The television landscape continues to explode. With each new show somehow be more innovative and unique than the last big hit, 2014 was no exception to the rule and ushered in a brand new renaissance of comedic programming. The past year contained a wealth of gems, both old and new.
As 2014 fades into 2015, we’ve picked the 15 best comedies of the year…
15. How I Met Your Mother
How I Met Your Mother might be the most conventional show on this list, but its final season wasn’t afraid to take chances and go out taking some fairly sizable risks. To begin with, the entire season took place over the course of a single day. Many episodes were told in real time, or utilized some other device like the cast playing poker for the entire episode. While this didn’t always bear fruit, it led to some ambitious storytelling, which worked more often than it didn’t.
Besides all of this, we did get the addition of the long-shrouded Mother, which was reason enough to be excited. The series’ ending, which left many a fan discouraged, at least had the courage to go out on its own terms and try to portray a realistic, unconventional happy ending on love. It’s certainly one of the more depressing ways for a huge network sitcom to end, and it’s even more commendable in that sense.
14. The Heart, She Holler
The most nightmarish of all of Adult Swim’s programming (which is saying something), The Heart, She Holler went for broke this year by just throwing everything at the audience, talking about whatever they wanted, getting rid of integral main characters, and pushing the limits of what the audience could handle as sound and images were overlapped on each other to stressful degree. With one of the craziest finales I’ve ever seen, this show also contained what might have been my favorite joke of the year, which sees Hambrosia smashing open an hour glass, snorting a line of the time sand from inside it, and transcending time as a result, moving at insane speeds and going on a murder spree set to Benny Hill music.
Always an unpredictable, honest, wrenching show in which you don’t know if you’re going to get a humorous outing or a devastating one, Louie’s fourth season mixed things up even further as he experimented with long-form storytelling, breaking his season up essentially into three films (the main goal was not always to be funny) that explored Louie’s relationship with women. It was a polarizing year that wasn’t for everyone, but it gave us disconnected gems like seeing Louie court a woman who he could barely share a language with or the grueling flashback to when Louie tried pot for the first time and an honest teacher he affected in the process.
12. American Dad
American Dad has always been quietly churning out top notch material that’s saying weird, different things, but with the series moving from its long-time home of FOX to TBS, there was a new sense of finality with these last episodes. Sure enough, while the series wasn’t ended in any conventional sense, a lot of “big” episodes were seen this year, tying up loose ends and concluding things as much as a show like this can.
11. The Birthday Boys
The Birthday Boys also tightened up its already strong comedic voice and style, and while they haven’t broken the mold yet, they’re still consistently funny and always generating great laughs. Mastering continuity and connectivity like no one since Mr. Show, there’s such an energy and bond between all of them that simply seeing more of them is enough, but it’s nice to see their popularity rising and an increasing amount of guest stars making appearances, too.
10. The Eric Andre Show
Certainly not one to have a formula or follow any real set of rules, the latest season of The Eric Andre Show was the most fun the show has had, somehow finding new blood from this much-squeezed stone. They’re pushing all of their pieces further than ever before and really takes the uninitiated guest concept to its apex. These people truly look like they have no clue what’s going on a lot of the time, and it’s magical. A few seasons in, the show is now getting comfortable to mess with its norm and try new things, like Eric Andre’s season-long Katt Williams inspired haircut, or the episode where Hannibal takes over.
9. Key & Peele
Key & Peele has solidified their position in the sketch community for years now, but their latest season, while not their strongest, still showed that they’re far from out of ideas, and have plenty more to say. Still sporting some of the best production values in a sketch comedy program, Key and Peele’s focus is laser sharp. There’s a reason that the bulk of their content, including this year’s Aerobics Meltdown, went viral.
Andy Daly has floated around shows, never really finding the right vehicle, and isn’t as well known as he should be. Fortunately, Review is the perfect conduit for Daly’s unbridled brand of crazy. In one of the better premises out there, Daly’s Forrest MacNeil reviews things every episode, but rather than them being conventional things you’d review like books or movies, he reviews experiences such as “Getting a divorce” or “Having road rage.” The show has some wonderful fun with the reviews that it sends Daly on, often cleverly spinning them in their own way, but behind the brilliant ideas, Daly’s pie-eyed optimism that will transform into rage at the drop of a hat is a thing to behold.
7. Broad City
The wonders of what can happen when you just trust a show with people who know who they are and what their dynamic is – every episode of Broad City is a fantastic, personal, debaucherized journey into Abbi and Ilana’s life. While a show about two twentysomethings in New York City isn’t exactly original, Broad City feels deeply fresh due to the stars not being ashamed to completely destroy their images and represent themselves in the worst possible light. These two have been building chemistry together for decades, and there’s not a single moment where it doesn’t feel like it from these two soulmates.
Community faced a tremendously exciting year as it saw the return of its exiled creator Dan Harmon, and he returned in full force, rejuvenating Greendale and bringing back its polarizing, stubborn voice in inspired ways. Many of the show’s favorite episodes were given spiritual sequels and a wealth of guest stars to populate them. They even did a perfect GI Joe episode.
While the show saw the loss of Chevy Chase and Donald Glover, the addition of Jonathan Banks as Buzz Hickey and the return of John Oliver’s Professor Duncan were some of the smartest things Community ever did, and Abed trying to find himself in a Troy-less world was a touching, realistic journey. Any season that makes us question whether Chang is a ghost or gives us Abed doing a spot-on Nicolas Cage impression is doing its job.
5. Rick and Morty
Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland’s animated sitcom made in the wake of Community blew everyone away by being even more individualistic and creative as his former series. There’s even an episode here that’s entirely improvised and then animated around the performances accordingly. Almost every idea brought up wormholes in on itself in a beautiful way. Rick and Morty almost feels like the perfect hybrid of The Simpsons and Futurama as it perfectly blends home life and family with the most outlandish of sci-fi and supernatural plots. The show also managed to somehow be more cynical than Community, acting largely as a manifesto on the world having no purpose, and everyone being in pain.
4. Nathan For You
Such off the rails, unique, personalized television, Nathan For You’s second season managed to outdo its first by not only having some absolutely brilliant ideas for businesses (a liquor store that sells to minors but they can’t take the alcohol until they’re legal; advertising at a pet cemetery; or masquerading a blind man’s cane as a fumigation tool), but finding a way to integrate characters from the first season together, telling a bigger, more connected story as well as properly determining how to mine the depths of Nathan’s pathetic nature. “Dumb Starbucks” alone would have rendered this season a classic, and Nathan did that and so much more this year.
3. Inside No. 9
One of the biggest surprises of the year, coming from the ambitious geniuses behind League of Gentlemen and Psychoville, BBC Two’s Inside No. 9 is an anthology show where every episode is a bottle episode, taking place in a confined space, exploring ideas of claustrophobia, the human condition, and often going to some very dark places. Every episode is a brilliant, totally different detour, with Pemberton and Shearsmith adeptly masquerading as a myriad of characters. The season’s best episode is surely “A Quiet Night In.” An episode chronicling two cat burglars trying to rob a home that is done entirely without dialogue. Other episodes might see a cast of seven crammed into a bureau together for the duration of the runtime.
2. BoJack Horseman
While many people quickly dismissed it, jumping to lump it in with lesser, similar programming, BoJack Horseman is a show about depression and how to live with it, and it couldn’t be a more inspiring experiment. Behind the silly animal-embracing, punny exterior, this is a sad, wounded show that might be the most honest thing you’ll find next to Louie. Featuring an incredible, perfectly selected voice cast, Bojack Horseman is weird, different, full of frenetic chaos, and showcases what might be the best performance of Will Arnett’s career.
1. Space Dandy
Truly the most insane, unpredictable, rudderless show I’ve encountered, Space Dandy flew under most people’s radars. But if you did manage to encounter it, it surely left you amazed and perplexed. Space Dandy showcases the most ambitious storylines of exceptional intelligence, playing with alternate realities, time travel, smile-stealing marionettes, lots of dancing and much, much more. The universe also kind of imploded. If the unparalleled storytelling isn’t enough for you, the gorgeous, delirious art, character designs, and soundtrack will win you over.
Since John Mulaney is one of the finest stand-ups and most proficient writers that came out of Saturday Night Live, it seemed like a given that transitioning to a sitcom would be the vehicle he needed for his much deserved ride to the mainstream.
In a truly confusing experiment though, Mulaney chose to embrace the structure of classic, three-camera sitcoms with a live audience, calling back to a set-up that has almost entirely been abandoned. While it’s admirable to see Mulaney stick to his guns and make the sort of show he wanted, it’s a messy, safe, irrelevant program from the wrong time period.
While these might have been the highlights of the year, there was still even more incredible comedic programming that aired around it, with shows like Veep, Bob’s Burgers, Friday Night Dinner, and newcomers like Marry Me, Benched, and You’re the Worst also incredible additions to anyone’s viewing library. Here’s hoping 2015 knocks it even further out of the park.