The Definitive TV Comedy Power Rankings (Getting You Through The Rest of Summer)

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There are certain unmistakeable truths of every summer:

  • You start all conversations by commenting on how amazing the weather is.
  • While you love that it’s light out until 8pm, you hate that the sun rises at 5:30am.
  • That “beach body” you’ve been working on for the past few months disappears rapidly due to the constant binges of barbecued meats and beer.
  • You complain constantly about the lack of quality TV (even though you try to pretend like you don’t spend much time on the couch due to those previously mentioned amazing weather days and BBQs).

It’s that last point that I’d like to spend some time on today. Don’t even attempt to talk yourself into summer no longer being such a bad time for TV. It’s still awful. Instead of trying out new and obviously terrible shows, do yourself a favor and catch up on some already existing shows you’ve been ignoring.

Since summer is all about turning off your brain and being in a good mood, I want to specifically suggest you catch up on comedies. Dramas can wait for the depression months (November – April in places like New England, February 1st – February 4th in a place like Los Angeles).

While everyone has their own preferences, here’s a handy power rankings guide authored by a person who has an incredibly good pulse on what’s funny and what’s not. Use this to navigate through the backlog of shows you’ve been meaning to watch. Go for the shows ranked highest; avoid the shows ranked lowest. Easy enough?

[Quick side note: As a rule, I’m only including shows that I’ve seen at least one full episode of within the past calendar year. Therefore shows like The Simpsons and The League are both out, even though I’ve seen many episodes of each in years past. I’m also only including current TV shows. This is not an article on TV comedies throughout history. That means Seinfeld and The Office didn’t crack this list either.]

Legend

⇑ means the show is on the rise

⇓ means the show is on the decline

⇔ means the show is neither rising nor falling

TV Comedy Power Rankings

1. Modern Family⇔

Continues to be the gold standard of comedy after five seasons. You can argue that because it’s a network show, it’s never going to be as edgy or out-of-control wild as some shows on HBO or other premium channels. But from a pure comedic storytelling standpoint, you can’t beat it. As an aspiring writer, I can tell you I watch this show weekly and hang my head in jealousy. Even if given the opportunity to practice for 500 years, I could never write such perfect characters, plots and jokes that all intertwine as well as Modern Family does.

You can watch past episodes on ABC.com or Netflix Instant.

2. Veep ⇔

If this HBO satire that revolves around Julia Louis-Dreyfus as the always-stepping-into-the-proverbial-pile-of-dog-shit Vice President isn’t at “gold standard” level, it’s damn close. This show was hilarious and fresh in its first season, and it’s only gotten stronger since. There isn’t a show out there that produces more jaw-dropping moments on a weekly basis. It’s awkward, raunchy and intelligent humor all rolled up into one amazing creation.

You can watch past episodes on HBO GO or Netflix (not instant).

3. Brooklyn Nine-Nine ⇑

Some people will probably argue that the #4 show on my list should be in this spot instead, especially because Brooklyn just finished its rookie season. I get that it might be too soon to put it in the upper echelon. But watch the full season and tell me it wasn’t a masterpiece. Each character is perfect. Every joke and gag works. Despite obvious reasons to be worried, Andy Samberg’s character is not over the top obnoxious or goofy. The blending of the major and minor characters helps the show create jokes out of episode-long plots and fire off the quick-hit jokes. I fell in love with it the moment Jake Peralta wore his necktie around his belly (and continued loving it through the Kwazy Cupcakes Cwaze).

You can watch past episodes on Hulu Plus (and the most recent ones are still on Fox.com).

4. Parks and Recreation ⇔

No doubt you’ve been told to watch this show dozens of times by the same people. We’re a small but rabid fan base. You might recognize us from other low-rated TV show audiences such as Arrested Development. Now is a great time to finally listen to that annoying Parks fan. Dive into the first couple seasons this summer, and if you like it, you can catch up through the first six seasons in time to enjoy the seventh and final season this Fall with the rest of us. Leslie Knope and her motley gang of small-town government workers are finally going away for good. What started out as “the next Office” starring “Amy Poehler playing a female version of Michael Scott” has blossomed into so much more than that. We’ve gotten to know every member of the Parks cast better than we ever did with The Office crew. And somehow we care so much more about the fate of Leslie’s political career than the fates of those Dunder Mifflin employees. While it didn’t crack my Top Three, Parks has delivered consistent A material for more than 100 episodes. It’ll be sad to see Leslie and company go away next May.

You can watch past episodes on Netflix Instant.

5. Mindy Project ⇑

A show centered around an early 30s woman who’s a gynecologist and wants her life to mimic Meg Ryan’s in all those old chick flicks. And yet, not a TV show just for women by any means. I’ve watched this from day one mostly because I was such a big Office fan that I just had to check out what the woman behind Kelly Kapoor was cooking up with her first show as creator and star. What’s great about Mindy is that it takes those cliched romcom story lines and instead of delivering a happy ending, it pulls the rug out from under the main character (and us) repeatedly. It’s an incredible parody of those female-driven fairytale relationships. The supporting characters, especially male nurse Morgan Tookers, come through in a big way to make the show wacky and complete.

You can watch past episodes on Hulu Plus and Netflix (not Instant).

6. Silicon Valley ⇑⇑

The extra arrow pointing up is because Silicon Valley ended its first season on possibly the highest of high notes. Even people who haven’t watched this show yet have heard about “the greatest dick joke in TV history” that this show delivered in its season finale a few weeks back. And while that five-minute gut-busting scene should get a lot of publicity, it was really just a microcosm of how funny this show can be with nothing more than four or five nerds standing around trying to figure out life in the cutthroat high tech world. If you’re looking for something with a little more edge, more of that R-rated comedy, this is absolutely the one for you.

You can watch past episodes on HBOGO and soon enough on Netflix (not Instant).

7. Nathan For You  ⇑⇑⇑

This faux-reality show/documentary (think Ali G skits but with a much more American and awkward guy) actually jumped up a good four or five spots in these power rankings over the past few weeks. The episode titled “Souvenir Shop / ELAIFF” broke the unofficial record for laughs experienced per second. No lie. I dare you to watch it and not have stomach pains. In fact, I dare you to watch any of this current season’s episodes and not fall in love with Nathan Fielder.

You can watch past episodes on ComedyCentral.com or by DVRing it on Comedy Central.

**Note: I consider this the line of demarcation between the cream of the crop and the shows that are merely “solid watches.”

8. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia ⇔

A little bit of a sad moment here as It’s Always Sunny once ranked at the very top for me. But that was a good five years ago when every episode was better than the previous. Now IASIP has more misses than hits. Their good episodes still trump almost everything else on this list, but the consistent excellence is gone. This is a show where you definitely want to watch from Season 1 because those first few seasons are the strongest.

You can watch past episodes on Netflix Instant.

9. Big Bang Theory ⇔

Out of all the shows I watch, this one seems to confuse people most often. I guess that’s because it just doesn’t fit the mold of all these other comedies on the list. It’s certainly the only show I watch that has the live audience and laugh track. But if you spend a few hours observing Sheldon Cooper and his Aspergery ways, I promise you’ll fall in love with him. It’s a really weird feeling to like a main character who is rude, selfish, socially inept and downright robotic, but somehow Big Bang has pulled it off. It can never get up into the cream of the crop section due to it’s strong association with other crappy network sitcoms, but I’m still glad it’s part of my life.

You can watch past episodes on Netflix (not Instant).

10. Broad City ⇔

A show that’s incredibly rough around the edges…due to the fact that it was a web series online that recently got promoted to the TV big leagues, and because it focuses on the more depressing side of being a single 20-something woman in New York. It’s what Girls would be if Girls was legitimately funny and less serious. Amy Poehler as an executive producer immediately gave this show street cred, and I’m guessing that’s why many of us got on board with season one. The good news is that they’re moving forward with a season two. The bad news?

You cannot watch past episodes anywhere at this time (except for the pilot episode on ComedyCentral.com).

11. Workaholics ⇓

Much like It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia, when this show creates a hit episode, it’s a HUGE HIT. But sometimes the plots and jokes are just a tad too crazy and raunchy even for me. Workaholics is an incredibly simple and funny take on cubicle life for a few mid-twenties stoners who have no interest in doing any real work.

You can watch past episodes on Netflix (not Instant).

12. Drunk History ⇓

Perhaps it was a one-year wonder. Perhaps I’m just getting old. Either way, I just can’t get on board with this show in season two like I was for its first season in 2013. Don’t get me wrong, it still has funny moments (otherwise it would be much lower on this list). But the format feels a little played out already. I’m much more interested in getting some friends together and creating our own drunk version of a historical event than continuing to watch this show every week.

You can watch current season two episodes (and probably some season one episodes) on Comedy Central.

**Note: This is the line of demarcation between shows I that I like a lot and shows that are pretty bad but I watch sometimes anyway because sitting on the couch and staring at a TV is so easy. The following shows also fall into the category of “my fiancee has a broader sense of humor than me and therefore I’m sometimes forced to watch this junk.”

13. The Goldbergs ⇔

14. About A Boy ⇓

15. New Girl ⇓⇓

16. 2 Broke Girls ⇔

17. The Millers ⇔

18. Growing Up Fisher ⇓

19. Crazy Ones ⇓

20. Dads ⇓⇓⇓

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Screw Camp, Summer’s All About Getting Drunk & Ending Up In Jail (Reviewing 5 Summer TV Shows)

summer tv graphic

For a TV addict like myself, there has been one date circled on the calendar since the all the good shows ended in late May: August 11th. If that date means nothing to you, you’re probably not a Breaking Bad fan. To that I say, “Shame on you and what the hell are you waiting for?”

Walter White’s eight-episode swan song to finish off one of the best TV series of all time is the only legitimate entertainment on the small screen we could truly count on going into the summer months. Summer is usually the only time when I get sucked into shows that are really bad but seem acceptable because of the lack of legitimately entertaining TV.

Right now my DVR is littered with reality (American Ninja Warrior, MasterChef, What Would You Do?) and the least realistic show I’ve ever seen (Newsroom). If any of these programs were on in the fall, they wouldn’t make the cut for me.

The best thing I could probably do to get over this TV-related depression is to stay far away from the actual television. Spend my summer downtime reading books, going on scenic hikes, taking vacations or reconnecting with friends who I never see because you don’t see your friends in LA if they don’t live within a one-mile radius of your apartment.

But apparently I love TV too much and/or I have more free time than I know what to do with. So for the past four weeks I’ve been searching for new shows that would prove the summertime doesn’t have to be a TV-free zone.

Here’s my take on five shows that premiered over the past month (ranked worst to first).

[Side Note: Before you read my reviews, it’s probably a good idea to know what kind of tastes I have in television shows. I’m much more of a comedy/sitcom person than I am a drama person. For a one-hour drama to stick with me, it has to show early on that it might someday reach the level of shows like The Wire, Breaking Bad, Weeds or Lost. I’m not screwing around with hour-long TV shows. Either you’ve got potential to be an all-timer, or I’m not staying tuned. With sitcoms I’m more forgiving because the time and emotional investment is so much less than the dramas. I’m a self-admitted sitcom snob, which means I love shows like Arrested Development, Parks & Recreation and Veep, and I hate shows with a laugh track (the one exception is Big Bang Theory, a show that I was late to come around on, but now I’ll fight you over if you lump it in with “all those other bad CBS sitcoms”).]

#5. Camp

TV schedule: Wednesdays on NBC at 10 p.m.

Where you can catch up: NBC.com

There’s a decent chance I was never the intended audience for this show. After all, it’s based around a group of teenage campers and counselors at a lakeside summer camp. But it airs at 10 p.m. so you’d think it was made for adults. And I’m willing to give a chance to any show that has hints of the movie Wet Hot American Summer in it. But after a strong opening scene in the pilot where an unsuspecting camper gets a fish hook to the nose, Camp quickly devolved into an after school special. It’s being described as a dramedy, and unfortunately it’s the drama part that makes it intolerable. On the surface level it feels like a comedy, and there are certainly funny parts, but then we quickly learn about one camper’s battle with leukemia, and one counselor’s dilemma between leaving for Stanford law school or sticking around to help his gambling addict mother get her life together.

If it was a pure sitcom, I’d give it more time. But it’s the dramatic cliches that made it the summer show I permanently deleted from my DVR the quickest.

#4. Under The Dome

TV schedule: Mondays on CBS at 10 p.m.

Where you can catch up: All episodes are on Amazon Prime Instant Video, and CBS.com has the two most recent episodes

I’m out on this show. I gave it four episodes because I really wanted to like it. The pilot was impressive enough that I was telling people it might be the closest thing to Lost since Lost. Initially it seemed to have the elements that made the ABC island drama such an addicting show: a mysterious “something” forcing a group of people together (the island/the dome), characters presenting themselves as different people than their backstories suggested, everyone trying to figure out what logical reason there is for them to be in the situation they’re now in.

But then a few episodes passed, and it was like the entire town of Chester’s Mill no longer cared about the dome. Everyone was so wrapped up in the soap opera-like dramas of their fellow townspeople that the real main character, the dome, became just a background image. What pulled us in during the first season of Lost was not just that these were interesting characters with checkered pasts, but that they desperately needed to get off the island, and they were always in search of answers about the mystery surrounding them.

How am I supposed to be invested in these characters escaping the dome when they don’t seem invested in it? A typical episode has the town’s leaders (police, city council member, priest) running around trying to stop something bad from happening inside the dome (police officer going AWOL, outbreak of meningitis), but never do we see anyone spending time trying to get out of the dome or make contact with the outside world.

Rather than capture the magic of Lost’s season one, Under The Dome seems to have fast forwarded to Lost’s season three. And anyone who was a fan of that show knows this is bad news for the longterm prospects of the Dome.

#3. The Bridge

TV schedule: Wednesdays on FX at 10 p.m.

Where you can catch up: fxnetworks.com

After a disappointing pilot (not nearly as bad as it was described by one of my friends on twitter: “about as awful of a pilot as I’ve seen”), the second episode was much better. Really this show is no different than any other crime show where the authorities are chasing a serial killer. The big gimmick that was supposed to create some buzz is the fact that the first body was found right on the border between El Paso, Texas, and Juarez, Mexico. This means the “by the books” American detective must team up with the “shoot from the hip” Mexican detective. Classic odd couple police procedural.

If you are into the CSI’s, Law & Orders and the other typical police shows, you’ll probably enjoy The Bridge. If you usually aren’t entertained by that format, don’t waste your time. There’s nothing so special about this show that you should give it a chance if it’s just not your style.

#2. Drunk History

TV schedule: Tuesdays on Comedy Central at 10 p.m.

Where you can catch up: comedycentral.com

Here’s how I would describe Drunk History in as few words as possible: Each episode contains three seven-minute skits where well-known comedians and actors try to act out a historic event as told by a ridiculously drunk person.

I shouldn’t have to say anything more for you to run over to your DVR right now and set up a season pass. It’s fulfilling my always-lofty expectations for a comedy, and even the less interesting skits will still cause you to laugh.

Maybe it’s not a great thing to be glorifying the act of getting so drunk that you can hardly form complete sentences, but that’s something for concerned parents to worry about, not me.

Do yourself a favor and start watching this show ASAP. It’s about the only comedic effort worth watching this summer.

#1. Orange Is The New Black

TV schedule: Netflix Instant, all 13 episodes available

Where you can catch up: Netflix, dummy

OK, Netflix, I’m in. You got me.

Between the Arrested Development reboot, early returns on Orange Is The New Black and what I hear about House of Cards, it seems like Netflix is taking over the TV world.

In what has become a staple of shows produced for Netflix, all 13 episodes of Orange were released on July 11th. Even though I’ve only seen the first two, it’s a matter of days before I plow through the other 11. This show is that good.

I guess you’d call it a drama, since the subject matter revolves around a woman sent to prison for being part of a drug ring and the people she comes into contact with at the prison. But similar to a show like Weeds, Orange gets a ton of humorous mileage out of the fact that this middle class woman is suddenly thrust into an unknown and dangerous world. And it makes perfect sense that Orange would share many traits with Weeds since both shows were created by the same woman, Jenji Kohan.

Other than the Weeds similarities, Orange should also play well with fans of the Lost format. Just like we slowly learned about Jack, Kate, Sawyer and the rest of the island gang through flashbacks, we’re getting the background on the Orange main characters through that same device.

At least through the first two episodes, both the dramatic plot lines and the lighter comedic moments play very well together.

It’s doubtful you’ll see another blog from me until I devour the rest of this terrific new show.

So there you have it. Skip the cheesy summer camp and dome experiences, get on board with buddy cop experience only if you like seeing the same crime show format over and over again, and make a date with Drunk History and Orange Is The New Black.

At least until August 11th, that’s about all we’ve got.