Wednesday, December 28th, 2011

The Best Sitcoms of 2011 Not Named Community, Parks and Rec, or Louie

We talk about Community, Parks and Recreation, and Louie pretty much on a daily basis here at Splitsider. Ask any 10 random visitors to the ‘site, and they’ll likely say one of those three is their favorite current sitcom on TV. So, for the sake of that disappointed, “of course it is/they are…” feeling you get when you see the Beatles at the top of a best bands of all-time list, I didn’t include the two NBC sitcoms and the FX whatever-it-is. There has to be at least SOME intrigue. So, I present to you, the 10 best sitcoms of 2011…not named Community, Parks and Rec, or Louie.

#10. South Park
Like clockwork: another year, another excellent season of South Park. In Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s most high profile year yet, due to the expectations and then success of their Broadway musical The Book of Mormon, South Park was as good as ever: the at least semi-autobiographical “You’re Getting Old” dealt with cynicism and outgrowing the things you’ve enjoyed doing for years, while the Occupy Wall Street-spoofing “1%” used a clever bit of misdirection to disguise its true purpose until the end. Parker and co-writer Robert Lopez even tackled working on a musical in “Broadway Bro Down.” The episode was dirty yet sweet with a strong moral message, thought provoking, and had Stephen Sondheim wearing a Terry Bradshaw jersey and saying “bro” a lot. In other words, it was South Park.

#9. Raising Hope
Raising Hope never laughs at the financial success, or lack there of, of the Chances’; rather, it allows us to laugh with them, at how rich people miss all the fun little things in life, like Living Room Balloon Ball, because they’re too busy counting their money. Or doing other rich people things. Between that, the stellar relationship between husband-and-wife Garret Dillahunt and Martha Plimpton, and the series remarkable ability to make risky themes work (like an episode-long homage to the documentary Marwencol), the never preachy Raising Hope is TV’s best working class sitcom since Roseanne.

#8. American Dad!
No show on TV right now (or ever?) has been more hurt by its creators name than American Dad! and Seth MacFarlane. When people think of MacFarlane, they think of Family Guy and The Cleveland Show, which leads to further thoughts on dumb, racist jokes and easy gags over plot development. There’s no real plot development on American Dad!, either, but the series is SO over-the-top absurd — and it knows it (see: the exclamation point in the show’ title) — that the writers don’t care about building up daughter Hayley as a character, like Family Guy continually tries to with Meg; they’d rather build up an episode to a scene where there’s an explosion and a main character dies, only to come back perfectly fine next week. By decreasing the political angle and increasing the bizarre and screen time for Roger (those two often go hand-in-alien hand), American Dad! has become the ultimate “It’s much better than you think” show.

#7. Childrens Hospital
Speaking of absurd: I’m honestly not sure what to write about Childrens Hospital, because the show’s nothing more than an excuse for Rob Corddry, David Wain, Ken Marino, Rob Huebel, Henry Winkler, Megan Mullally, Lake Bell, and some of the other funniest names in comedy to tell as many jokes as they can in 11 minutes, at a machine gun-fire pace. Yet, for a seemingly plot-less show, Childrens (a title I HATE Google’ing because of what comes up first in the search, which is probably precisely the point) loves their high-concept episodes, too, like the aptly titled “Childrens Hospital: A Play In Three Acts.” To the naked eye, it might seem like a dumb show, but it’s also one of the smartest sitcoms around.

#6. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia has now been on the air for seven seasons, making it the longest-running live action sitcom in basic cable history (phew), and it’s never suffered any major creative droughts. It showed strains of it by the end of the sixth season, but by making this year all about Fat Mac, Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, Charlie Day, and the rest of the writers seemed creatively reawoken. It gave the show an arc and something new to come back to, which really paid off during the origin story episode “How Fat Got Mac.” But even the episodes that, honestly, had nothing to do with anything, like “The Gang Goes to the Jersey Shore” and “Chardee MacDennis: The Game of Games,” were consistently hilarious, and added Rum Ham and Chardee MacDennis to the show’s already impressive amount of self-mythologizing.

#5. Curb Your Enthusiasm
Seasons five and six were down ones for Curb Your Enthusiasm. The arcs weren’t as interesting as the years beforehand, and the only development still worth talking about that came from those years was the emergence of Leon. But the show went through a remarkable turnaround with season seven, a.k.a. the Seinfeld season, and got even better with season eight, which brought Larry David back to New York to avoid volunteering at a charity gig. The change of setting allowed the show to do stories it hadn’t done before, with a new group of guest stars, including Michael J. Fox (“Was it pissed or Parkinson’s?”) and redeemed-Red Sox Bill Bucker. But the highlight of the season (and maybe the show) was “Palestinian Chicken,” which forced Larry to choose between his people, the Jews, or the Palestinians and their chicken — and their women. It was an episode so good that Harvard Law professor Alan Dershowitz sent it to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in the hopes that he would invite Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas over for a meeting.

#4. How I Met Your Mother
Also known as the only time we ever talk about CBS in a positive way. It's kind of amazing that on the same network, on the same night in fact, as such comedic dreck as Two and a Half Men, 2 Broke Girls, and Mike & Molly, How I Met Your Mother has continued to flourish, year after year, and it’s finally broken into the pantheon of Great Sitcoms. It’s a high-concept sitcom that doesn’t feel overly complicated, because of the likability and reliability of the four friends at the core of the show, and an episode like “The Ducky Tie” can be enjoyed by someone who’s never seen the show just as much as someone who remembers the first time Barney mentioned his fascination with Lily’s breasts. Anyone who still cares about the mother’s identity is totally missing all the fun.

#3. 30 Rock
Yes, Tracy Jordan and Jenna Maroney are both still bat-shit crazy and egotistical. Yes, it makes no sense why Jack Donaghy would spend so much time with the head writer of a low-rated variety show. But who cares when you’ve got episodes as good as “TGS Hates Women,” which spoofed the lack of female writers in the comedy world (and specifically, the spat between Jezebel and The Daily Show with Jon Stewart over their hiring of Olivia Munn as a correspondent), or “Queen of Jordan,” an episode-long parody of Bravo’s Real Housewives series starring Tracy’s wife, Angie, or “100,” featuring guest appearances from Brian Williams, Tom Hanks, Rachel Dratch, Will Forte, and Michael Keaton. As long as 30 Rock keeps bringing the funny, which it did in a strong and weird (the show's best friend) second half to season five in 2011, we’ll keep looking past the show’s story-telling deficiencies.

#2. Happy Endings
ABC did no favors to Happy Endings by airing season one out of order, but once people began talking about the show, the network gave it the plum post-Modern Family time slot, and the show has taken advantage of the scheduling ever since. The chemistry the cast has — including favorites gay freeloader Max (Adam Palley) and goofy group punching bag Alex (Elisa Cuthbert) — might be TV’s best since, well, Friends, and the rapid-fire dialogue and pop culture-heavy jokes make it one of the more quotable series on right now. Happy Endings has a way of doing stories we’ve seen a million times before (like when city couple Eliza Coupe and Damon Wayans, Jr. stay at a house in the suburbs) seem brand new by finding new angles. More than any other TV group, this is the one you’d want to hang out with.

#1. Archer
What began as a relatively amusing, lightweight spy spoof has since morphed into the funniest show on TV not named Community, Parks and Recreation, or Louie. Like creator Adam Reed’s other great series, Sealab 2021 and Frisky Dingo, Archer took some time to get going, but once it did, it's been consistently hilarious and always offbeat. Archer, which features TV’s best voice work cast (courtesy of H. Jon Benjamin, Aisha Tyler, Chris Parnell, and Judy Greer, among others), took its first major step towards greatness with the two-part mini arc “Stage Two” and “Placebo Effort,” which had our hero, masculine spy Sterling Archer, diagnosed with a disease commonly associated with women, breast cancer. It was a bold step for the show to take, but it paid off in spades; it proved Archer could be both wildly uproarious and surprisingly poignant. And did I mention it’s just fucking funny? Yuppp.

Josh Kurp would like to give Honorable Mentions to: Awkward (TV’s version of Mean Girls, and nearly as good); Bob’s Burgers (it’ll be top-10 worthy if it season two is as strong as the second half of season one); Bored to Death (RIP); The League (needs more Dirty Randy); and The Simpsons (the last five or six episodes of 2011, including “The Book Wife” and “Holidays of Future Passed,” were some of the show’s best in years).

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  • DudebroDMB@Twitter

    I'm glad that Archer is getting the attention it deserves. It's creator, Adam Reed, aptly described it as James Bond meets Arrested Development. Which is just about as awesome as it sounds.

    The league, I think should have a spot over Raising Hope, though admittedly I haven't watched either series this season. Ruxin (Ruxxin?) viciously gloating over his win as the sun was eclipsed had me in tears last year though.

  • iamjustryingtolive

    i hope you meant to include the Simipson's episode "The Food Wife" w the tim and eric song and cameo. Also it is very telling that the office is not on the list and nor should it be. The Office feels like a best friend who turned to heavy drugs that you should probably avoid but can't bc of the great times you remember.

    • Joshua Kurp

      @iamjustryingtolive "The Food Wife" is another excellent of-late episode. As for The Office: I still think it's a funny show, but the writers seem to have lost the ability to write a coherent, 22 minute story. It's just weird.

  • I'm Gary@twitter

    Wow, a CBS sitcom makes the cut! Kudos for showing restraint for once, Pawnee-Greendale Bunch! Looking forward to 2012's list which I'm sure will include Rob! and Work It.

  • theBULL

    Interesting to see Modern Family not on the list. As much as I want to hate it, the show is very well written. While I don't laugh out loud as often as I do with other shows, I appreciate the irony found by the end of each episode. Not even an Honorable Mention.

    • I'm Gary@twitter

      @theBULL it's probably gotten too popular for them to write about anymore. You know how they adore shows constantly on the verge of cancellation!

    • iamjustryingtolive

      @I'm Gary@twitter your pt that splitsider community is elitist and skews to alt or culty fare is well taken, but can anything that's on tv actually really be obscure. I think (don't know) that if a show ends up on tv the ppl behind it are successful and recognized. Your Avatar from Dinosaur's undercuts your point entirely. That was a really funny and clever show that wasn't lauded by the masses. Dinosaurs is part of the Pawnee-Greendale bunch. Unless of course you are aware of that, then i feel like a dolt.

    • Joshua Kurp

      @theBULL We actually recap it every week, so, yeah.

    • I'm Gary@twitter

      @iamjustryingtolive My gripe is that shows that people ACTUALLY WATCH get practically zero coverage here. Melissa McCarthy is endlessly praised, but Mike & Molly gets scarcely a fraction of the attention devoted to Community, which if it doesn't get canceled is in danger of falling into further cultural irrelevance thanks to the in-jokes (Beetlejuice, anyone?) and endless "theme" episodes.

      Now if anyone at Splitsider is actually interested in having someone cover the shows people are watching in America today, I'd gladly step up (nudge nudge wink wink).

    • I'm Gary@twitter

      @Joshua Kurp out of curiosity, where would Modern Family have ended up on your list? Top 15? Top 20?

    • Joshua Kurp

      @I'm Gary@twitter It's because we can only semi-religiously cover a certain number of shows, and Mike & Molly (which I did a recap once), 2 Broke Girls, Last Man Standing, etc. didn’t make the cut. Why? Frankly, and I’m only speaking for myself here (Adam?), they're just not as good as, say, Parks and Recreation. Call me a snob (I am, and will), but I think it's true, and I think the view counts for posts on Two and a Half Men vs. Community would prove people are more interested in the latter.

      Modern Family, which I recapped for all of season two, would probably be somewhere between #15-20. Again, I love the chemistry the cast has (and Phil and Luke are absolutely fantastic) and there’s never been a bad episode of the show, but I just feel like its spinning in circles. You point out in-jokes and "theme" episodes as Community's weak spots; well, what about the constant barrage of verbal gags (“I no speak English so good…”) from Gloria? Or the fact that most of the plots feel shortchanged because the writers try to squeeze every character (or at least every adult) into every episode? It’s an extremely predictable, fairly enjoyable sitcom – but it could be a lot better.

      As for Melissa: http://splitsider.com/tag/melissa-mccarthy

    • Megh Wright

      @I'm Gary@twitter I agree with Josh. Modern Family is a good show for what it is — a sort of updated/revamped family sitcom that just so happens to have a really awesome cast. Beyond just being a solid family-friendly show, is it much more than that? Is it taking chances or creating plots/problems/whatever that are worth discussing and debating? It doesn't mean Splitsider hates it and isn't giving it enough coverage, if you ask me. It just is what it is…some shows are designed to make you converse and argue about them, and other shows like Modern Family are just like "Well that was good. Now I'm going to make myself a pancake." Or something like that.

    • I'm Gary@twitter

      @Joshua Kurp Thank you for the thorough reply.

      I think the view counts for posts about Two and a Half Men and other popular programs might be higher if the posts weren't so overwhelmingly derisive and dismissive. Surely there's someone on the Splitsider staff that likes or at least watches those shows, and if there isn't, well then, that's a missed opportunity for a comedy site that publishes content multiple times a day five days a week.

      Regarding the Melissa McCarthy coverage on this site, I wont argue that it has been extensive, but I will say that (1) the metatag with her name didn't crop up until Bridesmaids and (2) such coverage has largely existed IN SPITE of her more-popular-than-Pawnee-or-Greendale television program. I think she's terrific and I'm glad you guys do too, but the glaring omission of her on-air show suggests that a blind eye is being turned.

    • http://splitsider.com Adam Frucci

      @I'm Gary@twitter I think there are two main reasons that we don't cover shows like Two and a Half Men and Mike and Molly more. One, this is a site with extremely limited resources. Like, almost none. If I had the budget of the AV Club or Vulture I would have 10 full-time writers who could dedicate more time to covering more stuff.

      And two, which is related to one, we really just cover what we like here. The site gets its sensibility from the inherent curation in just us being fans. If someone really loved Mike and Molly and wanted to write about it, I'd certainly be open to it, but I've gotten exactly zero pitches on it. Rather than ask people to cover shows they don't like for nothing just because I want to be more "comprehensive," I'd rather have a more focused site that covers what my readers and contributors have shown to be excited about.

    • I'm Gary@twitter

      @Adam Frucci That's the best answer I could possibly get, and I'm grateful you took the time to spell it out for me and the readership. Despite my apparent grousing, I truly enjoy reading the site on a daily basis and am probably one of its creepiest devotees. I write mostly for music websites, and I definitely relish the freedom to cover the bands I like, so I shouldn't be too harsh on you for doing the same. Still, it's a bit much at times, the Pawnee-Greendale cultishness. (For the record, I think Parks & Rec found its stride in the last two seasons, and Adam Scott is terrific.)

      Of course, I'd love the chance to pitch you some ideas (I sent one half-lucid pitch some weeks back about Rob Schneider's upcoming sitcom) and try to fill in some of the gaps, if you're looking for that. I'm wearing a tie right now because my career counselor told me that professionalism matters.

    • theBULL

      @Megh Wright I think Modern Family is taking chances and does have plots/problems/whatever that are worth debating. Mainly how they handle the gay family both tastefully, but still obviously afraid to go "out there" in showing the two's affection for each other. At least I think they have a little more to discuss than Parks & Rec (which is my favorite comedy right now). But doesn't matter. You guys have made your point on it which I respect. I think it's funny that it is considered a solid, well-written family friendly show, and yet that somehow is looked down upon.

    • Megh Wright

      @theBULL I can only speak for myself here, but I definitely don't "look down" upon Modern Family. I watched the first season and some of the second and sort of tapered off because I just got bored with it I guess. Maybe I'll go back and rewatch some time? I agree it's a solid show for the right audience, but come on now, the going "out there" with Cam and Mitchell's affection didn't happen until after a huge fan outcry. Either way I do hold the show to a higher standard because it is at least aiming to be innovative, so don't assume I'm some comedy snob who looks down on shows she doesn't watch. It's actually just the opposite — did you know America's Next Top Model is on Wednesdays? Talk about tasteful!

  • Dave Haab@twitter

    "Community" and "Parks and Recreation" may be two of the most overrated comedies in the history of television. Also, not having "Mondern Family" on a best TV comedies of 2011 list immediately discounts the list.

  • http://ironbunny.me ironbunny

    Cooch chili I love Archer.

  • technologicalwunderkind@aol.com

    Eagleheart was the funniest show of 2011.

    • I'm Gary@twitter

      @technologicalwunderkind@aol.com YES YES YES! The return of Chris Elliott to television should have been even more hailed!

  • theBULL

    I know you recap it every week. Which makes it stranger it wasn't mentioned at all in this list. I'll assume it's included along with Community, Parks & Rec, and Louie, as another show to ignore while making this list.

    • Joshua Kurp

      @theBULL Sorry, my snide comment wasn't directed towards to you — I meant it for I'm Gary. As for Modern: I think it's fine. It's found a rhythm and pace that it's very good at, but it doesn't ever try to do anything different. I like sitcoms to evolve, and I don't think the style of their jokes has changed at all since the pilot.

      It's comforting, with great cast chemistry, but not one of my favorites.

  • Tobias Aplin

    No Always Sunny in Philly? Or does it also fall into the Louie category?

    • theBULL

      @Tobias Aplin It's listed as #6.

    • Tobias Aplin

      @theBULL Fuck, I'm ashamed of myself… Looks like its time to learn how to tie a noose.

  • http://www.twitter.com/becca_oneal Rebecca O'Neal

    Now I feel bad for not sticking around after the first season of Archer. MAY have to catch up. GOOD LIST!

    • I'm Gary@twitter

      @Rebecca O'Neal It got better in the second season, more ridiculous and in-jokey.

  • Shannon Garcia

    I'm sure this has been said, but the bias for shows like Community and Parks and Rec are based on this a. they are quality, original shows/plots. b. two and a half men, and other cbs sitcoms are gotdamn overrated and highly praised in the media enough, so it shouldn't be top priority to discuss their overwhelming impact. c. As a reader, I love that they cover the shows I actually watch. It's not snobbery, it's just good taste and preference for quality.

  • danielle johnsen@twitter

    How American Dad is still getting love is confusing to me? Where's Bob's Burgers, which is inherently better than anything Seth could make?
    And The League, which in my opinion finally showed up IASIP, definitely deserved a spot on this list, possibly in the top 5.

    • I'm Gary@twitter

      @danielle johnsen@twitter American Dad has made it a point not to be Republican Family Guy, a premise which its first few episodes threatened, but instead to be an absurd, hilarious gem of a program. It's smarter than Family Guy by a longshot.

      Now Bob's Burgers is a quality show, but in my jackass opinion it's not yet there. Archer is superior in just about every way.

  • irene haralabatos@twitter

    I thought "Bored to Death" was one of the most absolutely heartwarming (yes) and enjoyable comedies of 2011. Who knew that Ted Danson was this hilarious? (was he this funny on Cheers? Don't remember.) What a great buddy sitcom. R.I.P.

  • Brian Danger Flynn@facebook

    How do you guys never talk about "The Life and Times of Tim"??? That show is hilarious.