The start of the year can be a rough time for TV addicts, with most shows still on their holiday breaks, leaving a desolate wasteland of reruns and weird game shows. But fear not, because new programming starts to slowly return to TV this week, as the networks and cable channels gradually roll out their midseason fare. Most of your favorites are gonna be back, plus some new stuff you might like too. The second half of the 2010-2011 TV season has a lot in store for comedy fans, including the grand finale of the Kenny Powers saga, a new animated show from the Always Sunny gang, and the eventual return of the critically-acclaimed comedy whose absence from the midseason schedule has fans reeling – say it with me: Cougar Town! Oh, that show Community's also coming back at some point too.
Here's what we have to look forward to for the rest of the 2011-2012 TV season:
Portlandia – IFC – Season 2 debuts Fri., Jan. 6th at 10 (watch trailer)
Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein's Pacific Northwest-themed sketch show Portlandia returns Friday with new episodes. The first season of Portlandia was amazing, with the only real problem being that it was just a measly six episodes long. This season seeks to fix that error by expanding to a much more satisfying ten episodes. Armisen and Brownstein will no doubt be bringing back all of your favorite recurring characters, as well as debuting some new ones. They’ve recruited an astonishing roster of guest stars for Season 2, including Jeff Goldblum, Sean Hayes, Eddie Vedder, Penny Marshall, Jack McBrayer, Tim Robbins, Kristen Wiig, Andy Samberg, Miranda July, Johnny Marr, and Kyle MacLachlan, who returns as the Mayor of Portland. Cacao.
The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret – IFC – Season 2 debuts Fri., Jan. 6th at 10:30 (watch trailer)
Short-running British shows like the original Office are the model for David Cross's UK-set series Todd Margaret, and that's why Cross has made it clear that he plans to end the show after its second season. By the end of this new season we should know the reasons for Todd Margaret's excessive legal problems and the whole Todd Margaret story will be wrapped up. Mega super guest star Jon Hamm will be stopping by, appearing in five of the season’s six episodes. Will Arnett will be back too, along with fellow castmembers Sharon Horgan and Blake Harrison. Look for Arnett and Hamm to have a good-looking guy deep voice-off to end all good-looking guy deep voice-offs.
30 Rock – NBC – Season 6 debuts Thurs., Jan. 12th at 8 (watch trailer)
It'll be hard for fans of Community not to see 30 Rock as the show that bumped their favorite show off the schedule, but, had it not been for 30 Rock taking a hiatus in the fall to cover for Tina Fey's pregnancy, Community very well may have been left off NBC's schedule in the fall too. Judging by the promo for the new season, the long-running series is still fresh and full of surprises. Kristen Schaal and James Marsden will be joining the cast as recurring guests, with Schaal playing Hazel Whatshername, a page who idolizes Liz, and Marsden playing Liz's lazy but good-looking new boyfriend Chriss [sic]. Alec Baldwin has said it's his last season on the show, but Tina Fey seems to be determined to keep him around for another year. It looks like the creative team is pulling out all the stops for Season 6, with Will Arnett, Chris Parnell, Denise Richards, and Kelsey Grammer also guest starring. Plus, the writers will be addressing what Kim Jong-Il's death means for Avery Jessup (Elizabeth Banks), who was kidnapped by Jong-Il and North Korea at the end of last season. Is that enough to make you stay, Alec Baldwin? Don't make me beg, it's demeaning.
Archer – FX – Season 3 debuts Thurs., Jan. 19th at 10
Picking up where the odd three-episode “Heart of Archness” mini-arc left off in September, Archer returns with a full third season in late January. Archer was Splitsider columnist Josh Kurp’s pick for Best TV Comedy Not Named Community, Parks and Rec, or Louie, and the upcoming season should see Archer continue its stellar run. Burt Reynolds of all people will be dropping by to voice himself. The new season will coincide with the release of an Archer book written by the show's writers, titled How to Archer: The Ultimate Guide to Espionage and Style and Women, and Also Cocktails Ever Written.
Delocated – Adult Swim – Season 3 debuts Thurs., Feb. 2nd at midnight (technically Friday)
The best comedy you're probably not watching, Jon Glaser's live-action Adult Swim series Delocated, stars Glaser as a man in the Witness Protection Program who makes his life into a reality show, retaining a mask and voice changer the whole time to protect his identity. Delocated really found its footing last season when it expanded from 15 minutes to a full half-hour, and this winter should see the show continuing to be hilarious, with Janeane Garofalo, Ali Farahnakian, and Yung-I Chang joining the cast. This whole paragraph sounds much cooler and funnier if you read it out loud with one of those creepy voice changers.
Eastbound & Down – HBO – Season 3 debuts Sun., Feb. 19th at 10 (watch teaser trailer)
It's been over a year since Kenny Powers last graced our screens, but he's coming back this February for Eastbound & Down's final season. Danny McBride and co-creator Jody Hill are choosing to wrap up the Kenny Powers saga after only three seasons as McBride and Hill, like David Cross, admire the short-run British series model, and Eastbound strictly adheres to mythologist Joseph Campbell's "Hero's Journey" story structure (just like fellow epics Star Wars and Lord of the Rings). Season 3 sees Kenny Powers playing for a minor league ball team with Jason Sudeikis and MADtv alum Ike Barinholtz joining the cast as fellow baseball players and Matthew McConaughey and Will Ferrell both reprising their roles as openly gay Texas scout Roy McDaniel and eccentric car dealership tycoon Ashley Schaeffer, respectively. Those who love Eastbound & Down but bemoan the 6 and 7-episode mini-seasons we’ve been getting so far will be happy to note that this season will be way longer with a whopping 8 episodes.
Breaking In – Fox – Season 2 debuts Tues., Mar. 6th at 8:30
Sophomore sitcom Breaking In pulled a double-Jesus Christ this past summer when Fox decided to bring it back from the dead a second time. If you'll recall, Fox chose not to pick up Breaking In for series after production of the show's pilot in 2009 but then changed their minds, and just recently, the network canceled the show but then reversed that decision and ordered a second season. Breaking In is going through some major retooling by the network for its second season, with the concept shifting from last year’s “mission of the week” theme to the feel of a more traditional workplace comedy. Of note to fans of Party Down and Childrens Hospital – and fans of funny people in general – is the news that Megan Mullally is joining the cast as the new boss. The addition of Mullally is definitely a smart move and good news for fans of Breaking In, but seriously, guys, don't get attached to this thing. By this time next year, Fox will have probably canceled and then renewed the show three more times. Can you imagine the heart attack the Internet would have if NBC played around with Community this way?
Bob’s Burgers – Season 2 debuts Sun., Mar. 11th at 8:30
Fox debuted Bob's Burgers in 2010 and it quickly became the crown jewel of the network's Sunday night all-animated lineup. After nearly a full-year off, Bob's Burgers will return with 22 brand new episodes beginning this March. Here's what Fox says we the new season has in store for us:
"Bob and the family test-drive the food truck industry, dive into the world of synchronized swimming, search for treasure in an abandoned taffy factory and get tied up with a very needy bank robber."
I don't know if this is true, but I heard the writers insisted on taking the extra time off to come up with more excellent pun names for burger specials.
South Park – Season 16 debuts Wed., Mar. 14th at 10
South Park returns for its impressive 16th season on March 14th. There's no telling what to expect from the new season, as those of you who saw the recent South Park making-of documentary 6 Days to Air know that Trey Parker and Matt Stone probably won't start working on the season premiere until a week ahead of time like college kids cramming for a big exam. As this past season proved, though, South Park has had no shortage of surprises in its later years, with last season featuring one of the show's most downbeat episodes ever, "You're Getting Old," which saw Stan sinking into depression after his parents divorce. Trey Parker and Matt Stone have consistently proven they're still willing to explore new territory, even as South Park continues getting old. Season 16 will be far from the last, since Parker and Stone recently signed on for three more seasons that will see the show running through at least 2016. So, uh, set your DVRs to keep recording South Park at least until the tail end of the first Michelle Bachmann administration.
Eagleheart – Season 2 debuts Thurs., Mar. 15th at midnight (technically Friday)
Eagleheart is another funny live-action Adult Swim series that not enough people are watching. The show stars comedy demi-god Chris Elliott, as well as Brett Gelman (Funny or Die Presents), Maria Thayer (Strangers with Candy), and John Gladis (Mad Men), is produced by Conan O'Brien, was created by ex-Conan writers Michael Koman and Andrew Weinberg, and is directed/produced by Jason Woliner, the fourth, non-acting member of Human Giant. Eagleheart is every bit as funny as the show's pedigree suggests. Keep an eye out for this one in March because it's a delightful, off-the-wall 11-minute series that packs at least 12 minutes worth of laughs and explosions in each week.
Cougar Town – Season 3 debuts TBA Spring
Bill Lawrence and Kevin Biegel’s sitcom Cougar Town debuted to mixed reviews in its first season, but by the time Season 2 rolled around, it was one of the most critically-acclaimed comedies on broadcast TV, with critics and fans assuring others that the show is much better than the horrible name would suggest. (To be fair, even the show’s creators detest the name and want to change it). Community and Cougar Town have often intersected thanks to their creators' friendship, and, like Community, Cougar Town was left off its network’s midseason schedule this year. It hasn’t exactly inspired petitions and flashmobs, but Cougar Town’s forced hiatus is upsetting Abed and his fellow fans.
Community – Season 3 returns TBA Spring
Despite all of the show’s fans freaking out as if it had been canceled, NBC assures us that Community, its critically-acclaimed but ratings-challenged comedy, will be back at some point this spring – probably in March or April. The show’s third season will continue at that point, hopefully, in a timeslot that doesn’t pit it against TV’s highest-rated comedy, The Big Bang Theory, which Community has been losing to in ratings battles for the past two seasons. Even though Community fans will be forced to live without new episodes for a few months, they can take solace in the fact that 12 amazing new episodes will be airing at some point in the spring.
Work It – ABC – debuts Tues., Jan. 3rd at 8:30 (watch trailer)
It says a lot that Work It is the most-maligned sitcom in a TV season full of shows TV critics and comedy snobs love to hate (Whitney, Rob). Work It follows two unemployed guys who must crossdress to get the jobs they want, and it has already drawn criticism from GLAAD and other LGBT groups, who worry that the show is spreading transphobia. Work It doesn't explicitly address transgender people, but this whole "isn't it funny when guys dress up like ladies?" thing is played out, offensive, and hasn't been funny since either Tootsie in 1982 or Mrs. Doubtfire in 1993, depending on where you stand.* It's unfortunate that Work It has to be the first new comedy series of 2011, but, luckily, the midseason lineup gets much better from here.
*Please be kind to me in the comments, fans of Juwanna Man, Sorority Boys, the Big Momma's House trilogy, and the Tyler Perry catalog. I mean you no harm.
House of Lies – Showtime – debuts Sun., Jan. 8th at 10:30 (watch trailer)
Don Cheadle, Kristen Bell, Ben Schwartz, and Josh Lawson star in this new comedy about a firm of amoral management consultants. Based on the book House of Lies: How Management Consultants Steal Your Watch and Then Tell You the Time by Martin Kihn, the show was created by Matthew Carnahan, who also created the axed FX show Dirt. Fans of Ben Schwartz, who is best known for his recurring role as Aziz Ansari's douchey sidekick Jean-Ralphio on Parks and Rec, should be excited to see the actor weekly in this new series, but his commitment to House of Lies means we'll be seeing Jean-Ralphio around on a slightly less frequent basis. Something tells me, however, that Don Cheadle and Ben Schwartz's company will have more staying power than Entertainment 720.
Are You There, Chelsea? – NBC – debuts Wed., Jan. 11th at 8:30 (watch trailer)
Joining Whitney as part of an hour-long sitcom block Wednesday nights on NBC, Are You There Chelsea? is a new show from creator Chelsea Handler, based on her book, Are You There, Vodka? It's Me Chelsea. Laura Prepon (Donna from That 70's Show) plays the title role, a fictionalized version of Chelsea Handler, and the real Chelsea Handler confusingly plays the character Chelsea's sister. Are You There, Chelsea? will no doubt benefit from having Whitney – NBC’s highest-rated new comedy – as a lead-in. Of course, Whitney's success was mainly due to an ubiquitous, much-maligned ad campaign and being placed right after The Office, so we'll how this new timeslot suits these two like-minded comedies.
Rob – CBS – debuts Thurs., Jan. 12th at 8:30 (watch trailer)
Rob Schneider's making his long-awaited return to television this winter with the premiere of his new sitcom, aptly titled Rob. Created by Schneider and Emmy-winning veteran TV writer Lew Morton (NewsRadio, Futurama), the series stars Schneider as a guy named Rob, who marries into a large, tight-knit Hispanic family. Cheech Marin co-stars as Schneider's father-in-law. Rob is based on Rob Schneider's own personal life, so it should at least shut up the segment of the population that has been demanding a deeper look into Rob Schneider's personal life. Rob was originally titled ¡Rob! until CBS execs wised up and axed the double-exclamation marks, possibly because they thought they’d have the same problems they had last season when there was a scare that the network’s feeble-minded elderly viewers would struggle to find the punctuation-laden series $#*! My Dad Says when searching for it on their cable boxes.
Napoleon Dynamite – debuts Sun., Jan. 15th at 8:30 (watch trailer)
An animated version of Napoleon Dynamite is Fox's latest attempt to diversify its Sunday night cartoon block by greenlighting shows not created by Seth MacFarlane. Jon Heder and the entire original cast are back to lend their voices, as are the movie’s original writing/directing team of Jared and Jerusha Hess. The Hess husband/wife team created the new series with former Simpsons writer/showrunner and Parks and Rec writer Mike Scully. The Napoleon Dynamite comedic universe feels arguably better-suited for animation than it is for live-action, but it's just strange that it's taken Heder and company this long to try a Napoleon Dynamite cartoon. It's been nearly eight years since the original film hit theaters, but I'm willing to bet the public's love for these characters still abounds.
Unsupervised – FX – debuts Thurs., Jan. 19th at 10:30 (watch trailer)
Produced by the It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia trio of Rob McElhenney, Charlie Day, and Glenn Howerton, Unsupervised is a new animated comedy created Sunny writers David “Ricky Cricket” Hornsby, Rob Rossell, and Scott Marder. The series follows two 15-year-old best friends navigating high school without any parental supervision, and the all-star voice cast is made up of Justin Long, Kristen Bell, Kaitlin Olson, Fred Armisen, Romany Malco, and co-creators David Hornsby and Rob Rossell as the main characters. FX's track record with comedy has been pretty sterling with this recent wave of shows it's launched (Louie, Archer, etc.) winning over audiences and critics, and hopefully, Unsupervised will see this continue. Unsupervised is only the second project from the Always Sunny team, and it should satisfy fans who crave those guys' brand of dark weirdness in their TV diets during Sunny's off-season. As if the presence of Always Sunny's creative team doesn't inspire enough confidence, Archer's producers Adam Reed and Matt Thompson are onboard, as well, contributing to Unsupervised's esteemed thoroughbred FX lineage.
Inside Comedy – Showtime – debuts Thurs., Jan. 26th at 11 (watch trailer)
Steve Carell is producing this new comedy-themed interview series, hosted by David Steinberg. Steinberg’s no stranger to this type of show; he hosted Sit Down Comedy for TV Land from 2005 to 2007, on which he chatted with a slew of stand-ups. With the podcast boom – and Marc Maron’s WTF especially – fueling the public’s interest in hearing comedians interviewed, there’s never been a better time for Steinberg to debut Inside Comedy. The roster of interview subjects David Steinberg has lined up should put even Marc Maron’s magnificent catalog of guests to shame, with the likes of Mel Brooks, Jerry Seinfeld, Ellen DeGeneres, Martin Short, Jane Lynch, Garry Shandling, Larry David, Sarah Silverman, and Steve Carell dropping by Inside Comedy's anti-Cat Ranch in just its first season alone.
Key & Peele – Comedy Central – debuts Tues., Jan. 31st at 10:30 (watch preview clip)
Created by and starring MADtv veterans Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, Key & Peele is Comedy Central's latest sketch show that will see the hosts presenting filmed sketches to a live audience. Key and Peele were highlights of late period MADtv and they've proven to each be consistently funny performers in the years following their stints on that show, frequently collaborating with both the Reno 911! and Stella factions of The State, with both of them appearing in Childrens Hospital, Reno 911!, and David Wain’s films. Upright Citizen Brigade’s Ian Roberts and his writing partner Jay Martel are producing the show, further sweetening the pot. Comedy Central has been hunting for its next big sketch show – ever since Dave Chappelle walked away from his $50 million deal in 2005 – without much luck. Key & Peele is one of the most promising new shows of midseason and it just might be able to win audiences over in ways that past sketch offerings from Carlos Mencia, Demetri Martin, and Nick Swardson haven't.
I Just Want My Pants Back – MTV – debuts Feb. 2nd at 11 (watch trailer)
The premiere episode of MTV's new hipster comedy I Just Want My Pants Back aired last year in a special preview, but the weekly series starts up this February, airing right after Jersey Shore, MTV's flagship unintentional comedy. Based on the book of the same by David J. Rosen, who also adapted it to series, I Just Wants My Pants Back follows a group of young hipsters in New York and features Chris Parnell in a recurring role as the main character's boss. So, be sure to check this one out next month if you're a fan of Chris Parnell or fixed-gear bikes.
Life’s Too Short – HBO – US premiere Feb. 19th at 10:30 (watch trailer)
The third scripted series created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant (after The Office and Extras), Life's Too Short premiered in November in the UK, but the show’s 7-episode first season is coming to HBO this February. Gervais and Merchant's TV track record boosts confidence about this new series, which stars actor Warwick Davis, Gervais, and Merchant, as fictionalized versions of themselves. So far, reviews in the UK have been mixed and failed to reach the high expectations set by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant's two previous seminal series, but time will tell how Life's Too Short fares with US audiences.
Tight Bros – Adult Swim – debuts Sun., Feb. 19th
Created by the writing team of Chris Marcil and Sam Johnson (who worked on NewsRadio, Frasier, and most recently, um, Hot in Cleveland), Tight Bros is a new animated show about a pair of unintelligent "clergybros,” which seems to be a term for bros who are super into God and stuff. The show’s two main characters, Vince and Aaron, were called on to spread God’s word. They sell religious kitsch in a store at the mall by day and pick up women at the clubs by night. So, it’s basically like my life turned into a show. Does anyone have the number to Adult Swim’s legal division? If Tight Bros doesn't make it into TV comedy history, it will at least occupy an important spot in linguistic history for introducing the word "clergybro" into the English lexicon.
Bent – NBC – debut TBA (watch trailer)
Community isn’t NBC’s only comedy not slated on the midseason schedule – two new sitcoms, Bent and Best Friends Forever, are in limbo too. Bent is a romantic comedy starring Amanda Peet as a driven lawyer/single mother who hires a womanizing gambler (David Walton, Perfect Couples) as a contractor to remodel her kitchen. The crown jewel of the show’s cast will undoubtedly be Jeffrey Tambor, who plays the contractor’s father, a struggling actor. This one’s worth watching just to see Jeffrey Tambor play a Tobias Fünke-esque character – if NBC ever airs it, that is.
Best Friends Forever – NBC – debut TBA (watch preview clip)
Created by and starring Lennon Parham and Jessica St. Clair, Best Friends Forever is one of many promising network sitcoms that's sitting in limbo for the time being. The show follows two life-long best friends, with Jessica (played by Jessica St. Clair, In the Motherhood) moving across the country to live with Lennon (played by Lennon Parham, Accidentally on Purpose) after a divorce – only to find that Lennon's boyfriend has just moved in and turned her spare bedroom into a home office. Adam Pally played the role of Lennon's boyfriend Joe in the original pilot when Pally's other show Happy Endings didn't look like it would be picked up for a second season, but his role has been recast with the Luka Jones, who's a funny guy himself. There's no word from NBC on when Best Friends Forever's six-episode inaugural season will premiere, but for now, you can enjoy 140-character transmissions from the show's writers' room on the BFF Writers' Twitter account.
Don't Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 – ABC – debut TBA (watch trailer)
Krysten Ritter (Breaking Bad, She’s Out of My League) and Dreama Walker (The Good Wife) star in this comedy about two mismatched roommates created by former American Dad writer Nahnatchka Khan. The show also stars the very funny Michael Blaiklock (Secret Girlfriend) and James Van Der Beek as a fictional version of himself. Nora Dunn, Kiernan Shipka, and Thomas Lennon will all be guest starring during the first season. When TV critics picked their favorite shows of the season last year, Apartment 23 was one of the only comedies on the list, so it’s a mystery as to why ABC is waiting so long to premiere it. If you haven’t been able to figure it out, the “B—-” in the title stands for “bitch,” but the blanked-out swear word in the show's name should be the only thing this comedy shares in common with last season’s $#*! My Dad Says. Seriously, can we just have swear words in TV show titles already, FCC? All these dashes and symbols bother me.
Girls – HBO – debuts TBA April (watch trailer)
Filmmaker and actress Lena Dunham, who made her debut in the critically-acclaimed independent movie Tiny Furniture in 2010, has been chosen as Judd Apatow’s latest protégé. Apatow is making his return to television, after 10 years away, to produce Girls, an HBO series created by and starring Dunham. Pay-cable network HBO is a fitting home for the show, as many of Apatow’s past TV efforts – Freaks and Geeks, Undeclared, The Ben Stiller Show – drew critical acclaim but were unable to meet the ratings expectations of major broadcast networks. Girls follows a group of friends navigating their early twentys in New York. If Girls is anything like Dunham’s previous work Tiny Furniture, it will be funny and honest and will feature a sex scene in a metal pipe in the street.
Veep – HBO – debuts TBA April (watch teaser trailer)
Julia Louis-Dreyfus makes her return to TV in one of the best-looking new comedies of the year. Veep stars Louis-Dreyfus as the Vice President of the United States and was created by Armando Iannucci, the brilliant writer behind the UK comedy shows Alan Partridge and The Thick of It, as well as the movie Oscar-nominated movie In the Loop. As if a Julia Louis-Dreyfus/Armando Iannucci collaboration isn’t mind-blowing enough already, the supporting cast is made up of ringers like Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale, and Matt Walsh. Plus, Veep is set up at HBO, where Iannucci and his team will have more creative freedom than at any other network. Veep will be debuting at an undetermined time in April, and all of the comedic awesomeness surrounding the show should make you shriek with anticipation, “Why isn’t it an undetermined time in April yet?”
RETURN DATES FOR OTHER COMEDIES:
Jan. 8th – Californication – Showtime
Jan. 21st - An Idiot Abroad (US premiere of Season 2) – The Science Channel
Jan. 22nd – Mary Shelly’s Frankenhole – Adult Swim
Jan. 26th – Russell Simmons Presents: Stand-Up at the El Rey (retitled Russell Simmons Presents: The Ruckus, hosted by JB Smoove) – Comedy Central
Jan. 31st – Tosh.0 – Comedy Central
Apr. 1st – Robot Chicken – Adult Swim
January – Comedy Central’s “Stand-Up Month” featuring new specials from Tom Papa (Jan. 8th), Kevin Hart (Jan. 15th), JB Smoove (Jan. 21st ), and John Mullaney (Jan. 28th)
Jan. 12th – Critics Choice Awards (hosted by Rob Huebel and Paul Scheer) – VH1
Jan. 15th – Golden Globe Awards (hosted by Ricky Gervais) – NBC
Feb. 25th – Independent Spirit Awards (hosted by Seth Rogen) – IFC
Feb. 26th – Academy Awards (hosted by Billy Crystal) – ABC
Mar./Apr. TBA – Reggie Watts Live in Central Park – Comedy Central
Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.