We're a little afraid of this list. We've been talking a lot about TGIF recently and whether that could happen again, sort of like how historians wonder if a comet will hit Earth sometime in our lifetime and how we might survive it. We're worried there's going to be a "Just The Ten of Us" in here that we don't yet know about.
10 - South Park
2011 was a great year for animation fans. Futurama delivered a strong season of math jokes that made me wish I had paid closer attention in high school,Ugly Americans found hilarious new ways to torture eternal do-gooder Mark Lilly, and newcomer Bob's Burgers introduced me to Louise, who has easily become one of my favorite animated characters of all time. But for me, the mark of great a comedy, whether it's animated or live action, is how the show deals with its more serious moments. It's easy to be funny; it's much harder to find the humor in more desperate times. In its 15thseason, South Park was able to do just that. From Stan's crippling case of cynicism after his 10thbirthday, to Cartman's sacrifice of his beloved Clyde Frog and Polly Prissypants, South Park was able to transcend its typical hyperbolic humor and examine what it means to finally leave your childhood behind.--Andrea Marker
Cards on the table, I didn't really care forBeavis & Butt-headin the 90s back when I was the key demographic: a teenage boy. I was too cool for watching two idiots making fun of videos and blowing up frogs - that's what friends were for -- so I wasn't all that interested when I had to watchB&B 2.0for work, but I couldn't have been more wrong. What I watched was a thing of beauty. The cartoons were no longer Spike & Mike Animation Fest shorts played purely for shock, but hysterical vignettes featuring witty commentary on our society's obsession with pop culture and demand for immediate gratification. With thirteen seasons of King of the Hillunder his belt,Mike Judge, the cartoon's creator, was able to wryly poke fun at phenomena like Twilightand Super Size Me out of the mouths of two idiots. The new incarnation of the show didn't only have the duo of dummies poke fun at music videos, but also MTV's lynchpin reality shows like Jersey Shoreand Teen Mom (which many of us watch to ascertain why, exactly, they're on TV),hoisting MTV by its own petard and making Beavis and Butt-head the two smartest, funniest and most aware characters on the entire network. Oh, and they get hurt... a lot. Heh heh heh. --Martin Moakler
8 - New Girl
It's futile to defend this show anymore. It turns out even small hunks of wood from faraway lands are attracted to Zooey Deschanel and this fact sought to destroy any hipness this show needed to survive. The consensus was that she was too cute for this thing to work. The nation's moms started to think she was positively darling. Then Fox started to see it, too. Fox. This thing was doomed.
Then something happened: New Girlwound up being certifiably, objectively good.
Sure, people with terrible facial hair who exclusively listen chillwave still turned on this thing hard. They need to seep that hatred so they can gel their faux-hawks.
But those people didn't actually watch the show.
Any fears about New Girl were immediately assuaged. Zooey's Jess character wound up being hapless, sure, but not in a '60s sitcom sort of way. She was self-aware and not insufferably happy-go-lucky. I wouldn't even say she was sufferablyhappy-go-lucky. She's just around, and things happen to/in the general area of her that are generally funny.
Let's break this down simply, easily: In the second episode, Jess appears in a doorway particularly haphazardly, wearing generally weird clothing from (presumably) an abandoned power plant. Nick, her roommate, just says this, "Ugh, she looks like Helena Bonham-Carter."
That's not a sitcom joke. That's just a funny thing to say. Hate as you will, but you'll come around in time. "New Girl" is one of the best things we have.--Ben Collins
7 - Happy Endings
A show about six friends in the city is hardly groundbreaking, but Happy Endingshas ascended itself to be the Gen Y successor to the Friends throne, and its characters hilariously reflect the shift in generations.
Just because you leave someone at the altar doesn't mean you have to break up your circle of friends. Just because you're 30 doesn't mean you have to have a career path--or a job. And just because you're gay doesn't mean you can't overindulge on junk food, watch football and talk about your conquests with your best buds who happen to be straight. With banter evocative of early Scrubs and wacky exploits set in their own urban playground, the H.E. gang drinks their way into our hearts each week with their adventures in dating, friendship and prolonging their adolescence as long as they can. --Martin Moakler
6 - The League
It's no secret that "The League" has emerged as a leading contender in the field of cable comedies this season--and the third season was the best yet. After a questionable first season and--let's say it--an inspired second season, the makes of the Shiva Bowl seem to have found their stride with the loose plot improv that has become second nature in this raunchy-yet-endearing FX comedy.
Once known for being another soon-to-be-cancelled comedy with an "It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia" lead-in, "The League" has come to be arguably the best comedy on FX. They are no longer just an ensemble comedy about a group of people in a fantasy football league. It's become a comedy about an outrageous group of eccentric friends, who happen to be in a fantasy football league.
Not only has "The League" come out from under the shadow of "Always Sunny," but they've made a name for themselves all the same. With this year's NFL lockout plaguing the production of early episodes of the third season, "The League" handled the situation deftly, and even addressed said lockout in the first episode of the season. It wound up being the lead-off to the show's strongest season to date.
Where else do bouts with raising children, humility, high school, wives' insecurities, and accidental racism teach valuable lessons for 30-somethings everywhere?
Guest stars Seth Rogen, Jeff Goldblum and Sarah Silverman not only brought star power, but upped the ante on the overriding ridiculousness on the show. Whoever thought of a closing scene involving some inappropriate bathroom shenanigans between Jeff Goldblum and Sarah Silverman deserves a huge pat on the back in my book. (Once that person washes his or her hands.) There's never a dull moment on 'The League.'--Gabe Pasillas
5 - Up All Night
Up All Night is what happens when the '90s teen grows up. The Gen-Xers that partied to the Spin Doctors and wore hoop earrings are moms and dads now. Although NBC's new sitcom is only halfway through its first season, it's already captured the cluelessness and frustrations of becoming thirty-something parents with nostalgic soul and jocular fun, especially zoning into that "new parent" struggle between accepting domestication and desperately maintaining your cool self-identity.
While Up All Night is sometimes a victim of predictable warm and fuzzy moments, Arnett and Applegate have more than enough pluck and humor to make them easy to digest. Applegate's portrayal of the 14-hour-workday mom is refreshing: She's a hip and successful woman who still finds time to attend baby/parenting classes and jam at a Bangles cover band gig with her bestie, Ava (Maya Rudolph). And admittedly, it's weird to see Arnett in possibly the most straight man role he's ever played, but "the lovable doofus dad" fits him well.
In fact, Together they make growing up seem less scary. Sure, "up all night" for them no longer means drinking Zima and throwing up in a friend's bathroom as it did twenty years ago. Evolving into a life of marriage and parenthood has meant a newfound predilection for soft rock, sleeping at 8pm and trading in the hot convertible for a lame, boring (but safer) minivan for baby Amy. But, as Chris and Reagan show us, they can still rock out to the Beastie Boys in a minivan. (And why not? Even the Beastie Boys have kids now.)--Sheila Dichoso
4 - Modern Family
Campy yet sophisticated, garrulous yet meticulously concise, this mockumentary-style ensemble-driven family sitcom effortlessly delivers a week's quota worth of beguiling charm, slapstick situational panache, insightful gender & role-exploring satire, celeb-a-licious cameo stunting, and the all-too-enticing and ironic exploration of the sweepingly hyper-stereotyped classic & modern family structures (both dysfunctional in their own right) amidst the backdrop of a fast-paced and technology over-stimulated world.
This uber-entertaining masterpiece of a sitcom embodies the extremely rare ensemble "chemistry" of Friends, the quick-witted and cutting topical relevance of Frasier, the clever multi-plot-line & thematic interweaving prowess of Arrested Development, and the blithesome, almost unnerving demonstration powerful family love reminiscent of such memorialized family classics as The Cosby Show or The Brady Bunch.
Universally loved by anyone who has ever had the privilege (or misfortune) of being a member of either a shamelessly dysfunctional or beautifully ordinary family, this instant classic has appealed to the hearts, minds, and terrified inner child in all of us. Unabashed in its assertion of heart amidst perpetually complex and highly-integrated displays of structured defectiveness that are ingeniously and rhythmically played out through relatable everyday situations, this multi-dimensional testament to the complexity, ridiculousness and awkward clumsiness of multi-tiered family relations strikes a sentimental chord on just the right frequency.
Modern Family is just as likely to make a mockery of such simple and one-dimensional character eccentricities as Phil's impractical and wacky head-massaging helmet business venture and Cam's tendency to over-exaggerate to the point of lying in order to impress (Punkin Chunkin anyone?), to the more serious and complex character ailments such as Claire's incessant and nagging need to be right all the time, or Manny's numerous insecurities (that stem undoubtedly from being smothered by an exceedingly invasive and over-coddling but bodacious mother) relating to his looks and his place in the world. No unforgiving character flaw, intolerably dysfunctional relationship, or ludicrous pandemonium due to horrendous miscommunication goes unexplored in this ode-to-family-disrepair. This buzz-inducing, highly addictive formula has worked to a T, bringing us three straight seasons of laugh-out-loud, unanimous hilarity and relatable gratification. And let's face it: The American dream is represented in full tow here--doesn't it say somewhere within our founding fathers' declarations (on a dollar bill, or the bill of rights maybe?) that it's every free man's right to pursue life, liberty, and ever-binding matrimony to a busty, loud-mouthed, leopard-wearing, exotic trophy wife with a predilection for grumpy, sardonic wealthy older men?
I think so. I think so.--Brooke Citron
3 - Louie
After reinventing the traditional sitcom format last year, Louie's sophomore season proved to be even funnier and darker than the first, astounding viewers who couldn't believe that he "went there." Finding inspiration in the banality of his day-to-day life, Louis C.K.'s contemplative scenes about being a single father, a standup, and even a New Yorker were delivered in slow burns, but they provided much more satisfying laughs than any previous sitcoms. Season 2's episodes rely upon Furley-esque levels of confusion. It was plenty easy to see ourselves in the exact same scenarios he endured each week.
And in a time when most of us were affected by the wars, Louis not only acknowledged them (not typical of contemporary sitcoms), he actually set an episode of his show on a USO tour of the Middle East. The episode was presented without agenda, and it proved to be both moving and respectful, ultimately proffering that soldiers are our brothers and sisters on the other side of the world in the lands of a people not that different from you or me.
But Louis didn't stop there. What really made this season superlative was his running commentary on the comedy machine in Hollywood by bringing on the most surprising of visitors. Bob Saget showed up in an episode where C.K. explored his disdain of the typical American sitcom and his refusal to sink to their levels. Joan Rivers dropped by to perform an impassioned soliloquy about why comedians are such masochists. And in what was perhaps the "Rumble in the Jungle" of the standup world, Dane Cook turned in a frank portrayal of himself, finally addressing the joke stealing rumors that have plagued the internet (and his career) for years.
Louis C.K. is the envy of showbusiness now.He also writes, directs, and edits his own show. He's been granted final cut of each show. But with other people in the mix to second guess his decisions, we wouldn't have the truths that drive the humor of the show. Other people are crazy. Life isn't pretty. And, frequently, there is no resolution. Just like in real life.--Martin Moakler
I recently heard it theorized that sitcoms take writers about three seasons to really get a good handle on their characters and tone and that they usually become truly great after the first two. Well, in 2011, this theory has found a poster boy: the entire cast of "Parks and Recreation."
Last season saw the excising of one character whose arc seemed to be complete and the addition of two characters that completely enhanced the dynamic of the show--Ben Wyatt (Adam Scott) and Chris Traeger (Rob Lowe). Not only did they allow for more drama and more interesting relationships but these guys respectively represent one of the best straight men on television and one of the most funny and genuinely joyful characters I've ever seen.
And that was just last season.
Writers took all year to fully engrain those characters into the show and develop the way the dynamic has changed, but now the show is really able to dig into the good stuff. In season four, this show has become all about character. We've had three whole seasons to fall in love with Leslie Knope and all of her comrades. In fact, Leslie--with her persistence, caring, and unabashed hope--has become an inspiration all her own. Seeing her have the opportunity to live out her dreams and pursue a candidacy for government office fulfills an arc set up on the show as early as its first episode. But I think what's truly special about this season in particular is seeing those around her realize just how special she is, too.
Ben's gift of a Knope 2012 button and his understanding at every turn of Leslie's goals and their relationship together was a truly emotional moment. And that's followed by the entire "Parks and Recreation" office pledging their support, a perfectly timed moment of sentimentality, which has really become a specialty of the show in the last few years.
Leslie and Ron Swanson's relationship has become the best platonic relationship since Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy, primarily because of the subtle and sparse ways they show admiration for each other. Background characters like Andy Dwyer and April have been carefully developed into lovable aspects of the ensemble as well, and even the least featured of the cast such as Donna and Jerry have had their opportunities to shine. What really makes this show work is not any one joke or comedic style, but the way they've made us care for these people. These are truly admirable characters we can root for and get attached to.
And let's not forget: Ron Swanson is awesome enough to make the show all on his own.--James Goux
1 - Community
I'm sure there's a man in a suit somewhere comparing "Community" to "Arrested Development" right this second, but he's only doing it to explain why this show won't last. He's saying TV viewers don't have the patience for it, that it shouldn't take three seasons to make one Beetlejuice reference, that the whole show is one inside joke stacked on top of another until viewership collapses, like someone trying to play Jenga in a moving car.
Well, I'm here to tell you that this man sucks. I'm here to tell you that this man is probably wearing an awful tie. And I'm here to tell you that this man is wrong.
"Community" is the best thing we've got. Not as TV watchers. As people.
Yep, show creator Dan Harmon's little TV masterpiece that could has a lot of jokes that take a re-watch to fully understand. It is brilliant. But this, if anything, has done nothing but stigmatize the show. All of these smarts have made this show smell funny to most people.
Okay. I should admit something. I was most people.
I'm a late-comer to "Community." I jumped in at the start of Season 3. I stumbled in and everyone was already a little drunk on the show. I thought I'd hate my time here.
But Jeff and Britta and Troy and Abed? They're transcendently charming. Everybody's dynamic. You want to be in there with them, rapping worse than them, helping them ruin their stuff to varying degrees of severity, and you want to generally be around Annie.
It's like "Friends," but you're not going to hate yourself in ten years for feeling this way.
They're intensely diverse, by the way, but you'd never think this or say it out loud. Britta is white. Shirley is black. Pierce is a scumbag. The Dean is a revelation.
They are, in fact, just a bunch of attractive, caffeinated people with no self-censoring abilities, and they're tied together at a well-dressed, classically insecure pole in the middle named Jeff Winger.
Jeff's sheen seems crazy and corporate and unreal. Only when it all falls apart--and he becomes obsessive about foosball--does he ever really seem like us.
Nothing says 2011 like watching that facade of leather jacket-wearing cool fall down around you, only to reemerge a little bit cooler by being completely weird and broken and interesting. "Drive" did that at the movies. The economy's kind of going through that process as we speak.
No one has been doing it better on TV than "Community." And it's the best comedy we've watched in 2011 because of it.
It's the only show that speaks to now.
Oh, and the show goes to weird places and doesn't leave you behind. Harmon's Remedial Chaos Theory episode would only be done on a traditional sitcom--let's say "Mike & Molly"--if Molly's morning batch of brownies was accidentally laced with some of Mike's previous detective work.
Instead of using excuses for trippy episodes, Harmon just goes there. He does it artfully and everybody's in on it. Fans don't run away. It just makes them want to live inside his beard.
Oh, and these fans. We should task "Community" fans with finding a second planet for people to live on, or maybe finding a way to turn Skittles wrappers into fuel for sedans. No one mobilizes faster than these people.
When you get a chance, listen to news stories about the Iowa Caucus. Volunteers are talking about finding ways to bus Des Moines' finest grandfathers in vans to get them to vote for a candidate. They, too, are calling this "mobilizing."
This is like dropping a bowl of Fancy Feast in front of your two cats on Monday, then unleashing a military helicopter full of kitties onto a shore lined with beached tuna on Tuesday. You can call both activities "feeding the cats," but that would be a real disservice to what you did on Tuesday.
Mobilizing, to Community fans, is like ten of those kitty helicopters.
When there were faint rumors of "Community" getting canceled, fans made sure NBC knew the following: You can take "Community" away, but there won't be Twitter anymore. That will no longer be a thing. Even rumors of the show's cancellation stressed out Twitter's servers.
NBC acted quickly. They said they simply left the show off their midseason schedule and it awaits a spring return.
It better. We can't let the guy with the awful tie win again.
It's 2011, anyway. This year practically lived by the motto, "The man in the suit is gonna hear about it." And if there's some sort of rally to keep Alison Brie on my TV, then I'm going to need some directions.--Ben Collins