By Matthew Gohn
When you think of 'good' TV, certain names immediately come to mind. Of course HBO and Game Of Thrones and it's amazingly built world and gripping story and fantasy deconstruction. Or you can think of AMC and Mad Men or Breaking Bad, shows that gave us complex characters and emotional arcs. I always argued for FX, with Justified, The Americans, and many more. These networks and others have given some great television in the past fifteen years, and thankfully they show no signs of slowing down. But right now, if you asked me to pick the best network on TV, I'd make a very strong case for Comedy Central.
I know. I know. Seriously, I feel all of you rolling your eyes. How could I compare Comedy Central to HBO. You can't put a show like Mad Men in the same conversation as South Park. Here's the thing though, you can.
If you look at Comedy Central's lineup, they are right there with HBO, AMC, and others in taking great steps forward for modern television. Don't believe me? Comedy Central puts women and minorities in lead roles on several of their shows in a way that feels genuine and not an attempt to fill a quota. They've also got programming that is genuinely informative and educational as it is hilarious. And even if they aren't making progressive steps in their shows then their programming is just plain funny.
On Comedy Central right now are a variety of standout programs. You have the classics such as South Park which is hit or miss, but still relevant and consistently forcing the right things into conversation. Then you have The Daily Show which I think genuinely provided a national service. Family Guy's Jewish character, Mort Goldman, once ran screaming from a scarecrow of Hitler screaming "Protect Jon Stewart! He's our most important Jew!" I laughed at this joke, but Jon Stewart is one of the most important figures in news today.
But let's not rest on our laurels. Jon Stewart and South Park have been around for years. What else have ya got? Well, let's start with CC's women.
Just look at the existence of Inside Amy Schumer and Broad City. Both were recently renewed for a third season, showing CC is backing them for more than quota purposes. They are supporting shows about funny women that are smart, and which don't star women peeled from the inside of a Victoria's Secret catalogue. Amy Schumer, Ilana Glazer, and Abbi Jacobsen will fill that hole in our hearts when Parks and Recreation ends (another show that has several fleshed out and damn funny female characters) Or the hole that is currently shaped like 30 Rock in mine. Ilana and Abbi are pretty awful at times (like Ilana Skyping during sex) but they are real. And they're funny. And Amy Schumer is a very smart cultural critic who uses her show to start the necessary conversation.
Keeping in the tradition of funny and informative entertainment, you then have the disturbingly educational Drunk History. The premise is that comedians get drunk, and recount a significant historical event. Each episode selects three events from a particular city or regarding a particular subject. So you'll have stories about Baltimore or American Music. The narrators get trashed, more than a few puke, fall asleep, or get off topic. But then there are intentionally cheaply shot reenactments that are synchronized perfectly to the narrator's slurred ramblings. The reenactments are done with utter seriousness that clashes with the inebriated narration. And you know what? You'll learn a lot. You will genuinely learn a lot from this show. The amount of cameos is ridiculous as well. Jack Black plays Elvis. Laura Dern plays Nellie Bly. Weird Al plays Hitler. Need I say more? Drunk History is an experiment actually works, but Comedy Central has other experiments they've been working on as well.
Nathan For You is one of the weirder shows but once you get the groove, you understand. Nathan Fielder is a business advisor who goes around to varying businesses and convince them to try absurd ways to revitalize their failing businesses. Best example? He got a frozen yogurt place to promote a new "Shit" flavored yogurt flavor. The idea being that the flavor would tank but it would get a unique word of mouth out. Let that sink in. He convinced a frozen yogurt shop to sell shit flavored yogurt. Nathan For You is painfully awkward, hilarious, and gives you some weird insight to how people might react and how they can be manipulated.
And another experimental but narrative program is Review. The concept of Review is simple. Forrest MacNeil will review any life experience he is requested to review. This involves simple things like what it's like to eat pancakes. Or grand life aspirations like going into space. Or the secret crimes we want to experience like stealing. Or things like divorce. The genius is that the universe doesn't reset, it's rolling timeline. He gets addicted to drugs early on and though he recovers, he is now forever a recovering drug addict.
One can't talk about Review without bringing up Andy Daly. He is the comedic genius you've seen before, never sure where. He's undoubtedly popped up in a podcast you listen to. But Daly has made Review part of the riot fest that it is. Never breaking character and playing it with the sincerity of a guy who is destroying his life in pursuit of this critical experiment. Review is shocking, genius, and hysterical.
Oh, I can't forget Key & Peele. Comedians Keegan Michael Key and Jordan Peele, both mixed race with white mothers, host and star in a sketch comedy series that is clearly a modern descendant of the Chapelle Show. The duo brilliantly skewer everything from the relevant to the plain dumb. But when they really sink their teeth into something, they do it with a ferocity that is scary how on point it is. Sometimes they have sketches go on too long, but that's fine. They are comedic geniuses and more often than not have something to say. It'll be a very dark day when these two move on from Key & Peele.
Finally, Comedy Central has proven that it's in touch with the current podcast scene as seen by The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail and @Midnight. @Midnight is a daily show where podcast host Chris Hardwick hosts a panel of three guests who each earn points by making jokes about the funniest, stupidest, and saddest events of the day with a particular emphasis on making fun of all things social media. This show is for all of us who don't care about the crap that inundates our Facebook feeds every day. Hardwick is perfect as the host and the panels always have a revolving door of podcast and standup talent.
The Meltdown with Jonah and Kumail is an interesting take on standup. The titular Meltdown is a comic store in LA with a small standup stage in the back. The shows are intimate and the show itself is half documentary about standup and half regular standup show. It should be noted that Kumail Nanjiani is co-host of the show and Pakistani. It's as funny as it is interesting, and many of the @Midnight panelists can be seen in episodes.
Both The Meltdown and @Midnight though rely on the current best of the standup comedy and podcast scene these days. The people who are on these shows write some of your favorite sitcoms or movies that you don't realize, and it's hard not to see some of them getting their own show in the future. If you've ever listened to anything on Nerdist or Earwolf, you owe it to yourself to check out these shows.
I haven't mentioned all of their programming. Obviously they have Workaholics, which is a show that simply speaks to the current post college generation. And you've got their Friday night standup, which is a great spectrum of funny people with no holsd barred on their sex or race or orientation. And pretty soon we'll get The Nightly Show with Larry Wilmore, which will fill the gap left behind by Stephen Colbert and will back up Jon Stewart. Larry Wilmore is a former Daily Show reporter himself so you have an idea of what to expect, and it'll be very good.
Comedy Central isn't the only network that is putting women in lead roles or giving minorities their due. And sometimes it feels like they are more crude than cutting edge.. That's fine. They aren't perfect. But I think we should applaud the network that has a wide variety of programming starring comedians and funny people from all over the spectrum. What Comedy Central has, at least to me, is that they aren't doing anything they don't want to. They didn't want any female comedian to run a show, they wanted Amy Schumer. See what I mean? It feels like they identify funny and smart talent and give that talent the support it deserves regardless of race or gender. It's not an act. So tune into Comedy Central sometime, you'll laugh, you'll be disgusted, and you'll likely learn something.
Thumbnail Image Source: underconsideration.com.