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The Power Rankings! had just gone through their first real cycle of churn when the calendar started roaring to the finish line of 2017 — and there are not enough gods to contain the need to crank out one or several truly large "Best TV Series Of the Year" pieces, which delayed the chaos of series falling and rising in the rankings.
Well, it's February, so time for the delay to end. The Power Rankings! return where they began, with dramas, and oh hell yes we've got flux.
Just a mental refresher, the main rule for the Power Rankings! is that a show has to have had its last episode within a calendar year of the latest list. That's to allow for our Peak TV lifestyles wherein some of you haven't even watched The Wire yet, much less Altered Carbon.
A quick reminder: It's impossible to watch every show every week, and there will be some that I just haven't gotten around to watching yet (and I use this for the second time as an example: Top of the Lake: China Girl), so they won't appear here. Of course, lots of dramas won't appear here that I have watched because they're not good enough to crack the list yet, which is the point of the whole thing in the first place. Also, some series are new — or newish — and they will rise or fall with the whims of further viewing. In addition, some series that have completed their seasons can rise (or fall) even farther because of the constant re-evaluation of everything that marks the human condition of a critic, including forgetting brilliance or liking newer shiny things.
OK, let's do this.
All hail the series that can hold the No. 1 ranking the longest. Below, you'll see two numbers. The number on the left is the current ranking, the one on the right was its previous ranking.
1/0 - Counterpart
Conceptually intriguing, twisty, well-written and acted (with an Emmy-worthy turn from J.K. Simmons in the lead) and a masterwork of pacing and creative energy, this series is exceptionally compelling and you should be all over it as soon as possible because right now it's the best show on TV.
2/0 - The A Word
A beautifully realized portrait of a family (and a rural town) learning how to understand and deal with one boy's autism. There's nothing like it on TV (except for Season 1 of the same series, which you should definitely watch first to set up the emotional resonance of Season 2). Both are available on Amazon Prime.
3/1 - The Leftovers
Savvy eyes (or Google) will tell you I just flip-flopped the order of my Best TV Series of 2017 with these last two stories and, yes, I did — welcome to the emotionally volatile Power Rankings! But honestly, I've got that A Word vibe working strong inside me, but it takes nothing away from the dark brilliance of The Leftovers, which was one of the most impressionistic things of all last year. I'm still haunted and amused by so many scenes.
4/0 - The Detectorists
You can watch the first two seasons of this calming, nuanced and, yes, lovely little drama on Netflix and the most current one on the streaming service Acorn (if you like international series, you should probably have that). I love how unrushed this series is and how Mackenzie Crook created a delicate little Madeleine of a series and how Toby Jones is so effortlessly magnificent.
5/3 - Game of Thrones
Not much to say here other than it was dominant at its in-season peak, dominant when the season finished and now, still within its year of eligibility, killing it at No. 5. Again, there are plenty of ways to prove how strong you are as a series. Not falling far (or being forgotten) is one of them.
6/0 - Halt and Catch Fire
The cumulative effect of this series can't be underestimated. It falls in the pantheon of television as one of those gems you'll finally decide to watch, perhaps push through the rougher first season and then, episode by episode, watch a wide, time-traipsing tale unfold with four unforgettable characters documenting the computer/connected age. All told, Halt is well-earned reward for sticking with it.
7/9 - Get Shorty
Another way to approach the Power Rankings! is to have a series improve on its last ranking, even after a spell. Listen, let's not kid ourselves — you've probably not seen this show. You probably don't get Epix. Maybe, like me, you thought the idea of a TV series based on the book/movie was a bad idea. But once you find this, you'll see its greatness. What a wonderful surprise. Outside of Amazon's Patriot (which is now past its year deadline for inclusion), there wasn't a more eye-popping discovery.
8/10 - Better Call Saul
Another one that refuses to wilt under pressure of competition. Excellent series stand up. They endure. Lots of fun and exciting and buzzy series have caught the attention of critics since, but Better Call Saul is a gamer. It's not going to be edged out much.
9/2 - Stranger Things
It's a drop, sure, but all the achievement is already in the books — having a better second season than the first, not failing when failure was the prediction. It's also really fun to watch. But qualitatively, it will continue to be under duress from better series. Hence the decline.
10/0 - Black Mirror
Last time around, Black Mirror barely had any of its year-long qualification time left over. By then, an excellent third season was a distant memory and more engaging series were grabbing the headlines. But December marked its Season 4 return — right in between the last Power Rankings! and this one. So here it is, as expected. And yes, as fantastic as Black Mirror is, there's perhaps the tiniest bit of fatigue. Not as much as others have complained about, annoyingly. But enough to put it more in the middle of the pack for now.
11/4 - The Deuce
Yeah, gritty retro still gets you places. Especially when everybody, from writer to director to cast makes it work (a difficult topic but it still lingers fondly).
12/5- Mr. Robot
Helluva comeback season. Still satisfying, still worth rewatching for pleasure and, if you haven't seen it, make amends. Season 3 was all about returning to form, against the odds. Smart, funny, defiant.
Go back and look at that last Power Rankings! for drama and what you'll see is TV basically going on an undefeated streak. The decision was made then to drop off Legion. The competition was fierce. Now, still within its window and facing slightly less daunting competition, it rears up. I love this show. Rewatching also reveals so many missed elements and a newer, sharper appreciation for Noah Hawley's details.
14/0- Altered Carbon
Taking a different approach, here's a new series that wasn't eligible last time and came on strong with a compelling, watchable, complicated but not imposing concept and ran with it. The last two episodes were, qualitatively, lesser than what came before so that's a bit of a shame, but a very solid debut season nonetheless.
Few series are more fun to watch, more outwardly ridiculous and yet inwardly intricate in the construction. Three seasons of top-tier quality, and each have strong suits to rave about, even if the formula is getting a slight patina to it.
Pretty simple reasoning here: I'm nearly the last person on the planet to watch. I put it off forever, circumstances arose, yada yada. As I've started watching, I'm impressed by the pacing, the performances and how each episode improves on the last. Yes, I should have started earlier. And yet, Peak TV.
17/13 - The Handmaid's Tale
It's unrelentingly bleak and I think that was a problem that will become a bigger one in Season 2, but the cumulative success of the series lies in its timeliness in the zeitgeist, its moments of bright humor and its ability to make you love and appreciate the life you have now, even in our own, non-fiction bad times.
18/0 - Humans
Well, the one-year window is up on March 20 (when the second season finale aired in the U.S.), but that's fine by me because I love this show (two stellar reviews for stellar seasons) and it's now my poster series for forgetting what's out there. Because that's exactly what I did — forgot about it and didn't include it last time. Now? Redemption. Also, seriously, this show was No. 21 on my list of 46 great shows that ran in 2017 and it does some fresh things with a time-worn idea about artificial intelligence and a robotic future. In many ways, it's harder to breathe life into a tired concept.
19/11 - Mindhunter
Part of the appeal here is that everyone was expecting a gruesome story about serial killers and they got a more intimate, detailed, birth-of-FBI-profilers story instead, replete with wonderful characters and damned fine acting.
20/0 - Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams
I honestly think you could make the argument that the best of the assembled stories in this anthology were better than Season 4 of Black Mirror, but that would unnecessarily beat down a show that doesn't deserve it and spark a fight with crazy people who won't listen to reason. But look, the best ones here are way more than knock-offs of Black Mirror — as some of the early criticism suggested — and the initial stories and writer were, of course, precursors and influencers of that very series. Just watch and find the ones you enjoy, which should be enough.
Out, In Peril and In the Mix
OUT: Well, I purposefully didn't include The Americans because the new season is so close at hand (March 28) and I don't want it to be confusing. But from the last rankings circa late October, the series would be: Rectify (eligibility up), Westworld (eligibility up), Manhunt: Unabomber, The Crown (eligibility was up; haven't seen Season 2), Mr. Mercedes.
IN PERIL: From this list, certainly Humans because of the eligibility issue. And while it's true that sometimes series near the bottom are the most vulnerable, sometimes it's about mood and rediscovery.
IN THE MIX: Top of the Lake: China Girl, Manhunt Unabomber, Mr. Mercedes, Godless, The Crown (see above), The Looming Tower (haven't seen). And remember, before you complain about series left off, comedies are a separate list.
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