Top 15 TV Comedies of the 21st Century
The Daily's list of the Best Comedies of the 2000's can be found here.
The face of comedy, shaped by the changing societal standards and tastes of the period, has adapted consistently throughout time. Comedy on TV today is a far cry from the slapstick, physicality-focused humor of Charlie Chaplin or The Three Stooges that our grandparents once enjoyed. Some relics from the heyday of laugh-track sitcoms that followed still remain, but the 21st century has welcomed a different type of humor in the TV shows it’s graced us with. Just a few decades ago, the main method of delivery for comedic television was the mom-and-pop-on-a-sound-stage sitcom. As we progressed into the 21st century, the boundaries were stretched from family-focused shows with veiled innuendo and crass jokes dodging censorship to a more modernist depiction of everyday life, intended for more “mature audiences.”
Television shows reflect our society and culture; as society evolves and adapts, television follows suit. Over time, TV comedy has strayed further and further from portraying life as picture perfect or smoothed over, and it has come to include more accurate depictions, that illustrate the “uglier” sides of life. As censorship has lightened over the years, we, as a society, seem to have become more desensitized to darker subject matter that would have once shut down a show entirely.
“Broad City,” for example, depicts two young, working New York women who smoke pot and don’t shy away from sexually charged discussions. This show highlights the more rugged side of human nature — a far cry from the polite, mild-mannered sitcoms that came in the era before it. Two drug-using young women living on low means being the sole subjects of an entire comedy show was, truly, unprecedented.
By and large, our culture has become more progressive and accepting — in the 21st century especially — which is echoed in TV by more inclusive casting decisions and dissolved gender boundaries. “Broad City” bringing about stand alone female comedic leads in a crowd-favorite is something that wouldn’t have found footing in previous generations. Women are being liberated in comedy television through more realistic portrayals, but through more empowering ones as well. “30 Rock” and “Parks and Recreation” were some of the first depictions of women in powerful positions that were previously considered male-dominated.
The number one spot on our list went to “The Office,” and while the show earned this spot for its timeless, quick jokes, its effect on comedy TV at large goes beyond that. Prior to the release of “The Office,” the mockumentary style of television had not caught on in America. The addition of actors breaking the fourth wall, looking right down the barrel of the camera, included the viewers in a new way that would go on to shape television shows succeeding it.
Michael Schur’s “Parks and Recreation” found great success years later, following the path laid by “The Office.” Using mundane work environments under the close scrutiny of documentarians brings about an innate style of humor that results from the relatable, universal themes of a workplace comedy. The closer a comedy comes to a more inclusive, dynamic representation of the real world, the more widespread its success and audience seems to become.
In shows like “The Office,” which ran from the early 2000s into the next decade, these gradual progressions of society, seen throughout the series, sneak up like weight gain. You don’t notice while watching episode to episode that a show is consistently adjusting to the contemporary acceptable modes of humor and depictions of life as they change, but when you go back and watch from season one, you’re shocked by the differences.
TV comedy is constantly being shaped by the ever-changing world that it is reflecting, as values loosen and more progressive movements find footing. Today, we know a different world of comedy than was enjoyed by generations prior, so relish in the darker and true-to-life humor that has come to fruition with The Daily’s Top 15 TV comedies of the 21st century.
Click here to read the Daily's list of the Best Comedies of the 2000's.