One thing you would not expect Comedy Central to lack for is comedy. It has the satire of Stewart and Colbert, the sketches of Key and Peele and Kroll Show and Inside Amy Schumer (returning next month, even sharper than last year), the animated institution South Park, the stunt-com Nathan for You, and, well, whatever Tosh.0 is.
It hasn’t always been as big on comedies, though–at least, not in the typical TV sense of live-action, scripted series whose episodes tell sustained stories. On and off it’s experimented with the form–the cult classic Strangers with Candy, the sweetly weird Sarah Silverman Program, and more recently, the hit-and-miss Workaholics–but for whatever reason it hasn’t been the priority you might expect from this network with this name.
Suddenly, though, Comedy Central is airing not one but two new longform comedies that not only hold their own with any sitcom on FX, HBO, and broadcast but, potentially, could become all-time standouts on the level of the channel’s sketch, snark, and cartoon icons.
I reviewed the first, Broad City, when it premiered in January, and it’s only gotten better since. Starring Upright Citizens Brigade vets Ilana Glazer and Abbi Jacobson as best friends living on the cheap in New York City, it’s developed a chill, amiable rhythm, telling stories about the indignities of underemployed city life that take bizarre turns (as when the duo, locked out of their apartments, break into the apartment of Ilana’s immigrant neighbors). They’re an odd couple–Abbi tightly wound, Ilana an impulsive stoner–but they’re not mismatched; the show plays like an upbeat chaser to Girls, with less self-absorption and more fantasy hip-hop sequences.
The second, Review, premiered a few weeks ago, with a premise (adopted from an Australian series) that I will admit I did not at first believe could sustain a series. Andy Daly plays Forrest MacNeil, a critic who reviews life experiences for a cable-TV show–viewer-suggested topics from doing cocaine to going to prom to eating a lot of pancakes. (“Life,” begins his introduction. “It’s literally all we have. But is it any good?”) The idea made for ludicrously funny set pieces at first–the mild-mannered MacNeil, for instance, forcing himself to become a racist on a viewer’s challenge.
But in last week’s episode the show took a dark and rewarding turn, as MacNeil’s total commitment to his project led to the breakup of his marriage. If you accept the show’s absurd terms–“Wouldn’t his wife realize he’s doing these weird things for a TV show?” is one question you should not ask–the show becomes a painfully hilarious but melancholy study of the detached appreciation of life getting in the way of life itself. Daly–a comic who’s popped up in comedies like Eastbound and Down–gives MacNeil a fully inhabited, geeky poignance. Daly isn’t just doing glorified sketch comedy; this is flat-out inspired acting. One of the final shots of last week’s episode–the reviewer glumly masticating an ungodly stack of pancakes after his life has fallen apart–is one of the most oddly affecting images I expect to see on TV all year.
Broad City‘s finale airs tonight, and back episodes are available on Hulu; Review airs Thursdays. Neither is exactly a traditional sitcom. But between them they suggest a way for Comedy Central to become a distinctive comedy center.