It’s hard to be funny. It’s harder to be funny on a major network when the FCC is just itching to shoot you down. So when this viewer hears good things about a new comedy on NBC or ABC (I would say, ” or CBS,” but even the imaginative “How I Met Your Mother” can’t redeem them from the horrors of “Two and a Half Men” in my mind), I cross my fingers and pray that “the funny” is funny.
There are those who still hold out hope for “The Office,” but I’ve run out of patience. That crew has lost its edge; even Steve Carrell’s typically ingenious performance as Michael Scott has stagnated. On the flip side, “Parks and Recreation” may have taken up the mantle of network TV’s best mockumentary-style sitcom. Sure, Amy Poehler is adequate in the lead role as Leslie Knope, but as we all recognized early on, she seemed a little too much like a female Michael Scott to be the show’s main vehicle. The ones to watch here are Aziz Ansari as Tom Haverford and Nick Offerman as Ron Swanson. The two are comic geniuses. I’ve been a fan of Ansari since the days of “Human Giant,” and Offerman first caught my eye in the hit-and-miss web series, “Children’s Hospital.” “Parks” may be just what these two need to make them household names.
But the comedy that’s warmed my heart during these cold New Haven winter months has been ABC’s “Modern Family,” a show which has singlehandedly reinvigorated my faith in the family sitcom. It’s everything it should be: sharp, witty, well-structured, and heartwarming. The Dunphy/Pritchett clan is hilarious from top to bottom, but my personal favorite is Ty Burrell’s turn as “cool dad” Phil Dunphy. Burrell has the gentle touch necessary to make his character both hilarious and substantive. It would be easy for the character to become a cliche, but Burrell has taken the script and ran with it. His performance might be the funniest I’ve seen this season.
Outside of the major networks, FX has become a dark horse contender in the race for America’s funny bone. While the consistently amusing “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “The League” are on hiatus, “Archer,” a raunchy animated series that follows the exploits of superspy Sterling Archer, is holding down the fort. Archer is a man whose womanizing, alcoholism, and mommy issues intersect in new and hilarious ways each episode. If you haven’t seen this one yet, you should check it out. The problem I generally have with FX comedies is that they tend to think that they’re smarter and funnier than they actually are, and “Archer” is unfortunately not an exception to that rule. Nonetheless, its bawdiness is refreshing amidst the landscape of shows that are too afraid to be truly edgy.
So while you’re overburdened with papers, midterms, and projects in the upcoming weeks, take a break and exercise your sense of humor. There’s some good stuff out there, and you know you’re just going to write that ten-pager the night before anyway.