I’m so grateful that Netflix’s “I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robinson” premiered when it did. Following a minor surgery in April (I’m fine), I had to stick to my couch for a few days. Doctor’s orders told me I couldn’t move, and my body and brain agreed. I just wanted to zone out into a television stream, but ― as a television critic who has seen too much TV and has no tolerance for shows with lazy writing ― I needed to do so with something I would still find good and surprising.
“I Think You Should Leave” fulfilled that requirement better than I could have hoped, so much so that I almost laughed hard enough to literally break my stitches (but thankfully didn’t).
While you probably (hopefully) don’t feel a desperate need to zone out constantly, the long workdays, endlessly horrific news cycle and multiplying expenses of being a contemporary American certainly require some modicum of tuning out at night. And so, we, as tired Americans, have a strong need for great comedies right now.
I have compiled a list below featuring eight comedies that are not only stellar high points in the genre, but don’t get too dark. Perhaps the truly “best” shows have a rewarding balance of comedy with drama, pleasure with pain, yin with yang. But in a stressful world, sometimes you just need to relax with the lighter of these mixes.
There are no sad horse shows, meditations on death or relentless commentaries about inescapable debt here. So, continue on for a few shows that I hope will bring you uncomplicated joy. These shows certainly worked for me and I’m crossing my fingers they serve as a momentary escape for you, too.
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Details: “Saturday Night Live” alum Tim Robinson co-created, co-wrote and stars in this variety sketch show that values eccentric and creative jokes over the easy topicality that has plagued other popular sketch programs as of late.
Sketch writing has a category called “geek goof” that relies on weird humor meant to impress other comedy writers (think of the last few sketches that air on “Saturday Night Live” after most people have gone to bed). This is a show made entirely of geek goofs.
Robinson appears in all episodes. Vanessa Bayer, Kate Berlant, Will Forte, Tim Heidecker, Sam Richardson, Andy Samberg, Cecily Strong, Fred Willard and Steven Yeun also make appearances.
“I Think You Should Leave with Tim Robison” runs six episodes of roughly 16 minutes.
Read on: Tim Robinson used to perform at Second City in Chicago. The Second City writing program highlights a solo sketch he wrote and performed in which he has an erotic moment with a Chipotle burrito. Here’s Nina Metz of the Chicago Tribune describing the sketch back in 2012 with great poetry: ”[Robinson] turned the act of eating a Chipotle burrito into an erotic slow-dance of gastro love.”
Details: Nick Kroll co-created this animated show, and he and frequent comedic partner John Mulaney voice the two main protagonists. The New York City suburb-set show focuses on kids going through puberty, and features the strange, magical and gross adventures that entails.
The main voice cast includes Fred Armisen, Jessi Klein, Nick Kroll, Jason Mantzoukas, John Mulaney, Jordan Peele, Maya Rudolph and Jenny Slate.
The show has earned two Emmy nominations so far, with one for the upcoming Emmy award show.
“Big Mouth” runs two seasons of 10, roughly 30-minute episodes, plus a Valentine’s Day special.
Read on: In 2017, I interviewed Nick Kroll and John Mulaney about their Netflix special, “Oh, Hello.” At the time, “Big Mouth” hadn’t debuted, so we mostly talked about tuna, which made sense in context.
Details: “American Vandal” is a parody of the sanctimonious and often schlocky genre of true-crime documentaries that became incredibly popular following the success of the podcast “Serial,” along with Netflix and HBO’s investment into the genre. Rather than focusing on a murder, “American Vandal” centers around investigations into dick-based graffiti and a massive scatological incident.
The cast consists of mostly up-and-comers, such as Tyler Alvarez, Taylor Dearden, Griffin Gluck, Melvin Gregg, DeRon Horton, Jimmy Tatro and Travis Tope.
“American Vandal” runs two seasons of eight, roughly 30-minute episodes.
Read on: The New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino (author of the recent hit book “Trick Mirror”) reviewed the show back in 2017. Using The New Yorker to praise well-written dick jokes is God’s work. Here’s how she began the review:
As a person who mostly finds true crime unwatchable, and who also laughs every time she sees the number 69, I received Netflix’s new mockumentary series “American Vandal” with a sense of intimate recognition that felt a little like love. I would stand outside this show’s door in the snow and hold up love letters in its preferred language ― a series of posters spray-painted with stubby genitalia.
Details: Set in the Northern Ireland city of Derry in the 1990s, “Derry Girls” tells the story of teenagers figuring out how to be people in the world and getting into sophomoric hijinks along the way. While the young crew of friends stumble through their teens, the violent Northern Ireland and England conflict breaks out around them. Given the normalcy of the fighting in their lives, the characters rarely even give the cultural militance a second thought.
The Irish cast includes Nicola Coughlan, Louisa Harland, Saoirse-Monica Jackson and Jaime-Lee O’Donnell. Jackson and O’Donnell are actually from Derry. The boy in the cast, Dylan Llewellyn, comes from England, just like his character.
“Derry Girls” runs two seasons of six, roughly 25-minute episodes.
Read on: Although the show can be enjoyed without thinking about politics, you could wade deep into the question of whether the looming Brexit will impact relations between Northern Ireland and England. Part of the peace agreement involves easy passage between Northern Ireland and Ireland. Currently, no clear plan for the border exists.
Details: Tina Fey and Robert Carlock co-created this show about a woman who moves to New York City after surviving as a prisoner in a bunker. Given her background, she has little money and education. But with a can-do attitude and relentlessly brave confidence, the protagonist slowly makes a successful life for herself against all odds. The show also has an ensemble setup, with the protagonist regularly hanging out with her best friend-roommate, her landlord and her boss.
The main cast is Tituss Burgess, Carol Kane, Ellie Kemper and Jane Krakowski. Recurring actors include Tina Fey, Jon Hamm and Amy Sedaris.
The show earned 11 Primetime Emmy nominations during its run.
“Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” runs four seasons. The first three seasons have 13 episodes, while the last one has 12 episodes. The episodes run about 30 minutes.
Read on: The final episodes of “Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt” feature a recurring plot line that makes fun of the musical “Cats.” This now feels extra-relevant, given the super-backlash to the “Cats” film adaptation trailer that debuted earlier this summer. I particularly enjoyed The Ringer’s takedown of the trailer in which writer Kate Halliwell asked 66 questions, along with many sub-questions about the short video. An example of “three” questions:
So clearly this is a town for cats, created by cats ― hence the Milk Bar. But what kind of milk are they drinking?
Cow milk? Do cows exist in this world? How would cats, which weigh eight to 10 pounds on average, be able to domesticate cows, which weigh ― [Googles] ― roughly 1,600 pounds? Or … uh … are they drinking cat milk?
If they’re drinking cat milk, why would they need a bar for that? Isn’t that kind of fucked up?
Details: A group of rich people in their 40s hang around New York City together, getting up to many of the same misadventures they had together in college. The group relentlessly pairs off in different romantic iterations, making for constant relationship drama. A writing style of near-constant jokes and pratfall-based set-pieces overshadow all the dramatic plotting, though.
The main cast includes Billy Eichner, Keegan-Michael Key, Annie Parisse, Fred Savage and Cobie Smulders.
“Friends From College” runs two seasons of eight, roughly 30-minute episodes.
Read on: Netflix canceled the show earlier in 2019. I included “Friends From College” in my recent list of shows that Netflix shouldn’t have canceled this year, along with “Tuca & Bertie,” and “The OA.” Here’s a section I wrote for that piece:
Why the cancellation especially hurts: Much like “The OA,” the first season didn’t really work. But the show returned for its second season greatly improved. The writers clearly realized “Friends From College” should pivot toward a script style with as many jokes as possible and the A-list cast of comedic actors expertly perform the various screwball set-pieces of the second season. This is yet another show that got punished right after figuring itself out.
Details: A 2015 sequel-series to the cult-classic 2001 movie about summer camp, but a sequel in which the cast plays younger versions of themselves. Much of the original cast became super-famous since the original movie, making this oddball show star-loaded.
The long list of cast members includes Elizabeth Banks, Lake Bell, Michael Ian Black, Josh Charles, Bradley Cooper, Janeane Garofalo, Ken Marino, Christopher Meloni, Marguerite Moreau, Chris Pine, Amy Poehler, Molly Shannon, Paul Rudd, Jason Schwartzman, Michael Showalter, John Slattery and David Wain. This season also has tons of stars that appear in just a few episodes, such as Michael Cera, Jordan Peele and Kristen Wiig.
“Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp” runs eight episodes of roughly 30 minutes.
Read on: Netflix also briefly had a documentary about the making of the original “Wet Hot American Summer” movie, called “Hurricane of Fun.” For fans of the movie, comedy nerds and people who are interested in seeing a super-young and humble Bradley Cooper, the documentary definitely warrants a watch (you can rent it on Amazon Prime). Uproxx called the documentary one of the funniest films of 2015 and had this explanatory passage:
What’s impressive is how completely they documented things considering they were making a film for very little money and they had no idea what would happen with it. When they’re interviewing Bradley Cooper about his role and he’s talking about how he just graduated drama school two days before starting work on the film, it’s charming because of just how green he is...
Details: Each episode focuses on a different comedian performing multiple characters in a loosely connected storyline. The quality of the episodes varies wildly, but a good place to start is with the Kate Berlant, John Early and Tim Robinson episodes. Paired with “I Think You Should Leave,” you could have a Robinson double-feature.
The eight comedians in order of their episodes are: Lauren Lapkus, John Early, Henry Zebrowski, Kate Berlant, Natasha Rothwell, Paul W. Downs, Tim Robinson and Dr. Brown.
“The Characters” runs eight episodes of roughly 30 minutes.
Read on: Berlant and Early work together quite often. Just earlier this year, the duo made a spooky, short film called “Rachel” about a real-life houseguest that snuck into Early’s apartment. Vulture interviewed them about making that short together. When asked if he thinks the real-life inspiration has seen the video, Early responded: “That deeply terrifies me. I get the feeling she’s disconnected from our work, and from pop culture. I get the feeling she’s kind of a wanderer. I mean, I know — she wandered into my home. But there’s no way to know.”