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Wednesday, May 23rd, 2012

The 2011-12 TV Season's Best New Comedies

We’re still in the midst of a golden age of television. At least, I think the era of quality programming that began with The Sopranos is still going, right? If you look at the new comedies we’ve seen this past season, the answer to that question is a firm “maybe”; however, the TV season that gave us Work It, Rob, and I Hate My Teenage Daughter also gave us a few good sitcoms, as well. Join me as I dive deep into this past TV season’s most enjoyable comedies – from sitcoms to sketch shows to 11-minute animated thingies. Know that all of the shows on this list, except for, sadly, Best Friends Forever and Angry Boys, have been renewed for a second season. And before we get started, if you’re looking to chastise me in the comments section for leaving out your favorite new comedy, keep in mind that this list only covers the traditional fall-to-spring TV season, so funny new shows from last summer (NTSF, Wilfred) and this one (Veep, Girls, The Eric Andre Show) are ineligible. If you have to chastise me, please only go after me for my physical appearance. Thanks!

Up All Night (NBC)
Up All Night, the latest addition to NBC’s Thursday night lineup – which has been the best comedy block on network TV these past few years (and for the better part of the last few decades) – hasn’t achieved the same level of Internet buzz that Parks and Recreation and Community did when they first started, but the show’s been quietly gathering steam for an entire season now. The inaugural year saw Up All Night taking some time to find its footing, but after a few episodes, the show’s clever writers figured out how best to play to the talented quartet that makes up its core cast (Christina Applegate, Will Arnett, Maya Rudolph, and Jennifer Hall). While Up All Night has found its strength in its small but stellar ensemble, the series continues to pull in excellent guest stars, as well, including Fred Armisen, Henry Winkler, Megan Mullally, Will Forte, and Molly Shannon. The first season proved Up All Night deserves its place amongst TV’s best sitcoms, and this next season should see the show become one of them.

China, IL (Adult Swim)
You probably haven’t heard of Brad Neely’s new Adult Swim series China, IL, as it kind of flew under the radar when it debuted in the fall, but Neely’s zany, fast-paced 11-minute animated series is one worthy of catching up on this summer. For the uninitiated, Brad Neely is a maker of web comics who’s biggest claim to fame prior to China, IL was creating Wizard People, Dear Reader, a humorous alternative soundtrack to the first Harry Potter film. Neely keeps the same sensibilities that made him an Internet sensation intact with China, IL, which follows a group of ridiculously debaucherous college professors and features the voice talents of folks like Hulk Hogan, Greta Gerwig, Chelsea Peretti, and Jeffrey Tambor. Adult Swim took note of the impressive, weird show, renewing it for a second season of half-hour episodes.

New Girl (Fox)
New Girl faced a big challenge right out of the gate when it lost standout castmember Damon Wayans Jr. to Happy Endings after its pilot, but the show quickly demonstrated it has enough talent in the cast to more than make up for his absence. Jake Johnson, Max Greenfield, and lead Zooey Deschanel, in particular, are responsible for the ensemble (and the show) being so effective. While New Girl may not be toying with sitcom conventions like Community and it doesn’t have an instantly-iconic character like Ron Swanson, that doesn’t mean it should be ignored, as it’s an enjoyable and funny half-hour that will likely continue to improve as it moves into its sophomore year.

Enlightened (HBO)
Mike White, writer of Chuck & Buck, School of Rock, and Freaks and Geeks, co-created this half-hour comedy-drama with the series’ star Laura Dern, and it’s one of the best comedic series HBO’s put out lately. While Enlightened tends to stay more towards comedy than drama, the show’s bone-dry humor is apparent throughout, and the series is populated with well-known comedy faces like White himself, Luke Wilson, and Timm Sharp in starring roles, and Jason Mantzoukas, Riki Lindhome, and Michaela Watkins appearing sporadically. Laura Dern won a Golden Globe for her performance as a business executive who has a mental breakdown and spiritual rebirth, and the show subsequently won an unexpected second season pick-up from HBO, making it the only comedy the network renewed this past year.

Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23 (ABC)
Don’t let the clunky title fool you, Don’t Trust the B is a fast and funny new show that’s quickly found its own style, thanks largely to its sharp writing and a superb cast. James Van Der Beek’s great as a demented version of himself, but the whole ensemble shines here. Don’t Trust the B grew into a solid comedy over the course of its truncated first season, and it’ll be nice to see what the show can do with a full season this fall. The series will have ABC’s best comedy, Happy Endings, as a lead-in thiscoming season, when it premieres amongst a crowded night for primetime comedy.

Angry Boys (HBO)
Australian comedian Chris Lilley’s long-awaited follow-up to Summer Heights High premiered last summer in his home country, but we got it over here a few months ago. While Angry Boys may not be as riotously funny as Summer Heights (few shows are), the series is still excellent and sees Lilley challenging himself instead of resting on his laurels. Not all of the half-a-dozen characters Chris Lilley plays on the show work but those that do, hit hard. Lilley has already moved on to his next project, but Angry Boys stands as some of the best work from the one of the funniest, most original comic voices going.

Key & Peele (Comedy Central)
Comedy Central has been searching for a new sketch show ever since Dave Chappelle fled to Africa, and MADtv alums Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele have found success where Carlos Mencia, Demetri Martin, and Nick Swardson before them have failed. The show, run by the UCB’s Ian Roberts and his writing/producing partner Jay Martel, is an excellent showcase for Key and Peele’s knack for creating solid characters and impressions. Their Obama Anger Translator sketch even earned them a fan in the President, himself.

Best Friends Forever (NBC)
While every other show on this list besides Angry Boys has been picked up for a second season, perhaps no comedy this past year deserves renewal more than the now-cancelled Best Friends Forever. NBC’s dismissal of the show ranks as the most egregious cancellation since Starz axed Party Down, bur what makes things worse is that the network never gave Best Friends Forever a fighting chance. Jessica St. Clair and Lennon Parham’s charming and hilarious series was under-promoted when it premiered late in the TV season, in competition with American Idol and ABC’s Wednesday night sitcom block. To be fair, though, NBC has been unnecessarily kind to a trio of low-rated but critically-acclaimed comedies (Parks and Recreation, Community, and 30 Rock) these past few years, but BFFs is one low-rated, critically-acclaimed comedy the network opted not to offer salvation.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

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  • http://twitter.com/megh_wright Megh Wright

    Thank you for including Angry Boys!! I agree it's not his strongest work, but it's really funny and different and didn't get much love this year.

    • Bradford Evans

      YOU'RE WELCOME MEGH!

  • rhombergerer

    Wow, that is a lot of love for Up All Night… a show I enjoy watching, but probably couldn't recall a single joke from all year.  And… no Suburgatory?  

  • Worst_in_the_World

    Agree with everything on this list except Up All Night. Really like the three actors involved, but thought the show was a total unfunny trainwreck all season.

  • Worst_in_the_World

    Agree with everything on this list except Up All Night. Really like the three actors involved, but thought the show was a total unfunny trainwreck all season.