It might seem like we’re stuck in the past over here in NTO Headquarters, throwing around clips of Bewitched and Beverly Hills 90210 and references to My So-Called Life and such but make no mistake- we’re just as obsessed with the new TV shows as we are the classics. That’s why, today, we’re focusing on the Top 5 Best Comedies that are on right now (not literally this second but currently airing new episodes or in production.)
Ok, that’s one of the reasons why I picked this topic. The other reason is that I need a little help here. Last night, for my birthday, a friend and I decided to see a Second City show. Second City, as you may know, is a Chicago institution. It’s a sketch comedy/improv training ground that’s birthed the careers of most of the past and present casts of Saturday Night Live and comedy stars including Martin Short, Jim Belushi, Alan Arkin, Harold Ramis, Gilda Radner and Tina Fey SO I HAD VERY HIGH EXPECTATIONS. What I was NOT expecting was to leave before the third act because I could just not take the awfulness anymore. That skit that Millie puts on about how drinking is not cool in the Freaks & Geeks cafeteria? Better than what I saw last night. And apparently it was just me because the drunk Midwesterners who surrounded me ATE IT UP WITH A SPOON, the skit with the girl singing a song about Chicago club girls (“they’ll give you a blow job for a free drink”. Clever), the skeezy Italian guy trying to sell a Sopranos-esque health insurance policy (complete with gold chain, red sunglasses and shirt wide open- oh yes. Apparently, it’s 1985 again.), the fart jokes, FART JOKES…
I could go on about it but I’m honestly so depressed that THIS is where the best & brightest of our future comedy stars are heading that I just want to talk about something good before my head explodes. (Also the fact that the tickets were TWENTY DOLLARS EACH I WANT MY MONEY BACK). Cough-hack-cough.
Top Five Comedies to Watch Now Before It’s Too Late
5. Better Off Ted (2009 – Present)- Currently on Hiatus- ABC
My favorite new show of the last year, Better Off Ted introduced us to the slightly off-beat world that exists within global corporation Veridian Dynamics. It’s a brilliant setting for a comedy that’s willing to zing off into bizarre directions, since VD (I’m sure that’s not a coincidence) is always working to create the newest must-have product, be it bullet-proof dinnerware or an untested “energy patch” that sends an unwitting colleague into La La Land. Narrator Ted is bland but a good, steady foil for the nuttiness around him, the lab guys are perfect, awkward and brimming with nerd-love for both their work and each other, the perky love interest is made interesting by being just a LITTLE too crazy in an all-too-believable way and, of course, Portia DeRossi as Veronica. She’s kind of like a young, hot Mr. Burns if Mr. Burns ever dumps the power plant and sets up shop in corporate.
4. New Adventures of Old Christine (2006 – Present)- Wednesdays on CBS
Of all the networks, CBS is the channel that has so stringently clung to the old-fashioned sitcom format (Two & A Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, How I Met Your Mother) while other networks drift toward striking comedy gold in newfangled formats like mockumentaries (NBC), high-concept (ABC) and cartoons created by Seth McFarlane (FOX). And while any of the CBS comedies will do in a pinch when you’re looking for a little laugh-track comfort (all except Two & A Half Men which is basically unwatchable), it’s Julia Louis-Dreyfus’ Christine that’s the most underrated. The writing is great, they don’t rely on the cuteness of little Ritchie at all to win scenes, and honestly, even without Julia, the supporting cast (Wanda Sykes, Hamish Linklater, and the guy from S.H.I.E.L.D.) could stand on its own just fine.
But really, you’ve got to watch it for Julia Louis-Dreyfus. Her manic energy, her endless hang-ups and neurosis, the way she absolutely crushes every scene and every line in it. She’s always been a pro but her work here proves that she’s undoubtedly the best sitcom actor at work right now and that you need her in your life. Just watch her flop around in her airplane seat before takeoff, cranky for a glass of red wine (“Ma’am, we haven’t even closed the door yet), all but incapable of getting through the day as a functional adult. Comedy heaven.
3. 30 Rock (2006 – Present)- Thursdays on NBC
It’s been tough for 30 Rock to stay consistent and it’s not all their fault. The first two seasons were so knock-out perfect and yet, despite all the award wins and critical love, the show still flounders in the ratings. So sure, they started relying on heavy-hitters Alec Baldwin, Kenneth the Page and Tracy Morgan, all but staying out of the writer’s room for the last season and tossing in A-List guest stars whenever possible (Jennifer Aniston! Salma Hayek! Steve Martin! Alan Alda! OPRAH!).
Now that the show has nabbed its third-straight Emmy for Best Comedy Series, maybe we can get back to business. Because the best of 30 Rock rests on Liz Lemon’s buckling shoulders as she tries to get her variety show out there every Friday night, despite the legitimately insane talent around her (Tracy & Jenna), the idiots (Kenneth, the writers) who launch milkshakes and fax machines at her and the meddling of her overwhelmingly Alpha Male corporate honcho boss/unlikely best friend Jack Donaghy.
2. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005 – Present)- Thursdays on FX
For a while, I was worried about Sunny. How could a show so perverse, so dark and unwieldy survive after we become so used to it? Will it still be as funny when it fails to shock us (accustomed as we are to not only the gang’s absolutely reprehensible moral code but also Charlie’s inability to read, Dee’s willingness to have sex with anybody, even an ancient Korean man for a microbrew recipe, Dennis’ extreme vanity and Mac’s delusion that he’s a macho tough guy).
If last night’s intervention episode is any indication- YUP. Still BLINDINGLY funny. Danny DeVito’s hacking on the sidewalk as he guzzles wine from a soda can, his hair all standing up, as he gets ready to nail a recent widow is funny in itself but it’s Mac’s reaction that just killed me. That’s why the show works- as AWFUL as they all are (at first, the cast was compared to Seinfeld’s but Jerry & Company would run in the other direction if they ever stumbled into Paddy’s Bar), they’re all deluded enough to believe they’re good guys, thus they get to act horrified by each other, superior to each other. It just works so well and you don’t even have to cringe because they always get their comeuppance and it’s always so so good.
1. The Office (2005 – Present)- Thursdays on NBC
While The Office isn’t really as good as it used to be, it’s still miles ahead of the competition, thanks to its supporting players. Carell, Fisher, Wilson and Krasinski are all fine and good but, for me, the best of the show remains with Phyllis, Kevin, Angela, Oscar, Andy, Kelly, Ryan, Stanley, Meredith and Creed. Without them, the show could get weighed down by Michael Scott’s gaffes, Dwight’s not-so-shocking-anymore one-liners, and Pam and Jim’s adorable smugness. Just think of last season’s fire drill and Angela throwing her cat into the ceiling and try not to laugh. Or the dance party episode as Kelly gets down. ANYTHING Meredith says and the immediate horrified expression on the person next to her. Creed’s serial-killer-like reveals to the camera. Stanley’s fits of rage and his deadpan, sour-faced indifference. Basically anything Andy says and does (thank you, Daily Show, for sending him to us and Carell too).
Adding to all that, The Office remains in spirit as close as it can to the heart of its British forefather, not shying away from truly dark, difficult moments, crushingly sad realities or letting anyone forget that none of these guys (not even impish Jim) is perfect in the least. It’s still the smartest, funniest show on TV right now. Limitless paper in a paperless world.
Best Newcomer: Community (2009)
Best Recently Departed: Samantha Who? (Canceled 2009)