Last laughs: TV’s best comedies of 2017

By Jim Sabataso
Correspondent

It’s time once again to look back on the year in television. This week: the best comedies of 2017. The trend toward drama-tinged, prestige sitcoms doesn’t seem to be going anywhere — not that I’m complaining. The shift from big laughs to a more contemplative tone and emotionally rich stories has elevated the 30-minute format and proven that comedies deserve to be taken as seriously as dramas.

That’s not to say broad, silly sitcoms are going anywhere. This year gave us strong seasons from joke machines like “Lady Dynamite,” “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt,” “Difficult People” and “Curb Your Enthusiasm.”

Network TV, meanwhile, managed to put up a solid showing. Established series like “Superstore,” “Black-ish” and “Fresh off the Boat” remain smart, accessible and slyly woke — a cut above the typical multi-camera fare networks like CBS cling to. And newcomers like Tina Fey and Tracey Wigfield’s “Great News” showed promise.

Speaking of the multi-cam, “One Day at a Time” proved the format is still viable as long as you have a good story to tell. The reboot of the Norman Lear classic — this time with a Cuban-American family at its center — stood as a defiant yet amiable rebuke of anti-immigrant sentiment in Trump’s America.

So here are my top five picks for the best comedies of 2017.

‘The Good Place’ (NBC)

The sole network series on my list, “The Good Place” is a slow burn that’s worth the time. On “Parks and Recreation,” Daniel Schur proved his strength for creating smart, warm comedies populated with unique and entertaining characters. The game cast, led by Kristen Bell and Ted Danson, is fully committed to the show’s loopy concept about a group of people who find themselves thrown together in the afterlife. Along the way, the show explores concepts of moral philosophy with an impressive level of mastery. Stick around for the big twist at the close of the show’s short first season.

‘BoJack Horseman’ (Netflix)

This show gets me every time. Every. Damn. Time. In its third season, the animated series about a washed-up TV star, who is also a horse, looked inward as it pivoted slightly from entertainment industry satire to explore the personal lives and relationships of its core characters. The season was equal parts funny and poignant, as BoJack (Will Arnett) gets to know his maybe-daughter Hollyhock, played by comedian Aparna Nancherla, a great addition to one of TV’s deepest benches of voice talent. This show continues to pack a heavy emotional punch that, once again, left me choked up by season’s end. This time, however, the series ends on a hopeful note, which, given its track record, begs the question of when it will all go to hell.

‘Veep’ (HBO)

After six seasons, “Veep” remains as funny and fresh as ever. Showrunner David Mandel has proven himself as a capable successor to Armando Iannucci, as he’s taken ex-president Selina Meyer out of the White House and into the private sector. As Selina, Julia Louis-Dreyfus is, as ever, brilliant — an expert of physical comedy and eviscerating live delivery. Anyone who thought Selina’s defeat would humble her is proven dead wrong in season six, as she somehow manages to be even more of a monster to the people closest to her. Meanwhile, the supporting cast is every bit as dysfunctional and hilarious as they continue to — almost too realistically —satirize the incompetence of the people we trust to run our government.

‘American Vandal’ (Netflix)

Imagine Christopher Guest directing an episode of “Dawson’s Creek.” That’s essentially “American Vandal.” The mockumentary series was a surprise hit that had no right to be as good or funny as it was. Framed as a true-crime investigation in the vein of “Making a Murderer,” the series attempts to get to the bottom of a vandalism incident at a California high school. Along the way, Peter, the intrepid sophomore student director of the documentary, uncovers more than enough teen drama to fill out a season of “Gossip Girl.” In addition to its big laughs and clever concept, the series is one of the more authentic fictional representations of high school life in recent memory.

‘Master of None’ (Netflix)

Possibly my favorite season of television in some time, season two of “Master of None” is auteur comedy at its best. Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang have created something truly engaging, intelligent and gorgeous here. Episodes are visually ambitious and have a cinematic feel — especially, the first episode, which is an homage to Italian neorealist films. Ansari’s Dev character encapsulates the excitement and uncertainty of being a young adult in modern society, as he navigates relationships, career and family. Like “One Day at a Time,” the show is a low-key thumb in the eye of anti-immigrant and anti-LGBTQIA sentiment. Beyond its politics, the show stands is a creative triumph.

Honorable mentions: “One Mississippi,” “Lady Dynamite,” “Baskets,” “GLOW,” “One Day at a Time,” “Girls,” “Last Man on Earth,” “Brockmire,” “Bob’s Burgers,” “DuckTales”

Jim Sabataso

Jim Sabataso is a freelance writer living in Vermont.

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