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The Best TV Comedies of 2011

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In 2011, only a few new TV comedies made truly impressive debuts, but a number of great sitcoms from 2010 continued to deliver excellent episodes, in some cases surpassing what came before. There was surprising greatness from some unexpected places, including MTV and emerging comedy player IFC, and quality work from plenty of old favorites. Here’s a look at my picks for the best TV comedies of 2011.

1. 'Community' (NBC)

Community
Photo courtesy of NBC

Creator Dan Harmon got even more audacious with Community in its second and third seasons, staging ambitious episodes including a fake clip show, mockumentaries and elaborate homages to classic films. All the while, the comedy about a community-college study group stayed focused on its characters, offering meaningful emotional moments amid all the high-concept set pieces. And the jokes were consistently clever and funny, whether based around character interactions or elaborate pop-culture references.

2. 'Louie' (FX)

Louie
Photo courtesy of FX

Sometimes it seems wrong to even call Louie a comedy, since creator/writer/director/editor/star Louis C.K. does so much more with the show than make jokes. Louie’s second season went even deeper into surreal, existential territory, with unflinchingly dark looks at the difficulties of parenthood, the abyss of romantic relationships and the drudgery of everyday life. It was morbidly funny and also often beautifully moving, the kind of show that proves that comedy can be just as profound as drama.

3. '30 Rock' (NBC)

30 Rock
Photo courtesy of NBC

It’s easy to take Tina Fey’s veteran sitcom for granted, but 30 Rock had a creative resurgence this year, with more energy and cleverness packed into each episode. There’s still a lot of mileage left in the show about ridiculous people who work on a low-rated sketch-comedy series, and Fey and the writers have found new ways to explore it. Even star Tracy Morgan’s health-related absence for several episodes of the fifth season turned out to be a good thing, offering the show an opportunity to give the show more depth by focusing on the wide range of hilarious supporting characters.

4. 'Parks and Recreation' (NBC)

Parks and Recreation
Photo courtesy of NBC

It may have premiered in the shadow of The Office, but Parks and Recreation has developed its own identity, and this year again provided an excellent balance of goofy humor and heartfelt characterization. The folks at the Pawnee Department of Parks and Recreation were just fun people to spend time with, from the smart, capable and socially awkward Leslie Knope to the misanthropic, old-fashioned Ron Swanson. If Parks wasn’t always the funniest show on TV, it was quite often the most pleasant to watch.

5. 'Awkward' (MTV)

Awkward
Photo courtesy of MTV
You’d be forgiven for not expecting to find a warm, complex, character-driven teen comedy on MTV of all places, but that’s exactly what Awkward delivered over the summer. With a winning lead performance from Ashley Rickards as teen outcast Jenna, Awkward amusingly depicted the ups and downs of high-school life, including a well-thought-out love triangle and a nicely genuine friendship between Jenna and her BFF. Although some episodes were higher on the relationship drama than on the jokes, Desi Lydic reliably provided laughs in every one of her scenes as Jenna’s clueless guidance counselor.

6. 'Cougar Town' (ABC)

Cougar Town
Photo courtesy of ABC

Like Parks and Recreation, Cougar Town has been less about delivering lots of hilarious jokes and more about the vibe of hanging out with its characters. As it drifted even further from its initial limiting premise, the show embraced the freedom to go wherever its characters pointed it. A bunch of fairly self-centered friends getting together to drink wine and alternately support and belittle each other doesn’t sound like much of a concept, but Cougar Town’s writers and actors found a way to make it both funny and believable every week.

7. 'Childrens Hospital' (Adult Swim)

Childrens Hospital
Photo courtesy of Adult Swim

Rob Corddry’s anything-goes medical-drama parody Childrens Hospital took even more liberties with continuity and format in its third season, but it also retained a core of consistent characters that helped sell the jokes. The short format (15-minute episodes, including commercials) allows the producers to book a whole range of comedy all-stars for guest appearances, and that made for an always-surprising mix of characters and storylines. What started as a silly little web series has become one of the most inventive comedies on TV.

8. 'Suburgatory' (ABC)

Suburgatory
Photo courtesy of ABC
Like Awkward, Suburgatory depicts high-school life for a misfit teenage girl and her friends, but its angle is a little more cartoonish and sarcastic. That means that the first part of the show’s first season was a bit hit-and-miss, but at its best Suburgatory offered some hilarious jokes at the expense of the plastic suburban culture that main character Tessa (Jane Levy) finds herself stuck in. A fleshed-out supporting cast, including such amusing recurring players as Ana Gasteyer, Chris Parnell and Jay Mohr, has helped the show find its footing, building a suburban world that’s skewed but very recognizable.

9. 'Portlandia' (IFC)

Portlandia
Photo courtesy of IFC
Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein’s sketch-comedy series set in Portland, Oregon, may have seemed like it had a limited scope at first, but the show found a range of inventive ways to skewer hipsters, vegans, activists and other Pacific Northwest types, along with a healthy dose of just plain weirdness. Indie rocker Brownstein proved a surprisingly adept comic performer, and guest stars including Jason Sudeikis and Kyle MacLachlan provided valuable support. Several sketches became viral online sensations, but the show as a whole held up just as well.

10. 'Free Agents' (NBC)

Free Agents
Photo courtesy of NBC
The extremely short-lived workplace comedy, based on the British series of the same name, got mixed reviews and certainly had some bumps along the way, but there was a lot of promise that unfortunately will never be realized. Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn had great chemistry as two co-workers with serious romantic baggage, and the show managed to sidestep the tired “will they or won’t they?” dynamic while also not immediately throwing the characters into a relationship. A strong supporting cast including Anthony Head and Natasha Leggero pointed to more comedic potential beyond the central duo, but we’ll never know how it could have turned out.

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