Way back in July, we had this crazy idea to take a break from our standard fare of comic book geekery, lightsaber hype, and handcuffing ourselves to 10 episodes of a True Detective season two podcast, the latter of which we’ve yet to recover from. It may have been heat exhaustion or whispers of “too much TV” swirling around our heads, but we wanted to celebrate all the great stuff happening in the television comedy world.
At times, we’ve struggled to cover comedy because let’s face it, we can find plenty more to write about in a Game of Thrones or The Flash review than Mike and Molly. Telling you what or why things are funny is the internet equivalent to a laugh track. We’d prefer to do our own analytical joke breakdowns. So instead, we held Comedy Week, our appreciation for what has quietly turned into what we’re calling the Golden Age of TV Sitcoms. Though as the year went on, we realized it’s not just a sitcom revolution. This has been the best year in recent memory for sketch comedy, dramedy, late night, mockumentaries, musicals, and so on. “Too Much TV” hasn’t depleted the writing talent pool, rather it has opened doors for new artists to take bigger risks and it’s paying off in ways that deserve more attention. Looking back now on our Comedy Week, we may have jumped the gun as there was nearly half a year of comedic excellence left to go. Thus, we’ve decided to come full circle to yell at you about those shows you’ve been “meaning to watch” had things at work not been so “crazy.”
Our scientific methodology is as follows: We asked eight Den of Geek contributors who’ve written about comedy for us in 2015 to rank the FIVE best TV comedies of the year. We were inspired by this influx of smart, creative, and innovative shows, so we gave our writers the freedom to determine what exactly defines “best.” The result: 23 different shows were nominated and not one list was remotely the same — a perfect summation of how rich and deep this genre has become.
– Chris Longo
Let’s get on with it, shall we? Here are the Den of Geek writer’s choice picks for the Best TV Comedies of 2015…
Honorable mentions: To keep the list PERFECTLY symmetrical (15 for 2015, duh!), here are the shows that received votes, but not enough to jump onto the big boy list. Participation trophies to: Documentary Now, Transparent, The Mindy Project, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, Mike Tyson Mysteries, Silicon Valley. Pats on the back all around!
(15) TIE – Louie, Catastrophe, Billy on the Street
It’s a testament to what a great variety of television there was this year that we’ve ended up with a tie between three drastically dissimilar comedies. Catastrophe is the most conventional, being rather straightforwardly a sitcom, but is unique in its honest depiction of relationships. There are sweet moments, yes, but they don’t come without all the stupid, angry, and nasty stuff that’s in there too. Then we have Louie, which you could maybe have once called a sitcom, but really—as it continued to prove in its fifth season—it’s just whatever the hell Louis C.K. wants it to be. Sometimes it’s a comedy; sometimes it’s a drama… One whole episode was just a trippy nightmare! And then there’s Billy on the Street which is simply a loud, gay man running around NYC shouting at poor, clueless innocents. And, you know something? It’s fucking great, too. I mean, did you see the one with Julianne Moore? Perfect television.
– Joe Matar
(14) Inside Amy Schumer
Amy Schumer is the Force Awakens of females in comedy. This year has been a great year for her with the box office hit Trainwreck, a golden globe nomination, and the absolute euphoria she brings to every stage and event. But before Amy Schumer made waves dancing with JLaw on Elton John’s piano she was breaking out in the Comedy Central lineup with Inside Amy Schumer.
Schumer’s hilarious sketch show is more than just another funny show starring a comedian. It’s brilliant! Inside Amy Schumer is meticulous, deliberate, and perfect in every moment of every episode. The third season really took it up a notch and made a stand, saying: “I am women. I am funny. Now hear me talk about things! Roar!” I think the point was made very clear in the premiere with the titular sketch “Last Fuckable Day,” but really solidified why it had climbed to such popularity with “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer” in which a jury full of men, a la 12 Angry Men, must decide if Schumer is hot enough for television.
This show gets all the votes for top comedy of 2015 not only because it’s super funny but also because it delivers really timely and important messages in the smartest, most comedic way.
Though it started out as little more than a gussied-up, Americanized version of creator Armando Iannucci’s profane political UK satire The Thick of It, Veep gradually evolved into its own amazing, unique television series. Season four in particular really drove home how much has changed with the continuation of the risky (and awesome) plotline introduced in the previous season of Vice President Selina Meyer becoming (by default) the actual President.
It’s so great to see Selina and her administration at the highest possible level of government still screwing up horribly and spending most of their time hiding their mistakes from the public. And the actors continue to do such a fantastic job that it remains consistently fun to watch them scream at each other. As Selina, Julia-Louis Dreyfus continues to prove she’s the funniest woman alive. Tony Hale, Timothy Simons, and Kevin Dunn are all brilliant as sad sacks, each pathetic in a different way. Anna Chlumsky did some incredible stuff this year, including possibly the best scene of the season in which she viciously chews Selina out. And the addition of Hugh Laurie as Selina’s running mate, Tom James, is ingenious; he feels like a fresh comedic element that fits right alongside the other misfits.
The penultimate episode of the season was devoted to Selina and her team testifying before Congress. It’s a concept more or less lifted from, again, The Thick of It, but it worked much better here and contributed to the completely original feel of this unconventional season. The season finale hinted at the possibility of a sort of “reset,” with Selina fated to once again occupy the role of Veep. That sort of thing might feel hacky in another sitcom, but with this show it was truly impressive to see the writers engineer such a scenario without it feeling contrived, keeping it hilarious and even a little thrilling throughout.
– Joe Matar
(12) Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
It would be easy to pin the success of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt on creator Tina Fey whose 30 Rock has become a modern classic. Part of what makes Kimmy Schmidt great is Fey’s touch, but what really makes the show work is the bright and bubbly Ellie Kemper as Kimmy. As funny as the writing is—and it is extremely funny—it’s Ellie Kemper’s delivery and characterization of Kimmy that really make her one of the funniest characters of 2015.
The concept of Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt could very easily have become too quirky and high-concept for it’s own good were anyone else in the title role, but Kemper–who played the similarly naive but well meaning Erin on The Office—imbues Kimmy with such an infectious energy that you can’t help but love her.
Kemper doesn’t have to carry the show on her own though, with a supporting cast that includes veteran comedy actresses Carol Kane and Jane Krakowski (formerly of 30 Rock), stage actor Tituss Burgess as Kimmy’s flamboyant, werewolf dressing room mate, and Jon Hamm as the wacky leader of the doomsday cult that held Kimmy hostage, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt boasts one of the most eclectic and fun ensembles on TV-or whatever device you stream Netflix on-right now.
– Zack Zagranis
(11) South Park
Before South Park returns for its next run, we like to make predictions for the topics they’ll skewer. We’re usually pretty off, but our first prediction for 2015 was the internet outrage, fake or justified, that is turning our culture hypersensitive would be a major plot point. We got our wish just seconds into the season premiere when PC Principal barged in and told the town of South Park to get with the times.
Whereas most of the newer shows on this list are fresh takes on old tropes, South Park, the OG of last two decades of comedy, lands into our top 15 for having the balls to undergo a total reinvention. At the risk of alienating a fanbase that has stuck around for 19 seasons, Matt Stone and Trey Parker ditched standalone episodes all together for a season-long arc that challenged our PC culture, changed our attitudes towards guns, and invaded our online “safe space.” The result was one of the most memorable and consistent seasons in the last ten years.
(10) Man Seeking Woman
Awkward guys in their late 20s looking for love isn’t exactly a novel premise, especially for TV, but Man Seeking Woman is anything but cliché or ordinary. Starring quintessential skinny schlub Jay Baruchel, the show follows Josh, a lanky temp looking for love after being dumped by a longtime girlfriend. When Josh reenters the dating world, he slips into bizarre, surrealistic encounters, like going on dates with actual trolls, visiting a destination wedding in Hell, and finding out that his ex is now dating Adolf Hitler (a hilarious Bill Hader), who’s the wise-cracking life of the party.
Creator Simon Rich, a comedy wunderkind and former SNL writer, created Man Seeking Woman based on a collection of his short stories and fills each episode with painful cringe-comedy, dreamlike absurdist situations, and impressive production values. Don’t believe us? Check out the giant purple penis monster that the show creates in “Sizzurp.” Odd, heartfelt, and teeming with incredible guest stars, Man Seeking Woman highlights just how weird modern dating can be, and it’s doing it in a completely distinctive way.
(9) Master of None
If you’ve been following Aziz Ansari’s career, then maybe you knew Master of None was going to be an incredible artistic achievement. Ansari’s comedy work had been getting sharper, changing his routine from energetic rants about his encounters with famous rappers to clever insights on what it’s like to date with all of the technological advancements we have in 2015. He followed up his last two Netflix-exclusive standup specials with a book called Modern Romance, where Ansari didn’t just muse about single life, but actually conducted research and backed it up with real sociology. After his work on Parks and Recreation concluded, Ansari announced he would use his book as inspiration for a new Netflix series, and when Master of None arrived, audiences were surprised with just how intelligent, unique, and fully formed the whole thing felt.
If you were paying attention, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise, but it did. Who knew Ansari could recreate the feel of Woody Allen and French New Wave films and also have the most cinematic looking comedy on television? Who knew the “actor in New York” plot could feel so fresh and vibrant? Ansari not only puts diverse talent in front of the camera, but he pairs it with diverse writing that tackles things that I’ve personally never seen on TV before. Take “Indians on TV,” an episode that tackles what’s it like to be an actor of Indian descent, treated like a quota that is to be met or forced to do embarrassing, offensive, stereotypical portrayals of Indian people. Master of None is full of these sorts of revelations, and it will make you wonder why it has taken so long for stories like these to be told on television.
(8) Broad City
Broad City is one of the most original and hilarious shows to hit the screen in the past few years. Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer have created this pot-fueled real girls guide to navigating your twenties. Like a hipster “Feminine Mystique” set to dubstep. However, what catapults it on this list is the fact that despite all its girl power, everyone loves it! That’s right, folks, all genitalia alike rejoice in the brilliance that is Broad City.
The web series turned Comedy Central hit has become a topic of conversation and every party and bar. The team of producer Amy Poehler, Jacobson, and Glazer can’t be stopped. These past two seasons have brought so much comedic integrity. You can’t go wrong when you start a series off having two young women play bucket drums in the park to score money for a Lil’ Wayne concert.
Jacobson and Glazer’s characters are heavily flawed and constantly making questionable decisions and stumbling through life but make no apologies. They hook up, try to guess the size of men’s penises in gym shorts, sell their cleaning services on Craigslist, rollerblade with pot, play bucket drums, attend dog weddings, get too high, can’t afford anything, have cereal feasts, and yet they’re the richest characters I know. There hasn’t been an underwhelming episode yet, and I can’t wait till next season. All I ask is more Val, please!
– Daniella Bondar
(7) You’re The Worst
You’re the Worst had a fantastic freshman season that took rom-com sitcoms to unexpected, refreshing places. This season, however, blew expectations out of the water by doubling down on the realness factor. Gretchen and Jimmy began living together this year, but another roommate joined the party in the form of crippling depression. Cracking open Gretchen and exploring her mental illness has been a goldmine for this already dark comedy (seriously, Aya Cash deserves all the Emmys next year). There have been moments this season where You’re the Worst hasn’t even felt like a comedy, but these daring places it’s pushed itself as well as the medium in general have been a worthwhile experiment.
This season has also largely operated as a clear-eyed dissection of what advancing a relationship is all about, whether in the form of pessimistic Gretchen and Jimmy, or the utterly naïve Edgar and Dorothy. It still surprises me how they can make the most overdone genre feel legitimately fresh. Around all of the muck and the mire that this show delighted in dirtying itself in, the season made time for detours into the robust improv scene, executing heady bottle episodes, encountering a real-life Babadook, and cementing, “new phone, who dis?” as what should be an immortal catchphrase. I can’t think of a couple on television this season that I’ve rooted for as much as Gretchen and Jimmy, and a comedy that has such empathetic characters—on a show called You’re the Worst, no less—is pretty damn impressive.
– Daniel Kurland
(6) BoJack Horseman
Any reservations people seemed to have with this animated series in its debut season comfortably vanished when BoJack’s second year rolled out. This year did an incredible job at continuing BoJack’s tumultuous path towards stardom in the form of his Secretariat feature film. An even more critical eye towards Hollywood—or rather, Hollywoo–was refined this year as BoJack’s film dealt with rotating directors and Mr. Peanut Butter beginning to host the game show, “Hollywoo Stars and Celebrities: What Do They Know? Do They Know Things?? Let’s Find Out!” The more this universe expands, the greater it becomes, and watching familiar faces from the first season get fleshed out respectfully here holds a lot of weight to it.
The series is still funny as sin, Arnett is disappearing into the character more than ever, and their satire is still all on point, but the series’ darker half is also embraced more openly this season. Every single character is dug into in some capacity, giving you insight into the flawed individuals that they are. No one is guiltier of this than BoJack himself, who really pushes the envelope for how far you can take your protagonist. He blows up his life so many times this season, but the culmination of it all where his eyes are finally open and he’s ready to come at life anew is one of the more beautiful messages for a series to champion. BoJack Horseman is a show about an egotistical horse actor, but it’s also about how to be the absolutely best version of that horse actor that you can be, getting better every day.
– Daniel Kurland
(5) Parks and Recreation
Parks and Recreation retired this season to the great Netflix queue in the sky and did so in grand fashion. After a somewhat down season six, season seven reminded us why Parks and Rec was one of our best modern comedies. Season seven, much like the whole series run, was unique in its ability to derive comedy from harmony. Sure, the citizens of Pawnee are by and large crazy whackjobs but they were lovable crazy whackjobs.
And the main characters of the Parks department, for all of their neuroses and um, particular personalities, were fundamentally passionate people who were good at their jobs and respected one another. Not exactly a formula for a wildly successful comedy but somehow Parks made it work and then some, especially in series highlight episodes “Leslie and Ron,” “The Johnny Karate Super Awesome Musical Explosion Show,” and the fast-forward-tastic series finale: “One Last Ride.”
(4) It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia
Old, smelly, and forgotten about like a bum under a bridge, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is still hanging on for dear life and still hilarious. Season 10 was a return to form for the Gang, from beating Wade Boggs’ drinking record to kick off the next decade of Always Sunny, to a homage to Birdman’s cinematography in “Charlie Work,” and Keegan Michael Key’s turn as the host of “Family Fight.”
An upset pick amongst the shiny newcomers of this comedic golden age, Always Sunny is the godfather of the current crop of standouts, you know, the one that wants to inappropriately “wrestle” with you. When we spoke with You’re the Worst creator Stephen Falk earlier this year, he said it was Always Sunny that paved the way for his show to take risks on FX.
“It was a landmark show,” Falk said. “It was three knuckleheads that wanted to create work for themselves and came up with this very unsentimental sitcom that went way further than Seinfeld in terms of its characters being incredibly self-centered and misanthropic,” Falk said. “[FX President] John Landgraf took this little crappy video they made and gave them a show and kept it on for years.”
– Chris Longo
(2) TIE! Rick and Morty and Nathan For You
Place Rick and Morty in the television landscape however you’d like. Call it part of an ongoing renaissance on absurdist animated humor at Adult Swim. Call it part of a new trend of “depression comedy” along with shows like BoJack Horseman and You’re the Worst. But however you contextualize Rick and Morty’s “importance,” don’t lose sight of one thing: it’s pound for pound the funniest show on television.
In season two, Rick and Morty built on the already stunning comedic heights of its first season with 10 more wildly inventive and completely hilarious science-fiction adventures. Creators Justin Roiland and Dan Harmon’s sci-fi concept mean plenty of worlds (and realities and timelines) to explore. Highlights included Rick, Morty, and the Sanchez’s battling aliens that burrow into your brain to create and multiply quirky recurring background characters, Morty finally letting out some rage in an intergalactic purge and of-course the ongoing trials and tribulations of everyone’s favorite: Mr. Poopy Butthole.
How do you seamlessly transition from Rick and Morty to Nathan Fielder’s unique brand of funny? They’re different in nearly every way, from surface level (Rick’s animation vs. Nathan’s quasi-reality) to how the humor is constructed (Rick’s rapid-fire jokes vs. Nathan’s deadpan, slow build up). I guess after three seasons of improving small businesses on Nathan for You, you can say that Nathan, like Rick Sanchez, is a master of his domain. Nearly every idea in season three pays off in some way, and by the finale Nathan is flying higher than he could have ever imagined.
What’s so impressive about Nathan for You, aside from Nathan’s wealth of one-of-a-kind ideas and solutions and the brilliant editing work from the creative team, is that they’re making two shows simultaneously. There’s the business side, with the reality show sensibilities that drive us to tune in every week to see what plan he’s come up with and how real people react — the “For You.” Then there’s a show about “Nathan,” the character that dealt with failure and reached beyond his comfort zone in season one, and in season two became an international sensation with “Dumb Starbucks” while learning valuable lessons about friendship and how to deal with the fame that is attached to his success. Season three masterfully mixed business with Nathan’s pleasure, culminating in his most ambitious and heartfelt project yet.
– Chris Longo
Take a good, long look at this list. Of the 23 comedies we nominated, in nearly all of them you can single out a certain aspect of the show that makes it a standout amongst a crowded field. And then there’s Comedy Central’s Review, which borrows many of these elements, cuts them up into a neat lines, then snorts the night away and gives it five stars.
Andy Daly’s comedy is as situational as it gets, adapting its premise from an Australian series, while borrowing the mockumentary style and workplace dysfunctionality of a Parks and Rec. It captures the human condition in a fictional setting that rivals what Nathan Fielder is able to do with controlled reality, while bringing the madcap ludicrousness that can be found in an animated comedy like Rick and Morty or with a Gang of degenerates in Philadelphia. Review tugs at the flaws of its protagonist Forrest MacNeil in places that a horse like BoJack simply cannot reach, and is the standard for demonstrating how a character in committed relationship can be labeled the “Worst,” yet this man should never be seeking woman. The minds behind Review took all these ingredients and mixed the perfect cocktail for a 2015 comedy (maybe that’s why I fell out of my chair laughing when Forrest started a cult, joined the Mile High Club, and entered the Glory Hole).
Forrest MacNeil stands alone for starting out with the noble aspiration of bettering the world one review at a time, and sticking with it as his life descended into utter chaos. Through it all, Review was the only comedy brave enough to really answer the question: What’s it like to kill a person?
– Chris Longo