On my soapbox again for DVD rental of TV series. This time for comedy.

Comedies are different than serialized dramas in terms of the DVD viewing experience. Most comedies fully stand on their own, and it’s not critical to connect the dots from the preceding weeks to the current episode.

Some dramas, like the Shield and others mentioned on this post, it is imperative you start from the beginning otherwise you will be lost. That’s what nice about comedy. You can jump in at any season or any episode and still have a few laughs.

These are all series that have had a relatively small viewership during their runs. One, Curb Your Enthusiasm, is potentially still in production although concluded it’s 7th season just last week.

  • Arrested Development – No laugh track, and stacks of irony piled upon satire ensured this show captured 6 Emmy’s, 1 Golden Globe, and then got canceled. This Ron Howard production boasted one of the finest casts this side of Seinfeld. Almost everyone from this show has gone on to prosper elsewhere (Michael Sera, Portia De Rossi, Jeffery Tambor, and Jason Batemen in particular). Those who are baffled by Wil Arnet on 30 Rock (this isn’t that funny), never knew him as Gob (pronounced Jobe). His magic act done to Europe’s The Final Countdown sums up this shows brilliance. Three Seasons on DVD.
  • Curb Your Enthusiasm– The best comedy show currently going. Think Seinfeld for cable, dirty words and all – more Jewish – a Tuba instead of a bass guitar – and overall funnier. Larry David, co-creator of Seinfeld and on whom George was based, comes into the spotlight, as a man fearless with respect to his frustrations – which are seemingly endless. Often coming across as a big jack-ass, Larry eventually grows on you, as will the terrific cast of characters including frequent cameos by Wanda Sykes, Ted Danson, and Richard Lewis. This years hyped Seinfeld reunion was a bit of bust as far as the reunion went, but the shows themselves may be some of the best of series. 6 Seasons on DVD – Don’t miss season 6 with Leon.
  • The Office or Extras– Ricky Gervais is another acquired taste in comedy. If you can get beyond the accent, there is a very nimble and comedic mind at work here in both these shows he co-wrote with Stephen Merchant. Fans of the Steve Carrell Office, will find Gervais’s David Brent to be far less likable, but that’s the fun. Gervais loves playing the egomaniac ass. David Letterman called this show “a perfect series” and he might be right. Extras is really just more of the same with many excellent cameos form Kate Winslet, Ben Stiller, David Bowie, and Daniel Radcliff playing versions of themselves.
  • Rescue Me– This is so much more than a comedy, which makes the punch lines all the more funny.  This show has some of the sharpest dialogue out there. Against the backdrop of post 911 FDNY, comedian Denis Lehrey and writer Peter Tolan create a totally believable group of firefighters, Engine 62, who are politically incorrect guys. Rites of passage, camaraderie, and the constant ball busting that goes with it, provide the characters with line after line of funny.  With a fire alarm always sounding bringing the show back to reality, this is one terrific show that succeeds as both drama and comedy. 5 seasons on DVD.
  • Gilmore Girls –Forget about the mess of season 7 – that must have been a contractual thing. In seasons 1-6 we meet the inhabitants of Stars Hallow – all people know and recognize – except for the fact they all talk unbelievably fast and pepper their conversation with cultural references from Alanis Morrissette to Waiting for Godot. Watching the show can be like playing trivial pursuit only with lots more laughter. The plots are cheesy as hell, but watching Lauren Graham delivering the brilliant dialogue of Amy Sherman Paladino and her husband Daniel Paladino is television wonder. Don’t be turned off by the title, it’s a great show.

There are many more. Fawlty Towers is another nearly perfect British series from the past while there isn’t an episode of Family Guy that hasn’t had me laughing out loud at least once for eight seasons.

Next time I will review some of the comedies from this years crop of shows.