TV Power Rankings! Tim Goodman's Best Series on TV (February Edition)

8:25 PM 2/12/2019

by Tim Goodman

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

Patriot, Succession, and Sex Education-Publicity Stills- Split-H 2019
Amazon Studios; HBO; Netflix

Yeah, I know, it's been a while. That said, I've already covered all the reasons a more curated critical experience is beneficial and how I'm trying to drive that into your heads. But the Power Rankings! are their own thing, and so let's not blame events (Peak TV, life, college tours one might have taken, vacations to recover from college tours, vacations to get away from TV, that kind of thing) that may or may not have derailed their return. Instead, let's get to it.

A quick update on the rules: A series is eligible for a year after its last episode aired, or the date the whole thing dropped on a streaming service. I've written about why I instituted the yearlong rule, but in short it's a nod to Peak TV and how we all consume television in vastly different ways than in that past. You might just be discovering The Americans right now, for example. Lucky you.

Also, the Power Rankings! often shift between being drama-specific or comedy-specific, with the odd unscripted one tossed in, but in this version I'm allowing in comedies that are also serious — I'd argue there are at least three pretty clear ones here.

But here's a key change: I've dropped the "In Peril" and "In the Mix" addenda because they don't really apply in the latest incarnation of what the Power Rankings! has become. Meaning, some series won't be in peril because they are so damn good they could make every version of this list that comes out for a full year (whereas in the past it was more of a weekly or monthly thing). And, let's face it, with nearly 500 scripted series, the number of titles "in the mix" is staggering. Suffice it to say a lot of excellent series didn't make it, but are still being considered. One thing that still applies and will always apply is that no one person can watch every series airing currently or every episode, so this list only comprises series I've seen enough episodes of to make a judgment.

There are two sets of numbers attached to the shows below. The one on the left is its current ranking, the one on the right its last ranking, with a "0" denoting it was ineligible or failed to make the previous list.

  • 1/0. Patriot

    As someone who has loudly banged the drum for this series for two years and two seasons (it was No. 6, out of 46, on my list of Best Series of 2017 and I would be shocked if I could find a reputable list where it ended up higher), I still can't rave enough. It might not be for everybody, and the title doesn't help (just substitute "Sad Spies" and that should help, though not in the search bar), but creator, writer and director Steven Conrad has crafted a truly funny, moody, action-packed, plot-heavy bit of joy that subverts so many styles (and assumptions) on its way to originality. The cast (including Conrad's brother, Chris, who is sublime) is top-notch, top to bottom, but special mention needs to be made of star Michael Dorman who, among many other things, sings the most ridiculously funny but melancholy songs (detailing the awful side of his spying duties) with such eloquence and reverberation that you want to buy the album. He also really should have been Emmy nominated twice, but you get the point. People are finally discovering Patriot in its second season. Now it's your turn.

  • 2/1. The Americans

    I guess you could look at this Hall of Fame series sitting at No. 2 as a wonderful endorsement of Patriot as well, but it's mostly because the series run is over, the loving epitaphs written. My appreciation stands strong, and it's a testament to this series that it will ride out the one-year rule until the end and has dominated on these Power Rankings! season after season.

  • 3/2. Counterpart

    Well, Starz cancelled it. But Starz has bigger problems than worrying about fumbling a series it somehow couldn't push into the zeitgeist despite conceptual intrigue from creator Justin Marks, arguably the best lead acting performance on TV from J.K. Simmons, and a really excellent supporting cast. Other networks would be lucky to have this show, so it could be revived elsewhere. If not, you've still got two stellar seasons to catch up on. It's absolutely worth the time.

  • 4/3. Succession

    Remember the reference up top to series that can be perceived as comedy or drama? Yeah, this. I still think it's a drama, and the final three episodes of a magnificent season that saw each installment get better are a testament to that. Don't be put off by the 1-percenter storyline because it goes way deeper than that. So searingly funny, so surprisingly dark.

  • 5/0. Black Earth Rising

    Hugo Blick is quickly becoming the master at Big-Picture, ultra-twisty mysteries, often with global impact (if you watched The Honorable Woman, you know what I mean) — and he doesn't disappoint again here with Black Earth Rising, which revolves around some serious, deeply buried secrets about the Rwandan genocide. While that might sound too heavy for you, the miniseries moves at a quick clip and the performances, from standout Michaela Coel to John Goodman and so many in between, are riveting, determined to hold down Blick's words as they rattle around the ornate architecture of his plotting. 

  • 6/0. Sex Education

    Americans approach teen sex and puberty with, well, either cliches, avoidance or, in an effort to appear edgy, animation. What the Brits do is actually make shows that address teen sex (and then some), unafraid to confront what our Puritanical history keeps trying to tamp down. No better example of that than Sex Education, which destroys any American comparisons because there just aren't any accurate ones to toss into the ring. A delightfully blunt look at all kinds of coming-of-age issues, not just sex — but also, yes, sex, sex, sex on the brain and elsewhere — Sex Education manages to be funny but also touching and insightful without being even remotely preachy or heroic about it all. Very British indeed.

  • 7/0. Informer

    A complete revelation when it arrived on Amazon as a co-production with BBC One, Informer is also a complex, shaded mystery, this time about something larger in the form of terrorism, with all kinds of undercurrents of race, class and immigration, told in a way that gives engaging insight into another country, even if that country is one that seems so overly familiar — England. That alone is worth the tune-in, but writers Rory Haines and Sohrab Noshirvani, along with director Jonny Campbell (The Casual Vacancy, In the Flesh), push it to much more interesting lengths. Overlooked when Bodyguard got all the hype, this is ultimately a superior offering. 

  • 8/0. Atlanta

    Well, hell. You shouldn't have to be told about this one. But since the next season is so far in the future, why don't you discover the first two if you haven't already. The series also is one of those that lends itself to new revelations on second sampling.

  • 9/0. Homecoming

    I loved this series even when I had some concerns about the overall story once it was done. But the love comes from the odd sheen to it, the visual and aural tricks that Sam Esmail (Mr. Robot) employs, and a winning combination of Julia Roberts and a stacked cast (where Shea Whigham was a true standout). I'm surprised at how many people casually reveal they haven't seen it. Sure, Peak TV and all, but come on. 

  • 10/6. Better Call Saul

    Another series that needs no introduction and one, like The Americans, that has repeatedly made its presence felt on the Power Rankings! I wonder sometimes if we still take this for granted as a prequel to Breaking Bad. Because, honestly, that might have applied a couple of seasons ago, but it's thoroughly its own thing and season four made that very clear.

  • 11/0. Mr. Inbetween

    Fighting above its weight for attention, this Australian series blew me away when it arrived (and then, with FX running double episodes and there being only six, it also departed all too quickly). A fast-paced tour-de-force from creator, writer and actor Scott Ryan, its tightly paced story still had plenty of room to breathe and to unspool its elegiac glance at a hitman of a certain age and a moral conundrum, thanks in large measure to the director Nash Edgerton.

  • 12/10. The Deuce

    With everybody being so all-consumed and all-confused about the torrent of television these last many years, it's probably less accurate to say more people talk about a David Simon show in revered tones than actually watch one. But I'm beginning to think volume isn't the issue. Maybe it's true that people haven't jumped on The Deuce because they are too busy with, you know, Stranger Things. But at some point, you have to admit that maybe this isn't your thing, this granular obsession with character that Simon and George Pelecanos conjured up. Shame, that.

  • 13/0. Barry

    Even on a second watch I think the nutballs magic of Barry is at least 50 percent accidental. I mean, the jarring tonal shifts here should absolutely not play. But they do. It's like a show that tells you this joke with an over-the-top, all-in style, hands flailing, spittle flying everywhere and just when you begin to laugh at the payoff from all that effort, it sticks a gun in your eye socket. OK, then. You watch how it all ends and then say, "That's not the comedy I expected!" But whoa is it good.

  • 14/0. Bodyguard

    Look, no offense, I enjoyed the hell out of it and it's on this list so don't get too defensive, but there's a bunch of stuff that you have to overlook to get to that safe place and say that it's really good and you liked it. Well, at least I did. No shame in that, because well-crafted entertainment is lovely. But maybe there's more meat on something like Black Earth Rising or Informer. See above.

  • 15/0. Kidding

    As with Barry, Atlanta, Sex Education and Succession before it here, you can make the argument that maybe this is a comedy. I mean, it surely is, just like the others. But they all got here because there was something more, something deeper, a little (or a lot) more profound than just a joke. And Kidding has that in spades. It kind of just creeps up on you and surprises you. Inside. Weirdly, I hear almost no one talking about this show. Please change that.

  • 16/0. Wanderlust

    I was tempted to just write "Toni Collette" and then move on to the next show. She's that great (as usual). But there are more delights in this little gem from Netflix and two in particular are Steven Mackintosh and Emma D'Arcy. I wouldn't watch this if your marriage is falling apart, but then again it might be helpful, as creator and writer Nick Payne mines that territory for unexpected discovery, empathy and reason.

  • 17/7. Killing Eve

    OK, for real this time, if you have to be told to watch Killing Eve then you're just not paying attention and you're watching TV all wrong. Stop embarrassing yourself and go watch it, already.

  • 18/0. The Man in the High Castle

    Yes, I know you're surprised by this. But you shouldn't be — as I noted in detail here, it's currently the most relevant Trump-era drama out there and really found its legs in this third season. I always recommend starting from the beginning of any series, but I recently argued that you could watch two or three of the first season and then jump ahead and be fine (but then, purist that I am, I think you should go back and complete the missing pieces).