Guffaws galore with these returning shows

These veteran comedies continue to deliver:

“30 Rock”
NBC
Strengths: Madcap workplace comedy, grounded in savvy satire and meta-commentary on the news and NBC. The cast is aces, and the show allows guests like Aaron Sorkin to show off their silly sides.
Weaknesses: “30 Rock” plays the “Liz Lemon is sad and pathetic” card a lot with its humor, and in its fifth season, that joke’s starting to feel tired.
Best days ahead or behind?: After a slow fourth season, “30 Rock” bounced back with a killer fifth, fresh and rife with wonderful Tracy Jordan and Jenna Maroney craziness. So, it’s hard to say.

“Eastbound & Down”
HBO
Strengths: The politically incorrect gauge always runs hot, making this HBO laffer wonderfully dangerous.
Weaknesses: Plotlines sometimes stretched beyond believability. Would Katy Mixon’s April really want anything to do with Kenny?
Best days ahead or behind?: Danny McBride called this next season the last, and that makes sense. After you’ve seen Stevie throw up a fine Mexican meal, there’s little to improve on that.

“The Big Bang Theory”
CBS
Strengths: It was clearly the year of the ladies. While Kaley Cuoco has delivered consistently since the pilot, Mayim Bialik and Melissa Rauch have put the guys in their place.
Weaknesses: Poor Raj. Kunal Nayyar rarely has episodes dedicated to his character. Would be nice if the writers can give him more to do next season.
Best days ahead or behind?: Although the show will enter its fifth season in the fall, there’s no reason laughs will start to decrease. Chuck Lorre shows rarely go into creative slumps.

“Bored to Death”
HBO
Strengths: In its second season, “Bored” mastered its offbeat sensibility, with the triangle friendship played by Jason Schwartzman, Ted Danson and Zach Galifianakis a pure delight.
Weaknesses: Kevin Bacon’s appearance as himself didn’t mesh seamlessly with a show that otherwise has recognizable faces in original roles.
Best days ahead or behind?: Season two will be hard to top, but at a length of only eight episodes, perhaps it can be matched.

“Community”
NBC
Strengths: Show’s willingness to experiment with form and tone have led to some truly inspired moments. Takes more chances than just about any broadcast series on air.
Weaknesses: The creative flights of fancy have sometimes come at the expense of character development. Meta humor leading to ratings decline?
Best days ahead or behind?: Loss of viewers in its second season might signal retrenchment … but this is NBC, so it has a longer leash. And the remaining audience is positively fanatical.

“Cougar Town”
ABC
Strengths: About halfway through the first season, it became apparent that the show worked best whenever the group appeared together. So 300 bottles of wine and nearly as many Penny Can games later, it has become a strong ensemble show. “Cougar” also manages to wring out genuine moments of emotion without being sappy.
Weaknesses: While an ensemble is a good idea, the show’s weakest scenes are the ones without Jules (Courteney Cox) or one of her girlfriends. Also, the pace of the show can be too frenetic at times. Oh, and then there’s the title, which has become meaningless since the show changed focus away from Jules’ sexual exploits; but it’s probably too late to change it now.
Best days ahead or behind?: It was unable to really take advantage of its hefty “Modern Family” lead-in, but “Cougar Town” just might be a better fit in its planned, lower-pressure midseason slot on Tuesday.

“Entourage”
HBO
Strengths: The way the series melds real-life and fictional Hollywood remains compelling. Whether it’s Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones finagling a deal with Ari to get an NFL team in L.A., or porn star Sasha Grey canoodling with Vince, the mixing of the two worlds is probably done better here than most anywhere else.
Weaknesses: Since regaining his superstar status, Vince (Adrian Grenier) really hasn’t had much to do — except get high — and Eric’s on-again/off-again relationship with Sloane has long moved past the meet cute of a new romance.
Best days ahead or behind?: Even HBO knows this one has seen better days. Final season this summer.

“Family Guy”
Fox
Strengths: Network TV’s most irreverent comedy, willing to take on incest, AIDS and pedophilia. Peter Griffin is a comedy genius.
Weaknesses: Network TV’s most irreverent comedy, stooping down to take on incest, AIDS and pedophilia. Peter Griffin is an obnoxious idiot.
Best days ahead or behind?: The series, now in its ninth season, has lost its earlier spunk. Creator Seth MacFarlane may want to spend less time in the recording studio and more in the writers’ room.

“Glee”
Fox
Strengths: Academy Award winning guest stars and larger-than-life tributes to music legends keep the buzz alive, while the occasional heartfelt episode requires no gimmicks to earn the show’s constant praise.
Weaknesses: While some episodes truly pull at heartstrings, other scripts seem merely like segues between “Songs We Want to Sing (Deal With It).”
Best days ahead or behind?: Until the current cast graduates from West McKinley High or heads permanently to the silver screen (that’s what ironclad contracts are for!), “Glee” ain’t going anywhere.

“Hot in Cleveland”
TV Land
Strengths: A bulletproof ensemble cast of sitcom veterans who play to their strengths via four distinctive femme characters of a certain age, facing mid-life issues that are rarely explored in TV comedy. The writing staff is equally stocked with seasoned laffer scribes unafraid to take the show into saucy territory.
Weaknesses: “Cleveland” has found clever ways to work with a steady volume of guest stars, but that could become tiresome if overdone.
Best days ahead or behind?: A strong cast, a strong premise and its status as the jewel of TV Land’s original series efforts will likely keep the ladies in “Cleveland” for years to come.

“How I Met Your Mother”
CBS
Strengths: Six seasons in, the original ensemble of five is just as tight as they were in episode one. The show experiments with sitcom tropes, occasionally attempting episode-long gags and letting darker emotional moments temper its levity.
Weaknesses: The show’s been renewed for two more seasons, and the creators have said we won’t actually meet the mother until the very end. It’s hard to stay invested in the overarching story when such a key plot point is constantly out of reach.
Best days ahead or behind?: In the absence of, you know, actually meeting the mother, “HIMYM” is due for a serious refresh, particularly with Ted’s dating habits and Lily and Marshall’s relationship complacency.

“Modern Family”
ABC
Strengths: No sophomore slump for last year’s Emmy comedy winner. Show still blends humor and heart as well as any program on television.
Weaknesses: OK, occasionally, the show’s attempts at sentiment feel just a little forced. And while we love Cam’s theatricality, the writers sometimes took it too far this season.
Best days ahead or behind?: With its fantastic ensemble and a multitude of story possibilities, “Family” appears poised for a long, satisfying run.

>”Nurse Jackie”
Showtime
Strengths: Edie Falco is a force, as her upset Emmy win as lead comedy actress proved last fall. Also, a stunning supporting cast, one that almost always leaves a feeling like it might be holding something back.
Weaknesses: This is a show that’s not sure what story it’s trying to tell. We know Jackie is an addict, and thus a liar, but the show seems stuck at that point. And none of the rest of the cast ever gets to play through a compelling or deep story.
Best days ahead or behind?: Behind unless this show’s writers figure out where they want this story to go, and quick.

“The Office”
NBC
Strengths: Amid the chaos of speculation regarding who would replace series star Steve Carell, “The Office” turned in a number of great episodes, with the marriage proposal to Holly (Amy Ryan) an unforgettable highlight.
Weaknesses: Will Ferrell’s four-episode arc as DeAngelo Vickers was all over the map, symbolizing the show’s inconsistency relative to past seasons.
Best days ahead or behind?: No one thinks “The Office” will surpass the Carell glory years, but there were enough great post-Carell moments to hope that it will still entertain.

“Parks and Recreation”
NBC
Strengths: Deadpan workplace struggles and wistful character dreams blended perfectly, with riotous moments to boot.
Weaknesses: Poor Jerry (Jim O’Heir) perhaps gets picked on a few too many times.
Best days ahead or behind?: With such rich characters, the (Michael) Schur-handed”Parks” has plenty more material to mine, though each new season is probably harder than the last.

“United States of Tara”
Showtime
Strengths: An incredibly strong cast, led by Toni Collette who won the 2009 lead comedy actress Emmy. Frequently sparkling writing, with quippy Oscar-winner Diablo Cody setting the tone.
Weaknesses: The writing is occasionally too precious for its own good, and the premise – that a woman with at least six personalities has managed to maintain a strong marriage and raise two kids – remains hard to buy. Still, there are times when we’d rather see more of Tara’s alters and less of the Gregson daily dramas.
Best days ahead or behind?: The series had potential for another strong year, but the viewership wasn’t there and Showtime canceled it.

“Weeds”
Showtime
Strengths: Mary-Louise Parker’s Nancy Botwin radiates as a dope-dealing mother who keeps finding ways to get into scrapes that would make Harry Houdini squirm.
Weaknesses: Big-name guests like Richard Dreyfuss can’t hide the suspicion that writers may be running out of ways to put Nancy in harm’s way. The departure of Elizabeth Perkins is glaring.
Best days ahead or behind?: A lackluster season was saved by a delicious cliffhanger that again has us jonesing for a few more hits, but clever twists probably aren’t enough to return the series to its glory years.

ROAD TO THE EMMYS: COMEDY
New comedies might not make big Emmy splash | Serious business at ‘Big Bang’ table read | Comedy conundrum: Dark and stormy vs. light | ‘Community’ student Abed analyzes the Emmys | Veteran contenders | Where it began for top comedies | Rookie comedies enter Emmy race

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