BEST TV OF 2014: Comedy Central is Living Up to Its Name

An observation about the Top Television of 2014 list: only one network comedy made the list. We’re a pretty comedy loving bunch, but I’ll admit to being a little surprised, not because there’s only one network show on our list, but that there are any at all. I like the show on our list a lot, and I can think of other worthy contenders (my darling, my Bob’s Burgers), but network comedy is in fairly dire straits at the moment. NBC’s once hallowed (and then hallowed by comedy nerds, if not general audiences) Thursday night comedy block is no more, and the other broadcast networks seem to have similar trouble developing and keeping interesting comedies. And while the age of the incredible cable drama has provided more quality hour-long television than anybody can reasonably keep up with, the comedy offerings on cable haven’t entirely kept pace (not that you’d know it from the great comedies that made our list). But allow me, for a moment, to join in the growing chorus of people trying to draw your comedy-seeking attention back to Comedy Central. Perhaps you think (like I did!) that Comedy Central had given over to a schedule made up entirely of stand-up specials, MadTV reruns, the occasional new episode of South Park, and waves of Tosh-esque smirky misanthropy. But it turns out that in 2014 the network had maybe its strongest collection of original programming ever. In addition to the vital-as-ever Daily Show and Colbert Report, over the last two or three years Comedy Central has amassed a handful of shows with distinctive, well developed comic personality. Sara makes a great case for Broad City (I haven’t seen it! I’m hoping the first season goes back up on Hulu in advance of the second season’s January 14th premiere). But here’s a quick look at five other terrific shows:


This sketch show, the brainchild of Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele (and fifth-Beatle, director Peter Atencio), aired its fourth season in 2014. This year, the show returned with a slightly different format (a new opening and True Detective-esque car driving conversations replacing the live-audience segments between sketches) and the same sharp perspective. The show has always been really smart and well observed about race and its role in American culture, but the guys are just as sharp in pretty much anything they turn their attention to. In fact, they’ve gotten perhaps even more daring in their exploration of dark or taboo subjects. Plus, they’re ace performers with incredible chemistry together and a willingness to indulge in the supremely silly. If Key and Peele led the charge into this new golden age of Comedy Central programming, it’s managing to maintain its place in the lineup without breaking a sweat.

Another sketch show with a really particular (and hilarious) point of view, Inside Amy Schumer utilizes a similar format to Key & Peele‘s initial seasons (live audience interstitial stand-up between sketches). It also incorporates woman-on-the-street interview segments and longer interview segments that usually explore less mainstream professions or issues of gender or sexuality. Inside Amy Schumer is also brilliant when it comes to social issues (feminism in this case) but it would be a mistake to accuse it of being a “single issue” show. Like Key and Peele, the show takes advantage of what seems like its star’s restless curiosity to explore a variety of subjects. Sharply observed and brilliantly performed, it’s a little crazy to have two truly excellent sketch shows airing on the same network.


While I can see a case for having seen characters similar to the Nathan Fielder portrayed in Nathan For You (a social awkward guy who semi-secretly yearns for human connection), or a familiarity of comic style (it is a bit of a Sacha Baron Coen-style “comic weirdo among real-life normals” show), the net effect of the show is something unique, hilarious, and surprisingly sweet. Something of a reality show parody, Nathan For You casts Fielder as a consultant offering creative ideas to help small businesses. Airing in 2014, the show’s second season had Fielder helping out a pet store by placing an ad on an enormous gravestone in a pet cemetery, convinces a liquor store to sell alcohol to minors (they have to leave it at the store until they are 21), and, in what will likely remain his crowing achievement, the saga of Dumb Starbucks.


Drunk History is a simple idea. Derek Waters gets somebody drunk, has them recount their favorite story from history, and has actors reenact the story using the drunken recording as a soundtrack. Simple, yes, but in practice it is also invariably delightfully funny and often weirdly informative.


The newest show in this lineup, Review quickly established itself as worthy of these other shows. Through a mock reality show format (and an adaptation of an Australian comedy), Andy Daly plays professional critic Forrest MacNeil, tasked with reviewing life experiences sent in by his viewers. Daly is terrific and as committed to his performance as MacNeil is in reviewing experiences ranging from “Having a Best Friend” to “Racism” to “Addiction.” And the episode “Pancakes; Divorce; Pancakes” puts this one in the pantheon all on its own. *****