Comedy is one of the most personal genres of entertainment, as subjective and divisive as politics. Thank heavens, then, for the wide library of Netflix, which is here to service all of our laughter needs. Craving a traditional laugh-tracked sitcom? A more serious, single-cam series? A mockumentary? Done, done, and done.
1. The Office (U.K.) / The Office (U.S.)
9 seasons, 201 episodes (US) 2 series, 12 episodes (UK) |
IMDb: 8.8/10 (US) 8.5/10 (UK)
Yes, this entry is cheating, since these are obviously two different series. But the latter owes its existence to the former, and is a great example of the rare success of an American remake of a beloved British property. The U.K. version was the original cringe comedy, starring Ricky Gervais as clueless boss David Brent, whose desperate attempts at connecting with his underlings are a painful exercise in futility. Steve Carell plays his American counterpart, though his Michael Scott, while equally awkward, proves himself to be more sympathetic as time goes on. There are some who will never see the U.S. version as anything other than a pale imitation of its British predecessor, and it’s true that its overextended existence (it really should have ended when Carell departed in season seven) takes some of the shine out of the series. But both can and should be viewed on their own merits, and when enjoyed as such, have moments of equal, cringe-inducing brilliance.
2. Parks and Recreation
7 seasons, 125 episodes | IMDb: 8.6/10
The idealism of longtime public servant Leslie Knope can seem a little hard to swallow in these post-2016 election times, but that’s precisely why we need Parks and Rec: Leslie’s optimism makes us believe that government – and life itself – can truly be good if you stand by your work and imbue everything you do with passion (and an undying hunger for waffles). And if you aren’t ready to adopt such a sunny disposition for yourself just yet, you can always look for distraction and a laugh in a classic like “Flu Season.” Or “Lil’ Sebastian.” Or “The Debate.” Or “Halloween Surprise.” Or any number of episodes populated by the hilarious, delightfully demented residents of Pawnee (Perd Hapley, Joan Callamezzo, Ethel Beavers, and so many more) and the stacked cast of regulars populating the Parks Department (Chris Pratt, the MVP of non-sequiturs and pratfalls; Jim O’Heir, the perennially upbeat punching bag Jerry/Larry/Terry/Garry). And if nothing else, Parks gave us Ron Swanson, a pyramid of greatness unto himself. You had us at “meat tornado.”
3. Arrested Development
5 seasons, 91 episodes | IMDb: 8.8/10
Setting aside its disjointed fourth season (a divisive effort that’s best viewed as its own entity), Arrested Development is a modern comedy classic, a screwball farce masquerading as a mockumentary about an inherently unlikable clan of rich folks who are as out of touch (how much could a banana cost – ten dollars?) as they are dysfunctional (Motherboy XXX). When patriarch George Sr. is arrested for fraud, it sends the clueless Bluths into a tailspin, desperately trying to cling to their remaining cash and the last vestiges of their lavish lifestyle, propping up the illusion (tricks are something a whore does for money) in increasingly ridiculous ways (and prompting increasingly exasperated commentary from narrator Ron Howard). Breakfast Family may be the most important thing, but when it’s populated with hop-ons, nevernudes who blue themselves, and Franklin the puppet, can you blame Michael for continuously threatening to bail on his? Fortunately, you won’t have any reservations about sticking with the Bluths, especially since the first three seasons – and their intricate, carefully plotted jokes – reward multiple viewings.
4. The Good Place
2 seasons, 25 episodes | IMDb: 8.2/10
Michael Schur (The Office, Parks and Recreation, Brooklyn Nine-Nine) steps away from his usual workplace sitcom for this afterlife comedy, which focuses on Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell), who finds herself in “the good place” after her life comes to an end. Though told this is because she’s led a good, altruistic life, Eleanor knows she’s pretty much a terrible person and is only in this utopia because of its architect’s (Ted Danson) mistake. With this limitless, fictional world, Schur is able to take chances and create a truly goofy show that still deals with morality and other philosophical issues. While the first season is great, a spoiler-filled twist really opens up the show’s potential in its second season.
5. Crazy Ex-Girlfriend
3 seasons, 44 episodes | IMDb: 7.7/10
The title may initially turn you off – as may its status as a rom-com/musical hybrid airing on The CW – but as protagonist Rebecca Bunch will tell you, the situation with Crazy Ex-Girlfriend is a lot more nuanced than that. The genre-bending show spends just as much time churning out toe-tapping tunes as it does exploring the depths of mental illness, sometimes simultaneously, but stops just short of becoming an outright dramedy thanks to the impeccable comedic timing of its stellar cast, led by Rachel Bloom as Rebecca and Donna Lynne Champlin as Bex’s coworker and BFF, Paula. There’s plenty of comedy to mine from its music (songs like “Settle for Me,” “Textmergency,” “West Covina,” and “Dream Ghost” are as catchy as they are key to plot development), but it’s the throwaway moments that really make the show pop: Paula the singing raccoon, Daryl proudly declaring himself a “bothsexual,” Heather’s expert knowledge of mating signals, every aside uttered by Father Brah. If loving this show makes us C-R-A-Z-Y, so be it.