Last year, I declined an invitation to identify 10 of the season’s best half-hours of comedy, reasoning that it would be impossible, in good conscience, to list more than four or five.
This season featured plenty of reasons to believe nothing had changed — for example, “Arrested Development,” which Fox rather unceremoniously canceled, doesn’t qualify this year, mostly because its last flurry of episodes was disappointing.
Meanwhile, a show like “Weeds,” Showtime’s half-hour about a pot-selling mom, couldn’t crack this rundown, inasmuch as it’s more of a half-hour drama, occupying that same in-between realm as “Desperate Housewives,” which became a comedy for award-consideration purposes.
Still, several promising new series deserved recognition, and the pickings turned out to be not so slim after all (although I still needed a bit of creativity to round out a list of 10).
Here, then, in ascending order, are 10 of the season’s best comedy episodes:
10. “My Name Is Earl” (Pilot, Sept. 20)
This NBC series about a smalltime hood trying to turn his life around was too hit-and-miss to consistently rank among the elite comedies, but it certainly had its moments. One was the clever premiere episode, in which the title character, played by Jason Lee, lists all his life’s transgressions. No. 23 is “Peed in the back of a cop car.”
“I’m no longer proud of that,” Earl confesses.
9. “The Comeback” (“Valerie Does Another Classic Leno,” Sept. 4)
Lisa Kudrow’s comeback playing a has-been sitcom star desperately doing her own reality show mostly misfired, but the finale brought the show to an elegant, thoughtful and deliciously ironic conclusion. In that respect, it provided greater insight into Hollywood than its more media-friendly running mate, “Entourage.”
8. “The New Adventures of Old Christine” (“The Other F Word,” April 10)
Apparently, there’s nothing wrong with the multicamera sitcom that fine writing and a top-notch star can’t cure, as Julia Louis-Dreyfus, with her second-season renewal, survived the “Seinfeld” curse. Edging a hilarious half-hour featuring Andy Richter, this episode cleverly demonstrated the law of unintended consequences as Christine sought to foster diversity at her son’s snotty private school.
7. “Everybody Hates Chris” (Pilot, Sept. 22)
While the show didn’t quite measure up to its preseason buzz, this loving tribute to Chris Rock’s youth as a black kid at Corleone Junior High remained consistently watchable, never more so than in its laugh-out-loud premiere.
6. “Two and a Half Men” (“Madame and Her Special Friend,” Nov. 21)
Alan (Jon Cryer) dates an older woman in this very funny installment, which, in producer Chuck Lorre’s show-closing vanity card, included the 25 “she’s so old” jokes that the writers didn’t use. Personal favorite: “Amphibians were just called ‘showoffs.’ ”
5. “Curb Your Enthusiasm” (“The Ski Lift,” Nov. 20)
Overall, this was an extremely disappointing season, but only “Curb” could come up with an episode that found Larry trapped on a ski lift with an Orthodox Jewish woman as the sun goes down.
4. “Extras” (“Kate Winslet,” Aug. 4)
Ricky Gervais’ lovably awkward portrayal of an extra with big dreams — Ralph Kramden on a movie set — never got better than this hilarious episode. Actress Kate Winslet — clad in a nun’s habit — tutors her female pal in how to talk dirty. It’s not the equal of Gervais’ original “The Office,” but this HBO show still yielded some riotous laughs in its half-dozen-episode run.
3. “How I Met Your Mother” (“Drumroll, Please,” Jan. 23)
A deft mix of comedy and romance, this freshman CBS comedy delivered plenty of both in the episode where love-hungry Ted (Josh Radnor) meets a woman at a wedding and decides to woo her only for that night. Nor should Emmy voters overlook the fine supporting work by Neil Patrick Harris and Alyson Hannigan.
2. “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” (“Charlie Wants an Abortion,” Aug. 11)
Finally, a slacker comedy for all of us, which, in this case, featured two of the guys landing on opposite sides of a pro-choice/pro-life rally, talking on their cell phones regarding which contingent had the better action.
1. “The Office” (“Casino Night,” May 11)
The season finale barely edged “Take Your Daughter to Work Day,” though TV’s best comedy frankly could have provided its own top 10 list. Despite Steve Carell’s antics as the clueless boss, the series was consistently elevated by its terrific ensemble, wry humor and the ongoing Jim-Pam nonromance, which took a perilous twist in this “super-sized” episode.
In this case, it’s the skill, not size, that matters.