The 15 Best Sitcoms of 2017

TV Lists Best of 2017
The 15 Best Sitcoms of 2017

Last year, our challenge was to define “sitcom” at a moment in which TV series regularly defy categorical boundaries. When it comes to the best sitcoms of 2017, that’s still the case—what follows is a veritable grab-bag of comedies, from which we excluded variety/sketch programs, hour-long comedies (no knock on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend!), and anything whose genre elements seemed to make it something other than a sitcom.

What really becomes clear, though, after glancing over the list, is the resurgence of the sitcom in all its forms, from the broadcast networks to streaming animated series. You may quibble with our choices—we expect you to, frankly—but Paste’s list of the year’s best sitcoms, expanded to 15 entries this time around, is proof, most of all, that it was a great year for TV comedies.

15. Speechless / The Middle
Network: ABC

Look, I’m the assistant TV Editor at Paste and damn it, it’s high time I wielded my power and gave The Middle the attention and praise it deserves. Now in its ninth and final season, the series hilariously celebrates the joys and hardships that come from raising children and homes in on the very essence of parenthood, adolescence and the family ties that bind. Special shout outs to Eden Sher and Patricia Heaton. In the ever optimistic Sue Heck, Sher has created one of the best TV characters ever. (The fact that she doesn’t have an Emmy is a travesty.) And Heaton has now been on two comedies that ran for nine seasons each. That’s not luck. That’s talent. While The Middle is ending, Speechless is blossoming in its second season. The DiMeo family pulls in laughs from the everyday struggles of raising a child with cerebral palsy (and raising children in general). Both shows understand a loving marriage where you adore your spouse because of, not in spite of, their faults. Both featuring outstanding performances, especially from younger actors. And both are guaranteed to make you laugh. —Amy Amatangelo

14. Vice Principals
Network: HBO

Who knew Vice Principals would ultimately be a (sort of) tender, (somewhat) touching treatise on love and friendship? The HBO show from Danny McBride, Jody Hill and David Gordon Green finished its second (and last) season by reaffirming the deeply weird friendship between McBride’s Neil Gamby and Walton Goggins’s Lee Russell. The Fatal Attraction twist in the finale might have been a bit telegraphed, and it and the graphic tiger attacks might have been on the more cartoonish end of the show’s spectrum, but both fit the violence-suffused heightened reality that the show has always been set in. In the end Vice Principals does right by its most uncomfortably beleaguered character, Kimberly Hebert Gregory’s Belinda Brown (who was deeply missed this second season), and provides relatively happy endings for both of its leads while still not fully celebrating or rewarding them for their vile behavior over the last school year. And yeah, if you’re a Kenny Powers fan who’s been sitting on the fence with this one, Vice Principals was a worthy follow-up to Eastbound & Down. —Garrett Martin

13. Fresh Off the Boat
Network: ABC

It’s no wonder that Fresh Off the Boat continues to thrive in the network television environment. “Representation” is often tokenism, despite being a mainstream talking point for the industry, but FOTB is the real thing—and it shows. The specificity of experience written into characters we’ve grown to love over the past four seasons makes the sitcom able to navigate choppy emotional waters with a grace grown from reality. “Four Funerals and a Wedding,” a season highlight, is a perfect example of how dedication to not making a show solely about universal experiences makes Fresh Off the Boat one of the most complex, engaging, moving comedies on TV. —Jacob Oller

12. Silicon Valley
Network: HBO

After three seasons of Silicon Valley, Pied Piper founder Richard Hendricks (Thomas Middleditch) is no longer the naive innocent trying to change the world with his tech. Season Four finds him pushed out of his own company, which is now focused on Dinesh’s chat app. Despite a lofty new vision for creating a decentralized version of the internet, he adopts a black hat out of desperation, resorting to increasing illegal behavior that causes even his most loyal follower, Jared (Zach Woods), to lose faith in him. The show continues its biting satire of the tech industry and its rock-star personalities, with characters like venture capitalist Keenan Feldspar (Haley Joel Osment) and a more nuanced version of Hooli founder Gavin Belson (Matt Ross). And the morally bankrupt duo of Gilfoyle (Martin Starr) and Dinesh (Kumail Nanjiani) remain one of the funniest pairs of frenemies on TV. —Josh Jackson

11. Big Mouth
Network: Netflix

Netflix’s new animated series, from creators Nick Kroll, Andrew Goldberg, Jennifer Flackett and Mark Levin, follows four friends through the earliest stages of puberty: Andrew (John Mulaney) sports inconvenient erections; Nick (Kroll) awaits his first pubic hairs; Jessi (Jessi Klein) begins menstruating at the Statue of Liberty; Jay (Jason Mantzoukas) conceives rococo ways to get off with his pillow. It’s wickedly bawdy—one episode’s end credits roll over an extended description of Andrew’s dad’s testicles—and devilishly funny—another uses a note-perfect Seinfeld send-up to explain the blowjob “head push” and the term “mons pubis”—but as implied by its theme song, Charles Bradley’s “Changes,” the series is sweeter than it appears at first blush. Its goal is to cut through the humiliations of sex, to break through the shame shellacked atop our “gross little dirtbag” selves to reveal the perfectly normal yearning underneath: for pleasure, for touch, for emotional connection; for approval, confidence, intimacy, love. By admitting, as Andrew does in the series premiere, that “everything is so embarrassing”—and not only for teens—Big Mouth squares a space in which there’s no question that can’t be asked, and no answer that applies the same way to everyone. It’s the streaming version of your sex-ed teacher’s anonymous slips of paper, except the laughs aren’t sniggers—they’re hard-won, empathic guffaws. —Matt Brennan

10. Downward Dog
Network: ABC

That Downward Dog’s narrator, Martin (voiced by series co-creator Samm Hodges), is of the canine variety might scare one away from ABC’s deeply felt sitcom, canceled after a mere eight episodes, but this is, in fact, its secret weapon. Martin’s presence, and the series’ sweet, silly premise, is delightful cover for its heroic undercarriage, squaring space for its foremost risk: At the heart of Downward Dog, led by the quietly magnificent Alison Tolman, is its radical earnestness, the belief that to be and to feel fully is almost always to court embarrassment—and that the real shame is to relent to the pressure to hide one’s emotions, rather than staring them in the face. In other words, I’ll remember the series as one of the defining network comedies of our unsettled age, a beacon of the prosaic and the humane in a world that’s been thrown to the wolves. —Matt Brennan

9. Search Party
Network: TBS

Search Party carries its charm into Season Two through a scintillating evolution from mystery to horror. From a neon sign that reads “slay” and an eerie synth jingle to a painting of a dead man and a play about Charles Manson, it’s littered with half-frightful, half-funny details; the episode titles (“Murder!” “Suspicion” “Obsession,” etc.) might’ve been culled from the poster for one of Hitchcock’s classics. Indeed, if the first season’s search for Chantal Witherbottom (Clare McNulty) once reminded me of Vertigo, the second completes the connection: Dory (Alia Shawkat) and co. are the series’ Scottie Fergusons, unraveled not by the chase, but the capture. Though I want to put on my Stefon voice and say, this show has everything—the relentlessly funny John Early, as the fast-unraveling Elliott Goss; a Marge Gunderson figure on the characters’ trail; a guest arc for J. Smith-Cameron; scatological humor, awful pseudonyms, primal screams—the fact is, that everything is working in felicitous harmony to underscore Search Party’s most elemental fear: Seeking, and ultimately locating, the thing we thought would make us happy, only to discover that it’s not what we’d hoped. —Matt Brennan

8. One Day at a Time
Network: Netflix

I can’t remember a time I loved something the way I love the new One Day at a Time. Part of my affection stems from the fact that the show was such a discovery. It arrived in January with almost no hype. I write about TV for a living and I barely knew it was premiering. Almost immediately, I dismissed the show as yet another ill-advised remake. How wrong I was. The comedy is a pure delight. A throwback to the defining comedies of the 1970s (with a modern twist), the series deftly tackles some hot-button issues, including post-traumatic stress disorder, wage inequality and teenage sexuality, amid real conversations about generational differences and Cuban heritage and traditions. Justina Machado (Six Feet Under) is fantastic as the recently separated veteran raising her two adolescent children with the help of her mother Lydia (living legend Rita Moreno) and her landlord Schneider (Todd Grinnell). Moreno gives an amazing speech in the season’s penultimate episode that should have nabbed her an Emmy nomination. But above all, the show is funny and grounded. Once you start watching, you won’t be able to watch this gem one day at a time. —Amy Amatangelo

7. Master of None
Network: Netflix

The long-awaited second season of Aziz Ansari’s masterful Master of None begins with an homage to Bicycle Thieves and ends with a nod to The Graduate. In between are beautifully nuanced episodes as Ansari’s Dev Shah tries to navigate his love life and his career. Even when the show goes the traditional sitcom route—the will-they-or-won’t-they romance of Dev and the engaged Francesca (Alessandra Mastronardi)—the dialogue and interactions are decidedly not traditional. They talk like real people, not ones created in a writer’s room. “New York, I Love You,” which steps away from the main characters to showcase the vibrant diversity of the city, and “Thanksgiving,” which chronicles Dev’s childhood friend Denise (Lena Waithe) coming out to her family, are easily the season highlights. —Amy Amatangelo

6. Catastrophe
Network: Amazon

When Rob Delaney, the funniest man on Twitter, and Sharon Horgan, the “brutal romantic,” lock themselves up in their writers’ room for a few weeks, you know that whatever comes out of it will be nothing short of filthy magic. Season Three of their painfully funny comedy Catastrophe confirms this fact once again: The fusion of these two charmingly warped minds makes for a viewing experience that likens life in all its unpredictability. The shitty day-to-day aspects of marriage and life in general are voiced by characters Rob (Delaney), Sharon (Horgan), Fran (Ashley Jensen) and Chris (Mark Bonnar) through a hail of blunt comic relief that will have you swinging in and out of your seat on the volatile rollercoaster ride that is Catastrophe. —Roxanne Sancto

5. black-ish
Network: ABC

Ours is not a country that has been kind to its black citizens. So how do you make a comedy about this when you have a show that, by its very title, suggests that its characters are worried about losing their roots? Simple. You don’t. Creator Kenya Barris and his writers have been particularly adept in 2017, from an Inauguration-related “Lemons” that gives star Anthony Anderson one of the best monologues in recent TV history to the musically-inclined fourth season opener, “Juneteenth.” (Not to mention covering other pressing topics, like post-partum depression). Expect even more socially conscious comedic commentary when spin-off Grown-ish premieres on Freeform next year. —Whitney Friedlander

4. BoJack Horseman
Network: Netflix

That Netflix’s animated comedy manages to pinpoint the character of the zeitgeist and map a few of the ways through it is at the heart of its profound genius, always slipping, almost imperceptibly, from silver-tongued satire to pathos and back. As washed-up, alcoholic actor BoJack Horseman (Will Arnett) forges a relationship with the daughter he didn’t know he had (Aparna Nancherla) and cares for the mother he’s long wished to forget about (Wendie Malick), Season Four doesn’t forgive his cruelties—or anyone else’s—so much as suggest that cruelties are now our dominant form of currency, the payola that secures the White House for the wicked and Wall Street for the damned, the surest path to fame and fortune for the tiny few and destitution for the many. In BoJack, the backdrop to the characters’ familiar foibles—their unthinking insults, their unspoken apologies, their selfish choices, self-doubt, self-flagellation—is the even more familiar crassness of lobbyists, donors and campaign managers; of studio heads, ambitious agents, stars on the make; of cable news anchors, dimwitted columnists, “Ryan Seacrest types”; of a social order so inured to insincerity, whataboutism, political profiteering, environmental collapse that being kicked in the stomach starts to feel like a gift. In short, BoJack Horseman is the defining series of our time, and also a handbook for surviving it. —Matt Brennan

3. Better Things
Network: FX

Pamela Adlon’s semi-autobiographical dramedy reaches new heights in its sophomore season, retaining the series’ painstaking realism as it explores more imaginative emotional terrain. From the “funeral” of “Eulogy” to the modern dance of “Graduation,” Better Things transforms kinship, its problems and possibilities, into an impressionistic, often dreamlike experience; for each thorny conversation and uncomfortable silence, there’s a flight of fancy suffused with love. Recklessly funny and slyly affecting, the series’ frank dispatches from the life of actress Sam Fox (Adlon), raising her three children and sparring with her mother (Celia Imrie), ultimately manage to transcend the connection to disgraced co-creator and co-writer Louis C.K.: From the artful direction to the set decoration to the hand-me-down costumes, Better Things is Adlon’s own. —Matt Brennan

2. Insecure
Network: HBO

Despite what the title implies, Insecure approaches its second season with an inspired confidence, following both Issa (Issa Rae) and Lawrence’s (Jay Ellis) journeys as they navigate their newfound singleness. For Issa, that starts with an effort to win Lawrence back before reigniting things with her ex, Daniel (Y’lan Noel), and cultivating a revolving “ho-tation” of partners. For Lawrence, it means treating his rebound girlfriend Tasha (Dominique Perry) terribly before throwing himself into his work. It shouldn’t be revolutionary that the series doesn’t make a big deal of Issa having multiple partners and embracing her sexual freedom, but it still kind of is. Amid all this, the show deftly explores the casual racism and sexism Lawrence, Issa and Molly (Yvonne Orji) encounter daily, the white privilege that surrounds Issa at work and the racism Issa is seemingly okay with even when her co-worker Frieda (Lisa Joyce) calls her on it. Through it all, Insecure remains terrifically funny, down to its sharp skewering of the TV landscape (I need to see a full episode of Due North). And I must pause for a special shout out to Natasha Rothwell, whose hilariously frank Kelli has quickly become my favorite character. —Amy Amatangelo

1. The Good Place
Network: NBC

The Good Place The Trolley Problem.JPG
You know a show is good when its “out of context” Twitter screengrab account is my favorite follow of the year. The Good Place isn’t just a weird dark horse for the best comedy on TV, it’s weird and dark in other ways, too. It loves puns, philosophy, and ragging on the highest- and lowest-class dorks in our nation. The second season of the afterlife show took everything that was great about the first season, stuffed it into a mind-boggling twist, and squeezed it until the corner the writers backed themselves into became their perfectly-positioned pulpit. The world follows an amazing fantasy logic while still being flexible enough to humor any wild thought experiment. It features some of the best performances on TV by actors that, before the show, were relative unknowns. It made me care deeply about both a anthropomorphic database and a part-time DJ from Florida. The Good Place forking rules. —Jacob Oller

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