Wednesday, December 24, 2003
TIM'S TV LIST / And now for a little laughter
TIM'S TV LIST
And now for a little laughter
Tim Goodman Tuesday, November 18, 2003
It's like a lollapalooza of lists here. It's like ... "High Fidelity. " Yes, very funny. We got that already. That's fine. Today's all about funny. Or not funny. Or qualified funny. It's all covered.
Odd, the astute among you may point out, but after bloviating on about how great the dramas are on TV, yesterday you only came up with seven. And, lo,
Mr. The Sitcom Is Dead, there's now a list of 13 comedies. How do you reconcile that?
Easy. We don't. We make lists.
13 BEST COMEDIES ON TELEVISION
The same rules apply throughout the week. The series are ranked in order. Shows on these lists must be alive. No canceled gems. Of course, a show can be imported. Which is new enough to us. We're easy.
1. "The Simpsons." Fox. First, let's dispense with all the talk about when "The Simpsons" was at its best, at the zenith of its broad, gregarious pop cultural assassinations and reimagining of the American dysfunctional family through cartoons. Yes, some years are better than others. But this is a Hall of Fame entry without an asterisk. "The Simpsons" is the ur-comedy, pre- and post-list cool. It's unmalignable. Let's make this as clear as possible: "The Simpsons" is the greatest television series ever made.
2. "The Office." BBC America. David Brent may be the best comedic invention since Kramer. Or Homer. Maybe better. Given that comedy is so subjective and achieved through so many forms (slapstick, irony, rote punch lines, etc.), there are many species on this list. But "The Office" succeeds where others fear to tread -- without clearly defined ideas of humor, without obvious one-liners and without the safety net of the laugh track. This British workplace mockumentary is utterly brilliant, from its very first step onward. Ricky Gervais is a comic genius, period. If you never saw this, or don't get BBC America, the first-season DVD is out. Wait no longer.
Deep breath. And pause. OK, let's move on.
3. "Curb Your Enthusiasm." HBO. What is it about unpleasant people that is so funny? Maybe the reactions of the normal people around them? Maybe their sheer audacity? Whatever. Larry David has essentially taken Unpleasantville by force and now runs it as his personal fiefdom. But this is an act, right? Yes. Don't hate the messenger. What ignites this series is the dangerously risky but superbly executed notion that if you make viewers squirm and then ratchet it up higher, hilarity ensues. Much of this series is improvisation. But all of it is daring. You can hate Larry David if you want to, but how can you, through the laughter?
4. "Arrested Development." Fox. Every year Fox gives the network television world a really great comedy. This year this is that comedy. Of course, every year it kills that comedy almost without fail. Word is, Fox is going for patience with this one. Lovely news. "Arrested Development" tweaks the conventional sitcom formula and dares the audience to laugh without being prodded. This series is subtle, bizarre and understated. Now start watching it.
5. "Scrubs." NBC. Without question, this is the most underrated and least appreciated comedy on network television. By now, "Scrubs" should have a handful of Emmys in all the important categories, but doesn't. Where the bloom is off many of its stablemates, "Scrubs" remains vibrant and stupid. A nice combination. Also, one day John McGinley will get the Emmy (and the attention) he deserves for his tour-de-force weekly performance.
6. "King of the Hill." Fox. In the vernacular of the series, this show ain't right. And that's what makes it so special. Hank Hill is an American icon. Also, for what it's worth, this is an exceptionally good family series. Mostly it's just sweet and slightly off kilter.
7. "Malcolm in the Middle." Fox. Nestling ever so close to "Scrubs" in the underappreciated department, Malcolm deserves not only a wider audience but also a lot more respect. Physical humor collides with charming silliness, and the two leads, Jane Kaczmarek and Bryan Cranston, are relentless in their malleable-faced pursuit of laughs.
8. "Sex and the City.'' HBO. But is it a sitcom? Yes. Even if it knows that "dramedy" is a more accurate fit, the series prefers to be a comedy. The attraction to "Sex and the City'' is the utter lack of punch lines, of course, as Sarah Jessica Parker and company maneuver through the mine fields of dating and life as fabulous women in a fabulous city. Maybe not a gut-buster, but funny in that knowing way of the world.
9. "Friends." NBC. It's always love-hate. Always. But this is the final year, and looking away from egregious transgressions of sitcom policy is the kind thing to do. And you know what -- the last two seasons have been very funny. In a bleak landscape, this show has always been there for you.
10. "South Park." Comedy Central. It's terrible to be the best show on the planet for such a short, short time. Once the hype and controversy and uniqueness faded, something happened. "South Park" didn't die. It remained clever, vital, even. It got more prickly and dangerous, and even though it's still considered yesterday's "it show," this thing is damn funny more often than not.
11. "Will & Grace." NBC. Like any successful sitcom, this show fell in love with its own cleverness and took some time to rebuild the damage. But the scathing one-liners and snarkiness remain.
12. "Wanda at Large." Fox. So nobody's watching it. So Wanda Sykes was unfunny and annoying at the Emmys. Doesn't matter. The content is still there. It's still angry and funny and different. If you've seen nothing of her but her Emmy appearances or limited "Curb Your Enthusiasm" appearances, you might not know that Sykes is hilarious. She's a wicked stand-up. The more that comes out, the better the show. Fox needs to move this to a safer home.
13. "Frasier." No, really. It's the last season, and it's making a comeback. A big one. There were many safe, predictable "Frasier" seasons and the inevitable detours into Whocaresville. But this will always be a classic sitcom. It bows out this year in style.