So it is certainly possible that the best new comedies of 2016 might perhaps be my 5 favorite comedies of the year, but there are a few returning comedies that would like to give those first-timers a run for their money. Sometimes a series takes a season or two to find its rhythm, to bring its characters to 3-dimensional life. It’s tough, though, to maintain comedic freshness, relevancy and energy for years on end. Most of our best comedies eventually peter out; with no clear exit strategy in place they wander aimlessly, ghosts of their former selves. Shows like Friends, The (American) Office, and Rosanne all ended with a drawn-out whimper. It was the rare sitcom that maintained its inspiration from start to finish, year after year.With relatively little or no casting changes.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
One show that has somehow miraculously pushed back its expiration date way beyond expectation (no, I know you think I’m gonna say The Simpsons or Family Guy or South Park, but I’m excluding animated comedy from this list), is FX’ It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It’s hard to believe that my good friends Dee, Charlie, Dennis, Mac and Frank have been spreading their bad ideas, idiotic games, and hair-brained schemes upon the world for twelve years. Sure, some episodes are more classic than others, and sometimes a concept will land flat, but for the most part IASIP finds new ways to push the envelope of their special world. They continue to surprise and offend, but, like the Seinfeld cast (until the finale), the one thing they haven’t done is learn from any of their mistakes or grow up. In fact, it’s possible in season 11 that they took their inappropriateness to a new level. In episode 5, Mac and Dennis move to the suburbs and if they can last a week without leaving, they get 100,000 dollars. By day 5 it turns literally into a horror movie, but as shown in the below scene, they still find a way to amazingly quote the title of Bryan Adams’ song, “Everything I Do I Do for You.”
It’s a fantastic episode, one of many in a great season, which ended with the gang end up locked in a jail cell on a sinking cruise ship. You can’t make this stuff up, unless you are inside the minds of the amazing Charlie Day, Rob McElhenney and Glenn Howerton. In my mind, this is the most under-appreciated comedy of all time. Maybe a show like this isn’t supposed to expand beyond cult status. Either way, season 12 starts in January!!!
I’m not bragging (OK, maybe a little) when I say I was a fan of Ilana and Abbi back when Broad City was a web series on YouTube. I was excited when it got picked up by Comedy Central, but a little concerned that it might get watered down in the process. I shouldn’t have worried. If anything, the longer format and larger budget only took the show to broader (yes!) widths. Season two was almost as good, but Abbi’s roommate Bevers was growing increasingly annoying and often kept the show from maintaining its footing.
Thankfully, Bevers role was reduced in season 3 and Broad City recaptured its special sauce. As always the episodes when Abbi and Ilana adventure together are my favorites as theirs is the truest friendship I can think of on TV, male or female. They are able to deftly weave in topics of the day without becoming an “issues” show. Like showing the effects of non-stop social media and the election. And Susie Essman as Ilana’s mom has two amazing episodes this season to show the girls how it’s done.
2016’s Season 4 was apparently the series finale of this wonderfully bitter yet sweet (and sometimes bittersweet) IFC comedy. If season 3 marked Marc Maron’s decline back into a world of drug addiction and pissing off all his friends and colleagues, then Season 4 was all about his climb back up from the bottom of the barrel. The season started with Maron living in a storage locker, his hair and beard thick, wild and grey. Eventually he goes through rehab gets sober and borrows his father’s RV to travel across country to find his lesbian neighbor who’d moved away. He’d donated sperm to (the traditional way, scene below) her and her girlfriend in season 3, but now the couple has split and Marc decides he wants to “help.” It sounds like a barrel of laughs, right? Well, if you like your comedy acerbic, absurd and a little harsh (I certainly do), then Maron is for you.
You’re the Worst
Well, I watched both season 2 and season 3 in 2016, so it was the year of You’re the Worst. This title could cover 2016 as a whole. I don’t know if ironic is the right word, but when You’re the Worst is a respite from a year that’s been the worst, it’s saying something. But enough whining.
There’s enough whining and complaining in YTW to last the year all by itself. Season 2 focused on Gretchen’s depression, which was not played for laughs and tackled with smarts and subtlety. The show took a big jump toward dramedy (hate that word) in the last few episodes of that season and although season 3 re-focused on the funny, the comedy had a distinctly darker edge than before. All the relationships on the show were seriously tested, some survived, some didn’t, some we’ll have to wait for season 4 to find out. It’s a tough show to describe, other than to say, if you like the other shows on my list, you’ll probably appreciate this one too.
I came late to the game with Difficult People, as I get my fill of lovable assholes in other shows, namely, the ones listed above. But apparently I have a high tolerance for well-written comedies featuring selfish bastards who never learn from their “bad” behavior. And as that goes, outside of Larry David, no one does annoyed and entitled Jewish comedy better than Billy Eichner and Julie Klausner. I’ll leave the psychoanalysis for another day, and just be glad there are so many talented writers and producers out there creating wonderfully snarky characters like these two (they might give Ilana and Abbi a run for their money in the friendship department).
The runners up:
Inside Amy Schumer, Getting On, Last Man on Earth, Portlandia, Catastrophe, Casual, High Maintenance (it had a long webisode life before finding HBO), Documentary Now, and Angie Tribeca all were wonderful and may have made this list in a weaker year.
Returning shows I didn’t get to see:
Veep, Silicon Valley, Bojack Horseman, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Red Oaks.
Shows I know are worth checking out but I never will watch with any regularity:
Black-ish, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, Fresh off the Boat, Drunk History.