ByBrian Boone/Updated: Nov. 14, 2022 10:37 am EST
Once limited to just a few two-hour blocks of primetime on the big four broadcast networks, TV comedy has exploded in not just reach and availability, but in approach and quality, too. Not too long ago, a television comedy was a "sitcom" — a laugh track-enhanced, predictable bit of innocuous entertainment shot on a soundstage in front of a studio audience and about the daily foibles of a workplace or a family. With the dawn of "Peak TV," enabled by the proliferation of streaming services and cable networks willing to take a chance on show creators with singular visions, there's more space and demand than ever before for content, particularly comedies. As a result, we're living in a golden age of the small-screen-com, with a number of wildly creative, original, and inventive shows offering compelling plots, unforgettable characters, and, of course, plenty of laughs, all in a more cinematic format.
In 2022, dozens of new shows debuted across the many traditional and digital outlets available to viewers. Here are the best ones to debut this year.
HBO Max's "Peacemaker" boasts the funniest and most charming opening credits sequence in decades, featuring the stone-faced cast delivering an elaborately choreographed dance routine in a neon purple room, all to the tune of a hair metal song, "Do You Wanna Taste It" by Wig Wam. It's all a taste of what's to come in the show proper. Most folks wouldn't necessarily expect a TV series spinoff of an ultra-violent superhero-adjacent movie starring a professional wrestler to be terribly clever or wildly funny. But then, like its title character, "Peacemaker" is its own thing — a genre-defying absurdist romp from "The Suicide Squad" and "Guardians of the Galaxy" writer-director James Gunn that really gets into the emotional core of what it would be like if superheroes and supervillains were real.
Busting out of a hospital after sustaining near-fatal injuries in "The Suicide Squad," the unhinged, all-American, toxically patriotic superhero Christopher Smith (John Cena), aka Peacemaker, joins up with a dark operation called Project Butterfly, charged with the absurd but important mission to stop a race of parasitic insects that take over human bodies. A superhero team-up plot commences, but unlike "The Avengers" or "Justice League," the characters (indirectly) call out the ridiculousness of such a situation at every turn.
Created by Christopher Miller, one half of the duo responsible for the gleeful and sharp silliness of "Clone High" and "The Lego Movie," "The Afterparty"will leave viewers speculating until the very end about the identity and motive of a killer. While it'sa classic murder-mystery, it's alsoextremely inventive and fun in its approach to the tried-and-true format. Not only does each episode of this Apple TV+ series reveal more and more crucial details, but each installment is presented from the point of view of a different member of the vast cast of characters, and in a different style. These shifts in presentation range from Disney Channel-esque musical to animation with a few equally surprising stops in between.
When a group of graduates from the class of 2006 get together for their high school reunion in Northern California, they attend an afterparty at the palatial beachside home of Xavier (Dave Franco), now an international pop star and A-list actor. When he winds up dead on the shore, quirky investigator with something to prove Detective Danner (Tiffany Haddish) interviews all the party guests. They've all got their reasons to wish Xavier dead, be it unrequited love, old grudges, or professional betrayal.
Geography is very important to the DNA of many sitcoms, with humor coming from specificity. Peacock's "Killing It" is that kind of show, explicitly set in the swamplands of Florida and mining that one-of-a-kind location for tension and laughs. This is extra remarkable, because "Killing It" isalso somehow a comedy about desperate people living on the fringes of society and just barely holding on economically. Created by "Brooklyn Nine-Nine" writers Dan Goor and Luke Del Tredici, "Killing It" stars Craig Robinson (warehouse manager Darryl from "The Office") as Craig — a broke, near-homeless entrepreneur who schemes to get enough money to launch a business by winning a contest to kill as many giant snakes in the Everglades as possible.He reluctantly partners with Jillian (Claudia O'Doherty) — a daffy, blunt, Uber driver living out of her car. Along the way, they get caught up in the lives of many nefarious people like Craig's clever, low-level criminal brother (Rell Battle) and Brock (Scott MacArthur) — a woefully injury-prone wannabe YouTube star filming his own snake-catching triumphs for the clicks. "Killing It" is thoroughly unpredictable and dark, but lots of humor — as well as an obnoxious giant pig upon whom much of the plot hinges — emerges.
Equal parts cop show, cop show parody, long-form improvised comedy, and celebrity game show, Netflix's proudly low-budget "Murderville" depicts the captivating adventures of Terry Seattle, a grizzled sad sack of a detective. Seattle forever mourns his deceased partner and halfway investigates her death when he isn't complaining about his life, pining for his ex-wife (who is also his police captain), and training new partners. In each episode, he gets a new detective partner, all portrayed by celebrity guest stars playing some heightened version of themselves — in a murder of the week. Will Arnett of "Arrested Development" and "BoJack Horseman" is deeply committed to playing the hapless, emotionally uncontrolled Seattle as he guides and resents partners like Conan O'Brien, Ken Jeong, and Sharon Stone as they investigate cartoonish suspects with jokes and questions off the tops of their heads. Arnett constantly tries to unsteady his partners, making for a lot of off-the-cuff comedy gold as the guests race to play along.
Our Flag Means Death
Aaron Epstein/HBO Max
What with the dozens of movies about pirates, there's clearly something about the maritime looting lifestyle of yore that's fascinating to modern human beings. Maybe it's that pirates had true freedom, answered to no one, andreinvented themselves as thieves and roguesto live a life of adventure on the ocean. This contemporary, analytical point of view fuels and provides a lot of humor to "Our Flag Means Death," an HBO series extremely loosely based on the lives of some real-life pirates who probably weren't as self-critical and open about their existential crises as their TV counterparts. Rhys Darby plays Stede Bonnet, a former aristocrat who leaves home with some reluctance to become a pirate. The problem is he's very bad at being a pirate — so incapable of commanding any respect from his crew that he tries to incongruously rebrand himself as a "gentleman pirate." His journeys soon make him cross paths with the legendarily brutal pirate Blackbeard, who, while casually violent, is also a sad sack, wondering often and aloud if buccaneering is a worthy life choice. An unlikely friendship develops between these two neurotic pirates as they shove off on the biggest adventure of all — trying to find themselves.
In the past half-decade, the TV dial and most streaming platforms have become inundated with reboots — present-day revivals of beloved hit shows from the 1990s and 2000s. Results have varied, leading viewers to question what it was they liked about the original while also reckoning with the passage of time. Those issues are addressed head on and with hilarious brutality in "Reboot," a meta, self-referential behind-the-scenes mockumentary comedy and showbiz satire about the making of a reboot of a fondly remembered 2000s sitcom.
The plot: The cast of "Step Right Up" reunites in the present day for a Hulu reboot, and they confront themselves and each other about their messy personal lives and less than illustrious professional paths taken since their big breakthrough gig got canceled. Reed Sterling (Keegan-Michael Key) played the father figure only to go on to a lackluster career in theater, while Clay Barber (Johnny Knoxville) became a drug abusing tabloid fixture. Meanwhile, original creator Gordon Gelman (Paul Reiser) just can't let go of his past glories. They're a dysfunctional family, even though they're also a fake family.
Never has there been a project about the vagaries of gender politics and nudie magazines as joyful and endearing as "Minx" — an HBO Max original series about the formation of an adult publication in the 1970s, concurrent with the development of the sexual revolution. Joyce (Ophelia Lovibond) is an idealistic and proud feminist, well-versed in the 1960s wave of equality-boosting social and cultural movements. Her ideas remain ahead of their time, especially in regard to sexuality, as she aims to start the world's first visual erotic magazine directed at a female readership. This only brings up more issues about purpose and intent. In order to create and launch "Minx" the magazine, Joyce has to recruit a bunch of quirky if not shady characters from the outer layers of the publishing world, including print veteran Doug (Jake Johnson), who might not be as ignoble as originally thought. Oddly inspiring and unexpectedly heartwarming, "Minx" is really about the alliances, connections, and profound relationships that develop amidst this backdrop of titillating frankness and potential sleaze.
"Shining Vale" simply feels like a professional operation dealing in sharp, tight comedy made by people who know what they're doing and know how to mine the limited confines of a TV comedy script for maximum laughs. The Starz original series features Courteney Cox and the affable comedic veteran Greg Kinnear as the heads of the Phelps family, who move out of the big city and into a beautiful old house in a cute small town.They have no idea that horrible, deadly, bloody things have occurred in this house, thus making it extremely, consistently haunted by ghosts and demons. As it turns out, the malignant spirits really like to mess with the Phelpses, particularly the parents, who are desperately trying to heal their fractured family after some infidelity on the part of Patricia — the first one to sense that something isn't quite right."Shining Vale" is a refreshing comedy in that it takes the very familiar and very predictable haunted house premise and makes it entirely new by demonstrating just how absurdly funny a notion it is to share one's personal living space with evil supernatural beings.
"Bust Down" combines the idiosyncratic friends-hanging-out-and-venting aspect of "Seinfeld" and "Friends" with the dreary, soul-killing work environment of "The Office" and "Abbott Elementary." The results are loosely structured, rapidly delivered dialogue-filled episodes about people trying to get somewhere in life, but not trying very hard. The four stars of Peacock's "Bust Down" — comedians Chris Redd, Sam Jay, Langston Kerman, and Jack Knight — also created the series, and their chemistry crackles as they portray a group of self-worshiping friends who work thankless jobs at a low-rent casino in Gary, Indiana. They routinely mess up their romantic lives and sabotage any progress at work because of their own reluctance to change or ever try too hard. Instead of putting in the physical or emotional labor, Langston prefers to wax philosophical and political, Jak acts wild whenever given the chance, Sam is always pursuing another relationship, and Chris apparently truly believes that he's king of the world.
Inscrutable experimental comedian Nathan Fielder conducted four seasons worth of artful real-life comedy in the form of pranks disguised as quasi-helpful small business consulting on Comedy Central's "Nathan for You." His slow-burning, fascinating HBO show "The Rehearsal" takes his comedic ideas to inventive, unsteady, and unbelievable heights. At the beginning of the series, Fielder sets out to help awkward civilians prepare for uncomfortable or stressful situations, like helping a man admit to his pub quiz friend that he isn't as educated as he'd claimed. Fielder helps this guy, and others, by attempting to predict every possible scenario that could occur with a hilarious, perhaps even unsettling dedication to authenticity. He buildsa replica of the bar where the confrontation would take place and hires an army of actors to play strangers that could be nearby. But then one big project comes to dominate the season — Nathan helps a woman decide whether or not she wants to be a mother by re-creating, in scaled down terms, 18 years of motherhood. Fielder, and the emotionally fraught nature of the situation itself, blurs the lines between reality and narrative, placing the artist at the center of the story in which he tries to remain an objective observer and controller.
I Love That for You
As a standout star on "Saturday Night Live," Vanessa Bayer dazzled when she portrayed woefully uncomfortable and awkward weirdos, and she takes that lane to dark and complex places on Showtime's "I Love That for You." Taking inspiration from her own life (viaTime), co-creator Bayer stars as Joanna, a survivor of childhood leukemia now getting a late start in adulthood trying to catch up quickly by knocking out every milestone as quickly as possible. She leaves the confines of home and family, enters her first romantic relationship, and gets a job at home shopping network SVN in order to get near her hero — on-air salesperson Jackie Stilton (portrayed by fellow "SNL" all-timer Molly Shannon). Joanna proves as awkward and repellent on TV as she is in her personal life, however, so to stay on the air at SVN and near her idol, she pretends that her leukemia has made a recurrence as a way to get sympathy and attention.
"Sprung" is set during what already feels like ancient times — the early and confusing days of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020. With much of the world shut down and millions forced into their homes, it might have been the perfect time for a massive heist by a gang of small-time crooks brought together by the unprecedented events of the era to form into a de facto family. Poking fun atthe universal experiences and quirks of the tragic, devastating pandemic makes for a tricky premise, but Amazon Freevee's "Sprung," written and directed by Greg Garcia — comic chronicler of the American working class and subsistence criminals via "Raising Hope" and "My Name is Earl," respectively — pulls it off. When nonviolent offender Jack (Garret Dillahunt) is released from prison as a virus-inhibiting measure, he has nowhere to go and heads home with his also-sprung cellmate Rooster (Phillip Garcia) and Gloria (Shakira Barrera), his prison girlfriend who he's never seen and only spoken to through a toilet. Rooster's mother Barb (Martha Plimpton) puts them to work in her small, very-pandemic-era criminal enterprise, stealing Amazon packages and swindling a toilet paper hoarder and such, before Gloria concocts a plan to steal a fortune in art from a virus-profiteering member of Congress.
Welcome to Flatch
Joining the canon of low-key but very funny comedies about weird, ultra-small towns in rural America where everybody knows each other and are always up in each other's business comes Fox's "Welcome to Flatch," a seamless U.S. adaptation of the British series "This Country." Like in the settings of "Northern Exposure," "The Andy Griffith Show," and "Parks and Recreation," there isn't much to do in Flatch, Ohio, but a film crew nevertheless follows around a handful of residents to analyze the joys and detriments of small-town life. "Welcome to Flatch" is a mockumentary, shot like "Modern Family" or "The Office" with lots of asides and characters speaking directly to the camera. And those characters are very funny and very complicated, chief among them goofy pastor Joe (Seann William Scott), his ex Cheryl who runs the local newspaper (Aya Cash), intimidating local gadabout Big Mandy (Krystal Smith), and cousins Shrub (Sam Straley) and Kelly (Holmes), who have big dreams, loud voices, and a tendency to spread good-natured chaos wherever they go.