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The acting awards are out of the way, time for the big ones. Of note, I don’t do the writing or directing categories, although I think them important, because it’s too difficult to pick six episodes out of the hundreds I see all year. Whole seasons? I can do. Individual episodes? Too much.
Outstanding Comedy Series
The nominees are…
Parks and Recreation
United States of Tara
First off, I should clarify that because Archer didn’t submit in the comedy category (no doubt guessing they’d have a better shot in animation, although they were stiffed there as well), I decided to follow suit and not nominate them here. I know I shouldn’t bother following my own arbitrary rules, but since I didn’t know where/if to consider its various performers, I decided to stick to the letter of the law here, then spend the first paragraph justifying it. But know that if it were eligible, you’d see Archer on this list, but as is, I get to mention one more great show.
Or, in the case of Modern Family, a very good show that is comfortable with its place and level of success, and not interested in doing anything that would jeopardize either. Which is fine for a show with a terrific cast, great writing, and generally a great way to spend half an hour. But when compared to the more ambitious shows on this list, it has a way of feeling like not quite enough.
United States of Tara was always one of premium cable’s half-hour shows that are classified as comedies without actually being all that funny. But in earlier seasons, you could at least point to elements as comedic in tone. Not so with the third and final season, which was a straight-up drama. It was also the best season of the show, proving that it should’ve been a drama all along. By taking Tara’s condition seriously, and showing just how destructive it could be, the show went to some really interesting places, including dipping their feet in horror elements to great effect. It’s too bad it didn’t know it could be this from the start, because if it had, it may have had a better shot at gaining an audience and surviving. As is, the third season finished on a natural enough ending that I don’t feel robbed (only annoyed that clearly inferior Showtime shows get to continue in its stead).
If you haven’t noticed yet, I enjoy television. Just a bit. And of all the shows on television, there’s none that I get more pure enjoyment from than Cougar Town. It’s not the best show on television, in fact, it’s not even the best show on this list. But the silly chemistry of the cul-de-sac crew is the most inviting on TV, making them the people on TV I most enjoy spending time with. If you’re one of the many people who can’t get over the horrible name of the show, watch this video, then get over yourself. Come join the fun.
It’s commonplace to call a great show “groundbreaking” television, but the truth is, most aren’t doing anything new with the medium, they’re simply doing it better. Louie on the other hand, is truly groundbreaking television, redefining what it could be with each passing week. Not everything worked in the first season, but it was stunning to watch what Louis CK was going to try next. There’s really never been anything like it, largely because until now, the financial model of TV prevented the level of auteurism that CK enjoys with this show. We get to see exactly what one of the world’s funniest men wants to show us on a weekly basis, without anything getting in the way.
For most of its second season, this was Community‘s award to lose. It was firing on all cylinders with some of the most ambitious comedy I’ve ever seen on TV. When a low-rated series gets a surprise renewal, there’s two ways they can go about it: the first is to try to get their missing audience by doing more crowd-pleasing and sensational things. The second is what Dan Harmon and company did: treat every subsequent episode as house money, and just go for it. Perhaps as a result of that ambition, the series wasn’t quite able to maintain the lofty standards they set, as a few episodes didn’t quite work. But I’d rather watch a series that takes chances than settles for a happy middle (see: Modern Family).
The award goes to…
Parks and Recreation
So Community wound up losing the award, but less because of anything it did, and more because of the absolutely stellar season turned in by Parks and Recreation once they came back at mid-season. The third season of Parks and Recreation was similar to a pitcher in the middle of a perfect game. I’m not sure if I’m ready to say they truly achieved a perfect game, but I’m definitely comfortable giving them a no-hitter (which isn’t meant to be a comment on its lack of popularity). Probably my favourite sitcom season since the second season of The Office, the shortened third season had everything: a well-rounded cast (receiving nine nominations here, winning three), great gags, a fully developed setting, and just the right amount of sentiment. For a critic-approved, single-camera comedy from the creators of the US Office, it’s surprising how delightful each episode manages to be, managing to eschew cynicism without becoming maudlin. I’m convinced that there are three types of viewers when it comes to this show: those who love it, those who haven’t seen it, and those who gave up on it during its flawed first season. If you fall into the final two groups, do yourself a favour and check it out, starting with season two. Unless you hate things that are great.