Comedy is a tough genre to nail, and can be especially daunting when you’ve got a slew of amazing comedic writers flooding the scene of the entertainment industry. In television, sitcoms and series in the comedy genre have proven to rake in those ratings – because if there’s one thing we can all universally agree on, it’s that everyone loves to have a good, belly-aching laugh.
More than just an easily accessible cure for a bad day, sitcoms also provide an escape from the real world with often zany and dysfunctional storylines that usually keep us watching for the entire 20-minute timeframe.
But there’s a (probably not-so) secret ingredient to all successful comedy shows, and it’s more than just having the quick and sharp wit of a budding Tina Fey. No – good comedic shows have something much deeper – they have heart.
Of course you’ve got your exceptions (Curb Your Enthusiasm and It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia come to mind). But, as cheesy as it sounds, it’s a highly impressive thing to be able to hit those punchlines one minute… then make your audience tear up the next. So, in no particular order, I’ve compiled a list of some of my top picks for comedy shows that give those satisfying ab-building laughs, while at the same time – delivering “dem feels”.
Kicking off the list with what is personally my favourite comedy of all time - The Office is a series that’s got hilariously cringe-tastic humour down to a T, while still having beautifully written characters that make it easy to get attached to.
The show was Steve Carrell’s biggest claim to fame, winning him numerous awards and nominations for his portrayal of the hilariously awkward office manager, Michael Scott. Written by ex-SNL writer, Greg Daniels, the innovative series was a mockumentary on the mundane happenings of your typical, bleak American office.
However, from the constant social unawareness of Michael and Dwight (Rainn Wilson), to the mischievous (and highly creative) pranks of office clown Jim (John Krasinski) – The Office was a show that never failed to bring it in the laugh department. Somehow, the antics and stories of the characters brought a seemingly colourless environment to life, and actually made the workings of a slow paper company… interesting?
What the show does best, however, is exactly as mentioned above. It mixes its clever, situational humour with excellent character development, and with that – relatable stories of close friendships, family, and the ongoing battle that is finding your purpose in life.
What was probably the most notable of all stories – and what some would argue as the “heart” of the show – was the evolving relationship of Jim and Pam (Jenna Fischer). The two made such a believable couple that it was even hard for some fans to grasp the fact the two actors weren’t a pair in real life.
Needless to say, they had audiences on the edge of their seats rooting them on with each episode of the show’s early seasons, with “will-they-won’t-they” tension done at its finest. The loveable Jim Halpert brought viewers on an all-too familiar emotion trip of painful heartbreak and unrequited love, until (spoiler alert!) finally winning the girl and setting the bar high for all members of the male species.
When you’ve got an ensemble cast that has Childish Gambino, a 70-year old Chevy Chase, and the host of The Soup, you know you’re in for some entertaining television. Throw in Dan Harmon’s exceptional skill for writing quick and clever pop culture punches, and you’ve got yourself a recipe for comedic gold.
Community centers itself on a study group at Greendale Community College, who halfheartedly try and pass a Spanish class taught by an unstable Chinese man named “El Tigre” Chang (portrayed by the everhilarious Ken Jeong). The “Greendale Seven”, as they call themselves, trudge through the mishaps and absurdities of their hopeless community college, where the teachers show up drunk and dogs can graduate with honors.
With a colorful school such as Greendale and all its eccentric characters and classes (Theoretical Phys Ed, anyone?) the group often finds themselves victim to dysfunctional situations as they strive to achieve that degree. Paintball wars, “The Floor is Lava” game-turned-Mad-Max-apocalypse, and a sailing course on dry campus land are only some of the various hijinks Harmon’s talented cast finds themselves facing.
Amongst the chaos, however, true friendships bloom as the characters realize that they are a lot less like a group of nerds trying to pass Spanish – and in fact, more like a family.
Together, they learn to love the weird and sometimes bat-shit crazy in one another, which is something the often-misunderstood oddball in all of us hopes for from people in our own lives. Community plays on this well, adding a few unconventional romantic tensions to boot. The show also grants its share of focus on the cliché, but ever-lingering (and ever-important) concerns of self-identity and self-acceptance.
With sharp dialogue and memorable emotional beats, it is the show’s undeniably smart balance between heart and humor that makes Community “streets ahead”.
Rick and Morty
Another work of Harmon makes the list! Taking a break from the typical live-action format of comedy, Rick and Morty is a sitcom that is wonderfully animated with the weird and wacky style of Justin Roiland – who, coincidentally, also voices both the lead characters.
The show follows Rick Sanchez, a perpetually drunk mad scientist and the intergalactic adventures he embarks on with Morty, his socially awkward teenage grandson. The show is a madhouse of brilliant and side-splitting insanity – and it’s all backed by science. Never running out of edge-of-your-seat shenanigans, the unlikely duo take viewers for a thrilling ride as Morty continuously tries to keep up with his wacky and unashamedly badass grandfather.
Besides the fast-paced sci-fi action, Harmon once again reveals the human side of his characters by letting the show hit a few soft notes every so often. Audiences eventually witness a fond, familial relationship grow between the cold, selfish Rick, and the innocent, well-meaning sidekick Morty. Probably the first sitcom to ever pioneer the “mad asshole scientist with a heart of gold” – viewers are sure to switch from laughs to tender “aww”s, once realizing that the drunken grandpa who doesn’t give a shit may just have some hidden affection for his less-than-clever grandson.
Apart from the surprisingly moving moments between the show’s title characters, Rick and Morty also unexpectedly touches upon the issues of broken marriage and family life, heartbreak, and – most notably, the meaning of existence itself.
Pretty deep for your typically crass Adult Swim cartoon.
How could I forget a beloved television classic? (Also, I’d probably get hanged if I didn’t include this one on the list.)
F.R.I.E.N.D.S was a show that entertained audiences all over the globe, comedy aficionados and casual T.V. watchers alike. The series portrayed the lives and relationships of 30-somethings stumbling through life as they go through the challenges and surprises of the New York daily grind. The set-up was pretty simple – stories often revolved around the trivialities of adult life, with an often unexpected and wacky turn-of-events.
This was what made the show a comedic success. With the platform of mundane everyday life to work with (much like The Office), the writers could whip-up stories that both felt real as they were ridiculously funny. Some of these situations could easily happen to the viewers themselves – or probably already have. (Who hasn’t struggled with moving a new sofa into an apartment?)
Amidst the silliness of each episode, thrown in are the questions and hardships of work, marriage, and everyday social struggles independent adults often face. With a talented cast that portrayed their roles perfectly, audiences watched on for 10 seasons as the characters went through the turmoils, achievements, and romantic endeavours of life together – with some of television’s most iconic on-screen couples eventually forming between a few.
F.R.I.E.N.D.S was a perfect recipe of snappy, situational comedy, and the down-to-earth portrayal of fumbling through life’s hurdles with the people who lift you up most. It pulled on the heartstrings of all who tuned in, and made many aspire to maybe one day share a stylish New Yorker’s apartment with a few of your closest buds.
How I Met Your Mother
And my last – yet definitely not least – pick for the list is the wonderfully sweet and quirky sitcom that was How I Met Your Mother.
Before I go on, could we all just take a moment to adore the ridiculously suave being that is Neil Patrick Harris? That man can sing, dance, and act – unfailingly kicking it all into full gear on the series as he nailed his role-turned-television classic (and memelord), Barney Stinson. Getting the character of a smooth, suited womanizer down-pat – it was all the more impressive when I found out NPH was actually gay. He sure convinced me otherwise!
Fangirling aside, HIMYM was often compared to F.R.I.E.N.D.S in terms of its ensemble and character choice (you’ve got your domestic couple, the ladies’ man, the will-they-won’t-they leads, etc.).
While the resemblance is definitely there, what made HIMYM interestingly different was its overarching plotline. Each episode began with the main character, Ted (played by Josh Radner), telling his two teenage children a story of how he met their mother (ten bucks you didn’t see that coming). The series then goes into various plots and stories that all eventually lead to the ultimate meeting of Ted and his wife-to-be – though the audience never really gets the satisfaction of seeing that until the show’s last few episodes.
Thus, the viewers are in for a mysterious but playful journey into the life of Ted and his pursuit of “The One”, with several tricky romantic hurdles and lessons along the way. While a heartwarming storyline in itself – I would, in all honesty, be lying if I said it didn’t tire itself out from time to time.
In these lulls or moments of plot repetition, the series drew strength from the other lead characters. They too, like Ted, had their own engaging storylines and continuing arcs in matters of family, love, and, loss. Very much like F.R.I.E.N.D.S, HIMYM’s writing often had a poignant outlook on the lives of 20 to 30-something year-olds, celebrating the good we experience, as well as embracing the trials and heartbreak.
With a terrific blend of humor, heart, and a legen-wait for it-dary cast, HIMYM had fans fall for it just as hard as Ted fell for almost every girl he’s met. (Classic Schmosby.)
When it comes to the art of writing comedy, sometimes it just takes the right blend of deep human emotion to turn a series from perfectly fine, consumable silliness into television gold. Remember, tears and gripping emotion are just as satisfying of a reaction, as is the howling laughter after a perfect joke.