Comedy television continues to be everything comedy movies are not- full of skilled, varied and spectacular options. Our favorite series this year are all over the map- from sketch to dramedies and there were plenty of great shows that we couldn’t even fit into our top 10. Tough choices had to be made. Congratulations to women who positively dominated our top ten list this year and big props to Hulu for pulling in the lion’s share of our favorites this year. We picked shows that made us laugh and surprised us with innovation, great casting, great writing, great performances, and interesting storylines. We had two shows on the list that carried over from our 2018 list, but the other eight are brand new picks. If you’re not watching them, you’ve got some binging to do!
FLEABAG. We’ve only seen two seasons of Fleabag and we’re already calling it one of the best tv series of the decade. Phoebe Waller-Bridge is an overnight celebrity in the United States after the release of Fleabag and we’re just crazy about her. Every inch of this series is exceptional and hilarious, but it’s also dark and weird and fun and sad. The show is adapted from Waller-Bridge’s 2013 Eidenburgh Fring Frest one woman play about an angry, confused, young woman living in London. There’s awards here- Phoebe won the BAFTA in 2017 and 11 Primetime Emmy Award Nominations (winning six of them) for Season Two. Watch Fleabag on Amazon Prime.
Starring Pheobe Waller-Bridge, Sian Clifford, Olivia Colman, Bill Paterson and Bret Gelman.
Ricky Gervais has a big hit with his newest series, AFTER LIFE. The series is addictive, and uncomfortable, and oftentimes sad but none of those things stand in the way of it being funny. Gervais stars as Tony, a widower who isn’t recovering from his wife’s premature death. He’s absolutely devastated, and decides to cope by saying whatever he wants, whenever he wants, because none of it matters. He thinks of this decision as his superpower, despite the havoc his behavior wreaks on the lives of everyone around him (including his own). After Life airs on Netflix.
Starring Ricky Gervais, Tom Basden, Tony Way, Diane Morgan, Mandeep Dhillon, Ashley Jensen, David Bradley.
BETTER THINGS has not lost its magical touch in Season 3, mostly due to its quirky and charming characters played to perfection by the series stars. This year we see Sam’s offspring age into new phases of adolescence in that way that kids just suddenly seem to jump into being entirely new people without warning, and that drives much of this season’s arc. Aging is the theme this year both for Sam’s kids who are discovering their identities and values, and for Sam’s mother who continues to lose both. Better Things airs on FX and has been renewed for another season.
Starring Pamela Adlon, Mikey Madison, Hannah Alligood, Olivia Edward, Celia Imrie.
THE RIGHTEOUS GEMSTONES. Danny McBride and company (and HBO) are again responsible for once again, delivering one of the funniest shows on television. The usual madcap energy we’ve seen in Vice Principals and Eastbound and Down is in play here, but the setting is now a family of wealthy televangelists who are out for themselves. There’s family infighting and family outfighting, and a blackmail plot that sets some bizarre events in motion. McBride regulars Edi Patterson and Walton Goggins are back and perfectly cast for this series, which has already been renewed for a second season.
Starring Danny McBride, John Goodman, Adam DeVine, Edi Patterson, Tony Cavalero, Cassidy Freeman, Walton Goggins.
PEN15 takes the recent movie trend of covering middle school and bringing it to the smaller screen. It’s described as “middle school as it really happened.” Erskine and Konkle play versions of themselves as 13 year old outcasts in the year 2000 and although they’re fully grown, they are surrounded by actual 13 year olds which makes for fun interplay and plenty of creativity. The series airs on Hulu and has already been renewed. If you haven’t been watching, catch up now.
Starring Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle.
SHRILL is a brilliant Hulu series based on a book of the same name. Aidy Bryant is cast to perfection as “Annie”, an overweight young woman who wants to change her life but not her body. She is a fat woman living in the world, whose weight is a part of her life and informs her perspective, but is not all she is. She is a full character with thoughts other than food, a love life that isn’t based on pity, great style, brains and a sense of humor that doesn’t include her breaking a piece of furniture. She is a fat character who is funny, but never the butt of the joke because of her weight. This character type is tough to find in comedy, where fat usually equals the butt of a thousand jokes (see eg almost every network sitcom, ever). Bryant is perfect in the role, so good in fact, that Saturday Night Live has sat up and taken notice, casting Bryant in more prominent sketches and using her talents more fully. Already renewed for a second season, Shrill is a breath of fresh air.
Starring: Aidy Bryant, Lolly Adelope, Luka Jones, John Cameron Mitchell.
RUSSIAN DOLL stole everyone’s hearts with the best twist on the Groundhogs Day theme, since Groundhogs Day. Natasha Lyonne just crushes it in this role as Nadia, a woman who isn’t really enjoying her life or her birthday party as the first episode opens, and soon finds herself meeting her demise, only to wake up again in the same day, the same party and the same result. It’s a fantastic mystery, well played, and well woven together with tiny clues being dropped throughout like breadcrumbs that you won’t appreciate till the season ends. We can’t imagine how Russian Doll plans to roll into a second season, but its already a done deal and we can’t wait to find out what’s next for Nadia.
Starring: Natasha Lyonne, Greta Lee, Yul Vasquez, Charlie Barnett, Elizabeth Ashley.
You know the drill with the MARVELOUS MRS. MAISEL. It’s gorgeously filmed, with broad appeal, an abundance of audio and visual porn for you nostalgia addicts to love, and these characters have become like old friends who we haven’t tired of yet. Midge is on tour in Season Three with Shy Baldwin, a black performer. She continues to figure out how to relate to her ex-husband Joel. The series has been nominated for and won a long list of awards- Globes and Emmys, galore and will again this year so keep up.
Starring: Rachel Brosnahan, Alex Borstein, Tony Shalhoub, Marin Hinkle, Kevin Pollak, Michael Zegan.
Another great Hulu production, RAMY has been getting raves for its portrayal of a first-generation American Muslim. Based in part on the life and material of stand up comedian Ramy Youssef, the series explores the challenges of living in America as a Muslim, dealing with American prejudices, and caught between Egyptian beliefs that life is a moral test and millennial friends who believe there are no consequences to anything.
Starring: Ramy Youssef, Mo Amer, Dave Merheje.
AT HOME WITH AMY SEDARIS is a simple concept. We follow Sedaris as she demosntrates her “diverse but necessary homemaking skills” like gutting fish or knitting sweaters. The series is imaginative and quirky, and always fun. Guest stars run the comedy gamut- Paul Giamatti, Todd Barry, Stephen Colbert, Rachel Dratch, Chris Elliott, Christopher Meloni, Aidy Bryant, Bridget Everett. The series was nominated for two Primetime Emmy Awards.
Starring: Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello, Cole Escola, & Allison Silverman and an outstanding roster of notable guest stars.