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Even without the gold-standard genius of Louie on FX — we were all robbed of it for a year — there were plenty of other excellent comedies throughout the networks, cable channels and streaming services. It was a year that lost 30 Rock forever but also birthed some potential long-term standouts and, most importantly, ambition and inventiveness were never in short supply.
Once again, a simple reminder about intent: I tried to keep this list to the very best of what’s out there. And yes, comedy is super subjective, but as I noted in my Best Dramas of 2013, I didn’t “forget” anything. If a show is not on this list, it’s because I didn’t think it ought to be there. Reasonable people can disagree. Here we go:
1. Moone Boy (Hulu). I think this might be the biggest and best surprise of 2013. So few people knew about it but then ended up loving it when they watched. A heartwarming coming-of-age story set in Ireland with a fantastic cast led by Chris O’Dowd.
2. Arrested Development (Netflix). One of the few shows to use the Netflix model in a creative (possibly crazy) way, but as usual it was filled with brilliant writing and acting, and call-backs to jokes that were funny on a number of levels. Best of all, it’s available to watch repeatedly, which opens up exactly how intricately crafted Mitch Hurwitz made this show.
3. Enlightened (HBO). The (sadly) canceled series from Mike White was a lovely oddity from the start, combining drama, humor, pathos and sweetness, mixed with scathing wit — all framed and shot like an indie movie. Hard to explain, easy to love.
4. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX). Easily the most underappreciated comedy (and cast) on television, Sunny had one of its best seasons — and that’s saying something for a show that has seemingly touched on every possible element (sacred or not) to mine humor. Excellent work as usual.
5. Veep (HBO). This series got even stronger in its second season and is essential viewing for comedy fans. Veep is stepping out of the long shadow cast by The Thick of It as it creates its own hilarious identity.
6. 30 Rock (NBC). Slipping into 2013 before bowing out gives me one last chance to say how much I adore this series — one of the best ever on television.
7. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox). A legitimately funny series in a super difficult genre (cop comedy), this was far and away the biggest surprise of the fall. The show already is so well-assured and dead-on. Love it.
8. Girls (HBO). Honest, emotional comedy is hard to come by, but with its unique worldview, Lena Dunham‘s Girls earns that label. People who hate it can always watch something else, but I find this show both dramatically impressive and funny and wouldn’t miss it.
9. Bob’s Burgers (Fox). Fox’s best animated comedy, this series grew by leaps and bounds after searching for the right tone. Now it’s creatively impressive every episode and a Sunday night essential.
10. Parks and Recreation (NBC). Has it had stronger seasons? Sure. But this is still one of television’s brighter gems. Never not funny.
11. Archer (FX). The best animated series on television succeeds with ridiculously great writing and exceptional voice work.
12. Key & Peele (Comedy Central). You could make an argument — and a damned good one — that this sketch show has the most laughs and the biggest laughs of any show on television. Just ridiculously funny start to finish, with virtuoso work from Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele.
13. Portlandia (IFC). Another excellent sketch (and skewer) show, Portlandia has been required viewing from the start. It shows no signs of slowing down or lacking fresh material.
14. The Goldbergs (ABC) Another freshman surprise, this network series about coming of age in the ’80s showcases Jeff Garlin at his finest — with a raised voice and parental outrage at youthful stupidity — to put a little edge on the wonder years of a gloriously cheesy decade.
15. Maron (IFC). Comic Marc Maron was able to take his immensely popular podcast and flesh it (and a version of his life) out into a television show with more ease than expected. It felt original and will no doubt get even better as it grows and becomes more confident.
16. Family Tree (HBO). This Christopher Guest and Jim Piddock creation wasn’t everybody’s thing but it was a funny thing — and Chris O’Dowd (Moone Boy) proved once again why he’s in such demand.
17. Legit (FX). This series featuring Australian comic Jim Jefferies was both outrageous and endearing and managed, with varying degrees of uncomfortable tonal shifts, to be something completely different and ambitious — a feat that should be applauded.
Email: Tim Goodman@THR.com
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