As the decade comes to a close, it’s time to take a look back on the best TV comedies of the ’00s. It was a decade in which many declared the sitcom dead, but clever single-camera shows without laugh tracks successfully reinvented the genre, while traditional four-camera shows didn’t fade away entirely. And comedian Dave Chappelle even briefly brought some exciting new life to the sketch-comedy show. Here are my picks for the 10 best TV comedies of the ’00s, the ones that were the most beloved and influential (presented in chronological order).
The family sitcom kind of withered and died in the ’00s, at least as a creative force, but this charming, unassuming show kept the torch burning while goofing on the era of bell bottoms and feathered hair. Sure, the saga of teens growing up in Wisconsin in some vaguely 1970s-ish year got a little tired in its later seasons, but it was always the kind of show you could flip on and groove out to—a simple, amusing pleasure.
At a time when having a sitcom with a gay protagonist was pretty revolutionary, this show came around and made it seem easy, embracing both gay and straight audiences and painting a warm portrait of friendship along the way. Like a lot of long-running shows, it eventually wore out its welcome, and Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes’ supporting characters became shrill and annoying, but for a while it was both groundbreaking and well-made.
In an era dominated by the medical drama, Scrubs swooped in and made hospitals funny again, throwing in a helping of rich character development and whimsical fantasy as well. The growing pains of Zach Braff’s J.D. proved that doctors could be immature, insecure and endearing instead of imposing and infallible, and put forth a portrait of mid-20s coming-of-age that just happened to occur in the context of practicing medicine.
There weren’t a whole lot of notable sketch comedies in the ’00s, but Dave Chappelle stepped in and briefly became the new king of the catch phrase with his hilarious and scathing portrayals of Rick James and Lil Jon, among others. Chappelle’s personal problems and aversion to fame and success torpedoed the show just as it was achieving greatness, but going out before its time just increased the show’s legend.
I always found this show about the dysfunctional, self-involved Bluth family more to be admired than liked, honestly; its dense layers of references and meta-references impressed me but rarely made me laugh. Still, you can’t deny the impact it’s had on the standards for TV comedy shows, and the amount of detail that went into the clever writing was about more than just crafting jokes.
Very few people thought that the American remake of the British sensation The Office would work, and it didn’t, at first. But over time this show found its footing and its own unique voice, and it’s grown so far past its source material that it’s almost silly to compare the two. The comedy of awkward silences has given way to a rich tapestry of well-rounded characters—albeit sometimes at the expense of jokes—and become a genuine cultural phenomenon.
Plenty of shows play at pushing boundaries, but this one pretty much obliterates them, finding no subject too outrageous or controversial to handle. The four friends who own Paddy’s Pub in Philadelphia are flat-out horrible people, but their reprehensible, selfish actions form the foundations for some twisted, hilarious comedy.
After Friends, sitcoms about 20-somethings in the city were a dime a dozen, but this one manages to stand apart thanks to intricate plotting, instantly likeable characters and a winning mix of modern and traditional approaches to TV comedy. Plus, there’s Neil Patrick Harris as one of the most memorable sitcom characters of the decade, supplying endlessly quotable lines.
Creator Greg Garcia’s genuine affection for the hicks and trailer trash that populated the fictional Camden County made this show a pleasure to watch most of the time, although it meandered a bit before ending after its fourth season. But Jason Lee was always goofily appealing as the ne’er-do-well who won the lottery and decided to correct his mistakes, and the supporting cast grew full of weird, funny characters, making Earl’s world surprisingly deep yet consistently silly.
It’s hard to believe now, but when 30 Rock premiered it was overshadowed by Aaron Sorkin’s fellow behind-the-scenes-at-a-sketch-comedy show Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip. Sorkin’s dramatic take was a dud, and Tina Fey’s sitcom has evolved from its origins into an absurdist free-for-all that also makes room for surprising amounts of pathos.