Paste Power Ranking: The 5 Best TV Shows on Right Now, from Arcane to ChuckyIllustration by Christine Fernando TV Lists Power Ranking
Sometimes the Paste TV writers are in sync with our viewing choices, but this week, we’re all over the map. Though Succession again maintains its Power Ranking crown, and we’re all enjoy the increasingly dramatic season of the Great British Baking Show, otherwise… well, you’ll have to see below. And as always, don’t skip out on those Honorable Mentions—they are but a whisper away from a coveted top spot.
The rules for the Power Rankings are simple: Any current 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 (ending Sunday) —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.
Honorable Mention: Joe Pera Talks with You (Adult Swim), The Big Leap (FOX), Dalgleish (AcornTV), Ghosts (CBS), Narcos: Mexico (Netflix)
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
This Week: Genuinely one of the most delightfully unhinged shows on TV.
Ask yourself: what do you want from a Chucky TV show?
If you want believable dialogue, compelling characters, and a coherent narrative, this may not be the place. If you want a demon doll who creatively and excessively kills a host of human characters in ways that will make you laugh, groan, and be grossed out, then yes: Chucky delivers. Not that these two things can’t exist simultaneously, but when it comes to USA and Syfy’s campy horror series based on the enduring franchise, you need to opt-in to the good-time gory fun with these caveats in mind.
Chucky comes from Child’s Play mastermind Don Mancini, and takes place in Hackensack, New Jersey. The prolific killer doll is matched with a new friend quickly: Jake Wheeler (Zackary Arthur), an artsy middle-school outsider who likes making freaky doll sculptures, picks Chucky up at a yard sale. Jake can’t quite manage to pull Chucky’s head off to add him to his collection, though, and pretty quickly comes to understand that this Good Guy doll is actually a Bad Guy and a vicious killer—one who wants to ostensibly “help” Jake through some difficulties at school and at home, whether Jake wants him to or not.
Ultimately, the Chucky series is accessible for those starting out with the franchise and (I am assured) those who have enjoyed Chucky’s journey and various incarnations over the years. CG may smooth out some of his movements and facial expressions more than in the past, but the practical puppetry remains the star. Every time an unassuming kid or parent holds this bizarrely large doll, the tension begins to build. Will he wink, flip a bird, or grin before reaching for his knife? Or will he just remain calm and quiet, except for the occasional declaration: “Hi, I’m Chucky. Your friend till the end…” —Allison Keene [Full Review]
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: It will make you furious.
Dopesick is not messing around. It can be heavy handed, but its aim is true. Over eight episodes, seven of which were available for review, the series—based on Beth Macy’s non-fiction book Dopesick: Dealers, Doctors and the Drug Company that Addicted America—chronicles the rise of America’s devastating opioid epidemic through the astronomically successful sale of OxyContin. Jumping around between 1986 and 2005, the fictionalized Dopesick follows members of the Sackler family, federal regulatory agencies, and sales reps complicit in the spread of OxyContin alongside the investigators and district attorneys who have worked to stop them. Meanwhile, patients suffer gravely throughout.
Adapted by Danny Strong and directed by Barry Levinson, Dopesick is certainly not a light watch. Drenched in blues and grays and with a stoic narrative tone, the series is full of terrible, damning factoids. It’s difficult to watch, frankly, because in 2021 we know both how this all ends up and still continues on, so the tension of seeing a good doctor, who deeply cares about his patients, be taken in by the lies about the drug’s safety is agonizing.
It’s why, for all its faults and lulls, I wanted to keep watching. Every reveal is damning and essential. I wanted to quote all of it: the lies, the greed, the manipulations, the horror. No one who supported the Purdue Pharma side comes out looking good—particularly the FDA. Even those with good intentions were bamboozled, but there is no room for absolution here. When it comes to OxyContin, Dopesickis clear: there is only pain and reckoning. —Allison Keene [Full Review]
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Eligible
This Week: A surprisingly vital videogame adaptation for all ages.
Netflix and RiotGame’s Arcane, based on the decade-old League of Legends multiplayer online battle arena game, is a revelation. Stunningly crafted in a mix of 2D and 3D by French animation studio Fortiche Productions, Arcane is created and showrun by League video game architects Christian Linke and Alex Yee. For 10 years, the duo and their studio have cultivated a passionate and massively dedicated community of eight million players who have immersed themselves in the games, tie-in comics, and music videos that make up the complex mythology of the world. But as so many videogame-to-movie adaptations have proved, even hit games have a rough time translating to a new medium. It’s the perpetual challenge for even the best creatives: finding the right balance of fan service while engaging non-gamer audiences.
Not unlike other heavy world-building series like Game of Thrones or Shadow and Bone, Arcane mostly concerns itself with political and familial conflicts in a world where magic exists. If you happen to be a gamer, the art deco-meets-steampunk aesthetics of Piltover and Zaun will immediately draw parallels to the lauded Bioshock games. If you’re not, it doesn’t matter because a huge part of the appeal of the series is getting lost in how visually immersive every frame of this show is. The textures, lighting, and color palettes—dank and neon in the under city, which juxtaposes against the more pastel and metallic topside—are a feast for the eyes.
Even if you have no interest in picking up any kind of gaming console, do yourself a favor and give Arcane a try. It has more mature storytelling and emotional resonance than many live-action shows do right now. And it deserves to be lauded as the new benchmark for what can be done when it comes to successfully translating worthy videogame universes into a different medium while refusing to dumb down or simplify complex storytelling. Arcane is a world worth getting lost within. —Tara Bennett [Full Review]
2. The Great British Baking Show
Last Week’s Ranking: 3
This Week: Anything could happen now, and losing these lovely contestants each week is starting to hurt.
One of television’s most soothing and wholesome series returns with its hosts, judges, and contestants back in a COVID-safe bubble, which again has made for instant and heartwarming camaraderie among them. Though the Great British Baking Show (or Bake-Off to our UK friends) may feel a little different since its move from the BBC to Channel 4 (and with more surreal hosts and more urgency inside of the tent), the joy that the series continues to deliver is welcome and familiar. As the bakers gather to whip up their signatures, technicals, and showstoppers, they encourage one another and provide interesting tidbits and occasional disasters throughout. With Netflix once again airing the episodes weekly, only a few days after their UK debut, it has also provided another excellent anti-binge appointment-TV program to set your clocks by—never overbaked nor underdone. —Allison Keene
Last Week’s Ranking: 1
This Week: Roman and Gerri, toilet wine, Adrien Brody as a secretly sinister billionaire… what more could you want?
In some ways, HBO’s Succession is America’s version of The Crown. Focusing on the lavish, petty corporate overlords of a rotten cabal, the show’s machinations are both fully present and menacingly medieval. Unlike The Crown, Jesse Armstrong’s show doesn’t venerate its billionaire royal family, The Roys—it lampoons them, and exposes them as actually being as vain and stupid as they believe the bulk of America to be. In its bombastic second season, the show rose to both comedic and dramatic heights, from “Boar on the Floor” to Kendall’s season-ending mic drop that promised an explosive third outing. But Season 3 is actually more subdued, and occasionally a little too stuck in the endless tread of the Roy siblings’ backstabbing and creatively vile behavior towards one other to gain power and, most importantly, Daddy’s affection.
The essential guessing game of Succession is “what is Logan thinking?” followed by what is everyone else thinking in response to that. It creates an air of extreme anxiety, both for those involved and for viewers, because even though there are no heroes here, we want to champion someone. Even if you want to support Kendall and his genuinely good ideas about cleaning up the company if he were in power, you can’t trust him because he’s arrogant, insecure, and unstable. Along with his siblings, he’s a master of self-sabotage. The actors are all exceptional in conveying these tenuous moments when the various factions meet and clash—as the camera flits from face to face, you can see their shifting alliances even when they would never, ever admit to any of them.
It is in this way that Succession continues to be one of the best shows about royal in-fighting on TV. It’s the Wars of the Roses, it’s Machiavelli, it’s the last days of Rome. It’s addictive, but it’s also depressing. Because even in its most grandiose comedic moments, there is truth to Succession’s cynical world that makes us realize yes, these idiots are absolutely in charge of our world and no, there’s not really anything we can do about it. —Allison Keene [Full Review]
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