Now that the 2010-2011 TV season is over, we decided it was time to hand out some superlatives for the highest achievers in a field of great TV comedy. For the purposes of this post, the last season of TV means any episode that aired between September 2010-May 2011 and wasn’t included in December’s Year in TV Review (sorry, Louie and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia). Below are 10 categories, including each of our favorite episodes, which give out “awards” for everything from Riskiest Move That Paid Off to Best New Series, that name check everyone from Alan Thicke to Jon Hamm (more than once!). If your favorite show isn’t listed, it’s not because we don’t love it (unless you love Mr. Sunshine, in which case: why?), it’s because, like giving every children a Little League trophy just for showing up to the games, it feel disingenuous to award every sitcom with a “trophy,” just because they’re on TV. In any case, on to the awards!
Best You-Never-Know-Who’s-Going-to-Show Up Show: Childrens Hospital
Childrens Hospital is unlike anything else on TV. It’s an absurdist, short-form comedy with a cast full of recognizable actors who seem too famous to be goofing around on an after-hours show on a pay-cable cartoon channel. Childrens Hospital packs a lot into its 10.5 minutes of airtime (sans-commercials) each week, often changing in tone from minute to minute, and frequently features movie parodies, bizarre theme episodes, and big name guest stars. This past year’s season two saw the show upping the ante in terms of famous actors it attracted, with Henry Winkler joining the main cast and Adam Scott, Clark Duke, and Jon Hamm, amongst others, dropping by for guest spots. It’s a show that strives for unpredictability and inconsistency, and that’s something you don’t often see on TV.
Best New Series: Bob’s Burgers
It took 17 episodes for The Simpsons to air their first truly great episode (“Two Cars in Every Garage and Three Eyes on Every Fish”); it took Bob’s Burgers eight. Now, I’m not saying the Loren Bouchard-created Bob’s Burgers will ever be as good as The Simpsons because, frankly, it won’t (no show will), but it had a very solid, promising season one, with one spectacular highlight: “Art Crawl.” That episode had anuses and sweatshops and art and burger puns and Kristen Schaal’s Louise (already one of the funniest characters on TV) and, of course, H. Jon Benjamin (who also had a banner year on Archer) as Bob. When Bob’s Burgers returns for its 13-episode second season, please watch it — if you don’t, that just means we’ll be seeing more animated sitcoms based on decade-old movies and The Quagmire Show.
Most Frustrating Network Decision: NBC pushing Parks and Recreation to midseason
Parks and Recreation’s second season didn’t just improve on the show’s rocky inaugural season; it saw Parks joining the ranks of the best sitcoms on television. Thus, it was much deserved when NBC renewed the newly found critical favorite for a third year, but the network’s choice to hold Parks and Rec until January had fans and critics scratching their heads. The show’s second season was when the ensemble really gelled, the show found its voice, and America realized just how awesome Ron Swanson could be. Fans were starting to catch on, but NBC didn’t seem concerned with building an audience for Parks. The show’s cast and crew even worked six weeks overtime to film the first chunk of season 3 episodes back-to-back with season 2, so that Amy Poehler’s pregnancy wouldn’t impact the premiere in the fall. It was all for naught. Delaying the premiere of TV’s newest great sitcom would have made sense if a more promising show was waiting in the wings to take its place, but NBC just gave Parks’ slot away to Outsourced, the now-cancelled diarrhea-joke, stereotype-fest that neither critics nor audiences flocked to. Was it worth it now, NBC? Was it?!?
Riskiest Move That Paid Off: 30 Rock’s Live Episode/Moving Eastbound & Down to Mexico
Live episodes used to be the norm in television’s pre-videotape days, but they’re a rarity today. A few multi-camera shows in the ‘90s and ‘00s tried the occasional live episode, most notably The Drew Carey Show and Fox’s Roc, which broadcast its entire second season live. With the advent of single-camera sitcoms without a live audience, this has become less and less common, SNL being pretty much the only comedy on TV in recent years that’s broadcast live (don’t let Jimmy Kimmel Live’s name fool you; it’s pre-taped). Considering 30 Rock’s deep ties to SNL, it made sense to try a live episode of the show. The result, which didn’t quite retain 30 Rock’s rapid-fire pace, still managed to be an impressive half-hour of television, made all the more ambitious by the choice to film both East and West Coast versions, with some different jokes sprinkled in. The episode was chock-full of appearances from fan favorites like Rachel Dratch and Chris Parnell, and big celebrities like Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Matt Damon, and Jon Hamm.
Switching out one key player in a TV show can be a risky proposition, but Eastbound & Down, like its central character, never plays by the rules. Eastbound’s second season defied expectations by dropping all of season one’s central cast, except for lead Kenny Powers and his hopeless servant Stevie Janowski. Not only that, but season dos also brought the action from North Carolina to Mexico. It took me a little while to warm up to the new setting and new cast of characters at first, but Eastbound & Down’s second season ended up being a darker, often funnier add-on to the show’s amazing first season. Eastbound has a more cinematic feel than any other comedy on TV right now, and switching up the setting and cast is just one of the ways the creative team has refused to let the show get bogged down and stale like a standard TV sitcom. In an age where TV dramas are becoming more and more cinematic, Eastbound & Down is perhaps less like a show and more like a movie than any comedy in the history of TV.
Least Graceful Departure: Charlie Sheen, Two and a Half Men
Charlie Sheen’s exit from Two and a Half Men amidst his much-hyped mental breakdown dominated American headlines, somehow capturing the public’s attention for several weeks earlier this year despite bigger and more important goings-on in Egypt and Lybia. Sheen’s manic monologues, inane catchphrases, and confounding desire to capitalize on his mental health situation broke Twitter records, but his anti-Semitic insults towards Two and a Half Men creator Chuck Lorre and arrogant attitude toward CBS guaranteed he wouldn’t get his job back. For now, America’s fascination with Charlie Sheen seems to have fizzled out, and Sheen’s reported to be banging his head against the wall after hearing CBS has found a fit replacement for him in Ashton Kutcher. Despite being/having been the #1 sitcom on TV for the past several years, Two and a Half Men has never been a favorite amongst fans of comedy or the literate; but this was still the wrong way to leave a show.
Most Graceful Departure: Steve Carell, The Office
The polar opposite of Charlie Sheen’s Two and a Half Men exit, Steve Carell’s departure from The Office was full of class and dignity. Carell even stuck around long enough for them to film a natural resolution for his character and has yet to badmouth Greg Daniels or NBC. Carell’s final episodes of The Office, which saw his frequent co-star Will Ferrell temporarily taking over for him, were a fitting farewell for the actor that still has fans wondering what The Office will do without him.
Best Hope for a Second Coming of the Mega-Popular Sitcom: Modern Family
No sitcom will ever achieve the kind of ratings Seinfeld and Friends got week after week in the 1990s and early 2000s, but most shows today don’t, American Idol excluded. Actually, let me rephrase: no quality sitcom will ever get those kinds of ratings. But ABC’s Modern Family is doing its best. Although it regularly finished behind Two and a Half Men, The Big Bang Theory, and Mike & Molly, the ratings for Modern Family, particularly in the important 18-49 demographic, increased over its Emmy-winning first season, and it finished the year as one of TV’s most watched shows. Most of the sitcoms we regularly talk about on Splitsider, like Archer or The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, as well as Community and Parks and Recreation, get middling ratings, so it’s refreshing that there’s a great comedy on TV that you can discuss on the comments section here and at the office water cooler. Plus, Luke is kind of the shit.
The Paul Reiser Show Award for Sucking: The Paul Reiser Show
“As imperfect as it was, Perfect Couples was a lot better than this.” BURN. That quote is taken from an Entertainment Weekly review of The Paul Reiser Show (and those guys like everything!), which ran for two weeks on NBC Thursday nights, ostensibly taking over for the much-maligned Perfect Couples. The show’s first episode, which aired April 14, was only watched by 1.1 million viewers in the coveted 18-49 demographic, the lowest such number for an in-season comedy premiere in NBC’s history, and when the show dropped even further after episode two, to a 0.9, NBC cancelled it. The only positive that can be found from this ordeal for Reiser: the show lasted twice as long as Emily’s Reasons Why Not! Also, those millions he earned — and continues to earn — from Mad About You help ease the pain, too.
Best Laugh Track Sitcom: How I Met Your Mother
Usually, sitcoms of the past 20 years that rely on laugh tracks are more forced and less funny than shows without. How I Met Your Mother is a rare exception to the rule, and after totally going off the rails in season five, the show is back and, to continue the cliché, better than ever. So much of the focus of How I Met Your Mother, both from the show’s own writers and the fans, is on Barney Stinson, and while he did have an outstanding year, particularly when John Lithgow guest starred as his long-lost father, it was another dad-related storyline that stole the season: Marshall (Jason Segel) losing his dad. “Last Words” was tender, depressing, funny, heartwarming, and graceful, all in 22 minutes (there was even a Crocodile Dundee in Los Angeles reference). Another highlight: “Glitter,” where the show furthered the Robin Sparkles mythology, thanks to Barney’s copy of Space Teens, presented by Alan Thicke. Not even Ted’s boring now ex-girlfriend, Zooey, could stop How I Met from the creative roll it was on this past season.
Josh’s Favorite Episode of the 2010-2011 Season: “Andy and April’s Fancy Party”
To be honest, my choice is Bradford’s choice, too, but a) he won the proverbial coin flip and got to write the blurb, and b) I’ve already written about that episode elsewhere on The Internets (and it’s not a recap!), and don’t want to be classified as a self-stealer before I’m even old enough to rent a car from Hertz. So, I’m going with 1B to Community’s 1A: “Andy and April’s Fancy Party.” Parks and Recreation is the most consistently funny show on TV right now, partially because it’s never showy. Most sitcoms have WEDDING EPISODES (Friends, I Dream of Jeannie, every sitcom ever, etc.), but creator Michael Schur tried to keep Andy and April’s “fancy party” a surprise to viewers, and while it seemed to come out of nowhere, there was actually a nice, subtle build to it and enough emotional support from us, the fans, that you couldn’t help but “aw” when you saw the couple at the alter. But not a sickly sweet kind of “aw”; rather, it was an “aw” that comes from seeing two people, not just characters, you deeply care for finding true happiness, and that’s just one of the things Parks and Rec does so well (I mean, the show made us care about a dead horse!). “Fancy Party” is everything that’s great about Parks and Recreation (nice use of “April Come She Will, too) and it’s also goddamn funny, too: “No, Oren, I don’t know how I’m going to die. Wait…are you asking me or telling me?”
Bradford’s Favorite Episode of the 2010-2011 Season: “Paradigms of Human Memory”
Community had a great season 2 that improved on its first year and continued to take the show in new and exciting directions. While there were a lot of standout episodes, my favorite was “Paradigms of Human Memory,” which was a spot-on evisceration of the clip show, a lazy and done-to-death sitcom staple. It’s a multi-layered episode that worked on many levels but was probably very confusing to those new to the show. Each scene excerpted in the clip show was from a non-existent episode, and the writers came up with several dozen hilarious fake episodes of the show. From the Glee parody to the one with Jeff Winger and the gang wandering through a haunted house to Jeff and Troy becoming barbers, each excerpt was absurdly brilliant. Check out a rundown of all of the faux-episodes from the “clip show” here.
Josh Kurp and Bradford Evans would also like to acknowledge the very goodness of Archer, Shameless, Portlandia, Onion SportsDome, and The League. Josh Kurp alone would like to acknowledge Glee.