by Brian Surber
I watch a lot of TV. Too much. Way too much. And yet it’s still not enough. Year after year I keep hearing about the shows I need to watch. BoJack Horseman, Catastrophe, You’re the Worst, Fresh off the Boat, The Carmichael Show, I get it!
But I’m just one man. How can I possibly watch it all? I already have 20 possible options for this list as is (as you can probably guess I watched more comedies than dramas) . And this is only counting the seasons I’ve finished. That means I technically can’t count It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Bob’s Burgers, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, or Insecure.
But here they are. My top 10 comedies from this year. We are truly living in a golden age of television as all 21 of the shows I gave my time to were outstanding in their own way.
Rules are pretty simple: We play by my rules. I’m deeming Orange is the New Black a drama for one basic reason (to beef up my drama list).
Please comment if you don’t agree with my list (which I can’t imagine happening, but, okay) and enjoy!
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
The Mindy Project
10. Search Party (TBS)
TBS’ mission to re-brand itself with smart, interesting, and funny original content is working out pretty great (The Detour is brilliant, every episode of Conan should be Conan Without Borders, and another TBS show appears later on this list). Stories about self-obsessed twenty-somethings can be found all over TV and film, but the difference here is how each character is honed. Each represents a different part of the mystique of the Millennial (self-absorbed, oblivious, spoiled, and arrogant) while being connected by the most common trope, aimlessness. But what elevates the characters, aside from the truly wonderful performances (Where did Meredith Hagner come from?!?), is the underlying care each has for the other. They honestly love each other and support each other. Wrap that in a genuine mystery (complete with shadowy figures, cults, and Ron Livingston) with a surprisingly satisfying ending and a 21st century Nancy Drew is born.
9. The Good Place (NBC)
After creating one of the best comedies of the century, Parks and Recreation, Michael Schur really could have played it safe with his next solo gig (he co-created Brooklyn Nine-Nine). But instead, he used his good will to create the most unique “mainstream” sitcom to come along in a while. And the gamble paid off big time as The Good Place is filled with real humor, real pathos, and at times, real philosophy. Its two incredible leads, Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, make a pair where affection is visibly nurtured under conflicting ideals. The jokes are dense and rich (new jokes are found on each viewing) and the story is moving. Big ideas, lavish production values, and a deep rooted sense of humor. There isn’t anything on network TV like The Good Place, which, for The Good Place, is a pretty GOOD PLACE to be*. (*If you read that last sentence with a lot of emphasis on the “GOOD” and “PLACE” it still sounds terrible.)
8. Documentary Now! (IFC)
The genius of this entire series is its sense of verisimilitude. Each one of these documentaries is so expertly made, feels so real, rings so true that even not having seen any of the documentaries they are honoring (and yes,they are honoring them) I know that they are spot on. A series like Documentary Now! has the benefit of having every episode be a unique creation which leaves room for every episode to stand out. “The Bunker,” “Juan Like Rice & Chicken” (a genuinely moving film), “Globesman,” & “Mr. Runner Up: My Life as an Oscar Bridesmaid.” Each one so different and true to their subject matter. This is a show that looks so effortless while being so intricate. Each week is a journey, each episode a small triumph. And each season a grand acting challenge that may be looked upon as the pinnacle of Fred Armisen and Bill Hader’s onscreen careers.
7. Broad City (Comedy Central)
Even with a slightly less-than third season, Comedy Central’s crown jewel is still one of the funniest shows on TV. We had fewer this year but Ilana and Abbi still provided with several all time episodes (“Two Chainz,” “2016,” “Burning Bridges,” “Jews on a Plane”) and, more importantly, provided a much needed depth to our dynamic duo. Abbi hiding her relationship with Trey gave the show, and Jacobson, new emotional ground. There has never been a secret this big kept between them and the toll it took on both, and the way the got over it, was so, so true to the characters’ relationship that it reinforced why they love each and why we love them.
6. Full Frontal with Samantha Bee (TBS)
Aside from being the first woman in late night and bringing a much needed perspective to the political late night landscape, the best thing about Full Frontal with Samantha Bee is just how funny it is. The writing is quick and razor sharp. And Bee commands the screen not with a know-it-all attitude but a gather-round-while-I-spill-some-shit presence that keeps you laughing and enraged when necessary. Her post-election shows are so full of uncompromising edge and criticism that it’s clear Bee will be our guiding light for the next four years. And based on this past year we should all be so lucky to follow her.
5. Silicon Valley (HBO)
Silicon Valley is the kind of show that, for me at least, leaves my brain as soon as it’s over. At the beginning of each season I really need a “previously on.” This may be because the show is smarter than me (it certainly is), it may be because the show is incredibly dense in its plotting, it may also be because the show is so filled with tech talk that mostly blows right past my head. So why is Silicon Valley the fifth best comedy of the year? Because even though I may not know what’s really going on season-to-season, I know this show is damn funny. The writers are confident in their approach to the point where the show feels like it writes itself. The actors are so ingrained with their characters that they’re distinct while also being so distinctively similar. What other show dares us to follow a tech company whose product changes and changes back and changes again week after week; a show where the conflict is so obviously besides the point; a show as laid back as it’s characters; a show with actual horse sex. This was the show’s best season yet and I know that because I remember most of what happened.
4. Veep (HBO)
In it’s fifth, and possibly best season yet, amidst a change of show runners and an all too-real presidential campaign, Veep remained the most brash, airtight, and quick comedy on TV. Julia Louis-Dreyfus can win Emmys until the end of time for her work as Selina Meyer. It’s the most original performance on television and after 5 years it still hasn’t stopped being impressive every time. With its incredible – and growing – ensemble only getting better (Anna Chlumsky has to win an Emmy at some point, right?) and its crude, innovative insults continuing to hit like a brick to the head, what’s keeping the show so fresh is the adventurous stories it continues to tell. The courage this show has to take its character through all she’s been through (Veep to President to nothing) is unconventional and inspired.
3. High Maintenance (HBO)
Created by star Ben Sinclair and Katja Blichfeld and based on their web series of the same name, High Maintenance came out of nowhere for me. I hadn’t watched the series, I didn’t know either of those people, and I have a passing relationship with the substance at the heart of the show. But, based on reviews, as I started to watch this 6 episode season I came to realize weed isn’t at the heart of the show. At the heart of the show is the show’s heart. Each week we are introduced to diverse, interesting, unique, familiar, and real New Yorkers. Topics range from the role of masculinity in society, to the ever expanding normalization of sexuality, to personal desire against religious requirement, to the dangerous familiarity of your former self, to a dog. Ah, the dog. The third episode, titled “Grandpa,” was simply a revelation. And if I were voting Gatsby the Dog might be in my five of Best Actor in Comedy Series. This is a show that could have been anything and was everything. It’s a show about the diversity of the human experience. And the canine one.
2. Atlanta (FX)
The most refreshing show on television, Atlanta is understated, human, hilarious, and real. Created by Donald Glover, in a project that seems to have been waiting inside of him ready to explode, the shows follows life in America for black men and women at its core. Glover plays Earn, a man with no money trying to become a music manager to his cousin, rapper Paper Boi, and trying to support his young daughter and on-again-off-again girlfriend. The show is gorgeous to look at, it’s the best shot show on this list, and comes across as such great truth that the comedy of it all is just a bonus. Atlanta moves with an hypnotic vibe that mixes real meditations on the black experience with fantastical elements that can’t help but carry significant weight (sure, the invisible car is real but it also hit those people because of a shooting). Glover is wonderful here, but it’s his choice to keep Earn grounded and almost in the background so the cast around his can shine that’s the true accomplishment of his performance. Keith Stanfield is great, but we already knew that (go see Short Term 12 now!). It’s Zazie Beetz and Brian Tyree Henry that are the absolute standouts of this show; giving nuanced, real, and intricate performances to what could have been simple supporting characters. They should both be remembered come Emmy time. Yes this is technically a comedy, and it’s truly funny, but Atlanta strives to be more than that; and in succeeding, influences us to as well.
1. Fleabag (BBC Three/Amazon)
The only show on either list I watched in one sitting. Fleabag was the single best surprise of the television year. A comedy that was dark, sexy, depressing, hysterical, ambitious, authentic, and heartbreaking. Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s master study of the human psyche is framed as, in fact, part of the human psyche. Events unfold as our main character’s suppression of the past starts to unravel. Fleabag’s behavior and attitude somewhat act as a defense mechanism for something, we’re just not sure what. And the journey we take with her as she is forced to confront her past is so sincere and, at times, agonizing that without the comedy this would instantly be one of the best dramas of the year. But there is comedy and it’s fantastic. The dry British interplay mixed with genuinely funny observations about sex creates scenes that can be at one moment erotic and the next cringe-worthy. The supporting cast is on point. The relationship at its center is inspirational and pure. But this is Waller-Bridge’s show. She wrote the show, stars in the show, and is the show. Her performance is one of great command. We can’t look away from her or her actions and her commendable charm, grace, and humor make it easy to her root for her even as we see her do things we don’t condone. Fleabag is a seemingly straightforward show; a breezy, sexy look at modern relationships and the state of being a single woman in the 21st century. What it becomes as it evolves is an exploration of grief, anger, guilt, and loss. This is a profound show and I can’t wait to spend a night watching it all again.
There we have it. Or I have it, I guess. I’ll post the top dramas of the year next week. In the meantime, let me know what you think. Do you agree? Disagree? Is there something else I should be watching (but probably won’t for a while)?