Sometimes you know you’re watching something special as it’s happening.
It happened with the “Dinner Party” episode of The Office, and the “Remedial Chaos Theory” episode of Community, and, mostly recently, the “On the Run” episode of FX’s vampire comedy What We Do in the Shadows, henceforth known as the Jackie Daytona episode. Written by Stefani Robinson (who’s also credited with the Atlanta episodes “Juneteenth” and “Woods” — someone give her a ton of money to make whatever she wants NOW), the Jackie Daytona episode was an instantly great episode of television, with an Emmy-worthy performance from Matt Berry, and it also solidified something I was feeling around the time the Nadja doll was introduced: What We Do in the Shadows might be the funniest show on television. I’m tempted to say it “is” the funniest show, full stop, but there’s strong competition out there. Let’s go through some of the competitors.
Shows That Aren’t Technically On TV; They’re On A Streaming Service
This leaves out I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson, Russian Doll, Solar Opposites, Never Have I Ever, Ramy, Big Mouth, and Pen15. I love them all, but for the purposes of this important thought exercise, only non-streaming shows are eligible.
Extremely funny! But also extremely dark and depressing.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
It’s Always Sunny is still wildly funny after 14 seasons and has shown an admirable willingness to adapt to a different era, but I’m not sure you could make the case that it’s at its peak. “The Gang Texts” was great, but was it better than season four’s “The Nightman Cometh”? Shadows is either at its peak, or it’s going to continue to get better.
Not sure now’s the time to make the case for B99 being the “best” anything.
The most consistent show on TV, and I watch it the way Netflix subscribers do The Office, but it doesn’t provide the same level of belly-laughs as Shadows.
Rick and Morty
The funniest animated show, I’d argue, but not the funniest show overall.
The Other Two and Los Espookys
Too good to be one-season wonders, but I’d like to see more before declaring them the best. Although, I will say, both shows had better debut seasons than Shadows…
A little too real for anyone in their 30s (me).
Inconsistent. Some episodes are among the funniest things I’ve ever seen on TV (“Original Cast Album: Co-Op”), others are tough to get through (“Batsh*t Valley”).
Joe Pera Talks With You
I love Joe Pera Talks With You, but until Adult Swim announces whether it’s coming back for a third season, it’s not qualified. I’m never not thinking of the bean arch, though.
The Righteous Gemstones and Succession
I originally considered excluding these shows, as they’re both an hour long and, rightly or wrongly, I rarely consider anything over 30 minutes to be a “comedy.” But both are uproariously funny, and the stiffest competition to What We Do in the Shadows. That said, I’m crossing The Righteous Gemstones off the list for the same reason as The Other Two and Los Espookys above: it’s only been on for one season. There’ll be plenty of misbehavin’ to come, though. Maybe after season two! So it’s down to What We Do in the Shadows vs. Succession (at least until someone yells at me for forgetting Last Man Standing or a 4 a.m. Adult Swim special with 47 views on YouTube, or something).
Now, I love Succession and miss it dearly and often think about “my boy Squiggle” and “slime puppy” and the various ways Brian Cox says “f*ck off,” all of them perfect… but I’m not always in the mood to watch a show about a bunch of toxic billionaires. It can be A Lot and, especially lately, I’m not in the mood to watch A Lot. That’s one of the reasons why I look forward to What We Do in the Shadows every week. It’s a silly show about a group of vampires living together in Staten Island; it’s the epitome of “hilarity ensues.”
As my colleague Brian Grubb accurately put it, “It is so good and so, so funny. Legitimate belly laughs at least once an episode, and more than that, by a lot, in the last handful.” I’m still laughing thinking about Colin Robinson trying to get people to fall for an “updog” joke, and Colin Robinson quoting “Dilly Dilly” two years after everyone else stopped using it, and Colin Robinson saying, “Door on the floor, we ain’t here no more.” I’d call Colin Robinson the MVP of season two, but, really, it’s five-way tie between Robinson (Mark Proksch), Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), Nandor (Kayvan Novak), and Laszlo (Matt “BAT” Berry). Six-way, if you include the Nadja doll.
“But,” you’re probably not wondering, “why would you ding Barry for being too dark when Shadows has a casualty count in the hundreds?” It’s the same reason Looney Tunes is hilarious: it’s cartoonish violence, and cartoonish violence is very funny. No one is running into a painted hole in the wall, but there are teen girl vampires murdering Sweet Birthday Baby from Russian Doll and sperm-extracting witches and a literal troll and Guillermo (last name… Buillermo?) channeling his inner Van Helsing. Gizmo, as Nadja calls him, might not be the funniest character on Shadows, but he’s the emotional core, the one who keeps the plot from drifting too far into empty slapstick. He’s increasingly turned to the dark side (shout out to Mark Hamill), while the vampires have gotten wackier. The “mailer-daemon” stuff, for instance, only works because it’s Guillermo who usually takes care of the chores, and without him, the vampires, Nandor especially, are clueless. It’s a beautiful balance that keeps Shadows from being empty calories.
Also, and I cannot stress this enough, Jackie Daytona.
Let’s raise our glass of human alcohol beer served by a regular human bartender and toast to What We Do in the Shadows, the funniest show on TV.