Hollywood will be dying for laughs next season with “Everybody Loves Raymond” in retirement and no sure-fire sitcom on the horizon.
In fact, the humor situation is so serious, CBS is giving the royal treatment to “Two and a Half Men,” a series that’s only funny after 2½ drinks.
So it’s no surprise that Emmy voters are giving more and more praise to shows that get their chuckles outside the traditional sitcom format. Last year’s comedy winner, “Arrested Development,” breaks just about every rule established by “I Love Lucy,” except the one about being funny.
Meanwhile, Golden Globe comedy series winner “Desperate Housewives” is a meshing of just about every TV genre, except the Western — and there’s always next season for that. With that in mind, the top 10 comedy episodes of this past year come from a wide variety of sources. Enjoy the journey.
1) “The Office” — Christmas special (BBC America, Oct. 21)
The cult classic closed on a surprisingly tender note, with even uberloser David Brent (Ricky Gervais) launching a relationship on a promising note. The character, a mound of insecurities, selfish impulses and jelly donuts, was, at heart, a fragile soul, and it was a thrill to see him get a happy ending — although we wish he would have celebrated with his insane dance.
Freeze-frame moment: Brent dresses as Austin Powers to score on a dating show.
2) “Everybody Loves Raymond” — Pat’s Secret (CBS, May 9)
The finale — in which the family temporarily thought Ray had bought the farm — was a gem, but the bigger laughs came the previous week with the ultraconservative in-laws confessing to such atrocious crimes as smoking and setting off fireworks.
After nine seasons, the writers were still able to provide lots of silly behavior. For example, we learn that Ray drives around the block a few times to avoid coming home — leaving us to wonder, how did they do it for so long? And how dare they leave us now?
Freeze-frame moment: Pat — played by Georgia Engel, a career mild-mannered-character actress — shows she can operate a lighter like Humphrey Bogart.
3) “Gilmore Girls” — A House Is Not a Home (WB, May 17)
Lorelai (Lauren Graham), TV’s fastest quipslinger, was disarmed by news that her daughter just stole a boat, plans to quit school and is transforming into one of the girls from “Beverly Hills, 90210.” Shocking for Stars Hollow, irresistible for viewers. Creator Amy Sherman-Palladino, who wrote and directed this season finale, is the wittiest dialogue writer not named Aaron Sorkin.
Freeze-frame moment: Luke (Scott Patterson) storms through a stream of cyclists, too focused on his passion for Lorelai to care that he’s turned a bike race into a scene from “Keystone Kops.”
4) “Everybody Loves Raymond” — Boys’ Therapy (CBS, Nov. 15)
If “Pat’s Secret” was “Raymond” at its silliest, then this episode showcased the series’ ability to get serious without making us feel like we stumbled into an episode of “The Waltons.” That the sitcom could touch on Frank’s (Peter Boyle) childhood abuse without sacrificing laughs is proof that the writers and Boyle are tremendous tightrope walkers.
Freeze-frame moment: While hiding from their wives at the racetrack, the Barone men bond over a horse with a can’t-lose name: Marie’s Mouth.
5) “Arrested Development — Good Grief (Fox, Dec. 5):
Doomed Charlie Brown would have fit right in with the woeful Bluths, a family bonded only by their mutual attraction to disaster. It’s fitting that this episode revolving around the supposed death of the family patriach pays homage to the Peanuts strip. All that’s missing from it is for Lucy to pull the football away from good guy Michael (Jason Bateman).
Freeze-frame moment: A depressed George Michael (Michael Cera) shuffles by a red doghouse to the strains of the “Charlie Brown Christmas” theme.
6) “Entourage” — Talk Show (HBO, Aug. 1)
Hollywood’s obsession with itself can get a bit old, but it’s resulted in some terrific comedy. This satirical look at a movie star’s inner circle scored early in its run with a nearly disastrous trip to Jimmy Kimmel’s talker. Lots of shows attempt to mix their fake Hollywood with the real one, but this episode did an exemplary job of it.
Freeze-frame moment: Egomaniacal agent Ari Gold (Jeremy Piven) tries to sweet-talk Sarah Silverman, playing her potty-mouth self, in the greenroom. Bad move.
7) “Nighty Night” — Episode One (Oxygen, Aug. 6)
As this dark BBC-produced limited series shows, the U.S. is outsourcing abroad a lot of its best TV comedy these days, too. Creator Julia Davis also stars as a self-centered hairdresser eager to have her husband croak so she can jump into bed with the doc next door.
Freeze-frame moment: Our so-called heroine hits on her neighbor, despite the fact that he’s in the presence of his wheelchair-bound wife. (Money quote: “You’ve got quite a large head, Cath. Is that part of the illness?”)
8) “Da Ali G Show” — Respek” (HBO, July 18)
The rudest interrogator not employed by “60 Minutes” sabotaged Sam Donaldson and Daryl Gates in pieces that were crude, mean — and gut-busting.
Freeze-frame moment: Two Mississippi wine experts try to stop confused correspondent Borat (Sacha Baron Cohen) from guzzling down all their samples, with little success.
9) “Desperate Housewives” — Ladies Who Lunch (ABC, March 27)
This breakthrough hit shines when the mostly fortysomething cast acts like teensomething delinquents. They were up to their naughty best here with housewives entangled in S&M, drunken escapades and showdowns at children’s parties.
Freeze-frame moment: When her sewage system falls apart, a dead-broke Gabrielle (Eva Longoria) steals a portable toilet from a construction site.
10) “The Office” — Diversity Day (NBC, March 29)
The idea of Americanizing the BBC smash sitcom sounded about as tasty as shepherd’s pie stuffed with hot dogs. But the series proved to be jolly good by this second episode, in which the staff was subjected to a training session on racial tolerance.
Freeze-frame moment: Michael (Steve Carell), the self-centered supervisor, thinks he’s nailed a Chris Rock routine. Wrong.
(Neal Justin is the TV critic for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune.)