TV Comedies to Warm the Cockles of Your Cold Dead Heart
Posted on February 15, 2018
by Tim P
Here in the absolute dregs of winter, we need something to cheer us up. It’s too cold for people to take walks, thus reducing a chance to see a hilarious hip-breaking tumble on a patch of ice. Dogs freezing into popsicles are a scream in cartoons, not so much in real life. Racist grandparents are a hoot in an Adam Sandler flick, but grueling to deal with at holiday gatherings. Here’s some funny. None of these shows are currently airing, but they’re all streaming somewhere. Please note that my favorite sketch comedy show, “SCTV,” won’t be discussed here because an esteemed fellow bloggerist is going to write about it in an upcoming blog. So, I’ll start with my second favorite sketch comedy show.
The brainchild of David Cross and Bob Odenkirk, “Mr. Show” ran for four seasons on HBO. It was never really well advertised so it never really caught on. That could also be because it was often obscene, hyper literate, and over the top. Like “Monty Python,” the sketches were always connected by some bizarre segue and those were usually hilarious too.
Season 3, Episode 3: “Oh You Men” Season 4, Episode 4: “The Story Of Everest”
In the Nineties, the word dramedy sent a chill down my spine. Coined for shows like “The Days And Nights Of Molly Dodd,” “Hooperman,” and “The Commish,” it basically meant unfunny comedies, a precedent set by “M.A.S.H.” in the Seventies (I know, I know. I didn’t like it, ok?). “Freaks And Geeks” was a dramedy too, but it was actually funny. Never gut busting, but reliably chuckle-worthy. Set in a high school in a small Michigan town, it followed two groups of kids from two different cliques, focusing mainly on Lindsey, a former geek who becomes a freak after her grandmother dies, and her brother Sam, a current geek. The show accurately captured what it was like to be an outsider in school and was filled with pathos and touching moments. There’s a scene in Episode 13 where the school bully reveals why he picks on the geeks so much and it’s absolutely devastating. Never developing much of a following during its initial run, it was cancelled after only 18 episodes, but the creators and actors have almost all gone on to fame and acclaim.
Season 1 (the only season, dang it), Episode 16: “Smooching And Mooching.”
I was torn between which version to put on here, the British or American. The British one was both brilliant and utterly painful to watch, centering mostly around four characters. The American version also features four main characters, but gives pretty much everyone in the office a chance to shine. The most popular show in this list, you’ve probably seen it.
Season 3, Episode 13: “Travelling Salesmen” Season 4, Episode 1: “Fun Run”
Episode I’ll never watch again: Season 6, Episode 12 – “Scott’s Tots.” Just too painful.
Created by former “Saturday Night Live” head writer Tina Fey, “30 Rock” is a behind the scenes look at a fictional comedy show that airs on Saturday nights. And it’s absolutely brilliant. Focusing on head writer Liz Lemon (played by Fey), we see her trials and tribulations. Her boss, NBC (a subsidiary of the Sheinhardt Wig Company) executive Jack Doneghy starts out rather adversarially, but as the series goes on, becomes her best friend and mentor. When her show’s ratings plummet, she’s forced to hire an unstable former comedy star (played by Tracy Morgan) to bolster them. Personalities clash, hilarity ensues. This, like the next two shows on the list, would often feature surrealistic jokes (like NBC page Kenneth, when seen through an HD camera lens, looks like a Muppet), which I love. Actually I’ll pretty much watch anything Tina Fey’s involved with.
Set in a Colorado community college called Greendale, “Community” was both a straight sitcom and a deconstruction of pop culture. Episodes would riff on anything from “Goodfellas” to “Ken Burns’ The Civil War” to “The Rankin and Bass Christmas specials” to itself (“Paradigms Of Human Memory” which was a fake clip show). Most of these spoofs would revolve around Abed Nadir, a character who may or may not have had Aspberger’s Syndrome and was fully aware that he was in a TV show. “Community” was genius. Simple enough that you could just watch an episode here and there and be entertained, it also rewarded watching from the start, with call backs to earlier episodes and dense in-jokes that make the show that much more hilarious. Plus they had a joke about “Beetlejuice” that took three years to tell. Come on!
“Newsradio” was criminally neglected. NBC had no idea how to market it so it wasn’t advertised very well … so no one watched it … so NBC kept moving it around on the schedule … so even the fans had no idea when it would be on. The circle of death. Which is a shame, because people missed one of the best sitcoms of all time. “Late Night With David Letterman” and “The Larry Sanders Show” writer Paul Simms was given a chance to create his first TV show and he ran with it. Hiring a bunch of like-minded writers, they wrote stuff that made them laugh and figured that it would make others laugh too (they wrote an episode with George ‘Goober’ Lindsay from “The Andy Griffith Show” playing himself just because they had read his autobiography in the writer’s room and wanted to ask him questions about it). And it might have but see above. The show was set at the fictional radio station WNYX New York. Lead by Phil Hartman, the cast was brilliant. The dialog was crisp and smart. The physical humor was amazing. The editing was perfect. And the show is pretty much forgotten. It was so good!
The first of three British comedy shows on my list, “The IT Crowd” was created, written, and directed by Graham Linehan who also created “Father Ted,” another brilliant show. Following three IT workers stationed in the basement of a giant company, we learned of their travails on and off the job. And the main cast was absolutely brilliant. Chris Dowd is just now getting well known here in America, and deservedly so, but co-stars Richard Ayoade and Katherine Parkinson (along with the company’s head honcho Matt Berry) were just as great! The forth season scene with Ayoade’s Moss taking the stand in another character’s divorce trial is honestly one of the funniest things I’ve ever seen.
Season 4, Episode 4: “Italian For Beginners.” Just an amazing episode.
Co-starring The IT Crowd’s Ayoade, “Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace” was a high concept hoot. Marenghi (played by Matthew Holness) is presented as a brilliant author who created a tv show in the Eighties that was so groundbreaking!, so edgy!, so brilliant!, that the networks dared not show it until now. What we then see is an utterly crummy, cheap supernatural hospital drama, with horrible acting and sub-BBC special effects. And it’s absolutely hilarious. The gravitas of the actors (of the hospital show, thinking they’re being incredibly deep, with the exception of Ayoade’s character, who plays Marenghi’s manager who had never acted before and keeps forgetting not to look at the camera) is played perfectly by the actual actors. It only lasted six episodes, but they’re all gold.
All of them. There are only six for crying out loud.
In 1994, sports presenter Alan Partridge got his own talk show called Knowing Me Knowing You, which ended when he shot a guest. A year later he’s living in a motel, DJing at a local radio station (in the graveyard slot) and plotting a comeback to the BBC, which is where we find him in “I’m Alan Partridge.” Aided by his put-upon assistant, Lynn, he tries endlessly to get another talk show. Created by Steve Coogan, Partridge is rude, childish, confused, and narcissistic , yet he’s somehow sympathetic. It went two seasons and a movie.
“Parks And Recreation” is my favorite show of all time. I’ve seen every episode at least ten times. If I don’t know what to watch, I watch an episode of “Parks And Recreation.” If I do know what to watch, I watch an episode of “Parks And Recreation.” I usually watch an episode before I go to bed just to relax. Like I said, favorite show. I’m not sure why. Obviously it’s funny, but it’s more than that. One of the things I enjoy about it is that the characters are so different from each other yet they get along. Libertarian Ron genuinely loves liberal Leslie and would do anything for her and vice versa. With everyone so polarized in the real world, it’s comforting to see people who genuinely care for each other. Well, except for Jerry.
Any except for Season 1. That season they were still trying to find their groove and it’s just not very good.
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