Look, comedy is incredibly subjective. What I find gut-bustingly hilarious might elicit little more than the wryest of smiles from you, so–of all the categories so far–this one seems the most subjective. Even if you don’t find, say, Louie to be your proverbial cup of tea, I doubt very much you could deny the craftsmanship of the performances and writing, but when it comes to the selection of the Best Comedy Series, such a title seems synonymous with Funniest Comedy Series. And so this crazy little wheel of subjectivity keeps spinning ’round. Like a record, baby. Right round round round. #MixingMetaphors #80s
Taking all of that into account, here they are, the comedy series that I consider most worthy of nominations. Let the debate over the true nature of comedy commence!
Orange is the New Black Parks and Recreation
Silicon Valley Veep
Honorable Mentions: Shameless; The Mindy Project; Family Tree; Derek; Hello Ladies; Brooklyn Nine-Nine; Nurse Jackie
“Show your work…”
Enlisted, likely, caused you to furrow your brow when you spotted it on my list, so let’s start there. It’s a ridiculous show, one that can feature a loving homage to Donkey Kong or a heart-stopping escape from a field of porta potties, an ever-escalating prank war or an obsession with Lori Loughlin. But reveling in the ludicrousness of life at Fort McGee becomes the point of the series: it tackles Army-related drama, such as Sgt. Pete Hill’s PTSD and palpable survivor’s guilt, without sacrificing its own brand of humor. Very assuredly and slyly, this became a comedy series about the process of overcoming trauma and the need to reinvent oneself in the wake of it, but it’s also a show about the bond of brotherhood in its myriad forms. The principle cast (Geoff Stults, Chris Lowell, Keith David, Angelique Cabral, and Parker Young) clicks perfectly and gets great back up from those making up the ragtag squad Pete leads. Unfortunately, Fox mishandled the scheduling of this excellent show, leading to its cancellation, so a surprise nod for Best Comedy Series might assuage the sting a bit and give those Fox execs a moment of pause. Wouldn’t that be nice?
I’ve written about Louie on here before, so I’ll keep it brief. There’s never been a show like this before; I doubt we’ll see one as good as it for a very long time. No other series imbues its consistently disarming comedy with such insight, wit, heart, and sadness; even more miraculous, sometimes the show dispenses with comedy altogether and aims to present a dramatic story instead. Simply put, this is wondrous television at its most surprising and satisfying.
Netflix’s Orange is the New Black seems poised to claim the title of awards darling this year–and for good reason. The predominantly female cast reveals its talent piece at a time as the season’s overall narrative structure zeroes in on a specific inmate (providing backstory and context) while also depicting Piper’s gradual unraveling. Amidst so much quality storytelling, a few threads stand out: the show’s frank and moving depiction of how an inmate’s gender identity affects her family truly impresses, as does Larry (Jason Biggs) struggling to accept the way Piper’s choices have impacted his own sense of self. If this doesn’t sound gut-bustingly hilarious, that’s because it isn’t, but that’s not to say moments of levity do not emerge. So, while Orange certainly stands as the least laugh-out-loud comedy on this list, its achievement remains nonetheless staggering.
Parks and Recreation, network television’s best comedy by a considerable margin, stands alone, a true anomaly. Often times, the shows that strike a chord with audiences come with a twinge of cynicism, as if–underneath the jokes–lives condescension; most times, these shows ask us to laugh at their characters, to judge them for their stupidity or closed-mindedness, their religiosity or social awkwardness. But not Parks and Recreation. If anything, this is a show about idealism and positivity in a world hellbent on squashing both. Somehow, this show feels like a celebration of life, and it also happens to be hysterical. See Ben Wyatt getting drunk on blueberry wine, Donna scolding her cousin Ginuwine, Andy (and Mouse Rat!) leading a Li’l Sebastian tribute song, Ron destroying a homemade chair for looking “too perfect,” Chris Tragger enacting a one-man dance party to the sultry sounds of “One Headlight,” and Michelle Obama stunning Leslie into silence. And beneath the effervescent comedy lies a beating heart imbuing it all with a true warmth that’s as infectious as the characters and jokes. Because as memorable as the comedy is on Parks and Recreation, those moments of friendship–pure, true friendship–ring truest, such as Ron’s pilgrimage to a whiskey distillery in “London.” Long-lasting network comedies shouldn’t be this good, but Parks and Recreation certainly defies convention.
Silicon Valley‘s inaugural season might stand as a collection of the funniest episodes HBO has ever aired. Vacillating between sharp parody of the tech industry in desperate need of lampooning and bawdy humor (the epic dick joke that accounted for a considerable amount of the finale’s run time still has me laughing), Mike Judge’s show emerged as confident in itself as Richard is unconfident. Anchored by a breakout turn from Thomas Middleditch and buoyed by the likes of TJ Miller, Christopher Evan Welch, Zach Woods, and Kumail Nanjiani, Silicon Valley proves what we already know: the best comedy is concentrated, playing to its strengths while also finding news ways to surprise its audience. For eight brilliant episodes, Silicon Valley did just that and more. Bring on season two, and remember: never trust coders in muscle tees.
No show on television (since perhaps another HBO staple, Deadwood) has relished in the poetic nature of profanity to such masterful effect as Veep. From the outset, this series means to satirize American politics–and it does–but, really, it goes deeper, so what we have here is a show about the corrupting influence of power and the buffoons foolish enough to attempt to wield it. And what’s more, in allowing the charade of politics to continue in the way Veep depicts them, we–the audience–become the butt of the grandest joke of all. Julia Louis-Dreyfus kills it as Selina Meyer, but her staff of knuckleheaded idiots are suitable counterparts, from Matt Walsh’s Mike to Tony Hale’s Gary, from Anna Chlumsky’s Amy to Reid Scott’s Dan. And let’s not forget–how could we?–Sufe Bradshaw’s stoic Sue, Gary Cole’s pandering Kent, Kevin Dunn’s curmudgeonly Ben, and founder of Ryantology himself: Timothy Simon’s Jonah. Excellent cast, excellent writing, biting satire, and Shakespearean bawdiness coalesce to create truly original comedy.
That’s it on my end! Feel free now to decry my limited comprehension of what does and does not qualify as funny. Don’t worry, I won’t cry too much. Until next time, when we dive into the swirling miasma of misery that is drama! Bring some tissues, ‘cuz it’s ’bout to get…dramafied. Had nothing. Sorry.