Power Rankings! Comedies You Need to Watch Before Anything Else

11:11 AM 11/2/2017

by Tim Goodman

THR's chief TV critic refreshes his ranking of comedies you should prioritize above all other viewing right now.

Better Things, You're the Worst and The Tick_Split - Publicity - H 2017
Courtesy of FX; Courtesy of Amazon Prime Video

It's reckoning time in the comedy ranks.

Like last week with dramas (the first revised Power Rankings! since the revamp)  — shows rising, dropping or falling off entirely as a new batch of series jumped into the fray — comedies must fend for themselves as flux arrives.

And it has arrived, with seven new comedies making the list.

The problem is — and theoretically this is a good problem — all of the original comedies are qualitatively rock solid and that original 16 doesn't feel like budging.

Only one from that list — Fleabag on Amazon, is ineligible, having reached the one-year mark from its last episode.

Only one other — FX's Atlanta — is nearing its ineligibility date (Nov. 16), and while dropping it a couple of weeks before the deadline would certainly be the easy thing to do, this is Atlanta we're talking about; that's not happening on my watch. And all of this is my watch.

So, just as a reminder, the Power Rankings! have no problem being bloated; so long as whatever carb-and-gluten gut bomb that got gobbled down was of high quality, there won't be any guilt. Lists centered on quality — at least my lists — don't have to be held to 10 if, say, there's a shit-ton of great ones out there. On the other hand, this isn't one of my year-end, best-of lists that dutifully reflect the Platinum Age of a television industry still neck-deep in Peak TV.

No, this is about getting knocked off a list, at least until the next time, because something brilliant came along and, well, memory fades. But also there's so much science and analytics involved in the process it's scary — and dispassionate. Not everybody gets to win every week.

Note: The original 16 here had a couple of iconic entries that had what I'd call a "legacy bump" — a high ranking reflective of continued achievement. But now that we've launched, there's going to be flux.

So let's do this.

All hail the series that can hold the No. 1 ranking the longest. Below, you'll see two numbers. The number on the left is its current ranking, the one on the right is its previous ranking.

  • 1/8 — Better Things

    What Pamela Adlon is doing this season on Better Things is remarkable, which is saying something since the freshman season was a pretty damned good flag-planting on prestige planet. But Season 2 is special, an even more confident mix of emotionally telling but devastating moments in the lives of Sam, Max, Frankie, Duke and, bless her, Phil. There's a lot of fantastic "artisanal television" out there — from Master of None to Insecure and so much in-between — but right now Better Things is the best.

  • 2/1 — It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia

    If you sleep on Sunny, it wakes up early and snaps your neck or stabs your face. Like I said in the last rankings, this is your north star for essential comedies.

  • 3/2 — Veep

    In case you thought it was going to be easy to storm into the Top 5. Nope. Every season of Veep in the books just looks at other comedies and you can see the thought bubble in neon: Is that all you got? It'll take more to topple this gem.

  • 4/0 — GLOW

    As you may have read before — perhaps in its own enormous Power Rankings! — it's hard to get to all the series out there. Impossible, even. And back in the original comedy list I hadn't seen GLOW yet. Yeah, so much love. Funny, touching, some truly stand-out performances (Alison Brie, Betty Gilpin, Marc Maron) and quite a few more that were smaller in scope but wonderfully done. Can't wait to see more from this ensemble cast.

  • 5/5 — You're the Worst

    Television is jammed with so many exceptional offerings that saying "this is the best show you're not watching" is kind of pointless now, since there are dozens of them that you're not, in fact, watching. And nobody needs to pile on with You're the Worst. Better to consider that You're the Worst doesn't fear getting itself into corners, buckling down to feast on the bone marrow. Lots of people thought YTW would run out of ideas, but its world is bigger than its relationships.

  • 6/0 — American Vandal

    That is some good candy. That is some very good spoofery, American Vandal. Nicely done. One of the bigger surprises of late. All hail Jimmy Tatro.

  • 7/0 — The Tick

    Quite possibly the best show for our crazy times. It's like a salve. Like a weird, giant blue salve. Let's get the second half of that season in a hurry, please. The Tick is the hero we all need, and Peter Serafinowicz has done something special to bring him alive.

  • 8/4 — Silicon Valley

    I went back and rewatched a couple of episodes from this season and the thing that stands out, pretty much every season, is how effortless it all seems. That's something impressive — making it all seem easy, shifting comedic gears between disparate characters and servicing a forward-moving plot. Never gets boring. Always delivers.

  • 9/7 — Master of None

    A very big year, deservedly so, for this little show that could. There's a welcome guilelessness to everything that Aziz Ansari does here (Eric Wareheim, too), which helps separate it tonally from others. Silly and flippant one moment, sad and insightful the next. One thing that never leaves is a sense of joy. Again, not many series do well with that emotion or even strive to embrace it.

  • 10/9 — Bob's Burgers

    An American classic. And not just in the making — already there.

  • 11/0 — Curb Your Enthusiasm

     It was gone for six years. It came back and killed. If you want to fault Curb and Larry David for doing what they do best, go for it. You know, going to the well isn't a bad thing if the water is delightful.

  • 12/14 — People of Earth

    You know how I just said that there's no point in saying something like "this is the best show you're not watching" because: Peak TV. Well, I was clearly wrong. It can be used here. People of Earth is the best comedy you're not watching.

  • 13/10 — Atlanta

     Yeah, I want that Season 2 a couple of months ago as well. Be patient. If it's anything like this no-rules, no-boundaries, no-comparisons freshman season, you'll take it. And you'll open it. And it'll glow like...yeah, like that. In the meantime you could always just rewatch the first season while Donald Glover finishes owning pop culture.

  • 14/16 — Insecure

    Everybody knows the black female experience has been done to death on TV and...nah, just playing. Look, if you have to "find" an entree to any show other than "it's really funny and insightful," I just don't have time to help you or argue with you. The second season is better than the first and there's plenty of territory left for Insecure to cover, since, you know, it's kind of the only show doing it in the mainstream.

  • 15/0 — SMILF

    As a matter of fact, I can jump the gun if I want to. Yes, technically SMILF doesn't start until Sunday (Nov. 5) at 10 p.m., but with so many different Power Rankings! to juggle, who knows when I'll get to circle back to comedy. And SMILF, with Frankie Shaw given a chance to express herself in this "artisanal television" wave, makes the most of it. I've watched the first three made available and will keep coming back as it grows.

  • 16/0 — Loudermilk

    I'm well aware that saying "AT&T's Audience Network" is annoying to people who don't get the channel or those who do and simply can't find it, but that should be no impediment to rewarding quality. Loudermilk is a surprisingly smart, funny show about a misanthropic former music writer and recovering addict (Ron Livingston) trying to help others, not entirely begrudgingly. Will Sasso is great in it. New voices — like writer and creator Bobby Mort — are fueling a lot of fine TV right now.

  • 17/0 — The Good Place

    Network television does a lot of bad, mediocre or pointless things, but it also produces a striking number of excellent comedies. Consider this the 2017 poster series for that kind of work. Innovative, funny, sweet and different.

  • 18/6 — Brooklyn Nine-Nine

    This ranking may seem like a big drop until you realize what shows are not even here anymore. And, as a reminder, tons of series didn't even get considered for this list, much less sit ready to pounce. This is a weekly fight among heavy hitters and B99 has a remarkably consistent percentage of jokes that land. It's easy to take for granted series that have been around for longer than three seasons, but just don't on this one.

  • Out, In Peril and In the Mix

    OUT Archer, Catastrophe, Casual, Girls, Fleabag.

    IN PERIL Well, Atlanta has two more weeks of eligibility. But who knows — this is list that might get stormed next time by four of the five shows leaving this time. Flux is hard. These shows are good.

    IN THE MIX Black-ish, Fresh Off the Boat, I'm Sorry, Comrade Detective, Dear White People, Detectorists, Archer, Catastrophe, Casual, Girls, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Speechless, Baskets, Brockmire.