A civil war might not seem like the best setting for a jaunty coming-of-age comedy, but Derry Girls shows that hijinks can ensue even in times of violence. Set in Derry, Northern Ireland, during The Troubles, the show follows a group of teenage friends — neurotic Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), her cuckoo cousin Orla (Louisa Harland), Clare (Nicola Coughlan), crass Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell), and Michelle’s English cousin James (Dylan Llewellyn) — as they go about their daily life as students at an all-girls school (James is attending because, due to his English accent and awkward demeanor, he might get bullied at the boy’s school). Although the show is very conscious of the conflict raging around the cast — a bomb scare early in the first episode leads to griping about how it will affect traffic — the focus is on the characters, each lovably obnoxious in their own way, and their rapid banter.
Sex Education is a bawdy comedy about teens grappling with sexuality. Just how bawdy is it, though? The opening scene concludes with a macho bully faking an orgasm, after which his girlfriend angrily demands to know “Where’s the spunk, Adam!?” As in a lot of high school comedies, the teens of Sex Education are having (or trying to have) a lot of sex, but for various reasons, none of them are really enjoying themselves; that’s where Otis (Asa Butterfield) comes in. The son of prominent sex therapist Jean (Gillian Anderson), Otis knows a thing or two about sexual dysfunction (due to some childhood trauma, he has some dysfunctions of his own). When a delinquent named Maeve (Emma Mackey) realizes Otis’s therapy skills could make money, they go into business together, treating the neuroses of their classmates. It should be smooth sailing, but then Otis realizes he has feelings for Maeve. Sex Education gets a lot of mileage out of sex jokes, but what leaves a lasting impression is the show’s recognition that sex can be an emotionally perilous adventure and the effects that can have on people.
If TV is to be believed, the life of a viking was one of conflict, survival, and ceaseless struggle against the elements. Norsemen flips the script on the haggard tropes of viking fiction, following the people of Norheim, whose lives involve raiding and pillaging, yes, but also a lot of laughs. The central character is Orm (Kåre Conradi), brother of the chieftain, who runs the village while his sibling is off sailing. Orm’s not exactly the ideal viking man — he claims he can’t go raiding due to a sore back — but he’s got some bold ideas to make Norheim a more modern village. Norsemen finds plenty of humor in the typically grim cliches of viking stories (Orm’s plan to deal with a food shortage is to pressure the village elders to jump off a cliff as a show of honor), but there’s plenty of material here that modern audiences should find relatable.
Patriot Act with Hasan Minhaj
The Jon Stewart-era comedy-news show The Daily Show might just be the show that launched a thousand careers. Not only has it boosted the profile of more comedians than any show outside of Saturday Night Live, but several former correspondents have started their own shows with tweaks on The Daily Show’s format. Hasan Minhaj has now followed in the footsteps of John Oliver (Last Week Tonight), Samantha Bee (Full Frontal), Larry Wilmore (the now-defunct Nightly Show), Jordan Klepper (The Opposition) by throwing his own hat into the comedic/informative talk show ring with Patriot Act. Minhaj casts off some of the more distinct trappings of The Daily Show. There’s no desk, no correspondents; instead, the focus is almost entirely on Minhaj, who delivers jeremiads about the subjects of the day — such as the affirmative action lawsuit against Harvard, or the international crisis surrounding the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi — while strutting the stage, with helpful graphics popping up in the background.
If you liked Office Space, but think it would have been better if the characters were cartoon animals, you may be pleased to learn that such a thing exists. Aggretsuko, a Japanese cartoon from mascot company Sanrio (creators of Hello Kitty), follows Retsuko, a red panda in her 20s working a soul-crushing job at a trading firm. Her career is going nowhere, she can barely muster the energy to get up in the mornings, and her boss is a pig (literally and figuratively) — and those are just the problems she faces in the first episode! Despite the cute character designs and short episodes, Aggretsuko is a surprisingly mature series, tapping into the anxieties of being a millennial in the workforce.
The End of the F***ing World
It seems unlikely that a story about a teenage psychopath traveling with the girl he intends to kill could be funny, or even touching. Somehow, The End of the F***ing World manages to be both. The show follows James (Alex Lawler), the self-described psychopath, and Alyssa (Jessica Barden), a modern rebel without a cause. She convinces him to run away with her, and the two embark on a road trip across England, getting into bizarre shenanigans as James plots to kill her. Dark, funny, and strangely poignant, The End of the F***ing World is one of the most unique shows on Netflix.
One of the sitcom tropes that often defies belief is that groups of 20-somethings with ordinary jobs can somehow afford nice apartments in big cities. That’s not a problem for Crashing; actually, it’s key to the premise. The show follows a group of young friends in need of housing in Britain. Their solution? Become property guardians, living in a derelict hospital, keeping the place safe from squatters in exchange for cheap rent. Among the residents are Lulu (Phoebe Waller-Bridge), a quirky rover, her childhood friend Anthony (Damien Molony), and Kate (Louise Ford), an uptight professional and Anthony’s fiancée. These three and the other residents do their best to get along and enjoy life in their dire situation. Season 1 is short (six episodes, roughly a half-hour each), perfect for binge-watching. Hopefully there will be a season 2!
She’s Gotta Have It
Thirty years or so after the release of his directorial debut, Spike Lee reimagined She’s Gotta Have It, this time as a 10-episode series for Netflix. She’s Gotta Have It follows Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise), an artist with no interest in settling down, in life or in love. Nola is polyamorous, and her three main lovers are immature-but-sweet jokester Mars Blackmon (Anthony Ramos), egotistical model Greer Childs (Cleo Anthony), and controlling older man Jamie Overstreet (Lyriq Bent). The original film kept the focus tightly on Nola’s relationships, but the show uses its extended running time to explore other facets of her life, making for a richer character study. The show is gorgeously shot, luxuriating in the colors and movement of its protagonist’s bohemian life.
Not content to spend his days making jaunty indie rock, Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig leaped into the world of showrunning with Neo Yokio, an anime-inspired comedy of manners which torches the insular, image-obsessed world of New York high society. Set in a futuristic New York plagued by demons (who seek out displays of opulence), Neo Yokio follows the life of Kaz Kaan (Jaden Smith), a demon hunter reeling from a breakup. Kaz’s aunt Agatha (Susan Sarandon) gives Kaz various assignments — exorcizing a possessed fashion blogger, protect a Damien Hirst sculpture — but he’d rather play field hockey or shop for a new blazer. The cast of characters includes Charles (Jude Law), Kaz’s robot butler, Arcangelo (Jason Schwartzman), his aristocratic rival, and Helena St. Tessero (Tavi Gevinson), the aforementioned blogger who turns into a Marxist critic of capitalism after a run-in with a demonic Chanel suit. It’s a goofy show, and it doesn’t always work, but it’s got guts, and the humor is spot on.
If you were to go into American Vandal without reading anything about it, you might think you’ve stumbled onto the next, great true crime story. The show’s setup is ominous. A student, Dylan Maxwell (Jimmy Tatro), stands accused — falsely, he claims — of a heinous act: Spray painting “dicks” on all the faculty cars at Hanover High School. Given his history of pranks — including drawing dicks on whiteboards — the school expels him. Only Peter Maldonado (Tyler Alvarez), a sophomore who works on the Hanover High morning show, thinks Dylan might be innocent and sets out to prove it. The case quickly becomes stranger than it first appeared. For those who enjoy true crime stories like Making a Murderer, American Vandal is a tonally perfect parody, emulating the lighting and story structure that define the genre.
The Good Place
Bureaucratic mix-ups can be a nightmare — just ask anyone who has needed to apply for a passport — but on occasion, they can work out in your favor. Eleanor Shellstrop (Kristen Bell) finds herself on the good side of a paperwork snafu when, after dying, she ends up in the Good Place, a serene afterlife neighborhood built by a cosmic architect named Michael (Ted Danson). In reality, Eleanor was an abrasive person who only looked out for herself. Now, in order to avoid being discovered and sent to the Bad Place, she must learn how to behave like a nice person. The Good Place is an upbeat comedy whose unique setting and surprising plot set it a notch above most sitcoms.
After he is diagnosed with chlamydia, hapless romantic Dylan (Johnny Flynn) must contact all his former lovers from recent years and inform them. In the process, he must also reflect on those relationships, and get a sense of what he really wants in life. The show is told largely through flashbacks, with each episode focusing on a specific woman from Dylan’s past, and the story is complex; unlike in classic sitcoms where Dylan’s misadventures would be isolated stories, events from the past inform the present. Lovesick strikes a careful balance between comedy and drama. Hijinks abound, particularly when Dylan’s feckless playboy roommate, Luke (Daniel Ings), is around. Despite the comedy — or perhaps because of it — the somber moments hit hard. This is a show that understands the many facets of relationships, both platonic and sexual.
Musicals are in short supply on television — perhaps because audiences just find song-and-dance a bit too corny. That same drought makes Crazy Ex-Girlfriend’s lavish musical numbers all the more striking, however. The titular ex is Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), a tightly strung lawyer who abandons her career in New York and moves to West Covina, California, to reconnect with her first crush, Josh (Vincent Rodriguez III). The premise seems like typical rom-com fare, but Crazy Ex-Girlfriend rises above by embracing absurdity. The musical numbers, of which there are many, are funny and bombastic, paying homage to various genres of music and classic films.
Master of None
Created by and starring comedian Aziz Ansari, Netflix’s Master of None concerns the everyday life of Dev, a 30-year-old actor who attempts to navigate the twists and turns of adulthood while making a living for himself in New York City. Reportedly based somewhat loosely on Ansari’s own life, the show even features the former Parks and Recreation actor’s real-life mother and father as Dev’s parents in the show. Even if you haven’t dabbled in Ansari’s prior work (you should, too, he’s absolutely hilarious) Master of None is sure to please with its witty dialogue, multidimensional cast of characters, and relatable storylines. It appears Netflix has once again struck gold.
Netflix’s original animated comedy features voices from some of the brightest stars on TV today (i.e., Will Arnett, Alison Brie, Aaron Paul). Comedian Amy Sedaris also lends her voice to this raucous show about a washed-up celebrity horse who attempts to reignite his stagnant career. Ridiculous in all aspects, BoJack Horseman is good for some hearty laughs at the expense of the commonplace celebrity lifestyle. Season 1 starts off goofy, but by the first season finale, the show evolves into a shockingly sad, yet still hilarious examination of depression and pop-culture.
Archer isn’t your average animated series. It’s like a hybrid between Arrested Development and every spy flick ever. The show whirls around ISIS, an international spy agency that deals with global crises. Considering the spy agency is essentially a pressure cooker that is Sterling Archer’s mother, Malory Archer (Jessica Walter), and Archer’s ex-girlfriend, Lana Kane (Aisha Tyler), most events are just opportunities to screw over co-workers. The show is cynical, with rapid-fire dialogue and characters unlike anything else on Netflix.
From the comedic brilliance of Judd Apatow comes Love, a Netflix original sitcom about what it’s really like to date in the 21st century. Starring Community alum Gillian Jacobs and stand-up comic Paul Rust — who also co-created the show — Love centers primarily on these two characters as they attempt to facilitate a loving relationship despite their laundry list of differences. While exploring the exhilaration of new love, the awkwardness of growing up, and everything else a new relationship throws at 30-somethings, Apatow pulls no punches with Love. All three seasons are now available.
Cult-classic sitcom Arrested Development is the story of a wealthy family that lost everything, and has spent five seasons losing even more. The show follows the Bluths, a dysfunctional clan of fools and sociopaths who lose their fortune after patriarch George Bluth Sr. (Jeffrey Tambor) goes to prison. George’s middle son, Michael (Jason Bateman), the only marginally decent Bluth, must keep the family business running — and keep the family together. Arrested Development relies on snappy dialogue, memorable characters, and dense scripts with plenty of jokes that get better with every viewing. After a long hiatus, Netflix revived the show for a fourth season that got mixed reviews for splitting up the many characters, but season 5 (the first half, with the second to come later) seems to have righted the ship, returning to the ensemble nature of the first three seasons.
Given Digital Trends is headquartered mere blocks from the Portlandia sculpture in downtown Portland which the show is named after, sometimes the deadpan humor — nearly always done at the expense of Portlanders — is a send-up of hipster culture so dead-on it hurts. Even so, the show represents a landmark success considering you’ll laugh more than you’ll wince as Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein guide you through their version of Portland, which is only slightly zanier than the real thing. It’s scripted, but the two stars leave plenty of room for improvisation and cameos.
Parks and Recreation
What started out as a sitcom done in the typical, post-Office mockumentary style turned into something truly amazing. It’s a hilarious study of the comical residents of Pawnee, Indiana. The show centers on public servant Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), an excitable midlevel official in the parks and recreation department, along with a team that diligently works to make the city of Pawnee a better place for everyone. The cast is filled with some of the biggest names in comedy including Nick Offerman, Aziz Ansari, and Rashida Jones.
Zooey Deschanel plays the quirky Jess in this Fox comedy about a woman who moves into a loft in L.A. with three guys she meets online. While Jake Johnson’s Nick character serves as the second lead behind Deschanel, it’s performances from Max Greenfield (Schmidt) and Lamorne Morris (Winston) that steal the show. This single-camera sitcom perfectly blends elements of drama into its comedic writing, and remains one of the wittiest shows on TV. To top things off, it even created its own drinking game called “True American.” What other show has that on its résumé?
With Bob and David
Bob Odenkirk and David Cross team up again for the Netflix-exclusive sketch comedy show With Bob and David. Much like their earlier HBO series Mr. Show with Bob and David, the new series features the over-the-top, yet wildly hilarious comedy stylings of its titular creators and writers. The Netflix comedy should be heavy on the kind of outrageous spoofs and hilarious writing that fans of Cross and Odenkirk have come to expect.
The creation of Saturday Night Live alumni Bill Hader and Fred Armisen, Documentary Now! is a series of fake documentaries, with each episode spoofing a particular famous work, such as The Thin Blue Line or Grey Gardens. Hader and Armisen were two of SNL’s greatest chameleons, and they adapt to the new roles of each episode perfectly. What really elevates the show, aside from the leads’ great comedic timing, is their commitment to the homages. Whether skewering the slick, in-your-face style of Vice documentaries or the mythmaking of Nanook of the North, their fake documentaries are near-perfect emulations of the real things. Few shows reinvent themselves so often and so effortlessly.
The job market isn’t great for aspiring actors, so when Ruth Wilder (Alison Brie) answers a call for “unconventional women,” she ends up trying out for the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, an all-female wrestling league overseen by washed-up director Sam Sylvia (Marc Maron). Wilder’s former friend Debbie Gilpin (Betty Gilpin) also tries out, and Sylvia decides to make the two the center of the league’s story: Gilpin the heroic “Liberty Belle,” and Wilder as the villain “Zoya the Destroya.” What follows is a raucous story of misfits chasing their dreams, complete with a melange of ’80s tropes, including cocaine-fueled parties and hokey montages. One scene even busts out Stan Bush’s Dare, which, if you haven’t seen The Transformers: The Movie, is an absolute gem.
Jane the Virgin
Television has been a wild medium in the last decade or two, but even within the modern standards of creativity, Jane the Virgin stands out, blending the nonstop drama and ludicrous plot twists of telenovelas (Latin American soap operas) with the wit and jubilance of modern sitcoms. Jane the Virgin follows Jane Gloriana Villanueva (Gina Rodriguez), a woman who, due to her grandmother’s strict upbringing, begins the series deeply afraid of losing her virginity, even to her fiancé. After a mixup at the hospital, Jane becomes artificially inseminated by accident, and the father is none other than Rafael Solano (Justin Baldoni), the wealthy owner of the hotel where Jane works. That’s just the first of many twists the show deals out, as it plays with the usual tropes of soap operas. It’s a show with heart, too, boasting memorable characters and touching moments.