The steaming apps and premium cable networks are leading the way in comedy programming today. While HBO and Netflix have been dominating award ceremonies, other networks like Hulu and Apple+ have found their own talismans with revered shows like Ted Lasso and PEN15. Even Peacock has launched a handful of sitcoms that would’ve easily fit alongside The Office or Parks and Recreation on NBC’s Thursday night schedule a decade ago. And then there’s Showtime. Although the premium cable station has been around for decades, its original programming slate has never quite caught up to the quality of its rivals. 2021 might be the year that changes, though.
Most of Showtime’s buzz has understandably been around the excellent late night series Desus & Mero and Ziwe. In addition to those two shows, though, the network quietly debuted 2021’s most underrated new sitcom, Flatbush Misdemeanors. The half-hour series follows fictionalized versions of its creators, New York-based stand-up comedians Dan Perlman and Kevin Iso, and their daily struggles living in the titular Flatbush neighborhood of Brooklyn. TV Kevin is Dan’s blunt, pessimistic, childhood best friend crashing on his couch and making deliveries for a local restaurant while trying to make it as a painter. TV Dan is a well-meaning, neurotic high school teacher that seems to know what everyone should do with their lives except himself. The pair have a tough love dynamic as they individually and collectively face big setbacks coupled with enough small wins to keep the show from feeling repetitive or one-note. One of those main struggles involves continually trying to appease a drug dealer and his equally combative niece in order to literally survive after a mishap during one of Kevin’s deliveries in the serie’s pilot. Pilots are almost always a wash having to shoulder the burden of exposition, but Flatbush Misdemeanors’ writing stands out immediately in its pilot.
While the show does have the look of your classic premium cable show with unnecessarily shaky camera work, it stands out as a hard comedy full of actual jokes and a consistent tongue-in-cheek style throughout each scene. Tonally, it’s somewhere between Insecure and Flight of the Conchords, but what makes the show compelling lies not only in what it offers but what it doesn’t. The more acclaimed comedies of late tend to be more corny than clever, have more heart than humor, or move with a gentle comedic touch that’s so subtle it’s almost not even there. Flatbush Misdemeanors contrarily manages to be relevant and modern without feeling performatively “woke” or desperately topical, dry without being banal, sardonic without being too caustic. In a sea of dramedies, it’s refreshing to see a clear-cut sitcom of such quality.
Flatbush Misdemeanors is a show with a clear voice, part of which includes a too-little-used fourth wall breaking device of superimposed texts that provide additional character notes. It’s used similarly to Arrested Development’s narrator. One of the series’ best episodes is “Lockdown” in which Dan hilariously deals with a bomb threat at school from a recently expelled student. Yes, a school bomb scare episode is one of it’s funniest. “Lockdown” highlights the issue of under-funded public schools, pressures of being a kid and a teacher, and the police’s tame treatment towards troubled white boys, but it does so in a way that is neither heavy handed nor tone deaf.
The show is powered by a supporting cast of rowdy scene-stealers that operate in sharp juxtaposition to Kevin and Dan’s calmer characters. Standouts include: Hasaan Johnson’s drug dealer Drew, the virgo-slandering tough guy that can also be sensitive and cultured; Yamaneika Saunder’s Dr. Flowers, Dan’s therapist who is more interested in his neighbor’s dilemmas than Dan’s own feeble issues; and Dan’s lively yet loathsome step-father played by Kareem Green, who shows his affection for his mother (the always entertaining Maria Bamford) by teaching her how to drive a truck and throwing a baby pigeon in a guy’s face, respectively. The series is able to take archetypes and tropes and flesh them out into multi-dimensional characters and unpredictable story arcs. It avoids cliches with a great script and keen delivery for moments that feel grounded instead of being served with a hard wink-wink at the audience.
The supporting cast unfortunately outshines our main characters in what is the show’s clear weak spot. The pair’s acting resume is relatively short and it unfortunately shows. While Kevin and Dan are purposely more muted characters, their performances are a bit underwhelming with them often mumbling their lines enough that it had me cranking up the volume on my TV. However, given more time, I’m confident the comedians can elevate and refine their skills.
Despite its flaws, my concerns regarding cancellation lie solely in the network’s history with original programming. Showtime currently only has five scripted comedies, the longest of which is Our Cartoon President (three seasons and running), a time-sensitive response to Trump’s administration. Their last stand-up special centered on football player and very-much-not-an-actual-comedian Rob Gronkowski. The one real staple of theirs that’s earned word of mouth appeal is the drama Billions, and even that’s long in the tooth. Showtime is not exactly the best at marketing their programming, which can make or break a show, but if they consciously start investing in Flatbush Misdemeanors like they have Desus & Mero and Ziwe, the sitcom can comfortably compliment the two for a sturdy comedic block.
Flatbush Misdemeanors’ season finale airs on Showtime this Sunday, August 1.
Olivia Cathcart is a comedian and writer.