Despite several bleak years (do people really watch "Two and Half Men"?!), comedies on TV are making a comeback. After so many reality shows, cop shows, legal shows and medical shows, sitcoms are clawing their way back into existence. And we couldn’t be happier.
Crave Online recently picked our favorite comedies of the year from a list of worthy contenders. It wasn’t easy and some great shows narrowly missed the cut. But all of the series listed here have earned their places as the best comedies on television.
10: MODERN FAMILY
In the world of television sitcoms, family focused shows tend to dominate the broadcast networks. There have been a lot of failed attempts to make the next great family comedy and even fewer attempts to mess with a formula that’s been mostly unchanged since the ’80s. Do you remember when "The Simpsons’ was considered innovative and a breath of fresh air for the genre?
"Modern Family" has largely stepped into that void by simultaneously making one of the funniest shows on TV while also offering one of the most diverse cast of characters in a long time. The writing has been sharp, which is unsurprising, considering "Frasier" veterans Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan are behind the series. But the real star here is Ed O’Neill, who finally has a chance to shine again as Jay Pritchett, the patriarch of a large family including his daughter, Claire (Julie Bowen) along with her husband and children; Jay’s son Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson), a man who lives with his romantic partner Cameron (Eric Stonestreet) and their adopted baby. On top of all of that, Jay is also married to his new wife, Gloria (Sofía Vergara) and raising her son as well.
This show could have easily slipped into obscurity without great writing, but instead it may be one of the defining TV comedies of this generation. The second season has been just as well produced as the first and "Modern Family" has a good chance to go on to even greater heights in the years ahead.
9: THE OFFICE
In contrast to "Modern Family" and other shows on this list, "The Office" appears to be a show in decline. Which is not that unexpected after seven seasons and the impending departure of Steve Carell at the end of the year. Outside of "Outsourced," NBC’s Thursday night lineup is the strongest comedy blocks on TV and "The Office" is still one of our favorite series, primarily because we still love watching these characters. However, there’s only so much crazy wackitude we can take from Dwight (Rainn Wilson) and the rest of the cast before it starts getting old.
"The Office" badly needs some kind of major shakeup to offset the loss of Carell. Either in the form of a new boss or someone completely unexpected to take over for Michael. It’s a testament to the series that its been so good for so long. But it’s beginning to feel like "The Office" is just coasting along, which could cost it a place on this list next year.
"Archer" may be the best Adult Swim show that’s not actually on Adult Swim.
Despite getting his start on AS with "Sealab 2021" and "Frisky Dingo," series creator Adam Reed brought "Archer’ to FX and delivered one of the most offbeat and hilarious comedy series of the year. The show follows Sterling Archer (H. Jon Benjamin), a borderline narcissist, sex addict and boorish man who is occasionally one of the greatest spies in the world of international espionage. Oh yes… and his code name is "Duchess," thanks to his slightly crazed and domineering mother (and boss), Malory Archer (Jessica Walter).
"Archer" also happens to be one of the most R-rated comedies on TV, with some edgier content including Cheryl’s (Judy Greer) obsession with being strangled during sex and the inadvertent sexual conquests of computer nerd Cyril (Chris Parnell), who can’t seem to turn down any woman. Aisha Tyler adds some balance as Lana Kane, Archer’s former lover who’s even better at being a spy than he is. She may also be the only sane person working at the International Secret Intelligence Service (or ISIS).
If "Archer" was a live action comedy series, it would probably be hailed as the "Get Smart" or "The Naked Gun" of this generation. And fortunately, the second season is coming up soon.
7: BORED TO DEATH
My colleague Sax Carr said it best on The Idiot Box: "Bored To Death" is a show written by people who love to get high… and they don’t bother hiding it.
Ostensibly, the show follows a struggling writer turned private investigator, Jonathan Ames (Jason Schwartzman). But the series is really about Jonathan’s friendship with his boss and mentor George (Ted Danson) and comic book artist, Ray (Zach Galifianakis). Of the three lead actors, Danson has raised his game to a considerable level by finding the pathos in George’s struggle with cancer while maintaining his more comedic urges for women, booze and cannabis. One of the funniest moments of the year came in George’s realization that his cancer had actually saved him from being forced to go into rehab, which he celebrated for a few moments before remembering that the cancer was still serious. The story still worked even though we discovered that George was cancer free a few episodes later.
Even the supporting characters on this series have been impressive, like John Hodgman as Jonathan’s rival and Kristen Johnston’s memorable guest turn as a dominatrix in the second season premiere. While HBO has a reputation for comedies that aren’t very funny (we’re looking at you, "Entourage"!), "Bored To Death" has managed to greatly improve on its first season and earn its place among the best series on TV.
"Good news, Everyone!"
"Futurama" made its long awaited comeback as a weekly series on Comedy Central and once again proved that it should never have been canceled by Fox in the first place. While half of Fox’s so-called "Animation Domination" block are essentially clones of "Family Guy" (which is arguably a "Simpsons" clone), "Futurama" remains as fresh and hilarious as it was ten years ago.
Given the long down time for the series, it seems like the returning writers had built up a number of issues to address, like Gay marriage in "Proposition Infinity." But thus far, the series hasn’t gone down the path of the Lisa-centric episodes of "The Simpsons," which basically neuter the humor while trying to make a broader social point.
One of the things that "Futurama" does better than almost any show on TV is the way that the comedy can lead to some unexpectedly powerful emotional moments. For example, in "The Late Philip J. Fry," Fry (Billy West) and Leela (Katey Sagal) are forcibly separated by a time travel accident which leads them both to come to terms with their loss before eventually reuniting when the universe recreates itself (two times later). While Fry and Leela reconnect over a park bridge, Bender (John DiMaggio) hilariously buries the bodies of their temporal duplicates whom they had accidentally killed.
If one thing is certain, it’s that the far future still has a lot of comedic gold to explore. And "Futurama" will never truly die. Super science forever!
5: BETTER OFF TED
Speaking of super science, ABC explored that concept in "Better Off Ted," which was almost a live action cartoon itself.
Jay Harrington starred as Ted Crisp, the head of research at Veridian Dynamics, an openly evil company that was said to be more powerful than almost all of the world’s governments. In addition to dominating various industries, Veridian also created killer robots, killer pandas (!) and "food-like products" for consumer consumption. Basically, the worst things you ever thought about a corporation were true at Veridian.
Almost ten years ago, Victor Fresco also created the much missed "Andy Richter Controls the Universe." And with "Better Off Ted," Fresco finally recreated that sense of "anything goes" comedy that’s been missing from most sitcoms. While it’s true that "Better Off Ted" didn’t set the ratings on fire, ABC also wildly mishandled its second season schedule and didn’t give the series the promotional push that it needed. Also ABC, when you dump a show during December and January without getting the word out, what do you expect will happen?
"Better Off Ted" could have had a long run on TV if the network had fully been behind it. But it was great while it lasted.
4: THE VENTURE BROS.
Among animated shows, "The Venture Bros." is a rare grand slam. It’s well written, it has great voice actors, truly hilarious stories and payoffs along with some of the best animation on TV. It even keeps up the super science motif of the last three shows on this list.
Jackson Publick and Doc Hammer have created an unexpectedly rich universe out of what was essentially a "Jonny Quest" parody. The title characters Hank (Christopher McCulloch) and Dean Venture (Michael Sinterniklaas) are almost afterthoughts in a world with their father Dr. "Rusty" Venture (James Urbaniak), former bodyguard Brock Sampson (Patrick Warburton) and the Venture family’s eternal nemesis: The Monarch (McCulloch), an ineffectual supervillain joined by his wife, Dr. Mrs. The Monarch (Hammer) and their legion of henchmen.
The second half of the fourth season completed former Henchman 21’s journey towards becoming a main character in addition to revitalizing former nemeses Phantom Limb and Professor Impossible as the new Revenge Society. The producers also allowed the Venture Bros. to age and come closer to becoming grown men. God help us all when that happens.
There’s currently no word on the fifth season, but hopefully the Ventures will be back in 2011.
3: 30 ROCK
"30 Rock" may be the smartest comedy on TV.
Tina Fey’s show within a show follows the adventures of Liz Lemon (Fey), the head writer of a TV sketch comedy series starring Tracy Jordan (Tracy Morgan) and Jenna Maroney (Jane Krakowski). In theory, the show is about Liz’s attempts to handle the volatile personalities of her cast and crew. But the real focus of "30 Rock" is the offbeat relationship between Liz and her boss Jack Donaghy (Alec Baldwin), which has reinvigorated Baldwin’s career.
The series often features sharply written episodes with great one-liners and terrific performances from its large ensemble, including Jack McBrayer, Scott Adsit, Judah Friedlander, Katrina Bowden and Keith Powell. Currently in its fifth season, "30 Rock" has continued to take chances by staging a live episode (twice in one night for both coasts) and through the exploration of Jack’s impending fatherhood and nuptials.
If only "Saturday Night Live" was still this good.
2: PARKS AND RECREATION
After an uneven (at best) first season, "Parks And Recreation" did something almost unthinkable: it became one of the best comedies on TV.
The second season expanded the focus from just Amy Poehler’s Leslie Knope to the rest of her supporting cast. Nick Offerman’s Ron Swanson is a particular stand out as an anti-government Libertarian (with a gunshot for his ringtone), who nevertheless has a job as Leslie’s boss in the Parks and Rec department of a small town in Indiana. The developing love triangle between the apathetic April Ludgate (Aubrey Plaza), the overzealous Andy Dwyer (Chris Pratt) and his ex-girlfriend Ann Perkins (Rashida Jones) has also been entertaining to watch.
Although the third season has been pushed to early next year due to Poehler’s pregnancy, the closing episodes of the second season introduced some promising new characters in Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) and Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe); a pair of state auditors who shut down the town’s government due to an ongoing budget crisis. If the writers and stars of "Parks and Recreation" can keep up the momentum from last season, it may go on for a long run on Thursday nights.
During the recent "Community" Christmas special (which was depicted almost entirely in stop-motion animation), I came to a surprising conclusion:
I actually care about these characters.
I care about Abed (Danny Pudi), Troy (Donald Glover), Jeff (Joel McHale), Annie (Alison Brie), Britta (Gillian Jacobs), Pierce (Chevy Chase), Shirley (Yvette Nicole Brown) and even Señor Chang (Ken Jeong)!
In the previously mentioned Christmas episode, this became clear in Abed’s biting (and even sad) commentary on Britta’s character (in the form of song) and the depressing reason behind his "mental breakdown." There aren’t many series that can handle the emotional material as well as the comedy, but "Community" can and does. Even the recent episode about Troy’s birthday had some great moments like Shirley’s regret about her heavy drinking days and Troy’s silent observations about how a night out drinking had affected his friends.
"Community" has even shown a willingness to break format with episodes like the paintball themed "Modern Warfare," the space simulator show "Basic Rocket Science" and the hilarious "Conspiracy Theories and Interior Design" which featured increasingly unlikely plot twists while brilliantly parodying conspiracy shows and movies.
Dan Harmon and his writing team have made "Community" into an instant TV classic. The Thursday Night comedy block essentially justifies NBC’s existence and out of all of the shows on TV, "Community" was easily the best comedy of 2010.
The only problem is that I can’t see how the writers will be able to extend the premise beyond four or five years. People can’t go to college forever. But we should enjoy the ride while we can.