by Matthew Thompson
I wanted to talk about more shows than ten this year, but to give the part of my brain that frets over rankings a rest, I decided to do two separate lists as opposed to trying to position a bunch of shows in a long list of say 20. So this first top ten will focus on what I’m calling “comedies,” but are more specifically half-hour-long programs. And later this week, I will post one for “dramas” or hour-longs. I’m well aware that some on today’s list lean heavily on dramatic storylines at times and the reverse is true of at least one “drama” on my next list, but I think you get the general idea. Now that the explanation is out of the way, on to the list! Here are my ten favorite comedy television series of 2016.
10. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
While this show has been on a bit of a downward trend since its top-notch freshman season, I still enjoy the hell out of it for a number of reasons. It’s Andre Braugher’s best-in-the-business deadpan delivery. It’s Halloween heist bets. It’s the revelation of what Rosa’s apartment looks like and hysterical flashback cutaways. It’s lines from Gina like “Not to brag, but I was name-checked in my kindergarten teacher’s suicide note” and “It’s like a beige of pigs.” It’s Holt exclaiming “Vindication!” or “The full bullpen!” and quick shots of a corgi eating ice cream. It’s all this and more. I still love these characters and seeing what hijinks the officers of Brooklyn’s 99th precinct get into each week.
Bonus Points: For what may be the funniest cold opens on television these days. The hard cuts to the ridiculous intro credit sequence just makes them better.
9. Man Seeking Woman
Man Seeking Woman is perhaps TV’s most bizarre comedy. Despite featuring fantasy elements, the show remains extremely relatable painting a picture of the modern male’s dating life – occasionally shifting to the female perspective – through over-the-top gags that include seeing a man in a romantic relationship with a ’98 Saturn or someone piloting a giant robot… or even, you know, the lead’s girlfriend’s friend being a Japanese Penis Monster. It remains an inconsistent show. The way it so fully commits to its wild ideas is laudable, but it also means it goes all-in on some duds. These low points are worth it for its best moments though. The second season further won me over down the stretch as the two leads go after the same girl. It’s a topic I personally have a strong stance on (don’t date your friends’ exes guys!) which made it all the more hilarious.
Bonus Points: For the conversations it sparks among me and my friends. So many of the situations – as ridiculous as they are portrayed on-screen – spark a story among guys I know where they were on one end of something or the other. It is that relatability I referred to being such a strong aspect of the show.
Atlanta is the brilliant new FX series from Donald Glover who also stars as one half of a pair of cousins trying to make it in the titular city’s rap game. At times it reminds me of FX’s critical darling Louie due to its slice-of-life nature and comic-turned creator/star, but obviously the subject matter is completely different. And Atlanta tackles similar racial issues – such as the n-word and police brutality – as other comedies focused on black people I have watched in recent years like Survivor’s Remorse and Black-ish. But where as those depicted well-off families, Atlanta’s characters and setting are of a lower economical class giving it a decidedly different viewpoint on many of these topics. Point being, despite some available comparisons, Atlanta feels like a show all its own, even more so when factoring in its unique cinematography and surrealistic moments. Oh and it’s really funny if that wasn’t clear. One of the must-watch new shows of 2016.
Bonus Points: For two moments that just made me die laughing from the episode “The Club.” One is the slippery promoter disappearing into a rotating wall panel and the other is the last moment revelation that the invisible car teased earlier in the episode does in fact exist in Atlanta’s world.
7. The Grinder
The Grinder, a half-hour comedy on FOX, followed Dean Sanderson who, after years of playing a TV lawyer on the hit legal drama The Grinder (also the name of the show within the show), returns home to try to help out with his family’s law practice. It was a show filled with humorous moments of many types. Rob Lowe’s delivery as Dean is pitch-perfect. Fred Savage plays his real lawyer brother and nails the job of the straight man, often the only one who can see through his brother’s BS. One of my favorite aspects of The Grinder was how each episode would open with a clip from the show within the show and use this as a jumping off point to skewer both law shows and comedies in equal measure. It was startlingly clever in this way. I would have loved for The Grinder to have more time to grow, but at least the season we got was a great one.
Bonus Points: For Timothy Olyphant’s amazing guest spot. He plays himself who stars in The Grinder: New Orleans – a spinoff of Dean’s series – to uproarious results.
6. Life in Pieces
While all the shows on this list are funny, most happen to deal with more serious issues at times whether that be through realistic depictions or smart satire. Life in Pieces doesn’t really do that sort of thing, but I love it all the same. This is just a humorous, family comedy and a great way to spend a half-hour each week. That doesn’t mean it does nothing to stand out. While other series will hit four different plotlines in a week, Life in Pieces short story format allows it do some different things with this otherwise well-worn formula. And I think it deserves credit for making me like each part of its large ensemble cast. While I may like certain characters more than others, I don’t dread any popping up like I do in some other series. Life in Pieces isn’t a particularly important show like some others in this post, but I just enjoy the hell out of it.
Bonus Points: For having the funniest child actress on TV since Ursula Parker in Louie. Giselle Eisenberg who plays Sophia, the youngest daughter of Betsy Brandt and Dan Bakkedahl’s characters, just cracks me up.
5. Search Party
If I were trying to sell this show to someone, I’d describe it as Broad City meets Veronica Mars in the form of a dark comedy. Are you with me yet? Search Party follows Dory, played wonderfully by Arrested Development’s Alia Shawkat, who throws herself headlong into the search for a missing girl as she tries to find meaning in her own life. The way it mixes genres is impressive, switching between biting satire, noir elements and laugh-out-loud comedy at a moment’s notice. I found myself absolutely hooked on the ongoing mystery at the show’s center – I binged the whole season in two days – and the way it all wraps up feels so perfectly in-line with the rest of the show, I couldn’t help but love it. Much like USA’s Mr. Robot last year, I wasn’t expecting to find one of the year’s best shows on TBS, but Search Party was a pleasant surprise to say the least.
Bonus Points: For using Purity Ring’s “Obedear” as the theme song. Not only do I love the song, but I feel it fits the vibe of the show really well.
4. You’re the Worst
Despite not being as fresh as its first season or as relatable to me as its second, I still found myself glued to You’re the Worst’s modern take on the rom-com week in and week out in Season 3. Perhaps it is because I am so invested in Jimmy and Gretchen’s relationship. Or maybe it is because I just love YtW’s brand of mean-spirited, caustic humor. It didn’t hurt that this was the series’ boldest season yet, unafraid to toy with its structure (having two episodes cover the same time period), direction (Episode 11’s long-takes reminiscent of The X-Files “Triangle”), or diverging the focus from the core couple to side characters (like in the Paul and Vernon outing). On top of all that, it didn’t shy away from tackling tough subject matter either like this year’s PTSD-slanted ep “Twenty-Two” buoyed by Desmin Borges’ stellar performance. The possibly last Sunday Funday was super fun too.
Bonus Points: For the attention to detail and numerous callbacks featured in the show. I love stuff like seeing the DVD rental kiosk at Jimmy’s place, the recurring character that the gang is always getting to quit his job, or even just more references to NCIS: LA or Gretchen’s rare leg washings.
3. Silicon Valley
Last year I stated that I just wanted to say that Silicon Valley was on the list because it is so damn funny and leave it at that. That is certainly why the HBO comedy that focuses on a small startup in the tech valley finds itself on my list this year. While I could once again make note of the intelligent writing and brilliant comic performances that drive the show, I think this year I will just recount a few of the countless gags that had me laughing during Silicon Valley’s third season. There was the sales team, including Jan the Man and Doug (who is shadowing Keith), constantly repeating their names. There was the subtle callback of Monica re-donning her bad news sweater. There was the flurry of insults hurled Dinesh’s way over his chain. And then there was everything involving the Pied Piper varsity jacket. My favorite bit though is when we learned that Russ Hanneman was right about Jared when he said, “This guy fucks.” A perfectly executed punchline a year in the making. Silicon Valley… just so damn funny.
Bonus Points: For ending on a fairly positive note for the show after I had become so accustomed to the gang constantly getting fed shit sandwiches over the years.
2. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt continues to remind me of the creators’ previous show, 30 Rock, in all the best ways. It’s the manner in which it hurls jokes at viewers in that similar blink-and-you’ll-miss-it fashion that had me rewinding when one tried to fly past me. It’s the wacky characters and clever sense of humor. It’s even those familiar musical flourishes that pepper scene transitions. Ellie Kemper is once again giving one of TV’s strongest lead performances in the titular role. Her bubbly attitude in spite of her past remains as delightful and humorous as ever as she adjusts to life after years of being held captive. The series also wasn’t afraid to dive deeper into that dark premise with Kimmy seeking therapy with creator Tina Fey playing opposite her in these sessions – in a much better role than her guest spot in the first season in my opinion. While much of this is played for humor, there were definitely some poignant moments to go along with the all the laughs. It all made for a stellar sophomore outing for the Netflix comedy.
Bonus Points: For the Bunny and Kitty song of course!
1. The Good Place
While the heart and humor present in The Good Place is reminiscent of some of Michael Schur’s previous work like Parks and Rec, it just as often reminds me of serialized genre shows like Lost. Despite the comedy-slant and half-hour format, it is not afraid to embrace long-form storytelling or even end each weekly installment with a cliffhanger ending. Along with this unique structure for a network comedy, the series’ fantasy setting helps it stand out. The premise finds a woman mistakenly placed into the heaven-esque “good place” which allows the show to do some things just not available in more grounded series. Of course, one can’t talk about The Good Place without touching on the wonderful cast. Kristen Bell and Ted Danson are, as expected, turning in great performances, but the lesser-known cast including William Jackson Harper and D’Arcy Carden are equally game, not to mention a perfect guest turn from Adam Scott as a hilariously douchey envoy from the bad place. Throw in the series’ penchant for posing interesting questions of morality and the way it got better and better as the season rolled on and you end up with not just the best new show of the year, but one of the best series on television in 2016 period.
Bonus Points: For the surprisingly fast pace at which the show moved so far. One reveal happened halfway through that I expected to pop up at the end of the season at the earliest and the show is absolutely better for it. Oh and Kristen Bell. Have I mentioned before how great Kristen Bell is?
A few more things:
- Ranking Debate #1: I honestly could have put any of the top four at number 1 and felt good about it. I ended up putting You’re the Worst at the bottom of that group as it had the most obvious flaws, in particular a couple of storylines I didn’t enjoy. I almost switched Kimmy to number one as I wrote the descriptions as I do feel it is still the funniest show on TV. Ultimately, I stuck with The Good Place. It may be benefiting from that new show smell, but I really feel like any of them would be a good pick.
- Ranking Debate #2: For the tenth spot, I went back and forth between Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Veep. I think Veep was a bit more consistent, but I guess I just fell back on my general enjoyment of B99. Veep had another great season though. I was worried there might be a more significant dropoff with creator/showrunner Armando Iannucci leaving, but they held things pretty steady. I also wanted to include it just to mention the running joke about Sue’s age in the Bonus Points.
- A couple other half-hour series I liked this year: the second season of Hulu’s Casual and the third season of Survivor’s Remorse. I can’t quite explain why I like Casual so much, but I do. Survivor’s Remorse seemed poised for a letdown season with Mike Epps leaving the show and while his presence was missed, I thought it was still close to its very good first two seasons. I liked Season 2 of Amazon’s Catastrophe too, but Wikipedia tells me that aired in 2015! I only just got into the series this past year though, so had things confused.
That will do it for my look back at the best TV comedies of 2016. What were your favorites? Which did I overlook? Let me know in the comments below. I will be back with my post about dramas/hour-long programs later this week. Thanks for reading!