Television ruled in 2015 – Comedy

OK, I’ll admit that I spend an unhealthy amount of time on the couch, in front of the 43″ high-definition story box, often when I have other, more pressing duties (like showering, gardening, sleeping). But once prone, I get sucked into the world of serialized drama and comedy.

With amazing original content streaming from Netflix, Amazon, Hulu and other non-broadcast/non-cable sources, the number of truly excellent shows available to the masses is insanely high. In fact, of my top 20 shows of 2015 — 10 comedies, 10 dramas — only two are from network channels. Cable still holds my sway, with FX and HBO leading the pack, but about half of my favorites are from streaming sites. Sites is a bit of a misnomer, with the popularity of Rokus, Chromecasts, Apple TV, smart TVs and gaming devices with internet connections. For me, it’s the Roku, and many of my favorite cable channels can also be found on the Roku for streaming their content on demand (Comedy Central, HBO, Showtime, Fox, NBC, FX are the ones I view most often).

And with so many great shows, across so many channels, I was unable to watch all the ones that appealed to me. Those that I’m hoping to squeeze into 2016 are: You’re the Worst, Master of None, Bojack Horseman, Red Oaks, Jessica Jones, Show Me A Hero, Deutschland 83, Getting On, Ash vs. Evil Dead, American Horror Story, Blackish, Hannibal….

But you came here to see what my favorites are, right? You don’t give a rats patootie what the cultural landscape looks like from my ass-flattened position on the couch. So let’s get to it.

I’ll start with the comedies:

10. Last Man On Earth (Fox)

This is the only show on my list from a network TV channel (Fox). This show was a grower for me, hitting its stride mid-way through season 1, but season 2 was strong from beginning to end. Hoping it gets renewed. The serialized nature of the show (watching from the beginning is fairly essential) may doom its longevity. Will Forte and Kristen Schaal are great, and in season 2 their characters are given more to work with and therefore more emotional depth.

9. Inside Amy Schumer (Comedy Central)

Though not as enamored of this show as many — I find a lot of the jokes too broad and obvious for my taste — there’s no denying that the show pushes buttons and boundaries like no other and I am excited to see what she does with the show next year after hitting the celebrity zeitgeist in 2015. I might have had Amy Schumer overload in 2015.

8. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX)

I will put this show in my top list, even years after it reaches its series finale. Just to underline my decade long love affair with this hilarious show. The Paddy’s Gang is about to embrace us with their 11th season of mischief and inappropriate behavior and I am ready.

7. Catastrophe (Amazon)

6. Casual (Hulu)

2015 was a strong year for smart relationship-based comedies. I haven’t seen season 2 of You’re the Worst, but I hear it is even better than the excellent first season, so I’ll add that to the list. Married, the recently cancelled FX series, deserved to make the top 10 and would have in a weaker year. But the newbies to the scene, Amazon and Hulu, have upped the playing field and introduced us to some wonderful new characters: all of them over the age of 30, and, in the case of Catastrophe, over (God forbid!) 40.

The chemistry between Rob Delaney and Sharon Horgan in Catastrophe is so natural, so believable. Every line of dialogue is infused with subtext. Both of them are whip-smart and sarcastic, often using their wits to hide fears about commitment and impending parenthood. The unnecessarily melodramatic season finale was the only false note in a harmonically masterful composition.

Casual, Jason Reitman’s foray into serialized dramedy (yes, this has just as much drama as comedy) took me a couple episodes to fully engage, but, like Catastrophe, features strong lead characters: all damaged, all hiding their pain with humor and sarcasm. Tommy Dewey and Michaela Watkins play siblings Alex and Valerie who end up cohabitating (along with Valerie’s teenage daughter, Laura) after Michaela’s recent divorce leaves the women (somewhat) homeless. Sometimes the themes are underlined a bit too thickly, but most of the time the show expresses a rare honesty and vulnerability, and Michaela Watkins is Emmy-worthy good.

5. Portlandia (IFC)

I’ve really liked all the seasons of Portlandia, but even I was getting a little tired of the hipster skits and the jumping around from character to character. So I was happily surprised that in 2015 Fred and Carrie decided to focus and leave several of the episodes to feature a single couple of characters (there’s bad grammar in that sentence). And when they do play multiple roles, they do it with a unified storyline, such as the Bed and Breakfast episode where many of our favorite couples all stay at the same B&B. And special kudos to Steve Buscemi for stealing the show as a celery salesman.

4. Kroll Show (Comedy Central)

How did this brilliantly dumb-smart Comedy Central reality TV satire not make any critics top 10 lists?  Nick Kroll can inhabit more ridiculous characters than any other actor I can think of. The facial expressions, the voices, the unique dialects and catch phrases…I have to supply two clips here because narrowing it down is near impossible, but if you haven’t seen the show, and can appreciate the surreal nature of legitimate reality shows, then check out all 3 excellent seasons.

 

3. Louie (FX)

This show continues to surprise me. Even when I am not sure I “like” an episode or find a featured character extremely annoying (Michael Rappaport as a thuggish cop in “Cop Story”), I can always marvel at the craftsmanship, the convention-smashing risks (episode 5 “Untitled” is surreal and dark and still gnaws at my psyche) and willingness to show the power dynamics in a relationship (Pamela Adlon), warts and all. Louie actually stands up for himself with her, though it ultimately doesn’t end well for him. The 2-part season finale perfectly encapsulated the brilliance of this show and the exasperation, with maybe the darkest episode I’ve ever seen in a “comedy.” Yet, the show still knows that nothing beats a poop joke, when all is said and done.

2. Maron (IFC)    2.5 WTF (podcast)

Maybe I’m placing this one a little too high, but Marc Maron gets extra points for pulling off another excellent season of his TV show while at the same time, taking his podcast to new levels of captivating. Interviews with President Obama, Richard Linklater, Henry Winkler, Parker Posey, and Terry Gross were just 5 of over 100 interviews Maron conducted from his famous garage in 2015. Of course we skip to about 12 minutes in to get to the interview portion, but no other interview podcast revealed as much humanity as WTF in 2015.

The TV show Maron tackled a lot of interesting themes in 2015 (depression, being a sperm donor to a lesbian couple, accepting his dysfunctional family, patent trolling) even if it was a little less ambitious than 2014’s second season. The plot thread regarding his character’s new TV show didn’t really work, but overall, despite Marc’s neurotic behavior, it was another stellar season of Maron.

Broad City (Comedy Central)

I am not bragging when I say that I was a fan before you were. I suppose you may have also discovered Abbi and Ilana from their YouTube series before the hit the big time at CC. Now, Broad City is a veritable institution. The equivalent of a water-cooler show, like Lost. Overstating it? I dunno. I’m of the wrong generation to decipher the cultural impact of these two boundary breaking comic geniuses. But I work with a bunch of 20- somethings and I can say that they all love the show and relate to the cultural and technological references that permeate every episode. Not sure if the example below is cultural or technological, but it is certainly Broad City.

 

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