We almost made this a top ten. There were almost ten sketch comedy shows on TV in 2015 good enough to mention in our year-end recap. This bounty hasn’t always existed: SNL’s been around forever, true, but there’d usually only be one or two other sketch shows worth watching on the air at any given time. Like, Kids in the Hall barely overlapped with The Ben Stiller Show, and both were off the air before Mr. Show debuted, which ended right before Upright Citizens Brigade started. Over the last few years, though, the form has truly flowered on cable, with Comedy Central, IFC, Adult Swim and other networks all embracing sketch comedy. Sadly not every worthy show could make the list: sorry, Portlandia, Friends of the People and Comedy Bang Bang. You just missed the cut. Maybe if all but three episodes of your latest season hadn’t aired in 2014, Eric Andre. You’re here in spirit, my dearly departed Birthday Boys.
So yeah, this was another banner year for sketch comedy. We were spoiled, having Inside Amy Schumer and Key & Peele run at the same time for three years like that. Too bad one of them had to go and shut itself down. With Key & Peele ending, with no news on additional episodes of W/ Bob and David, with Kroll Show also wrapping up its three-season run, the next version of this list will look very different at the end of 2016. And with Amy Schumer easily outgrowing her Comedy Central show, which is confirmed for a fourth season next year, there’s a great chance only one of these five shows will still be on the air in 2017. And of course it’s the oldest one on the list, and kind of the grandaddy of ‘em all.
5. Saturday Night Live
Saturday Night Live will often be hard to watch. It’s built into how the show is made, with basically a mad sprint to fill out ninety minutes every week. Everybody has their own idea of when the “glory days” were, but the show’s often still hilarious. And no sketch comedy show has SNL’s reach—Larry David’s cameos as Bernie Sanders haven’t influenced the national conversation as much as Tina Fey’s Sarah Palin or Will Ferrell’s George W. Bush did, but they weren’t far off.—Garrett Martin
4. Kroll Show
Looked at as one complete package, Kroll Show was entirely satisfying even if it didn’t break much new ground along the way. What it did—and did well—was maintain a consistent tone and energy throughout. I would have liked to have seen it improve dramatically rather than just stay in one groove, but it never flagged. And you always got the impression that the people on screen were, as the title of this episode suggests, having an amazing experience making fun of the navel-gazing world of reality TV. It was fun while it lasted, Kroll Show.—Robert Ham
3. W/ Bob and David
20 years after Mr. Show debuted on HBO, Bob Odenkirk and David Cross brought almost the entire crew back for four episodes of the new Netflix show W/ Bob & David. You could hardly tell any time had passed: after a shaky first episode, the new show’s as brilliant and hilarious as Mr. Show. If it had more than four episodes, it’d probably be higher on this list.—GM
2. Key & Peele
We’re going to miss Key & Peele. By “we” I don’t mean just myself or Paste, but society as a whole. And by “miss” I don’t mean we’ll reflect fondly upon this show that made us laugh and now exists no more, but that our culture will literally feel the absence of this brilliant show that routinely skewered the depressing racial climate in America. Not every sketch was political, and not every sketch was a hit, but at their best Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele hilariously attacked issues few other comedians or shows would dare to touch. They used comedy to become a vital part of the national conversation, and hopefully whatever they do next will have that same power.—GM
1. Inside Amy Schumer
Trainwreck might have gotten the most attention, and her HBO stand-up special might’ve felt more, well, special, but the key to Amy Schumer’s huge year was her Comedy Central sketch show. Its third season was its smartest, funniest, most fearless yet, highlighting the bullshit that women continue to have to deal with in society today with deep insight and brutal efficiency. Even fans of the show might’ve gotten annoyed at the ecstatic praise websites heaped on the latest best sketch ever every single week, but there’s no denying that brilliant gems like “Last Fuckable Day,” “Football Town Nights” and “I’m Sorry” tackled issues that most comedy shows would avoid with both great humor and great truth. And the episode-length sketch “12 Angry Men Inside Amy Schumer,” where a murderer’s row of guest actors deliberate beauty standards, might have been the best half-hour of television this year.—GM