I’ve already discussed an expanded definition of “comedy” and have established what characteristics, in my opinion, a comedy must exhibit to be considered great. Now it is time for me to unveil my proposed nominees for Best TV Comedy on Hulu. So, without further adieu…
- Arrested Development – This is my top, top pick. Everything about this little show is greatness. It’s a travesty that it did so poorly in the ratings, but at least it garnered all the critical praise that it deserved. And we have a movie based on the series to look forward to. Given all the attention this show deserves, it is terrific that the entire series is available to watch on Hulu, plus hundreds of clips of classic Bluth dysfunction. What makes this show perhaps the best comedy to ever grace the small screen? Hmmm… let me count the ways. Insanely funny characters. Ridiculously spot-on actors. Perfectly timed voice-over narration. Wacky serialized storylines. Buster’s hook hand. Gob’s endless attempts at magic tricks gone wrong. George-Michael’s name. George Michael’s awkward infatuation with his cousin. Maebe’s career as a movie producer. Tobias’ wearing of jean shorts under his other clothes. Michael’s level-headedness amidst the madness of his family. I could go on and on. I spent almost as much time rewinding episodes of this show as I did watching it, because I was constantly laughing and would have to go back to see what I had missed. The jokes come fast and furious from the opening narration to the ending faux preview of the next episode. In every way, this show is pure comic genius.
- 30 Rock – Nothing came close to the tone and style of humor of Arrested Development until Tina Fey left Saturday Night Live and started a quirky little show called 30 Rock. 30 Rock displays the same irreverence for anyone and anything, so you never know who the joke will be on from week to week. While Arrested Development revolves around a dysfunctional family, 30 Rock focuses on a similarly dysfunctional cast and crew of a variety show, TGS with Tracy Jordan. It is interested to me that the show was initially marketed as a Tracy Jordan vehicle, because his character is marginal to me at this point. In the first season, there were also differing opinions about whether Jane Krakowski’s character added or detracted from the show. Now in its third season, these problems have been ironed out, and the result has been a consistently clever and funny show. The show’s strengths (and funniest aspects) include the interaction between Jack and Liz, Liz always babysitting the cast and staff, Tracy always coming up with a new scheme with Dot Com and Grizz, and the brilliant roles created for the guest stars. On this show, celebrity guest stars aren’t just a gimmick. They actually work within the context of the show. My favorite is, without a doubt, Will Arnett as Jack’s (Alec Baldwin) professional nemesis. Edie Falco was also perfect as Jack’s liberal Democrat lover (he’s a staunch Republican), and more recently, Jennifer Aniston played the part of Liz and Jenna’s crazy friend in very believable and entertaining fashion. One final attribute that makes 30 Rock one of a kind in the current television landscape: it pokes fun at anyone and anything in politics, entertainment, etc. All the other current sitcoms, that I know of, stay firmly entrenched in their fictional worlds, but 30 Rock draws limitless rich material from our culture, whether it’s Oprah’s Favorite Things or NBC’s “Go Green” week.
- The Office – I have always enjoyed the mockumentary (i.e. Best in Show, A Mighty Wind, Drop Dead Gorgeous), so I was thrilled when the genre made its way into the tv comedy landscape. I actually prefer the American version over the original one. I guess I’ve never been a fan of dry British humor. The Office is a show that thrives on the adventures of its characters: Michael’s quest for a healthy relationship, Angela’s manipulation of fiance Andy in the midst of her continued relationship with Dwight, Jim and Pam’s long distance engagement, etc. Most of us know people like Stanley, Phyllis, Kelly, and the rest. Sure, they are exaggerated versions of stereotypical co-workers, but there is still a lot of truth to be found. In this case, where there is familiarity, there is humor. The show’s format also adds to its entertainment value. We, the viewers, get extra insight into the situations when the characters talk on camera, and we “get it” when one of them raises their eyebrows or sneaks a smile at the camera over something that happens in the office. So while this show isn’t as smart and quick with the jokes as my previous two nominees, there is still an endless supply of laugh-inducing material.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer – Some people may argue that this show isn’t a comedy – that it should be categorized solely as horror/fantasy. I disagree! During the years it aired, I’d argue that Buffy was consistently funnier than most of the half hour comedies most people were turning to for laughs. Joss Whedon is a terrific writer and director, and he kept the witty banter going for seven seasons. Some stand out comedic episodes: “Band Candy,” in which the grown ups reverted to their teenage persona after eating some drug-laced candy bars; the fantastic musical episode “Once More, with Feeling,” which had everyone singing and dancing about things like dry cleaning and parking tickets; and “Tabula Rasa,” in which Willow’s memory spell goes awry, making everyone forget who they are (Buffy thinks her name is Joan, Spike thinks Giles is his dad, Xander and Willow think they are dating, etc.). All three of these episodes are on my list of the Best of Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
- Family Guy – Unlike the other shows on this list, which I’ve seen every episode of and count among my all time favorites, I have only seen a few episodes of this animated comedy. So why is it worthy of this final nomination spot? Quite simply, it is hilarious. Sure, it is unabashedly irreverent, and it features some potentially highly offensive scenes, but the cleverness of its dialog and its pop culture/political/social satire more than make up for it. I recall some brilliant Broadway-style musical numbers in one episode I watched. More recently, I was introduced to the way Stewie says “Cool Whip,” and it proves that something as simple as that can be very funny on this show.