A SERIOUS LAUGH-FEST

Three new shows that don’t just tickle your funny bone

Rahul Poonja Bengaluru 

The global television networks tried to get us laughing this past year with a host of new comedies, but the joke was on them. Nothing original was on display; certainly nothing like Veep or Louie that had pushed the boundaries of comedy in the recent past. Chuck Lorre’s Mom and Seth Macfarlene’s Dad were good but only in their best moments. Even The Crazy Ones with the legendary Robin Williams and Sarah Michelle Gellar disappointed in its consistency. A few, however, did play off existing formulae from the past and managed to take things to the next level. All things considered, this is my list of the three best new comedies to hit the tiny screens this past year. 

Number Three: Enlisted

War comedies have not been explored nearly enough after the hilarious precedent set by Stripes, back in 1981. Fox’s Enlisted tries to bank on this gold mine of a sub-genre with a sturdy cast and steady script. The plot is centred around three brothers working in the rear detachment unit of the US Army in Florida. The eldest, Sergeant Pete Hill (Geoff Stults) has just been dismissed from his duties in Afghanistan after a ‘mishap’ with his superior and is sent to serve in the same unit as his two younger brothers. The youngest, Randy Hill (Parker Young) wrestles with complex feelings of intense love and intense admiration for his heroic brother and goes all out in ensuring he gets the respect he deserves in his new unit. The middle one, Derreck Hill (Chris Lowell) is almost the exact opposite, the ever cynical and pessimistic middle child who resents his brother for leaving them to fight the war even after the death of their father in service. The brothers resolving these issues, and also having to endure life in the one unit of the army that seemingly has absolutely nothing to do but wash tanks and pick up poo, leads to some hilarious episodes.

To prove that only truly offbeat individuals are deployed to this unit, a whole range of side characters adds to the plunder, right down to the hilarious Keith David playing Command Sergeant Major Donald.

The developing relationships between the brothers, coupled with the solid cast, manages to deliver some genuine laughs. The sheer boredom this unit comes up against brings out the best in this premise. 

Number Two: Legit

Australian comedian Jim Jefferies tries his hand at being a nice guy using a fictitious version of himself on FX’s Legit. After realizing he lives a meaningless and shallow life, Jim Jefferies tries to find some purpose and humility by caring for his roommate and best friend’s younger brother, Billy, played by DJ Qualis, who suffers from muscular dystrophy. Billy lives an extremely sheltered life because of his condition and he tries to use Jim to break the rules as often as possible. He even moves in with Jim and his brother, Steve, played by Dan Bakkedahl, after realizing that life is too short for him to spend any more time living in fear.

The two seasons so far use this dynamic to explore areas of comedy that are usually considered taboo and are fairly less trodden upon. I mean, it takes some gall to make banter about rape and disabled people but watching the cast attempt to do that makes for some of the most enduring moments in the show. Jim openly uses Billy to get better seats in ball games, to rid himself of police troubles, to find better parking and even though it is all very wrong, it is funny at times because Billy usually doesn’t mind and plays along as well.

For a boy who has accepted his eventual destiny, Billy’s character takes to freedom like a fish to water, exploring everything he ever dreamt of in the confines of his home, while being over-protected by his mother. This goes hand-in-hand with the adult-oriented styled content FX is popular for, the second season even shipped off to FXX, the network’s exclusive
adult-oriented channel.

What sets this show apart, however, is that unlike the other hits on FX, Legit actually has some heart, something which the network doesn’t explore
very often.

Watching Jim feel like a better person after helping Billy to his first stripper is more heartwarming and touching than one might think.

 

Number One: Brooklyn Nine-Nine

Fox’s continued exploration of the complexities of ‘the workplace’ scenarios brought them to Brooklyn Nine-Nine this past year. The show follows the 99th precinct of the NYPD after the appointment of Captain Ray Holt, played by the distinguished Andre Braugher. The captain, an openly gay man of African American descent, has struggled his way up the old-fashioned guard in the Police Department and is keen on making his station the best in the city.

He turns to squad leader Terrance Jeffords, played by the towering Terry Crews (that’s right, the guy from the Old Spice ads), who acclimatizes him to an unconventional staff. SNL prodigy Andy Samberg finds his first lead in a television show playing Detective Jake Peralta, a great investigator who takes his work extremely seriously, but absolutely nothing else in his pursuit of perfecting his job. He is brilliantly cast; Samberg is clearly the focal point and core strength of the show, hilarious and goofy in his portrayal of Jake.

Detective Amy Santiago, played by Melissa Fumero, is just as talented as Jake but does not share his zest and over- confidence. She is struggling to find her voice as a detective and immediately looks to the captain as a mentor. The rest of the unit, who would usually pass off as background caricatures in other shows, have a bit of personality in this one, and you understand a little more about them with every passing episode.

The show finds its best moments by building complex characters even in a comedic setting and creating a space for them where we can watch them grow each week. The writing is smart, snappy and sometimes surprisingly good.

The creators of the show, who have a hand in legends like The Office and Parks and Recreation, managed to create a strong comedy that delivers right from the word go, evidenced by their Golden Globe awards for Best Television Series and Best Actor in the musical and comedy category, in their very first nomination.