The 21 Best TV Comedies of the 21st Century (So Far)

What is funny? “Funny” can describe straight-up ha-ha pleasure: watching Lucy Ricardo get drunk on Vitameatavegamin or Homer Simpson fall into Springfield Gorge, twice. But it can also mean something odd (I have a funny feeling about this) or disconcerting (My stomach feels funny) or suspicious (Are you up to something funny?).

In today’s bumper crop of TV comedy, what funny is not is simple or monolithic. So picking our 21 favorite American comedies of the 21st century — the tango partner to our list of the 20 best American dramas since “The Sopranos” — involved hard choices and tricky questions. What even counts as a comedy, in an age of dramedy and comic drama and depressed cartoon horses? How do you account for changing times and mores, jokes that aged badly, stars’ less-than-amusing offscreen offenses? Is there more to a great comedy than how many times it makes you laugh?

We have no absolute answers, only the arguments that resulted in this list, arranged in chronological order, which we hope prompt you to have the same arguments and more. Let the funny business begin. — James Poniewozik, chief TV critic

What’s your favorite American comedy of the 21st century?

LARRY DAVID, CREATOR AND STAR I’ve had the same expectations for the show as I have for everything else in my life — which is to say, zero. I kept hoping I’d get canceled. It didn’t work out.

I had the long layoff between Seasons 8 and 9, a five-year hiatus. I guess I realized that I have more fun doing the show than anything else that I do.

I take it year by year. We just finished filming Season 11. We wore masks during filming except when we were acting, and the crew wore masks all the time. In fact, most of the people, I didn’t even know who they were. The last day of filming, I said: “OK, I don’t know what any of you look like. Please take your masks off for a second so I can see you.” Then I told them it was disappointing and to put them back on immediately.

TV Larry is me, but way more ballsy. Conflicts arise, as they invariably do in life, and he has a more direct way of handling them. My perception is that he’s usually morally on the right side. I don’t think a lot of people see it that way.

A lot of the conflicts from the show have come from my real life, but I assiduously avoid making enemies, and he seeks them out. Because of the show, some people, when they meet me, are very, very leery of the encounter. I try and put them at ease as best I can — a lot of times I’ll just say, “Don’t worry, I’m human.”

But TV Larry doesn’t care. He’s living my dream. I’m totally envious of him, and that’s why I love doing it so much. — As told to Jeremy Egner



2003-2006; 2013-2019

For when you’re feeling blue.

Stream it on Netflix

MITCHELL HURWITZ, CREATOR Chance favors the well-prepared. Somebody said that. So there was a lot of planning. I’d done a lot of callbacks in shows, and by the time I got to “Arrested Development,” I was thinking, “I’m going to call forward. I’m going to put in jokes that won’t be funny until you rewatch them.”

But a lot of the stuff that I’ve gotten great credit for was just a total accident. One silly one is, I knew that I wanted to have Buster lose his hand, but I didn’t name the matriarch character Lucille because I knew it was a homonym of “loose seal.”

Other things were the result of some fairly capricious showrunning. You’ve got seven or eight weeks before you start shooting, so you really do need to use that time efficiently. It wasn’t cable; we were going to do 24 episodes that year and no hiatuses, and I used up the first three-and-a-half weeks in the writers’ room trying to figure out what the larger crime was. And then we landed on: What if George Sr. was building model homes for Saddam Hussein?

I remember at that moment thinking: “Yes, that’s it. We have the bones of Episode 24. Now let’s just do 1 through 23.” And by the way, we only had an order for 12 episodes.

To a certain extent, I think those things cost us an audience when it first aired because the density wasn’t necessarily conducive to passive watching. But I do think all those jokes gave the show legs.

One of my favorite things was how poor David Cross had to put on this blue makeup, and he would talk about how difficult it was to get it off. He would say: “I want to show you something, just watch.” And he’d take his pinkie, and he’d push it into his ear, and then he’d pull it out, and there’d be a tiny bit of blue on there. And it had been, like, a month.

To make matters worse, then we put him in sparkles. And I’m telling you, if you were to hunt down David, I’ll bet you there’s a sparkle still secreted on his body somewhere from 2006. — As told to Austin Considine



2005-2013

Your kid’s favorite show.

Stream it on Peacock

JENNA FISCHER AND ANGELA KINSEY, STARS AND HOSTS OF THE ‘OFFICE LADIES’ PODCAST

ANGELA KINSEY What I like about my favorite shows I grew up with is their sense of comfort, and I think “The Office” has that. You can put the show on and it’s your friends, and they’re all at work together.

JENNA FISCHER Our bench is so deep, and we’re all stuck in one room and the camera is rolling. So while the focus is the dialogue, there are seven people performing in the background.

KINSEY The cameras were moving all the time, so we had to be performing at all times. We were always in each other’s shot, so it was a group effort every day, and it really bonded us. Jenna and I had this very full friendship over a partition, because otherwise reception was an island.

FISCHER I worked as a receptionist for many years, and it was hilarious to me how much people disregard the receptionist.

KINSEY One of my favorite memories is, we had some people come to set, and then Jenna went to reception and they had left their trash and taken the prop pens. We’re about to start a scene and I look over, and Jenna’s picking up some used water bottle and a tissue. So it was like a normal workplace having these kinds of moments.

FISCHER We did the show before there was really social media, and now it’s being shared in memes and GIFs in all these places we could have never imagined. It really hit me when I would be approached by a parent and their 13-year-old, and they were both equally excited to talk about the show.

KINSEY I was touring middle schools for our children, and I walked into a classroom and the sixth graders lost their composure. A crowd of students started following me. I called Jenna and said, “We are crushing it at middle schools.” Streaming opened it up to this whole younger generation, and I love that I was part of something that’s bringing parents together with their teenagers. That was the moment where I was like, oh, something’s happening. — As told to Jeremy Egner



2006-2013

Good God, Lemon!

Stream it on Hulu and Peacock

MARGARET LYONS, TV CRITIC “30 Rock” is its loopy, brilliant self for seven consistent seasons. Seven network seasons of “nerds” and “blerghs” and rural jurors, of bad Valentines Days and pronouncing “ham” with two syllables. Of Leap Day Williams, of EGOTs, of never going with hippies to a second location. Of sitting in peace to eat a sandwich and wanting to go to there, and high-fiving a million angels. Liz Lemon is the Mary Richards of the 2000s, and in addition to moxie, she’s got night cheese. It even has a good finale.

The best part of “30 Rock,” though, is its pace. A lot of single-camera comedies of its era used a more naturalistic mockumentary format, and those that didn’t tended toward a more wistful rhythm. But “30 Rock” never goes more than a few seconds without a punchline, and its humor comes in every conceivable format. And while it has a few go-tos — food and ego, mostly — it will find the joke in just about anything.

Show business comedies can slide toward bitterness. But while “30 Rock” had plenty to ridicule — about NBC in particular; media conglomerates in general; and the entertainment, microwave and wig industries broadly speaking — its zany bounce never veers into outright misanthropy. After Liz and her eventual husband, Criss, decide to have a baby together, she’s thrilled, and she quietly cheers to herself, “Life is happening!”

It’s a tiny moment of spectacular happiness, an example of the show’s occasional but substantial anchor of recognizable reality, enough to ensure that even when things get much, much kookier — for example, Kenneth is an immortal being — the story doesn’t drift out to sea.



2011-Present

Family matters.

Stream it on Hulu

MIKE HALE, TV CRITIC A sitcom has one job: To create a set of believably peculiar, intimately entwined characters and then stay true to them. The Fox animated charmer “Bob’s Burgers” has done that job flawlessly, as well as any show since “The Simpsons,” for most of its 11 seasons and counting. (The first was a little shaky.)

The Belchers, proprietors of the unassuming burger joint of the title, could be a clan out of a Capra movie — annoying but endearing, in constant motion but (almost) never losing sight of one another. Visiting them might be a little trying, but you could sit around all day happily listening to stories about them.

That’s because the creator Loren Bouchard and his fellow writers have nurtured a cast of oddballs — residents of an unnamed, Jersey-like shore town — who are both indelibly individual and instantly recognizable, a feat so rare that it seems newly serendipitous every time you watch. At the center are the Belcher children: Louise (rebellious, sardonic, covertly insecure), Gene (overly dramatic, surprisingly well-adjusted) and Tina (anxious, awkward, but tough), who are impeccably voiced by Kristen Schaal, Eugene Mirman and Dan Mintz. Around them is a whole world, from their doughy, flop-sweating dad, Bob (H. Jon Benjamin) and tart mom, Linda (John Roberts), to their dangerously wacky Aunt Gayle (Megan Mullally) and Bob’s friend Teddy (Larry Roberts), a garrulous and touchy handyman who may be the show’s most original creation.

Long before the pandemic and our national slide into acrimony, “Bob’s Burgers” was the kind of comfort show that people now hunger for: a family comedy whose frantic misadventures are ingeniously and happily resolved, like living Rube Goldberg contraptions. But it’s much more than that. In its ability to capture the constantly overlapping annoyance, embarrassment, anxiety and joy among parents and children, this eccentric cartoon nails the modern family.



2014-2019

You’re only young and sweaty once.

Stream it on Hulu

ABBI JACOBSON, CO-CREATOR AND STAR We were always intending to capture what it felt like, at least for me, to be in your 20s in New York, which is this sort of romanticized hustle that’s both beautiful and [expletive] simultaneously. It’s real sweaty.

When we started doing “Broad City,” it was a web series, and we had such small goals in mind; I don’t think we ever were planning for this TV show to be a thing. But once we did get the pilot, and looking back at the web series, it was all just based on trying to create this feeling of: “This is really true to who we are and who we hang out with.” It wasn’t as if we thought, “This is missing — we need to fill it.” It was just like, “We have fun doing this, and we think people might relate.”

I would say 90 percent of the show was shot on location, so as the series progressed and more people knew about the show, it became more difficult for us to shoot quickly without people knowing what we were doing. And there’s something about comedy — more than drama, I think — that lends itself to people coming up to you like they know you. I spent enough time with Amy Poehler, who produced the show with us, to see it happen to her. With TV, these people are in your home — you do feel like you know them. I think I felt that way about Amy before I worked with her.

The biggest thing — it’s hilarious every time — is that people will say my name in such a way that it feels like we know each other already. Like: “Abbi. Oh my God.” In a way that’s so intimate. Then I think that I should know this person, as if we went to high school or camp together.

And then I go through a process of: “Heyyyyy. Oh my goodness! Wait … Do we know each other?”

And they’re like, “No!”

I guess that might be more about my fear that I won’t remember people’s names — I don’t think Amy necessarily has the same thing of feeling like, “Wait, do I know you?” That’s just me still not knowing how this works. — As told to Austin Considine



2016-present

It knows that laughing and crying are not opposites.

Stream it on Hulu

JAMES PONIEWOZIK, CHIEF TV CRITIC In the Season 2 “Better Things” episode “Eulogy,” the actress and single mother Sam Fox (Pamela Adlon) feels unappreciated by her three daughters. So she holds a mock funeral for herself: She doesn’t want to wait until she’s actually dead for her kids to say nice things about her. The idea upsets her youngest daughter, Duke (Olivia Edward), so Sam reassures her: “You’re dead, too. We both died!” Duke brightens up. Problem solved!

Like many of the impressionistic stories in “Better Things,” this could be an old-school sitcom premise. Sam gets sick and needs the kids to help around the house! Max (Mikey Madison) moves back home from college! But Adlon — who also created the series, writes and directs — commits to the naturalism of every scenario. The mock funeral plays out with dark humor, but there’s also tenderness and confession and a point: that mothers are socialized to play down their own worth and achievements.

Sam is not the silent type, and the fractious love among women — including Sam’s grande-dame mother (Celia Imrie) — is the show’s core. The fights on “Better Things” are some of the realest on TV, which is to say that they’re vicious and hilarious. In “No Limit,” Sam resolves an argument between Duke and Frankie (Hannah Alligood) by giving them one minute to say the worst things they can to each other. Tiny Duke unleashes a TV-MA torrent of cursing that leaves you stunned, then laughing yourself breathless.

That’s what “Better Things” does. It feels everything intensely, and it knows that when you’re dealing with family, seemingly opposite feelings are always connected. Love expresses itself through hostility; happy moments are laced with pre-emptive nostalgia.

“Better Things” feels everything so thoroughly, in fact, that it would be fair to ask whether it’s a comedy or a drama. The answer, I guess, depends on which one you believe life is. Probably it’s both. But in the end, you like to look back and remember the parts where you laughed.

The Toughest Omissions



What does it feel like to eat 30 pancakes? To get divorced? To get hit by lightning? Forrest MacNeil (Andy Daly) knows because it’s his job. Forrest is a professional life reviewer; he hosts a TV show in which viewers challenge him to undergo experiences and rate them on a five-star scale.

The premise sounds as if it could maybe sustain a running bit on a sketch-comedy show, and indeed, many of Forrest’s escapades are killer set pieces. (Tasked by a viewer to review drug addiction, the uptight host goes on a madcap cocaine bender: “I give it a million stars!”)

But what distinguishes “Review,” based on an Australian series, is how it, like Forrest, commits to the assignment, asking: What kind of person would turn himself into a crash-test dummy for a bored TV mob?

For Forrest, reviewing life ultimately becomes a means to avoid living it. The result is both funny and profound to see play out. Just don’t try this at home.

Would swap out: “Curb Your Enthusiasm.” Plenty of great moments in this kvetchy stalwart’s two decades. But as a whole? I’ll take quality over quantity. — James Poniewozik, chief TV critic



Aaron McGruder adapted his comic strip about a Black family living in a white suburb into this animated series, and for three seasons it was a beautiful blend of raucous cultural and racial satire and wistful coming-of-age comedy. (McGruder was not involved with the diminished fourth season.)

In its look, sound and rhythms, it’s still the most evocative American example of the fertile crossover of hip-hop and anime. And its voice cast was splendid, led by John Witherspoon as Robert Freeman, the one-time civil rights activist turned ornery grandfather, and the amazing dual performance of Regina King as the Freeman brothers: 8-year-old Riley, the sweetly charming aspiring gangster, and 10-year-old Huey, the brooding intellectual whose dreams give equal place to kung fu and the Black Panthers. — Mike Hale, TV critic

Would swap out: “Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.” Musical melodrama is the lowest form of comedy.



I thought about “Pushing Daisies,” “Scrubs,” “High Maintenance,” “Barry,” “Ugly Betty,” “American Vandal,” “One Mississippi,” “Malcolm in the Middle,” “Better Off Ted” and “At Home With Amy Sedaris.”

But if we’re thinking about comedy in the traditional sense that involves, you know, laughing, there is no question about our most glaring omission. It’s “Jackass.” No show from the past 21 years makes me laugh more — I’ll take joyous body mortification over awkward cringing any day.

Would swap out: Either “The Office” or “Arrested Development.” Both shows are masterpieces … sometimes. But they lost their ways, and thus despite their incredibly high highs, their achievements are eroded by the vastness and nature of their low lows. — Margaret Lyons, TV critic



When I talked with Rob McElhenney for this feature, I asked him whether a show ought to be ha-ha funny to be included in a list of best comedies; his (indignant, hilarious) answer was largely unprintable.

I agree. Among my personal criteria for judging comedies, one trumps all others: The best make me laugh, and “Veep” made me straight-up guffaw every episode. It is crass. It is absurd. Its characters are irredeemable. Washington being the dumpster fire it is, those qualities made “Veep” only more relevant over time. What more can I say that its 17 Emmys don’t?

Would swap out: “Parks and Recreation.” Sorry, “Parks and Rec” — despite your many, many charms, you were just too precious for me in later seasons. I haven’t met a sitcom yet that didn’t lose its mojo after “will they/won’t they” became “happily ever after.” And when I find myself “awwing” more than laughing, that’s when I cut bait. — Austin Considine, assistant TV editor



Perhaps no other show brings me more pure TV joy than “Rick and Morty,” and certainly no other ongoing one. (Though “What We Do in the Shadows,” another painful omission, comes pretty close.) The episodes are hysterical and frequently dizzying — last season’s floridly vulgar, endlessly recursive “Never Ricking Morty” actually made my head hurt a little. But every time the teeming riot of Ricks and references threatens to become altogether too much — too meta, too frenetic, too crass, too mean to Jerry — the credible family dynamics provide enough emotional ballast to keep the Story Train on the tracks.

Would swap out: “Bob’s Burgers.” I’m not trying to set up some animated “Highlander” battle; I’d happily have many cartoons on the list. But for me, “Bob’s” tops out somewhere around “perfectly OK” — good for a few chuckles but generally skippable. It’s one of my least popular TV opinions, but I stand by it. — Jeremy Egner, TV editor