The Year in TV Comedy
Comedy was all over television in 2014 — just rarely on major networks. While the few bets networks made turned out to be bad, channels all over the dial — and even off — stepped in to make sure there was a ton of great TV comedy. Multiple cable channels (FXX, IFC, TBS) doubled down on jokes and streaming services offered exciting, offbeat choices. From Broad City to Transparent to High Maintenance, 2014 wasn’t a year for sitcoms, but was a year for smart, unexpected comedies.
TV Passed the Bechdel Test
2014 was a huge year for hilarious female duos: it saw the premieres of Broad City, Garfunkel and Oates, Playing House, and Doll & Em. That last one might nightnot be so much hilarious as cringe-inducingly accurate, but even so. These shows examined the dynamics of female friendship in ways that have rarely been seen on television, which meant they were mining new, fertile comedy ground. And it wasn’t just duos, ladies were funny in all sort of combinations, as evidenced by the continued success of shows like Inside Amy Schumer, Veep, Girls,Getting On, and the comeback of TheComeback. Networks tried a different female-focused strategy, to lesser effect.
The Rise and Immediate Trip and Fall of SitRomComs
A crazy amount of comedies with a romantic premise premiered on major networks this fall: Marry Me, Manhattan Love Story, A to Z, and Selfie (RIP, Selfie!). But just like a romantic comedy heroine who is likable because she’s just so darn clumsy, SitRomComs had only barely gotten up on their little stiletto-ed feet before they toppled right over. Of the four new love stories, only MarryMe remains. Some godmothers of the new, stillborn genre remain, but they have learned to adapt: like MarryMe, TheMindyProject has taken a turn towards MadAboutYou (and away from SleeplessinSeattle), exploring Mindy and Danny’s happy but still complicated relationship. TheNewGirl got out of the RomCom while the getting was still good – killing their Nick-and-Jess subplot in early 2014, before the wave of lovey sitcoms crashed.
The Networks Focused their Attention Um… Elsewhere
ABC may have the only true network comedy hit of the 2014 season with Black-ish. Most of the new sitcom offerings for 2014 have been axed. Cancelled shows include BadJudge and AtoZ on NBC, Selfie and ManhattanLoveStory on ABC, and TheMillers, leaving us after it’s second season on CBS. Mulaney has been all but cancelled on Fox. Cristela, MarryMe, and TheMcCarthy’s all live to gamble another day – for now.
Saturday Night Live Tries to Follow Through on a Promise
After being rightly scrutinized by the media for having no black female cast members in late 2013, the show added Sasheer Zamata to the roster in early 2014. To some, Lorne Michaels’ highly touted auditions resulting in one hire seemed like lip service, regardless of how talented Zamata is. But this fall, Michael Che and Leslie Jones joined the cast (along with 20 year old Pete Davidson). Now, SNL’s commitment to diversity is starting to seem like a real thing, and might even actually mean something new if the show can figure out what to do with Jones — an ultra-compelling comic voice who shines when doing stand-up on Update or lending her hilarious scream to a digital sort, but is a little green on the live sketch acting. The show might lack the incisiveness of even a medium episode of the brilliant Key & Peele, but progress is good.
The Best Series Wasn’t on TV — It Wasn’t Even on Netflix
The delightful, innovative High Maintenance premiered it’s first for-pay season season in 2014. While the show is in it’s fifth cycle of cleverly beautiful and often hilarious character studies, it is the first season where creators Katja Blichfeld and Ben Sinclair have partnered with their platform, Vimeo. Vimeo now finances the show, and viewers can buy episodes for $1.99 or the whole six-episode season for $7.99. Does this promote it from web series to TV series? I’m saying yes.
The Untelevised Television Comedy Boom
High Maintenance wasn’t the only great, out-of-the-box comedy to show up on streaming instead of the regular airwaves. Amazon Instant premiered the funny and moving Transparent, which has been nominated for a Best Comedy Series Golden Globe (with a Best Actor in a Television Series – Musical or Comedy nom for Jeffrey Tambor), and continued to produce Alpha House, which is probably a show. Netflix reupped on the hard-to-define Orange is the New Black and debuted the seriously underrated, wacked out BoJack Horseman. Netflix also invested a ton in stand-up specials this year, as an alternative to the Comedy Central or HBO showcases, with hours from the Chelseas Peretti and Handler, Bill Burr, and Jim Jeffries. Bill Cosby was supposed to have a special too but… that didn’t work out.
Cable <3s Comedy
While Comedy Central had a creatively strong year with shows like Review, Nathan For You, Kroll Show, Inside Amy Schumer and Key & Peele, it is far from the only cable network dedicated to comedy. TBS has been “very funny” for years now, but with the 2013 launch of FXX (more on that below), and formidable slate at IFC, plenty of networks are betting big on funny stuff. Adult Swim continues to epitomize the late night weirdo game with shows like The Eric Andre Show and Newsreaders, but their brand of gonzo college dude oddness has been copped by IFC to great success with shows like Comedy Bang Bang, The Birthday Boys, andnow Garfunkel and Oates. Even the USA Network tried its hand at the half-hour scripted sitcom this year with Benched, Sirens, and Playing House. Benched is still in it’s first season, but the other shows have both been renewed for season two. Even Bravo debuted an hour-long, scripted comedy, The Girlfriend’s Guide to Divorce.
The FX Empire
Despite launching FXX as a dedicated comedy network, FX got to be the proud broadcaster of another season of Louie, and the new series Married, starring Nat Faxon and Judy Greer as a two people in wedded misery and SitAntiRomCom ™ You’re the Worst. Meanwhile, the little sister network (seriously, how is FXX not aimed at women? it’s named after our sex chromosome) tried to capitalize on the binge-watching craze by airing all 552 episodes of The Simpsons in a twelve-day marathon this summer.
We Said Goodbye to “Stephen Colbert”
While the beginning of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert will be one of the most exciting events of 2015, in 2014 we have to say goodbye to “Stephen Colbert:” righteous American, protégée of Bill O’Reilly, fearer of bears. Colbert will host his new CBS talk show as himself, not in the faux- Right Wing pundit persona that made his name famous. The Colbert Report aired its last episode on December 18th, and President Obama has already said his goodbyes.