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MATTHEW GILBERT

The 20 best comedies of the 2000s, ranked

These are the ensembles, odd couples, cranks, and fictional vice presidents who made us laugh the most

From left, B.J. Novak as Ryan Howard, John Krasinski as Jim Halpert, Jenna Fischer as Pam Beesly, Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute and Steve Carell as Michael Scott in "The Office."
From left, B.J. Novak as Ryan Howard, John Krasinski as Jim Halpert, Jenna Fischer as Pam Beesly, Rainn Wilson as Dwight Schrute and Steve Carell as Michael Scott in "The Office."

Oh the glory! I get to process the past two decades of great TV comedy, making the case for many of my all-time favorite series.

And oh the pain! Because while putting together this list of 20, I had to let go of a number of beloveds. Even now, looking at my choices, I grieve the lack of room for the likes of “Extras,” “Survivor’s Remorse,” “Community,” “Getting On,” “Difficult People,” “Insecure,” and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia.” (See what I did there?!) And I cringe at the awareness that, on another day, the order of the list might be rather different.

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To keep the focus tight, I decided that shows premiering before 2000, such as “Will & Grace,” were not eligible, even if they ran into the oughts. Likewise, I excluded all sketch shows, including “Chappelle’s Show,” “Key & Peele,” and “Inside Amy Schumer,” as well as those comedies that play out more like dramas, including “Nurse Jackie,” “Enlightened,” and “Shameless.”

D'Arcy Carden (left) Jameela Jamil on "The Good Place."
D'Arcy Carden (left) Jameela Jamil on "The Good Place." Colleen Hayes/NBC

20. “The Good Place” The first year of this afterlife comedy barely indicated how richly philosophical, playful, and convention-bashing it would become. (NBC, 2016-20)

19. “Modern Family” By the end, as is too common with network sitcoms, I was so totally over it — but for years, this was the family comedy to beat, with tight scripts, refreshing characters, and a gifted cast. (ABC, 2009-20)

18. “Louie” There’s no undoing the singular excellence of this show, which skillfully resisted narrative conventions as it charted the small moments in the life of a comic — despite the real-life offenses of its director, writer, and star, Louis C.K. (FX, 2010-2015)

17. “How I Met Your Mother” It was just another ensemble comedy about friends in NYC that went on too long, but the cast clicked and the writing did, too, with callbacks and a bottomless well of “Barneyisms.” About the lessons and consolations of friendship, it was ex — wait for it — cellent. (CBS, 2005-14)

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Aziz Ansari in "Master of None."
Aziz Ansari in "Master of None." Netflix

16. “Master of None” Aziz Ansari and Alan Yang created this charming portrait of a struggling Indian-American actor looking for love and good food in NYC, and it’s rich in character depth and exhilarating narrative experimentation. (Netflix, 2015-present)

15. “Arrested Development” Alas, I can’t think of this series without flinching about the revival on Netflix. But first there were three seasons of a brilliantly flip comedy about an ethically demented family, featuring sustained in-jokes, language play, and well-cast side characters. (Fox, 2003-06 and Netflix, 2013-19)

14. “Broad City” The endearing Abbi and Illana buoyed TV’s history of female duos — Mary and Rhoda, Lucy and Ethel, Laverne and Shirley — as they lived twisted, fringe, adventurous, and bawdy lives in NYC. (Comedy Central, 2014-19)

Lisa Kudrow in "The Comeback."
Lisa Kudrow in "The Comeback." John P. Johnson/HBO

13. “The Comeback” This faux reality show about Lisa Kudrow’s controlling has-been actress flings darts at pop culture’s youth fetish, the marginalizing of older women in Hollywood, celebrity egos, and the cynicism of TV executives — and every throw is a bull’s-eye. (HBO, 2005 and 2014)

12. “Man Seeking Women” I’m generally alone in thinking this show — an homage to the imagination — is one of the more brilliant TV takes on being single in NYC, as our hero walks in and out of amazingly designed metaphors. Not much on TV goes this far out on a limb and stays there. (FXX, 2015-17)

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11. Parks and Recreation” Amy Poehler and her flawless ensemble gave us “West Wing”-like political optimism — and the beautifully built-out world of Pawnee — with a welcome touch of crazy. (NBC, 2009-2015)

Ben Sinclair in "High Maintenance."
Ben Sinclair in "High Maintenance."Craig Blankenhorn

10. “High Maintenance” If you think “High Maintenance” is just “the pot comedy,” then you probably haven’t seen it. It’s a collection of interlocking short stories about the people of New York, the multitudes that once inspired Walt Whitman, as they live ordinary extraordinary lives behind locked doors. The chapters are linked only because they share the same pot dealer, played by co-creator Ben Sinclair, who has become less opaque with each season. Each story has depth and, sometimes, a little O. Henry-like twist at the end. (HBO, 2016-present)

9. “Better Things” Don’t ask me what it’s about! It’s about everything, or at least everything in the life of Pamela Adlon’s Sam Fox, the single mother of three daughters and the caretaker of her dotty mother. It’s about the small moments in their lives that wind up loaded with meaning. It’s about being a woman in a world and an industry (Sam is an actress) where men can’t help but talk at her. It’s about subtle filmmaking, resisting TV’s familiar storytelling tropes, and celebrating family in all its bittersweet, tumbledown glory. (FX, 2015-present)

8. “Catastrophe” As with many great comedies, the story line is nothing special: A lovably goofy American played by Rob Delaney has a fling in London with a feisty Irish woman played by Sharon Horgan, an unexpected baby ensues, and they try to raise the baby together despite, at first, being near-strangers. But the cast — including Carrie Fisher— elevates it all, and the writing, by Delaney and Horgan, is both clever and deeply human. Delaney and Horgan were one of TV comedy’s most believable couples as they faced the challenges of monogamy, sobriety, culture clash, sex, and romance. (Amazon, 2015-19)

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Catherine O'Hara as Moira in "Schitt's Creek."
Catherine O'Hara as Moira in "Schitt's Creek." Associated Press

7. “Schitt’s Creek” There’s nothing intellectually nourishing about this update of “Green Acres,” no big statement or innovation. It’s just a mess of sweetness and goofy comic genius. The magic is in the cast’s ensemble warmth and the character development, which saw the Rose family gradually lose their emotional inhibitions and shed their pretentions. The writers wisely pushed son David and daughter Alexis into the arms of exceedingly nice people, to bring out their strengths, and they wrote dazzling blather for Catherine O’Hara, whose Moira is one of TV’s funniest creations. (Pop, 2015-2020)

6. “Fleabag” I enjoyed season one of Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s painful, wry look at indirectly expressed grief and guilt. But I adored the second season, six episodes of perfection about an emotionally lost woman falling in love with a priest. With super-dry wit and fourth-wall-breaking winks, Waller-Bridge showed us the difficulty some have of feeling worthy of love. The season won a bunch of Emmys, and it deserved each one. (Amazon, 2016-19)

5. “The Office” It’s hard to judge this show anymore, in some ways. It has become part of the fabric of TV culture, its cast members (many from the Boston area) now stars and its episodes now in constant syndication and streaming replay. But, despite being softer and mushier than Ricky Gervais’s original “The Office,” or perhaps because of those qualities, “The Office” is a treasure of characterization and dry humor. It captures both the absurdities of the workplace, as well as the eccentric and repetitive people we’re sometimes thrown together with when we’re there. (NBC, 2005-13)

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Larry David in "Curb Your Enthusiasm."
Larry David in "Curb Your Enthusiasm." John P. Johnson/HBO

4. “Curb Your Enthusiasm” This is the show that manages to make the selfish, petty characters on “Seinfeld” look almost cozy. Larry David created a cringe-filled vehicle in which to fully unleash his misanthropy and his absurdly stubborn opinions. His hell is other people, and he openly expresses the annoyance and self-righteousness that most of us suppress. Some of the humor, too, is rooted in watching his East Coast sensibility in a world of LA air-kisses and positive thinking. Semi-improvised, “Curb” spawned a wave of shows with actors playing exaggerated versions of themselves. (HBO, 2000-present)

3. “Scrubs” Alas, Bill Lawrence’s series circled the drain for a year or two before it left. But for most of its life, “Scrubs” was remarkable, a show that took on the legacy of “M*A*S*H” — a comedy that could be dramatic in a medical setting among doctors and nurses — and didn’t wind up looking stupid. The series was a critical force in the advance of single-camera comedies, as it went big with surrealistic flashes, making the characters’ fears and desires entertainingly literal for a moment or two. (ABC & NBC, 2001-2010)

2. “Veep” I never thought that, among its many virtues, “Veep” would also turn out to be prescient. But this brilliant take on political theater, created by Scottish writer Armando Iannucci with the clarity and comic distance of an outsider, managed to find both broad and subtle laughs in malignant self-interest, media self-love, and congressional paralysis. It also turned cursing into an art. The cast was all aces, not least of all Julia Louis-Dreyfus, who finds the funny in narcissism, and Timothy Simons, whose failure to be nominated for his turn as Jonah Ryan is one of many Emmy sins. (HBO, 2012-2019)

Tracy Morgan and Tina Fey in "30 Rock."
Tracy Morgan and Tina Fey in "30 Rock."Eric Liebowitz/NBC

1. “30 Rock” From start to finish, this comedy was a happy tap dance of jabs at politics, pop culture, and the media — including its own network, NBC. It was far from a smash hit, even after three best-comedy Emmys, but creator Tina Fey and the writers never compromised for mainstream appeal. A TV series about a TV series in the family tree of “The Larry Sanders Show,” it could be a biting satire of America as well as an affectionate ensemble comedy. It has not become the kind of comfort food in reruns that “The Office” and “Friends” have, but that’s as it should be. The show is too relentless and sharp for that. The Urban Dictionary defines “30 Rock” as making you “laugh so hard that a little pee comes out,” and I won’t argue with that. (NBC, 2006-13)








Matthew Gilbert can be reached at matthew.gilbert@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter @MatthewGilbert.