December 14, 2010

TV: Top 10 Comedies

F/X has really impressed me with their comedy programming. In the 90s, there was of course the indie film movement, and now that DIY, low budget mentality has reached television production, with It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia as the forefather, an F/X show. Interestingly enough, IFC, whose schedule had been saddled with a whole bunch of uninspired cliched spawns of the 90's indie film movement, is coming out with a whole bunch of indie half hour comedies like Portlandia. This underground TV trend is just starting, but in my opinion, I think the history of indie TV will prove to be far more interesting than that of indie films.

While audiences were leaving network programming in the dust to flock over to these basic cable channels, NBC notoriously made a whole lot of bad investments in stale formats, notably inciting a generational war by ousting Conan O'Brien, and manging to motivate apathetic slacker youngster to actually organize and rally in the form of Team Coco. O'Brien himself kicked network to the curb, and seeked a home in basic cable land at TBS instead of Fox as was expected. But strangely enough, NBC's own Thursday night line up (excluding Outsourced) is a testament to how network channels are still capable of progressive greatness in spite of stricter censorship and advertising expectations. Must See TV Thursday night line up used to consist of things like Seinfeld, Frasier, Mad About You, Just Shoot Me: not all of them are bad shows, certainly not Seinfeld of course. But to witness the current Thursday line up is a testament to just how far TV has come along since a decade ago.

Before we move onto the list, I want to mention Modern Family, this year's Emmy winner for best comedy. I think it's a good thing that this show exists and that people enjoy it; it's family friendly and has decent writing and acting. But it's not the best show out there, not by far, and while I happily watch a whole lot of "bad" TV, this one I personally don't find it interesting or entertaining enough. But that's the thing with these lists, TV tastes are very personal and subjective, and just because I don't like a show, doesn't mean other people shouldn't enjoy them as long they are made with a certain amount of integrity and skills.

Ok, finally here are my top 10!

10. Bored to Death
- While HBO's other comedy, Eastbound Down has been garnering most of the attention, this show has been consistently great and unique in its own way. Perhaps I'm being a self centered Brooklynite, but I really get a kick out of this show's use of New York locations. I mean, they had a whole episode centered around Flushing's very own Spa Castle! The show is also a very charming apologia for all the men who are a bit too in touch with their feminine side/ inner child. Living in a city seemingly filled with these kinds of men, it's nice to see them make a convincing case for why I should continue to love to hate them.

9. 30 Rock - Has this season been not as good as the past years? Sure. Are there a lot of time wasting celeb cameos? Sure. Has this show been overpraised, am I making my point by asking a bunch of questions and is that annoying? Yes, yes and yes. Still I can't help but love this show, and the thing that keeps drawing me back is Liz Lemon, so perpetually imperfect, and thus so lovable and relatable.

8. How I Met Your Mother - This is yet another show I feel the need to apologize a bit for including, but consider this: a decade ago, the equivalent to this show was Friends. When people wanted to reference a TV show to talk about what it's like being in your late 20s and living in New York, their only option was Friends. I mean seriously how depressing is that?!?!?!? As boring as I find characters like Ted and Robin, this show still brings it every week with sharp insights and a sense of whimsy that every self respecting yuppie can relate to. I love that I can constantly reference this show to pretty much anyone my age when discussing all the important things in life like relationships and career. Sharing in the appreciation of a TV show and its characters with a whole community is such a rewarding experience, and this show is certainly deserving of that collective appreciation.

7. The League / Archer - I confess to not keeping up with the latest season of It's Always Sunny in Philadelaphia. So if it has been especially brilliant this year, I apologize for not including it on my list, but I did get a bit bored with it last season. It's still a great show, but this year I found myself more drawn to the new fruits offered up by F/X. The League is produced by an interesting marriage of underground stand up comics (Nick Kroll, Paul Scheer) and mumblecore indie filmmaker Mark Duplass, and it's a good example of the low budget indie TV that I was talking about. It's a fun, light handed look at how highly successful adults with real responsibilities like marriage and kids manage to hold on to fleeting moments of childish pride through fantasy football. Archer is a seemingly conventional old fashioned cartoon about a spy agency. It's got the formidable voice talents of H. Jon Benjamin as the title character (IMDB him, seriuosly, he's voiced all the best Adult Swim characters), and the incredible Jessica Walter, the mother from Arrested Development, playing to her strengths as another manipulative mother. I'm not sure how to describe what makes this show so damn funny, but it's just so dark and demented and raunchy and silly, and I find myself really excited about new episodes coming in January. It's the same creators of Frisky Dingo and Sealab 2021, which are shows I didn't necessarily keep up with, but it's a mention that will trigger an "aha" moment for some of you geeks out there I'm sure.

6. Party Down - I'm not happy this show's been canceled, but I'm happy to have Adam Scott on Parks & Recreation, AND they managed to wrap things up in a really satisfying way (unlike Veronica Mars, make a movie damn it!). I'm always and forever a Rob Thomas fan girl, and I'm looking forward to any prematurely canceled and overlooked series that he creates in the future.

5. Community
- NY Magazine deemed this show the best of the year, and I can see their point. There's nothing more fun than deconstructing genres when it's done well, and Community certainly does it brilliantly, and it keeps getting better and better. There's definitely been quite a few episodes that really blew me away, like the Halloween zombie movie episode and the conspiracy theory episode. One major complaint I have with this show is that the dialogue can be a bit expository and wooden sometimes, and sometimes the acting isn't quite up to par especially when it comes to Abed, and Abed's acting might be the most problematic perhaps because he is the one riddled with a bulk of the expository stuff. I'm particularly happy that they've expanded Ken Jeong's role- he is my brother from another Korean mother, and I'm so damn proud of him! (BTW has anyone noticed how many Koreans are on TV this season, between Hawaii Five-O, Glee and there's even a 2010 version of Data in The Walking Dead and he's Korean too omg!!!)

4. The Office- This show's not without major flaws, and frankly I'm surprised that in its 7th season, it keeps improving and amazing me with each episode with such keen insights into our culture in and out of the work place. The Glee episode in particular was such a sharp and hillarious take on how we discourse about pop culture, and how difficult and rare it's become to sit down and watch something together without it being a totally disruptive and irritating experience. I have a very bad opinion of the original UK version, and every time I express that opinion, it causes people to hyperventilate in vehement opposition. But I will say it time and time again- the original UK version was a mediocre and sophomoric series with a semi interesting but hardly original premise. I mean, for realzzz? People find the fake documentary format that impressive?? Even back then that was not that new nor novel of an idea, and they don't even do it that well. There's no argument in my mind, just how much superior the US version is- just on the attention to details alone, the UK version fails miserably. In fact the most faulty aspects of the US version is due to being too faithful to the original, such as when Michael Scott's character goes too over the top for no good reason. Speaking of, I love Steve Carrell just as much as the next person, and there's been a lot of speculation as to the quality of the show once he leaves, but I think the show will benefit from dusting off that last remaining residue of the UK version's influence, and I look forward to tuning in next season.

Kenny Powers says "Thou shall not fuck with my branding!"

3. Eastbound & Down - This one is a particular fave during Roommate TV Nights at our house. We can't get enough of the infectiously unique rhythm of the dialogue (filled with the most creative use of curse words since Deadwood, that's right cocksuckers). We can't get enough of Kenny Powers wreaking havoc everywhere, and the setting of Mexico on Season 2 was a perfectly hellish backdrop to Kenny's self imposed exile. This show is filthy, deranged, and utterly chaotic, but it all works because the writing is so precise and the directing is so sure handed. I've seen some really beautiful hand held camera work on this show, and casting and sets are pitch perfect. But most of all the brilliant acting pulls it altogether and make the ridiculously outsized premises work- it goes without saying that Danny McBride really lives and breathes this iconoclastic character, and there's been moments from Will Ferell and Don Johnson that made my jaw drop at their brilliance. To see all the elements come together on this show is like watching a tightrope walker managing that oh so delicate balance. It's the level of artistry and finesse that a show like Scrubs never understood.

2. Louie - This one broke every expectation I had, and it turned out to be the most ground breaking half hour comedy in recent TV history. This really blows a giant hole through the conventions of the stand up comedian centered sitcom. Every episode is an uncompromisingly auteurist glimpse into C.K.'s psyche, and it's so extraordinary to tune in expecting something Seinfeldian, to instead find a totally surrealist narrative reminiscent of European flicks from the 60's. In fact if I was to name the closest spiritual kin to Louis C.K. based on this show, it would be his Spanish namesake, Luis Buñuel. Like many of Buñuel's work, this show is utterly saturated with sexual and existential angst, and there's a particularly harrowing episode about children and religion that I found hard to watch all by myself, eek! Each episode is one of a kind, as they really don't follow any kind of format or structure, and the show is not married to any genre- you never know what to expect. From a financing/business standpoint, the continued existence of this show is truly unprecedented. As soon as I watched the first two episodes, I predicted that it would shortly be canceled, but to my greatest surprise it was soon renewed for a second season! This is truly unheard of that a show runner, an actor/comedian no less, to be given complete free reign to produce a really dark, melancholy and complex show, one that often takes hairpin turns in plot and mood without any attempt at making it easier to comprehend for the mainstream audience. I often hear on Marc Maron's WTF Podcast, about comedians asking their agents for "the Louis C.K. deal" when talking to networks. It's very impressive of F/X to take the chance with C.K. in the first place, and even more so, to be willing to keep nurturing the show. Most of all I'm so glad that this show exists, so that I can tune in and be utterly disturbed at how much I identify with C.K.'s sense of isolation, depression, anger, and general befuddlement about this crazy world and the people who live in it.

1. Parks & Recreation - So why is this show my number 1 pick, as opposed to Louie or Eastbound & Down? The short answer is that this show makes me happy, it makes me laugh the most, and I'm always happy to rewatch episodes. This show sends me into spontaneous fits of belly laughs every episode. I remember being a geeky teenager and and laughing uncontrollably listening to Adam Sandler's They're Alll Gonna Laugh At You album with my brother. Moments like that get rarer as you get older, and there's a lot of comedy out there that are more clever than funny, but Parks & Rec manages to send me into that pure state of joy of having your brain tickled, as opposed to laughing at something because you appreciate how smart the jokes are. I really do feel like my 13 year old self, when I find myself rewinding the funny parts to watch them over and over again, whether it be any number of stoic Ron Swanson facial expressions, or Aziz Ansari about to eat a hot pepper and singing "This is how we eat it" set to the tune of Montell Jordan's "This Is How We Do It" Which is not to say this show isn't clever too, it's hella clever, and makes so many great observations about being a woman in the modern work place, and takes some good shots at creaky government bureaucracy. For those of you who saw the first 6 episode mini season, and gave up on the show, please give this another chance- I promise it gets exponentially better and funnier, and Amy Poehler's character becomes much more well rounded as opposed to being a female Michael Scott. In so many ways, it transcends its big brother show The Office, as brilliant as that show continues to be. And for those reasons it's my #1 pick of 2010!