We don’t know about you, but we here at Paste TV have a backlog of TV to catch up on. As the march of Fall TV continues, it is getting harder and harder to keep up. But keep up you must as next month two behemoth streaming services arrive (perhaps by now you’ve heard of Disney and Apple TV).
How do you cut through all the TV clutter? You have to make some tough choices. Fox’s Prodigal Son may have been given the first full season pick up of the fall but we still say there’s no need for you to watch. See? We are here to help.
The rules for the Power Rankings 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: Supergirl (CW), Poldark(PBS), Lodge 49 (AMC), On Becoming a God in Central Florida (Showtime) and The Politician (Netflix).
10. Mr. Robot
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
Beginning its fourth and final season with some big shifts for its characters (including at least one shocking death), Mr. Robot remains awe-inspiring for the ways in which it plays with the concept of what you can do on television. Few shows have ever delivered the same level of creative spark on a week-by-week basis, but that’s because Sam Esmail is only one man; the creator and auteur has truly made his mark on the TV landscape with each inventive choice. The season premiere, focusing on the increased threat presented by the mysterious Whiterose (B.D. Wong) and Elliot’s (Rami Malek) efforts to take her down, was a strong opening that delivered a few major twists. It’s an all-consuming hour of television that never takes its foot off the accelerator, except for the occasional moment of grieving that reminds us that these characters might be caught up in a crazy global conspiracy, but that doesn’t make them any less human. —Liz Shannon Miller
9. Sorry for Your Loss
Network: Facebook Watch
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
The highest praise I can give Sorry for Your Loss is that it made me watch TV on Facebook, something I had avoided doing and still don’t like. But the show is just that good—raw, emotional, intense, beautiful—that it becomes a weekly necessity. The series follows Leigh Shaw (Elizabeth Olsen) as she navigates life after her husband Matt (Mamoudou Athie) suddenly passes away, an event that completely shatters her life. We first met her several months after she left her job, moved back in with her mother Amy (Janet McTeer) and sister Jules (Kelly Marie Tran), and started picking up some work at Amy’s fitness studio. But mostly Leigh is adrift, and the only person who seems to somewhat understand her pain is Matt’s brother Danny (Jovan Adepo), someone Leigh never previously got along with.
In Season Two, those dynamics are at the forefront. Almost a year has passed since Matt died, and even though the Season One finale left Leigh in a place where it seemed like she was ready to start living life on her own terms again, she remains mostly in limbo. It’s also Christmas, which exacerbates everything. All three women are spiraling, and struggling to define themselves in a world that has suddenly been so changed.
Season Two doesn’t feel quite as emotionally overwhelming as the first, which is a fair reflection of Leigh’s place in her own life (and not a negative mark against the show at all). As she starts to move forward, tentatively, so does the show. There are fits and starts in both cases, but Sorry for Your Loss continues to be an authentic and moving series. And yes, it is definitely worth watching TV on Facebook for (which is, by the way, totally free).—Allison Keene
8. Peaky Blinders
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
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
Network: The CW
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
Mega producer Greg Berlanti is an expert at turning iconic superhero characters into successful series. He’s done it again with Batwoman which finds Kate Kane (Ruby Rose) returning to Gotham, three years after the disappearance of her cousin Bruce Wayne. She finds that the city does, in fact, need another hero and she’s up for the job. Rose is terrific in the lead role and the series is notable for featuring a gay superhero as its title character. Kane pines for her ex-girlfriend Sophie Moore (Meagan Tandy) while secretly being the one who saves the day. The pilot is a thrill ride with an approachable origin story. You don’t have to be a fan of comic books or superheroes to get on board. —Amy Amatangelo
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
Created for television by Jason Richman and based on Greg Rucka’s comic book limited series of the same name (Rucka also writes for the show), Stumptown is a modern-day hardboiled detective drama that follows Dex Parios (Smulders), a former Marine investigator with a gambling problem, a drinking problem, and a monster-sized case of undiagnosed PTSD when she stumbles her way into a gig as Portland’s new favorite private investigator.
As a detective procedural on an alphabet network, the story that follows traces a fairly standard shape: A civilian (Dex) has a case land in her lap that parallels a formative tragedy/mystery from her past and her mixed success with that case sparks the idea that, hey, there might be some kind of career to be made out the whole detection game. The difference in this case is that “Forget It, Dex, It’s Stumptown” does all that with a handcrafted Pacific Northwest cedarwood scalpel. The formulaic parallels aren’t the surgical part—it’s the finesse will which all the exposition and characterization necessary to introduce Dex’s world, including the tiny but sympathetic support system she has in her brother Ansel (a very charming Cole Sibus) and best friend Grey (Jake Johnson, who was born for a hipster-brewer beard and shearling denim jacket). This is especially true about Dex’s military background, which sets up both her exceptional hand-to-hand combat skills and her cynical loner attitude as natural consequences of the life she’s lived, rather than convenient coincidences for the hardboiled story the show wants to tell.—Alexis Gunderson
5. David Makes Man
Last Week’s Ranking: 7
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: Not Eligible
The BBC One series, airing in the U.S. on PBS, chronicles what feel like the last days of print media, as two fictional daily newspapers (The Herald and The Post) are locked in a battle of wills, ideologies, and falling circulation rates. Press explores the corrupting influence of tabloid press and the erosion of journalistic ideals at a time when online clicks are everything, and the characters all fit more or less into expected media types in the battle for or against that—save perhaps for the Post’s charismatic and morally bereft Editor-in-Chief, Duncan Allen, who acts as a Devil’s advocate for his sensationalist practices. He tells another veteran editor, still clinging to the vestiges of a dying medium, that The Post may draw people in with salacious headlines, but they also end up influencing elections. While much of Press can feel a little dated as far as the industry goes, that particular sentiment could not be more immediate.—Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: 5
There’s something quietly revolutionary about Unbelievable. It is difficult to watch at times, the kind of series likely to live with you long after its final moments come to a close; for a story centered on rape, that is hardly unusual. The work of its three remarkable lead actors is wonderful but also not unique; other television shows and movies have hired exceptional performers to tell these stories. Instead, Unbelievable distinguishes itself by the simple act of making one very big assumption: that everyone watching already knows that rape is a horrific violation. It assumes you’ve got that handled. It assumes that you’ve seen The Handmaid’s Tale or Boys Don’t Cry, or most recently, The Nightingale, and have plenty of experience seeing rape depicted in media in visceral, nightmarish fashion. It is fully aware that of the people on the other side of the screen one in six women and one in 33 men will have personally experienced a rape or an attempted rape in their lives. It has absolutely no interest in immersing its audience in trauma and violation. Unbelievable knows that you know rape is bad. It does not act as a voyeur. Under the guidance of showrunner Susannah Grant, it is far more interested in the survivor’s perspective—on what happened to her, yes, and how it lingers, but also on the violations that came after.
Based on a Pulitzer-winning piece of journalism by T. Christian Miller and Ken Armstrong (of ProPublica and The Marshall Project, respectively), Unbelievable is a series of such quiet power that its full impact may not come crashing down until after its conclusion.—Allison Shoemaker
2. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
After a truly stunning Season 13 finale (which included a beautifully choreographed interpretive dance), It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is back to its more usual patter in Season 14. The characters (almost) never grow or change, and that’s why we love them. But occasionally they will hit so perfectly on a home truth that it keeps the off-beat, often hilariously grotesque series not just relevant but must-see. The recent episode “Thunder Gun 4: Maximum Cool” is an excellent example, as The Gang are chosen as a focus group for a new, “woke” PG-13 installment of a long-running action franchise. Desperate for the movies to return to a “hard R”—and using a variety of racist and oddly erotic justifications for it—The Gang end up not just changing the movie’s trajectory but the entire film industry along with it. It’s funny and uncomfortable as they both embody and lampoon toxic fandoms doing this exact same thing in the real world. In other words, Sunny at its best.—Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
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