A few weeks into self-quarantine, I started catching myself in some pretty mundane fantasies: a picnic in the park. A movie in a crowded theater with friends, followed by a late dinner to pick it apart. Happy hour drinks at some boisterous, dimly lit bar. A weekend upstate with my parents. The common factor in all this is, of course, the idea of relaxing in the company of others—a.k.a. “hanging out.” And though many of us are simulating that IRL experience via technology (see: Google Hangouts) these days, video chatting just isn’t the same.
So, until we can see our friends and family in person, maybe it would help to watch other people have fun together. Below, you’ll find my recommendations for some of the best hangout comedies—that is, sitcoms set predominantly amongst a group of friends rather than in the workplace or a family home—available to watch online. I’ve left off many of the most obvious picks (Cheers, Seinfeld, How I Met Your Mother; Friends is offline until HBO Max launches in May) in favor of some great shows you might’ve missed.
In 1993, more than a year before Friends debuted on NBC, Fox premiered a comedy about a handful of young New York neighbors looking for love and purpose in the big city—and enjoying each other’s company in the meantime. Living Single, however, was set in a pre-gentrification Brooklyn brownstone (beating Lena Dunham across the bridge by almost two decades) and had an all-black main cast. Khadijah (Queen Latifah, who also performs the dated-but-still-catchy theme song) is both den mother and career girl, a journalist running her own lifestyle magazine, where her sweet, daffy cousin Synclaire (Kim Coles) is the receptionist. Pugnacious lawyer Max (Erika Alexander) locks horns with Regine (Kim Fields), the boy-crazy Blanche Devereaux of the bunch. Roommates Overton (John Henton), an endearingly goofy handyman, and cocky finance guy Kyle (T.C. Carson) serve as love interests and sparring partners. But the women’s experiences are at the core of the show, and its combination of an extremely likable cast and ahead-of-its-time depictions of black, female friendship make for an irresistible binge. (Stream it on Hulu.)
Famous among TV fans as the sitcom that should’ve been the next Friends but instead got canceled after three seasons of tepid ratings, ABC’s Happy Endings follows six pals in Chicago. Though it opens with flighty Alex (Elisha Cuthbert) leaving underachiever Dave (Zachary Knighton) at the altar, their breakup only ends up strengthening the bonds within a group that also includes Alex’s Type-A older sister Jane (Eliza Coupe), Jane’s polished businessman husband Brad (Damon Wayans Jr.), Dave’s gay-bro best bud Max (Adam Pally) and the sisters’ childhood friend Penny (Casey Wilson). If the stellar cast alone isn’t enough to hook you, the show’s combination of fully fleshed-out characters, culturally literate humor and great running gags should do it. (Stream it on Hulu.)
You’ve watched all of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s masterpiece Fleabag—twice. You’ve marked your calendar for the April 12 debut of HBO’s Run, created by her frequent collaborator Vicky Jones with Waller-Bridge as an executive producer. But if you need a PWB fix to keep you going in the meantime, seek out her often-overlooked TV debut Crashing (not to be confused with Pete Holmes’ HBO series of the same name). Like Friends and Happy Endings, it revolves around six young adults who fit into various recognizable comedic archetypes and are prone to internecine romantic drama. But that’s where the similarities end, as Waller-Bridge’s knack for witty dialogue, singular characters and hairpin twists yields something pithier (at just six half-hour episodes) and more propulsive. Throw in an ingenious setting—the characters are property guardians, living cheaply in a derelict hospital—as well as the creator’s lively, subversive turn as a manic pixie dream girl type, and you’ve got a worthy addition to the Waller-Bridge canon. (Stream it on Netflix.)
Is Insecure a hangout show? I would argue that it is. Sure, it has a discrete protagonist in creator Issa Rae’s cash-strapped, chronically unfulfilled Angeleno alter ego, Issa Dee. And there are certainly rom-com elements to the series, which pays particular attention to the love lives of Issa, her BFF Molly (Yvonne Orji) and their extended network of friends and exes. Yet it’s always at its best when it gives these characters space to commiserate, debate and simply relax in each other’s company. The highlight of its most recent, third season was an extremely hangout-comedy episode that took Issa, Molly and their two closest girlfriends to Coachella for a debauched weekend that takes some madcap turns. (Stream it on HBO Go or HBO Now.)
Please Like Me
Before landing at Freeform with Everything’s Gonna Be Okay, a sweet, dark family dramedy that ended its first season in March, Australian comedian, actor and writer Josh Thomas found international cult fame with his sweet, dark hangout dramedy Please Like Me. Thomas stars as Josh, a kind but confused 20-year-old who moves in with his mom (Debra Lawrence) after she attempts suicide and his girlfriend (Caitlin Stasey) dumps him because she suspects, rightly, that he’s gay. While both of his parents remain central characters, one of the show’s many pleasures is the way it integrates his family into an ever-expanding world of friends, roommates and lovers. Another is the way it uses Josh’s enthusiasm for cooking as a metaphor for nurturing a community; every episode is named after a dish. And a third is the opportunity to see a handful of Australian stars—including Hannah Gadsby and Charlotte Nicdao of Mythic Quest, along with Thomas—before they crossed over to stateside fame. (Stream it on Hulu.)
From Felicity and A Different World to Dear White People, Greek and Grown-ish, four-year colleges have gotten plenty of play on the small screen. (Sadly, Judd Apatow’s short-lived Freaks and Geeks follow-up Undeclared, one of the best college comedies ever made, still isn’t available on any streaming service.) Community college? Not so much. But creator Dan Harmon saw the potential in an educational setting that threw together new high-school grads (Alison Brie’s high-strung Annie, Donald Glover’s recovering jock Troy) with older students who’d made their mistakes and were starting over (Jeff Winger, played by Joel McHale, is a lawyer who got caught lying about his credentials). Community’s mismatched study group serves as a springboard for some of the smartest, most surreal comedy ever to air on network television. There are full-episode movie and TV parodies, Claymation Christmas specials and even a fateful board-game night that popularized the useful concept of the “darkest timeline.” The cast is among the best primetime ensembles ever assembled, and the show launched the acting careers of Gillian Jacobs and Danny Pudi as well as Glover. (Stream it on Netflix or Hulu.)
Don’t Trust the B— in Apartment 23
In this sitcom from Fresh Off the Boat creator and Always Be My Maybe director Nahnatchka Khan, a wide-eyed Midwesterner (Dreama Walker’s June) moves to Manhattan to live the Carrie Bradshaw dream. But before she even has a chance to unpack, her new office job evaporates and June’s fiancé cheats on her with her new roommate Chloe (Krysten Ritter, a force of nature)—a manipulative, debauched grifter who is also the titular “b—.” Rounding out the superb central cast are Eric Andre as June’s manager-slash-love-interest at the coffee shop where she’s ultimately forced to work and Dawson’s Creek idol James Van Der Beek gamely playing himself as Chloe’s vain, pretentious and equally amoral best friend. Unsurprisingly, the show (which might’ve flourished as a streaming series just a few years after its 2012 debut) proved to be too weird for network TV and was canceled after two wild, wonderful seasons. (Stream it on Hulu.)
What We Do in the Shadows
Jemaine Clement’s FX adaptation of What We Do in the Shadows, the 2014 cult mockumentary about vampire roommates that he wrote, directed and starred in with fellow New Zealander Taiki Waititi, is even better than the hilarious original. Set on Staten Island, it chronicles the adventures of Nandor the Relentless (an undead Ottoman warrior played by Kayvan Novak), his human familiar Guillermo (Harvey Guillén), vampire lovers Laszlo (Matt Berry) and Nadja (Natasia Demetriou)—and “energy vampire” Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch), the show’s masterpiece. The scourge of his office, Colin saps mortals’ energy by boring them with inane factoids and anecdotes. Theoretically, this nest of vamps has spent the past few centuries on a mission to conquer the world. In practice, they’re mostly just, you know, hanging out. Shadows has a particularly strong guest-star game, with Booksmart breakout Beanie Feldstein in a recurring role and appearances by Tilda Swinton, Nick Kroll, Kristen Schaal and Wesley Snipes (a.k.a. vampire-movie icon Blade). (Stream it on Hulu.)
This hour-long dramedy, which AMC recently canceled after its second season, to the dismay of its small but devoted fan base, probably is not the first thing that comes to mind when you think of a hangout show. But I couldn’t not include it—because Lodge 49 is, among other things, a paean to the very concept of hanging out. It’s what saves Sean “Dud” Dudley (Wyatt Russell), a Long Beach, Calif. surfer searching for meaning and community after his father’s death and the demise of the family’s pool-cleaning business. Dud finds both when he stumbles upon his local chapter of the Order of the Lynx, a struggling coed fraternal organization whose eccentric members huddle around the bar drowning the sorrows of late capitalism, relishing IRL friendship in the age of social media and probing the ancient mysteries of their order. (Stream it on Hulu.)
Meet three 20-somethings trying to make it in Hollywood. Ulysses (Avan Jogia) is the stoner wannabe filmmaker, his best friend Carly (Kelli Berglund) is a struggling actor, and his rich-kid roommate Ford (Beau Mirchoff) has his heart set on screenwriting. It sounds like a story you’ve heard before, but I promise—you haven’t. Interspersed with all the sex, glamour and industry politics is the bonkers sci-fi saga the title implies. For one thing, Ford’s weirdly affectless girlfriend Severine (Roxane Mesquida) happens to be a literal rocket scientist. Also? There are human-sized alien reptiles running around, doing unspeakably filthy things to people. Directed by queer-cinema legend Gregg Araki, who co-wrote the show with sexpert Karley Sciortino, the sexually fluid, extremely TV-MA Now Apocalypse melds the pleasant inanity of a hangout comedy with some of the weirdest set pieces you’ll ever see on television. (Stream it on Starz.)
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