October is supposed to be about horror, and this year’s edition has offered no shortage of spookiness. But it’s also shaping up to be a great month for TV comedy, with the return of Netflix’s two funniest shows: UK import Derry Girls, which has already dropped its third and final season, and Nick Kroll’s animated Big Mouth, whose sixth season debuts on Oct. 28. What’s notable about these series is that, in a refreshing break from the current glut of dark dramedies, sketch dinosaurs, and boneheaded sitcoms, they will crack you up without taking points off your IQ.
In 2022, that’s a rare and precious thing. To celebrate, I’ve put together a list of the funniest shows—not the best comedies—on television right now (that is, shows that have or will air new episodes this year, or have otherwise been renewed). Obviously, humor is subjective, but if the 11 series below don’t make you laugh out loud, you might want to get your funny bone checked.
A Black Lady Sketch Show (HBO)
Only two titles earned Emmy nominations in this year’s Outstanding Variety Sketch Series category, and, well, the wrong one—a certain half-century-old network stalwart that is now lucky to get two funny scenarios into the same episode—won. As an alternative, consider the other contender: Robin Thede’s A Black Lady Sketch Show, which is strictly no skips. In the three seasons that have aired so far, a core troupe composed of Thede, Ashley Nicole Black, Gabrielle Dennis, and Skye Townsend (who replaced season 1 co-star Quinta Brunson after she left to create Abbott Elementary) have parodied everything from spy thrillers to family reunions.
The sensibility is slightly surreal, and the perspective is, as the title promises, explicitly Black and female. There are pseudo-academic conspiracy theorists, ball-culture competitions for funeral guests and “basics,” The Purge but for returning ineffective hair-care products for a full refund. And every episode is stuffed with A-list guests, from Angela Bassett and Ava DuVernay to several stars of executive producer Issa Rae’s Insecure. You won’t find sketch comedy like this on SNL, which, incidentally, has gone 48 seasons without naming a Black woman head writer.
Big Mouth (Netflix)
Puberty is inherently funny (once you get over the trauma of your own middle-school years, anyway), so it’s only natural that it would become a fertile topic for sitcoms. Since Hulu’s wonderful Pen15 graduated from TV last year, Big Mouth has been both the uncontested standout among coming-of-age raunch comedies and one of the very best titles to come out of the current glut of adult animation. Taking full advantage of the cartoon medium to tell stories that would’ve been too wild for a live-action cast of child actors, the show imagines pubescent psyches under siege by “hormone monsters” and other invisible creatures that personify intense emotions and primal urges. So far, it’s taken on everything from anxiety and depression to bisexuality and “hand stuff,” never shying away from the awkward, gross, or potentially shameful. Co-creator Nick Kroll voices a character based on his preteen self as part of a dream cast that includes John Mulaney, Jessi Klein, Jason Mantzoukas, Jordan Peele, and, in the Emmy-winning role of Connie the Hormone Monstress, Maya Rudolph.
Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
He may be known on his semi-autobiographical comedy series as a “social assassin,” prone to transform any friendly encounter into an altercation, but Larry David is also TV’s reigning king of self-deprecation. Call him what you want—cranky, mean, bald, selfish, hypocritical, an out-of-touch Hollywood elite—he’s already made a better joke about that flaw, plus a few extra quips about his stereotypically Jewish neuroses that a polite gentile would never attempt. Along with episodes whose divergent story lines come together in hilarious conclusions and a deep bench of comic talent including Susie Essman and JB Smoove, it’s that self-awareness that has kept Curb fresh and acerbic throughout 11 seasons spread over 22 years (and counting).
Derry Girls (Netflix)
Northern Ireland in the mid-1990s, when the Troubles raged into their fourth decade and many Catholics struggled with both British oppression and their misgivings about IRA violence, might not seem like an obvious setting for a lighthearted teen comedy. But there’s such a thing as gallows humor, and it’s something at which the Irish particularly excel. Add to that tone the developmentally appropriate self-centeredness of high schoolers, the rapid-fire banter of a working-class extended family living in close quarters, and the local Catholic girls school’s autocratic-nun headmistress, one Sister George Michael (the uproarious Siobhán McSweeney), and you get an extremely funny show that unfolds in a singularly somber time and place.
There are older brothers in prison and hopeful visits from then-President Bill Clinton, but more prominent in Derry Girls are the title characters themselves—four lively teens in school uniforms, plus bad-girl Michelle’s (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell) newly arrived English cousin James (Dylan Llewellyn), who’s been enrolled in Our Lady Immaculate College because he might not survive an Irish boys school. Saoirse-Monica Jackson is effervescent as the clique’s controlling alpha, Erin, and fans of Bridgerton will be sure to appreciate Nicola Coughlan’s performance as sweet, timid, studious Clare. As the series progresses, Erin and her oddball cousin Orla’s (Louisa Harland) adult relatives become increasingly central, yielding many side-splitting tiffs between Erin’s dad (Tommy Tiernan) and the father-in-law (Ian McElhinney) who despises him.
The pop music machine is ripe for parody—and not just the Weird Al kind. In the tradition of movies like This Is Spinal Tap and, more recently, Lonely Island cult comedy Popstar: Never Stop Never Stopping, creator Meredith Scardino’s sitcom about a reunited Y2K girl group combines clever, catchy spoof songs with the 10-jokes-per-minute pacing that is the trademark of executive producer Tina Fey. (If you’re a fan, don’t miss Fey’s guest appearance as a poor woman’s Dolly Parton.) The cast balances out the requisite airhead (Busy Philipps), delusional diva (standout Renée Elise Goldsberry), and actually-aging outlier (Paul Pell) with real-life recording artist Sara Bareilles’ charming straight-woman performance as a regular mom belatedly coming into her own as a songwriter. But the show’s secret weapon is its juxtaposition of well-founded cynicism about an industry that can be particularly hard on women over 40 with the joy of finding creativity and companionship years after your supposed expiration date.
I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson (Netflix)
Given its enormous cultural footprint—especially throughout the memeosphere—it’s kind of astounding that this cult sketch show has only produced about three hours of television since its April 2019 premiere. The thing is, SNL and Detroiters alum Tim Robinson makes every second count in skits whose unofficial theme was always guaranteed to resonate with Twitter users and highway commuters and anyone who’s ever taken their life into their hands on Black Friday: the contemporary American tendency to get angry and aggressive at the slightest provocation.
Robinson has given us a cable exec outraged at the backlash to his show Coffin Flop; a man who sabotages a potential relationship because he feels his date is hogging all the “fully loaded” nachos; and, indelibly, a guy in a hot dog costume who attempts to avoid responsibility for destruction wrought by a suspiciously hot-dog-shaped car by insisting, “We’re all trying to find the guy who did this!” You’ll laugh, you’ll cry from laughing so hard, and sometime later, you’ll begin to suspect that Robinson understands our broken society better than anyone else on earth.
Mythic Quest (Apple TV+)
From the hell is other people school of workplace comedy—and the team behind It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia—comes this spiky sitcom set at a video-game company whose fantasy MMPORG Mythic Quest has become a massive hit. The characters truly exist to torture each other. There’s creative director Ian (co-creator Rob McElhenney), the archetypal narcissistic tech bro, and his long-suffering deputy, Poppy (Charlotte Nicdao), a socially awkward lead engineer whose undervalued genius makes his dreams a reality. The game’s emotionally needy executive producer, David (David Hornby), finds a foil in bloodless, perhaps sociopathic finance guy Brad (Danny Pudi)—and their relationship is further complicated by David’s cutthroat assistant, Jo (Jessie Ennis). Two young game testers (Ashly Burch and Imani Hakim) are tormented by their crushes on each other. F. Murray Abraham’s C.W., the pretentious, sexist, libidinous elderly author who writes MQ’s story lines, is a thorn in everyone’s side.
Along with delightfully sophomoric gags like Poppy’s rendering of “blood ocean,” a koan from Ian that she translates into an in-game epidemic that causes blood to shoot out of knights’ every orefice, the show derives its humor from constant interpersonal tension. Two seasons in, what’s most impressive is how McElhenney and his fellow creators, Charlie Day and Megan Ganz, keep finding new ways to combine characters for maximum hilarity. And after a finale that teased big changes for MQ’s leadership team, season 3 promises to make the show new again.
The Other Two (HBO Max)
The youngest of stage mother extraordinaire Pat Dubek’s (Molly Shannon) three children, Chase (Case Walker), better known as ChaseDreams, is a teen-pop idol in the early-2010s Justin Bieber mold. The other two? Well, they’re still figuring things out. An aspiring actor and a washed-up dancer, respectively, Cary (Drew Tarver) and Brooke (Heléne Yorke) get swept up in their little brother’s whirlwind—in part because they care about the sweet, naive kid but also in hopes of using him as a springboard to chase their own dreams.
The setup has allowed creators Chris Kelly and Sarah Schneider space to send up all sorts of entertainment-industry grotesquerie, from celebrity churches and “Instagays” to a second season that remade Pat as a daytime talk-show sensation. The mix of fresh faces and veteran comedy actors like Shannon, Ken Marino, and Wanda Sykes gives the show a unique energy, while an all-star writing staff that has included Joel Kim Booster, Cole Escola, and Hacks creators Lucia Anello and Paul W. Downs keeps the jokes on point.
Not all of the funniest shows on TV are technically comedies. Take this hour-long, two-time winner in the Emmys’ Outstanding Drama Series category, for instance. The most recent, third season featured an incredible set piece in which rogue Waystar Royco scion Kendall Roy (Jeremy Strong) blasts Nirvana’s “Rape Me” at an all-hands meeting where his sister Shiv (Sarah Snook) is running cynical damage control on the company’s #MeToo scandal. An inept power move from the season 2 finale, in which Shiv’s venal husband Tom (Matthew Macfadyen) grabs a piece of meat off his father-in-law Logan’s (Brian Cox) plate and starts chewing, yields one of the funniest full-mouthed line readings of all time: “Thank you for the chicken.” Need I even mention that time “Ken W.A.” rapped a cringey ode to Logan at a company function?
The humor is dark, obviously. And, sure, Succession, which was inspired in part by the ruthless machinations of the Murdoch clan, revolves around the deeply depressing notion that some of the world’s richest and most powerful families are populated by some of the world’s cruelest, pettiest, stupidest, and least competent people. But it’s a pleasure to watch such characters squirm, and creator Jesse Armstrong’s witty manipulations make it impossible not to crack up.
This Fool (Hulu)
Chris Estrada’s This Fool is built on the same odd-couple dynamic whose presence in comedy predates even The Odd Couple. Thirty-year-old Julio (Estrada), a straight arrow who works at a nonprofit for former gang members, still lives with his mom (Laura Patalano) and grandma (Julia Vera) in the South Central L.A. home where he was raised. When his tough, boisterous cousin Luis (Frankie Quiñones) moves in as well, after completing a long prison sentence, and joins the program, it’s a shock to Julio’s system that starts to shake him out of his sad-sack stupor.
But don’t let the conventional setup, er, fool you. The show works so well because it’s grounded not just in the cousins’ relationship, but also in the family and community where it takes place. Its humor is observational and tailored to the characters’ specific quirks: In one episode, the extreme, immigrant-mom thriftiness of Pantalano’s Esperanza drives braided plots in which Luis has to sneak premium toilet paper into the house and a guilt-stricken Julio outrages his mother by allowing an unhoused man to cash in on their recyclables. In another, mopey Julio spends his birthday dodging his family’s and co-workers’ increasingly over-the-top attempts to throw him a party. Although This Fool doesn’t even need the additional boost of national treasure Michael Imperioli playing Julio’s bitter-leftist boss, I’m certainly not complaining about it.
What We Do in the Shadows (FX)
A mockumentary about four vampires of various vintages cohabiting in Staten Island could’ve gotten old fast, especially considering that creator Jemaine Clement adapted it from the cult film he and executive producer Taika Waititi had already made. But, like an immortal making herself over to keep up with changing times, Shadows has stayed fresh by continually reinventing itself. First, Clement improved on the original movie by adding an “energy vampire,” Colin Robinson (Mark Prosch), a daywalker and preternatural bore who feeds on the frustration he extracts from colleagues at the office and strangers on the internet. It’s a hilarious concept, but by the end of season 3, the joke had grown a bit stale. I won’t spoil how the show hit reset, for those who haven’t watched yet. Suffice to say that season 4, which aired earlier this year—and featured everything from an episode-length Property Brothers spoof to an instant-classic scene in which Jim Jarmusch and Sofia Coppola appear as themselves—was the funniest in its history.
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