Love it or hate it, Mindhunter was on everyone’s, well, minds this week. Crime show fans, Fincher fans, and fans of The Groff all converged to binge nine hours of what is essentially a horror show about the very real Atlanta child murders. In fact, dramas almost completely dominate the list this week from the soulful David Makes Man to the raucous Succession. But there is some lightness as well, from GLOW and A Black Lady Sketch Show to the spiritual musings of Lodge 49.
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.
Honorable Mention: Why Women Kill (CBS All Access), Baskets (FX), No Good Nick (Netflix), Derry Girls (Netflix), The Boys (Amazon), South Side (Comedy Central), Love Island (CBS), Sherman’s Showcase (IFC), Chasing the Cure (TNT)
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
The third season of Netflix’s GLOW kicks off with a very bizarre choice. Debbie (Betty Gilpin) and Ruth (Alison Brie) are being interviewed in character as Liberty Bell and Zoya the Destroyer by a local TV station in Las Vegas (where their now nightly show is taking place). It’s launch day for the space shuttle Challenger, and the two characters play up their U.S. vs U.S.S.R. rivalry by making encouraging and disparaging remarks about the shuttle in turn. Everything they say, positively or negatively, is exceptionally cringe-worthy because we know—as is revealed moments later—that the Challenger would explode, killing everyone on board. It’s GLOW!
This juxtaposition is a jarring way to start the season, but it does ultimately capture a theme that runs through the remaining nine episodes. GLOW can be and often is bubbly fun. But beneath that exterior is a more complicated truth, something that these women handle and fight through both inside and outside of the ring.
GLOW will always be a show that understands femininity in a way few others do, and is often a pop-filled good time. But Season Three seems like it also wants to dive into some deeper issues in order to stand up and fight for the rights of all women. The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling gathered for the shuttle launch looking for hope and found a disaster. We come to this series looking for comfort and find, instead, a rallying cry. Sometimes it’s messy, but that’s what GLOW is all about. The women try, and fail, and try again. They weather the sadness and the chaos. Choices are made, mistakes happen. And they try again.—Allison Keene
9. A Black Lady Sketch Show
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
Created by Robin Thede, A Black Lady Sketch Show boasts Thede, Quinta Brunson, Ashley Nicole Black, and Gabrielle Dennis as its stars. It’s the first-ever sketch comedy television series to exclusively star, be written by (with Lauren Ashley Smith serving as head writer as she did on The Rundown with Robin Thede), and directed by black women (Dime Davis). The series isn’t just breaking ground because it’s a black sketch show airing at the same time as another black sketch show (the aforementioned Sherman’s Showcase: This type of thing just hasn’t been done).
A Black Lady Sketch Show is very familiar for a contemporary sketch comedy series. Think Key & Peele or Portlandia: Each episode has its sketches that sometimes feature recurring characters or bits but, for the most part, are all separate from each other. That is, save for a running segment throughout the series featuring the foursome as heightened versions of themselves, dishing about everything from the (mostly true) fact that all Glee versions of songs are better than the original to what their bizarre turn-ons are to their hair regiments (which is quite important for a black woman, whether you’re a character in a sketch show or not). These segments are ground zero for the show, providing much-needed breaks from the sketches themselves, while also telling an interesting story. They also provide a mission statement for the type of humor and thinking that this series aspires to.—LaToya Ferguson
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
I’m going to be honest. I’m not exactly sure what I was watching in the first two episodes Fox made available for review (like in a legit WTF is happening kind of way) but I kind of loved how wonderful and weird it was. Just as the original 90210 broke the mold and set the foundation for all teen dramas to follow, this six-episode series breaks the mold on reboots and may very well inform all that follow.
Tori Spelling, Jason Priestley, Shannen Doherty, Jennie Garth, Ian Ziering,
Gabrielle Carteris, and Brian Austin Green all return to play heighten versions of themselves. They gather for the 30th anniversary of the show (technically it’s been 29 years since the show premiered by why quibble?) in Las Vegas. Tori has six children (instead of the five she has in real life) and is married to Nate (Ivan Sergei who co-starred with Spelling in the 1996 the Lifetime movie Mother, May I Sleep with Danger a.k.a. the greatest made-for-TV movie ever made). Like the real Tori, TV series Tori has big financial problems and a loving, supportive husband who just doesn’t seem to understand their monetary issues. Jennie Garth is on her third marriage and has a daughter who wants to be an actress. As in real life, Tori and Jennie are best friends and, just like in the series, it was their idea to get the gang back together.
But, like I said, it’s weird. Not as weird as the time Brandon and Dylan went to a sweat lodge or Kelly joined a cult, but close. You’re not watching them be Donna and David and Kelly and Brandon which, in many ways, is very nice. Those characters can live on as we remember them. Things start to get really bizarre, though, when the series merges this meta version of their real lives with the soap opera antics of the show’s heyday. It’s kind of genius. There’s not just the throwback music (I ,for one, appreciated hearing Color Me Badd one more time) but there are obsessive fans, devious writers, extramarital affairs and who knows what else the show has cooked up. “We’re not going to be here forever but we made something that will be,” Tori says in the premiere. Damn straight you did, Tori. Damn straight. —Amy Amatangelo
7. The Righteous Gemstones
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
In HBO’s new 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
Last Week’s Ranking: 8
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
5. Lodge 49
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
4. The Terror: Infamy
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
There is no shame, in good times or bad, in craving light, escapist fare. If you need less Chernobyl and more Holey Moley in your life, that’s fine. And if that is you, then there’s good news and bad news with regard to Infamy, the evocative, chilling second season of AMC’s anthology series, The Terror. So here’s the good news: Showrunner Alexander Woo and his team have crafted a hell of a ghost story (or, more accurately, a kaidan), continuing the first season’s knack for mixing together mythology, ambiguity, genre, and striking imagery to chill the bones. If you want a good scare, you’re in great shape. The bad news—and it’s only bad news if you don’t have it in you to confront the horrors of the real world—is that no ghost could be more unsettling than the historical and depressingly everyday nightmares that The Terror has in store. In this case, the historical event being explored is an American (and sadly timely) one: the internment of Japanese Americans in camps during the Second World War.
If the body horror or creeping dead don’t turn your stomach sour, the reminder of the ugliness of the past (and the present) surely will. But if you’re ready and willing to experience it, the rewards are considerable. It’s captivating, provoking and complex, as eager to earn your stunned silence as it is to send you pushing back from the television in revulsion. Most importantly, it never sacrifices story and especially character in pursuit of those reactions. The Terror might use terror (and its cousin, dread) to unlock doors in your stomach and psyche, but it’s not a parlor trick. There are horrors of worlds beyond ours, and horrors of our own making. By confronting its characters with both, Woo and AMC make the latter much, much harder to ignore.—Allison Shoemaker
3. David Makes Man
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
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
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
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 (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 us fully in its thrall.—Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This season of Mindhunter picks up almost exactly where Season One left off—with FBI Agent Holden Ford (Jonathan Groff) mid panic attack at the hospital where he was getting hugged by multiple murderer Ed Kemper (Cameron Britton).
When his partner, Agent Bill Tench (Holt McCallany), picks him up from the hospital, he tells Holden to keep it to himself because the FBI may not trust him to go speak with serial killers if they know he might break down in the middle of an interview. But panic seems like the only appropriate response to what the behavioral science unit faces this season. The first three episodes of the season, directed by David Fincher, even feel like a panic attack, with darkness, fear, and paranoia coming in from every direction.
Meanwhile, the most vulnerable in society are getting hurt: children. In Atlanta, black children are disappearing, and their mothers and families are doing their best to get law enforcement to take their disappearances seriously. But the mayor doesn’t want it publicized that there may be a predator in Atlanta. And local police don’t like that the FBI is suggesting the deaths may all be connected. Powerful men open and then cut off the investigation at their own discretion, and wreck lives in the process.
Tench, Wendy and Holden are fascinated by the extremes of serial killers, and Mindhunter asks who benefits from that fascination. The perception is that it’s safe for us to consider them in a removed or academic setting, and yet, the show presents these very real crimes in gruesome detail to remind us of the humanity at stake. Holden had to relearn this lesson himself, when he tried to study Kemper on his own. He thought he could keep an intellectual distance from Kemper’s horrors, but he ended up in the arms of a man who has taken lives, viscerally reminding him of the flesh and blood that Kemper has damaged. Like Holden, the show is intentionally trying to shake viewers up instead of letting us be casual voyeurs. —Rae Nudson
Listen to Allison Keene and Josh Jackson discuss all these shows on The Paste Podcast below or download on iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Spotify or the new app from our podcast partner Himalaya, and subscribe!