Sixteen shows have advanced to the standard-size brackets; there are 48 berths left to be handed out and here’s the third group, and it’s a collection that includes Lucy Ricardo, Ricky Ricardo, Larry Sanders, Les Nesman, Venus Flytrap, Earn Marks, Noho Hank, Maurice Moss and more. Here’s the next round of the Screen Scholars/GBOAT March Madness in April and Beyond Half Hour Comedy MegaTournament. Here’s your ballot and some words on this group of shows are beyond that. Thanks for taking part!
The Next Sixteen
16. It’s Garry Shandling’s Show (Showtime, 1986-90) – Meta before meta was cool. While The Larry Sanders Show, also coincidentally in this section, may be better remembered, and the program that would make hard working comedian Garry Shandling an emmy darling, his initial show was much more daring. On Showtime, the low-key neurotic comic constantly broke the fourth wall as his friends and neighbors flowed in and out of his house for some of the most thrilling and funny dry humor on air in the 1980s.
15. Strangers with Candy (Comedy Central, 1999-2000) – While short-lived, this oddball show introduced most people to Amy Sedaris as Jerri Blank, a former criminal/addict/hooker and all-around weirdo (or as she puts it: “a boozer, a user, and a loser”) who returns to high school as a 46-year-old freshman. It also featured an early role for Stephen Colbert as the school’s history teacher who also sponsors the school paper.
14. Peep Show (BBC 4, 2003-15) – David Mitchell and Robert Webb form possibly the best comedy team of the past 25 years. This show, told in a unique fish-eye POV fashion as the neurotic inner monologue of downcast Mark and slacker Jez (Mitchell and Webb, respectively). By the way, Mark’s on-again/off-again love interest for most of the length of the show is played by the duo’s longtime collaborator Olivia Colman–as in perennial Academy Award nominee Olivia Colman.
13. Everybody Hates Chris (The CW, 2005-09) – Severely underrated comedy featuring stories from the childhood of comedian Chris Rock, with Rock providing the narration of his younger self’s inner thoughts. It was a sitcom where the situations went beyond tropes, plus it depicted 1970s/’80s NYC pretty keenly.
12. Newsradio (1995-99) – One of two shows in this section that opens on a charismatic new director joining a radio station, this comedy featured Dave Foley as Dave Nelson, a quirky midwesterner who becomes the new leader of the group of eccentrics at NYC’s WNYX. Also a regular, Phil Hartman appeared as arrogant news anchor Bill MacNeil in his final role before his tragic real-life death after the fourth season wrapped.
11. The Adventures of Pete & Pete (Nickelodeon, 1991-96) – One of the all-time great children’s shows (meant to appeal to adults as well), this surreal show captured the magical side of youth through the eyes of Big Pete and Little Pete Wrigley–brothers who were inseparable despite a 4-year gap in age. Navigating their way through the pitfalls and bullies of childhood, there was no such thing as a small moment on this show.
10. Malcolm in the Middle (Fox, 2000-06) – We have back-to-back comedies about growing up with brothers, but this one–starring Frankie Muniz as the titular Malcolm was definitely aimed at adults. Malcolm is exceptionally intelligent, but gets lost between his bullying older brother Reese, his oddball younger brother Dewey, and another bad boy older brother Francis who has been sent away to military school, while trying to please his parents, the exasperated Lois and the abiding Walter White.
9. Barry (HBO, 2018-present) – Bill Hader’s twisted creation may just be the darkest program in this whole tournament (while featuring a co-star legendary as one of Hollywood’s kindest humans in Henry Winkler). Barry is a professional killer who decides mid-hit that he would like to quit the contract murder biz and get into the show biz when he spies Gene Cousineau’s (Winkler) acting class. Obviously, getting out is never that easy or we wouldn’t have a show.
8. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (NBC, 1990-96) – By now we all know the story of how Will Smith’s life got flipped, turned upside down and he wound up the prince of a town called Bel-Air. In West Philadelphia born and raised, playground, guys up to no good making trouble in his neighborhood, so against his pleas, mom ships him to live with his aunty and uncle in Bel-Air, and after some brief cabbie harassment, a sitcom is formed. Welp, parents are the same no matter time nor place.
7. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix, 2015-20) – Kidnapped as a child and held in an underground bunker by the crazy Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (in some fun Jon Hamm stunt casting), Kimmy is freed at 29 to try to navigate the confusing streets of New York City. Trying to escape her past as a “Mole Woman,” she becomes entangled in misadventures with melodramatic roommate Titus Andromedon and landlord Lillian Kaushtupper, as well as with her boss Jacqueline Voorhees. Like most Tina Fey shows, it was not without its problematic moments, but it was still one of the funniest shows airing in the past five years.
6. Superstore (NBC, 2015-21) – Ending just a few weeks ago, what started as an America Ferrera vehicle evolved into one of the better ensemble cast universes this side of Parks & Rec or The Simpsons. The employees of St. Louis box store Cloud 9 were flawed to the point most of them should have been let go years ago, but what made this show work was exemplified by one of its best episodes when undocumented Mateo is protected by the whole store in an ICE raid. These were some of the most well-drawn, loveable misfits who stood up when one of their own was attacked.
5. The IT Crowd (BBC 4, 2006-13) – Often silly and/or crass, this show about Roy & Moss, two misfits who toil in the basement of a glitzy company, only called up when they need their computers fixed, at its best was capable of the best half-hour of character-driven slapstick/farce on TV. The pair are saddled with a boss, Jen, who longs to be cool and is as miserable to be down there as the rest. “Did someone email us about a fire?”
4. WKRP in Cincinnati (CBS, 1978-82) – Misfits abound in this group, even if many of the ones living on the air in Cincinnati were of the hipper variety. New programming director Andy Travis, charged with reviving a radio station, brings in the rock n’ roll, all the while grappling with a clueless boss, a prissy traffic reporter, a sleazy salesman, a stoner DJ, and Venus Flytrap and Bailey Quarters who were actually pretty competent if memory serves.
3. Atlanta (FX, 2016-present) – Donald Glover’s moody and ethereal Emmy-ruling comedy is another one that gets dark as we follow 30-something Earn Marks as he tries to get his life in order and provide for his kid by hooking on to the rising star that is his cousin, who raps under the name Paper Boi. Its cast alone–led by Glover, Brian Tyree Henry as Paper Boi, and Lakeith Stanfield as Paper Boi’s ultra-eccentric friend and associate–warrants its high seed, even if there are stretches with few laughs.
2. The Larry Sanders Show (HBO, 1992-98) – Garry Shandling went from a show that knows it’s a show to perhaps the best ever show-within-a-show. After frequent guest host Shandling missed out on hosting The Tonight Show in real life, he did a notch better by creating his own iconic series where he played the narcissistic host Sanders, host of a popular late-night talk shows. With his sociopathic boss (Rip Torn) and insecure sidekick (Jeffrey Tambor), Sanders had a toxic workplace trifecta. It’s arguably the precursor of Curb Your Enthusiasm for its ability to get celebrities to inhabit the most awful versions of themselves.
1. I Love Lucy (1951-57) – Over 60 years off-the-air, comedian Lucille Ball’s classic showcase as the prone-to-misadventure wife of bandleader Ricky Ricardo (real-life husband Desi Arnaz) stills stands as the gold standard all comedies are measured against. And while we officially have just the original show listed, this can be thought to embody all the different iterations. Well, maybe except for Life with Lucy, her final series in 1987 which was sadly canceled after 13 episodes. Did you know that Rilo Kiley‘s Jenny Lewis was in that as a child?