Okay, you’ve probably heard of one or two. It’s just a snappy title, work with me here. Because there’s probably a few shows on the list you don’t know about, and your life will be slightly less miserable with them in your life. Unless you’re American and have already seen them all, in which case maybe you can read my Nathan Barley article instead.
#1 Better off Ted
It has a terrible name, I know; the type of pun-based title that conjures up images of an awful family sitcom with a laugh track. But Better off Ted is actually a smart satire of corporate culture and capitalism, mixed with traditional sitcom elements.
Ted is the main character, obviously; a nice guy, everyman manager at a multinational company that is cartoonishly evil in a slick, 21st century way. His robot-like boss (played by Arrested Development’s Portia De Rossi), two company scientists and his romantic-interest co-worker make up the rest of the cast.
The traditional comedy elements – like the scientists Phil and Lem and their awkward personalities and destructive inventions – are hilarious but it’s the satire in the show that really elevates it. Each episode contains little fake adverts that skewer capitalism and its amorality and ridicules false corporate bullshit.
One of the best episodes involved the installation of motion controls to the office; motion controls which couldn’t detect black people. ‘The company’s position is that it’s not racist because it’s not targeting black people, it’s just ignoring them,’ one character says. The episode builds into farce as each black worker is assigned a white person to follow them around to activate the sensors.
The show was cancelled after two seasons, and the network that produced it seems intent on wiping every trace of the show from the internet. So the clip below isn’t the best illustration of it, but it will hopefully give you a taste of Better off Ted’s quality.
#2 It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is about four friends who work in and own a bar, all of whom are horrible people. They are completely irredeemable and self-centred, and the show revolves around their farcical adventures as they stumble into other people’s lives and screw things up.
Episodes can be a little hit and miss at times, but when it works the show is one of the funniest programmes around. In one great episode, the characters realise that they are terrible people, and do their best to be kind to each other, consistently failing despite themselves.
The show has created its own little world populated by grotesque characters – one of whom is played by Danny DeVito – and the comic acting is fantastic. The show is outstanding at drawing humour from semi-improvised, stumbling conversations around horrible subjects, and has built characters that you can’t help but love despite the fact that they are all awful, awful people.
This one is a little hard to get into. The premise is that the show is a fake reality TV show, filming a man in a witness protection programme. The lead character, John, always wears a balaclava, and has a voice modulation box fitted, and if you think that sounds bizarre, then the episode plots are going to sound absurd.
But that’s what Delocated is: great absurd humour. In one episode, John runs for dog Mayor of New York, a position that doesn’t exist, and his girlfriend’s brother, increasingly frustrated at John’s refusal to admit that the position doesn’t exist, decides to run against him.
The first season episodes are just 10 minutes long, but things really kick in once the full-length second season begins, as the Russian mob hunting John are given their own reality TV show, and absurd storylines, characters and episode plots are built on top of each other, creating a weird but very funny comedy.
#4 Children’s Hospital
Children’s Hospital is partially a send-up of medical dramas and comedies like Greys Anatomy and Scrubs, and is as equally absurd at times as Delocated, but packing quick fire one-liners into every ridiculous scene.
The show, about the employees of a hospital, is packed full of guest stars and is willing to regularly screw with the sitcom format and go off on weird tangents, setting whole episodes in the past, or framing them as a documentary or a show within a show.
This adventurous nature can get a little tiring after a while, but episodes are short and watched in small bursts they can be as refreshing as they are different from most other comedies on TV.
#5 Eastbound and Down
The first season of Eastbound and Down is one of the most perfect, contained comedic creations in the last decade of television. Danny McBride plays Kenny Powers, an ex-baseball superstar forced to move back to his hometown and live with his brother after his career stalls.
Powers is an arrogant, idiotic dick of a character but he is also pathetic and delusional and this softens him and makes him likable. The show gets so much mileage out of ruthlessly humiliating its main character, and it can often be very, very dark.
Featuring great comic performances from actors like McBride and Will Ferrell, and great straight acting from the Oscar nominated John Hawkes, Eastbound and Down is very cinematic, and is more like a six chapter movie than a TV show, with directing so inventive and enjoyable it’s reminiscent of what Edgar Wright did for Spaced.
There’s also a second season of the show, which is okay, and a third which at times hits the highs of season one, but the first series is one of the best comedies of recent years, and I can’t speak highly enough of it.
Some other good American shows you may not have heard of
Frisky Dingo: A bizarre cartoon about a supervillain dealing within the mundane aspects of supervillainy. From the same guy who is currently writing Archer.
Nathan for You: A parody of shows like Kitchen Nightmares, were Nathan Fielder offers awful advise to struggling businesses.
Party Down: A show about struggling and failed actors and comedians working in a catering business. The comedy is a great exploration of the feelings of failure and aimlessness that can sink in once you hit your mid-late-20s and realise that you might have to give up your dreams. It’s a little lacking in laughs at times, but well worth watching.
Key & Peele: A decent sketch show
The Whitest Kids You Know: Another decent sketch show