be, so it is.” What an incredible ride.

HBO’s Succession, from creator Jesse Armstrong (Peep Show, The Thick of It) is dressed up as a prestige drama, but it’s actually one of TV’s most acid comedies. Once you embrace that, Succession unlocks as a never-ending battle of power and prestige with medieval royal overtones that is also wonderfully aware of how absurd that kind of story is. As one observer of the Roy family comments, “watching you people melt down is the most deeply satisfying activity on planet Earth.”

In Season Two, Logan (Brian Cox) is back in full health and full power, having survived and subverted Kendall’s (Jeremy Strong) late-season attempts at a coup—incidentally, one of TV’s most horrifically sad sequences of events. It left Kendall completely broken, a dead-eyed robot who now lives in service to his father’s wishes. But all of the spoiled siblings are cowed (except for Connor, played by Alan Ruck, still deludedly considering a Presidential bid) with Logan’s return. He’s a bully, frightening even his oldest friends, yet knows exactly how to emotionally manipulate everyone back into his thrall. They may complain and privately plot against him, but no one dares speak a word to disfavor them in his presence.

Succession is not made to be binge watched. It’s engrossing, as a world that’s easy to immerse oneself in, but there is a kind of shadowy, icky feeling that follows you when you’ve consumed too much. That’s not the show’s fault; it’s easy to laugh at Tom (Matthew Macfayden) getting upset that he’s “not in the right panic room!” when he discovers Shiv (Sarah Snook) is in a more posh stronghold, but seeing Waystar encourage a dotcom to not unionize before gutting them, or how even a supposedly ethical organization might well sell out to partisan interests when there’s enough money is just depressingly real. Succession is a combination of Tom’s exclamation “what a weird family!” and Logan’s “Money wins. Here’s to us.” And it has kept us fully in its thrall.—Allison Keene

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