Don’t worry, it’s okay to laugh. Yeah, these times aren’t great, and haven’t been for many years at this point, but we gotta take peace where we can. That can mean family, or faith, or creativity, but it can also mean passively consuming whatever kind of entertainment you’re into. Maybe that’s comedy? I mean, everybody should like some kind of comedy. If you know somebody who says they don’t like comedy you might want to let somebody else know, become that’s a worrisome sign right there.
Comedy isn’t just about laughter, of course. Most of the shows on this list can be as poignant as any drama, and as tender as any romance. Comedy can and should run the full gamut of emotions, because it only makes a joke land even harder when it comes from a place of true feeling. Take the MacGruber series, for instance—his constant double entendres and inappropriate sex jokes wouldn’t touch us as much if we didn’t believe he truly felt heartbroken over his partner Vicki St. Elmo marrying somebody else. (I’d normally leave a spoiler alert before giving away a plot point like that, but I don’t think there’s anybody in the world who’d get angry about MacGruber spoilers.)
So, yeah: these shows made us laugh, and they made us feel, and that made us laugh even more, which was very important in a year that otherwise gave us very little to laugh about. Thank you, TV.
Creator: Meredith Scardino
Between Girls5Eva and A.P. Bio, Paula Pell is the comedy queen of Peacock. The longtime SNL writer stars alongside Busy Philipps, Hamilton’s Renée Elise Goldsberry, and singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles as the members of a minor girl group from the ‘90s mounting an improbable reunion in this sitcom from former Letterman, Colbert Report, and Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt writer Meredith Scardino. Adjacent to the world of Tina Fey’s sitcoms (she’s a producer and actually appears in the show as Dolly Parton), Girls5Eva has a similar feel to Schmidt or 30 Rock, but a slower pace, which works to its advantage. It’s a canny, clever look at pop culture in both the ‘90s and today, and a must-watch for comedy fans with Peacock subscriptions.—Garrett Martin
Creator: Mike O’Brien
A.P. Bio has quietly become one of the best sitcoms on TV today due to the strength of its ensemble. Its fourth season is its second one to air exclusively on Peacock, and also its final season overall, which is a shame, as Mike O’Brien’s absurd high school sitcom was one of the funniest and most underrated on TV the last few years. At least it went out on a high note: season 4 was as hilarious as any other, with Glenn Howerton, Patton Oswalt, and Paula Pell once again leading a top-notch ensemble that includes the best collection of high school students since Freaks and Geeks. Let’s all pour one out for Whitlock High.—Garrett Martin
Created by: Chris Sheridan
2021 was a lot, but our prescription is to take a regular dose of Alan Tudyk in Resident Alien. The fantastically talented Tudyk finally gets to lead his own show in essentially a dual role as Dr. Harry Vanderspeigle and the alien who has secretly crash-landed on Earth and assumed the dead doctor’s appearance for safety. Much actual hilarity does ensue when the imposing local sheriff (Corey Reynolds) demands Vanderspeigle’s help in solving the murder of the lone town doctor in nearby Patience, Colorado. With an entertaining ensemble of quirky townspeople as support, the series unfolds like the mad cousin of Northern Exposure mashed up with John Carpenter’s Starman. And Tudyk is on point serving up a weekly Master’s class in physical comedy and pitch-perfect line readings. Plus, there’s an inspired side plot about a single kid in town who can see what Harry actually is, and their mutual détente of deep dislike is sublime. Get on this one—it’s the tension release valve you need. —Tara Bennett
Created by: Jorma Taccone
I’m fully prepared for MacGruber to be the most divisive entry on this list. If you’ve seen MacGruber the movie, you know exactly what to expect from the Peacock series. It has the same stars, the same lead writers, the same director, and the same tone—that combination of pitch-perfect action movie parody and unrepentant, unrelenting, low-brow silliness. The concept of the MacGruber sketches on SNL was “what if MacGyver was really, really stupid?” The movie explored the depths of MacGruber’s stupidity, revealing that he’s basically the dumbest kid in your sixth grade class, the one who wasn’t smart enough to realize that, while he’s in public, he should try to hide the obsession with poop and boobs and dick jokes that every 12-year-old boy has. MacGruber is unfettered id in the body of a murderous man-child, and played by Will Forte as somebody who can’t even begin to moderate their own emotions or impulses, or hide what they’re thinking at any point in their life. That should make him the worst special forces operative in the world, but MacGruber’s utter lack of guile and intelligence somehow turns him into a deadly wrecking ball of international terrorism, able to tear down Cobra-style paramilitary cells as ridiculously as possible. MacGruber is absolutely not for everybody, but if you’re a fan of Forte and Kristen Wiig at their most unhinged, or a member of the proud cult of the movie, you’ll probably love it.—Garrett Martin
Created by: Kyle Mooney, Dave McCary, and Ben Jones
If you grew up watching Saturday morning cartoons on the three major networks, you’ll immediately recognize what Saturday Morning All Star Hits is going for. Kyle Mooney plays generic SoCal surfer dude twins named Skip and Treybor, the hosts of a fictional Saturday morning block, as they introduce a variety of recurring cartoons. Those short cartoon parodies reference shows like Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Thundercats, Care Bears, and Alvin and the Chipmunks, among others, without ever too closely recreating any of them. They all seem a little obvious and predictable in the first episode, but as the storylines carry over and develop throughout the season they become weirdly specific and absurd. They’re not just vaguely recognizable cartoon stereotypes doing and saying things they’d never do in real cartoons, but defined characters dealing with dilemmas both realistic and ridiculous.
What makes SMASH transcend initial expectations is how absurd those stories become over time. This isn’t just a case of making old cartoons vulgar and violent. Yes, the show tries to get laughs from those played-out, toothless shock tactics, but aims for so much more. Mooney and his cocreators have made an entire little pop culture world that closely resembles our own without ever ripping anything off too directly or blatantly. They piece together shards of the junk foisted upon kids 30 years ago to make a surreal kaleidoscope that seems like something we know while also feeling unsettlingly off. It’s not a comedy with jokes, per se, but one that gets by on the contrast between familiarity and absurdity, on taking something we think we should know and then upending those expectations. It nimbly walks the line between nostalgia and parody, less interested in mocking the specific shows it evokes than that whole era of corporate entertainment and the youth culture it was both reacting to and helping to create.—Garrett Martin
Created by: Tony McNamara
As Archie (Adam Godley) puts it, “Russia… a prehistoric creature all anger and thoughtless disregard for life. Anarchic and selfish, lacking reason. These are the things we must face down metaphorically.” But Tony McNamara’s bombastic The Great, returning for another 10-episode season on Hulu, faces these things down literally. What makes the show so excellent is not that it solves any of these problems, or even comes close—it’s that its characters constantly yearn and strive and lash out and cry with a mixture of humor and humanity unlike anything else on television. Perhaps these is nothing more Russian than that.
In Season 2, we see how the power dynamic has shifted after the success of the coup. Catherine (Elle Fanning) has Peter (Nicholas Hoult) cornered and imprisoned. This assertion of dominance alongside her pregnancy is enough to control Peter through a love he has now discovered for her (and crucially their forthcoming son, Paul). But Catherine’s feelings for her violent, chaotic husband are similarly complex. And so, The Great Season 2 is essentially a flamboyant Russian divorce of sorts, full of artfully vulgar dialogue, indiscriminate violence, and the constant threat of death on all sides from everyone.
Like Russia itself, The Great is an amalgam of many disparate parts, all of which ultimately fall in line if by duty or destiny. Led by an outstanding cast, the series remains a strange, funny, ridiculous, trundling carnival of ideas, genres, and characters. It is great in both size and quality—ambitious, reckless, and always a joy.—Allison Keene
Created by: Lisa Hanawalt
Network: Adult Swim
Like many Netflix original series, Tuca & Bertie initially fell through the cracks. It wasn’t as immediately, massively popular as The Algorithm requires and was swiftly canceled less than three months after it premiered. But for the fans who were lucky enough to find it, Tuca & Bertie was a unique and groundbreaking series. Adult animation is certainly a thriving genre of television, but there aren’t many shows like Tuca & Bertie, whose heartfelt, female-driven comedy stands out in the sea of sophomoric humor. The cancelation of a show that felt so personal to so many people was devastating. Now on Adult Swim, the show has a perceived sense of heightened freedom. With less pressure to appeal to Netflix’s entire general audiences, Tuca & Bertie can push its boundaries further, stretching its wings (sorry).
Tuca & Bertie shines most in its conversations surrounding mental health. Bertie’s guilt over her panic attacks and her loved ones’ desire to still be there for her is a moving arc throughout the series. Creator Lisa Hanawalt doesn’t shy away from talking about the hardest parts of seeking help for mental health and the assembly line of comically bad therapists Bertie meets is a cheeky reminder that there won’t be any immediate fixes, no matter how hard we will it into being.
In the over two years since season one premiered, adult animation has only become an even more saturated market. Returning with something to prove, Tuca & Bertie makes it abundantly clear that this show deserved to live another day. The series addresses taboo topics but reminds us of how easy it can be to find humor in these dark moments.—Kristen Reid
Created by: Robin Thede
A Black Lady Sketch Show again and again manages to find ways to comment on the nadirs, nuances and particularities of Black life in ways that do not make a mockery of Blackness itself. Season 2’s revolving door of guest stars—including Gabrielle Union, Omarion, Amber Riley, Yvette Nicole Brown, Wunmi Mosaki, Ryan Michelle Bathe, Miguel, Skai Brown, the show’s executive producer Issa Rae and more—play characters who may be rendered ridiculous but are never themselves the joke. It’s refreshing, it’s sharp and above all it’s actually funny. The show is undeniably rewarded cool points for offering new life to the legacy of actually funny sketch comedy shows helmed by Black creative teams (In Living Color, Key & Peele, etc.) but its relevance isn’t grounded in its release during a moment in popular culture where calls for increased representation are made. A Black Lady Sketch Show stands on its own two feet as a meritorious, well-crafted variety program.
Clever one-liners and quintessentially Black references are peppered gracefully throughout Season 2’s six episodes. In a sketch starring creator Robin Thede and newcomer Laci Mosley, Thede is an unhappy woman who learns from a psychic that everything went wrong during a childhood game of M.A.S.H. This is the reason she doesn’t have a Lambo with the suicide doors and did not in fact marry B2K singer Omarion. In another sketch Mosley tries desperately to hide her half-unbraided hair from a booty call. In yet another a group of women reunite on vacation and excitedly greet one another in ridiculous ways—chloroforming one another upon arrival and unveiling masks to reveal that they have arrived. The joke is that Black women are often so excited to reunite with one another that they squeal, sometimes shimmy and laugh when seeing one another. This sketch takes that interpersonal social culture and makes light of what others might recognize as disruptive but what the sketch depicts as hyperbolically joyful.
Season 2 of A Black Lady Sketch Show is a success. Thede, her fellow leads and the writing team effectively craft a second season which further asserts the show’s ethos. Overall it’s a proud and well-earned victory lap.—Adesola Thomas
Created by: Sterlin Harjo, Taika Waititi
Original Network: FX on Hulu
FX has found its niche in telling close-up, intimate stories extremely well, and Reservation Dogs is no exception. It focuses on four friends—Bear (D’Pharoah Woon-A-Tai), Elora (Devery Jacobs), Willie Jack (Paulina Alexis), and Cheese (Lane Factor)—who accidentally form an unofficial “gang” dubbed the “reservation bandits,” because of their penchant for light crime. Their hope is to get enough money to get to California, an ideal that’s always just out reach.
The lived-in, slightly surrealist comedy is a low-fi exploration of an Indigenous community in Oklahoma, whose leads shuffle around the “rez” among other misfits and sundries, and stumble into a variety of adventures that range from stealing a chip van to dealing with a snarky and overworked healthcare system. FX has touted Reservation Dogs, created by Sterlin Harjo and Taika Waititi, as revolutionary. In many ways it is; it features an all-Indigenous writers room, for one. But the show makes its boldest statement by not feeling like it’s making a statement at all. It’s an easy-going show, foul and funny, specific and accessible. It’s not about the kids being noble heroes or crime-loving villains; they’re just people. But they are also Indigenous people, which does mean something, and is all-too-rare to see on television—especially portrayed in such a wonderfully casual way.
But more than anything, Reservation Dogs is a languid series that moves at an unhurried pace. The kids make plans, scrounge for food, wander around, get into fights. They don’t talk or act like adults, and they’re not beaten down by cynicism. They have hopes and dreams, a love for family, an un-ironic embrace of community, and make a lot of silly mistakes. To say there is an innocence or even wholesomeness to Reservation Dogs would not be to quite hit the mark on how casually crass the show can be (it is ultimately a comedy for adults); but like its leads, it has a good heart. The friends are trying their best and hold each other close, even as they rib one another for their choices. It’s this balance that the show gets so right; not overly precious nor incredibly vulgar, just truth with an edge. Or as they would say, “Love ya, bitch.” —Allison Keene
Created by: Ziwe
One of Ziwe’s greatest comedic strengths is understanding how to employ humor through various means—music, sketch comedy, interviews, etc.—to highlight the absurdity of our American reality and the fundamental discomfort people have with discussing this nation’s legacy of racism, sexism and injustice on the whole. On her Instagram Live series Baited with Ziwe, Ziwe interviewed iconic guests like internet celebrity Caroline Calloway, Alyssa Milano, and Slave Play playwright Jeremy O. Harris, among others. Through the series and its increased popularity during the summer of 2020, Ziwe became renowned for unabashedly asking her predominantly white guests confrontational questions about race.
The legacy of her live series carries over into her Showtime show. In the official promotional video for Ziwe, the comedian asks notorious New Yorker Fran Lebowitz “what bothers you more, slow walkers or racism?” Because of this brand of humor and her refusal to hand anyone an “ally cookie” for basic interpersonal decency, some might misinterpret Ziwe’s satire as elevated trolling—bullying masquerading as niche comedy. But if one only looks closely enough it becomes abundantly clear that Ziwe is deeply uninterested in tearing any individual guest down but rather drawing attention to the discomfort people have with the possibility of discomfort itself. Her comedy is crafted to showcase how fearful people are of saying the “wrong thing” or revealing gaps in their knowledge. Ziwe’s comedy implicitly asks “why are people more afraid of appearing racist, sexist, etc. than actually being any of those things?” When Ziwe asks “what the fuck is a deductible?” over a trap beat it’s because that a funny thing to do. But it also gives listeners time to reckon with the fact that healthcare in America is so unnecessarily complicated and inaccessible that it took a talented comedian and a trap beat for them to sit and intentionally ask themselves why and question if it has to be.—Adesola Thomas
Created by: Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider
Network: HBO Max
Beyond its talented cast and sharp writing, what sets The Other Two apart is its ability to deliver pointed satire in a way that remains grounded and human. A debate has long raged about whether Ted Lasso is too saccharine; The Other Two has an ideal mix of bitterness and… well, something that isn’t quite “sweetness” but still isn’t stressful or depressing. If you like your comedy to have an acidic bite to it, but struggle with the overwhelming negativity and discomfort of most cringe comedy, The Other Two might be what you’re looking for.
The key is that the relationships between the central family are rooted in something resembling reality. They can occasionally engage in ridiculous behavior, or brush up against absurd situations, but those almost always grow out of the show’s satire of the entertainment business. The Dubek clan interacts with each other in a recognizably human way. Despite his instant superstardom, teenaged Chase Dubek (a Bieber-ish viral pop star known as ChaseDreams) remains a good-natured kid with typical teenage interests who genuinely loves his mom and siblings. Molly Shannon finds the soul in what could’ve been a stereotype of a middle-aged suburban woman, even as she becomes an amazingly successful daytime talk show host in season 2. And although Yorke and Tarver’s characters, who are drifting in both their lives and careers, can be selfish, petty and immature, they aren’t the utterly amoral cartoon characters you’ll often find in similar shows. Brooke and Cary Dubek aren’t David Brent from The Office or Dennis Reynolds from It’s Always Sunny; they’re believable adults who are just getting old enough to realize they’ll probably never achieve their dreams and ambitions, and although that can make them act in desperate, embarrassing, or even deplorable ways, it doesn’t make them bad people.—Garrett Martin
Created by: Joe Pera
Network: Adult Swim
At the start of Joe Pera Talks With You’s third season, Joe’s friend Gene calls him “a person of integrity who likes describing things.” It’s a funny line (delivered seriously, of course) but also an accurate description of Pera’s persona. Joe Pera as a character—and, presumably, as a person—has always been fundamentally decent, a good-natured and well-meaning guy who looks for the best in people and is always excited to share his knowledge with them, but in a genial, low-key way that never comes off as arrogant or annoying. The third season immediately reestablishes that tone in the first episode, when Joe helps Gene search for the perfect retirement chair, regaling the viewer with long, slow, adoring shots of different recliners, while Joe explains what’s special about them. It’s often noted that Joe Pera Talks With You is a crucial source of calm and positivity during an incredibly angry and chaotic time, and Joe quietly talking over footage of La-Z-Boys proves that’s still as true as ever.
There’s always been a surprising bit of depth beneath Joe Pera’s celebration of the everyday, but the show’s emotional power and subtle insight into human nature has grown more evident and more profound with each season. You see it in the deepening depression of the alcoholic and emotionally inert Mike Melsky (played by Conner O’Malley, a master of depicting broken masculinity), and in Joe finally moving on from the loss of his grandmother. It’s most clear with Sarah (Jo Firestone) grappling with her fears and her mental health. It’s made Joe Pera Talks With You not just one of the funniest and most heartfelt shows on TV, but also one of the most perceptive and powerful, as well.—Garrett Martin
Created by: John Wilson
The first season of How To with John Wilson ended with the first genuinely essential creative work about the pandemic. John Wilson captured the confusion and fear of the early weeks of the coronavirus exactly as we felt them at the time, first barely aware anything was happening, then starting to notice subtle weirdness creeping in on the edges, before suddenly dealing with what felt like an avalanche of panic and paranoia. It was like a dam burst, and the always-filming Wilson was there to get it on tape without even realizing it.
The second season of How To doesn’t capture anything as seismic as that, but it’s a better season overall. It launched as a fully realized, deeply assured show, and yet it’s somehow grown only more confident in its execution and cleverer in how it uses Wilson’s copious backlog of video footage to reinforce his observations on life and society. Perhaps the addition of Conner O’Malley and Susan Orlean (yes, that Susan Orlean) to the writers room elevated what was already one of the smartest and funniest shows on TV, or perhaps producing the first season helped Wilson refine what he was hoping to do and say with the show. Either way, the second season of How To takes us on an unexpected and unpredictable journey every episode, without ever feeling forced or dishonest. How To with John Wilson feels less like an intentionally produced show—less like something that’s been written and edited with a specific direction in mind—and more like one individual’s internal thought process beamed directly onto our TV screen. It’s deeply personal but full of universal insight and humor, which is the sweet spot where the best art and comedy lands.—Garrett Martin
Created by: Jemaine Clement
What We Do in the Shadows Season 3 finds the vampires, as well as Guillermo, a little more introspective as they go about their daily (or nightly) routines. Just a little. They begin exploring their pasts and their very roots in new ways, and take on new, hilariously unearned positions within the Vampire Council. Expanding the show’s world in this way is the right move, giving further bizarre context to our leads so that they are more than just (excellent) punchlines and outrageous accents. Any good fantasy or supernatural series needs to come stocked with lore, and the way What We Do in the Shadows continues to weave these elements in makes the jokes land even harder.
The new season does reintroduce some other supernatural factions, but for the most part it’s interested in small stories that really play to the well-honed strengths of its excellent cast: Kayvan Novak gets to do some incredible impressions, Mark Proksch explores a whole new side of Colin’s energy vampirism, Natasia Demetriou radiates power, Harvey Guillén remains the show’s heart and soul, and Matt Berry has the best line readings in all of television.
What We Do in the Shadows’ confidence is clear (the show was also recently renewed for Season 4), and it’s operating on its own terms. It does its best work that way, especially as it balances the particular strangeness of the vampire world with the everyday mundanity of ours. It’s always a treat to see the vampires move between those spaces, desecrating the ancient traditions of their kind—mostly on accident—and meeting a range of confusion, politeness, or curious acceptance when traveling to, say, Atlantic City. So yes, What We Do in the Shadows is still very, very good—maybe even better than ever. —Allison Keene
Created by: Zach Kanin and Tim Robinson
The second season of Tim Robinson’s beloved sketch show has the same fascination with embarrassment and the failure to read social cues that drove the first season. Once again a typical sketch revolves around a character—often played by Robinson, occasionally by a guest star like Tim Heidecker or Patti Harrison or Bob Odenkirk—who does something inappropriate, embarrassing, or simply weird in public, and then doubles down on it, refusing to acknowledge any weirdness or wrong-doing no matter how much pressure or criticism they get from others. It’s a pattern that still works, and the show veers away from it just enough to keep it fresh throughout the second season.
Despite how that might sound, I Think You Should Leave isn’t really “cringe comedy.” It’s too absurd for that, the situations too pointedly cartoonish. Also, instead of The Office’s Michael Scott realizing he overstepped, broadcasting his discomfort, and ultimately being portrayed as a well-meaning and fundamentally likable person, Robinson’s characters are usually unhinged and with almost no degree of self-awareness. It elevates the comic stakes past mere discomfort and into something far more inspired.
Robinson and his co-writers (which include the show’s co-creator Zach Kanin and MacGruber co-writer John Solomon) make comedy that’s very specific and focused, and yet whose basic ideas can be applied to an almost endless spectrum of concepts and situations. I don’t see any reason I Think You Should Leave couldn’t continue on for several seasons to come, as long as the show is able to avoid the backlash and online criticism that seems to be the fate of anything that gains any modicum of success these days. If you’re worried I Think You Should Leave’s second season will disappoint you, don’t: it’s still tremendous.—Garrett Martin