How is it possible, after twelve years, that Listverse has never published a list of the best comedy TV series?! Well, it’s time to correct that grievous wrong. I happen to be fanatical about comedy; until I stopped watching TV and movies entirely, it was my genre of choice. I could binge-watch for days on end. So this list is tainted by my personal tastes but also by bingeability. It also keeps very current with all shows running (even if just for a short time) this century. I have made a few choices that may be controversial but I think, in general, having shaken up the pot, the greatest greats have floated to the top.
Before beginning I would like to mention that I have made a couple of references to politics in the list. But . . . and it’s a big “but” (that’s what she said!) . . . the mentions are not at all inflammatory or controversial. Under normal circumstances it wouldn’t be necessary, but comedy, more so than any genre, has, in the last ten years, become tainted with political opinions, and outside of Washington pundits, who needs that?! A few shows on the list are vaguely political, but when they are it is done for the sake of comedy. In all cases, the laughs are the number one priority.
10 30 Rock, 2006–2013
This underrated comedy held some incredibly funny moments, one of which is apparent in the clip above. One of the main stars Jenna Maroney has starred in a film with such a bad title no one else is able to work out what it is called and they can’t say anything in case they offend her. It’s hilarious. She sings about the film in a later episode too: the opening line: “The Erma Mermin-Lermin murder, turned the Bird’s world lurid,” and it gets worse from there. Great stuff from the very talented actress Jane Krakowski who was Emmy nominated for the role.
The show is named for 30 Rockefeller Plaza, where the NBC studios are found, and is about an NBC comedy show and the goings on of the cast and crew. It stars the brilliant Tina Fey of SNL fame (who also wrote the show) and Alec Baldwin as the witty and quirky manager of the team who comes up with many hilarious conservative quips that cause much double-taking from the rest of the cast. He is, truth be told, the best part of the show. He sums himself up in one quote: “business doesn’t get me down . . . business gets me off.”
9 How I Met Your Mother, 2005–2014
Neil Patrick Harris. That’s reason enough to watch How I Met Your Mother. In this incredibly popular comedy, the characters who aren’t Neil Patrick Harris spend the show hanging out and doing the things that friends do: getting drunk, getting laid (true for Neil Patrick Harris, less so for the others), and generally being awesome. Neil Patrick Harris plays a suave smooth talking womanizer who usually gets the girl and tries to help his best-friend, Ted, do the same—mainly by recommending he wear a suit and mimic . . . none other than Neil Patrick Harris.
The show was nominated for an amazing 30 Emmys and won ten. Neil Patrick Harris won the award for Favorite TV Comedy Actor. Really . . . they should have just called it the Neil Patrick Harris show. Was anyone else even in it?! Funniest line: “What do you expect? To meet some cute travel agent while you’re reading a newspaper at a bookstore? None of those things exist anymore!” Truer words were never spoke! If the clip above isn’t enough, here are some of Neil Patrick Harris’s best bits. And here are some more best bits from Neil Patrick Harris. And here are a few other best bits from Neil Patrick Harris.
8 Portlandia, 2011–2018
This is a comedy skit type show created by and starring Fred Armisen (from Saturday Night Live fame) and Carrie Brownstein (mainly a musician before the show aired). The show is one long relentless deadpan mockery of the alternative lifestyles which have made the city of Portland, Oregon, famous. The skits cut right to the bone when it comes to social issues, courageously making fun of many current social mores and sacred cows. The last season aired in 2018 and demonstrates how great talent can make political and social comedy work these days.
The show is so on point it may one day be shown in universities to illustrate the curious progression of political discourse in the US over the years it was running. Case in point: the most popular skit involves the owners of a feminist book store (the owners are both women but one is played, unconvincingly—on purpose—but hilariously, by Armisen). The show used a real feminist bookstore in Portland with the blessing of the feminist owners . . . until a couple of years ago when, after six years of being okay with it, the owners of the store “realized” that it was “transphobic” and mocking feminism (how it took them six years to realize that is anyone’s guess!) Best line: “Every time you point I see a penis!”
Whether you are left or right, you will love this show. It teases both sides in ways that offend none (except feminist book store owners!) It is brilliant and different. If the clip above isn’t enough, here’s a hilarious one showing what happens in Portland if you don’t bring a reusable bag to the grocery store, and here’s an Allergy Pride Parade.
7 Schitt’s Creek, 2015–2020
The sun dimmed the day that the last episode of Schitt’s Creek aired. It was a light, fluffy, fun, and additive comedy and I dare you to find a single thing wrong with it. Created entirely during the years in which binge-watching was the norm, this show ticks every box; and it knew when it was time to turn out the lights (a principle lacking in most TV programs these days). It stars the very recognizable Eugene Levy (the dad from American pie) as Johnny, and his real life son Daniel (who plays his show-son, David) and daughter Sarah (who plays local waitress, Twylar).
The show starts with the family losing all of their vast wealth due to tax non-payment. The judge who bankrupts them leaves them one asset: Schitt’s Creek, a decrepit town which Johnny bought as a joke for David’s birthday years earlier. It is a story of riches to rags (in the monetary sense), then rags to riches (in the moral sense). Please find time to watch this series: it really is such a wonderful breath of fresh air in today’s world. Best line: “Oh my God! Eww David!”
6 Will and Grace, 1998–2020
The original series of Will and Grace was delightful though its appeal is not as broad as most on this list. And sadly they damaged the brand by bringing it back from the dead after 15 years to make a long political rant of the show. That said, I am including it mostly for the first run as it really does need to be mentioned. The real highlight of the show was the interaction between Will’s gay friend Jack and Grace’s “receptionist” Karen (who was filthy rich and did the job for fun not money). Forget Will and Grace, it should have been the Jack and Karen show. In fact, while I think that Julia Louis-Dreyfus is the best comedy actress of our time, in my view, Karen from Will and Grace (Megan Mullally) is a very close second. Here is a reel of her funniest moments.
The show, for those who live under a rock and don’t know it, is about Will (a gay lawyer) and Grace (a straight interior designer) who live together in Will’s apartment as friends but with a bond closer to that of a married couple (giving rise to many amusing situations). The show was a hit though less-so the political revamp from a couple of years ago. It is still a great “slice of life” type comedy worth watching.
5 Arrested Development, 2003–Present
This show is just lovely. It is full of insane and colorful characters, from the crazy Gob (pronounced “Job”) who wants to be a magician, to Tobias (the mismatched husband of Portia de Rossi’s character, Lindsay, who is a “never nude” and is clearly as gay in the show as his wife is in real life). The quirkiness of the family is amplified through the eyes of the rational “straight man” character (the awesome actor Jason Bateman, as Michael) who is father to George Michael, the horny teen who falls in love with his cousin Maeby. The family is led by the narcissistic mother Lucille and the businessman father George who is on the run due to selling model homes to Saddam Hussein when trade with Iraq was illegal.
The basic premise is that the family members screw up and Michael runs around trying to fix things. Many episodes revolve around the family’s second business, a banana stand, and their awkward association with their Mexican servants. The cast is really quite brilliant together and the show is a total hit you’ll want to go back to again and again. It was so popular in fact, that it has been revived not once, but twice: in 2013 for one season and again from 2018 to the present. Even The Fonz turns up as the family’s bumbling questionably sex-criminal lawyer! Ehh!
4 Veep, 2012–2019
A comedy show about Selina Meyer the Vice President of the United States of America . . . that no one really likes. Republican? Democrat? who cares?! In Veep, they’re all a disaster and the show intentionally does not brand the Vice President with a party affiliation. With Seinfeld over, Julia Louis-Dreyfus needed a new vehicle for her amazing talent . . . she found it in Veep. She is bumbling, rude, politically incorrect. In one episode, her staff list all of her nicknames from the internet: “Grizzly Madam, She-Ra, Meyer the Liar, The Batcave, Pissface… The Wicked Witch of the West Wing, Veep Throat, Voldemeyer, Dickless Van Dyke, Tawdry Hepburn, Blunder Woman, Vaselina, Betty Poop…”
The awkwardness of Selina really shows most clearly in the hilarious interactions between her and the Prime Minister of Finland, Minna Häkkinen who, in all honesty, should have won am Emmy for her recurring role on the show. On the other hand, Louis-Dreyfus’ performance won her six consecutive Primetime Emmy Awards, three Screen Actors Guild Awards, two Critics’ Choice Television Awards, a Television Critics Association Award, and five consecutive Golden Globe nominations. If you’ve watched the show, you’ll know why. Julia Louis-Dreyfus is perhaps the most talented female comedy actress of our time.
3 Friends, 1994–2004
I had to include it didn’t I? It’s not my favorite but Friends stole the heart of millions (and maybe even billions) of people around the world. The “Ross and Rachel” saga kept people talking at the water cooler, and time after time the silly comments or mannerisms of the characters entered real life and influenced how we all spoke and behaved with each other. It is true to say that Friends, more than any other entry here, defined a generation.
The inclusion was, surprisingly, not that easy as I was very close to including Frasier instead, another favorite that at least gets a bonus spot below. But there is no denying it: a list like this without Friends on it is not a list worth reading.
2 The Office (US version), 2005–2013
Ricky Gervais? Meh. He’s okay . . . I mean, when he’s going off, half drunk, at the rapey Hollywood celebrities at the Golden Globes he’s great, but otherwise: so-so; And I know I am going to upset a lot of people here—but the US version of the Office is simply better than the British one. It follows the exploits of the staff of Dunder Mifflin, a fictional paper company led by the indomitable Steve Carrell in his best role ever.
There is little more to be said of this show: it is the one series that most of you will have expected to see on this list because most of you will agree that The Office (in one of its national forms at least) deserves to be on a list of the best comedy TV series. Oh, and if you want to experience a moment in which two worlds collide, here’s a clip from The Office in which Ricky Gervais (David Brent) bumps into Steve Carrell (Michael Scott) outside the elevator.
1 Curb Your Enthusiasm, 2000–Present
Take a neurotic Jew who can’t get anything right (despite every attempt to do so), a happy-go-lucky best-friend with a foul-mouthed ranting wife, and a group of great (but faded) comedy actors from the ’80s and ’90s (I’m looking at you Ted Danson, Jason Alexander, and Paul Reiser) and you have Curb Your Enthusiasm. Created by Larry David (he’s the neurotic Jew and he plays a fictionalized version of himself) who created Seinfeld (and clearly based much of the character of George on his own real life exploits and foibles), Curb Your Enthusiasm is largely ad-libbed with the storyline being put together in advance. The acting ability of the amazing cast makes this work so well that you simply can’t tell it isn’t all brilliantly scripted. The show is witty, cringey, dense, and thick will cultural humor.
Similar to Portlandia, this show has a fairly politically outspoken creator but, also like Portlandia, it just doesn’t spoil the comedy; Larry David is that good. This is how you make comedy that doesn’t need preach. The show is certainly no friend to every political position, but it is also not vituperative. It is getting harder to find good comedies that don’t take cheap shots; Curb Your Enthusiasm is the best—it will go down in history (in my opinion) as being better than Seinfeld and the best comedy TV series ever contrived.
Best moments: when Larry hires an orchestra to play Wagner hits outside an Orthodox Jew’s house because the man had argued with Larry earlier in the episode and his daughter toilet-papered Larry’s house on Halloween after he refused to give her candy because she wasn’t in a costume.
+ Frasier, 1993–2004
This one is a little old for the main list but it’s worth mentioning. It did, however, run for four years into the new century and is being picked up for a new series (yay!). This is a spin-off from the hit show Cheers and follows the exploits of Frasier Crane, a radio psychologist, and his family: an ex-cop dad who is a man’s man, and a brother Niles who steals the show . . . constantly. Niles is married to a very wealthy woman who we never see (but know to be thinner than a pin from the constant jokes about her weight) but falls in love with Frasier’s father’s live-in physiotherapist, Daphe.
The Niles and Daphne storyline is a bit of a cerebral “Ross and Rachel”. In fact, the show, on the whole, is quite cerebral and high brow. The humor was never dumbed down for the audience and the result is one of the classiest and funniest comedies peeking into the new millennium. If you want more than just a general “best of”, here’s a compilation of Niles Crane’s best bits.
++ Seinfeld, 1989–1998
Leaving this off the list is almost a mortal sin as it is considered by many to be the very best comedy show in television history (across all nations and periods). It happens to be one of my favorites. However, it didn’t even make it to the 21st century so it misses out by not being recent enough. But the show is so huge it can’t go without a mention. I still recommend it for when you get through the others here. But whatever you do, don’t watch the real life racist rant on YouTube that basically ended the career of one of the stars of the show (and I don’t throw around the word “racist” casually).