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.
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).