The Year in TV

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Unlike the movie industry (as seen here and here), comedy on TV is arguably as good now as it’s ever been. With South Park slipping, we’ve got a new great animated comedy (not to mention that other quality animated show on Fox Sundays that’s not The Simpsons or Family Guy); one Showtime series is back after a few seasons of subpar plotlines; and there are actually two best comedies on television — both quite possibly the best sitcoms since Seinfeld. Sadly, we lost two fantastic shows, but we gained the most accurate (and depressing) portrayal of a single father I’ve ever seen on television.

I present: The Year in TV.

Best Comeback

Whether you believe Weeds is still a comedy anymore is up to you, but even if it’s not, the long-running Showtime series had one of the finest seasons of any show in recent memory. Really. Viewers of the show quickly grew tired of distracting subplots about Esteban and tunnels, and evidentially so was creator Jenji Kohan, who sent the Botwins on a journey across America this year, where they become the Newmans. Weeds became about the family — Nancy, Andy, Silas, Shane, and Lil’ Stevie — again, and considering that’s always been the show’s strong suit, it was a welcome return to why we cared so much in seasons one-three. Plus, Doug’s still around, as stoned as ever.

Best Family(s)

Modern Family and Louie are two very, very different shows. One’s a throwback to sitcoms of the 1980s, but made for this generation, while the other had scenes about using the words “cunt” and “faggot,” and another discussing if having sex with animals wasn’t socially unacceptable, would you do it? Bet you can’t guess which plots go with which show! But the thing both Modern and Louie have in common is their depiction of family, and how important it is to one’s sanity. Aw.

Best Ensemble

Is it a bad thing when a show’s weakest character is also its biggest star? In the case of The Office, it doesn’t really matter because Michael Scott will be leaving the show at the end of this season. But since the news was announced, the other cast members have really picked it up, knowing that their boss will soon be gone: Ryan’s found a nice niche as a douchebag; Erin might be the sweetest and loveliest actress on TV; Creed’s still Creed; Daryl’s become a successful, non-insane version of Michael; Gabe’s a nice addition to the Dunder-Mifflin crew; Jim and Pam are still enjoyable even with a baby, something not every sitcom can pull off; Oscar, Meredith, Stanley, Phyllis, Kevin and Angela stay out of the way enough that they’re not an annoyance; Kelly continues to believe Scranton is some sort of epicenter for all things culture (I’ve been there, and it ain’t); and the Nard Dog, well, he’s the Nard Dog. Enough said. As for Dwight, he’s never been the show’s strongest character, and that continues to this day. That’s 17 characters on a 22-minute show, and we feel like we know all of them just as well as we do Michael. Sorry, Steve Carell, but you won’t really be missed.

Best Show(s) We’ll Miss the Most

Party Down never stood a chance. It was on a network (Starz) most of us don’t have, brought to us by the same people who made Freaks and Geeks and Veronica Mars, two critically beloved shows, notoriously watched by no one. But even they did substantially better than Party Down; only 74,000 people watched the show’s series finale. What everyone but the audience the size of a Washington Redskins home game missed was one of the funniest shows to ever air on television (and definitely the best thing to appear on Starz). It had a dream cast — Adam Scott, Ken Marino, Jane Lynch, Ryan Hansen, Martin Starr — and a dreamy female lead in Lizzy Caplan. Everything I just wrote also applies to Better Off Ted, but replace Freaks and Geeks/Veronica Mars with Andy Richter Controls the Universe, and Lizzy Caplan with Portia de Rossi and Andrea Anders. Critics often praise Mad Men because it made us care about something we never previously thought about, i.e. advertising agencies in the 1960s; the same praise should extend to Party Down for catering companies and Better Off Ted for evil, heartless corporations.

Best Show That Puts the “Comedy” in “Comedy Central”

South Park was pretty eh this year, The Sarah Silverman Show and Reno 911! don’t exist anymore, Futurama was inconsistent (although “The Late Philip J. Fry” deserves recognition), and Tosh.0 just isn’t funny. So, what’s left? Only the network’s non-fake-news best show: Ugly Americans. Devin Clark has created one of TV’s most fascinating settings, an alternate New York City, where humans co-exist with zombies, monsters, and other mutants and creatures. The scripts are packed with a ridiculous number of stories and jokes, most memorably in “Manbirds,” which has gags about everything from cockfighting to “Danny Boy.” Comedy Central has been trying for years to develop another successful animated show (Drawn Together?), and not only did they find a good one; they found one actually better than South Park.

Best “Hey, Did You Hear About This? This Is in the News”

There is literally nothing else that can be said about the Late Night Wars. Conan v. Leno v. Letterman v. Kimmel v. Other People was probably the biggest entertainment story of the year, but now we’re far enough away from it that we can go back to our original habit: not watching late night television until the next morning on our computers. Or at all.

Best Parody

It was a down season for It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, at least compared to their usual brilliance, but there was one episode as good as anything they’ve ever done. In “Dee Reynolds: Shaping America’s Youth,” Dee, now a substitute teacher, takes her students to Paddy’s to show them an educational film. Elsewhere, Mac, Dennis, and Frank are debating whether Mac wearing blackface in a film they made is racist or not, and in a great combination of plots, they decide to show Dee’s young students their movie, Lethal Weapon 5. The final act of the episode consists of scenes from the cinematic masterpiece, including Dennis and Mac switching roles halfway through the film, Frank playing an evil Indian Chief (“Even sharks need water”), and dozens of sight gags, like Dee, not knowing there’s a movie being filmed, dumping trash on-screen.

Best Reaction of “Holy Crap, That Ran for 181 Episodes?!?”

Mention Scrubs to someone, and ask them how many episodes they think the show ran for. After they say, “Oh, it’s gotta be, like, 80, maybe 90,” tell them, “Actually, it was on for nine seasons and 181 episodes.” Case in point.

Best Show That Everyone Gave Up On

Everything that’s wrong with Family Guy is what’s right with American Dad! I hated it, too, when it first aired in 2005. It had too many easy political jokes and too few likable characters, especially that damn fish, Klaus. Then, around the beginning of season five, American Dad! became funny. Seth MacFarlane & Co. stayed away from politics and cheap gags, realizing that the strongest element of a sitcom about a family is, well, the family (see: Best Family(s)). There’s also recently been an added emphasis on Roger, the alien with a different personality for every situation, and the show’s funniest character. Although it aired December 13, 2009 and doesn’t technically count on a list about 2010, I highly advise you to watch “Rapture’s Delight,” maybe the greatest Christmas episode of all-time (yeah, I said it). The rest of season five was a enjoyable, and the show’s sixth year has started strongly, too.

Best Comedy on TV

Consider it a cop-out but right now, there are two best comedies on TV: Parks and Recreation and Community. Both are funny in ways you didn’t think would be possible after watching the first few episodes of each. Season one of Parks is really weak; season two, on the other hand, belongs in some sort of comedy vault. The writers toned down Leslie’s enthusiasm considerably; showed the ridiculousness of small-town meetings in a way not seen since the early seasons of Gilmore Girls; and made Andy, Tom, and April real characters, instead of just caricatures. The show’s breakout star, though, is Ron Swanson, played to smarmy perfection by Nick Offerman, whose love of breakfast foods is matched only by the admiration he receives as part-time jazz saxophonist, Duke Silver. Parks returns on January 20, the same Thursday night that Community comes back from its winter break, an embarrassment of riches for comedy fans.

In the late-‘90s, NBC always made a big deal of the event episode, especially when it involved Friends and the rest of the Must-See TV lineup. Community has one of those seemingly every week now, but they never feel forced. Greendale Community College has become a live-action Springfield, where zombies attack one week, and the next you’re stuck inside a study room for an entire episode. Who knows how long Parks and Community will ultimately last (ratings for both are pretty bad), but for now, we’re lucky enough to have the greatest sitcoms since Seinfeld on at the same time — on the same night.

Josh Kurp wanted to mention Glee as one of the best shows of the year, but then he’d lose all of his credibility.