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.

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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.

A Note about Silicon Valley

I feel like someone pitched Mike Judge an analogy comparing penis manipulation to computer processing, and Judge liked it so much he built his season finale around it. That penultimate segment in “Optimal Tip-to-Tip Efficiency” just seemed too perfect, too sublime to have come about from a brainstorming session in the writer’s room. “OK, here’s our protagonists’ problem. How do they solve it? Preferably in a way that involves jack-off jokes.” In this case it seems that the brilliant solution came first and the writers plotted a series of problems to set it up.

That happens to me occasionally (not as often as I’d like). I’ll come up with a cool idea or twist or scene, and then I imagine a whole book or short story crafted around it. For instance I wrote this short story (Under another name. Oooh mysterious!) based on a sudden idea: “Instead of a voodoo doll, what if someone created a voodoo globe?” After several rounds of revisions, the voodoo globe idea started to seem ridiculous (it seemed so awesome in the shower!), and the idea didn’t survive the story that it had helped to spark.