I love lists. Lists lists lists! And since we’re nearing the end of the decade, it’s the perfect time to look back and list the best TV shows of the Aughts. Or whatever we’re calling the past 10 years. Today: The best comedies.
And before you complain, I’m only counting shows that started after 2000. So no “Freaks & Geeks,” no “South Park,” no “Family Guy.” (Though they were all great.) Not making the list: “How I Met Your Mother,” “Undeclared,” “Extras,” and, juuust missing it by a hair, “Malcolm in the Middle.” All good shows. But these were better:
(Warning, some of the clips for the cable shows might be NSFW. So put on your headphones.)
10. “Scrubs” (NBC, 2001-2008; ABC, 2008-present). At its peak, this hospital comedy was able to swing from surreal and slapstick to poignant and reflective in a single bound. The series was better in its early years, when there was a better sense of harsh reality and mortality to balance out the goofy fantasies. What other comedy (well, other than “M*A*S*H”) killed off so many of its characters? (Like the unforgettable, haunting episode where Brendan Fraser’s character dies — easily one of the best half hours of TV this past decade.) The series faltered in its later years, as J.D. (Zach Braff) devolved into a parody of himself, and it’s really gone off the rails this season in a failing effort to re-invent itself. But based on the first five or six seasons alone, it makes the list.
9. “Venture Bros.” (Cartoon Network, 2003-present). Probably the series on this list that you’re least likely to have seen. But you should. The animated (but for grownups only) spy/family adventure spoof is one of the most twisted, consistently hilarious shows out there. From cloned children to butterfly-themed super villains to a certain Swedish murder machine, it’s wildly creative, witty and most of all, sick. (But in a very good way.)
8. “Entourage” (HBO, 2004-present). It’s the ultimate male fantasy: Living the life of luxury in Hollywood with your childhood buddies, where your only worries are which party to hit that night and which starlet to hook up with. Though never particularly deep, it’s always been breezy, shallow fun. At its peak, it was the fastest-moving, most smile-inducing half-hour on TV. Can’t forget the glue that holds it all together: super agent Ari Gold, a star-making role for Jeremy Piven as the fastest-talking, most acid-tongued and BS-cutting character on TV.
7. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (FX, 2005-present). It’s kinda like “Seinfeld,” only more profane and the characters are poorer, dumber and meaner. “Sunny” exists in a world of inane get-rich-quick schemes, petty vendettas and tunnel-visioned self-absorption. With the possible exceptions of “Curb Your Enthusiasm” and “South Park,” it’s the sickest and most twisted show on TV. Just how sick and twisted? Well, here are a few episode synopses: Mac and Dennis cruise for dates at an anti-abortion rally; Dennis and Dee’s grandpa is a Nazi; Dee gets hooked on crack and dates a mentally challenged rapper (separately, of course); the gang turns cannibal; and of course, Mac laments that he wasn’t cute enough to be molested as a child. Shocking? Sure. Not for everyone? Absolutely. Hilarious? Almost always.
6. “Weeds” (Showtime, 2005-present). A suburban mom sells pot to pay the bills. From that simple concept came a brilliantly multi-layered series that developed in a way you never would have thought possible at the beginning. (In fact, it’s almost a drama now, a completely different show.) Like its main character, Nancy Botwin, the series is charming and cynical, and more than a little bit dirty. And through it all, loyal Doug and Andy have become two of the great sitcom sidekicks of our time.
5. “The Office” (NBC, 2005-present). A rare case of a successful American adaptation of a British gem. While reveling in awkward moments, it’s far less bleak than the original, and the characters have had time to really blossom. It’s a show most office drones can relate to (who doesn’t complain about their idiot of a boss?), and consistently finds the humor in the mundane. Though it’s faltered a bit of late, it’s a comfortable favorite and already a sitcom classic.
4. “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (HBO, 2000-present). What’s not to like about a series revolving around a self-absorbed misanthrope who manages to offend everyone he comes into contact with? Larry David, the creator of “Seinfeld,” plays a skewed version of himself, and like that series, the comedy of “Curb” is found in typical everyday interactions — questions of etiquette, unwritten rules and morays of social convention. And Larry is always on the wrong side. It’s awkward, cringe-worthy and spit-take hilarious.
3. “30 Rock” (NBC, 2006-present). 4,000 Emmy awards can’t be wrong. Well, maybe not that many, but this series has won pretty much every comedy award out there for the past few years, and they’re all well deserved. Tina Fey’s madcap look behind the scenes of a network sketch comedy show manages to be intelligent yet absurd, and its over-the-top satire always manages to maintain a subtle edge. It’s helped by the best ensemble cast on a sitcom today. Just think, Alec Baldwin was known as a dramatic actor before this.
2. “The Office” (BBC, 2001-2003). Though it only lasted 14 episodes, Ricky Gervais’ masterpiece of awkwardness might have been the most influential comedy of the decade. It was a bleak look at mind-numbing work at a faceless paper company in a soulless London suburb, run by the most clueless boss on the planet. Gervais’ David Brent (“Friend first, boss second, probably entertainer third”) was a master of misreading situations, and somehow finding the most patronizing and offensive thing to say in any given situation. The palpable sense of discomfort made the laughs all the heartier when they finally broke the tension. Speaking of heart, the series always had one lurking beneath its bitter crust, and it finally got a chance to shine through in the touching Christmas-special series finale.
1. “Arrested Development” (Fox, 2003-2006). The greatest TV comedy ever made. There, I said it. Though thoroughly unappreciated at the time by viewers and network executives alike, the series — ostensibly a documentary following the highly dysfunctional Bluth family — broke new comedic ground with its whip-smart, richly textured, wink-at-the-audience brand of absurd humor. It featured the greatest cast of any sitcom, ever (go ahead, find one character who wasn’t pitch-perfect or didn’t fit in). Whether dealing in sight gags (a beagle laid on top of a doghouse as the “Peanuts” theme played in one episode), word gags (anything out of Tobias’ mouth), self-referential gags (Scott Baio replaced Henry Winkler’s character), slapstick (George Sr. seemed to attract tasers), running jokes (“Watch out for hop-ons!”) or satire (secretly building homes for Saddam), every joke hit its mark. It was a series built for the DVR — or DVD – generation, richly detailed, jokes two and three layers deep that could be appreciated even more after multiple viewings. It was utterly brilliant, the greatest comedy of the decade.