The best TV comedies on Netflix

Illustration for article titled The best TV comedies on Netflix
Photo: NBC Television (Getty Images), NBC Television, Image: Netflix

Streaming libraries expand and contract. Algorithms are imperfect. Those damn thumbnail images are always changing. But you know what you can always rely on? The expert opinions and knowledgeable commentary of The A.V. Club. That’s why we’re scouring both the menus of the most popular services and our own archives to bring you these guides to the best viewing options, broken down by streamer, medium, and genre. Want to know why we’re so keen on a particular show? Click the “read more” link for some in-depth coverage from The A.V. Club’s past. And be sure to check back often, because we’ll be adding more recommendations as shows come and go.

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Arrested Development

Like its main characters themselves, the reputation of Arrested Development is no longer as sterling as it once was; a star accused of the type of behavior he used to lampoon and a tepidly received Netflix revival will have that effect. But if there’s anything to be learned from this show, it’s that fortunes may fall and rise, but there’s always money in the banana stand. [Click click.] The first three seasons about a wealthy family who lost everything and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together remain a pinnacle of the sitcom form, fast and funny and so full of mounting callbacks, double entendres, and chicken dances that the original DVD box sets practically invented the art of binge-watching. (A style of viewing the the genuinely innovative, vastly underrated, puzzle-box fourth season picked up and ran with.) At the center of this farcical whirlwind are the Bluth family, the picture-perfect embodiment of brains and/or souls rotted away by wealth, forever captured at their least flattering by an ensemble (Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, Michael Cera, David Cross, Portia de Rossi, Tony Hale, Alia Shawkat, Jeffrey Tambor, and Jessica Walter) who wound up populating many of the great TV comedies that followed in Arrested Development’s wake. [Erik Adams]

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American Vandal

In an era when TV shows increasingly rely on word of mouth, American Vandal found its audience on a wave of “I cannot believe I’m so invested in a show that’s about finding out who spray-painted a bunch of dicks on some cars.” As awkward as it is to articulate that premise, the show’s strength is the fact that the dicks are an embellishment at best. Yes, American Vandal tells some very good jokes revolving around its absurd crimes—peaking with the 3-D rendering of an alleged handjob—but what makes the show so effective is that it uses those jokes to build characters we love to hate, grow to respect, or find ourselves reevaluating when the story reaches its conclusion. With an impeccable attention to detail and absolute commitment from its young actors, American Vandal manages to transform a sophomoric parody of true-crime documentaries into a new benchmark for capturing what it means to be a high school student in the 2010s—better than another, much-buzzed-about Netflix series on the same subject. [Myles McNutt]

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Big Mouth

Big Mouth’s legendary filthiness and frankness about changing bodies (boobs! body hair! absence of body hair! MONS PUSH!) is matched by its overflowing sex positivity and its emotional openness. A stable of stars (MVP Maya Rudolph, John Mulaney, Jessi Klein, Jason Mantzoukas, Jenny Slate, and Jordan Peele, just for starters) brings to life the pubescent characters from creators Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Jennifer Flackett, and Mark Levin, embodying them in a heady, horny, hilariously honest funk. [Emily L. Stephens]

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Billy On The Street

Billy Eichner’s Billy On The Street is a show like no other: A “man on the street” setup in which the super-energized host accosts pedestrians and gets celebrities to do any number of outlandish things. Of all the trivia contests and timed quizzes he puts famous people through, though, his obstacle courses may be the most arduous. [Gwen Ihnat]

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BoJack Horseman

BoJack Horseman perfected a mix of satire, wall-to-wall (sometimes literally) visual gags, and quietly devastating drama. The two-dimensional medium didn’t prevent series creator Raphael Bob-Waksberg from developing some of TV’s most complex characters, or from offering one of the most compelling explorations of what it means to be human. It’s no longer surprising that a show packed to the gills with animal puns can also break your heart—indeed, most fans recalibrated their expectations after the first season ended with a fade to black instead of an answer to BoJack’s (Will Arnett) question about his decency. [Danette Chavez]

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Cheers

Of all the American sitcoms produced in the 1980s, Cheers feels most like a culmination of what was going on in the ’70s. It’s as if the show took the basic precepts of an MTM show like The Mary Tyler Moore Show or The Bob Newhart Show, then honed them to the sharpest possible point. Every element was perfectly calibrated for maximum comic value, every cast member precisely chosen, and each character played a specific role within the ensemble. Even the show’s barroom setting seemed calculated. And yet Cheers never felt dry or airless. Creators Glen and Les Charles built a show about a gang of lovable losers, much like they had learned to do while working on Taxi. But the central device of the will-they/won’t-they romance would never be done better. Ted Danson and Shelley Long hooked up, then broke up, then hooked up again, and Cheers somehow made it enthralling every time. Some of that may have been due to co-creator James Burrows—unquestionably the most influential multi-camera director in television history—who kept the pace light and effervescent and gave Cheers a sense of elasticity that allowed it to survive even the departure of Long, a move that effectively cleaved the show into two different series. The first is a witty romantic comedy about a dunderhead and the bright barmaid who tries not to love him; the second is a more traditional workplace farce. Both are terrific. [Emily VanDerWerff]

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Comedy Bang! Bang!

There are three Comedy Bang! Bang!s: A now-dormant stand-up showcase, a thriving podcast, and this, the TV show that ran for five seasons on IFC. It’s a talk show where real celebrities promote their actual projects, but the talk-show framework is mostly a launching pad for absurdist sketch comedy. The guest roster for each episode is filled out by notable comedic performers, appearing not as themselves but as the type of characters who take advantage of the podcast’s “open door” policy. The host, Scott Aukerman, is a bit of a boob—though that’s an act, too—and the bandleader doesn’t have a band. It defies description, yet Comedy Bang! Bang! was one of the most inventive, distinctive TV comedies of the 2010s. What set out to be a “take on any kind of show that had a host in it” evolved into a wide-ranging parody of TV conventions. [Erik Adams]

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Community

It can be easy to forget how great Community was. The off-screen accounts that plagued the show during its run—threats of cancellations due to underwhelming ratings, ousted and re-hired showrunners, unruly/exiting stars, dysfunctional writers’ rooms, Yahoo! Screen—often overshadowed its on-screen greatness, shifting the narrative surrounding the show from one about its genre-jumping, cultishly adored “anything goes” attitude toward ensemble comedy to one about beating the odds and constantly fighting for survival (Dan Harmon and his team of writers, ever the fans of meta-commentary, undoubtedly leaned into that narrative). Either way, Community remains a seminal piece of television, one that embraced absurdity, parody, and drama equally and influenced the sitcom landscape of the 2010s along the way. [Baraka Kaseko]

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Crazy Ex-Girlfriend

Crazy Ex-Girlfriend—Rachel Bloom’s exploration of one woman’s obsessive, semi-disturbed psyche through song and dance—is a feat of unbridled creativity that is almost as miraculously incisive as it is hilarious. The songwriting team ingeniously finds the right musical style to slyly comment on the action: a tap number about “tapping that ass,” a pop-punk tribute to girls bonding with guys through sports, and a bizarrely dystopian riff on the Spice Girls about female friendships that references Hocus Pocus multiple times. With these interludes, the show constantly examines how people respond to popular culture and mold their lives to fit its ideals. Heroine Rebecca Bunch is the ultimate offender when it comes to buying into the narratives media sells. After all, she picks up and moves to West Covina to follow her “one true love” in the pilot. But Bloom and co-creator Aline Brosh McKenna never belittle Rebecca for her overly romantic brain. They craft each character delicately, layering them with depth, all the while hooking viewers with the same clichés they aim to lampoon. (Because who can resist a love triangle, really?) Even as it moved into its second season, Crazy Ex-Girlfrienddidn’t lose steam. Now we just need to get more people to watch it—maybe viewership will be mandatory in Friendtopia (just like Hocus Pocus). [Esther Zuckerman]

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Dear White People

Few film-to-TV adaptations end up working out, in part because few feature-length premises can bear being fleshed out for a 10-episode (let alone the old 22) order. If you got bored watching everyone get Taken from Liam Neeson after a while, imagine trying to maintain interest in an ongoing prequel about the covert agent. But Justin Simien’s Dear White People is an outlier here—the movie was just begging to be fleshed out so it could become something more than a civics lesson for said white people. There’s no hand-holding in this 10-part Netflix series, which devotes every half hour—each more biting than the last—to a different student’s perspective. But Simien maintains an overarching storyline, offering an emotional catharsis as well as a payoff for the more serialized aspect of the comedy, while still leaving room for season two. [Danette Chavez]

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Derry Girls

Channel 4’s Derry Girls is a treasure trove of unforgettable coming-of-age moments centered around four teenage girls from Northern Ireland. As the regional conflict of the late 20th century rages in the background, the everyday woes of Erin, Orla, Michelle, and Clare fuel one of the funniest shows currently on air. The sixth episode of season one capped an already stellar arc with a courageous moment from Clare, the group’s studious, most high-strung member. After anonymously writing an essay about her experience as a closeted lesbian for her Catholic school’s newspaper, Clare claims ownership of the story (and her sexuality) to her best friend, Erin. Though Erin’s initial response is to urge Clare to remain in the closet, Clare stands firmly by her decision to be openly gay and forces Erin to reevaluate her own ignorance. It’s an incredibly vulnerable moment that reintroduces Clare as a leader. It also emphasizes just how much of a roller coaster coming to terms with your own sexuality can be. [Shannon Miller]

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Documentary Now!

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, then Documentary Now! might be the best tribute to nonfiction filmmaking ever conceived. A band of Saturday Night Live veterans—Bill Hader, Seth Meyers, Fred Armisen, John Mulaney, Rhys Thomas, Alex Buono—somehow convinced a TV network to let them write and perform half-hour homages to documentaries. It’s fun just to watch recreations of films like Grey Gardens, Jiro Dreams Of Sushi, and Swimming To Cambodia, but the best episodes of Documentary Now! inject an offbeat personal touch that expands and rewrites the original source material. It’s touching to witness the amount of passion and work put into such a niche project. Who creates a Sondheim musical parody if not for the sheer love of the game? [Vikram Murthi]

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The End Of The F***ing World

Based on Charles S. Forsman’s graphic novel of the same name, it’s a criminal road-trip movie with a couple of twists: Not only are James and Alyssa teenagers, he’s a budding psychopath who constantly fantasizes about murder and she’s a nihilistic rebel who just wants to fuck shit up. They’re matches and gasoline, and they’re only intermittently cute: Instead, they’re confused, damaged, and potentially dangerous, and the world that they encounter together is mostly unforgiving. It’s funny and sweet at moments, sure, like when Alyssa—played by Jessica Barden—takes out her frustrations on the owner of a gas station. But James—Alex Lawther of the unforgettable “Shut Up And Dance” episode of Black Mirror—is filled with bloody, violent thoughts that flash gruesomely on screen, especially in the early going. There’s always a sense that The End Of The Fucking World could go even darker. Without revealing too much, it does. [Josh Modell]

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GLOW

When Ruth Wilder shows up at an audition for a women’s wrestling show, she brings all the know-it-all ambition of an aspiring Hollywood actor, smugly dreaming up a complex backstory for a character who just needs to know how to take a back drop. Played by Alison Brie with true vulnerability, Wilder joins the fictionalized Gorgeous Ladies Of Wrestling, a real-life pro-wrestling promotion from the late ’80s. Netflix’s “inspired by” version of GLOW’s origins can be lighthearted and fun, but it’s also filled with women who are in need—of love, attention, jobs, money, support. Trying to find those things among a dozen misfit women, led by a pitch-perfect Marc Maron as their down-on-his-luck director, leads to predictably funny scenes, but also a lot of suffering, both in and out of the ring.
The personal feud between Ruth and her former best friend, Debbie Eagan (Betty Gilpin), makes for some of the show’s more heartrending moments, but it also indirectly leads to a wonderfully straightforward abortion scene, the likes of which are rarely seen in pop culture. GLOW is explicit but matter-of-fact about the lives of these women from only a generation prior and all the forces working against them. There’s a woman whose father and brothers were all professional wrestlers, but they won’t let her participate; there’s women of color who are forced to play to hyper-exaggerated stereotypes; and even a cash-strapped medical student. In spite of or because of that, it’s also a warmly funny show with plenty of laughs. GLOW’s spandex-clad friendships and neon-lit heartaches are practically perfect entertainment. [Laura M. Browning]

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The Good Place

So much television—so much art—grapples with what it means to be good, but The Good Place makes that philosophical conundrum its entire crux. Michael Schur has, yet again, created a world full of flawed yet genuinely lovable characters trying their best to help one another. The Good Place uses a high-concept premise to burrow into complex ideas about morality and humanity, and it does so while still being outrageously funny, aided of course by a stack cast of greats like Ted Danson and Kristen Bell but also formidable newcomers like D’Arcy Carden, Manny Jacinto, William Jackson Harper, Jameela Jamil, and Kirby Howell-Baptiste. Together, they’ve helped craft a TV family of weirdos worth rooting for. [Kayla Kumarı Upadhyaya]

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Grace And Frankie 

The embarrassment of riches in this show really is embarrassing: Grace and Frankie (real-life best friends Jane Fonda and Lily Tomlin) discover that their husbands of 40 years (Martin Sheen and Sam Waterston, respectively) are leaving them to marry each other. Straight-laced Grace and much-looser Frankie are now stuck with each other, and where do they go from here as seventysomethings? This brimming premise is aided by showrunner and Friends vet Marta Kaufman, who brings her quick and dry multi-cam humor to this more elegant single-cam sitcom, which got even sharper in season two. The supporting cast is highlighted by gems like Ernie Hudson (a prospective new suitor for Frankie) and June Diane Raphael (Grace’s daughter Brianna, who’s just as tough as she is). Laugh-out-loud moments abound right along tear-inducing ones as these two women figure out how to move on, thanks to their surprising fledgling friendship. [Gwen Ihnat]

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Great News

From the emotionally stunted TV professional in the lead role (Briga Heelan as Katie Wendelson, finally stealing scenes in a show of her own) to the sprightly instrumental score by Jeff Richmond, this zippy behind-the-scenes-of-cable-news sitcom is all very reminiscent of the first show Tracey Wigfield, Tina Fey, and Robert Carlock all worked on together. For a too-brief period, Great News filled the 30 Rock-shaped void on the NBC schedule while building its own, whacked-out world of deluded and/or oblivious onscreen talent (John Michael Higgins and Nicole Richie as a surprisingly effective double act) and fast-flying punchlines. But the high-concept twist doubles as its secret weapon: Andrea Martin as Katie’s mom, Carol, who takes an internship at her daughter’s show, setting in motion parallel arcs about the second act of Carol’s life and the first act of Katie’s, both of which draw tremendous comedic power from the fact that neither mother nor daughter can leave the other alone. Great News is a workplace sitcom that lives up to the example of its beloved predecessor while displaying a level of ambition that exceeded its unjustly meager ratings. [Erik Adams]

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I Think You Should Leave With Tim Robinson

There are plenty of talented writers and performers who never quite clicked on Saturday Night Live but then went on to success elsewhere, but Tim Robinson’s I Think You Should Leave is a uniquely defiant sort of triumph. A sketch showcase all built around the ingeniously off-putting, singularly strange sensibilities of the former SNL featured performer, this Netflix series offers up nothing but unfiltered Robinson, holding down the sort of 10-to-one sketch premises his former TV home traditionally—even understandably—shaves off of its more viewer-friendly design. Picking up from his gleefully weird episode of Netflix’s The Characters, Robinson’s collection of sketches swerve inexorably into its characters’ frantic need to not be the butt of the joke, all while Robinson’s pop-eyed gaze becomes ever more glassy with the dawning certainty that there’s no steering out of the skid. Gathering others similarly and constitutionally prone to pushing comic ideas deep into the red of viewers’ comfort meters (Will Forte, Tim Heidecker, Vanessa Bayer, Fred Willard, Kate Berlant, Robinson’s Detroiters partner Sam Richardson), Robinson’s playlets of exquisite humiliation, sweaty denial about humiliation, and scatological obsession take cringe comedy into undiscovered realms of discomfort, while still, in Robinson’s Mad Magazine-pliable countenance, finding the human comedy in universal embarrassment. Only more so. [Dennis Perkins]

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Jane The Virgin

As romantic comedies struggled to find their place on the big screen this decade, some of the best ones emerged on the small screen instead. One of the crown jewels in the TV rom-com canon is Jane The Virgin, Jennie Snyder Urman’s effervescent update of a Venezuelan telenovela. Hilarious, heartfelt, and impeccably narrated, Jane The Virgin used the story of a 23-year-old virgin who’s accidentally artificially inseminated as a jumping-off point to tell humanistic stories about family, faith, love, and the immigrant experience. In a decade full of gritty, hypermasculine dramas, Jane The Virgin carved out a space for bright, colorful, funny, women-centric TV comedies that rejected the label “guilty pleasure” and instead proudly owned their place among some of the best TV out there. [Caroline Siede]

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Lady Dynamite

Many comedians have attempted the autobiographical sitcom, but with Lady Dynamite, Maria Bamford rewired the form to fit her own life and mind: The delirious, hyper-meta series both reflects and recounts her experience with bipolar disorder and severe anxiety, juggling three timelines, talking pugs, and a continuous stream of hilarious, smart surprises. It’s a lot to take in, but then, so is the BAMF’s comedic versatility, which was on full display for two brief, explosive seasons. [Kelsey J. Waite]

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Love

Judd Apatow, Lesley Arfin, and Paul Rust set such a deliberate pace for this romantic comedy, the two leads don’t even meet cute until the final scene of the 40-minute premiere. To put that in perspective: Cue up Love at the same time someone else is starting Roman Holiday, and Gus (Rust) will be bailing Mickey (Gillian Jacobs) out of a convenience-store bind while Joe Bradley is already promising his editor an exclusive interview with Princess Ann. In a more contemporary version of this exercise, it only takes three minutes of Bridget Jones’s Diary for the heroine to reconnect with Mark Darcy and mentally object to his reindeer jumper. At the same point in Love, there are multiple zip codes (and at least two other people) separating Gus and Mickey. It’s all part of the plan: The creators set out to capture an honest picture of courtship, dating, and sex, and nowhere is that more apparent than in how Love progresses. The first episode doesn’t rush to get Rust and Jacobs together in the same room; the rest of the series takes its time in getting the characters together, period. Eventually, there are breakups and hook-ups and make-ups here, bad dates chronicled practically in real time (to maximum comedic effect), and sex (mostly bad, some good) depicted in frank, unaffected fashion. But the show is just as interested in the moments that get cut out of the typical rom-com montage, scenes spent with the individual Love-birds and their respective gaggles of L.A.-area associates. It’s a perfect vessel for one of big-screen comedy’s most creative meanderers. [Erik Adams]

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Medical Police

It’s hard to do comedy and action at the same time, especially if you’re expected to take either aspect seriously at all. But Netflix’s Medical Police—a semi-explicit follow-up to Adult Swim’s Childrens Hospital—tries to sidestep that issue by choosing not to take either aspect seriously, embracing the very silly humor of the original series while adding an explicitly goofy and absurd action plot on top of it. Reprising their characters from Childrens Hospital, Medical Police stars Rob Huebel and Erinn Hayes as a pair of doctors at a children’s hospital that is definitely in Brazil who stumble onto a medical mystery and quickly—like, in a matter of minutes—join the CDC’s secret black-ops division in a battle against international bio-terrorists. [Sam Barsanti]

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Monty Python’s Flying Circus

And now for something completely essential: The groundbreaking sketch show that spent several years bouncing around the streamosphere (RIP Seeso) landed on Netflix in 2018, accompanied by Life Of Brian, various live recordings, a smattering of documentaries, curated compilations, and the Pythons’ brief attempt to translate their quintessentially British silliness into German. But it all started with this—well, technically it started with the stuff glimpsed in Monty Python: Before The Flying Circus (get on with it!)—four series of stream-of-consciousness absurdities linked by surreal animations, prone to self-aware interruptions, and rightly praised for turning the square realm of midcentury television inside out. Sure, you can get the highlights compressed into the also-streaming anthology Parrot Sketch Not Included, but with the complete Flying Circus, you get “The Spanish Inquisition” (though you’d never expect it), “Argument Clinic,” and “The Ministry Of Silly Walks” in their original context. Plus, this way, you get to see that dead (passed on! Ceased to be! ex-) parrot. [Erik Adams]

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Mystery Science Theater 3000

The garnishes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 are complex, but the main dish is simple: Funny people with a wide knowledge base, lobbing jokes at some of the worst movies ever made. But the only people who have ever really made the recipe work are the people who made Mystery Science Theater 3000, whether in the original cult series or in its spin-offs, Cinematic Titanic and RiffTrax. Creator Joel Hodgson’s unwavering faith in the premise, and his belief that it can be “refilled” like Saturday Night Live, Doctor Who, or James Bond, led to a record-setting Kickstarter campaign, followed by 14 new episodes that arrived on Netflix in 2017. Hodgson’s trust was rewarded: Anchored by new host Jonah Ray, along with new robot sidekicks Baron Vaughn and Hampton Yount, the series returned at full, rapid-fire-riffing strength, with a few novel twists and almost two decades’ worth of untapped reference points. The daffy heights of Wizards Of The Lost Kingdom, The Day Time Ended, and Avalanche represent the rich rewards of two comic generations coming together: The one whose irreverence and love/hate relationship with pop culture made the original MST3K possible, and the one who used MST3K as a road map to everything that’s cool and/or funny. [Erik Adams]

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New Girl

Though Zooey Deschanel’s “adorkable” Jessica Day was the ostensible star of New Girl—she was the “new girl”—the secret to what made it great was Jess’ three (sometimes four) lovably wacky male roommates: Depressive sad-sack/aspiring novelist Nick (Jake Johnson), directionless former basketball player/cat owner player Winston (Lamorne Morris), and Schmidt (Max Greenfield), whose self-involvement masks deep insecurities and sympathies. It took some time for the show to find where each of them fit in the dynamic, but once it did New Girl became a brilliant ensemble piece. Over seven seasons, the characters bonded, planned some classic mess-arounds, suffered the indignity of receiving too many wedding invites, and played countless rounds of an impenetrably complex drinking game called True American. [Sam Barsanti]

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The Office (U.S.)

The American Office’s longevity brought about a few bum seasons and followed supporting characters down some deeply unsatisfying rabbit holes. But at its peak, this adaptation of the classic, caustic British mockumentary used its 20-plus episodes per season to mix episodic belly laughs with engaging, long-term storytelling. Jim (John Krasinski) and Pam’s (Jenna Fischer) workplace romance is the prime example of the latter, but when the heat of that storyline subsided, it developed a strange parallel in the relationship between sycophantic wannabe leader Dwight (Rainn Wilson) and office fussbudget Angela (Angela Kinsey). With each passing year, Steve Carell ended up sharing more and more of the spotlight with his co-stars, but the major arc spanning The Office’s first seven seasons plays like a decades-delayed coming-of-age tale for boss-from-hell Michael Scott. [Erik Adams]

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One Day At A Time

People love to complain about “too many remakes,” but One Day At A Time makes a strong case for reinventing existing stories, taking all of the themes and humor of the original Norman Lear sitcom, and applying them to a less white, not-so-straight world. Gloria Calderón Kellett and Mike Royce’s Netflix series is poignant and timely, folding racial, queer, and mental-health themes into its sitcom setups about a Cuban American family. Isabella Gomez’s Elena is a breakthrough for young lesbian representation, and Justina Machado is the powerhouse that fuels the show’s light family comedy as well as its dark family drama. And the show proves it’s possible to take risks even within the seemingly restrictive formula of a multi-cam. [Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya]

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Parks And Recreation

Parks And Recreation might share qualities with comedies further up this list, particularly the other Mike Schur creation that grounds its absurd plotlines in the chemistry of a quirky but deeply relatable core ensemble. What those shows never had, however, was Leslie Knope. As Knope, Amy Poehler was the heart of this big-hearted show, rallying her motley staff (and occasionally the Pawnee community) into greater versions of themselves through sheer enthusiasm for people and the power of civic participation. Making uncynical humor look easy, the show’s writers and cast built something sweet in the city of Pawnee that, like its inspiration 870 miles away, is worth returning to repeatedly. Li’l Sebastian alone is proof: Parks And Recreation was this decade’s original good place. [Kelsey J. Waite]

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Portlandia

Portlandia debuted its first episode—which famously opened with “The Dream Of The ’90s,” an anthem celebrating a place where “people are still talking about saving the planet and forming bands,” “young people go to retire,” and “the Bush administration never happened”—on January 21, 2011, two years into Barack Obama’s first term. The sketch series aired its last on March 23, 2018, smack in the middle of the hot, damp armpit fart of Trump Year 2. Over the course of those seven intervening years, Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein helped put a city (and a network) on the map with their gentle skewering of the mild discomforts of comfortable people, a general vibe suggesting that, now that the heavy lifting of social change was finished, we could all have some fun dialing into the more niche anxieties of modern life. Like some kind of beautiful but easily disturbed freshwater fish, Portlandia was a product of a dangerously hope-rich environment. [William Hughes]

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Russian Doll

Russian Doll takes on universal themes like regret, loneliness, and the wounds of childhood, but it’s at its best when it remains defiantly particular. The series sets up a primary setting—a never-ending, Lower East Side birthday party for Natasha Lyonne’s hedonistic, world-weary Nadia Vulvokov—adds the Groundhog Day twist that Nadia keeps dying and winding up right back at the party, and then spools outward from there. Though Nadia investigates lots of very different, seedy parts of a very specific, seedy version of New York, she never really finds any firm answers about what is happening to her. Instead, Lyonne and co-creator, director, and writer Leslye Headland wisely allow the series to serve as a chaotic meditation on a variety of ideas, all contained by the same sensibility. All of the heavily memed parts of Russian Doll work, partly because they’re funny, but also because they feel like part of the same world, even if no one is willing to explain just what the boundaries of that world are. Lots of shows can plot an intricate line, but Russian Doll manages to take on the same shape as its protagonist’s life: a mesmerizing, unsettling spiral. [Eric Thurm]

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Schitt’s Creek

Eugene and Dan Levy’s fish-out-of-water sitcom deserves mention among the decade’s defining programs if only for where, when, why, and how it found an audience. A decorated hit in its native Canada, Schitt’s Creek was an object of cultish devotion in the States—until it hit Netflix, at which point anyone with an internet connection was saying, “Ew, David!” But it’s also in this conversation because it’s aged like a fine “Herb Erflinger” (Burt Herngeif? Irv Herb-blinger?) fruit wine, as the story of a wealthy family who lost everything (and the one town that had no choice but to keep them all together) expanded to encompass ever more idiosyncratic Catherine O’Hara enunciations, uproariously circular Rose family arguments, and more heart than any show with this title ought to have. [Erik Adams]

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Special

The setup for Special would sound implausible if it was’t being pulled directly from creator and star Ryan O’Connell’s life: O’Connell rose to prominence in the 2010s a star blogger at Thought Catalog, writing with zippy frankness beneath headlines like “How To Fall In Love With A Boy For The First Time,” “5 Signs You Definitely Don’t Have Your Shit Together,” and “Coming Out Of The Disabled Closet.” The subject of that last post is the point around which Special’s first season spins: Like the actual O’Connell, the TV Ryan covers up his cerebral palsy when he gets his first big break, hired as an intern for Eggwoke, a fictional website that’s pivoting from “brilliant, millennial, LOLz-y satire” to aggressive trolling. There’s more to Special than its on-point send-up of contemporary digital media; within the span of its 15-minute episodes, the first season finds enough room to tell the story of a late-bloomer experiencing true independence for the first time (and affording his mother, played by Jessica Hecht, some of the same), in the quippy, hyper-referential style of O’Connell’s prose. The candor remains, too, as evidenced by the scene in which Ryan loses his virginity, which mixes in some light slapstick before getting real about the mechanics of anal sex. [Erik Adams]

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That ’70s Show

That ’70s Show paid significant homage to the pop-culture sensations of its setting, but it’s perpetual underdogs like Big Star, Cheap Trick, and Todd Rundgren—a concert by the latter launches the road-trip plot in the series’ pilot—that are the true cultural avatars of the series. Though the show ran for 200 episodes, the time-capsule travails of a gawky Midwestern teen (Topher Grace as protagonist Eric Forman) and his friends made for only a modest hit on Fox, one that never found its way into the Nielsen Top 30. It was a sitcom set in malaise years whose true purpose was never lampooning disco cheese or outdated technology—though it did that, too. That ’70s Show is about the smaller stuff, the truly memorable moments of adolescence unseen in the history books. [Erik Adams]

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Toast Of London

Following short-lived cult favorites like Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and Snuff Box and the rock-opera parody ADBC, it’s great to see Matt Berry at the front of a show that ran longer than six episodes, inhabiting a character tailored to his knack for playing louche buffoons with infinite reserves of self-regard. It’s by far his most conventional TV work to date—hence the multiple series and the BAFTA Award—but “conventional” here still means colorful character names (obvious favorite: recording engineer Clem Fandango), a lived-in showbiz universe populated by loonies in tacky clothing, and a sharp ear for catchy tunes and sound-effect gags. [Erik Adams]

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Tuca & Bertie

Created by Lisa Hanawalt, who’s behind the striking, whimsical design of BoJack Horseman, Tuca & Bertie is raucous, heartfelt, surreal, and distinctly female. Bird Town, the fictional city where Tuca (the irrepressible Tiffany Haddish) and Bertie (the always incisive Ali Wong) live isn’t quite an island paradise like Themyscira—there are a few regular male characters, including Steven Yeun as Bertie’s delightfully average but well-meaning boyfriend Speckle. But the city design, a playful blend of Marcey Hawk and M.C. Escher with its boob-emblazoned mid-rises and twisting roads, is all Hanawalt, whose wall-to-wall gags on BoJack prompt rubbernecking from even the most focused binge watchers. So are the most prominent traits we see in the bird women: a boisterous id and self-flagellating superego, which often drown out the moderating influence of the ego. [Danette Chavez]

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Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt

Those mourning the loss of 30 Rock would quickly be cheered by Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt, Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s absurdist tale of an Indiana woman (Ellie Kemper) released after spending her formative years in captivity, ready to reinvent herself in New York City. Kimmy’s indefatigable optimism helped defeat the crap hand she was dealt in life, aided by theatrical roommate Titus (Tituss Burgess), advantageous socialite Jacqueline (Jane Krakowski), and street-savvy landlord Lillian (Carol Kane). You had to watch episodes multiples times to catch all of the fast-and-furious in-jokes, and some, like Titus going “Lemonading,” were straight-up unparalleled. The series even wrapped up beautifully, with our heroine figuring out how to use her own trauma to help other people with theirs, in the most Kimmy way imaginable. [Gwen Ihnat]

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With Bob And David

The title was chosen in order to send a signal: This is a new series, tonally consistent with but separate from Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’ previous sketch series, Mr. Show With Bob And David. Comparisons between the two are inevitable—not that With Bob And David suffers from them in any way. In the space of four half-hour(ish) episodes, Odenkirk and Cross’ Netflix effort meets (and sometimes exceeds) the expectations set by their previous cult classic, rediscovering and revitalizing its tone and wit, but not its overarching fussiness. These episodes don’t hurry themselves along: A riff on The Most Dangerous Game gets all the beats it needs to level the playing field between adventurer Cross and accountant Odenkirk; an interrogation scene begins like a tweaked good cop/bad cop scenario, before the suspect gets sucked into a game of passive-aggressive telephone between investigators. Everyone’s a little more willing to bend the reality of a sketch, too: Paying for a pizza in the first episode, Cross nonchalantly ends the transaction with, “Here, this is fake—you can keep all of it.” The less time spent representing an authentic food-delivery experience, the more time he and his castmates get to rib Paul F. Tompkins about a purportedly ludicrous New Year’s resolution. All four episodes are enlivened by little bits of embroidery like this, and if they happen to link two sketches together, that’s just gravy. With Bob And David never strains to fit its puzzle pieces in place. [Erik Adams]

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