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The Best TV Shows Of 2011 – Comedy

December 19, 2011

The Year In Review – The Best TV Shows Of 2011 – Comedy

Comedy is an unusual beast because unlike a great drama which builds week to week, with even its weakest episodes progressing the story or deepening the world in some way, often your opinion of a comedy can be undone by a string of bad episodes. Viewers will turn on a fantastic comedy the moment it starts being less than fantastic (see: 30 Rock) but the opposite is true as well, viewers will stay hooked to a once great comedy because they like spending time with it even if it isn’t as good as it once was (see: The Office). The key difference is obviously the more a show leans on its jokes (ie: 30 Rock) the quicker the audience will turn but the more a show leans on the lives of the characters (ie: The Office) the longer audiences will stick around even if it’s no longer worth their while. This list of the ten best comedies of 2011 contains a mixture of both joke-driven comedies and character-driven comedies and one label-defying comedy that appears to be carving out its own unique genre (to save you from guessing, we’re talking about Louie).

Childrens Hospital (Adult Swim)

Childrens Hospital is a joke machine that packs more jokes into its ten minute running time than most shows could in an hour. This series may have started life as an online parody of Grey’s Anatomy-style medical dramas but over its three short seasons it’s grown a world all its own. There is no other television show on the air that would go to the effort of flying two of its cast members to Brazil for a thirty second throwaway gag about the hospital being located in Brazil or do an episode titled ‘Party Down’ that only included that show’s cast members in an after the credit sequence. Childrens Hospital is populated by a talented cast (including a pair of ex-Party Down-ers) who nail the absurdity of the series by playing things over-the-top but relatively straight-faced, and thanks to that cast and the great writers this show may very well have more laughs-per-minute than any show on television.


Outnumbered (BBC One)

While the early seasons of Outnumbered could be dismissed as a sitcom version of Kids Say The Darndest Things because the series allowed its young actors to heavily improvise a lot of their own lines. However, Outnumbered has always had a delightful weird streak and never relies on its child actors to get away with a simple ‘aww how cute’ performance. The kids are starting to grow up and while the weird things they say aren’t coming from the faces of adorable moppets anymore the show itself has stayed consistently funny. After four seasons it does seem to be running out of a steam a little bit (the subplot about Aunt Angela on the run from her ex-husband seemed too plot driven for a show that thrives on tiny slice-of-life moments) but there isn’t a family sitcom quite like Outnumbered on the box, and there certainly isn’t a character quite like the twisted little Karen either.


The Daily Show (Comedy Central)

The Daily Show is at its best when there’s an election on and Indecision 2012 has failed to disappoint. The quest for the Republican nominee for President has provided an embarrassment of riches – Donald Trump, Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman, Rick Perry, Herman Cain, heck Rick Sanatorium jokes could fuel this show for months – but Jon Stewart and Co. are never ones to rest on an easy joke (although they’re also not afraid to go all giddily juvenile over something like Anthony Weiner’s *ahem* weiner). Still, The Daily Show is at its best when there’s a sharp political point behind the comedy (an unusually dark take down of Penn State students upset that the horrible sex scandal might jeopardize their football season was one such highlight). The Daily Show pulls off an amazing feat night after night – it is able to deliver biting and hilarious comedy without breaking a sweat, Jon Stewart and his team really are in a class above the rest.


How I Met Your Mother (CBS)

How I Met Your Mother was lost in the woods for a little while there but Season 7 has seen the show return to form. While it’s doubtful the show will ever truly return to the heady days of Season 2 & 3, it seems to have recaptured the spirit after a couple of shaky seasons. When HIMYM was in trouble it was only because some members of the cast seemed bored and uncommitted to the material (we’re looking at you Jason Segal) but now that everybody appears back on board and giving it their all How I Met Your Mother has its spark back. Even at its weakest it’s always been a delightful sitcom but at its best it’s a very funny and very loveable comedy.


Bob’s Burgers (FOX)

Whenever a new animated comedy appears these days it usually comes in two varieties; either from the Seth McFarlane school of pop culture references and ‘don’t go there!’ antics or from the Adult Swim school of ‘let’s please the stoners by making it weird’ animation. Part of what made FOX’s side-splitting new animated series Bob’s Burgers so great was that it hailed from neither of those worlds. While it may not have been wholly original (it was about a family of five after all) it still provided a breath of fresh air on FOX’s Sunday night line-up which has been growing stale from an oversaturation of McFarlane products and a past-its-prime The Simpsons. The wonderful voice cast and the ever-expanding world in which these characters live made Bob’s Burgers the most exciting new comedy series of the last year.


Louie (FX)

For his self-titled comedy/drama/whatever-it-wants-to-be-this-week series Louie CK takes on the role of writer, director, star, producer, editor, and he’d probably cater the shoot if given the chance, but by taking responsibility for virtually every aspect of Louie he’s created a uniquely personal television series. There is rarely any ongoing story that links episodes; one week may be a half hour lead up to a single fart joke, the next week a homeless man may be decapitated, and the week after the episode might run for an hour and take Louie on USO tour of Afghanistan, but the one thing that stays true each week is that we get a glimpse at another side of Louie CK. Louie is not just a hilariously dark comedy, and it’s not just an emotional drama about a sad-sack single-dad, it is Louis CK in television form; his thoughts, his failings, his pain and his tiny triumphs. If that sounds a little too highbrow I’ll remind you that an episode this season revolved entirely around masturbation; if anything Louie is the highbrow lowbrow show.


Happy Endings (ABC)

Happy Endings went from ‘unimaginative Friends rip-off’ to ‘reliable laugh-factory’ so quickly that it’s hard to remember a time when this show wasn’t all that good and it only debuted in April this year. This series does rely a little too heavily on pop-culture references but they’re so sharp and savvy that it doesn’t ever hurt the show. It helps that the ensemble work great together with Adam Pally and Casey Wilson the obvious standouts, but even Elisha Cuthbert has shown herself to be game to do anything in the name of laughs and that level of enthusiasm is infectious. Happy Endings may not have yet reached the upper echelon of comedy currently on television but it is right there ready to break through as this latest season has seen the series continue to just get better and better.


Cougar Town (ABC)

Despite being off the air for most of the year, and relegated this season to an as yet still unnamed mid-season timeslot, the memories of the glorious times Cougar Town gave us stay strong. It’s still a crying shame the series was benched by ABC who suddenly found they had more successful comedies on their hands than they knew what to do with. As funny as Happy Endings has been sitting in Cougar Town‘s former timeslot Happy Endings‘ ‘group of twentysomething friends hang out drinking and trading barbs’ antics haven’t quite reached the heights of Cougar Town‘s ‘group of thirtysomething friends hang out drinking and trading barbs’ antics. Cougar Town is a wonderfully hilarious comedy series that needs to come back to our TV screens as soon as possible.


Parks & Recreation (NBC)

On a good day Parks & Recreation is the funniest sitcom on television and on a bad day Parks & Recreation is the funniest sitcom on television. There is no comedy on TV that has a more consistent hit-rate than Parks & Rec. Over the last two seasons every time Parks & Recreation has stepped up to the plate it’s produced a wonderful episode of television. With a top-of-their-game comedy ensemble fronted by the always brilliant Amy Poehler this show is one of those rare television series that is an absolute joy to watch. Seriously, any other show would be lucky to have a cast half as talented as Poehler and her co-stars Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt, Adam Scott, Rashida Jones and Rob Lowe. Spending half an hour each week with these actors would be fun even if they weren’t a part of the fully realized world of Pawnee, Indiana.


Community (NBC)

The difference between Parks & Recreation and Community comes down to expectations – to some degree I know what I’m going to get from Parks & Recreation, it will undoubtedly be side-splittingly funny and warm-hearted but there’s no chance that, say, the show will do an elaborate My Dinner With Andre parody. On the other hand I never know what I’m going to get from Community beyond countless opportunities to laugh. Despite being the most inventive and laugh-out-loud funny comedy on television Community remains one of the lowest rated presumably, in part, because of that lack of consistency. What gets lost in amongst all the talk about how they did an episode involving multiple timelines, or a western homage, or a Glee parody, or a clip show featuring clips of episodes that never existed, is that the beating heart of this show is a fantastic ensemble of characters whose relationships ground all of the crazy antics in a reality that stops the show from getting away from itself and devolving into a long string of ‘look what crazy thing we can do’ nonsense (like say, Glee does). Community is the best comedy on television at the moment not because it’s better than Parks & Recreation (this season Parks & Rec has been the far more consistent show) but because it takes more risks and when they pay off it results in some of the funniest television you’ll ever see.

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