Ever hear the one about the comedy list that was itself a bad joke?
Many Times readers will be happy to tell it to you because they have told us versions of it over and over since last week, when we posted our list of the 21 best TV comedies of the 21st century. The survey listed, in chronological order, our picks for the top American sitcoms and sketch shows that have come out since Jan. 1, 2000. And it didn’t please everyone.
“‘Veep’ is an obvious and insane omission,” wrote a reader named Eric, from Washington, D.C., summing up an apparently widely held opinion. Based on comments posted on the list itself and in a separate article, the HBO political satire was our most glaring exclusion.
But it was hardly the only one. In our defense, quite a few readers endorsed our picks — “Your list is great so I’m not sure I can add a favorite,” wrote Jessica Nicoll of Northampton, Mass., who clearly has impeccable taste and judgment. (She did go on to note, though, that “Veep” should have been included.) And many of the complaints were about comedies that weren’t actually eligible, because they were too old (“Seinfeld,” “Frasier,” “Barney Miller”), or talk shows (“The Colbert Report,” John Oliver) or not American. (See below.)
Others that did qualify, however, inspired impassioned advocacy. Shows like “The Big Bang Theory,” “Brooklyn Nine-Nine,” “Portlandia,” “Silicon Valley,” “Mom,” “Episodes,” “Archer” and “Insecure,” among others, had dozens of evangelists. “Harvey Birdman, Attorney at Law” had one.
But a few series dominated the lamentations. Here they are, in no particular order.
“‘Schitt’s Creek’ didn’t make the list?? Incredible!” — Judy Distler, New Jersey
Not American! (North American, sure, but that wasn’t the criterion.) Over six seasons, this charming comedy created by Eugene and Daniel Levy went from semi-obscurity to winning all the Emmys in its final season. Truly: It won every major comedy Emmy in 2020, the only time a series has done so within a single year.
But it is Canadian. So are “Letterkenny,” “Slings and Arrows” and “Kim’s Convenience” — all exceptional shows that didn’t qualify because they originated outside the United States. The same rule applied to the many great British comedies readers cited, including “Fleabag” (above all), “Chewing Gum,” “Derry Girls” and the original version of “The Office,” as well as lesser known (on this side of the Atlantic) but excellent series like “Peep Show” and “The Detectorists.”
We decided to limit the pool to American shows because we did the same for our best dramas list in 2019, and because we thought it would create space for more surprising choices.
“It’s hard to believe any list of best TV comedies of the 21st century would be without Veep.’” — Anton, Paris
We figured Armando Iannucci’s acidly hilarious “Veep” would be the most outrageous omission, in the most literal sense of the word. And we were right! Setting aside “Schitt’s Creek” — because again, Canadian — “Veep” was the most frequent source of complaint from readers.
The final lineup was the product of multiple rounds of discussion, and “Veep” was in the mix until the very end. But ultimately it fell by the wayside. My colleague Austin Considine included it as his most painful cut from the list, but that didn’t seem to satisfy its many incredulous fans. I’m just glad, for the sake of my own feelings, that Times readers are generally more civil than the show’s characters.
‘The Good Place’
“How, in God’s name, do you guys overlook NBC’s ‘The Good Place’?” — Neil Weiser, Redwood City, Calif.
This afterlife comedy was about as universally acclaimed as a sitcom can get, including by us. Over its four-season run, we routinely praised it in reviews and essays, and in interviews with the show’s stars and its creator, Michael Schur.
So I get why so many readers were puzzled by its omission. Was it a victim of its architect’s success? Schur wrote for “The Office” (and occasionally acted in it, as the feral Mose Schrute), and he cocreated “Parks and Recreation” — two other NBC sitcoms on the list. Was that a factor? Not explicitly; there was no “one show per showrunner” rule. But perhaps it figured subconsciously into our considerations.
What can I say? A list like this involves tough choices. I’m sure our rewards will be just in the hereafter.
‘What We Do in the Shadows’
“It mocks humanity, and looks at the mundane roommate relationship through the lens of vampires. What could be better?” — Aimee Baker, Denver
What, indeed? “What We Do in the Shadows” is one of my favorite shows on television, a constant delight. (I defy anyone who’s seen the “Jackie Daytona” episode to hear that name without giggling.) It, too, survived multiple rounds of cuts and discussion before dropping off near the end.
Its relatively scanty output of 20 total episodes didn’t help — of the included shows, only “PEN15” has fewer, with 17. (“Party Down” also has 20.) Another season or two of similar quality, and “Shadows” will be a lock for lists like this.
“I pored through your list looking for ‘Modern Family,’ but, alas, you have done it wrong!” — Rebecca Henry Jahn, Westerville, Ohio
Of course, there’s such a thing as too much output. “Modern Family” was terrific early on, with sharp writing, a then-inventive spin on the mockumentary format and an outstanding cast. It won the Emmy for best comedy in each of its first five seasons.
Then it just kept going. As someone who has seen nearly all 250 episodes, I can confirm that the show stayed pretty funny throughout, and also that its chaff-to-wheat ratio steadily worsened over its 11 seasons.
So it didn’t make the cut. All involved will just have to make do with the widespread adoration and gobsmacking riches that come with having created one of the most successful sitcoms in history.