Summer 2011 Comedy Preview: TV

Summer was once a desolate wasteland when it came to original programming, with wall-to-wall reruns blanketing the television landscape so the cast and crew of your favorite shows could take their much-needed vacations. All that has changed in the aftermath of the cable TV renaissance, and it’s now just as easy for TV junkies to get their fix during these warmer months as it is during the traditional broadcast season.

While the big networks will mostly be airing forgettable reality shows and the scripted series they didn’t like enough to fit into their broadcast season schedules, cable nets have figured out that summer’s the perfect time to bring their A-game. Let’s take a look at all of the new and returning comedy series that’ll be airing this summer, including the latest seasons of Curb Your Enthusiasm and Louie, and new shows from Lisa Kudrow, Paul Scheer, Mike White, and H. Jon Benjamin.

Childrens Hospital – Adult Swim – Season 3 begins Thurs., June 2nd

Rob Corddry’s web series Childrens Hospital made a graceful transition to regular television with its debut last year, and this next season will feature even more episodes with 14 new installments airing this summer. I, for one, can’t wait for the return of this fast-paced absurdist show and its marvelous cast.

Louie – FX – Season 2 begins Thurs., June 23rd

The premiere of Louie’s second season is no doubt one of the most anticipated comedy events of the coming months. The show’s stellar first run of episodes last year marked the moment when Louis C.K. went from talented stand-up to comedy icon, joining the ranks of all-time greats like George Carlin and Bill Hicks. The first season of Louie and everything that’s followed for C.K. — his stand-up special Hilarious and a series of electric performances on late night talk shows — have cemented his status as one of America’s predominant comedic voices. With Louie, he’s finally found the perfect way to present his brand of comedy on television. The show’s experimental style makes it unlike anything else on TV, changing drastically in tone and format from episode to episode. C.K. abandons the traditional sitcom constraints in Louie, choosing not to feature any central cast members other than himself, with the show frequently varying the settings and time periods it takes place in. The show feels less like a series than a string of amazing short films, and it’s a refreshing break from the monotony of television.

Louie’s also proof that TV is at its best without the meddling of network execs, when creative people are just left alone to do their jobs. Louis C.K. has a deal unlike any other in television, as he and FX president John Landgraf have agreed that C.K. gets complete creative control over his series and doesn’t have to pass any decisions by the network. Look for Louis C.K. to continue experimenting with the medium and creating some of the best comedy out there today in the show’s second season.

Futurama – Comedy Central – Season 6-B begins Thurs., June 23rd

Futurama’s basic cable resurrection last year was met with excitement and acclaim by fans, and the additional 13 episodes that make up the second half of the show’s newest season will be airing this summer. It’s great Futurama has found a new home after a seven-year hiatus, as Comedy Central has proven to be a perfect fit for the series.

Ugly Americans – Comedy Central – Season 2 begins Thurs., June 30th

This offbeat animated show, about an alternate version of New York City that’s filled with horror movie and science fiction monsters, will be returning for a second 14-episode season this summer. The show’s first season was met with mixed-to-positive reviews and flew under the radar a little bit, but this second year is a chance for Ugly Americans to expand its comic universe and perfect the template that was established in Season One.

Curb Your Enthusiasm – HBO – Season 8 begins Sun., July 10th

After a two-year hiatus that’s been excruciating for fans, Curb will finally be returning for a new season in July. It seems like Larry David couldn’t possibly top last year’s Seinfeld reunion story arc; but from the little information released about Season 8, it looks like he’s pulling out all the stops once again. Half of the ten-episode season will take place in Los Angeles, with the rest transplanting David to New York. Series regulars Cheryl Hines, Jeff Garlin, Susie Essman, and JB Smoove will all be returning, with guest spots from Ricky Gervais, Rosie O’Donnell, Michael J. Fox, Amy Schumer, Jon Glaser, and Ana Gasteyer.

Beavis and Butt-head – MTV – Season 8 debut date TBA

The last new episode of Beavis and Butt-head aired over a decade ago in 1997, so it’s a little surprising that Mike Judge has decided to bring it back now. Nevertheless, MTV will be airing a string of new episodes at an undisclosed date sometime this summer. It’ll be interesting to see how Judge updates the show after all these years, as a lot has changed since 1997. MTV has announced that Beavis and Butt-head will be watching reality show clips and YouTube videos instead of music videos now that that medium has kind of died out, which sounds like a wise move. I’m also curious to see if the character Tom Anderson, who was like an embryonic version of Hank Hill, returns. It’d be an odd choice to do that character now, since King of the Hill’s become such a well-known show, and Hank Hill’s now a much more well-known character than Tom Anderson.

Love Bites – NBC – debuts Thurs., June 2nd

This anthology-style, hour-long comedy was originally slated to air last fall, but NBC doesn’t seem to have much faith in it. The network delayed the debut to midseason and then pushed it back again, this time to the summer. Star Becki Newton (Ugly Betty) has already landed another gig on a CBS pilot for next season, so this show already seems fated for cancellation before its 9-episode run even begins.

Jon Benjamin Has a Van – Comedy Central – debuts Wed., June 15th

H. Jon Benjamin — best known for voicing the titular characters on Bob’s Burgers and Archer — has done some live action work in the past, but this will be first time he’s been at the center of a live action project. Comedy Central describes his new show Jon Benjamin Has a Van as a “narrative/fake news magazine comedy show” that involves him following a different human interest story each week and becoming involved in the story he’s reporting. Benjamin’s a major talent, and it’ll be great to see what he has planned for this ten-episode series.

Web Therapy – IFC – Showtime – debuts Sun., June 19th

It’s a comeback year for Friends stars with Matt LeBlanc and Matthew Perry already having tried their hands at series returns to varying degrees of success. Lisa Kudrow will join LeBlanc at Showtime with this adaptation of her popular improvised web series, in which she plays a self-centered therapist who performs webcam therapy sessions for her patients. The web show has featured a roster of A-list guests, including Jane Lynch, Courtney Cox, and Meryl Streep. The TV version will incorporate the web series but will also feature new material.

Wilfred – FX – debuts Thurs., Jun. 23rd

FX has had a solid track record with its new comedies lately, with Louie, Archer, and The League all becoming enjoyable hits. The cable network looks to continue its hot streak with Wilfred, an adaptation of the hit Australian comedy of the same name. The show is about a guy whose imaginary friend is a dog that he sees as a man in dog suit. Elijah Wood will be playing the main character in the US version, with series co-creator Jason Gann reprising his role as Wilfred the dog. It certainly sounds odd, but given FX’s strong reputation for comedy, Wilfred could turn out to be the network’s next comedy hit.

Commercial Kings – IFC – debuts Fri., June 24th

IFC will be continuing its recent expansion into comedy with this documentary-comedy hybrid that follows filmmakers and comedy duo Rhett McLaughlin and Link Neal as they travel the country producing advertisements for local businesses. Commercial Kings is based on Rhett and Link’s website IFC’s been quickly filling out its schedule with stellar comedies for the past few years, and Commercial Kings is an intriguing addition to their lineup.

NTSF:SD:SUV – Adult Swim – debuts Thurs., July 21st

Adult Swim’s newest 15-minute live-action comedy NTSF:SD:SUV is a parody of the crime procedurals that dominate the primetime network landscape, and its purposefully too-long title is a spot-on take-down of those show’s reliance on unnecessary acronyms. The show’s full title, by the way, is National Terrorism Strike Force: San Diego: Sports Utility Vehicle. Created by and starring Paul Scheer, NTSF boasts an accomplished cast that also includes June Diane Raphael, Rebecca Romijn, Brandon Johnson, and Martin Starr. NTSF began as a series of advertisements for a fictional TV show that aired during Childrens Hospital’s first season, but it’s now grown into its own series in much the same way that The Colbert Report spun off from The Daily Show.

Given Adult Swim’s recent slate of hilarious live action shows (Childrens Hospital, Delocated, Eagleheart) and the reliability of Paul Scheer’s work (Human Giant, The League, his Earwolf podcast How Did This Get Made?), NTSF should be one of this summer’s best new comedies. The only thing I’m worried about: is 15 minutes enough?

In the Flow with Affion Crockett – Fox – debuts Sun., August 14th

Fox’s new sketch show, produced by Jamie Foxx and Mitch Hurwitz, is aiming to be the next In Living Color. With MADtv’s cancellation now two years behind them, Fox has been lacking a sketch series for quite some time, and they’ve selected Affion Crockett to front the new program. Crockett is best known for appearances on Nick Cannon’s Wild ‘N Out and his own series of popular YouTube comedy videos. The Fox network has been pretty blatant in comparing this new show to In Living Color in its press releases, and it’ll be interesting to see if In the Flow lives up to this expectation. Replicating In Living Color’s success will be a tough task, as that show was able to capture several future stars in the early stages of their careers. Thus, In the Flow’s success will largely depend on who Fox surrounds Crockett with. Also, will the Fly Girls be back? What about the Fly Girls?

Whisker Wars – IFC – debuts sometime in August, exact date TBA

Another docu-comedy series from IFC, Whisker Wars follows men in the field of professional beard growing. While the concept sounds ridiculous and like they could easily find some strange characters to document, I’m a bit dismayed IFC is putting the focus so much on these humorous documentary series, rather than on scripted comedies. Still, the premises behind this one and Commercial Kings at least sound promising, so I’m expecting these series to retain the inventive spirit of the rest of IFC’s programming.

Enlightened – HBO – debut date TBA

Created by Mike White, who wrote Chuck & Buck, Orange County, and School of Rock, amongst other films, Enlightened stars 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 — if HBO ever puts it on the schedule, that is.

Bradford Evans is a writer living in Los Angeles.

Summer 2011 Comedy Preview: TV