Although we had to say farewell to far too many far too soon, this year produced an embarrassment of riches when it came to TV comedies. This bountiful crop of comedies helped to fill in the gaps left by the departed, such as the comically bleak The Last Man on Earth, the delightfully deranged animated saga Animals, and the criminally underappreciated mockuseries American Vandal. Luckily for us, newcomers and mainstays alike were refreshing, experimental, and hilariously indelible, further pushing the boundaries of format, tone, and expectation. Here are the ten best comedy series of 2018.
10) GLOW (Netflix)
GLOW does a face turn on the “ensemble problem” in its second season. By giving the supporting Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling — who had to fight for local-access screen time in season one — richer character color and a deeper understanding of their interior lives and motivations, GLOW’s central themes are allowed to shine even brighter. Because at its pastel-colored, Lycra-leotard-covered core, GLOW celebrates the ways women from diverse backgrounds carve out their own real estate in spaces dominated by men. Alison Brie’s Ruth and Betty Gilpin’s Debbie remain as excellent and foregrounded as they were last season, but getting to hear more from Kia Stevens’ Tamme and Britney Young’s Carmen adds some much-needed intersectional depth to GLOW’s heart and humor. Oh, yeah, and Marc Maron continues to be the best sensitive slimeball as team manager/B-movie director Sam Sylvia.
9) Joe Pera Talks With You (Adult Swim)
If most of Adult Swim’s programming is an aggressive acid trip, then Joe Pera Talks With You is its comedy CBD: anti-chaotic and cozy as hell. Following a soft-spoken Michigan choir teacher who has a larger-than-life affection for life’s small things, Joe Pera Talks With You possesses a hypnotic hilarity where its protagonist describing the sound of milk pouring into a glass feels like a transformative event. Comedian Joe Pera — in his wonderfully rendered normie character — navigates his blue-collar milieu with a kindness and compassion that seems alien, both in his fictional world and in comedy writ large. While just on the periphery there exists a sadness and unsettling darkness (especially when Connor O’Malley’s Mike Melsky is near), the show is a calming light (especially when Jo Firestone’s Sarah Connor is near). Joe Pera Talks With You reminds us that the weird, least-expected joys in life can help make an indifferent world feel a little less lonely.
8) The Good Place (NBC)
Michael Schur’s playfully inventive twist on Dante’s Divine Comedy shouldn’t have even worked on paper, and yet three seasons in, the writing, narrative swings, and comedic interplay between its characters are managing to operate on a celestial level. Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jason (Manny Jacinto) are still barely evading eternal damnation by fighting off their selfish impulses, and with demon architect Michael (Ted Danson) and neutral informational android Janet (D’Arcy Carden) in tow, the crew is finally learning their most valuable lesson, to hell with Pascal’s Wager: We are all in this together, so let’s be decent to one another even without the promise of some supernatural reward. Danson and Carden give two of the most inspired comedic performances in recent memory as nonhumans pantomiming humanity.
7) Baskets (FX)
Nothing sounds funny about a disgraced Parisian clown returning to his fractured family in Bakersfield, California, but Baskets holds a rose-colored magnifying glass over its thematic melancholy, highlighting the darkly comedic corners of lives completely defined by self-delusion. Zach Galifianakis is doing the finest character work of his career in his dual role as twin brothers Chip and Dale Baskets, using the former to further explore his fondness for deadpan and slapstick, while the latter is the vessel for his violent bursts of rage and sorrow. Martha Kelly’s Martha finally gets the redemptive arc she deserves, and Louie Anderson’s Emmy-winning performance as Christine hits you directly in the heart as the matriarch trying her best to keep her family intact.
6) Detroiters (Comedy Central)
Detroiters is a bright watercolor in a sea of monochrome comedies. The unapologetically goofy series about two best friends keeping their Detroit ad agency afloat by making wildly offbeat DIY commercials for local businesses exists in a completely different time zone than most of Comedy Central’s lineup. And that’s because there’s a sincerity to Sam Richardson and Tim Robinson’s silliness, where even the cartoonish characters who populate the broader edges of this absurdly constructed universe deserve a dignified treatment. Detroiters is teeming with optimism instead of weighed down by cruelty or irony, a celebration of unconditional friendship between two underdogs in an industry that would rather see dog eat dog. Unfortunately, Detroiters’ second season was also its last, but maybe if we get #CramblinDuvetHereToStay trending on Twitter as a Hail Mary attempt, it will get picked up by one of our illustrious streaming platforms!
5) Barry (HBO)
Brutal and brutally funny, Barry pushes coal-black humor a few shades darker with its mix of bloody violence and biting satire. Bill Hader’s Emmy-winning turn as a depressed hit man who discovers a sense of purpose — and a way out — after stumbling across an acting class in Los Angeles solidifies his leading-man status, his chameleonic comedic chops and dramatic range on full display. And thanks to the textured world-building and some hilariously heartbreaking supporting work from Henry Winkler, Anthony Carrigan, and Sarah Goldberg, Barry still has so many creative bullets left in its chamber, despite the shock ending of its debut season.
Even after five seasons, the Netflix comedy refuses to ease off the gas, approaching its storytelling from formally inventive, aesthetically dazzling ways. From the penetrating, single-stream-of-consciousness eulogy in “Free Churro” to the structural wizardry of “INT. SUB,” BoJack is not just a profoundly funny show, but also a profound meditation on loss, addiction, depression, and abuse. And I understand that’s a pretty heady way to describe an animated show that stars a talking horse. I don’t know how Raphael Bob-Waksberg does it, but his Tinsel Town parody keeps growing more poignant with each passing season.
You might be wondering: What is a prestige drama doing on a comedy roundup? Well, beneath Succession’s austere color palette and shaky-cam seriousness lies a pitch-perfect satire of the obscenity of wealth, a French farce full of buffoonish billionaires who publicly masturbate to the sight of their own ivory towers. The remarkable cast — including Brian Cox, Kieran Culkin, and Alan Ruck — play it completely straight-faced, not drawing attention away from the gripping power struggle at the center to the hilarity that exists in plain sight near the margins. Succession is throwing pies in the faces of the Rupert Murdochs of the world — the helpless, entitled babies who have been infantilized by their own corruption. Plus, Tom and Cousin Greg are basically the new Abbott and Costello.
2) Atlanta (FX)
While “Teddy Perkins” justifiably usurped most of the praise during Atlanta’s stellar sophomore season, the episode that truly captures the tenor of Robbin’ Season on both a macro and micro level is “Barbershop.” Paper Boi, in a masterful performance of controlled anxiety from Brian Tyree Henry, attempts to get a haircut from his barber Bibby but keeps getting strung along and given the literal runaround from the man he pays handsomely for his services. Before he knows it, Paper Boi finds himself in a Looney Tunes sequence of lies and deceit, from getting duped into hauling lumber to being verbally abused by Bibby’s son. “Barbershop” demonstrates the little ways we are robbed of our time, of our humanity, and of our worth. I haven’t thought about an episode of TV more this year.
In Always Sunny’s 13th season, the Gang begins to care less about activating our lizard brains and more about exploring those oft-neglected empathy centers. Don’t get me wrong: Mac, Dennis, Dee, Charlie, and Frank are still the same crude, offensive, irredeemable sociopaths we’ve grown to know and love, but the series has pivoted toward reconciling with their toxic behavior — both within the Always Sunny universe and on a more meta level with the real-life implications of Rob McElhenney, Glenn Howerton, Kaitlin Olson, Charlie Day, and Danny DeVito’s comedic choices for the show. Throughout the season they offer thoughtful, meaningful mea culpas for the show’s lack of diversity, treatment of women, and its jokes at the expense of trans character Carmen. But the season finale marks the series’s crowning artistic achievement, as Mac “finds his pride” with an awe-inspiring choreographed dance sequence. Mac’s sexuality was once a punch line to what could be considered Always Sunny’s joke-writing nadir. Now it will forever be synonymous with its apex. The Gang has radically redefined what edgy comedy can be instead of bending toward how it’s always been.