When people talk about the Golden Age of Television, which either just ended or is ongoing, depending on who you ask, they talk about dramas, shows like Breaking Bad, Mad Men, The Sopranos, and The Wire. But rarely are comedies involved in the discussion, for reasons we've never quite understood.
The number of great sitcoms — and whatever Louie is — is unparalleled right now. Put another way: in our list of the year's funniest TV episodes, Veep, It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia, and Eastbound & Down, three of our favorite shows, didn't make the cut. But I guess we should be used to anti-comedy snobbery by now; think of the funniest movie that's ever won the Best Picture Oscar, and you'll be very disappointed.
So, instead of doing a "10 Best Episodes of TV In 2012" list, we focused on comedies only. Here's how we decided on our picks: we listed 20 or so shows that we agreed deserved consideration (SORRY WORK IT), held a round-robin style draft to pick the 10 best, and then whoever picked the show also chose the episode. Also, the shows are listed alphabetically, not by a 1-10 ranking. Make sense? No? Great. Let's begin.
30 Rock, "Leap Day" (season 6, episode 8)
What Happens: In the world of 30 Rock, Leap Day is a holiday on par with Christmas, featuring its own beloved figure, Leap Day William, who emerges from the Mariana Trench every four years in a blue suit and top hat to trade candy for children's tears. Getting caught up in the spirit of the day, Jack has an It's A Wonderful Life-style dream sequence involving his daughter, Tracy takes everyone to Benihana with a $50,000 gift card that expires in March, and Liz debates a $20 million offer to take the virginity of an Internet billionaire named Sad Thad the Skin Tag Lad before being foiled by "hot bitches." 30 Rock is great.
Key Line: "It's Leap Day. Real life is for March."
Here's my favorite part of this episode: Jim Carrey's cameo, on a movie-within-the-show titled Leap Dave William, as a lawyer who magically becomes the real Leap Day William and presumably learns many important lessons in the process. This is classic 30 Rock. They got Jim Carrey to come in and essentially parody the whole Liar Liar, family-friendly, "aw what a sweet, happy ending" part of his career ("I saved Leap Day! And connected with my son! And I solved a big case of murder!") for a quick gag involving a fake-movie about a made-up holiday that took up like 30 seconds of screen time. How cool is that? The show never got huge ratings during its run, and there were a few notable swings-and-misses that took place during 2012 (I love you, Tina Fey and Kristen Schaal, but let us never speak of Hazel again), but when it connects — which it does way, way more often than not — it's capable of hitting the ball all the way to the damn moon.
P.S. the ending was scary and I did not like it because I am a big huge baby.
American Dad!, “Adventures in Hayleysitting” (season 8, episode 6)
What Happens: Hayley is left in charge of Steve for the night after the Smith's usual babysitter, Lindsay, breaks her leg playing soccer. Things...do not go well, which in American Dad! terms means that Jeff gets stoned, Steve, Snot, & Co. befriend a meth head, and someone gets shot in the head, all while Stan and Francine make sweet love in a barn next to some horses. It's magical.
Key Line: "I guess the only question is: what are we talking about?"
This was a tough decision. Which American Dad! episode to include on this list? Obviously, there's going to be one, because American Dad! is great and anyone who thinks that it's still terrible because of its inauspicious first season needs to know that none of Seth MacFarlane's LOOK AT ME MAKING AN OBVIOUS POLITICAL STATEMENT THAT DOUBLES AS A DUMB RACIST JOKE /CUTAWAY stink remains, but, my God, there are so many great episodes this year. "Old Stan in the Mountain" was fantastic, as was "The Unbrave One." Maybe Baby. But what about "Wheels & the Legman and the Case of Grandpa's Key" or "Ricky Spanish"? Ricky Spppannniiissshhhh. But we went with "Adventures in Hayleysitting" because not only do Alison Brie, Charlie Day, and Sarah Michelle Gellar show up, but it ends oh-so-perfectly, with Lindsay's ghost booting a car and a dead meth head's lizard shouting, "GOAAAAAAALLLLLLL." I'd say it makes sense in context, but it doesn't really, and that's why American Dad! is so great. There's nothing else quite like it.
Archer, "Bloody Ferlin" (season 3, episode 9)
What Happens: Archer and Carol head down to Ray's backwoods home town of Ferlin, West Virginia to help his brother, Randy (Jack MacBrayer), ward off an attack from the local sheriff, who is trying to kill him and take over his marijuana operation. Meanwhile, the rest of the gang hangs back at the office to try to hide the whole operation from Malory. Oh, also, it turns out that Ray has been pretending to be paralyzed. I feel like that's important.
Key Line: "For one thing, it’s eerily similar to the plot of White Lightning..."
As with most Archer episodes, there are too many good quotes from "Bloody Ferlin" to select just one, so let's go with the one that gets us to the heart of the matter: Archer's long-standing obsession with the films of Burt Reynolds. That was the reason he agreed to go along with the whole thing in the first place. Not his concern for his coworker, not a need to see justice done — because it reminded him of a Burt Reynolds movie. That should tell you most of what you need to know about Sterling Malory Archer.
The episode itself is jam-packed. Ray is pretending to be straight and Carol is pretending to be his wife, Archer is drinking moonshine, everyone is shooting at everyone else, Pam agrees to do "bum shock fights" and is spray-painting bathroom stalls, and Krieger is, well, being Krieger. Even for Archer — one of the quickest-moving and most insane shows on television — there's a hell of a lot going on. I don't know if it's the best episode to jump into the show fresh, but for regular viewers it paid off a lot of gags that had been set up throughout the season, and did so in a way only Archer can. By chugging moonshine and shooting at people.
Bob's Burgers, "Burgerboss" (season 2, episode 4)
What Happens: Bob installs a classic video game, Burgerboss, in his restaurant, and instantly becomes obsessed with it, to the extent that when Jimmy Pesto gets the high score, he stays all up night and develops carpal tunnel syndrome trying to top his arch-enemy. Eventually, Linda sells the game to a local arcade, but Bob tracks it down and befriends local nerd legend, Darryl, in order to beat Pesto's score. Meanwhile, Linda is convinced that her family is taking sailing lessons to surprise her. They are not.
Key Line: “I got a bully, too. Name’s Tyler. Picks on me every day.” “Oh, that’s cool, so will you help me?”
Bob's Burgers was good during season one, occasionally very good ("Art Crawl," for instance). When the show returned for season two earlier this year, it was even better, but for the first few episodes, it felt like it was on the verge but couldn't quite take the next step towards greatness. Then "Burgerboss" happened, and so did the comparisons to golden-era Simpsons episodes, the highest compliment a comedy can receive. Everything great about the series came together in one episode: H. Jon Benjamin and guest star Aziz Ansari shout and act like children (Aziz actually plays a kid), which, as anyone who's seen Archer and Parks knows, is when they're at their best; Louise screams some of her best lines ("He had sex and then we happened. DEAL WITH IT!"); Gene dances; Tina ponders the location of the "mergina"; and Linda gets to say "peeing race" loudly.
Basically, there's a lot of yelling, which is a good thing for Bob's Burgers. The more manic the episode, the better.
Community, "Basic Lupine Urology" (season 3, episode 17)
What Happens: In an elaborate Law & Order parody, Greendale Community College is the unlikely setting of a brutal crime involving a yam. The study group splits into different factions: Troy and Abed are the hardworking detectives, Shirley is the tough-as-nails sergeant, Jeff and Annie put their district attorney peacoats on, Professor Kane is the fed-up judge, and Britta, well, she's the worst (and the best at old west photo filters). As for Pierce, he's the crooked informant running a poker game, which is just perfect. It's a classic whodunit, with Todd, Leonard, Quendra, Garrett, Fat Neil, and Starburns along for the ride. Until Starburns dies. R.I.P.
Key Line: "OBJECTION. I hate the both of you."
Is it weird that I've never seen an entire episode of Law & Order? It's weird, but I know enough about the show to be aware of how it functions. In the Criminal Justice System, the people are represented, etc. etc. etc. But even if you're someone like me, who thinks of Angie Harmon as Jason Sehorn's wife, not Abbie Carmichael, you can appreciate the brilliance of "Basic Lupine Urology," written and directed by Community's A-team of Megan Ganz and Rob Schrab. Nearly every one of the show's many recurring characters is involved, it's intensely focused on a singular vision (it's when Community doesn't know what it's trying to do or say that it can occasionally falter), and, for the purposes of this being the FUNNIEST episodes list, there's absolutely no character development, just the Dean singing lullabies and Annie celebrating a job well done with a dance.
Cougar Town, "A One Story Town" (season 3, episode 5)
What Happens: Travis gets payback on Jules by allowing Ted and his a capella group to stay at their home for a week. Bobby's romance with Travis's professor Claire (Sarah Chalke) is quickly sabotaged by a bee allergy and his clumsiness. Jules, however, promises she can coach him to win her back with grand romance, but everything keeps going wrong, yet Claire toughens it out. Plus, only a repulsive Tom can remedy an invasion of Quebeckers during the local crab festival.
Key Line: "When I rank all the things that make me want to die it goes: books, snakes, PBS, acapella."
Since the very first episode of Cougar Town, Bobby Cobb has been my favorite character (although, Laurie Keller is a close second), and in "A One Story Town," the main focus is on creating the perfect date for Bobby, and the whole cul de sac crew hilariously gets involved with walkie talkies and a war-room like set up. But for those of us who tuned into Cougar Town because of our affection for Scrubs and stuck around until it became one of the best comedies television, Bill Lawrence repaid us all in A One Story Town with a fantastic reunion featuring brief cameos from Zach Braff and The Todd.
Happy Endings, "No Ho-Ho" (season 3, episode 7)
What Happens: After her lifelong secret that she is actually a Christmas baby is exposed, the gang tries to turn Christmas into Jane-mas to make the day special for her by ignoring any and all Christmas traditions.
Key Line: "Happy Birthday, Jane...*sigh*...and Jesus."
I may be biased both because I've been recapping Happy Endings this season and because this episode is so fresh in my mind, but "No Ho-Ho" is one of my favorite Christmas episodes ever, of any show. It starts off from a pretty simple premise (Jane has been lying about her birthday her whole life because she hated having it overshadowed by Christmas) and somehow ends up in a place where Max's hidden eggnog pouch gets punctured and sprays all over the room, Brad throws a Hip Hop Santa doll off his balcony, Alex's unwrapping fetish is exposed, and Jane almost ends up in a decoration-destroying Christmas night riot with her fellow Christmas babies. There aren't many ways left for a network sitcom to do an original Christmas episode in 2012, but they somehow managed to do it, even while working in jokes about all-black circuses ("Ringling Brothers for Brothers: The Greatest Show on Earf") and songs about Jurassic Park set to traditional holiday music.
As I said in my recap earlier this week, this show wears chaos well.
Louie, "Barney/Never" (season 3, episode 6)
What Happens: Louie and Robin Williams bond while attending the funeral of a comedy club manager who neither of them really cared for, and in the second installment, Louie looks after one of Lily's creepy classmates, Never, who likes to eat raw meat and take dumps in bathtubs.
Key Line: "I diarrhea'd in the tub."
"Barney/Never" is not the best episode of Louie this season. That would be the three-part "Late Show" finale. But it is the funniest. The first half of the episode is solid, especially the scenes with Louie and Robin at Sweet Charity together, where they break the news to the strip club's female employees that long-time patron Barney has died (cue "Sister Christian"). It's in the second half, however, where things, well, let's just say I laughed far longer than I'd like to admit at the sight of that blob of a child sitting in a tub filled with his own sh*t. Plus, "Barney/Never" also has Louie talking to Kansas City Morning Zoo-type DJs (he really shouldn't have used the word "dump") and J.B. Smoove yelling at a fellow gravedigger for "speaking African" in the tag.
In summary: poop = comedy gold.
New Girl, "Menzies" (season 2, episode 7)
What Happens: Unable to pay her share of rent and utilities, the guys tell Jess to get a job. She is experiencing her monthly period and is an emotional mess when she interviews for a job. Meanwhile, Winston is suffering from sympathetic menstrual pains, while Nick meets a silent guy who shows him how to be peaceful. Cece wants to go back with Schmidt, who is carrying on a 50 Shades of Grey relationship with Carla Gugino.
Key Line: "You wanna get weird? Let's get weird."
New Girl has been shredding it this season. In the beginning, it was a series we watched for Schmidt's goofball douchiness, but the show turned a corner when Lizzy Caplan arrived and somehow balanced out Zooey Deschanel's annoying quirkiness. It grew a heart when Dermot Mulroney (Dylan McDermott?) showed up, but it was Mulroney's character, Russell, who also brought out the best in Nick Miller. It was at that point that the showrunners truly discovered the value of Nick, and in season two, they haven't let him go to waste. In "Fluffer," the relationship between Nick and Jess was firmly established over his refusal to build a shelf; in the Halloween episode, he screamed like a little girl at a clown; in "Models," he bought Schmidt a cookie. But "Menzies" is my favorite Nick episode. He begins it by having a one-sided conversation with an Asian man and ends it doing some sort of meditation in the pool, and yet, despite the greatness of Nick, Jess had the funniest moment.
Parks and Recreation, "Halloween Surprise" (season 5, episode 5)
What Happens -- Leslie's future with Ben is on hold after he gets a new job offer, which he turns down and instead, proposes to Leslie. In trying to scare Jerry on Halloween, Leslie and Ann give Jerry a heart attack, and Ron's new relationship is in jeopardy because he has issues trick 'r treating with his girlfriend's kids.
Key Line: "Seriously, Jerry. Did you EAT farts for lunch?"
In choosing the funniest episodes of the year, it's easy to overlook Parks and Recreation's "Halloween Surprise," if only because it was the sweetest and, perhaps, most shocking episode of Parks, in that it ended with Ben's surprise marriage proposal, after we'd been mislead into believing he'd seriously consider taking a job out of state. But that, obviously, wasn't what made "Halloween Surprise," one of the funniest episodes of the year, nor was it Ron Swanson's horrible trick-or-treating experiences. It was Jerry's fart attack, which I maintain was the single funniest sequence on television in 2012.