Paste Power Ranking: The 5 Best TV Shows on Right Now, from Hawkeye to Always SunnyIllustration by Christine Fernando TV Lists Power Ranking
Before the rush of January premieres overwhelms us, we’re saying goodbye to a few recent favorites. This week’s Power Ranking is more of a Finale Ranking, for both seasons and series. If you haven’t had a chance to catch up with these shows, well, you have a nice complete binge waiting for you. And for It’s Always Sunny in particular (which is now available to stream on Hulu), even if you haven’t watched the last few seasons, you can hop into this one without hesitation. It’s genuinely great (which is to say awful, but also great).
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: With Love (Amazon Prime Video), Yellowjackets (Showtime), Station Eleven (HBO Max), The Witcher (Netflix)
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
This Week: “I could do this all DAYYYYYY!”
Some folks liked Hawkeye, others did not, but really no matter where you stand with it there are three things we can all agree on: It’s a Christmas series, Florence Pugh as Yelena is a treasure, and “Rogers: The Musical” is a triumph. What the Hawkeye finale gave us, amid a myriad of questionable other offerings, were great moments around these three elements. The post-credits scene was maybe an all-timer in the Marvel canon, and though the show finished as unevenly as its full run proved to be, its best scenes—the banter, the emotional beats, the surprising swordplay—made up for a lot. Not to mention the fact that Fisk’s hat should have its own series. —Allison Keene
4. The Wheel of Time
Network: Amazon Prime Video
Last Week’s Ranking: 4
This Week: We just needed more of it, which isn’t a bad place to land.
“The wheel weaves as the wheel wills,” and for Amazon Prime Video’s new fantasy series, it wills it quickly. Running an economic eight hourlong episodes, The Wheel of Time is a brisk entry to Robert Jordan’s massive novel series, which evidently contains 2782 distinct characters. Amazon’s version doesn’t have quite that many, not yet, but I can genuinely say that as a newbie to the franchise it took me several episodes and many tabs to understand what anyone’s name actually was. And yet, this adaptation—developed by Rafe Judkins—does everything it can to be accessible to viewers unfamiliar with the source material.
It doesn’t hurt that the fantasy beats are familiar: There is a battle between light and dark, as well as a Chosen One (the “Dragon Reborn”) who will fight to save humanity—or destroy it in the process. There are critters and creatures and a magic that can only be wielded by women, plus a cult looking to eradicate the use of magic, pretenders to the would-be throne, and a hellish army of darkness. Navigating all of this are four young adults (any of whom could be the fabled savior) shepherded by a powerful sorceress named Moraine (Rosamund Pike).
The Wheel of Time teases out so much, but whether or not it eventually fills that out—or if its surface-level telling of this story will lead viewers to a deeper connection with the series itself—is uncertain. For now, it’s a fun ride. —Allison Keene [Full Review]
3. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Last Week’s Ranking: Not Ranked
This Week: A hilarious and heartfelt end to the Ireland saga.
Now in its 15th season, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia continues to find new ways to mine comedy from what has become a very familiar setup. After addressing the insanity of the waning days of the Trump Presidency and the COVID of it all, the show flung its core cast to “monkey beer island of green and fight,” known to some as Ireland. These episodes not only reinvigorated the show’s comedy by putting its miscreants in an entirely new environment, but it ended with a well-earned and surprisingly emotionally sincere finale. From Charlie coming to terms with loss to the gang realizing they actually do love each other—and more importantly, America—the season finale was the show at its very best. Bottom line, The Gang Still Knows How to Make Great TV. —Allison Keene
Network: Apple TV+
Last Week’s Ranking: Honorable Mention
This Week: Forever thankful this show got to both tell its story and go out on its own terms.
To be honest, there’s little to say about this third and final season of Dickinson that I didn’t already cover in my reviews of the first and second seasons. Sharp and irreverent, weird and sexy, and just anachronistic enough to have something to say without getting tiresome, Dickinson has been wholly and idiosyncratically itself since the day it premiered.
Does this final season include Emily (Hailee Steinfeld) descending into hyper-realistic daydreams, Lavinia (Anna Baryshnikov) dabbling in ever-weirder performance art, and Austin (Adrian Briscoe) chafing at the disconnect between his heart and his father’s/society’s expectations? Absolutely! Does it feature some of 2021’s most delightfully weird comedians making cameo appearances as some of the late 1800s’ most delightfully weird historical figures? I mean, obviously! Does it weave today’s slang and woke af politics into the social scene of 1862 Amherst? Slay, queen! Of course it does!
That said, Emily herself continues this season to prove a constant wash of genius and heart. Steinfeld’s sharp, zealous performance—which stands out in a field full of similarly sharp, zealous performances thanks to the raw joy with which she approaches even the deepest pits of Emily’s imagined personal inferno—makes this hope entirely multi-dimensional. It is the hope that can give Death (Wiz Khalifa), himself, hope; the hope of springtime flowers blooming, dying, rotting, then blooming again. And that, if nothing else, seems like the right note for a show like Dickinson to end on. —Alexis Gunderson [Full Review]
Last Week’s Ranking: 2
This Week: The groundbreaking, hilarious series has come to a close in perfect, satisfying fashion.
HBO’s Insecure has always been a show about growth while chasing fulfillment, both personally and professionally. In Season 1, Issa’s (Issa Rae) feelings of stasis at work and in her relationship led her to lash out and threaten the bedrocks of her life; the aftermath then put her on a rocky path to self-discovery, which is still ongoing.
Over the course of four seasons, Issa, her best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji), her on-again off-again boyfriend Lawrence (Jay Ellis), and their circle of romantic interests, friends, and coworkers have evolved from lost and confused young adults to confident, successful people who have made inroads towards achieving their life goals. But as a show about Millennials, Insecure’s final season leans into this generation’s most incisive fear: why do I still feel so far from where I should be?
As the show enters its fifth and final season, these thoughts on at the forefront. It’s not uncommon to suffer from imposter syndrome, the feeling of self-doubt that tells you that you’re somehow unworthy of your achievements. But alongside these meditations, the fun parts of Insecure are still there. The parties, the one-line zingers, the hookups and relationship drama, the mirror raps, and the humanistic portrayals of complicated friendships still fill the screen with so much heart. It’s what the show does best: it shines a light on real people living their lives and dealing with issues in authentic and believable ways. Only now, our favorite characters are committed to growing from their experiences. —Radhika Menon [Full Review]
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