If there’s one thing this list proves, it’s that the sitcom has been forever transformed. For us, shows like Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt and Brooklyn Nine-Nine represent a new brand of humor that’s still reminiscent of traditional sitcom narratives, but wildly reflective of the times. And while we’re not opposed to the more family-oriented shows, it’s clear we like ‘em with a little more funky freshness, which is exactly what ABC’s incredibly dope Fresh off the Boat brought us this year. Here are our picks for the best sitcoms of 2015.
BoJack Horseman is one of the most underrated comedies ever made, and it almost pains me that it doesn’t earn more praise. Right from the title sequence, which documents BoJack’s sad decline from network sitcom star to drunken has-been—set to the beautiful theme song written by the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney—this is one of the most thoughtful comedies ever made. Which doesn’t mean it’s not hilarious, of course. Will Arnett is the perfect voice for BoJack, and Paul F. Tompkins, who is in my mind the funniest man on planet Earth, could not be better suited to the child-like Mr. Peanut Butter. This is a show that isn’t above a visual gag or vicious banter or a wonderfully cheap laugh, but it also looks some very hard realities of life straight in the eye. There are times when you will hate BoJack—this is not a straight redemption story, and the minute you think he’s on the upswing, he will do something absolutely horrible to let you down. (There’s a special irony in the fact that a horse is one of the most human characters on TV, and the unblinking examination of his character makes “Escape from L.A.” one of the best episodes of TV this year.) So why isn’t it loved beyond a strong cult following? Maybe it’s the anthropomorphism that keeps people away, or maybe it’s the animation, but I implore you: Look beyond those elements, settle into the story, and let yourself be amazed by a comedy that straddles the line between hilarious and sad like no other on television.—Shane Ryan
One of the strange things about storytelling is that the more specific and unique the details, the more universal a story feels. Fresh Off the Boat tries to be extremely precise about the problems of being first and second-generation members of a Taiwanese family living in suburban Florida during the mid-90s—and this pointed humor is what makes the show’s cast and jokes rise above so many other sitcoms. The fact is, the show cares about offering a more nuanced version of Asian-American life, and this keeps its laughs honest. At the same time it never tries to make the protagonists out to be model minorities or fit them into any equally reductive role. Admittedly, Fresh Off the Boat has broadened a bit in its second season, but it still remains the best traditional American sitcom on the air.—Sean Gandert
Network: Comedy Central
For the last few years, Comedy Central has consistently presented us with great comedy duos: Key & Peele, Kroll and Daly, and now Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson. Broad City presents us with two unforgettable characters who are desperately trying to become the boss bitches they are in their minds. This epic friendship is instantaneously contagious, and the brilliant plots, centered on the two twenty-somethings scraping by in New York City, makes this one of the great, most promising new-ish series. This year Broad City seems to have discovered how to keep its slacker-powered comedy machine firing on all cylinders, resulting in some of the season’s most successful episode yet.—Ross Bonaime and Hudson Hongo
“Consistency” might not be the most flattering virtue you can ascribe to a sitcom, but consistency is a big part of Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s greatness. Week in and week out, Dan Goor and Michael Shur’s half-hour cop comedy manages to hit just the right notes without losing its groove. Some episodes hit higher notes than others, and yes, in the series’ three-season lifespan, there have in fact been a few off-key episodes intermingled with the others. But when Brooklyn Nine-Nine is good, it’s good, and it’s good with an impressive regularity. When it’s great, it’s the best sitcom you’ll find on network television, thanks in part to sharp writing, but mostly to an even sharper cast. Consistency is what fuels Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s motor, but the characters are the ones steering the ship. The show is enormously diverse in terms of not only gender and ethnicity, but also in terms of comic styles: There’s career sad sack Joe Lo Truglio, the stoically hilarious Andre Braugher, king of the clowns Andy Samberg, master of badassery Stephanie Beatriz, and that only covers a little less than half the team. Since Brooklyn Nine-Nine’s debut back in 2013, each character on the show has developed and grown, and in the process we’ve come to care about all of them in equal measure. At the top of its game, Brooklyn Nine-Nine harmonizes our attachment to these people with great gags, and occasionally even sharp (if brief) action. There’s a lot the series has to offer, in other words, and that just drives home how vital its constancy really is to its success. Never underestimate well-regulated humor.—Andy Crump
So, the title The Last Man on Earth turned out to be a bit of a mislead. That’s for the best, because, as ambitious and fascinating as it was to watch the show in its early moments when it was just Will Forte ambling around an empty landscape, more people in the cast, including the excellent Kristen Schaal, has benefited the series by giving it to actual human dynamics. The shift also gives Forte other people to bounce off of with his particularly brand of unhinged comedy.
The first season was strong, but it had its flaws—like almost every show does. It had, at a certain point, become a fairly formulaic sitcom, only lifted by the talent of the cast, and the post-apocalyptic landscape. However, the second season has really seen The Last Man on Earth take it to another level. The rough edges have been sanded down, the dynamics of the group have grown in interesting ways, and most importantly, it has become even funnier. Who knew so much humor could be mined from a show about the vast majority of people on the planet dying off?—Chris Morgan
Like its creator and star, Master of None is stylish, smart and clever—a half-hour comedy that ranks as one of Netflix’s best efforts in original programming. Following the trend set by Louie, Transparent, You’re the Worst and many other modern sitcoms, Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang built a show that doesn’t mind the occasional laugh hiatus. Instead of pushing the joke quota to astronomical levels, Master of None is content to find poignancy amid the humor, and if the former outshines the latter, so be it. The result is a show that is fun to watch, emotionally satisfying and thought provoking. It’s also been paramount in furthering the discussion about race and representation on television, both with its own casting and the topics it addresses. There is so much to say about this show, and these few hundred words are a pathetic attempt to do it justice. Master of None is not only one of the best shows of 2015, but one of the most important in a long, long time.—Eric Walters
This beloved comedy accomplished the near-impossible and went out on top. Comedies, in particular, have a difficult time knowing when it’s time to take a bow. But Leslie Knope and her merry band of friends kept us laughing (and crying) right up until the series finale. NBC burned through the final season, airing two episodes per week through January and February. But the accelerated schedule didn’t stop us from savoring every last moment with the Pawnee crew. The seventh season, set in the year 2017, also has the distinction of being a rare TV time-jump that really worked. But the piece de resistance was the series finale which, as Leslie gave each one of her friends a hug, flashed forward to show us what the future held for every character and hinted at an amazing career for Leslie (was she President?!). All in all, it was a powerfully good farewell to one of the most creative and beloved network series in a long time.—Amy Amatangelo
NBC has made any number of mistakes over the years, but few bigger than shelving Tina Fey and Robert Carlock’s 30 Rock follow-up, before punting it over to Netflix. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt wound up becoming one of the highlights of a great year for TV comedy. The fast-paced and flip sitcom featured breakout performances by Office vet Ellie Kemper as the titular former “mole woman” trying to make it on her own in New York, and Tituss Burgess as her flamboyant and put-upon roommate, Titus Andromedon. (NBC has recently tried to make it up to Kemper for dropping the ball on this by planting her in the guest host chair at Today—too little, too late, peacock peddlers.) Throughout the first season’s run, some writers and critics seemed dead set on finding some kind of flaw to pounce on with the show, zeroing in on how the minority characters are represented. This may be a wild generalization, but I think this was a natural reaction to one of the most overtly feminist sitcoms ever produced. Kimmy Schmidt is most certainly upsetting the natural order of your typical network sitcom. The show’s titular character is defining her life on her own terms and by her own standards. For some reason that still freaks some people out so they dismiss it or find some way to poke holes in the vehicle for that idea. That is what makes the prospect of a second season so exciting. Just as the show can go in a myriad of different directions, so too can Kimmy Schmidt. Now that she has put the awful time in the bunker to bed, she can face a new day with that infectious smile, bubbly attitude, and enthusiastic embrace of life experience. Sorry nitpickers and network executives; Kimmy Schmidt is going to make it after all.—Robert Ham
Though this HBO sitcom did a great job skewering the doublespeak and hyper-positivity of the tech world, the second season of Silicon Valley shone the brightest by putting the antisocial misfits of upstart startup Pied Piper in more and more ridiculous situations: trying to appease the grumbling jocks that populate an energy drink company and butting heads with the bloviating bro more concerned with maintaining his status as a billionaire than actually doing anything with his life. This provided ample opportunity for some amazing comedic performances by Thomas Middleditch as the twitchy, nervous head of Pied Piper and T.J. Miller as his perma-stoned co-founder. continue to hide in plain sight but the stakes during the third season are raised exponentially.—Robert Ham
Veep is the smartest, best comedy on television, and I don’t say this lightly: I’m ADAMANT. On the macrocosmic level, it nails American politics—the amount of corruption and incompetence, along with a thick web of conflicting interests, which makes it impossible for anything real to be accomplished. More often than not, Selina Meyer ends up backing a position directly opposed to her true beliefs, and the goal shifts from political progress to mere survival. Finding a scapegoat or dodging a crisis is vastly more important to a politician’s life than passing a law or aiding the country, and no show looks at this reality with a more cutting kind of cynicism than Veep. On a microcosmic level, it’s a show that’s absolutely packed with comedy. This is like Aaron Sorkin if he were funny—overlapping, interrupting dialogue flies in at a lightning pace, chopping down egos, exposing insecurities, and generally adding layers of the most hilarious cruelty to a bitter, cutthroat world. It can be high-brow, and it can be low: One of the funniest recurrent bits this year involved Patton Oswalt’s slimy character grabbing Jonah by the balls. “Political comedy” is not an easy genre to pull off, but Veep has made it an art form, and the show’s fourth season was its best yet.—Shane Ryan