Power Rankings! Comedies You Need to Watch Before Anything Else

8:30 AM 5/28/2018

by Tim Goodman

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

From left: 'Atlanta,' 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine,' 'Arrested Development'
From left: 'Atlanta,' 'Brooklyn Nine-Nine,' 'Arrested Development'
Courtesy of FX; Courtesy of FOX; Courtesy of Netflix

As these Power Rankings! go, one thing has been pretty clear: The dramas have set their hook in me, and the last installment totally stole the place where comedies were supposed to be. As those dramas come fast and furious and get better and better, it's been a little too easy to hit the snooze button on comedies. And, of course, what passes for comedy in the 30-minute arena often also qualifies as drama, so there's been some crossover (and will continue to be).

But yes, the comedy Power Rankings! are overdue. So let's get to it. I will only say that the best way I could handle the fact that "dramedies" often play in the 30-minute space and that many of my favorite comedies are not, in fact, ha-ha laugh riots was to include whatever I considered a comedy here while being open — like with HBO's Barry — to have some appear on both lists.

A couple of reminders: Series are eligible if they premiered within a year of this list. It's impossible to watch every show every week, and there will also be some that I just haven't gotten around to watching yet (for example, the second season of Netflix's Dear White People which, based on previous love, would have easily made this list, and Comedy Central's Corporate, which I just haven't got around to watching — Peak TV, people).

Also, this sentiment I noted in the last Power Rankings! still holds and is a useful reminder: What I'm liking about the current iteration of the Power Rankings! is that it combines a kind of hybrid formula that serves two purposes rather well. First and foremost, it's a tally (in order, as all good lists should be) of the best series currently out there in the endlessly vast and streamable TV universe. But secondly, the new nature of the list and the world we live in allows for interest-based fluctuations.

And that seems as realistic as anything we do here. Meaning, while the upper echelons of the rankings hew very sternly to the notions that A) these are the best shows on television in the last year and B) the top five positions are particularly bloody, there's also room in the rankings to let series rise and fall (and even drop off) based on how much interest they can maintain over a year; how they are affected by the vagaries of mood and moment (and even weather — some shows are clearly of the snuggle-up-and-deep-dive-while-it's-chilly variety).

OK, let's do this.

All hail the series that can hold the No. 1 ranking the longest. Below you will see two sets of numbers: The number on the left denotes the current ranking; the number on the right is the previous ranking (a "0" means it wasn't ranked). 

  • 1/13 — Atlanta

    FX

    Guy D'Alema/FX

    Donald Glover can pretty much do anything, and this fantastic cast can match him and each have strong careers outside of this series even though it just ended its second season. I recently half-joked that I can't imagine a third season of Atlanta, based on the breakout Childish Gambino video for "This Is America," directed by Hiro Murai, who also does such fantastic work on Atlanta. Plus, you know, the Solo movie. How are all of these people going to be contained? Or compelled to sit still for a moment and make another season of TV? I mean, maybe Glover's polymath interests will keep him doing everything all at once and I definitely want a third season, but wow, wow, wow, this was great and the "Teddy Perkins" episode still unfortunately creeps me out when I go to sleep at night.

  • 2/0 — Back

    Sundance

    Courtesy of Sundance TV

    You probably haven't seen this brilliant comedy, so here's the review and how high it ranked on my 2017 year-end list; here's some additional praise of mine; and, well, if you need any more prompting, I just can't help you. Back is basically a bus full of creative geniuses who pulled over and made a show.

  • 3/0 —Barry

    HBO

    Courtesy of John P. Johnson/HBO

    It's funny as hell and I laughed constantly until it got so insanely bleak that it made the last Power Rankings! for dramas, so you can just take your pick on where you'd like to put it — but not watching it is not an option. Get on this if you haven't.

     

  • 4/0 — The End of the F***ing World

    Netflix

    Courtesy of Netflix

    This is a master class in getting a mind-boggling amount of greatness into roughly 20-minute episodes and will probably be the standard bearer for that achievement for years. Beyond its compact efficiency, the entirety of the first season is also this: perfect. So that's a thing you should consider and, you know, start immediately.

  • 5/3 — Veep

    HBO

    Courtesy of HBO

    Just getting in under the wire on the eligibility requirement, there's not much to say here other than it's arguably the funniest comedy on television year in and year out — but I also did add a few kind thoughts right here

  • 6/1 —Better Things

    FX

    Beth Dubber/FX

    Weirdly, this is becoming the show that people I know who watch a lot of quality television haven't seen. It's on their list, of course, but for whatever reason they haven't finished it (some have finished the first season but not started the second). I'm not sure there's an acceptable excuse I'm willing to consider, so let's not fight about it and have everyone pour through it and marvel at it as soon as yesterday, shall we? 

  • 7/12 — People Of Earth

    TBS

    Ian Watson/Turner Entertainment Networks

    It's possible that I will burn TBS to the ground if the already greenlighted third season doesn't actually end up getting shot and on the air. Stuff is going on over there, and while I understand that things go on behind the scenes at a lot of channels, it would be great for that to be worked out and for this underrated, underviewed, brilliant little gem to be seen. Please track down the first two seasons. There's my nice-guy advocacy for the week.

  • 8/5 — You're the Worst

    FX

    Courtesy of FX

    You know that recent column where I spread some love to some of the shows on this list? Yeah, this one is included there. And next season will be the last for Jimmy and Gretchen and the voyage of doom, love and drunkenness and fun that it's all been. I fear that many of you haven't started yet, and the first three seasons are ready to stream on Hulu (maybe the fourth will be ready by the time you finish). This is not a spoiler alert, but there's a pretty surprising arc the ambition takes from season one to season two. Oh, also from two to three. So, with few comedies so willing to take chances — or just making bad choices in their later years — I applaud what's going on here and encourage you to figure out what I'm talking about.  

  • 9/0 — Arrested Development

    Netflix

    Courtesy of Netflix

    I've seen the first seven episodes of season five and will have watched the eighth hopefully by the time you read this (it all drops on May 29 — well, eight of the 16 do and the other half comes later). I already know what you're thinking about season four, so no need to remind me. And yes, the first couple of episodes here, five years later, have to pull a muscle or two explaining the plot from the fourth season, and that cuts into the quality. But the series gets up and running after that and makes a welcome and hilarious return to form in short order. 

  • 10/8 —Silicon Valley

    HBO

    Courtesy of HBO
    Series, particularly comedies, that are favorites but are rolling into multiple seasons get taken for granted. I haven't written enough about Silicon Valley this season and have some regrets about that. But it's like I always have regrets about not writing more about It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia (not eligible because of the timing rule this go-round), and then realize it's like seeing an old friend you haven't been out with (or texted with) in ages. They don't hold it against you. It's all good. So, yes, you should be watching this season if you haven't and it very much merits this Top 10 ranking.  
     
  • 11/6 — American Vandal

    Netflix

    Tyler Golden/Netflix

    That it is so brilliantly aware of its stupid premise is one of my most cherished aspects of this show. I'm gobsmacked that more people haven't seen it. This series remains a favorite recommendation to newbies because then I always get a hearty thank-you for turning people onto it. I sometime tell them it's the best faux true-crime documentary about drawing dicks the world has ever seen. That's usually enough to get people watching, if dubiously. 

  • 12/7 —The Tick

    Amazon

    Courtesy of Jessica Miglio/Amazon

    You need silly. We all need silly. And funny and sweet and cartoonishly entertaining. So go watch this. As a fan of the old Patrick Warburton version, I was very happy to see this work just as well on so many levels. As broad and ridiculous as this show can be, it's often the little touches that keep me wanting to rewatch.

  • 13/(10/18) Tie — Bob's Burgers and Brooklyn Nine-Nine

    Fox

    Photofest

    At some point I'm just going to have to graduate these two off the list and into my imaginary Hall of Fame. I'm running out of ways to praise them (but of course recently found a way), hence my super clever idea to come up with a tie. I'll just say for this Power Rankings! purpose that the highest compliment I can give a series in the age of Peak TV is to keep watching it years and years after it premiered and also watch older episodes just because I want to laugh and be happy. I mean, that's literally the most love I can give a show — precious time. 

  • 14/11 — Curb Your Enthusiasm

    HBO

    Courtesy of HBO
    Although it's getting more difficult to keep creating cringe-inducing situations for Larry to get into, I'm always surprised when I think the schtick is over and I keep coming back, enthusiastically, nevertheless. 
     
  • 15/16 — Loudermilk

    AT&T Audience Network

    Courtesy of AT&T AUDIENCE Network

    Granted, this is not the easiest show to find. You are a busy person. You don't have all the options/channels that it might take to cover the world. Or the time. Shows that are under the radar and hard to find are easy to ignore, but here's what I said about this tiny surprise when it premiered and so I hope you have the good fortune to at some point seek it out. Quality isn't just erased because you haven't discovered it. And I think it's important for emerging platforms, even if they are backed by Big Money, to keep in the scripted game because sometimes one gets surprised. 

  • 16/15 — SMILF

    Showtime

    Lacey Terrell/SHOWTIME

    The more I watched this series, the more I appreciated just how immediately great it was, and I remain excited about its creative future. Frankie Shaw is truly something. 

  • 17/14 — Insecure

    HBO

    Courtesy of Justina Mintz/HBO

    The beauty of having a rule in place that allows something to be considered over the span of a calendar year from its last episode is that it leads to, "Oh, yeah, right — that show. Almost forgot." Don't almost forget or sleep on Insecure. Peak TV has a way to crush even good, consistent buzz over time. If you need a reminder that there's really nothing like this on TV, then here it is. 

  • 18/17 — The Good Place

    NBC

    Colleen Hayes/NBC

    My interest in broadcast television is almost entirely focused on the comedy front, where it continues to churn out high-quality fare (like this). Three such series are on this list, and while I have to remind myself to keep tracking down The Good Place, the hunt is worth it. You can stream season one on Netflix right now. And should. Also, it's not a spoiler to say that there's something wonderfully unexpected as you move through it. 

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