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Comedy’s Crowded, But These Shows Deserve Emmy Love

Every Emmy voter has hard choices to make, but the comedy categories might be the home of the toughest races. Hourlong programs often make more noise and get more buzz, but much of TV’s center of gravity has shifted over to the comedy realm — and the numbers prove it.

Between 2009 and 2015, the number of prime-time scripted series roughly doubled from around 200 to more than 400. But the pace of that increase played out differently in comedy and in drama. During that time, the number of dramas grew by 80 percent, but the overall quantity of comedies increased by 120 percent, according to FX Research.

Given how crowded various fields are, there are dozens of credible candidates for every comedy category in the Emmy competition. And rather than break down each race, I’d prefer to offer a few recommendations in three major arenas. These are just a few reminders that may offer some guidance during a very challenging decision-making process.

1. The big networks are doing great things for mainstream viewers.

There are dozens of capable comedies on the big five networks, but a few are worthy of special note. “Brooklyn Nine-Nine” is the best workplace comedy on TV, and its varied ensemble spent the Fox show’s most recent season hilariously firing on all cylinders. NBC’s “The Carmichael Show” has done a fine job of updating the Norman Lear mode of multi-camera comedy for the age of social media, and stars Loretta Devine and David Alan Grier serve as the vital anchors for the capable cast. Over on “ABC,” “Black-ish” has had an exceptional season full of powerful impact and subversive laughs, and though the entire ensemble is exceptional, stars Tracee Ellis Ross, Anthony Anderson, Jennifer Lewis and guest actor Deon Cole have been off-the-charts funny — and sensitive in dramatic moments, too. And “Fresh Off the Boat’s” Constance Wu is basically the Daenerys Targaryen of comedy — she’s unstoppable, smart and can do whatever she sets her mind to. Finally, “Jane the Virgin” is the best comedy on TV. Don’t let its status as an hourlong program on the CW camouflage its delightfulness — or blind you to its very high level of craft. This knowing, melodrama-flavored comedy is exceptional, as is star Gina Rodriguez and supporting actor Jaime Camil. 

“TV’s center of gravity has shifted to the comedy realm — and the numbers prove it.”

2. Streaming comedy is weird but wonderful.

Netflix and Amazon are taking big swings with their half-hour offerings, and those risks are paying off. “BoJack Horseman” may be one of Netflix’s oddest offerings, but the animated comedy is without question one of the best written and best acted shows on any platform, and Alison Brie in particular is doing exceptional work as the disaffected Diane Nguyen. Netflix’s similarly sharp live-action comedy “Master of None” delivered one of the most bracing and entertaining debut seasons in recent memory, taking on racism, sexism, dating and the obstacles to true romance with wit, intelligence and a winning curiosity. Meanwhile, over on Amazon, the one-two punch of “Transparent” and “Catastrophe” is tough to beat. Both shows have extraordinary casts and are set in very different locations — grey London versus laid-back LA — and they both deal with sex, romance and disillusionment with rare, resonant blends of compassion and honesty.

3. Don’t take them for granted, because cable comedies are still killing it.

“Inside Amy Schumer” and “Broad City” have more than proved they’re not flashes in the pan; if anything, both offered even stronger, tougher, funnier material in the most recent period of Emmy eligibility. On FX, “You’re the Worst” took depression, a subject that is getting increasing recognition from TV storytellers, and wove it into its typically incisive and devastatingly truthful comedy. Stars Aya Cash and Chris Geere proved their exceptional versatility by switching between tragedy, comedy and satire without ever missing a beat, and the entire ensemble’s chemistry is, frankly, perfect. Finally, there’s one comedy that deserves far more recognition than it has gotten in its two seasons: Starz’s “Survivor’s Remorse.” It may be the longest of Emmy long shots, but the cast is absolutely jam-packed with sensational performances. Worthy of special shout-outs are RonReaco Lee, who does hangdog bemusement very well; Tichina Arnold, who brings believable depth and sensitivity to her role of a pro athlete’s protective mother; and especially Mike Epps, whose turn as the chill but fiercely loyal Uncle Julius was one of the great joys of 2015.

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