Favorite funny shows of 2015

In the last five years or so, I’ve heard people bemoan the state of comedy series on television. The days of mega-comedies like Seinfeld and Friends are long gone. The Office, 30 Rock and How I Met Your Mother are off the air. The Simpsons and South Park are both (debatably) past their prime. And no new comedy has established itself as being that widely popular show that you wouldn’t feel slightly embarrassed to admit you watch.

But to anyone who says that comedy is dead, I say, ‘Look harder!’ There’s some very funny stuff out there, based on premises or perspectives that never would have seen the light of day before TV’s age of segmentation. Here’s five of my favorites:

rickandmorty_crop Rick and Morty (on Adult Swim)
Imagine ‘Doctor Who’ cut down to a pithy 22 minutes—with higher production values, and a zanier feel to smooth over some of the implausibilities in the plot. How do you do all this? By turning it into a cartoon! In this case Rick Sanchez is the irrepressible, dimension-hopping genius—but tinted with streaks of nihilism, misanthropy, and alcohol abuse.

This show, co-produced by Community’s Dan Harmon, offers some sharp new angles on some classic sci-fi tropes: alternate timelines, mind control, false memories, and lots of other mind-benders that would make our favorite Time-Master (or the Twilight Zone) proud. Rick and Morty was the most fun show I watched all year, and more than one episode hit me with a thought-provoking jab that stuck with me for days afterward. Oh yeah, and I still have ‘Get Schwifty’ stuck in my head.

whas_crop2Silicon Valley (on HBO)
Mike Judge… is there anybody better at finding what’s funny and fascinating about the most mundane parts of life? Add to that a great, geekly joie de vivre, and also what feels like a very authentic look at a segment of our economy where bros working out of garages can fight toe-to-toe with mega-corporations for their own piece of the American Dream. How great is this show? It mixed a penis joke with programming jargon and compression algorithms—and it earned an Emmy nomination for it.


Nathan For You (on Comedy Central)
Now on it’s third season, I still don’t understand how this show isn’t more of a cultural phenomenon. Nathan Fielder (who graduated business school with ‘really good grades’) travels the country (well mostly southern California) ‘helping’ real business owners with his unique brand of ‘helpful’ ideas. Granted, this reality spoof/prank show isn’t quite as hilariously funny as it was in its first season (even Da Ali G Show only ran for 2 seasons), but it definitely serves up some moments that will have you cracking up—and cringing.

whas_cropWet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (on Netflix)
J.J. Abrams isn’t the only writer/director who resucitated a decade-old property with a golden balance of nostalgia and newness. Michael Showalter and David Wain revived their 2001 cult hit movie by giving us a 8-episode prequel that perfectly brought back the schlocky humor of the original while adding some new wrinkles (pun intended) to create a fresher, deeper storyline.

anotherperiod_cropAnother Period (on Comedy Central)
How did this show ever get green-lighted? I’m guessing the pitch mentioned two enigmatically successful pop-culture phenomenons: Downton Abbey and Keeping Up With the Kardashians. That’s basically what we’ve got here. A group of filthy-rich aristocrats in 1910s Rhode Island, behaving obnoxiously, interspersed with jokes about women’s suffrage, Spanish Flu, and the Lindberg baby (too soon?). How DID this show ever get green-lighted? I don’t know, but I’m glad it did.

The best parts of Wet Hot American Summer

WHAS4Back in 2001, Wet Hot American Summer became one of my all-time favorite comedies. I think it’s the only DVD I ever rented more than once (Remember video stores? The ones other than Blockbuster?). I even listened to the DVDs commentary track, which was pretty hilarious. With all that said, I’m as surprised as anyone that Netflix has brought the movie back for a prequel series, 14 years after it settled into its cult status.

If you’ve never seen the original movie, I say check it out. I’d also suggest you be forewarned, this is one of those bits of art that is fairly divisive. It’s like the cinematic version of a Vampire Weekend or a Velvet Underground album. You’ll either fall in love in the first 10 minutes, or you’ll scratch your head and wonder what all the fuss is about. WHAS_cast

At the very least, you’ll be shocked by the cast breakout stars: Bradley Cooper, Amy Poehler, Paul Rudd, Elizabeth Banks, as well as a lot of funny faces you’ll recognize: Michael Ian Black, Christopher Meloni, Joe Lo Truglio, Ken Marino… all of them ‘young,’ before their careers took off. I put ‘young’ in quotes because most of them were in their late 20s, playing teenage camp counselors. The movie goes for the typical belly laughs that you might expect from an ‘end-of-summer’ sleepaway camp teen comedy from the 1980s. But the best parts of the movie are more subtle homage or skewering of the sloppy conventions of those movies.

First of all, as mentioned above, all sleepaway camp movies must feature twenty-something actors pretending to be teenagers. The editing, the effects, and direction have to look as shoddy as possible. If you have seen the original movie, then check out some of my favorite moments. Hopefully this will get you fired up for the new series premiere on July 31.

David Hyde Pierce and Janeane Garofalo have their first bit of hilariously awkward dialog. Listen for the canned ‘breaking glass’ sound effect whenever anything flies off screen. The producers use the same sound in the next scene with Christopher Meloni.

Blocking? What is blocking? Blocking is where the director plans positions for actors as they stand or walk—or how they enter or exit a scene—to create the most narrative impact, and to create the least amount of distraction. This is one of the movie’s first bits of ‘absurdist blocking humor.’ What do you do with Zak Orth to get him out of a scene so that Paul Rudd and Elizabeth Banks can have ‘a moment alone?’ You have him take a long walk off a short pier. WHAS5 25:10
Paul Rudd calls his Journal a ‘Gournal.’ No one corrects him.

Another bit of absurdist blocking humor. Several excited counselors frolic out of Garofalo’s car, to go stand against a cabin wall, Blair Witch style.

Ken Marino drives a van, sings ‘chain of love,’ and then rams a tree for no good reason. WHAS6 39:50
Check out the horrible wig on Joe Lo Truglio’s stunt double as his motorcyle chase is stymied by a single bale of hay in the road. This is made doubly hilarious (or maybe just disturbing) by the fact that the filmmakers seem to be throwing real child actors out of a moving van during several other scenes of the movie.

Zak Orth and A.D. Miles slyly exchange a secret handshake—which is pretty much a regular handshake. Right after that, Michael Ian Black and Bradley Cooper share sweet, sweet man love in their athletic socks.

Who’s the voice of that can? Why it’s H. Jon Benjamin, future star of Archer and Bob’s Burgers!

The movie launches into the obligatory 80s motivational musical montage. And the song (Higher and Higher) is that perfect blend of parody and actually cheesy greatness. Like the part in Boogie Nights where Dirk Diggler sings The Touch, which was also in the BEST Transformer Movie.

Can’t afford a big river rescue scene to rev up the climax of your movie? Just pan in on Joe Lo Truglio mugging for 15 seconds over splashing sound effects. He can wow the viewers with ‘you shoulda seen what I just saw!’ awesomeness. Also, don’t bother to tell the child actors being rescued to bother acting scared.

That’s a few of my favorite scenes in WHAS. Wha’s yours?