It was an outstanding year for television comedies, as long as you didn’t watch television’s more popular sitcoms, like “Two and a Half Men” or “Mike and Molly.” To achieve the level of success afforded the likes of the CBS comedies, the humor needs to be obvious, conservative, and typically in the area of lowest common denominator. The year’s best comedies, on the other hand, were edgy, risky, weird, manic, and often offensive, which is probably why no more than 4.5 million people saw any of the year’s ten funniest episodes (according to the sham that is the Nielsen Ratings).
I didn’t want to duplicate any TV series on the list because I wanted to provide some depth and variety, which means that the ten funniest episodes of 2011 also fairly reflect the 10 funniest shows of 2011, though perhaps not in the same order. Picking a favorite among the episodes on many of these sitcoms is something of a fool’s errand, but I think the selected episodes are at least representative of their respective shows.
10. 30 Rock, “TGS Hates Women” — People that complain that “30 Rock” is not the show it once was clearly weren’t paying attention to the show’s fifth season, in which “30 Rock” managed to hang with the fresher NBC comedies, “Community” and “Parks and Recreation.” “TGS Hates Women” was of particular note for the way it managed to skewer Jezebel.com’s skewering of “The Daily Show,” while also hilariously wallowing in its own feminist hypocrisy: “I’m Amelia Earhart. I’m almost across the Pacific. Oh no, my period!”
9. Cougar Town, ” “You’re Gonna Get It” — Were it not for the shaft that NBC has been giving “Community” all season, its sister show on ABC, “Cougar Town” — the show that names all of its episodes after Tom Petty songs — might have gotten more attention. The spirit of “Scrubs” lives on in “Cougar Town,” and this episode in particular was one of the big highlights of 2011 for introducing us to Wrongball Bobby, @TheLarmy, and Jule’s brilliant screw-up of the “Pledge of Allegiance,” including her incorrect belief that it was written by Richard Stands.
8. Happy Endings, “Dave of the Dead” — “Happy Endings” debuted in the spring of this year, mostly to mixed reviews from critics. In the beginning, it was a fairly average show with better than average characters, but it was “Dave of the Dead” — the episode where hipsters are conflated with zombies — that elevated this series into one of the funniest on television.
7. Louie C.K., “Come on, God” — “Louie” is a funny show, but it’s rarely funny in the “ha ha” sense; its humor is deeper, more incisive and knowing, and is often mixed with a heavy dose of melancholia. It’s a comedy, and there is a lot of humor, but it’s not often the kind that will make you laugh so hard you p*ss your pants. But I wanted to include “Louie” because the show belongs on a list like this. “Oh, Louie/Tickets” (the Dane Cook ep) was probably my favorite episode of the year, while the hour-long “Duckling” was the most ambitious. But if I had to choose the funniest episode, I’d say it’s “Come on, God,” the episode in which Louis defends masturbation on Fox News and then attempts to sleep with the spokeswoman for Christians Against Masturbation, only to wind up at home at the end of the night masturbating while thinking about her.
6. South Park, “You’re Getting Older” — “South Park’s” mid-season finale will most likely be remembered for its unusually poignant and downbeat ending, and for the way Matt Parker and Trey Stone used the episode to question the show’s stasis. But in the midst of all that self-reflection, the episode also managed to be very funny, thanks in part to the fake trailers that sent up Adam Sandler’s recent motion picture output: ““This November, Adam Sandler sh*ts in your eyes, ears, and mouth! Whatever. You’ll pay to go see it. F*%k you!”
5. Archer, “El Secuestro” — “Archer” doesn’t mix the pathos with the comedy as well as some of the other shows on this list (or at all), but when it comes to pure comedy, it’s on the same level as “It’s Always Sunny” and “The League.” It’s tough to choose the funniest episode of 2011 because so many were so good, but “El Secuestro” gets the nod simply for the fact that it introduced the Lord Byron poem tattooed on Pam’s back, because Brett managed to answer the phone even after he’d been shot, and for the geeky revelation that Archer knows Asimov’s laws of robotics.
4. The League, “Thanksgiving” — The “Thanksgiving” episode narrowly edged out several other fantastic season three episodes — including “Bobbum Man” and “Ol Smokecrotch” — for the simple reason that casting Jeff Goldblum as Ruxin’s dad was a (vinegar) stroke of genius. And also because in the end, he ended up railing Sarah Silverman during Thanksgiving dinner. As Taco noted after walking in on Mr. Ruxin nailing Silverman’s character from behind: “I can see into his soul. Not good.”
3. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, “Chardee MacDennis: The Game of Games” — The seventh season was a huge bounce back year for “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” and the bottle episode “Chardee MacDennis” — a made-up board game — is the season’s one true classic episode and one of the most memorable since the near perfect second season. The entire episode was weird and manic and insane, and the end result was something akin to comedy bliss. Question: “Dennis is a**hole. Why Charlie hate?” Answer: “Because Dennis is a bastard man.”
2. Community, “Foosball and Nocturnal Vigilantism” — “Remedial Chaos Theory” was the best episode perhaps of any show in 2011, but it wasn’t the funniest. And where “Community” is concerned, “Foosball” takes the yearly crown for the show’s laugh out loudiest episode, thanks to Nick Kroll’s hilarious douchebag, Abed’s second turn at playing Batman, and the brilliant way in which foosball, of all games, brought out the worst in Shirley and Jeff. Oh, and Troy humming “Daybreak” took the effing cake.
1. Parks and Recreation, “Lil Sebastian” was probably the best episode of the season, “Flu Season” had the best line (Chris Traeger’s “Stop Pooping”), but the title of funniest “P&R” episode (and funniest episode of the year) goes to “The Fight,” the episode that introduced Tom Haverford’s Snake Juice, featured Nick Kroll (who is all over this list) as the douchebag DJ, and gave us the indelible and gleeful image of Ron Swanson dancing in the year’s most hysterically funny sequence.