Power Rankings! Dramas You Need to Watch Before Anything Else

6:00 AM 8/4/2017

by Tim Goodman

THR's chief TV critic ranks the dramas you should prioritize above all other viewing right now.

'The Leftovers' and 'Fargo'
'The Leftovers' and 'Fargo'
Courtesy of HBO (Left) and FX (Right)

Hey, the Power Rankings! are back! (Sound of gleeful horn, fading faintly away into sadness…)

Yeah, I know. You don't remember. It's been awhile. I blame the whole "Peak TV" thing for taking a brilliant concept — prioritizing weekly episodes of TV in an homage to insane fantasy sports ranking lists — and making that joyful celebration something that was suddenly impossible to do.

I first started doing the Power Rankings! (yes, it has an exclamation point) in 2009 at the San Francisco Chronicle and then brought the idea with me to The Hollywood Reporter, where a weekly chart with numbers and arrows and sometimes pithy and sometimes serious commentary illustrated the best of drama and comedy for the preceding week's television.

That's not possible anymore. Thanks a lot, John Landgraf.

But now I'm bringing the Power Rankings! back in several modern-day variations that will be workable in the current "there's too much TV and I'm crippled by the choices so I'm just going to lie down on this bed" landscape.

Translation: It's impossible to watch every episode of every show every week so that idea is out the window. On the other hand, television has never been more evergreen and plentiful, so the Power Rankings! can now apply to pretty much any show that's currently in production, since most of America is behind/hasn't started on countless series. In that spirit, I'll have a number of different Power Rankings! — going well beyond just drama and comedy — and they will be updated as necessary, in rotation.

But let's start with something essential: the dramas you should watch before starting anything else. I'm not talking about The Wire — you should just stop reading now and go do that if you haven't. The new Power Rankings! will focus on series that are either on right now or ended recently (and the subsequent season hasn't started). That timeline can stretch as long as a year. We are living in times of TV saturation and the rankings will account for that, but there have to be some parameters.

Also, keep in mind that I'm just like you and haven't watched everything. Sometimes series will appear on these lists and I haven't finished the entire season (or the season hasn't ended), which is natural and acceptable — and that will only add to the flux as they are re-ranked each subsequent time.

If a series isn't on here, either I haven't watched it at all or it doesn't deserve to be on here. For example, I haven't seen Netflix's GLOW, (my colleague Dan Fienberg reviewed that) so it's not on the list yet. On the other hand, I have seen most of the episodes from Showtime's Twin Peaks and it's not on this list either. I think you get the point there.

On the plus side, there are tons of great shows in this Platinum Age of Television. Many will make these various Power Rankings! over time. And the comments attributed to them will be updated. Discovery is part of the point of these lists — as you get into some of these series you will no doubt disagree with their ranking. It's the "making lists on a napkin in a bar" element that makes them fun. Also, I'm right.

At the bottom of the Power Rankings! you'll see three addendums: Out, In Peril and In the Mix — shows that dropped off for whatever reason, others that are hanging toward the bottom but could be in trouble the next time around and a list of series that are in consideration (honorable mentions).

All hail the series that can hold down the No. 1 slot the longest. As you'll see below, there are two numbers associated with each entry. The number on the left is the current ranking; the number on the right was its last ranking. They will of course match on the inaugural list.

  • 1/1 — The Leftovers


    Courtesy of HBO

    Harrowing, enthralling, twisted and heartbreaking, this was a wild ride for those who watched. What a fantastic third season — triumphantly original and unlike almost anything out there. Even in such a crowded field I wanted to immediately re-watch all the episodes. Also: Carrie Coon.

  • 2/2 — Game of Thrones


    Courtesy of HBO

    "Wait, I thought you said this was a list of shows to watch before starting anything else?" Yeah, well listen: There is basically one drama on television that demands you watch it immediately and in its actual time slot (three hours earlier if you live on the West Coast) and this is that show. As the season unfolds, don't be surprised — at all — if it moves up.

  • 3/3 — The Handmaid's Tale


    George Kraychyk/Hulu

    A game-changer for Hulu and, outside of Game of Thrones, arguably the zeitgeist leader of this TV season. I haven't finished yet, so it could rise (or drop).

  • 4/4 — Fargo


    Courtesy of FX

    Now is probably a good place to mention that these rankings are not completely indicative of how my 2017 year-end list of best shows will end up. The last two seasons of Fargo, by the way, finished in the No. 1 slot. I adored the third season. I still see David Thewlis in my head. Also: Carrie Coon.

  • 5/5 — The Americans


    Patrick Harbron/FX

    I'm not having your "it was too slow" talk. Not any of it. That said, bridge (penultimate) seasons are very difficult because there's an inconclusiveness to them. I stand by this being another strong effort (The Americans was my No. 1 show of 2016 for THR.)

  • 6/6 — Better Call Saul


    Courtesy of AMC

    What this show has done is kind of miraculous if you think of it in the context of being a prequel to Breaking Bad, one of the two or three best dramas ever made. That's an enormous shadow. But Saul just gets better each season.

  • 7/7 — The Crown



    Grandeur and luxury and superb writing and acting. There's room for it to move since I haven't finished it. But a fully realized period piece from Netflix, which has impressively succeeded in most genres.

  • 8/8 — Westworld


    Courtesy of HBO

    Hey, nice Emmy nomination haul. I was on board for Westworld from the start. At the time it aired, it was a series I never wanted to fall behind on by even an episode, which is saying something as you're drowning.

  • 9/9 — Legion


    FX Network/Photofest

    OK, sure, Twin Peaks surpassed the weirdness when I didn't think it would. I've been dead wrong in public before and I'm not afraid to admit it. But Legion is an actual series. It makes sense. It's smart. The acting is solid. The writing is intelligent and funny, even touching. It's entertaining. It isn't a ponderous torture-fest of indulgence.

  • 10/10 — Guerilla


    Courtesy of Sky UK Limited/Showtime

    I would argue that as far as dramas go, this limited series was the best thing you didn't watch and easily the most under-the-radar slice of ambition of the year so far. Seek it out.

  • 11/11 — Rectify

    Sundance TV

    Courtesy of SundanceTV

    Every critic on the planet who loves great television is tired of telling you to watch this. It's over. It's in the history books — four seasons, 30 episodes of thoughtful, hard-earned existentialism. It's OK to call Rectify slow. It needed you to exhale, focus and soak in its themes. It'll be there when you're ready to go deep.

  • 12/12 — Black Mirror


    Courtesy of Netflix

    Arguably the most creatively boundless current series, with a track record that proves it's not a fluke. Charlie Brooker is a gem. If, in the perusal and experiencing of these ranked shows, you need singular mini-movies to offset the serialized storylines of others, start here and let Black Mirror box your brain.

  • 13/13 — American Gods


    Courtesy of Starz

    Many of the series on this list will have already been devoured and analyzed by your friends and cocktail party cohorts. Probably not this one. And every list needs something slightly off. Here's a freaky visual experiment (that I haven't finished); it's safe to say there's something in this oddball genre series that's worth the exploration.

  • Out, In Peril and In the Mix

    Courtesy of Netflix

    OUT None.

    IN PERIL Well, American Gods since it's at the bottom; maybe Rectify because I can't actually come to your house and wrestle you to the ground and make you watch.

    IN THE MIX Orphan Black, GLOW, Orange Is the New Black, Sense8, Patriot, Broadchurch, The Missing.