List, Television

TOP 5 CURRENT US SITCOMS

The 5 US sitcoms you should be watching right now.

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5. Unbreakable Kimmy Shmidt

rawIt won’t be to everyone’s taste, but Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt is a fantastic Netflix sitcom that stands out from the majority of other shows due to its premise. Created by Tina Fey and Robert Carlock (AKA the minds behind the brilliant 30 Rock, which ran from 2006 to 2013), the show begins with 29 year old Kimmy Schmidt (Ellie Kemper) being rescued from a bunker where she has spent 15 years in captivity after Reverend Richard Wayne Gary Wayne (Jon Hamm) led her and three other women to believe that they had survived the end of the world. Becoming known as one of the “Indiana mole women”, Kimmy decides to break free and start a new life in New York City, despite not knowing much about the 21st century world.

The fact that Fey and Carlock have taken a decidedly dark premise and made it into something as bright and cheerful as this show is a credit to them, but even moreso to Kemper for making the character of Kimmy so endearingly likable – she feels like an extension of her role as Erin in NBC’s The Office, which can only be a good thing. The cast is brilliant in that it moves away from the typical group of friends who met in high school/college hanging out and instead presents an eclectic range of people who appeared in each others lives randomly, from Kimmy’s broadway yearning roomate Titus (Tituss Burgess) or eccentric landlady Lillian (Carol Kane), to the ever hilarious Jane Krakowski as a wealthy Manhattanite.

Whilst the show could perhaps become a little grating, there is no denying that it is totally unique and hilariously funny – something which has seen Netflix renew it for a third season before the second has even begun streaming (season 2 is set to make an appearance on the 15th of April), and the fact that it was nominated for a total of seven Emmy awards. If you haven’t already seen it, what are you waiting for – all 13 episodes of season 1 are available on Netflix right now!

4. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia

tumblr_ndwxelm1Cg1qdt9vko1_400Another show that is an acquired taste, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is a cult hit that has been broadcast on US network FX, then sister channel FXX, since 2005 (it is available to stream on Netflix for those of us in the UK). Now in it’s 11th season and renewed for a 12th, the sitcom was developed by Rob McElhenney and Glenn Howerton, who both star as members of the ‘gang’ that the plot revolves around.

Described as “Seinfeld on crack”, the show takes the typical ‘group of friends hanging out’ trope and flips it beyond recognition. Revolving around the exploits of a group of people who own a bar – Mac (Rob McElhenney), Charlie (Charlie Day), Dennis (Glenn Howerton) and his twin sister Sweet Dee (Kaitlin Olson), and from season 2 onwards the twins ‘father’ Frank (Danny DeVito) – the show is about as far removed from Friends (1994-2004) as you can get.

It would be a stretch to describe the gang as friends – co-dependent alcoholics, sure, but friends is probably too light a term. The show really hit its stride with the inclusion of DeVito from the second season, and there is no issue safe from the shows satirical gaze. Taboo topics are the norm – it’s almost like a live-action South Park (1997-) at times – meaning that the show is not one for the easily offended.

The comedy is derived from the fact that the characters are all hugely self centered and damaged in their own ways – from Charlie’s anger issues and glue sniffing to Dennis’ increasingly obvious sociopathic tendencies – and it is amazing that they can continue to come up with such inventive ideas after over a decade. In season 7 episode The Gang Gets Trapped, Dennis perfectly sums up the shows premise in one of this trademark rants:

“We immediately escalate everything to a ten…somebody comes in with some preposterous plan or idea, then all of a sudden everyone’s on the gas, nobody’s on the brakes, nobody’s thinking, everyone’s just talking over each other with one idiotic idea after another. Until, finally, we find ourselves in a situation where we’ve broken into somebody’s house – and the homeowner is home.”  

If you like your comedy jet black and packed with too many pop culture references to count, It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia is the show for you.

3. Broad City

746b285916fc5f9e55c0b334e38d7a39Broad City is a show that, since it began airing on Comedy Central in 2014, has drawn endless comparison to Lena Dunham’s Girls (2012-). Whilst both tell the story of women in their twenties living in New York City, the two shows are in fact very different beasts – each with their own distinct strengths.

Starring Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jackson as fictionalised versions of themselves, Broad City began life as a web-series before being picked up by Comedy Central. It is due to begin its third season, with the second in particular garnering critical acclaim. Glazer and Jackson met whilst taking classes at the famous Upright Citizens Brigade, and no other than Amy Poehler took notice of the web incarnation of the show, now serving as an executive producer on the series.

First and foremost, Broad City is hilarious. Charting the exploits of self-centred, work-allergic stoner Ilana and wannabe illustrator Abbi as they get themselves into all sorts of weird but strangely relatable situations is a mine of comedy potential , and the duos writing is consistently strong. The cast is rounded out by some eccentric supporting players, including Ilana’s lover Lincoln (Hannibal Burgess) and Abbi’s roomate’s oddball boyfriend Bevers (John Gemberling).

Broad City also manages to be progressive at the same time as funny – usually the best sort of progressive, really. In an article for the Wall Street Journal, the show was described as “sneak attack feminism” and Jackson was quoted as saying:

“If you watch one of out episodes there’s not a big message, but if you watch all of them, I think, they’re empowering to women.” 

And she’s right. Watch one episode of Broad City and you will be treated to some real comedy gold – a favourite of mine includes Ilana trying to track down a TV remote she lost months ago in order to cancel a subscription – but if you watch the entire series, you will be treated to a show where women do whatever the hell they want, whenever the hell they want (and they don’t answer to anyone – man or woman). Roll on season 3!

2. Brooklyn Nine Nine

130d218593d8b917c20a9dc277f87818Brooklyn Nine Nine is without a doubt one of the best sitcoms around at the moment. Currently airing its third season on Fox in the US (catch it on E4 in the UK) and featuring an eclectic ensemble cast, the show has received critical acclaim since it began airing in 2013.

Essentially a fusion of two arguably tired genres – the cop show and the sitcom – Brooklyn Nine Nine has taken the best from both concepts and created something fresh and hilarious. With an ensemble cast that includes Andy Samberg, Chelsea Peretti, Terry Crews and Andre Braugher, the show manages to avoid many of the pitfalls of modern sitcoms and uses the police precinct setting to generate totally different storylines.

The show hit the ground running and it has only been up from there, with season three shaking up the status quo and showing that creators Dan Goor and Michael Schur aren’t afraid to mix up the dynamics. Goor and Schur are known for their work on the equally acclaimed Parks and Recreation (2009-2015) and Schur also worked on the US version of The Office (2005-2013), so there is no doubt that the pair know what they are doing when it comes to hilarious sitcoms.

The writing is fast paced and hilarious, and the workplace setting means that, much like the success of Parks and Recreation and The Office, personal lives do not factor in so much as to be overbearing. There is plenty of workplace action, and the characters all have totally different backgrounds, with the contrasts and relationships between them driving the comedy.

There’s been no word yet on a fourth season renewal, but Fox would be deluded to cancel a show that has been so well received and seems to only be getting better with time – expect to be seeing plenty from the Nine Nine in years to come.

1. New Girl

giphyWhilst the rest of the shows on this list are great because they generally invert or avoid sitcom tropes and stereotypes, New Girl is included because it not only embraces them but pulls them off well. The Fox show began airing in 2011 and is now in it’s fifth season. Originally based around the Zooey Deschanel as Jess, a teacher in her early thirties who moves into a loft with three men – Nick (Jake Johnson), Shmidt (Max Greenfield) and Winston (Lamorne Morris) – after a messy break-up, showrunner Elizabeth Merriweather soon saw the potential in her cast and established New Girl as an ensemble that also included Jess’ best friend CeCe (Hannah Simone).

The tropes are all there – the will they/won’t they couple (two actually – but recent events have established an imminent Ross and Rachel/Monica and Chandler situation), the group of friends hanging out, the bromance etc, but when it’s done this well, they don’t seem so tired (look to The Big Bang Theory for a modern example of when the tropes don’t work). Unlike most of the entries on this list, New Girl is the sort of show that has the universal appeal of Friends – it’s a simple concept made great by a brilliant cast – special mention to Jake Johnson and Max Greenfield in particular.

One thing that does set the show apart is that when we first meet the characters they are already in their early thirties – most sitcoms begin with young fresh faced twenty-somethings – meaning they have already lived a lot. This provides a whole new take on comedy – these are characters who are falling in love, but not for the first time, and they are moving up in the career ladder rather than starting out on the bottom rung. Whilst only a small deviation from the classic sitcom set-up, when paired with the fantastic writing it’s enough to set the show apart from the rest.

New Girl is available in the UK on Netflix (seasons 1-3) and on E4.

What are your favourite US sitcoms currently airing? Let me know in the comments section!

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List, Television

5 SHOWS TO BINGE-WATCH THIS WINTER:

rs_500x335-140204131302-tumblr_m72lvk47vw1ql06buo1_500Collins dictionary has named ‘binge-watch’ the word of the year, beating out a number of worthy contenders including ‘dadbod’ and ‘clean eating’ to come top of the 2015 list. Online streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon mean that instead of having to wait week by week for your favourite show to air on television you can watch an embarrassing amount of episodes in one sitting (yay?). Shows like Breaking Bad have contributed to an over 200% rise in the use of the term over the past year.

This is a phenomenal rise, a reflection of the revolution that has occurred in viewing habits over the last few years. Netflix is a formidable giant and this point, with a slew of it’s own shows and even its own movie just being released. Other streaming sites are also on the rise such as Amazon Prime Instant Video and Hulu, and more and more people are watching shows on the likes of BBC iPlayer than ever before.

How should we celebrate the rise of the binge-watch? With excellent shows of course! From sitcoms to dramas, here are the shows you should be watching as the dark nights close in.

5 – GAVIN AND STACEY (2007-10)

line-dancing-590x350Available from: Series 1-2 on Amazon Prime, Series 2-3 on Netflix UK

Starring: Ruth Jones, James Corden, Matthew Wolfe, Joanna Page, Rob Brydon

Written by Ruth Jones and James Corden, who also star as the hilarious Nessa and Smithy. Gavin and Stacey is a smash hit comedy that was originally broadcast on the BBC. Whilst there is a huge chance you’ve already watched this sitcom, which lasted for three series, a million times before, who will ever get bored of the antics of the Shipman and West families? The lighthearted sitcom follows the relationship of English Gavin (Wolfe) and Welsh Stacey (Page) who, after talking on the phone for months, decide to meet in the first episode. Cue hilarity as their best friends and families get involved. Every character is hilarious in their own right, with Rob Brydon’s Uncle Bryn standing out as a particular favourite, but what makes this series really special is the way it finds the humor in aspects of everyday life (getting a takeaway, going to the beach etc). With laughs from Bacillary to Barry Island, Gavin and Stacey is the perfect feel-good comedy to fill your winter Sundays with – and make sure you don’t forget that classic Christmas special.

4 – THE GOOD WIFE (2009-Present)

finales4goodwife900x506Available from: Series 1-5 on Netflix UK

Starring: Julianna Margulies, Chris North, Alan Cumming, Archie Panjabi

Sometimes all you want is a good drama to sink your teeth into, and The Good Wife has it all. With a fantastic central performance from Julianna Margulies, The Good Wife follows the story of Alicia Florrick who in the first episode is shown to be standing by her husband, disgraced states attorney Peter, despite him having cheated on her with prostitutes. Whilst this premise could have lent itself to an overly soapy show, The Good Wife deftly handles the storyline in a way that is both relatable and engaging. More low key than the likes of Breaking Bad/Boardwalk Empire, The Good Wife is more along the lines of Mad Men –  full to the brim with complex characters – and is also a great pick for fans of legal procedural shows (think Law and Order etc) due to Alicia’s work as a lawyer. It also isn’t afraid to shy away from controversial subjects, with racism, gun control and religion being just some of the topics covered in early seasons. The Good Wife is a perfect winter watch with over a hundred episodes to sink your teeth into.

3 – IT’S ALWAYS SUNNY IN PHILADELPHIA (2005-Present)

alwaysunny-04Available from: Series 1-10 on Netflix UK

Starring: Charlie Day, Kaitlin Olson, Glenn Howerton, Danny DeVito, Rob McElhenny

Basically the anti-sitcom, It’s Always Sunny takes the ‘friends hanging out’ trope and turns it entirely on its head. These characters are terrible people who do some truly dark things – trying to scam the welfare system, turn a ‘dumpster’ baby Mexican and setting each other on fire (yes, really) are just some that come to mind. But that is what makes this show so great, through the characters complete an utter depravity the show often achieves a level of satire whilst still creating laughs for the audience. These are characters that, rather than rooting for each other are actively trying to hurt each other, which makes for some pretty great comedy. No topic is off limits, and the addition of Danny DeVito to the cast in the second season is when the show really comes into its own, bringing the gang to its dysfunctional peak. It’s not for the easily offended, but It’s Always Sunny offers a totally different perspective and is well worth a watch if you’re getting tired of Friends and How I Met Your Mother re-runs.

2 – GOTHAM (2014-Present)

Gotham_pilot_Fish_sOffice_5048r_73e9d583Available from: Series 1 on Netflix UK

Starring: Ben McKenzie, Donal Logue, Jada Pinkett Smith, Robin Lord Taylor

Gotham was always going to be a hard sell. A show set in Batman’s famous city, but without Batman? Fans were dubious of how Fox’s series would pan out. Set in the immediate aftermath of the Wayne’s murder, Gotham features Bruce Wayne as a child and shifts the focus to a young Detective James Gordon (Ben McKenzie) who is on a one man mission to clean up the corrupt city. To say the show plays fast and loose with the source material is an understatement, but you can’t fault their intentions. Season one was a mixed bag, plagued by an uneven tone, but to write it off totally would be a mistake. We see the early days of a whole slew of famous Batman villains – Penguin, Catwoman, the Riddler, Poison Ivy and perhaps even the Joker. It’s interesting to see younger incarnations of famous characters  – in particular James Gordon and Alfred the butler. Far from perfect, Gotham is still a fun ride, introducing a gritty tone but maintaining elements of its comic book source, with inventive criminals and plenty of strong performances. With the second season beginning last month, that is the perfect excuse to get up to speed and decide for yourself what you think.

1 – STILL GAME (2002-2007)

Still-Game-still-game-163286_1024_768Available from: Series 1-5 on Netflix UK

Starring: Greg Hemphill, Ford Kiernan, Paul Riley.

Taking the number one spot with ease is Still Game, the hilarious sitcom from Greg Hemphill and Ford Kiernan. Originating from sketches in their other excellent show Chewin’ The Fat, Still Game tells the story of Jack (Kiernan) and Victor (Hemphill), two pensioners living in rundown Craiglang. Their adventures with best pal Winston (Riley) and other friends and acquaintances form the basis of the shows narrative. Much like Gavin and Stacey, the show find hilarity in the normality of retirement, and whilst it is perhaps a select brand of humor, anyone who has lived in Scotland for an extended period of time is sure to find it funny. Finally available on Netflix as of August this year, Still Game is the perfect tonic for the cold winter nights.

Here is a compilation of clips/trailers from the 5 shows listed here, enjoy!

What are your favourite shows to binge-watch? Let me know in the comments section below!

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