TV Power Rankings! Tim Goodman's Shows to Watch Now (September Edition)

7:00 AM 9/5/2018

by Tim Goodman

THR's chief TV critic refreshes his ratings of the best dramas on the small screen.

Courtesy of FX; Courtesy of Starz; Courtesy of BBC America

One of the handy elements baked into the rules of the Power Rankings! is that series are eligible for this list if their last episode aired within one year of publication. This was envisioned as a reflection of viewing habits in the Peak TV era — when everyone is behind on watching series, and there's no distinct pattern to the discovery of new shows, other than randomness — but it also allows for some muscle flexing on the part of certain series.

Translation: A really good series you've moved on from ages ago can still roost in the upper echelons of this list and kick a lot of ass. Greatness is always timely. (For example, the last Game of Thrones episode was Aug. 27, 2017, so it narrowly missed yet another opportunity to put a choke hold on some of these cocky newcomers.

A year window will also, naturally, allow for some fluctuations in mood. Think about it. There probably weren't many critics more enamored with The A Word than I was (it finished second, on a list of 46 series, on my Best of 2017 wrap-up for The Hollywood Reporter), but the higher-ranked series on the list below are just newer, more fresh in the mind. The mind is mutable, as it should be.

And yes, I could have included shows that are comedies with heavily dramatic elements, as I've done in the past, but we're coming up on the fall and a whole wave of new dramas, so I wanted to create a wall of full-on dramas that they'll have to knock down in order to make this list (or force its expansion).

OK, let's do it. As always, a reminder that it's impossible to watch every show every week, and there will also be some that I just haven't gotten around to watching (Sharp Objects, The Sinner, Humans, Orange Is the New Black, etc.). Peak TV, people! There are two sets of numbers below. The one on the left is the current rank, the one on the right is its previous ranking (the proliferation of the Power Rankings! and the crossing over of comedies can muddle the latter number). All hail the series that can hold the No. 1 ranking the longest.

  • 1/2. The Americans (FX)

    Patrick Harbron/FX

    And when it went out, forever, it did so with suspense, gutting sadness, real beauty and one of the most satisfying stories of any series. Just enough conclusion, just enough ambiguity. Six seasons, 75 episodes and a bona fide top-five drama of all time.

  • 2/1. Counterpart (Starz)

    Nicole Wilder/Starz

    The top five here is a murderer's row of great series, and two of them likely fall into the "I've never heard of that" camp, never mind the "I haven't seen that" camp. Counterpart is superbly constructed, its pacing near perfection, and the twists and unexpected emotional depths make it one of those rare dramas that doesn't labor under its own ambitions. You can fly through this series and then want to rewatch it. How. J.K. Simmons failed to get an Emmy nomination is beyond baffling.

  • 3/0. Succession (HBO)

    Colin Hutton/HBO

    Holy hell, this series is excellent. And while it may be a cliche to say "it gets better every episode," well, in this case that's true. The last three episodes are some of the best that were produced in 2018, which is high praise given the level of excellence in this Platinum Age. Maybe the premise put you off? Maybe the fact that all the show's promos emphasized its comedy element? Listen, this is a drama. It's funny, but it's a drama. And it's spectacular.

  • 4/4. The End of the F***ing World (Netflix)

    Courtesy of Netflix

    It's a little disappointing that a second season of this brilliant series is being made, given how exquisitely perfect this season's ending was. But never bet against creativity — maybe a second season will be as audacious as the first. What might be impossible to duplicate, and I've said this many times, is that no series in memory has ever accomplished this much with such a minuscule running time. For all the shows that can't seem to self-edit down to an hour, watch what happens here, sometimes in less than 20 minutes.

  • 5/3. The A Word (Sundance TV)

    Photofest

    I urge you to watch season one, then come back and witness how this second installment magnifies the emotional resonance, how characters and setting expand and permeate your senses. This is an amazing little series, with superb writing and acting (topped by the best soundtrack on television).

  • 6/16. Better Call Saul, Season Four (AMC)

    Nicole Wilder/AMC

    As I said in my review. Jimmy McGill is an infinitely more heartbroken character than anyone realized when we first met him as Saul Goodman. The beauty of this series is that it took a character mostly based in comedy — Saul worked particularly well adding levity to Breaking Bad — and tweaked expectations by dramatizing his life story. Never has empathy looked so much like kryptonite. Now the evolution to the more free-spirited Saul is at hand, and you'll never look at him the same way again.

  • 7/4. Killing Eve (BBC America)

    Courtesy of BBC America

    One of the most surprising series to catch the imagination of a growing audience, this is also one of the most fun to watch. Every time it seems like Peak TV is impenetrable and that we won't be able to have shared viewing experiences because everybody's watching something different from the next person, all of a sudden you hear a conversation between people who discovered this at the same time. Encouraging. If you haven't watched, do.

  • 8/0. Westworld (HBO)

    Courtesy of HBO

    Flawed, sure, because it leaned into the confusing time-shifting conceit too much. But it was still enormously entertaining, and the second-season finale opens a door to a much bigger opportunity to expand the series in season three.

  • 9/0. A Very English Scandal (Amazon)

    Sophie Mutevelian

    Looking for something fantastic, unexpected and not too long to burn through? Written by Russell T. Davies, directed by Stephen Frears and starring Hugh Grant (who is so good I had to find out if Jeremy Thorpe, the real-life British politician at the heart of this true story, talked and acted like Grant does — and by all accounts the performance is spot-on). Such a strange, sad, funny and almost unbelievable story. Watch it.

  • 10/19. The Deuce (HBO)

    Paul Schiraldi/HBO

    This ranking is for season one, which still falls within the eligibility window even though season two is about to start (efficient!). How this rough, smart, nuanced period piece got criminally ignored by Emmy voters is beyond me. David Simon has at this point just started saying out loud that he doesn't make shows that are popular (The Wire, Treme, etc.), but what he does do is make shows that are exceptional. And there's no reason why The Deuce can't be popular. In the current TV environment, there's always time to discover. Go catch up.

  • 11/15. Halt and Catch Fire (AMC)

    Erika Doss/AMC

    Speaking of barely seen series that are phenomenal and you need to discover at some point in your life, here's a good candidate for the poster series of that category. You've got four seasons of slowly evolving, wonderfully creative, nuanced storytelling about the birth of the computer industry (and so much more) brought to life with four top-tier performances. The eligibility window will close after this, so it's my last plea. Consider this one of those classic books you planned to read but it looks so hefty on your nightstand that you never start. Start.

  • 12/10. Black Mirror (Netflix)

    Courtesy of Netflix

    There's not much to say about this series that hasn't already been said. That people who discovered Black Mirror from the start are now, four seasons into it, less electrified by its exploits says more about human nature than it does about Black Mirror. It hasn't lost any of its greatness.

  • 13/6. Legion (FX)

    Prashant Gupta/FX

    Trippy fun. Yet also an understandable storyline, which is key. But also trippy times a thousand. Did I mention that? Visually arresting to the point where you might sleep on the writing. Don't.

  • 14/12. Mr. Robot (USA)

    Michael Parmelee/USA Network

    It wasn't exactly a sophomore slump, but there was little chance that the second season could match the creative highs and surprises of the first, not to mention the jaw-dropping newness of the visual technique that Sam Esmail employed in the first season. That said, season three was an impressive comeback and a stark reminder of why the show was so engaging and creative in the first place.

  • 15/10. Collateral (Netflix)

    Courtesy of Netflix

    For every entry where you feel a pang of guilt for not having watched all of the series (Halt and Catch Fire, say, or Rectify), there should be a show (like A Very English Scandal or The End of the F***ing World) that's less demanding of your time. Here's another. Collateral finds David Hare crafting a timely limited-series mystery that's compelling at every turn and has a wonderful performance by Carey Mulligan at the center of it. If you have time constraints (but hey, we all do), this will get you rolling.

  • 16/0. Godless (Netflix)

    Courtesy of Netflix

    Just as there was a moment when everyone was talking excitedly about Killing Eve, so too were many Godless fans desperate to have everyone they know watch the show. And for good reason — the limited series Western from Scott Frank breathes new life into the genre, with genuinely creative story twists and meaty performances from Jeff Daniels, Michelle Dockery and a wow-that-was-fun turn from Merritt Wever.

  • 17/17. Mindhunter (Netflix)

    Patrick Harbron/Netflix

    If you haven't seen Mindhunter, it's one of those series where you end up thinking, "Well, that's not what I was expecting" — in a good way. It's a story about the birth of the FBI's tracking of serial killers, and it's less gruesome than intellectually fascinating.

  • 18/14. Get Shorty (Epix)

    Justin Lubin/Epix

    Hey, this one covers both seasons. That's rare. And yes, I'm all too familiar with the reaction people give me when I rave about both seasons and how great Chris O'Dowd and Ray Romano are in this surprisingly excellent series. It's like, yeah, sounds awesome, I want to see that — what's Epix? Listen, I can't control where they come from, I can only point them out when they stand out.

  • 19/0. Lodge 49 (AMC)

    Jackson Lee Davis/AMC

    As I'm writing these blurbs on all these amazing shows, I realize that there's an undercurrent of stress involved for those people who are looking at the rankings and thinking, "Damn, I am so, so behind..." But Lodge 49, currently on AMC, is one of those zen series that will calm you right down. Funny, sweet, kind of sad but also uplifting. I can't tell yet if the zeitgeist is on this, but you should be.

  • 20/9. The Looming Tower (Hulu)

    JoJo Whilden/Hulu

    Another limited series where your time is well invested, even if you already know how things end. When a drama can make you feel something new about a well-known story, that's impressive. The Looming Tower does this in often fresh ways (though it's almost impossible not to be frustrated about the painful behind-the-scenes truth of what happened). The acting here is strong throughout (and yes, Jeff Daniels again).

  • 21/9. Stranger Things (Netflix)

    Courtesy of Netflix

    See, this is why the yearlong window is good for the Power Rankings! It's easy to forget how Stranger Things beat the odds of a sophomore slump. It's easy to forget a show that delivered yet again and seems so long ago, when it's not really. Also, as a side note, these rankings are pretty great for Netflix series, whose complete seasons drop in one day and then are often lost in the ether. That's hardly true for Stranger Things, but still.

  • 22/11. Detectorists (Acorn/Netflix)

    Courtesy of BBC

    Awww, now I'm just getting sentimental. If you've read any of the recent Power Rankings!, you know this is a staple. But it's three and out for this gem. There won't be any more seasons, and the eligibility window is crashing down. For the last time and for anyone whose life is too stressed and they just need something slow, sweet and funny, watch Detectorists. It's a little miracle.

  • 23/12. The Terror (AMC)

    Courtesy of Berlin International Film Festival

    Hey, let's make a limited series about a bad decision that leaves two old-timey ships stuck in the ice! No, really, it'll be great. The writing and acting will carry it. What, you think we should add something creepy to it? OK. Seriously, though, this is a visual tour de force given that it's basically a stage play made to look like a blockbuster. And also, wow.

  • In Peril

    As noted above, some shows are running up against their Power Rankings! eligibility window (Detectorists, Stanger Things, Mindhunter, Halt and Catch Fire), so those will likely be gone from the next edition. And it might be hard for some of the smaller limited series to stave off the powerhouse newcomers (or slam-dunks that I haven't had time to watch yet). So flux is coming.

     

  • In the Mix

    Humans, Howards EndAltered Carbon, Philip K. Dick's Electric Dreams, Collateral, Jack Ryan, The Alienist, Mr. Mercedes, Ozark, The Sinner, Orange Is the New Black, Castle Rock, Luke Cage, Sharp Objects, Sneaky Pete, Jessica Jones, The Alienist, The Punisher.

     

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