Photo: Comedy Central, ABC and Hulu
Welcome back to Stay Tuned, Vulture’s TV advice column. Each Wednesday, Margaret Lyons answers your questions about your various TV triumphs and woes. Need help? Have a theory? Want a recommendation? Submit a question! You can email email@example.com, leave a comment, or tweet @margeincharge with the hashtag #staytuned.
One of my favorite things about TV is that because it’s scripted, they get the chance to think of the best timely insults (and the occasional, “The jerk store called, and they’re running out of you”s). I’m with you in loving shows where people genuinely like each other, but in my friendships, that often means ribbing each other. Obviously Veep is No. 1 in this genre, and The League (when it was good) will work in a pinch. What are some other great insult-humor shows? —Zach
It’s not constant insult humor, but 30 Rock has some real gems — particularly from Jack Donaghy. I feel like I’m always sneaking in suggestions that people watch Cheers, regardless of the question, but honestly, Cheers has great one-line digs, especially from Carla. Silicon Valley has plenty of put-downs, as does It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and while it’s more one-liners than straight-up zings, Archer might also fit the bill. Going further back, Rescue Me had billions of insults, as did House. Ryan Murphy loves insults, and Glee was full of them, as are many seasons of American Horror Story. (The upcoming Scream Queens is equally nasty.) Orange Is the New Black has some strong put-downs, as did Weeds during its Celia moments. Obviously, if you like Veep, The Thick of It and In the Loop will scratch a similar itch. Is it too obvious to say South Park? Because South Park is way up there, too. Finally, there are some really galling insults hurled on pretty much every episode of any Real Housewives show. “You’re a slut pig” is untouchable.
Last week I started rewatching Scrubs. I knew it was a show I loved, but rewatching it is just reminding me how great it really is. It seems like everyone has collectively decided to forget that it was a great show. Why is it not on more “best of” lists? Is it because the world has seemed to sour on Zach Braff? (Which I don’t understand, by the way.) I even recommended a watch to a friend of mine, and her only response was, “For some reason, I just hate Zach Braff.” What gives with the lack of respect for Scrubs? —Kerrie
Hey! I love Scrubs! It might be my favorite no-respect show, so I feel your pain: It’s a series I’ve recommended in Stay Tuned a lot, so I doubly feel your pain because people often scoff. Scrubs is great. (Though I will say the whole “calling a man a woman’s name” thing wears me down.)
So why doesn’t it get more cred? Part of it is timing: Scrubs debuted in 2001, which was not a great year for comedy debuts: Do you remember Off Centre? How about Men, Women & Dogs? Raising Dad? Bob Patterson? Maybe It’s Me? Ellen DeGeneres’s second sitcom, The Ellen Show? The late, great Undeclared debuted that season, too. The big new comedies from Scrubs’ freshman class: Reba and According to Jim. You can’t blame this on Americans not being ready to laugh or something after 9/11 either. These shows would have flopped anyway. Terrorism is not responsible for the failure of Emeril Lagassi’s sitcom Emeril. America did that all by itself.
So Scrubs was already swimming in an awkward school of fish. But it also didn’t fit in with the shows that were already on the air: Its lead-in its first season was Frasier. Frasier is a wonderful show, one I admire and revere, but those two don’t go together very well. It aired between Friends and Will & Grace, which is as plumb a spot as exists, except single-camera comedies and multi-camera comedies rarely pair well together because the single-camera comedy always winds up feeling small somehow in comparison. (That smallness is actually intimacy, which is essential.) Then NBC started to bottom out, and Scrubs bounced around the schedule a bit. It aired after Father of the Pride in 2004; that was that computer-animated Sigfried and Roy show, if you remember. It also aired as a lead-in for Committed, which barely lasted 13 episodes. Joey and Teachers? Those aren’t helping anyone. By the time Scrubs got paired with The Office — correct! finally! — NBC had had enough. Then ABC picked it up, and it aired after a reality series called Homeland Security USA. Until it changed time slots again. It finished out its run with its own rerun as a lead-in. Scrubs got the shaft from NBC and ABC in terms of scheduling, and it never had the same time slot for more than season. That taints its legacy, making it seem like an also-ran, even though it was terrific. Punch for punch, Scrubs gives The Office a run for its money.
As for Braff, some people just don’t like him. That’s true for all of us, but I think he gets hated on extra-hard because he winds up serving as a clearinghouse for our culture’s deep discomfort with the concept of celebrity; on the one hand, we want access and intimacy, but we also want a performance of superiority, something to aspire to. We want them to continue earning their keep through output, but also lament all the chances they’re given over someone less famous. We want them to be rich, but also very humble and discreet about it. It’s fine if you hate Garden State, but there are plenty of movies much, much worse than that. Humanity is mostly garbage, I guess. I also remind skeptics that Braff didn’t write Scrubs, so it is possible both to enjoy the series and dislike his screenwriting.
Staring down the barrel of Hulu Plus just for The Mindy Project. What else is in there to ease paying for another service? —Alice (@deliciousnicity)
So technically Hulu got rid of “Hulu Plus,” but I feel you. If you like Mindy, you might like Difficult People, which is darker and more disdainful than TMP but shares some of its pop inclinations. (Its creator and star is former Vulture contributor Julie Klausner.) It’s less marathon-able than Mindy, and way less hopeful, but it’s also edgier and more committed to its deal. It’s called Difficult People, so you don’t get to act surprised when its leads are … difficult. It’s easier to forget that Mindy can be outrageous sometimes.
The Hotwives of Las Vegas might also appeal to you. Think of it as the Real Housewives equivalent of Burning Love: Yeah, it’ll be funnier the more familiar you are with the source material, but I can say as someone who largely avoids and loathes Real Housewives, I still find Hotwives enjoyable.
In totally different veins, I love both The Wrong Mans and Behind the Mask. Mans is a British action-comedy, sort of a hybrid of Chuck and The Office. If you enjoy James Corden, then the fact that he’s a co-creator and co-star of the show should be a selling point. If you still don’t know who James Corden is, he’s the one who took over for Craig Ferguson. Behind the Mask is a doc series about mascots; season one was surprisingly charming, and season two is more of the same. (Remember a “This American Life” episode about a high-school student who loved being her school’s mascot? She’s in season two.)
Outside of its originals, you should watch Fargo, Party Down, Ugly Betty, My So-Called Life, Absolutely Fabulous, The Profit, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, The Bridge (Scandi version), Hindsight, and Steven Universe. Some of these shows are also available elsewhere, but more episodes are on Hulu than other outlets. (For example, there are 35 eps of Steven Universe on Hulu and 14 on Cartoon Network’s site.) There are other shows, too, particularly foreign-language soaps, but those are the first ten I thought of.