2017 was a year in which we all needed to laugh. Hell, 2018 probably will be too. The social media-enabled entropy of day to day life seems to be on perpetual upward swing of misery. But hey, comedy!
The amount of worthwhile comedies on television right now is staggering. The number gets higher every year and the laughs more potent. Last year when we held our staff vote to determine the best comedies on TV, we ended up going 16 shows deep and still somehow missed out on at least a dozen other hilarious shows.
This year we had 38 (!!!!) shows receiving votes and even then it’s likely we missed out on some truly hilarious series (R.I.P. The Carmichael Show).
Finding and categorizing the best of anything on TV is becoming an increasingly fruitless venture. But we have to because the shows simply deserve it. Television comedy made the world a brighter place in 2017 than it had any right to be. Least we could do is highlight some of our favorites.
How We Voted
We turned to our staff once more to pick favorites. We polled 12 Den of Geek writers selected their five favorite comedies of the year, ranked five through one. Shows in first place received five points; second place received four points and so on.
After that we added couple of new wrinkles for 2017. First, you, the reader, yes you, were allowed to offer you input and offer your input you did. See the results below but suffice it to say you did a good job and we’re proud of you.
Our Guest Judges
We also brought in some luminary guest judges to offer their votes as well. Andy Borrow (Executive Producer, Brooklyn Nine-Nine), Lily Burns (Executive Producer, Search Party), Sarah-Violet Bliss (Co-creator, Search Party), Dave and John Cherin (showrunners of Fox’s The Mick), and Rhys Thomas (Director/EP, Documentary Now, the winner of our 2016 Best Comedy Vote) all provided their treasured insights, making this our finest and most complete list yet.
With a big thank you to everyone involved, let’s now move onto the list of the best comedies on television in 2017.
Catastrophe, Stan Against Evil, The Trial of Tim Heidecker, Jane The Virgin, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, Neon Joe Werewolf Hunter, South Park, Dear White People, Bob’s Burgers, Brockmire, Fresh off the Boat, The Mindy Project, Archer, Shameless, Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Fleabag, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, The Mick, Curb Your Enthusiasm, Insecure, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, Man Seeking Woman, Comrade Detective
17. Difficult People (Hulu)
Hulu, if you’re listening, please keep Difficult People on forever.
Apparently a lot of people get offended by just how terrible Julie (Julie Klausner) and Billy ( Billy Eichner) are in Difficult People. But those people are ridiculous. This Klausner-created comedy is basically about two 30-something folks trying to make it in showbiz by any means necessary. And yeah, they are pretty terrible, which makes the show a real gem.
Nothing is off the table for Julie and Billy. They hate everyone and everything equally—except each other. In the three seasons it’s been on Hulu, they’ve managed to tackle Nazis, Woody Allen, old timey hipsters, NPR, podcasters, bears, otters, twinks and everyone in between. If there can be a joke made about it you better believe that Billy and Julie are on it. Few things are better than hilariously unredeemable characters, and Julie and Billy win that award hands down.
– Daniella Bondar
Oh, to have been a fly on the wall when Liz Flahive and Carly Mensch pitched GLOW, a show inspired by the ‘80s kitsch time capsule of “The Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling,” to Netflix. Surely there must have been some raised eyebrows. But more importantly, it helped raise the bar in 2017 for sharp and brutally clever television comedy as well. Yep, Netflix’s GLOW has become one of the most unexpected and subversively feminist shows of the year, which takes a time warp back to an ‘80s that it’s far less than nostalgic for than most of its wistful Reagan-gazing peers.
A microcosm for the greasy casting couch and systematic abuses of the entertainment industry, but with maximum hairspray, GLOW tracks a disparate group of women, including Alison Brie’s overlooked and commodified Ruth Wilder, hungry for a break that lets them create. Hence why even in sky-high Ruskie boots and with a ridiculous Soviet accent, there is something liberating about Ruth being able to play the wrestling heel instead of some man’s fantasy, and she is just one of this cast’s deep bench of kooky talent. Plus, Marc Maron can act, and as a strangely lovable degenerate too. Who knew?
– David Crow
15. Vice Principals
Comedies rarely get as dark as Vice Principals. At times, the first part of Danny McBride and Jody Hill’s two-and-through series was genuinely shocking in the ways that it was willing to make its lead characters so utterly unlikable. Sure, McBride’s Kenny Powers on Eastbound and Down could be a shithead, but Vice Principals ushered in a different vibe with its nastiness, a sort of misguided malevolence that was a little too realistically twisted.
In Neal Gamby and Lee Russell (an always terrific Walton Goggins), we find two emasculated, ineffectual manchildren desperate to assert the dominance they feel entitled to, making them eerily similar to the pathetic alt-right agitators clinging to their toxic masculinity. Power hungry and petrified to submit to the failure that they have fallen into, they commit several overzealous crimes in pursuit of becoming head principal.
However, the show escapes being just a nihilistic comedy by exploring whether wrongheaded, petty men like Gamby and Russell can learn the error of their ways and progress. After watching both characters try to behave like better men (well, mostly just Gamby), Vice Principals seems to answer that question as: not really. Even though Gamby and Russell don’t truly change, it doesn’t negate the entertainment value of the journey. Mixing Fatal Attraction-style thriller notes with a high school coming-of-age story tone, Vice Principals was an odd beast that succeeded at being heinous, unapologetic, and most importantly, funny.
– Nick Harley
VEEP boasts an amazing cast that doesn’t contain a weak link, incredible chemistry between their characters, and lightning-fast dialogue and jokes that make this look like one of the most effortless comedies on television. Every episode operates with such a degree of efficiency with the Rube Goldberg-ian structure of its stories.
VEEP’s sixth season arguably contains the most creative drive of any of the show’s seasons. The events of the previous year show Selina lose the presidency and this season has a lot of fun as it jumps forward to a year later and chronicles the new hellish lives that everyone has built for themselves. Selina only makes matters worse when she gets caught in an unhealthy level of delusion where she’s determined to once again run for the presidency, a decision that drives everyone insane in different ways.
The show has never had more energy than when it puts Selina and her staff in this purgatory of sorts and strips away the titles that have defined them. Selina and company’s examination of who they are without the White House leads to fascinating discoveries and a particularly complex season for Gary and Jonah. Selina also sees a number of surprising triumphs this year, like how she gains her own Presidential library and somehow frees Tibet. VEEP even shines a light on the origins of Selina’s Presidential team and shows how this dysfunctional group came together in the first place as the show begins to set the scene for its final season. Due to how broken the actual President and his employees are at the moment, escapism like VEEP has never been more important.
– Daniel Kurland
In its second season, Baskets continued to prove itself to be one of television’s most surprisingly interesting new shows. I say it’s surprising because, back when it was premiering, the promos—which highlighted the broader comedic aspects like Zach Galifianakis as a rodeo clown getting knocked over by bulls—didn’t strike me as promising.
The series certainly does go broad at times; after all, Galifianakis plays twin brothers named Chip and Dale. But that only makes it all the more impressive how moving and heartfelt Baskets is. In season two, much of that came from the series’ smart move to expand the character of Chip and Dale’s mom, Christine (still beautifully performed by Louie Anderson). Unexpectedly, Christine was sort of the protagonist of this season, making hopeful strides in improving herself as she makes efforts to lose weight and pursue a new love interest.
The second season also wowed in how fearless it was in shaking up its structure. Many of the episodes abandoned the setting established in season one, (Bakersfield, California) in favor of following Chip freighthopping with a band of hobos or Christine taking a trip to Denver. Baskets is willing to go wherever the dramatic narrative organically takes it. Season two felt vastly different from the preceding season and ended intriguingly with the suggestion of another unique forthcoming chapter in these characters’ lives.
– Joe Matar
12. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
In 2017, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend saw a back half of season two that rapidly raised the stakes of Rebecca and Josh’s relationship before killing it at the altar. The first half of season three has seen Rebecca go from a manic response to Josh jilting her to a complete tailspin resulting in a suicide attempt and then the first tentative steps of healing and recovery. If that doesn’t sound particularly funny to you, you’re probably not watching Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.
Rebecca Bloom and Aline Brosh McKenna’s hour-long musical comedy has kept up a relentlessly paced plot covering tough topics in a thoughtful, emotionally-charged way while refusing to take itself, or its characters, too seriously. Mining mental health issues for humor is a tough thing, and Crazy Ex does it justice. Characters that originally seemed flat, like WhyJo (short for White Josh), Rebecca’s boss Darryl, and Josh’s ex Valencia, have become fully realized and beloved parts of the show. In the wake of the departure of one-third of the show’s initial love triangle, many missed Santino Fontana’s Greg and were concerned with how it would move on. However Scott Michael Foster’s Nathaniel, combined with moving the focus away from Rebecca’s love life, have been welcome.
The show consistently includes top-notch musical numbers, many of them parodies of genres or specific artists, which go viral in their own right. “Let’s Generalize About Men” was hilariously cathartic as it simultaneously empathizes with and sends up girl-power Misandry. “Let’s Have Intercourse” parodies the Ed Sheeran ballad while spotlighting the decidedly unromantic need to get someone out of your system, so to speak. At its best, Crazy Ex‘s numbers are as revealing as they are funny, highly specific, referential, and well crafted from a musical standpoint.
– Delia Harrington
11. Big Mouth
There’s a moment at the end of the Big Mouth season one finale, “The Pornscape,” in which preteens Nick (Nick Kroll) and Andrew (John Mulaney) are having a conversation with their prehistoric friend, the Hormone Monster (also Kroll) about the traumatizing puberty-related events of the season.
“I know this all seems embarrassing now boys but maybe one day you’ll look back on this time fondly,” the Hormone Monster says. “Perhaps you’ll even make something beautiful out of it?”
“What like a show about bunch of kids masturbating?” Andrew asks.
“Isn’t that just like child pornography?” Nick follows up.
“Holy shit I hope not!,” the Monster replies. “I mean, maybe if it’s animated we can get away with it. Right?”
Thank God Big Mouth exists and thank God it’s animated because there is absolutely no way it could exist otherwise. The intense turmoil of puberty is one of the most fertile comedic and dramatic experiences that we all share but it rarely gets the warts, pubes, pimples, and all treatment it deserves. And for obvious, let’s-not-exploit-children reasons. Nick Kroll and Andrew Goldberg’s animated masterpiece Big Mouth helps to rectify that.
Big Mouth season 1 featured incredibly likable and richly-realized young characters experiencing the ravages of puberty with help from the Hormone Monster, the ghost of Duke Ellington (Jordan Peele), Coach Steve, the Statue of Liberty, and many other well-meaning adults and mythological creatures.
Rarely has a show been this consistently funny out the gate. Big Mouth season 1 was gross, funny, and lovable in a way that all comedies should strive to be.
– Alec Bojalad
10. Better Things (FX)
If you are not watching Better Things then you are missing out on probably one of the best series to hit television in a long while. This Pamela Adlon-led comedy follows single mother Sam Fox (Adlon) as she juggles being a woman, a mother, and a daughter.
It’s breathtaking. The Sam character is so fresh while somehow being so relatable. She’s honest and crass with a tough exterior and yet the series finds all these moments to make her tender and passionate. Sure it’s funny—albeit in a very dark way usually—but it’s so much more than that.
Better Things is a family comedy for the times. Adlon illustrates a portrait of motherhood that is raw and pure. It breaks down that Donna Reed stereotype that has been lying just under the surface of so much of television history and shows a new kind of mother; on that is nurturing and caring but also imperfect. Mothers are human too. They scream and fall down and fuck up, and Better Things shows just how normal and okay that is.
– Daniella Bondar
9. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox)
There are a lot of new and flashy comedies out there, but Brooklyn Nine-Nine remains one of the most consistent programs on television. This simple workplace sitcom about a ragtag department of police officers has evolved in a number of ways, but it still features one of the best ensemble casts on television. Andre Braugher’s work as Holt is a revelation and Andy Samberg has grown as an actor through the seasons.
Just like how Parks and Recreation’s scope slowly grows and they treat their characters and universe with tremendous respect, Brooklyn Nine-Nine follows the same example. Characters are king and this season is an especially emotional one with all sorts of payoffs (as well as what might be the series’ best episode in their annual Halloween installment). With over 100 episodes now behind them, if this ends up being Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s final year, it’ll go down as one of the show’s strongest from a series that doesn’t have a weak season in its run.
– Daniel Kurland
8. Master of None
Aziz Ansari isn’t sure when, if ever, we’ll get another season of his Netflix series Master of None. If its brilliant, moving second installment happens to be the show’s swan song, then what a perfect note to go out on. It feels odd designating Master of None as a comedy when at the heart of the season is an Italian romance. Ansari and co-star Alessandra Mastronardi are TV’s “not-quite a couple” of the year, with Mastronardi specifically delivering a warm, wide-eyed performance that would make anyone fall in love. Other than the “will they, won’t they” at the heart of the season, the show flexes its muscles by telling an Emmy-worthy coming out story, sidelining its main cast in favor of short, slice of life New York tales featuring characters that we rarely see on screen, delivering relatable depictions of breaking from religious tradition, and extolling the virtues of black and white Italian cinema.
However, one aspect of Master of None’s second season that hasn’t been revisited much is the eerily prescient storyline involving charismatic TV personality Chef Jeff. Long before the Harvey Weinstein scandal rocked Hollywood and inspired many brave victims of sexual assault to come forward with their stories about abuse at the hands of powerful Hollywood men, Ansari introduced the world to Chef Jeff, a wolf in sheep’s clothing who appears to be “an open secret” creep before 14 women accuse him of behaving inappropriately. After the last two months, the entire story feels too close to home, but it does interestingly show the effects that this kind of monstrous behavior can have on the friends and colleagues of the accused. It’s just another example of the modern, relevant, and thoughtful writing that Master of None pulls off with ease.
– Nick Harley
7. BoJack Horseman
Four seasons in, BoJack Horseman could derisively be described as “that horse with depression show.” The amount of self-inflicted suffering that the eponymous BoJack (Will Arnett) goes through is constantly running the risk of devolving into an accidental parody. Season four of Raphael Bob-Waksberg brilliant animated series reads the room and knows exactly when to divert its path.
BoJack Horseman isn’t suddenly happy and fulfilled. It’s increasingly unlikely BoJack will ever be either of those things. It does, however, present a BoJack whose interested in self improvement. BoJack Horseman leans into the past to find answer and the show does the same. He returns to his familial homestead, confronts the news that he may be a father, and begins the process of rebuilding all the relationships he’s ruined. The season is another excellent, emotionally astute year of television.
Thanks to its expanded and ever-improving roster of secondary characters, it may very well be the funniest of any BoJack season yet too. It takes us literally inside the head of our protagonist for a funny half-hour of self-loathing that comes across as both enlightening and funny. And the season still finds the time for the ultimate bottle episode: several leagues under Hollywood, California.
When you hit rock bottom, there’s only one place to go: up. That’s exactly where BoJack Horseman is heading and BoJack Horseman is following him there.
– Alec Bojalad
6. American Vandal
If American Vandal had only been the pitch-perfect parody of true crime series that it presented itself as in its hilarious pilot episode, I would have been satisfied. Shows like Making a Murderer and The Jinx had American TV audiences obsessing over and discussing years-old mysteries ad nauseum in 2016, making the true crime genre ripe for a good ribbing. With a melodramatic voice-over posing leading, rhetorical questions and hilarious details like a painstakingly accurate CGI rendering of a lakeside handjob, American Vandal mastered the self-serious format in funny, lowbrow fashion. Instead of an unsolved murder, American Vandal tackles the mystery of who drew 27 dicks on the cars of 27 teachers at a California high school, with most of the evidence pointing to a boorish, all-too-real problem child.
What makes the show more than a simple parody and worthy of inclusion among the best TV comedies of the year is the way it treats its high school cast of characters as real people with inner lives worthy of exploring. American Vandal somehow makes its lead, moronic suspect Dylan a sympathetic character, gets you invested in the budding romance between co-director Sam and his friend Gabi, finds time to examine the way social media has embedded itself so thoroughly in the lives of young people, and asks whether labeling a kid a problem child becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
The creepy, inappropriately involved teacher Kraz reminds you of a teacher from your high school; the unlikable, desperate social climber Alex Trimboli reminds you of a kid from your high school; the boneheaded, perpetually stoned buffoons that comprise the Wayback Boys remind you of idiots from your high school. American Vandal is more than an accurate parody of true crime series; it’s the most accurate depiction of life as a teenager on film in years.
– Nick Harley
5. Broad City
With each passing season, Broad City manages to be in the highest echelon of fucking great comedy. The Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer hit crashed onto Comedy Central with vision and has not deterred from that in the slightest.
For its fourth season, Jacobson and Glazer decided to move their pot-hazed adventures from summer to winter. More than just a new wardrobe, the winter season provided the perfect backdrop for Abbi and Ilana to deal with aging, relationships, self-improvement and current events. The fourth season really threw in some cold hard adulting that forced the duo to take a long look at themselves. While the series took on some more “serious” themes, it managed to keep all the fun and lightheartedness.
Broad City is one of those shows that is way more brilliant than it seems. Sure its coated in delusion, pot, and tomfoolery, but when it comes down to it it’s really a manual for feminism, friendship, and self-esteem. Abbi and Ilana are strong women with strong personalities who aren’t afraid to speak up and be a little weird. Throw out all your self-help books and let Broad City guide you through.
– Daniella Bondar
4. Search Party
Search Party’s first season hit the scene like an asteroid last year and it’s so exciting to see that the show has only managed to get more articulate in its second season. Search Party considerably ups its stakes this year and the results are a bewildering study about the manifestations of guilt. The show continues to effectively tap into genuine moments of humanity while it also presents a twisted, nihilistic spin on millennials and responsibility. This season also happens to feature the best work of Alia Shawkat’s career, but every member of the cast puts on an inspiring performance. John Early’s freak out as Elliot must truly be seen to be believed.
Search Party is insanely funny, but also devastatingly dramatic and suspenseful. It’s a show where it’s truly impossible to predict where it will head next and that’s so exciting to experience. One season of this precision could be a fluke, but pulling it off again proves that this is no mistake and that these guys have created something special. This year there were few shows—dramas included—that made me shout at the screen more than Search Party.
– Daniel Kurland
3. The Good Place (Best New Comedy / Reader’s Choice Pick)
The Good Place had an unfair advantage when ranking the best comedies from 2017: it’s jaw-dropping, insanely clever season one finale, featuring one of the most memorable twists on TV ever, let alone for a network half-hour comedy, technically aired in mid-January, making the episode eligible for consideration along with season two’s truncated episode count. That’s not to say that season two hasn’t delivered the same quality that the first season did, it’s just to highlight how shocking and simultaneously exciting “Michael’s Gambit” was upon first viewing. Network comedies are supposed to be safe, like comfort foods. “Michael’s Gambit” was a wildly experimental entry in an increasingly serialized and ambitious story. The Good Place was already more high concept than any other network offering, after the twist, it became an even taller highwire act.
I don’t want to spoil any of the details for those that may be interested in catching up with the series on Hulu, but season two doesn’t drop the ball, taking the surprise from the season one finale and running with it. The idea shouldn’t be capable of sustaining itself, and yet somehow it does, and confidently at that. Usually a show that burns through this much plot is a trainwreck, not a delightful trolley wreck on loop. I already fear I’ve said too much…
To keep my praise vague, I’ll just say Kristen Bell is doing career best work as Eleanor Shellstrop, a foul-mouthed mean girl trying to see the error of her ways, Ted Danson is endlessly hilarious in new and surprising ways, and creator Mike Schur imbues The Good Place with the same good-natured spirit that permeated Parks and Recreation (he still has a keen ability for naming characters, too). Also, The Good Place somehow makes philosophy both easy to understand and fun! In a year that’s often felt like a joyless slog, The Good Place has been a weekly bright spot, a true treasure that will surely reappear on next year’s list as well.
– Nick Harley
2. Nathan For You
The diversity of subject matter and comedic tone varies so wildly on this list, yet perhaps no show that sticks out more than Comedy Central’s Nathan For You. If we had to give an elevator pitch to a stranger on the street, it would sound something like Bar Rescue meets Shark Tank meets the dry, often cringe-worthy wit of Nathan Fielder. That lazily constructed logline might only sell you on checking out an episode or two, but as the seasons go on, Nathan For You continues to pay off in both brilliantly constructed and unforeseen ways.
In the fourth season, it has become increasingly apparent that Nathan For You is situational comedy in that Fielder himself plays God, only to be taken back by the genuine human moments his reality-ish show creates. Say what you want about ABC’s long-running series Shark Tank, but it is a success because it puts vulnerable small business owners in front of industry giants and still manages to find humanity, generosity, and promote an uplifting entrepreneurial spirit. Fielder doesn’t have the business acumen of Mark Cuban or Mr. Wonderful, though he is willing to be in the trenches with small business owners, whether he’s forging ahead out of pure ego or he’s formed a genuine bond with the person whose business could use a shot of life.
Nathan For You and its protagonist have evolved and grown more confident with each season. While there’s so much goodness in season four– his anecdote on Jimmy Kimmel Live, the blackmail of Uber, the formation of a rock band, and the asexual computer repair shop–the bookends to the season helped catapult the show to its highest highs.
“Nathan For You: A Celebration” is like a hybrid of Shark Tank’s Beyond the Tank and a reality show reunion special. It’s an absolute joy to watch the updates as Nathan and the special’s host and old friend Anthony Napoli see the real-life impact Nathan For You had on the people who participated in the show. It’s the perfect setup for his season finale, “Finding Frances,” in which the story of a long lost love of a Bill Gates impersonator (who you might remember from a past Nathan for You episode) intrigues Nathan to the point where he basically spends three episodes worth of his show budget to help an old man reconnect with his past, with plenty of surprises along the way. As much fun as it is to see how Nathan’s ego has ballooned along with his successes since the show’s inception, the finale captures the big-hearted ethos of the series.
– Chris Longo
1. Rick and Morty
As D’Angelo Barksdale once said “The king stay the king.” As long as Rick and Morty is drawing breath, it’s hard to imagine anything supplanting it as the (scientifically proven) funniest show on television.
Sure, the cracks in the cultural bedrock of Rick and Morty fandom started to show a bit this year. A small collection of die hard fans became insufferable in their own Szechaun sauce-demanding, “You have to have a really high IQ to understand” kind of way. But the story that Dan Harmon and Justin Roiland brought to the screen remains as brilliant and essential as ever.
Rick and Morty in its third season still knew how to make the best of its science fiction concept. It’s an animated show set in a world of infinite universes where anything can happen. So Roiland, Harmon, and their team of excellent writers made damn sure that just about everything did happen.
Season 3 debuted, on April Fool’s Day of all days, with one of its greatest episodes yet: a sprawling science fiction epic in which Rick Sanchez defeats an inter-galactic empire just to remain the paterfamilias of his own homestead. From there, the show bounced around to wherever the hell it wanted, gleefully knocking everything out of the park in the process.
This year Rick and Morty went to a Mad Max-style post-apocalyptic hellscape, an interstellar Avengers-style superhero team-up, a resort that removes the toxins out of your mind and traps them in a gooey netherworld, and of course: a pickle.
The shows’s imagination remains enormous and it’s humor, sharp and hilarious. It’s most important trait, however, is its careful understanding of the human condition. For all of its grandiosity and huge comedic setpieces, it never loses sight of the flawed human beings at the center of it. Yes, it was funny when Rick turned himself into a pickle. Don’t lose sight of the fact that he did it to get out of going to family therapy.
Rick and Morty imagines a reality in which the smartest and most powerful being in the entire multiverse still can’t quite crack the vagaries of human emotion. And if you don’t like it being #1, don’t worry. To be fair, you have to have a very high IQ to understand Rick and Morty.
– Alec Bojalad