Power Rankings! Must-Watch TV Dramas

4:19 PM 10/27/2017

by Tim Goodman

THR's chief TV critic ranks the best new and continuing dramas for your viewing pleasure.

'The Leftovers,' 'Mr. Robot' and 'Stranger Things'
'The Leftovers,' 'Mr. Robot' and 'Stranger Things'
Courtesy of HBO; USA Network; Netflix

Ah, flux. Such a good thing for the Power Rankings! And it's back in a big way as we swing around to the category that kicked off the latest reboot of these lists — essential dramas.

After introducing a cluster of various topics for the Power Rankings!, it was time to go back and see which new shows were going to slay the older shows and, conversely, which older shows were not going to give any ground to the newbies. And, as expected, there's been a surge of new content across many platforms.

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 Mindhunter, which just came out on Netflix.

And while a full calendar year is a nod to everyone's limited time and the avalanche of incredibly great programming out there, it's also a welcome and fair parameter that could, in theory, allow a show to be No. 1 for a year. I'm not saying that will happen, but — spoiler alert — somebody has a really firm grasp on the top slot right now.

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 (for 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.

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.

  • 1/1 — The Leftovers

    HBO

    HBO

    What, you thought this was going to drop just because you haven't watched it yet? No chance. In a couple of months, you'll no doubt find this gem on any number of "Best of 2017" lists. It stands as a truly creative concept from inception to finish — often surprising, always dark, but cut through with weird humor. The Leftovers looks at grief and faith like nothing else out there.

  • 2/0 — Stranger Things

    Netflix

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Well, well, well. Look what just arrived under the wire. First and foremost, Stranger Things is super fun to watch. It may have flaws — season one had plenty — but being highly entertaining and compelling can make up for a lot. More impressively for this second season is that Stranger Things was the odds-on favorite out of almost any overhyped returning series to take a creative tumble. It didn't. Credit the Duffer Brothers with avoiding a sophomore slump and delivering another clutch of fun episodes. Fans of the first season will be happy, and a second solid season may convince others to jump in and discover the joys of the Upside Down.

  • 3/2 — Game of Thrones

    HBO

    HBO

    Everybody wants a show like this. Dense and compelling storytelling, fascinating characters and a pull on its fan base unlike anything outside of The Walking Dead — it's a show you have to watch immediately. Of course, if you didn't, get on that. The season moved crisply and paid off on a lot of the heightened tensions and myriad twists of the previous seasons.

  • 4/0 — The Deuce

    HBO

    Courtesy of HBO

    George Pelecanos and David Simon have crafted a memorable, challenging, character-driven look at the birth of the porn industry along New York's 42nd Street in Times Square. With magnetic performances from Maggie Gyllenhaal and James Franco and an ensemble cast littered with quality performances, The Deuce brings the grime of '70s New York to life and focuses on the toll of pimping and porn without crossing over into cheap titillation.

  • 5/0 — Mr. Robot

    USA Network

    Courtesy of Michael Parmelee/USA Network

    Hello, friend. It's good to have you back. While I wouldn't say the second season of Mr. Robot was a disappointment, it was definitely less interesting and slower than the first, cutting into its momentum and taking it virtually out of the zeitgeist. All the mojo is back in this current season, with smart writing, searing sendups of our society and some welcome humor. It remains unique.

  • 6/0 — Halt and Catch Fire

    AMC

    Erika Doss/AMC

    I was an early adopter of Halt and Catch Fire and spent a lot of time proselytizing about that first season to people who didn't listen. Then it just got better and better. While I'm not completely done with its final season, the journey to the end has been magnificent.

  • 7/4 — Fargo

    FX

    Chris Large/FX

    It's one of the oddities of the Power Rankings! — and a curse of the Platinum Age of TV — that a show can drop a few spots while actually proving its worth more convincingly by hanging in the upper echelons against the mad onrush of competitors. I've heard people say season three was "the worst" of the Fargo seasons. No, that word isn't a thing here. Still an exceptional season, just different from the previous two. Also, still in the top 10, so eat it.

  • 8/5 — The Americans

    FX

    Courtesy of FX

    See above. And while I think that any "bridge season" for a serialized drama is a difficult one (see: Mad Men), that doesn't necessarily diminish the overall quality. A holding pattern doesn't have to be still and lifeless. I think The Americans, one of the very best series on TV, had a fifth season that stands up to inspection.

  • 9/0 — Get Shorty

    Epix

    Courtesy of EPIX

    One of my favorite new series of 2017 and a total, utter surprise. Delightful. Chris O'Dowd and Ray Romano absolutely have to be in the Emmy discussion.

  • 10/6 — Better Call Saul

    AMC

    Ursula Coyote/Sony Pictures Television/AMC

    Sure, it's a dip, but it's a relative dip. (I mean, some series that were on here last time are gone entirely now.) This might be a good time to concede the obvious pattern of human behavior — shiny new toys get played with more than familiar, older ones. So it is natural that new series might hold a little more currency or allure than a beloved gem like Saul, which I finished seemingly ages ago.

  • 11/0 — Mindhunter

    Netflix

    Courtesy of Netflix

    This was not the series I was expecting. And that's a good thing. A character-driven, thoughtful look at the burgeoning behavioral sciences within the FBI, it features the welcome return of actor Holt McCallany and Jonathan Groff's unexpected (but also very welcome) sense of curious wonder in the face of what kind of evil is possible in human beings.

  • 12/11 — Rectify

    SundanceTV

    Photofest

    I'll tell you what I'm not going to be — the person who takes Rectify off of any best-of list. That person would be a monster. And wrong. Rectify's last episode was in December of 2016 so, depending on how quickly these drama rankings return, it could still be here foiling newbies.

  • 13/3 — The Handmaid's Tale

    Hulu

    George Kraychyk/Hulu

    Yeah, that's quite a drop. And while I think flux is good for the Power Rankings!, the bigger issue here for this newly minted Emmy winner is how it will be able to repeat a concept (as hard-won as it was) that relies on unrelenting darkness. Is that sustainable for viewers? As something that's dramatically interesting over the long haul? We shall see.

  • 14/8 — Westworld

    HBO

    Courtesy of HBO

    Again, this is a perfect example of a series that still resonates, still has the kind of staying power to remain in the conversation when a horde of new, quality dramas storms into town. Looking back on it, this is one of the few series I want to rewatch in its entirety.

  • 15/0 — Manhunt: Unabomber

    Discovery

    Discovery Channel

    Here's the thing to consider: This was Discovery's third attempt at scripted. Like Epix's Get Shorty, the effort announced itself with authority and surprise. That's pretty astonishing, given the competition from established outlets in the scripted game. Well done.

  • 16/7 — The Crown

    Netflix

    Courtesy of Robert Viglasky/Netflix

    The Crown is closing out its year of eligibility, but is probably the poster series not only for "Ooh, I really want to watch that … at some later time," but also for having the quality that answers back and makes you wish you'd started it earlier. So, if you haven't, do.

  • 17/0 — Mr. Mercedes

    AT&T Audience Network

    Courtesy of DirecTV

    I will reiterate what I've said many times: When I found out there was something good on, of all things, AT&T's Audience Network, I dropped one or seven F-bombs. Don't we have enough outlets making quality, entertaining scripted television? Apparently not. A nice surprise.

  • Out, In Peril and In the Mix

    Courtesy of Cannes Film Festival

    OUT Legion, Guerrilla, Black Mirror, American Gods.

    IN PERIL The Crown, given its timeline, any series that suffered a big drop or anyone in the low-hanging category, like Mr. Mercedes. That said, remember that if a series is here, no matter the rank, it's better than hundreds of others.

    IN THE MIX Top of the Lake: China Girl, Orphan Black, Orange Is the New Black, Sense8, Broadchurch, Patriot, Sneaky Pete, Chance (season two), The Sinner, The Gifted.

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