Fall Comedy Preview: TV

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It’s that time of year again. The networks will be unveiling their new fall schedules in the coming weeks, and there’s no shortage of comedy this time around. The crop of new shows isn’t as strong as it’s been in past years, but a lot of returning series are stepping up to the plate by setting some pretty ambitious goals for themselves. Get ready for Rob McElhenny’s impressive weight gain on It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, the introduction of Ron Swanson’s first ex-wife Tammy and his mother (also named Tammy) on Parks and Rec, Omar from The Wire playing a new professor on Community, the long-awaited return of Beavis and Butt-head, and our first glimpse of a post-Steve Carell Office.

Some beloved shows, such as 30 Rock, Eastbound & Down, Bob’s Burgers, and Delocated won’t be returning until 2012, but you’ll probably hardly notice because there’ll be so much great stuff on. The fall schedule is jam-packed with new shows from creators Jonah Hill, David Gordon Green, and Chris Lilley, with stars like Tim Allen, Cheryl Hines, and Will Arnett returning to TV. Here’s a look at what to expect from television comedy this fall.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – FX – Season 7 debuts Thurs., Sept. 15th at 10

For weeks, the comedy story of the summer has been the heroic weight gain Always Sunny star Rob McElhenny’s has undergone to prepare for Season 7. McElhenny, who plays Mac on the show, purposefully gained 50 pounds because he and the other guys thought it’s unrealistic how TV characters always get better looking as time wears on, whereas the opposite happens in reality. If you haven’t already seen it, check out Charlie Day talking with Conan about the behind-the-scenes story of “Fat Mac.” This season will see the gang visiting the Jersey Shore and coordinating a children’s beauty pageant, with a super-secret big-name guest star dropping by for another episode. Rob McElhenny has already lost most of his “Fat Mac” weight, but Robert DeNiro-esque commitment to his character is something that few comedic actors have ever pulled off. Jim Carrey started to pack on pounds to play Curly in the Farrelly brothers’ Three Stooges movie in 2009, but he gave up and bailed on the project before production began. Unlike Carrey, Rob McElhenny stuck it out, proving that a comedic actor can sacrifice just as much for his craft as Christian Bale or Daniel Day-Lewis – even if it’s just an excuse to make a bunch of diabetes jokes.

Archer – FX – Season 2.5 debuts Thurs., Sept. 15th at 10:30

FX’s animated spy comedy Archer will be returning this fall in kind of an irregular schedule. The show will air three new episodes, which will technically be considered a part of Season 2, before the show is cleared from the schedule to make way for the premiere of The League. This fall’s paltry string of episodes will pick up with Archer hiding out on a tropical island after his disastrous wedding. The next new episodes won’t air until January, but those 13 episodes will make up Season 3. Confused? That seems to be what FX is counting on.

Modern Family – ABC – Season 3 debuts Wed., Sept. 21st at 9/8c

ABC’s mega-hit comedy and one of the top-rated sitcoms in all of television, Modern Family, will be back for its third season, anchoring ABC’s Wednesday night comedy block. The season premiere, which involves the family taking a trip to a dude ranch, will be airing on the heels of a big night at the Emmys for the cast, since all of the show’s adult actors are nominated for awards that should be sitting on Nick Offerman’s mantle. This season will feature David Cross in a recurring role as a city councilman competing with Claire. There are two camps when it comes to appreciating David Cross’s work: those who like seeing him co-star with humans and those who only enjoy him when he’s sharing scenes with CGI chipmunks. I belong to the former, so I’m pretty excited to see him pop up on Modern Family this year.

Community – NBC – Season 3 debuts Thurs., Sept. 22nd at 8/7c

Community’s second season built on what was established in Season 1, expanding the tone and scope of the show, as well as the world in which it takes place. If the show continues to improve and develop at this rate in its third season, then this should be another landmark year for Dan Harmon’s community college comedy. The details we have about Season 3 give every indication that Community’s going to be just as hilarious and strange as it’s always been. Jim Rash, who plays Dean Pelton, will be bumped up into the regular cast after two seasons as a recurring guest star, while Michael Kenneth Williams (Omar from The Wire) and John Goodman will be joining the show on a recurring basis as the gang’s new biology professor and the Vice Dean of Greendale’s respected air conditioning repair school, respectively. All that and I still haven’t mentioned Martin Starr guest starring as a poly-sci professor who presides over Greendale’s model UN and Ben Chang’s new job as a campus security guard. Community’s third season is truly bursting at the seams. To up the ante even more, Community will be paired with Parks and Recreation on the schedule this time around, making for the best hour of comedy on TV.

Parks and Recreation – NBC – Season 4 debuts Thurs., Sept. 22nd at 8:30/7:30c

Last season’s Parks and Rec finale left us with a trio of shocking cliffhangers that have been weighing heavily on my mind in the months since. It’ll be a big relief to get some resolution on these storylines. When we last left the gang, Leslie found that she’d have to call off her relationship with Ben in order to seek public office and Tom Haverford left the Parks department to start up his own multimedia conglomerate, Entertainment 720, with douchey pal Jean-Ralphio, using money Jean-Ralphio got from being (intentionally) hit by a car. The storyline I’m most anticipating, though, is the reveal of Ron Swanson’s first ex-wife Tammy #1, whom we got a partial glimpse of in the finale. Tammy #1 will be played by Patricia Clarkson, and Ron Swanson’s mother, also named Tammy, will be stopping by, as well. The new season looks like it’s frontloaded with awesome plotlines, and we can expect another great year from one of the best sitcoms on TV.

The Office – NBC – Season 8 debuts Thurs., Sept. 22nd at 9/8c

In the wake of Steve Carell’s absence, it still hasn’t been announced who will be taking his place as Dunder-Mifflin’s new Regional Manager. James Spader, who guest starred in last season’s finale and impressed audiences as eccentric job applicant Robert California, will be leapfrogging the Regional Manager job to replace Kathy Bates as CEO, but, as the writers left it, Michael Scott’s old desk is still open. It’s been reported that the show would promote from within for the position, with Dwight, Andy, and Darryl looking like the most likely contenders. Given the fact that Ed Helms’s movie career is the strongest of the cast by a long shot (especially after this summer’s blockbuster Hangover sequel), my money’s on Andy. No matter who is selected, though, it looks like the writers are bringing in a whole slew of new characters to distract audiences from the loss of Steve Carell, including Lindsay Broad as Pam’s friend, Cody Horn as an attractive new employee, and Stephen Collins, Dee Wallace, and Josh Groban as Andy’s family. Losing Steve Carell is the biggest change The Office has undergone yet, and this fall will see whether the show sinks or swims without him.

Happy Endings – ABC – Season 2 debuts Wed., Sept. 28th at 9:30/8:30c

Last season, ABC tried to burn off the midseason comedy Happy Endings in an odd timeslot late in the TV season, but the show surprised in the ratings and did well with critics, leading the Alphabet Network to renew it for a second year. Thanks to stellar performances from supporting players Casey Wilson, Adam Pally, and Damon Wayans Jr., Happy Endings became one of last season’s best new comedies. Now that the show has found its footing and has a strong lead-in with Modern Family, Happy Endings’s first full-length season should be one of the comedy highlights of the fall.

Bored to Death – HBO – Season 3 debuts Wed., Oct. 10th at 10

Jason Schwartzman, Zach Galifianakis, and Ted Danson will be returning for Jonathan Ames’s pay-cable noir comedy later in the fall, with plenty more amateur private eye work to follow for the trio. These three are really fun to watch play off of each other, and it’ll be nice to have them back on our screens again, even if Bored to Death’s companion show, Eastbound & Down, won’t return until 2012. Season 3 will see several recurring characters added, including David Rasche as a West Coast rival to Ted Danson’s character, Danson’s real-life wife Mary Steenburgen as Danson’s vocal coach, and The Office’s Zach Woods as an obsessed fan of Zach Galifiniakis’s cartoonist character. With Ted Danson having joined the cast of CSI as its new lead and Zach Galifianakis’s movie career exploding (plus Jason Schwartzman’s new haircut!), this might just be Bored to Death’s last season. Even though Bored to Death usually runs a scant 8 episodes each year and must have a pretty short shooting schedule because of this, it may be difficult to work it into these guys’ busy schedules when it comes time next year.

Beavis and Butt-head – MTV – Season 8 debuts Oct. 27th at 10/9c

After plans to unveil the Beavis and Butt-head revival this summer were delayed, it looks like the show will finally be returning to airwaves this fall, a whopping 14 years after it ended its initial run. Needless to say, the world isn’t in the same place it was in 1997 and the youth-based pop culture that was the main fodder for the series shifts even faster than the rest of society, so Beavis and Butt-head will understandably change with the times. In addition to providing sarcastic commentary to music videos, Beavis and Butt-head will now spit off their bone-headed quips while watching reality shows and YouTube videos. Beavis and Butt-head will also encounter recent pop culture trends like Twilight-obsessed girls, Jersey Shore, and UFC fighting. 14 years is a lengthy absence, and we’ll soon see how well Beavis and Butt-head adapt to modern times.

Up All Night – NBC – debuts Wed., Sept. 14th, 10/9c (begins airing Wed. at 8/7c after that)

NBC will be kicking off a second block of comedies on Wednesday nights this fall - the first time the network has broadcast sitcoms in primetime on two separate nights in four years. The first comedy in this two-show block is Up All Night, which has one of the best casts and creative teams of any of this fall’s new shows. Produced by Lorne Michaels and created by former SNL/Parks and Rec writer Emily Spivey, Up All Night stars Christina Applegate, Maya Rudolph, and Will Arnett. This talented group inspires confidence, but the previews make the infant-centric show seem like it’ll be chock-full of diaper humor. Christina Applegate stars as a TV producer trying to balance her home life (where she’s raising a newborn with stay-at-home dad Will Arnett) and her hectic work life as an underling of a talk show host played by Maya Rudolph. Following the runaway success of her film Bridesmaids, Maya Rudolph’s role in Up All Night was amped up to give her more screentime, which is certainly a good sign. Sweetening the pot are guest appearances from Will Forte and Lonely Island’s Jorma Taccone. Christina Applegate and Will Arnett have each been searching for a stable sitcom gig for a few seasons now. They’re both talented performers who deserve a hit, and Up All Night just might end up being the right show for them.

Free Agents – NBC – debuts Wed., Sept. 14th 10:30/9:30c (begins airing Wed. at 8:30/7:30c after that)

Based on the 2009 British sitcom of the same name, Free Agents stars Hank Azaria and Kathryn Hahn as two PR execs dealing with how a one night stand affects their working relationship. Natasha Leggero, Anthony Head, Al Madrigal, and Joe Lo Truglio round out the cast in this workplace comedy, which was developed by Party Down co-creator John Enbom, who will presumably be serving as showrunner. Party Down is one of my favorite comedies of the past few years, and Enbom was no small part of the show’s success. He served as Party Down’s showrunner, writing 17 out of 20 of its episodes throughout its run. His presence is what’s making me look forward to Free Agents the most, but the supporting cast doesn’t hurt. NBC has had mixed results with adaptations of UK shows in recent years. We’ll see if Free Agents ends up being a runaway success like The Office or gets cancelled after three episodes like the disastrous Coupling adaptation. In all likelihood, it’ll probably end up somewhere in between.

2 Broke Girls – CBS – debuts Mon., Sept. 19th, 8:30/7:30c

Co-created by stand-up Whitney Cummings, who has her own show Whitney debuting on NBC this fall, 2 Broke Girls stars Kat Dennings and Beth Behrs as two girls – one from a poor family and one from a wealthy one – who become fast friends, living together in near poverty in New York. Of note in the supporting cast is original SNL castmember Garrett Morris, who plays the cashier at the restaurant at which the girls work. Following How I Met Your Mother on Monday nights, 2 Broke Girls seems to be an effort by CBS to court a younger audience with a sitcom that, like HIMYM, is hipper and edgier (if anything on CBS can be considered edgy) than the rest of the network’s comedies. While most of CBS’s big sitcoms (Two and a Half MenBig Bang Theory) tend to be male-driven, it’s nice to see a show starring two women on the schedule.

New Girl – Fox – debuts Tues., Sept. 2nd, 9/8c

Zooey Deschanel stars in this new Fox comedy about a brokenhearted woman coming out of a bad breakup who moves in with three single guys. New Girl’s pilot was screened early on iTunes last week and the show seems to have potential. Damon Wayans Jr., who played one of Deschanel’s new roommates in the first episode, won’t be appearing in the rest of the series, though, due to his commitment to ABC’s Happy Endings. Fox’s live action comedies, besides Raising Hope, haven’t been lasting too long lately, but if audiences jump onboard with New Girl, this trend may well reverse.

Check out Splitsider’s take on the New Girl pilot here.

Whitney – NBC – debuts Thurs. Sept. 22nd, 9:30/8:30c

Joining the best comedy block on TV in the cushy post-Office slot that previously housed one-season dud Outsourced is Whitney, a new sitcom from Chelsea Lately regular and stand-up comic Whitney Cummings. Whitney’s success largely depends on whether The Office’s audience sticks around for a show that’s thematically and tonally quite different than the workplace comedy. In past years, The Office could be counted on to give the show after it a ratings bump. This season, though, The Office is in a transitional period after losing star Steve Carell, which could cause its ratings to drop and hurt Whitney.

While the other three shows in NBC’s Thursday night lineup, The OfficeCommunity, and Parks and Rec (along with on-hiatus 30 Rock) are all workplace (or school) comedies, Whitney differs in that it’s about the relationship of a couple who have been together for five years but don’t want to get married. Whitney also stands out from the pack by being the only show of the night (and on NBC, as a whole) to be filmed with a three-camera set-up and a live studio audience. It seems like it would make more sense to throw Free Agents or Up All Night, which are both single-camera workplace comedies, on after The Office because they would gel better with the rest of NBC’s Thursday lineup, but maybe a change of pace is what audiences want.

Suburgatory – ABC – debuts Wed., Sept. 28th, 8:30/7:30c

Those missing Cheryl Hines from Curb Your Enthusiasm this past season’s will be able to watch her in a new series this fall, Suburgatory. The show follows a single father who moves from New York to the suburbs with his precocious teenage daughter, who’s upset about how fake and vapid everyone in the suburbs is. Surburgatory was created by Emily Kapnek, a former Parks and Rec writer/producer who also created the Nickelodeon cartoon As Told By Ginger, and will be slotted right in between The Middle and Modern Family in ABC’s Wednesday night comedy block.

How to Be a Gentleman – CBS – debuts Thurs., Sept. 22nd, 8:30/7:30c

Created by and starring David Hornsby, an Always Sunny in Philadelphia writer who plays Rickety Cricket on that show, How to Be a Gentleman is a sitcom about a bookish columnist whose views on manhood differ from those of his slob of a personal trainer (played by Entourage’s Johnny Drama) in hilarious ways. Don’t let Johnny Drama’s presence throw you. Besides him, show’s supporting cast is top-notch, featuring Dave Foley, Mary Lynn Rajskub, and Rhys Darby (Murray from Flight of the Conchords is back on TV, you guys!). Gentleman will be following The Big Bang Theory, which is angling to become CBS’s flagship comedy in the post-Sheen era of Two and a Half Men. The ratings boost from following Big Bang will help get more eyes on Gentleman, but, as fans of NBC’s Thursday night comedy block, we should be rooting against these two series because they’re directly competing for ratings with Community and Parks and Rec, arguably the two best network sitcoms currently on the air.

Enlightened – HBO – debuts Mon., Oct. 10th, 9:30

Created by Mike White, who wrote Chuck & BuckOrange County, and School of RockEnlightenedstars Laura Dern as a self-destructive businesswoman who’s attempting to put her life back together after a public meltdown and a subsequent spiritual breakthrough. The show’s supporting cast includes Diane Ladd, Luke Wilson, and Undeclared’s Timm Sharp. With this knock-out ensemble and Mike White’s consistently original and idiosyncratic writing driving the series, Enlightened has a lot going for it.

Last Man Standing – ABC – debuts Tues., October 11th, 8/7c

America demanded it, and now it’s finally happening: Tim Allen is coming back to TV. In response to intense public pressure, ABC has negotiated for Allen to star in a new primetime sitcom. The network had no choice after a Facebook group devoted to The Tool Man’s return to TV began to exceed 12.5 million members, flash mobs took to the streets in major cities to collectively hum the Home Improvement theme song before quickly disbanding, and committed advocates waged a misguided campaign of harassment against Allen’s former Home Improvement co-star Richard “Al Borland” Karn, in hopes that he would talk Allen into putting together a new sitcom. Well, it worked. Richard Karn had to have his phone number changed and buy a security system for his home, but it worked. Tim Allen stars in Last Man Standing, in which he plays the only man in the house as the father of three girls who’s determined to hold onto his manhood in a female-dominated world. Can’t wait!

Man Up – ABC – debuts Tues., October 18th, 8:30/7:30c

Following Last Man Standing each week in ABC’s new masculinity-themed programming block is Man Up, which stars Chris Moynihan, Dan Fogler, and Mather Zickel, as three guys who decide they need to grow up and start acting like real men. Tony Award-winner Fogler has been searching for his niche in Hollywood after movie stardom didn’t pan out for him (Balls of FuryFanboys). Mather Zickel’s given some great performances recently in the Adult Swim world with a regular role on Delocated and some guest spots on Childrens Hospital. He’s a funny guy and he should be able to translate his comic abilities to a mainstream audience with Man Up. Moynihan, a regular fixture in Christopher Guest’s movies, also serves as the show’s creator.

Good Vibes – MTV – debuts Mon., October 24nd, 10:30/9:30c

Created by director David Gordon Green (Pineapple ExpressEastbound & Down), Good Vibes is an animated show that follows two young guys surfing and partying in a Southern California beach community. Josh Gad and Adam Brody voice the two main characters, with Danny McBride, Debi Mazar, Jake Busey, Tony Hale, Olivia Thirlby, and Alan Tudyk filling out the rest of the cast. The show will be paired with Beavis and Butt-head’s return this fall.

Allen Gregory – Fox – debuts Sun., Oct. 30th, 8:30/7:30c

Following the success of Bob’s Burgers, Fox’s only recent animated show that Seth MacFarlane doesn’t have a hand in, the network is taking the risk of premiering another animated show this fall that also doesn’t bear MacFarlane’s stamp. Co-created by Jonah Hill, Allen Gregory is an animated show that marks Hill’s writing debut. The animated sitcom follows the titular hyper-smart 7 year old boy, whose father stops homeschooling him and forces him to attend public school. In addition to Hill, who voices Allen Gregory, the cast also features the voices of Will Forte, French Stewart and Nat Faxon. Ex-Family Guy writer David A. Goodman will be the showrunner, but Allen Gregory doesn’t seem to be patterning itself after Family Guy in any way beyond that. The writing staff also features Hill, Jarrad Paul, and Dominic Dierkes, of Derrick Comedy and Mystery Team fame.

I Hate My Teenage Daughter – Fox – debuts Wed., Nov. 30th, 9:30/8:30c

One of the worst-reviewed shows of the new season, I Hate My Teenage Daughter stars Jaime Pressly and Tony Award-winner Katie Finneran as two divorcées who are each having trouble with their rebellious teenage daughters. The show will be premiering pretty late in the fall, so audiences have plenty of time to prepare for a situation in which they accidentally catch a few minutes of this show and are forced to frantically search for the remote like a diabetic in need of insulin.

Apartment 23 – ABC – debuts TBA November

Debuting later in the fall, Apartment 23 is a new sitcom from former American Dad writer Nahnatchka Khan. The show was formerly titled Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23 before it was softened for network television. Dreama Walker stars as a girl from the Midwest who moves to New York and becomes roommates with “The Bitch in Apartment 23” (played by Krysten Ritter), who has made a habit out of scaring off new roommate after new roommate so that she can keep their security deposits. James Van Der Beek will be playing a skewed version of himself and a friend of Ritter’s character, and the always-funny UCB performer Michael “Mookie” Blaiklock also has a supporting role.

Angry Boys – HBO – debuts Mon., Dec. 5th

Summer Heights High creator Chris Lilley’s new show, Angry Boys, has already premiered in Australia and the UK, but it’s finally coming to HBO this fall. The show is a mockumentary in which Lilley plays multiple characters in an exploration of what it means to be a present-day male. Angry Boys has been drawing rave reviews abroad, and it looks like it should be up to par with Lilley’s previous series.

RETURN DATES FOR OTHER COMEDIES:

Sept. 20th – Workaholics and Tosh.0 – Comedy Central, Raising Hope – Fox

Sept. 25th - Fox’s animation lineup (SimpsonsCleveland ShowFamily GuyAmerican Dad)

Sept. 30th – The Onion News Network – IFC

Oct. 5thSouth ParkNick Swardson’s Pretend Time – Comedy Central

Oct. 6th – The League – FX

Oct. 8th – Free Agents (UK version) – BBC America

Dec. 19th – The Life & Times of Tim - HBO

SPECIALS:

Sept. 18th – 63rd Annual Primetime Emmy Awards - Fox

Sept. 19th – The Comedy Central Roast of Charlie Sheen – Comedy Central

Sept. 24th – Chris Hardwick’s Nerdist special with guest Craig Ferguson – BBC America

Oct. 1st – ‘Weird Al’ Yankovic Live! – The Alpocalypse Tour – Comedy Central

Nov. 20th – Donald Glover: Weirdo – new stand-up special – Comedy Central

For info on the comedy movies you can expect to see in theaters this fall, check out Splitsider’s Fall Movie Preview.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.