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.
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)
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.