Road to the Emmys 2012: Comedy

This season’s freshman series formed one of the most diverse rookie slates TV has seen:

2 Broke Girls
CBS
Strengths: There’s exceptional comedic chemistry between cynical waitress Max (Kat Dennings) and her perennially optimistic co-worker and roommate, Caroline (Beth Behrs).
Weaknesses: It’s time to scale back the nonstop sexual innuendos and double-entendres. Also, the need to bring up the cupcake business each week is like an anchor on every storyline.
Best days ahead or behind?: The supporting characters are one-note players. That puts the show squarely on the shoulders of Dennings and Behrs. Fortunately, they seem up to the challenge.
– Barry Garron

Bent
NBC
Strengths: An underrated gem that delivered instant chemistry not only among its leads
Strengths: An underrated gem that delivered instant chemistry not only among its leads (Amanda Peet and David Walton) but a fine supporting cast that included Margo Harshman, Joey King, Jesse Plemons, J.B. Smoove and Jeffrey Tambor.
Weaknesses: Patter between Peet and Walton sometimes risked being too cutesy.
Best days ahead or behind?: Premiering in April opposite “Modern Family” and burned off in three weeks, “Bent” was canceled before it could capitalize on its strong creative start.
– Jon Weisman

Don’t Trust the B—- in Apartment 23
ABC
Strengths: Offers a new twist on the familiar odd-couple sitcom format with loads of heightened absurdity, raunchy humor and a great running joke — James Van Der Beek playing himself.
Weaknesses: Besides the title? Character development has often taken a backseat to throwaway humor, though that should improve in time.
Best days ahead or behind?: TV roommates Dreama Walker and Krysten Ritter should have plenty of opportunity to continue developing their wicked chemistry.
– Glenn Whipp

Enlightened
HBO
Strengths: Laura Dern shines as a relatable, imperfect, fallen exec struggling to spread positive spiritual vibes in a mostly indifferent material world. Tunes in to 99%-er zeitgeist. Strong performances.
Weaknesses: Lead character Amy’s extreme self-absorption, earnestness and naivete can test believability.
Best days ahead or behind?: Amy’s season-finale fantasy of burning down her office set the stage for a more proactive heroine in season two. Bring on the mischief.
– Kate Hahn

Girls
HBO
Strengths: Snarky, incisive and often shocking, Lena Dunham’s series offers a finely detailed and altogether unsettling comic look at a group of young women struggling to find their way into adulthood.
Weaknesses: Intense focus on its specific quartet of women has, some feel, limited its scope and audience.
Best days ahead or behind?: Currently shooting season two, Dunham will once again benefit from a leisurely post-production polish time. Feels like she’s just getting started.
– Glenn Whipp

House of Lies
Showtime
Strengths: Don Cheadle gives a charismatic, hilarious performance as Marty, the rainmaker for a high-powered consulting firm specializing in corporate crisis management. The premise couldn’t be timelier, and dialogue can be blisteringly funny.
Weaknesses: There are no sympathetic characters. Two of Marty’s colleagues seem too dumb to be of any practical use to him.
Best days ahead or behind?: Though he’s allegedly the best in the business, Marty’s job was imperiled in season one, a little soon to go that route.
– David Kronke

Life’s Too Short
HBO

Strengths: Showrunners Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant found an unassuming comedic hero/punching bag in Warwick Davis, a thesp who has spent most of his 30-year career hidden beneath fuzzy costumes and face makeup.
Weaknesses: Early episodes relied on easy jabs at Davis’ height for a laugh, while later episodes worked the jokes into the story in a smarter way.
Best days ahead or behind?: By series end, it was a strong blend of the subtly funny and the awkwardly absurd, and celebs (Jerry Seinfeld, among others) have expressed interest in second-season cameos, making it seem as if the best is yet to come.
– Justin Shady

New Girl
Fox
Strengths: Zooey Deschanel’s girly geek Jess is still the radiant center, but as the show evolved into a hipster screwball comedy, it spread the love to other people. Often enjoyably unpredictable.
Weaknesses: A forced feeling to some of the relationship plot lines; stumbled around at times with tone and wobbly character development — especially Winston.
Best days ahead or behind?: Found its stride about halfway into frosh season. If it can become even more consistent, “Girl” seems on the upswing.
– Craig Phillips

Suburgatory
ABC

Strengths: While most sitcoms depict suburbanites as caricatures, the cast has evolved into a well-rounded ensemble of characters that exist for more than just one-liners and sight gags.
Weaknesses: Laughs occasionally rely on simple, one-note quips based in “Stepford Wives”-esque generalities.
Best days ahead or behind?: As it shifts focus away from urban-versus-suburban ironies and more toward character development and relationships, the show’s sophomore season looks poised to push beyond generic sitcom boundaries.
– Justin Shady

Up All Night
NBC
Strengths: A winning balance of zany and poignant, parodying daytime TV while examining the highs and lows of family life, is combined with the warm, playful chemistry of Will Arnett and Christina Applegate.
Weaknesses: Sitcom struggled to find its voice in early episodes. Maya Rudolph’s Ava was among the supporting characters that often come off as simplistic caricatures.
Best days ahead or behind?: Missteps appear to be
the growing pains of a freshman laffer. Show promises to continue finding its legs and voice, like young Amy.
– Todd Kushigemachi

Veep
HBO

Strengths: Biting satire of political inertia rings true, particularly in an election year. Headlining presence of Julia Louis-Dreyfus at her madcap best adds to the fun.
Weaknesses: Viewers not inclined to embrace cynicism and disillusionment (to say nothing of hope) might have little to latch onto here.
Best days ahead or behind?: Given the long lifespan of Louis-Dreyfus’ last two sitcoms, it might not be premature to begin to chant “Four more years! Four more years!”
– Glenn Whipp

Whitney
NBC

Strengths: Morphing into a “Friends”-like ensemble seemed to relax co-stars Whitney Cummings and Chris D’Elia into droller, warmer banter. Fresh twist added in Maulik Pancholy’s toying with bisexuality.
Weaknesses: Lack of comic zest. Characters still sound like they’re repeating favorite “Sex and the City” quips from last night’s reruns.
Best days ahead or behind?: Now that the season finale put the kibosh on the leads’ marriage plans, they could end up on the sidelines, yielding the playing field to funnier sidekicks.
– Bob Verini

Wilfred
FX

Strengths: This eccentric tale of a despondent man who sees his sexy neighbor’s pet as a guy in a cheesy dog suit with an Aussie accent boasts terrific comic chemistry between nebbish Ryan (Elijah Woods) and tetchily confrontational Wilfred (Jason Gann).
Weaknesses: Willful weirdness risked taking show off track.
Best days ahead or behind?: With auds on board, comic journey can really begin.
– David Kronke

Road to the Emmys 2012: Comedy
A grander gander

at gender | Emmy spotlight neglects cable comedies | New kids in town enter sitcom race | 2011-12 TV comedy moments to remember | Sitcom standbys in kudo contention |Defending champ ‘Modern’ impresses past TV toppers
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