In no particular order, as always because I need the cop-out to avoid throwing myself off a bridge trying to nitpick greatness. It was a FUNNY, FUNNY year on TV. This year over 500 scripted series (across all categories) hit the small screen in some form or fashion. Admittedly, I haven’t watched them all, so I’m limited by what I’ve seen, as are we all. But…I think you’ll be satisfied, except for that one show I didn’t mention that makes you hate me and wish death upon me. Fun times.
OUTKICK’S TOP TEN TELEVISION COMEDIES OF 2016
It’s impossible to pick between Atlanta and Veep for the best comedy of the year, but the truth of the matter is… Atlanta probably wins. In fact, it’s in any top ten OVERALL list, irrespective of category, Of course, so is Veep. Donald Glover’s last few years have been fascinating to watch. Childish Gambino’s new record finally won over the critics, even though the rap side gave away to an exploratory funk vibe, and he’s been cast as the young Lando Calrissian for the Han Solo standalone film. Even with all of that, Atlanta is his top achievement. FX holds an embarrassment of riches, and the decision makers behind the scenes have rarely been wrong. Outside of Glover, Brian Tyree Henry’s Paper Boi, Zazie Beetz’s Vanessa, and especially Keith Stanfield’s Darius were all just outstanding.
It was the most original show of the year, and may be the most original in MANY years. Unafraid to experiment in ways virtually no comedy even approaches, and successful by every metric, Atlanta was arguably THE must-see show of 2016.
The departure of Armando Iannucci brought questions as to what Veep might look like in his absence, but from the fifth season’s first moment, David Mandel seamlessly stepped into the big chair and crushed it. This was the best season of one of the best comedies of ALL TIME. I get tired of writing about casts, because without fail, none of the shows that make this list have a dearth of acting talent. Veep is, however, by far the finest ensemble to hit a comedy series in seemingly ages.
The backdrop of the razor-sharp election results and Selina’s reaction to her mother’s death, plus Tom James’ wheeling and dealing, Jonah Ryan’s campaign, and Catherine Meyer’s lesbian transition were all unbelievably good. Those are just a few of many plot points that almost all worked hugely well. Five seasons in and Veep has never been better, which is why it’s starting to move up those historic lists. So many comedies fall off a cliff by this point, and Selina Meyer is in peak form.
Veep is Tom Brady at this point. Atlanta is this season’s Matt Ryan (fittingly), or maybe Dak Prescott. I reviewed all episodes this season in dual articles with Silicon Valley, so check those out if you haven’t already.
FRESH OFF THE BOAT
I can’t tell you how much enjoyment I get from this show. I have seen every episode multiple times, and I continue to go back to it when I need a laugh. It’s gotten better every year, and is firing on all cylinders in its third season on ABC. The kids don’t have the annoying sitcom tendencies and the adults on the show are phenomenal. The Huang family and those in their lives provide me with some of the best entertainment on TV, and the writing is top notch. It’s also a subtle nostalgia trip to the 1990s, with references to Janet Jackson’s Rhythm Nation, Boyz II Men, DuckTales, and all sorts of other fun stuff.
Smart, very rarely agenda-driven, and utterly hilarious. Randall Park and Constance Wu might be my favorite mom and dad on TV. Just a tremendous show.
THE UNBREAKABLE KIMMY SCHMIDT
Ellie Kemper is THE most likable, impossibly friendly human being on television…maybe not named Ellen DeGeneres. Kimmy Schmidt came damn close to making the Top Five last year, so there was no way an excellent, if sometimes too crazy Season 2 wasn’t making the list. It’s a show without boundaries as it relates to seeing a story and thinking it’s off the grid and not tenable. The core four, with Kemper, the unbelievable Tituss Burgess, Jane Krakowski, and Carol Kane, are all it takes, because they’re amazing. But, with creator Tina Fey obviously on board, you got her this time around. You also grabbed Lisa Kudrow and David Cross, among a BOATLOAD of others for the second year of the show.
Netflix encourages the binge from day one, and this is definitely a show where I’ve found a way to knock out a season in one sitting. Kimmy is funny, it’s charming, it’s risky at times, and it can be an acquired taste for more mainstream sitcom audiences. But, most of today’s viewers have evolved along with television comedy, and understand how this material plays. Kimmy Schmidt is a dream to watch. Season 3 drops in March, and I can’t wait.
If this show was nothing but Andre Braugher playing a deadpan police chief, it would still be on this list. That’s how awesome the Raymond Holt character is. That’s how awesome Braugher is, and people have noticed. He has three straight Emmy nominations for the performance. He’s just one of the pieces that makes Brooklyn consistently funny, and the series is amidst its best streak yet. The pre-credit cold opens alone have been worth the price of admission. The core cast all serve their respective purpose, and there’s not a weak link to be found anywhere.
Dan Goor and Michael Schur took a concept that, when first announced, did absolutely nothing for me, and turned it into one of my favorite half hours of the week. It’s funny, it’s clever, the sight gags work, it moves quickly, and best of all, Brooklyn Nine-Nine knows what it is. It doesn’t reinvent the wheel. Very rarely does the show lay an egg, and this season, the henhouse has been completely empty.
It’s All in the Family for this generation. Jerrod Carmichael was supposed to interview Norman Lear at ATX Festival in June, but had to pull out at the last minute. That was a shame, even though Katey Sagal was a perfect replacement. The reason why is because Carmichael’s series has so much in common with the themes Lear has pushed for his entire career. As a conservative, I assumed Carmichael Show would be a difficult watch, but brilliantly, Jerrod and his extremely talented co-stars put forth multiple angles to every difficult issue in the book, from pornography addiction to gender to Trump.
Regardless of your politics, there’s SOMEBODY on the show that will piss you off, but there’s also somebody you’ll relate to in some way. I, like most, found myself in the middle, but Carmichael Show feels like a stage play every week. The budget is small, NBC doesn’t push it (but thankfully renewed it), but it’s one of the smartest shows on TV.
The third season started strong, was irritating in the middle stages, and ended well. It’s still a very funny show, but the structure risked becoming tiresome. There are only so many ways to script awkward people falling on their faces after finding brief success, then doing the same thing over and over again. The jokes are as witty as ever, and the cast from top to bottom are all better today than they were when the series started. It was just very…yeah, this is Silicon Valley…we get it, about this season. It’s still great, but Veep took the crown for best HBO comedy, which Silicon held last year. Season 4 is an important one, as we need to see some variation, or it’s always going to take a back seat to its older sister, Selina.
Pamela Adlon’s Thursday FX comedy may have been the one you overlooked, but it’s time to fix that problem. With Louis C.K.’s backing and creative assistance, Better Things was expertly written and Adlon’s performance was incredible. It’s the maternal answer to Louie, but its most important asset is Adlon’s character, nor her daughters on the show, being portrayed in expected or traditional ways. Mixing Hollywood, teen angst, divorce, womanhood, and sarcasm, Better Things didn’t have the hype train of Atlanta, but was yet another perfect choice from a network that seems to get everything right…except The Bastard Executioner…and Tyrant.
A critical darling, but with good reason, Black-ish usually strikes the right chords. I’m far less of a fan of the serious episodes than many, if only because I really want that show to make me laugh, rather than preach to me. However, the presented perspective is one that isn’t always heard, and there’s often more balance to the proceedings than you might think. Here, just as with Fresh Off the Boat, the kids are actually a benefit, rather than a blemish. Obviously Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross are the anchors, but Deon Cole has become almost as indispensable as Jenifer Lewis, Peter Mackenzie, and Lawrence Fishburne. I didn’t love the addition of Johan this season, although Daveed Diggs has grown on me.
PEOPLE OF EARTH
What’s up TBS? Maybe 2016’s most pleasant surprise came courtesy of Ted Turner’s first technological child, which proved it’s more than a haven for syndicated sitcoms and whatever juice Conan O’Brien has left. In addition to Samantha Bee, whose Full Frontal became THE most hyped liberal “faction” show on television, the TBS original series boom has been far better than anyone expected. Wrecked had its moments, Angie Tribeca filled that Zucker-Proft spoof niche, Search Party was great and will be discussed in just a moment, and then there’s David Jenkins’ People of Earth. The aforementioned Conan O’Brien’s CONACO production company is also behind the show.
The premise seemed wacky enough to work, as a support group for people who believe they’ve had a close encounter is an idea that writes itself. Wyatt Cenac has found the right vehicle to wave to those who were unfamiliar with his career. Ana Gasteyer is a national treasure, and has been since her early days on SNL. The rest of the cast is both quirky, but capable of playing serious. People of Earth is a much better SHOW than it is a COMEDY, but it’s very intriguing and the depth of the story continues to impress me. It keeps unfolding into vastly more than appears on the surface. Perhaps the funniest character in the show is Jeff the Grey, a sarcastic, rage-challenged alien who is often absolutely hilarious. In the wrong hands, it’s a throwaway show, but it’s in the right hands. Thus, it’s a top ten Outkick comedy.
The next five good shows
THE GOOD PLACE
Michael Schur makes the list twice, with Brooklyn Nine-Nine and here with his afterlife series on NBC. Originally, the multitude of trailers for the show did little to excite me, but Schur’s name, plus television savant Ted Danson and the always entertaining Kristen Bell were enough to put it on my radar. It’s unique and ballsy, plus it’s done the rarest thing of all. It’s biggest hook is that Bell’s character is in “The Good Place” by mistake, as she was awful during her life and should have gone to…the other place.
That’s a secret a lot of shows hold onto until the series finale, with a few people finding out along the way. But here, she admitted it prior to the midseason break. That one choice immediately made me care, because it showed Schur had grand plans for his show that didn’t involve craftily avoiding the most obvious storyline.
If you bailed early, you missed out. Although I enjoyed it from the get-go, it got better with age. By the end of the season, FX had yes ANOTHER top-flight property. Zach Galifianakis can be an absolute genius, and he and Jonathan Krisel created one hell of a show. Louie Anderson won an Emmy for his insanely beautiful portrayal of Christine, Martha Kelly was one of the more entertaining creatures anywhere in media, and Zach was Zach. It wasn’t always the easiest watch, and calling it a comedy in its most difficult moments was a chore, but I’ve always been a fan of deadpan comedy. The back half of the season was just excellent stuff, and it deserves mention in a year full of new ideas.
Issa Rae’s debut on HBO came alongside Divorce, which featured bigger names and more early interest. But, Divorce simply wasn’t very good, while Insecure does what Girls never could for me…made me like its cast, especially its lead. Issa is funny and nuanced, and Yvonne Orji is a perfect best friend with both benefits and problems. Rae and Larry Wilmore created the show together, and in its first eight episodes, there’s a lot of like. I understand I’m not the target audience, but I’m also not treated like the enemy every time I turn it on. That’s a skill, because it would be very easy to turn this show into what I’m sure some anticipated. It hasn’t been that. It’s been entertaining.
ABC’s least interesting Wednesday comedy at this point is Modern Family, which is so long in the tooth it’s ridiculous. That formula will never change, all the kids are no longer kids, and we’ve taken the concept about as far as we can. Enter Speechless, which takes cerebral palsy and plants it in a comedy show where it’s very rarely about sympathy or feeling sorry for JJ DiMeo. Minnie Driver is better than she’s been in quite some time, and John Ross Bowie has been stellar as the sarcastic, but loving husband and father.
This is a family with issues and snark and arrogance, and for some reason a cleanliness problem, but it’s a very well put together half hour. Cedric Yarbrough, as always, rules. Dating back to Reno 911, this dude flat out gets it done. With The Goldbergs being very inconsistent this season, Modern Family’s continued fall, and a “settled in” Blackish, Speechless might be the one I look forward to most on hump day.
A black comedy to be sure, as it’s concerned with finding a missing girl, but it still generally fits the category and I wanted to mention it at some point in this pair of year-end pieces. Alia Shawkat and her three selfish friends on a quest to find what happened to a casual friend they knew from college. There’s a very palpable hipster vibe underneath the series, which sometimes works and sometimes doesn’t, but over the ten episode season, which seems to be in almost constant marathon mode as TBS ends 2016, the story is engrossing, the humor dark but readily available, and the acting solid. Shawkat seems made for this kind of tweener role, where she can be funny or absurd, but also can flip a switch and be mysterious or brooding.
IF THERE WERE A NUMBER 16 IT WOULD BE… CASUAL (Which I really like a lot)… OR LOVE (Netflix – check it out)… OR SUPERSTORE
Oh, and Season 2 of Catastrophe was really a 2015 show…but it’s top ten material without a doubt. Hilarious. So well done. Find it on Amazon Prime.
And there you have it, a look at comedy in 2016. Man Seeking Woman (another solid effort on FXX) and Baskets are set to kick off 2017 very soon for FX, and the networks will lead the way with the back half of its calendar in less than ten days. The Mick has already premiered, and it’s decent. Kaitlin Olson is terrific.
We’re seeing the end of the line for some veteran shows. The Big Bang Theory has run its course (for some it never even started jogging to begin with), Modern Family is nowhere near what it once was, New Girl has focused on Jess far too much, and then we’ve seen a show like The Grinder, which I quite enjoyed, not get a second season. We’re seeing comedy emerging on most every network, and even though I’m still in mourning that Andy Daly isn’t doing much more Review, there’s a lot to like out there in TV land.
This coming year on Outkick will be a lot of fun. I’m going to be covering Homeland, Legion, The Americans, 24, Fargo, House of Cards, The Leftovers, and several others regularly, plus previews on a lot of the upcoming shows. I’ll be headed to Austin to cover ATX in depth in June, and hopefully some other big events as well.
I’m currently buried in screeners in advance of TCA, so I’ll soon be overflowing with opinions on things you may (or may not) want to place on your calendars. So if you’ll excuse me, I’ve got to go watch The Mick, The Young Pope, and…
AND AGAIN, I’ll shut up now. Let me know where I got it wrong, curse at me, threaten my livelihood, call me a hack, whatever… but follow me @JMartOutkick first…don’t hit me with a drive-by without at least signing my guest book.