In the age of Peak TV, when 500 scripted shows air every year, deciding what to watch is more than half the battle. In the age of the Wuhan virus, when we’re contained indoors for weeks at a time, winning that battle feels more important than ever.
It’s no longer possible to watch everything, even for critics, and even for particular genres. Without dipping into the vast archive of old shows available across the streaming universe, just sifting through the new options released every year is a chore, especially with the flurry of prestige offerings. If you’re stuck inside, need some laughs, and want to catch up on the funniest shows released in the last year or so, hopefully this list will help.
What We Do in the Shadows (Hulu/FX)
This show is shockingly funny. A spinoff of the 2014 mockumentary by newly minted Oscar winner Taika Waititi (“Jojo Rabbit”), “What We Do in the Shadows” is like “The Office” meets “Jersey Shore” meets “Dracula.” That off-putting recipe is precisely why I had to be dragged kicking and screaming to give the show a chance, but ended up bingeing the whole first season in no time.
It helps fill the sitcom void too. They’re aren’t a lot of consistent laugh-out-loud comedies on TV anymore, but I assure you this is one of them. Give it a chance. You won’t be sorry. This particular show is also perfect for your quarantine streaming, because the second season is set to premiere on April 15. (You can watch the movie too.)
The Kominsky Method (Netflix)
“The Kominsky Method” is one of those shows I just didn’t get around to watching until recently, exhausted by “Grace and Frankie’s” hit-or-miss dramedy vibes and insufficiently intrigued by the marketing. So far, I’ve gotten more laughs out of “Kominsky” than “Grace and Frankie.” The writing is sharper and Michael Douglas is perfectly cast. You don’t have to relate to the aging characters to see the humor in their plights.
Modern Family (ABC/Hulu)
If you’ve never watched “Modern Family,” you should give it a try. If you’re behind on the series, your corona-quarantine is the perfect time to catch up since the show is slated to end in April.
One of the last vestiges of TV as we knew it, “Modern Family” isn’t as timeless or gut-busting as “The Office,” but it’s at least comparable to “Parks and Rec.” Despite the name and subject manner, it’s not strictly family-friendly network nerf humor, and the writing is surprisingly edgy. (Its politics obviously skew left.) True to the formula, “Modern Family” delivers sitcom feel-goodery, while also serving up a lot of hard-earned laughs.
Prestige comedy isn’t always as funny as it is well-made, but “Barry” checks off both boxes. The plot is smart and the writing keeps you laughing. Bill Hader delivers his best performance since “Saturday Night Live.” (He wasn’t in it, but the season of “Documentary Now” that dropped last spring is worth your time too.)
Billy on the Street (Netflix)
“Billy on the Street” is eminently bingeable. It’ll mostly fall flat if you’re out of loop on tabloid news, but for pop culture obsessives, the show is perfect. Episodes are breezy jaunts through the streets of Manhattan, guided by Billy Eichner’s singular schtick—shouting random questions about pop culture at pedestrians, berating his own contestants, and awarding incredibly specific prizes to winners, celebrity and civilian alike. One boy won a Build A Bear dressed as Rachel McAdams in “Spotlight;” Tina Fey won “Brokeback Mountain” potholders.
The latest season was released back in 2017, but I’m including it here because the full series arrived on Netflix late last year. With five seasons of easy viewing, you can enjoy the show and its full evolution.
I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson (Netflix)
This is a deeply weird sketch comedy starring “Saturday Night Live” cast/writer’s room alum Tim Robinson. Like most sketch-comedy series, a handful of sketches fall flat every episode. But when Robinson is on, he’s on.
There are some absolute gems buried in “I Think You Should Leave,” which makes it an invigorating and rewarding watch. Appearances from other comedians keep things interesting as well.
Good Talk with Anthony Jeselnik (Comedy Central)
Jeselnik refuses to give up his exceptionally un-PC persona, which makes him one of the few comedians with an edge as sharp as it’s always been, and means his work is always worth watching. This talk show premiered to little buzz in the fall, but involves Jeselnik basically bullying his comedian friends for 20-minute spells. At six episodes, it’s a really interesting watch for comedy diehards.
Will & Grace (NBC/Hulu)
Politics aside, the “Will & Grace” reboot is one of the few nostalgia-borne sitcom resurrections that maintained the spirit and quality of the original. The characters’ evolution made sense. (That’s been a critical flaw of other reboots.) The sitcom-style setup still works for them. The writing captures the dynamics really well. It feels laughably formulaic in 2020, but that can make for an ironically fun change of pace depending on your viewing habits. If you enjoyed the original, you’re likely to enjoy the reboot.
People love it. I do not. The first season was much less clever than it wanted to be, which made the show’s insistence on vulgarity much less appealing. But I’ve been told the trick to appreciating “Fleabag” is to start with its second season, or at least force yourself through the first to get there, so take that for what it’s worth.
Vanderpump Rules and The Real Housewives of New York City
Comedy lovers don’t often think to watch reality television, but Bravo’s slate of programming is honestly some of the funniest stuff around. Even (and especially) the serious drama is absolutely hilarious. Consider that on “Vanderpump Rules” people have gotten into shouting matches over pasta and one early crisis found the gang in a pickle when an aging male model stole a pair of sunglasses, leaving his friends terrified of missing a Third Eye Blind concert.
“Vanderpump” is super watchable: you can start right at the beginning of the series, and be hooked by the end of the first episode. It’s a great quarantine binge because the series is full of cliffhangers and there are hours and hours worth of episode on Hulu.
“The Real Housewives of New York City” is trickier to get into, but if you start with “Sun, Sand and Psychosis” from season three, known to fans as “Scary Island,” you’ll see why it’s a comedy. Just wait for the moment when one of the ladies starts shouting about Al Sharpton.
BONUS: Obvious picks
I’m adding some obvious selections below because the fragmented TV landscape makes it impossible to prevent blindspots and impossible to sort the good from the bad.
The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (Amazon)
“Mrs. Maisel” is one of the few prestige dramedy shows that’s really funny. If you’ve brushed it aside, assuming it’s too soapy for your tastes, stick with Midge for a few episodes.
Schitt’s Creek (Netflix)
“Schitt’s Creek” got really popular, really quickly. For a while, I assumed its surging popularity was an indicator of mediocrity, but found the show to be a genuine bright spot in the content ocean. Catherine O’Hara’s performance is must-see comedy. As the series progresses, the storylines become more emotionally grounded, but it’s still funny, and at 20-minutes-an-episode, very easy to watch.
Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO)
“Curb” is reliably and consistently funny. The new season is topical. It’s hilarious. It’s Larry.
If you haven’t yet watched “Veep’s” final season, this is a great time to make your way through it. It doesn’t hold up to the show’s earlier seasons, but it’s much funnier than most new comedies, and the finale was executed perfectly.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FXX)
“Sunny” is still going strong. Get on the bandwagon. You’re 15 years late.