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The Best TV Comedies of 2012

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Many of the best TV comedies of 2012 were the same as the best TV comedies of 2011, shows that maintained their levels of quality from one year to the next and in some cases even improved. Just one of 2012’s new TV comedies made my list, but it’s also quickly become one of my favorite shows on TV. Here are my picks for the best TV comedies of 2012.

1. 'Community' (NBC)

Photo courtesy of NBC

The exit of creator Dan Harmon is a troubling sign for Community’s upcoming fourth season (premiering in February 2013), but the second half of the third season continued the previous trend of formal experimentation combined with rewarding character-based humor. The seven members of the Greendale Community College study group are wonderfully charming and complex characters, and the ensemble cast has consistently given performances that go beyond just delivering jokes. Community is always funny, but its third-season parodies of everything from Law & Order to Ken Burns documentaries also showed how inventive and surprising it can be.

2. 'Ben and Kate' (Fox)

Ben and Kate
Photo courtesy of Fox
The best new show of fall 2012 is also one of the best shows of the entire year, a warm and very funny comedy about a brother and sister with polar-opposite personalities who love and support each other unconditionally. What the show lacks in originality it more than makes up for in rich characters and hilarious writing, and Nat Faxon and Dakota Johnson are pitch perfect as the title characters. The humor comes as much from their brilliant, heartfelt performances (as well as the supporting turns by Lucy Punch, Echo Kellum and Maggie Elizabeth Jones) as it does from the well-crafted jokes and relatable storylines.

3. '30 Rock' (NBC)

30 Rock
Photo courtesy of NBC

Over the years 30 Rock has had its ups and downs, but it’s always been a reliable source of fast-paced jokes, absurd and/or obscure references and great performances. Setting an end date (the shortened seventh season is the last) seems to have given Tina Fey’s sitcom about the backstage goings-on at a sketch-comedy series some renewed energy. Many sixth-season episodes can be counted among the show’s funniest and most creative, and the lead-up to the series finale has featured inventive callbacks, resonant character development and an impressive go-for-broke attitude. Fey, Tracy Morgan, Alec Baldwin, Jane Krakowski and the rest of the cast and crew are sending the show out on a high note.

4. 'Louie' (FX)

Louie
Photo courtesy of FX

At this point, Louie creator/writer/director/star Louis C.K. isn’t just creating an excellent TV comedy; he’s practically reinventing the whole genre every week. C.K. continues to push boundaries with a show that can resemble a surreal art film one week, a slice-of-life drama the next and a vulgar laugh-out-loud comedy the week after -- or perhaps encompass all three in a single episode. The creative freedom that he gets from FX has allowed him to follow his inspirations into unexpected and rewarding places. The third season found the show sometimes taking itself a little too seriously, but the segments featuring C.K.’s hilarious stand-up comedy can always bring it back to the simple roots of telling jokes.

5. 'Cougar Town' (ABC)

Cougar Town
Photo courtesy of ABC

Even with a truncated third season, Cougar Town remained TV’s best hangout sitcom: It doesn’t offer rapid-fire jokes like 30 Rock or Community; it doesn’t reinvent or deconstruct the genre like Community or Louie; and it doesn’t mix in heavy drama like some so-called comedies on premium cable. Instead it’s just a fun, warm half hour of spending time with some people you really like each week. That’s not to say that Cougar Town isn’t funny or clever or that its characters don’t grow or change. But the best thing about the show is just hanging out with the cul-de-sac crew, laughing along with everyone else at Jules’ neuroses and Laurie’s naïveté and Ellie’s meanness.

6. 'Parks and Recreation' (NBC)

Parks and Recreation
Photo courtesy of NBC

Parks and Recreation took on a pretty ambitious storyline in its fourth season with its look at Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) running for City Council, and along the way it proved that it could be a surprisingly insightful examination of local politics while remaining goofy and funny and heartwarming. The fifth season has continued that balance as Leslie takes her place on the City Council, gets engaged to Ben (Adam Scott) and embarks on a new phase in her life. Parks and Recreation might be TV’s most optimistic show, with its positive outlook on civic duty and common courtesy, but it also has plenty of room for cutting satire and absurd secondary characters who are as funny as any others on TV.

7. 'Awkward' (MTV)

Awkward
Photo courtesy of MTV
The second season of MTV’s refreshing teen comedy focused a little too much on the love triangle among main character Jenna Hamilton (Ashley Rickards) and her rival suitors Matty (Beau Mirchoff) and Jake (Brett Davern), but it also carried on the first season’s honesty about high-school life, respect for its characters and inventive turns of phrase. It’s not easy to make a show about teenagers that comes off as both of-the-moment and universally relatable, but Awkward strikes that balance consistently.

8. 'Suburgatory' (ABC)

Suburgatory
Photo courtesy of ABC
Like Awkward, Suburgatory mixes serious emotional truths about being a teenager in with its over-the-top comedy, although Suburgatory is a lot more cartoonish. The first season was uneven, but it still had strong characters and plenty of laughs, and the second season has been more consistent, delving more deeply into family relationships (as main character Tessa meets her mother, played by Malin Akerman, and dim-bulb Ryan Shay learns that he’s adopted) while retaining the best elements of the absurdist comedy (like Carly Chaikin’s wonderfully deadpan performance as Dalia Royce).

9. 'Childrens Hospital' (Adult Swim)

Childrens Hospital
Photo courtesy of Adult Swim
It’s hard to imagine this show getting any more surreal or bizarre, but somehow it always comes back to its origins as a medical-drama parody. The fourth-season episode featuring the “British version” of the show (complete with an entirely different cast) was a genius parody of the way TV shows are adapted between countries, and demonstrated the wealth of comedic material still to be mined from the original premise. With essentially no constraints, Rob Corddry and his team of comedy all-stars go all-out with their ambitious ideas every week, and almost always deliver.

10. 'Portlandia' (IFC)

Portlandia
Photo courtesy of IFC
The most dependable sketch comedy on TV delivered a solid second season, somehow continuing to find new things to satirize about the culture of Portland, Oregon, and making them relatable to people throughout the country. Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein are perfectly in sync as a comedy team, and they know just which guest stars to bring in for quick cameos (like Pearl Jam’s Eddie Vedder) and which ones to rely on for more extended appearances (like the excellent Kyle MacLachlan as the mayor of Portland).
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