In this post I list some of the best TV comedy shows I have enjoyed this year. Every show featured here is highly recommended, and available on either All4, BBC iPlayer, Netflix or AppleTV+, and there may be some minor spoilers below. You have been warned.
The top five TV comedy shows I saw in 2021 are:
- The Great
- Schitt’s Creek
- Ted Lasso
The Great was a hulu original which then showed on Channel Four in the UK. Maleficent‘s Elle Fanning is captivating as Catherine newly wed to Peter Emperor of Russia played with aplomb by Nicholas Hoult. It’s a period comedy drama with more emphasis on the comedy. The script is brilliant, every actor shines, and it’s simply glorious.
It probably wouldn’t have got the green light if it wasn’t for the success of the very similar feeling historic comedy movie The Favourite but it’s far funnier than that and has more energy to it somehow. While I’ve not seen Fanning in anything but the two Disney films I’ve seen a lot of Nicholas Hoult’s stuff and he is splendid in this. Huzzah! Also Sacha Dhawan who is lacklustre in Iron Fist and as The Master recently in Doctor Who is actually really good. Just like every supporting actor.
Schitt’s Creek is a Canadian sitcom on Netflix based in a small town of the same name where the once wealthy but now bankrupt Rose family now live in a motel. It is a word-of-mouth cult classic and quite a special thing – it treads an expertly fine line between being overly sentimental and making you really care about the idiosyncratic members of the Rose family. These include the father Johnny Rose (Eugene Levy) who is more or less the straight man to everyone else’s antics, mother Moira Rose (Catherine O’Hara) who was once a popular TV actor, their son David (Dan Levy) who ‘likes wine regardless of the label’ in his personal relationships, and daughter Alexis (Annie Murphy) whose awful taste in men slowly evolves into a very touching relationship with local vet Ted (Dustin Milligan).
There’s a wealth of very good supporting characters and actors, and the scripts are generally tip-top. They bowed out after 80 episodes (6 seasons) in 2020, while the show was still firing on all cylinders and garnering critical acclaim and awards, which is a shame but I’d rather that than it run forever and get increasingly worse – which has happened in the past with comedy shows, but maybe not so much these days of the ultra-competitive TV landscape.
Taskmaster is a long-running comedy game show which made the move from Dave to Channel 4 in 2020 and enjoyed its twelfth season in 2021. It’s the funniest thing on what I consider ‘terrestrial’ TV. Each season has five comedians or celebrities competing over ten or so episodes in a range of bizarre tasks set by comedian Greg Davies, the titular Taskmaster, and his assistant Alex Horne (of the Horne Section) who devises most of the tasks with the production team.
Season 12 starred Victoria Coren Mitchell (professional poker player and host of the BBC’s baffling quiz show Only Connect which we also enjoyed watching properly for this first time this year), Morgana Robinson (impressionist and star of the comedy show The Windsors which I guess deserves an honourable mention here too), Guz Khan (comedian from Man Like Mobeen), comedy legend Alan Davies (QI, Jonathan Creek) and Desiree Burch (comedian and narrator ofToo Hot To Handle). Guz and Desiree were unknown quantities for me and Siggy, but all the contestants were brilliant – especially Morgana who we love.
Ted Lasso is on Apple TV+ and tells the story of an America sports coach (Jason Sudeikis) brought over to manage an English soccer team in Richmond. In the first season club owner Rebecca Welton (Game of Thrones’ Hannah Waddington) wanted to drive the Premiere League club into failure to spite her ex-husband and hired Lasso to botch it all up for her. Problem is, Lasso is actually very likeable and good at his job.
It’s a feel-good comedy with quite a unique character in the form of the ever-optimistic Lasso. Sudeikis and Welton are very good, along with an interesting performance from Juno Temple (Maleficent) as a footballer’s feisty model girlfriend. The series won an amazing 7 Emmy Awards in 2021 including the awards for Outstanding Comedy Series and Best Actor in a Comedy Series for Sudeikis. Season 2 of the show tends to focus on how Lasso’s stubbornly positive attitude influences the people around him, encouraging them to be the best version of themselves in a variety of scenarios. This works for all bar one of the characters who turns into a kind of anti-Lasso by the end of the 12 episode run (which includes and oddly placed Christmas episode).
Ghosts had already run for three seasons on the BBC, before we got wind of it and we enjoyed catching up with it via BBC iPlayer. I’m writing here about the original UK series. CBS have done a remake for the US audience, but I expect it will be shit and have no intention of watching it. Charlotte Ritchie plays Alison Cooper who inherits an old country manor house and moves in with her husband Mike (Kiell Smith-Bynoe). But it soon becomes apparent that the house is haunted by a throng of ghosts from various historic periods. Alison can see them, Mike can’t.
This familiar with children’s TV in the UK will recognise that most of the cast of Horrible Histories star in the show and bring with them some strong individual comedy characters including the oldest ghost – a cave man who can make the house’s lights flicker, a dodgy politician who died literally with his pants down who is a very weak poltergeist, a scout master with an arrow through his neck and a WWII captain who is firmly in the closet. There’s plenty of possibilities for stories with I think 9 main ghosts haunting the house and the Coopers trying to turn it into a B&B or a wedding venue.
Honourable mentions go to the vampire comedy What We Do In The Shadows Season 3 (currently showing on BBC2 in the UK) mixing horror tropes with great visual effects and sitcom antics, and People Just Do Nothing a mockumentary about a pirate radio station Korrupt FM in a chavvy London borough (all seasons currently available on Netflix in the UK, and hopefully the new film based in Japan will turn up there too in time).