This week’s Power Rankings are all over the map, with a not-quite-live TV musical, a strong installment of True Detective, a South Korean zombie period piece, a pair of streaming teen dramedies, a Wall Street sitcom, and the origin story of an animated super-thief, all bookended by two season finales. In the age of “peak TV,” you can never say you’ve run out of things to watch. Check out Paste’s guide to the 10 best of the last week below.
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: Not ranked
Outlander wrapped up its fourth season with the right amount of closure to leave fans satisfied, but enough of a cliffhanger to make them excited for more. After waiting several episodes for Roger (Richard Rankin) and Bree (Sophie Skelton) to get together, they finally get together. On top of their reunion, Jamie (Sam Heughan) and Claire (Caitriona Balfe) are reunited with their daughter. We are left to wonder how Jamie will avoid killing his godfather, Murtaugh (Duncan Lacroix) and how Ian (John Bell) will fare with the Mohawk tribe. However, with the main family unit reunited, fans can rest easy knowing that there is at least love on Fraser’s Ridge until next season. —Keri Lumm (Photo: Starz)
9. Carmen Sandiego
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
With all its soft crayon textures, sharp angles, and cool, layered lighting—which somehow manages to propel any given scene forward even as it washes everything monochromatic—Netflix’s newest animated series, Carmen Sandiego, is an official path-forger, lovely to look at and refreshingly laid back in its pacing. Forget the villainous Carmen Sandiego you might know from your PBS-loving, geography-buff youth: Brought to animated life in part by star Gina Rodriguez’s I Can and I Will Productions, this version reimagines the mysterious, globetrotting superthief as a red-coated White Hat, a chic Robin Hood who’s fashioned herself into a thief who only steals from other thieves. —Alexis Gunderson (Photo: Netflix)
8. Black Monday
Last Week’s Ranking: 6
Yes, the world needed one more Wall Street comedy. Specifically, one not out to save that world. Because Black Monday isn’t here to point out hypocrisy. It’s here because it thinks trading shares in the 1980s with coke-vacuuming, trading floor-strutting superstar Maurice Monroe (Don Cheadle) is hilarious. The economic destruction coming Mo’s way, along with co-workers Dawn (Regina Hall) and Keith (Paul Scheer) and the meek-yet-volatile Blair (Andrew Rannells), a tech whiz who’s apparently cracked the Wall Street code, is simply the inevitable hangover at the end of the party. Executive producers Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg (who also directed the pilot episode) offer a unique spin on Adam McKay’s move towards upper-crust critique in their comedy, creating an unhinged tempo with handheld cameras and the overlapping jabberings of the cast. Driven by Cheadle’s energy—as unsafe as an experimental vehicle threatening to shake itself apart, with the hilarious Hall and Scheer bouncing one-liners like pebbles off his windshield—the show doesn’t always run well, but it definitely runs hot. —Jacob Oller (Photo: Erin Simkin/SHOWTIME)
Network: YouTube Premium
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
To get you interested in YouTube’s new original comedy, Wayne, all I really need to say is that it’s basically John Wick meets John Hughes, with Wayne (Sing Street’s Mark McKenna) as a kind of magnetically angsty cross between Ferris Bueller and Cameron Frye—you know, if instead of middle-class Chicago affluence and deep wells of self-interest, Ferris and Cameron had grown up in Brockton, Massachusetts with shit luck, no money, and a violent desire to make bad people pay, and if instead of a day playing hooky with cool girl Sloane in Cameron’s dad’s borrowed sports car, they’d helped a no-shit-taking neighbor girl (Del, played with deadpan genius by Ciara Bravo) kidnap herself away from an oppressively scary home situation by whisking her off on the back of a dinky motorcycle to Florida to steal a stolen sports car back. That’s got to be enough to get you excited to watch, but if not: In addition to McKenna and Bravo, Wayne stars Mike O’Malley as a worn-down Massachusetts high school principal just looking for a break, Dean Winters as Del’s alcoholic dad (in the most dangerous version of the dirtbag failure he so often plays), and Timeless’ Abigail Spencer as Del’s charming, opioid-addicted mom. It was produced by some of the dudes behind Deadpool, Zombieland and Ride Along, and boasts some decent behind-the-scenes gender equity, with four episodes each directed and written by women. It is as funny and optimistic as it is violent and melancholic. Its visual language is sharp as a shiv. It kicks literal and narrative ass.
Then, in case all that still isn’t enough to get you to just get that Premium trial subscription already, there’s the sixth episode (“Who Even Are We Now?,” directed by Stephanie Laing), in which Wayne dresses up in a powder pink tux a size too small, does a wild solo dance in the middle of a crowd of strangers to sacrifice his comfort for Del’s, and then wins those strangers over so strongly that they all stream out to the parking lot to just WAIL on Del’s dad to the soundtrack of… well, I won’t spoil it here. I’ll just say that when it all came together, I shrieked with glee. And reader? I want that for you, too. WATCH WAYNE. —Alexis Gunderson (Photo: YouTube Premium)
6. Sex Education
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
You’re an insecure, bright, sensitive teenage boy Asa Butterfield) with a wildly uninhibited sex-guru mother (Gillian Anderson), an absentee dad (the epically hilarious James Purefoy), a chronically foot-in-mouth bully-magnet best friend, a limited social life and a clinically interesting fear of your own penis. You have a stealth crush on your school’s official Way Too Precocious girl, who’s hard up for money. So, naturally, you open a sex clinic for high-school students in an out-of-service school lavatory, right?
Of course you do.
Netflix’s Sex Education is a decidedly raunchy and thoroughly adorable coming-of-age dramedy. While it’s not exactly afraid of well-worn tropes, it also doesn’t rely on them to a detrimental degree… and it has Gillian Anderson as a sex therapist, which would be enough for a lot of us even if nothing else about the show worked. Luckily, that isn’t the case: A testament to the power of character development, the series is riveting. None of its superbly crafted characters waste a single frame. —Amy Glynn (Photo: Sam Taylor/Netflix)
5. Star Trek: Discovery
Network: CBS All Access
Last Week’s Ranking: Not ranked
The first season of Star Trek Discovery felt like it was taking its cues from the rebooted Star Trek movies of the last decade, with its big-screen action sequences and edgier characters, instead of the more optimistic and philosophical explorations of the earlier series. It was still enjoyable; this prequel was a look at a Federation facing extermination, one without the luxuries of its ideals, one with a mutinous first officer and a captain with nefarious secrets. The drama was ratcheted up, and the plot unfolded in one long serial thread. But Season Two’s kindler, gentler Discovery has been both more deliberately paced and hopeful. The second episode, “New Eden,” especially feels more like Next Generation than anything we’ve seen so far. A classic “away team,” including Sonequa Martin-Green’s Michael Burnham and new captain Christopher Pike (Anson Mount), visits a human refugee settlement that’s been mysteriously transported across the galaxy. In the absence of new technology after their miraculous salvation, its residents follow a hodgepodge of Earth’s religions. Moral quandary and scientific mystery provide the tension in place of warring races and evil alternate realities. It’s a welcome development for fans who just wanted their beloved Star Trek back. —Josh Jackson (Photo: Ben Mark Holzberg/CBS)
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
In Netflix’s beautiful Kingdom, zombies become important only as an aside, when civil unrest rumbles after the king’s rumored death. A tortuous inquest follows as the current regime tries to unearth traitors. There’s all sorts of palace intrigue over the succession, a cross-section of the lower class suffering the same illness that afflicts (or afflicted) the king, and a usurping clan tired of losing wars—which they attribute to a larger cultural softness. Confucius isn’t cutthroat enough, they say. Politics are heavily at the forefront in Kingdom, while zombies slowly become less and less ignorable on the outskirts. But the series is by no means a plug-and-play piece of historical mythologizing like Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter: There’s actually meaning in putting the supernatural into these stories, as the class politics that marked both Seoul Station and Train to Busan find even more room to expand on TV. —Jacob Oller (Photo: Juhan Noh/Netflix)
3. True Detective
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
While “The Hour and the Day” develops your sympathies with protagonist Wayne Hays (Mahershala Ali), it’s not to the exclusion of other characters, most notably Roland West (Stephen Dorff), who is just cornball and aw-shucks enough that it keeps surprising you to realize how sanguine and clear-headed he is. He has a really intense emotional honesty, and it’s a character choice I’m loving. In 2015, as the increasingly frail Hays becomes more muddled, his most frantic moment comes when he seems to realize he doesn’t know where his partner is or how long it’s been since they spoke. It makes you realize that Hays has always been very clear that West was more than just his coworker—that he was a source of stability and affection in an otherwise pretty alienated life. —Amy Glynn (Photo: Warrick Page/HBO)
2. Rent: Live
Last Week’s Ranking: Ineligible
We will never know what might have been with FOX’s “live” performance of Rent: Star Brennin Hunt, who played the pivotal role of Roger, broke his foot during Saturday night’s dress rehearsal, which meant that viewers were treated to a taping. Here’s what we do know: Much of TV (and theater) Twitter spent Sunday night talking about, analyzing, and lamenting what might have been, which is worth plenty of points in the Paste Power Rankings schema.
In the plus column, Vanessa Hudgens, who played the emotionally manipulative Maureen, and Brandon Victor Dixon, as the sweet Tom Collins, didn’t save their voices for the big show that never came: They clearly subscribe to the philosophy that every night is opening night. In the minus, there were plenty of issues, from the frenetic camerawork and odd lyric changes (you can’t say “poo poo it” on the network that airs Family Guy?) to the vocals fighting the music to be heard. The highlight came in the final curtain call, when the original Broadway cast sang “Seasons of Love.” They, of course, sounded amazing. The energy in those final moments almost made all that came before it worth it. Almost. But we were still watching. —Amy Amatangelo (Photo: Ray Mickshaw/FOX)
1. The Good Place
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable mention
In “Pandemonium,” the final episode of its third season, The Good Place offers some greater insight into whether or not its fourth will slow down to let the emotional stakes of the New Good Place develop before pulling the rug out from under us again. The good news: For the emotional impact borne by the whole Soul Squad at Chidi’s (William Jackson Harper) sacrifice to make sense, his reboot has to stick for longer than a few episodes. The better news: In their very human sit-down before Eleanor (Kristen Bell) has to finally introduce herself to Reboot Chidi as the architect, Eleanor and Janet are able to pull together a lot of the open emotional and narrative threads I’d been frustrated about, if in a grander, more philosophical way than I might have anticipated: “Can you just tell me the answer,” Eleanor begs Janet. “There has to be meaning to existence or else the universe is just made of pain.” “If there were an answer I could give you to how the universe works,” Janet tells her, “it wouldn’t be special. It would just be machinery fulfilling its cosmic design. It would just be a big, dumb food processor. But since nothing seems to make sense, when you find something or someone that does, it’s euphoria.” —Alexis Gunderson (Photo: Colleen Hayes/NBC)