Looking for a new TV comedy can take you to some pretty painful places. Sure, not funeral parlor levels of bleakness, but when you’ve spent two weeks sorting through every sitcom ever proposed by Hollywood’s hackiest writers, a funeral parlor might end up being a bit of a spiritual boon. And for those of you who simply fall back on binging the same shows over and over, eventually Leslie Knope and Michael Scott’s charm is going to run out and you’ll just be going through the local government and regional paper sales motions. Eventually you’re going to have to find yourself a new program, so it’s best to go picking something that at least comes recommended. Incidentally, here are some sitcom recommendations.
Our energy for getting people to try Letterkenny would turn a drug pusher green. This is easily one of the quickest, wittiest, and, at times, raunchiest shows on TV and we’re pissed we have to jump through hoops to get it. It’s a Canadian show based on a YouTube series that was originally based on a Twitter feed Jared Keeso anonymously ran with a friend. The show’s ridiculously dense when it comes to the scripting and it’s clear that the people in charge of production know exactly what they’re doing. Regardless of where you grew up, within a few minutes of the first episode, you’ll be able to easily relate all of the characters to people you knew in your own hometown. Every place has some iteration of hick, skid, or hockey player, so while Canadian locals get an extra touch of hometown pride, there’s no one who can’t identify with at least a bit of Letterkenny’s premise. Cravetv
David Mitchell is one of those British actors who looks incredibly familiar but most people can’t place him. If you can’t remember who he is, watch his QI greatest hits. He and his frequent collaborator Robert Webb, of their many projects, had a long running, unique sitcom in Peep Show, a show shot entirely through the point of view of the show’s characters. Coupled with the British propensity for palpably awkward situations and the humor therein, the show ratchets up the cringe to a factor possibly only rivaled by the UK Office. For a show like this, we recommend easing yourself into British humor first, because it can be quite alienating if you pick this as your first sitcom immigration experience. Try some Monty Python’s Flying Circus, The Inbetweeners, or (something we’ll cover right after this) The IT Crowd to acquaint yourself with the style. Amazon | Hulu | Acorn TV
The IT Crowd
We’ve talked about The IT Crowd before, and it could easily be the most popular show on this list, but it doesn’t come up often in our conversations in the real world, so we’re still thinking not many people actually watch it. Which is a huge shame, because it feels like the entertainment industry is always cranking out crappy sitcoms for season after season and the truly good ones only have a few episodes to their name. We’re not sure what the story behind The IT Crowd’s short run is (although the British have always put out dense, short series rather than opting for America’s much longer, fluffier counterparts), but when it comes to a show this well written, we’ll take what we can get. Do your best to get over the laugh track because we’re 99% sure that was included by nervous studio execs who needed nerd jokes pointed out to them. And besides, the track’s not so horrible that it distracts from the excellent and convoluted comedy on screen. Netflix
Our enjoyment of this show comes less from how laugh-out-loud funny it is and more from the uniqueness of the idea. The basic premise is, a Geek Squad type guy working at a Best Buy/Target hybrid is accidentally brainwashed by his old college roommate into becoming a super spy. Most of the early seasons’ entertainment has to do with the irony inherent in making an awkward nerd really good at spy stuff. It does tend to show its age when it comes to the special effects heavy episodes, as this is a television show from before people started spending Hollywood levels of money on single episodes (“Battle of the Bastards,” anyone?), but if you can accept that, you’ll have a fun, engaging show on your hands. Amazon
Better Off Ted
It’s highly possible that Better Off Ted was an on-the-nose response to the 2008 financial crisis. Most of the conflict in the show has to do with the completely unethical business practices of Veridian Dynamics. Also the company’s motto is “Money Before People.” So when the titular Ted grows a conscience, he becomes fairly unique in the company. This is also the only show on the list that regularly breaks the fourth wall, so if that’s the sort of thing you’re into, Ted’s narration should be your bag. The problem is, for whatever reason, only the second season is on Netflix. You can buy the first on any of the larger online markets, but there must be some kind of dispute about streaming rights keeping the pilot season from joining its follow-up. Netflix
At one point in The Great Gatsby, Jordan extolls the privacy of large parties. She says they’re more intimate because, of the thousand or so other people there, no one really cares what you’re doing. Apparently, someone heard that line and thought it’d make a great sitcom. In the case of Party Down we don’t disagree. Catering staff at any event is only acknowledged when it’s convenient for the party guests, so most of the time people completely forget that there are party attendees who didn’t get an invite. But those people don’t just shut down when you’re not talking to them, so Party Down takes that idea and runs with it, giving a bunch of catering staff/aspiring actors the spotlight and exploring their lives at the catering business. It’s surprising how well the idea works, though with a staff that includes Jane Lynch, Adam Scott, and Martin Starr, you’d have to put more work into having the idea fail than succeed. This is one of those shows that would fit on an “ended too soon” list, with only two seasons and twenty episodes total, but it lends itself to rewatching, so you’ll be spending a decent amount of time with it if you decide to pick it up. Starz | Hulu
As much as we love the nearly restrictionless scripting of modern television comedies, evident by Silicon Valley’s quadruple handjob math equation, some of people’s best work comes from having restrictions on what they can and can’t say. We’re not talking only government censorship, even stuff like profanity restrictions, nudity standards, all that stuff means writers didn’t have the shock value crutch modern comedies get to use. Imagine someone trying to write Superbad without being able to curse, drink, or reference bodily functions on screen.
This is a really long way to say Hogan’s Heroes is a great example of the wordplay and witticisms 1960’s television was capable of. It’s in the vein of The Bob Newhart Show, The Carol Burnett Show, and The Dick Van Dyke Show. These are all shows that relied on bouncing dialogue, visual hijinks, and a bit of overacting. These are all shows that hold up much better than anyone ever needed them to, but our favorite has to be Hogan’s Heroes for the way it juggles life in a German POW camp during the Second World War, as well as its relatively friendly depiction of German forces. Sure, the German Sergeant Schultz is bumbling, but you could argue there’s a genuine friendship between the POWs and Schultz. If the man was brought up on charges at the end of the war, he’d have at least five Allied soldiers coming to his aid.
This is easily going to be our longest entry on the list, but we think there’s a lot to be gained from watching (or rewatching, depending on how old you are) the series. It’s like nothing on today and comedians could learn a lot about how to make tight jokes without involving any drug injected genitals. It’ll be difficult to find a streaming service providing access, but the first season is on YouTube and you can get every episode ever made on Amazon, just make sure you can still play physical media.
An HBO comedy is usually a fairly safe bet, as it is the network that brought us Veep, Silicon Valley, Curb Your Enthusiasm, and Flight of the Conchords. Family Tree is another one of those, though it’s one we rarely hear people talking about. We were first drawn to it because of Chris O’Dowd and we’d just come off an IT Crowd kick. It was a natural jump, so we made it and were pleasantly surprised. The show’s shot documentary style, so people are talking directly to camera like The Office. We’re fans of the format when it’s implemented correctly, and we’ve never really disliked anything with Chris O’Dowd in it. The basic plot follows O’Dowd’s character as he attempts to piece together his increasingly dysfunctional ancestry. We don’t recommend binging it, as it’s not that kind of show and you’d be done in an afternoon. Just take your time with it and you’ll find some of the better ancestral humor around. HBO | Amazon
Low production values can be endearing, but only if the show underneath is actually well made. Anyone who thinks B-movies or shows can get by on their inventive use of cardboard alone probably isn’t very good at finding enjoyable entertainment in the first place. Danger 5 recognizes this and uses low production value, clever writing, and a consistent tone to create a highly entertaining surrealist take on World War 2. The Nazis or Japanese Empire are always inventing some kind of super weapon, either in the 1940s or a heavily stylized version of the 1980s. Basically if Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon had Nazis in it. It’s an Australian show, so finding it legally might be something of an issue, since we’ve been clicking around on all legal means we can think and can’t seem to find anything. It was on Netflix up until very recently (as in days ago), but that’s changed, reminding us that, while Netflix can be nice, you get pretty much no say over what happens on it.
For as popular as it was, there should have been a thousand parodies of Grey’s Anatomy, so it’s surprising that Childrens Hospital is really the only one that popped up. Though, it could be that Childrens Hospital was so good people decided to just not try. It’s a revolving door of all your favorite comedians and actors, including Rob Corddry, Ken Marino, Megan Mullally, Henry Winkler, Lake Bell, Keegan Michael Key, Jordan Peele, Nick Offerman, Lizzy Caplan, and Jon Hamm. Most of the jokes are the weird non sequiturs you’d usually find in stuff like Wet Hot American Summer or anything else where the jokes are built on a foundation of cocked eyebrows, so if you’re in the mood for that kind of humor, Childrens Hospital is going to be like mainlining.
We’re always surprised at how certain international shows can only be watched after performing a blood ritual on the third Tuesday of a full moon’s misty night’s morning, while others you trip over walking to your car. So where you currently have to tiptoe around the FBI to watch Letterkenny and Danger 5, you have to actively petition the government to not watch Peep Show and Black Books they’re so available. Also, at this point, we’ve talked so much about how much we like British comedies, do you really need more? It’s British, it’s a comedy, and half your favorite pond-jumping actors are in it. Netflix | Amazon | Hulu