BY NOAH CASTAGNA AND DARIAN SABLON
Comedy is a genre that most flock to in search of comfort television- the serious reality of life slips away as we get absorbed into a world of whimsical brevity. A good comedy show leaves its viewers feeling emotionally satisfied with each concise episode, be it through outrageous gags, smart dialogue or surprising sentiment. With this listing, we wanted to showcase a variety of comedy while still remaining true to what makes a comedy show great; we didn’t want popularity to play a conscious role in our selection process.
“Malcolm in the Middle” (2000-2006), Fox
For its time, “Malcolm in the Middle” was a pioneer: it dropped the laugh-track, video-format standard of other half-hour comedies, opting to instead utilize a single-camera film format that saw main character Malcolm casually breaking the fourth wall to confide in or inform the viewer. But the show’s greatness doesn’t just lie in how it changed the genre- its greatness lies in its witty dialogue, genuine characters and standout comedy performances (Bryan Cranston’s performance as the dopey but lovable Hal is easily one of the most notable comedic roles of the decade). The struggles and dynamics of Malcolm’s family, despite being cartoonish at times, feel so real and relatable. Most of the show sees the family at odds with one another, but this makes seeing them band together at various points throughout the series even more impactful, keeping it grounded and full of heart.
“Louie” (2010- ), FX
Many of the past iconic comedy television shows of the 70s and 80s had a few things in common, primarily the idea that at the end of the day, no matter how hard things may get, it will all work out and everyone will get what they want. Nothing could be farther from the style of Louie, a fictionalized take on the life of the show’s creator, Louis C.K. Often taking dark turns in terms of comedy, Louie is ground-breaking in how it approaches comedy and the life of its protagonists. Compared to other shows, it feels much more personal, presenting the viewer a more real take on the life of people who don’t feel cartoonish. That’s arguably the best part of Louie. It’s not just a comedy show (which is not to say that it’s not funny, in fact it is one of the funniest shows around), it’s a story about the lives of ordinary people living out their weird lives and just trying to get by.
“The Inbetweeners” (2008-2010), E4
“The Inbetweeners” is a British situation comedy centered on the school and social lives of a group of misfit suburban teenagers, Will McKenzie (the smart one), Simon Cooper (the “normal” one), Neil Sutherland (the dumb one) and Jay Cartwright (the vulgar one). At its core, “The Inbetweeners” thrives on the banter between the main cast of characters. The biggest belly-aching laughs you’ll get from “The Inbetweeners” usually come from simple conversation between the characters, with physical gags mainly serving to provide the means for more witty banter. You will wince at the embarrassing situations the group is thrust into (there’s a “Scott’s Tots”-level situation pretty much every episode) but the accompanying snark from the group more than elevates those situations to comedy gold.
“Community” (2009-2015), NBC/Yahoo
A cult favorite, “Community” tells the story of Jeff Winger, a former lawyer whose degree has been revoked and is now forced to go to Greendale Community College if he ever hopes to go back to the life that he was so accustomed to. On the way, however, he meets a group of people that will forever change his life, as well as their own. “Community”, much like the other shows on this list, centers around the lives of not-so-perfect people living their not-so-perfect lives and having to deal with their problems as a team. The interaction of the “Community” study group is one of the best parts of the show, as the cast have excellent chemistry, supplementing the laugh out loud comedy. “Community” is also very unique in its format compared to other shows, in that it doesn’t really have one. In one episode, the show may be a spaghetti western while in the next one it could be a stop-motion Christmas adventure, a characteristic that adds to its appeal.
“It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (2005-), FX/FXX
While most television comedy tries to ground its characters and endear the audience to them, Rob McElhenney and Glenn Howerton decided to scratch that from their playbook, crafting a cast of depraved, narcissistic jerkbags who are pretty much irredeemable. Thus, the comedy legend “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” was born, capturing and catalyzing a style of black comedy that has yet to be majorly rivaled in live action television. There’s really just too much to say about “It’s Always Sunny” – it’s funny, shocking, rife with wit and it has seemingly accepted the challenge to offend every possible demographic as much as possible (much like Matt Stone and Trey Parker’s “South Park”). Every character shines throughout the series, bouncing off one another with sharp dialogue and phenomenal comedic performances.
“Atlanta” (2016- ), FX
“Atlanta” is a forreal experience. Telling the story about rising rapper Alfred “Paper Boi” Miles (Brian Henry) and his entourage which includes his cousin Earn Marks (Donald Glover), a Princeton dropout who acts as Miles’s manager, and Darius (Keith Stanfield), the right-hand man, “Atlanta” is an amazing show to watch. The cast has amazing chemistry, the likes not seen on most comedy television shows, complementing the outstanding comedy that is never too hard on the nose, and is in fact very similar to “Louie.” Although often somber in its message, “Atlanta” is able to equally balance heavy themes with absolute absurdity, a contrast that works much in its favor. “Atlanta” takes risks in how it presents to the viewer the story it wants to tell, definitely succeeding in doing so.
“The Office U.S.” (2005-2013), NBC
It’s hard to make a strong case against “The Office” – it has everything, from a phenomenal cast to incredible writing. “The Office” scores consistent laughs but isn’t afraid to make dips into the dramatic side with an occasional bout of seriousness. But when things get serious, it doesn’t pull the viewer out or spoil any humorous lines. Instead, it draws the viewer in and gives them a point of attachment for most of the characters, engaging the audience with its characters in a way few comedy shows can mirror. By the end of its run, despite a drop in quality after the departure of a standout cast member, you will be attached to the many employees of Dunder Mifflin and will walk away from the season finale immensely pleased with the ride.
“Shameless” (2011- ), Showtime
It’s not the typical comedy show, it’s not happy and is often very depressing in its message to the audience. The characters are far from perfect and are possibly the most dramatic representation of how the struggles of life can wear a person down. Yet somehow, despite all of the heavy commentary, “Shameless” still manages to be an enjoyable comedy that comments on the suffering people goes through because of poverty. Although unlike the other shows on this list, Shameless can sometimes a bit too much in its approach of presenting the hardships of its protagonists, at least for a comedy show, it is still worth a watch for anyone.
“Scrubs” (2001-2010), NBC/ABC
“Scrubs” is ambitious, well-intentioned and imaginative, just like its main protagonist, Doctor John Dorian (nicknamed J.D.). Each episode ends with narration by J.D., and we see Sacred Heart (the hospital where the cast of characters work) from his perspective- whacky daydreams and all. If I had to describe Scrubs, I would describe it as “as close to a live-action cartoon as any show we’ve gotten”: whenever J.D. drifts off, know you’re in for a taste of physical comedy you would only expect from animation. Although great cast chemistry is a staple of all of the shows on this list, “Scrubs” weaves relationships that the viewer can automatically see themselves in, be it in the immortal bromance between J.D. and Turk, in the patience Dr. Cox strives to maintain with his family, or in the thankless rigor Carla endures and prides herself in everyday. Out of all the shows on this list, “Scrubs” is one of the most grounded; despite its cartoonish digressions, “Scrubs” tackles topics like love and death with maturity and poise, scoring cheers, laughs and tears in the process.
“Fargo” (2014- ), FX
A recent addition to the comedy television fold, “Fargo” is a sort of continuation on the black-comedy hit movie of the same name by well-known producer Noah Hawley. A sort of anthology series that presents the stories of different people in different eras, only slightly connected to the actual movie, “Fargo” is a fun ride. Much like the film it is based on, “Fargo” is heavy on darker themes for comedic effect as well as the performance of its cast, which although the actors change with each new season, is always spot on and is one the strongest parts of the show, having won for the many awards for it. Although watching at first may require a strong sense of humor, with time anyone can learn to enjoy the “Fargo.”