COMEDY SHOWS & SPECIALS
Documentary Now! (IFC)
One of the only shows on the air that feels like it’s tailor-made to my overlapping nerdy interests. Documentary Now! continues to deliver spot-on absurdist parodies of obscure documentaries, solely because IFC’s parent company wants to work with Fred Armisen and company. While it can’t be that expensive (compared to, say, The Rings of Power), it does require lots of location shooting for ratings that would get it annihilated anywhere else. But thankfully they have an advocate to keep letting them bring us wonderful sights like a Werner Herzog-esque director (Alexander Skarsgård) shooting both a depressing drama about nomadic peoples of Eurasia and a cheesy sitcom about two bachelors forced to become parents.
Jerrod Carmichael: Rothaniel (HBO Max)
“It’s hard to tell people your grandma was a side piece,” Carmichael begins. And it doesn’t get any less uncomfortable or real from there. Unraveling his family’s complicated life story, as well as revealing his own secrets, Carmichael proves he’s adept as both a comedian and storyteller. On a personal level, this special helped me sort out some tough feelings I had about some of my own family members.
The Kids in the Hall (Prime)
I never absorbed this Canadian quintet’s sketches like I did with Saturday Night Live or MADtv as a kid. But I always knew there was something special about their particular brand of humor, especially as I saw more of the show as I got older. This revival season – of which I hope there’s more to come – shows that while the cast may be a little pudgier and a little grayer, they’re still just as sharp as ever.
Norm Macdonald: Nothing Special (Netflix)
Norm was one of my most favorite comedians. He could go for an extremely obvious punchline or an extremely esoteric one. Part of the joy was you never knew which, but either one could make him extremely happy, flashing a devilish grin when one landed. This special – recorded in his home studio during the pandemic – takes away a key element of his work (the audience) but still manages to be uproarious.
Would It Kill You to Laugh? (Peacock)
A loose collection of sketches connected only by Kate Berlant and John Early’s friendship. Y’know, the kind that allows them to write scenarios where they’re catty to one another, having confused sexual feelings for one another or playing a married beaver couple susceptible to scams(?!). What, you don’t have a friend like that? Not all the scenes were winners, but I’m still thinking about several, including their fake sitcom I’m Gay, She’s Half Jewish! and a recurring bit where currency has been replaced with hot caramel.
BEST OF THE REST
Beavis and Butt-Head – “Spiritual Journey”
Another second revival – not the last one on this list – this duo provided consistent laughs throughout the summer. That is, except for a few “Old Beavis and Butt-Head” vignettes that were mightily depressing, but still funny. This full-length episode finds Beavis wandering Highland in search of enlightenment, finding it nowhere except back with his best bud wolfing down nachos.
Grace and Frankie – “The Horrible Family”
The final season of Netflix’s longest-running scripted series – a record likely to remain unbroken – provided a nice wrap-up to the lives of these octogenarians and their messed-up children. Grace and Frankie never quite made it into my top 10 over the years, but its laughs were always reliable and consistent. The highlight from this final batch of 12 was this half-hour where they’re forced to confront their past misdeeds.
The Handmaid’s Tale – “Ballet”
I don’t know about you, but I’m ready for this saga to be over. No show has been more in need of a clear endpoint – finally set to arrive next year – than this dystopian thriller, which has continued to spin its wheels for a season and a half. But this episode reminded me of its one-time greatness. As Serena returns to Gilead for her husband’s state funeral, she’s forced to face overt and subtle signals that she’s no longer welcome in the country she helped build. So she takes her revenge out on June from hundreds of miles away, using Hannah as a prop in an internationally televised ceremony.
Kevin Can F**k Himself – “Allison’s House”
Unlike The Handmaid’s Tale, this AMC drama never wore out its welcome, wrapping up its bleak story in just two eight-episode seasons. This season saw Allison (Annie Murphy) looking for Plans B to Z, as the initial scheme to kill her boorish husband failed spectacularly. The finale broke down the wall between the “sitcom life” and the “real world,” as the formerly happy-go-lucky Kevin becomes the intimidating abuser Allison’s been trying to escape this whole time.
Prime Video has carved a niche for itself as the home of literary adaptations. But while I’ve never seen an episode of Bosch and really do not care for Jack Ryan, Reacher was the perfect weekend binge. It’s engaging and entertaining without trying to claim any sort of prestige. Although I’m a fan of Christopher McQuarrie’s first Jack Reacher film, it is nice to have an actor who’s a lot more physically imposing as the title character.
Reno 911! – “Jonesteenth”
Having survived the death of Quibi, Reno 911! returned as funny as ever over on Roku (along with some movies on Paramount+… streaming rights are complicated, aren’t they?), invigorated by necessary calls to defund the police. Guest stars included Jamie Lee Curtis (as a handsy auditor) and “Weird Al” Yankovic (as Ted Nugent). But I never laughed harder than this episode, a showcase for Cedric Yarbrough. Jonesy tortures his fellow officers with an endless one-man show that supposedly touches on race, but mainly lets him wear a number of costumes, including the California Raisin above, and Frederick Douglass singing “Freak Me.”
Stranger Things – “Dear Billy”
Also known as the episode that made a million new Kate Bush fans. Yes, the powerful climax set to “Running Up That Hill” was emotional, but this episode also included an excellent guest turn from Robert Englund, as well as some shocking twists. Had this season let its massive story – covering different continents, time periods and dimensions – spread out over more than nine jam-packed episodes, it might have made my top 10.
This Place Rules
A late breaking entry, this hilarious look at rallies and protests leading up to the January 6th insurrection showed just how stupid everything was in 2020 and 2021. No one came off looking good, especially host Andrew Callaghan, who was accused of sexual assault after the film (and this list) came out.
We Need to Talk About Cosby
W. Kamau Bell’s four-part documentary was devastating but necessary. Cosby laundered his reputation for years, donating large sums to HBCUs and promoting a wise elder image, all while he was drugging and raping numerous women. There’s still no sense of justice, as Cosby’s still a free man, but at least these brave women were able to share their stories. Hopefully one day those like Cosby (and his army of enablers) won’t get away with this behavior. Or better yet, won’t even try.
Yellowjackets – “Doomcoming”
While I binged all of this thrilling first season in 2022, I couldn’t in good conscience put the show on my top 10 list. So I picked the best of the three episodes that aired this year. With parallel parties among the survivors – in the ’90s and the present day – the characters had a brief moment of triumph before reaping the horrors of their actions. Their short-term solutions have long-term consequences.