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Amid all the drama, TV still has laughs

  • This publicity image released by HBO shows Julia Louis-Dreyfus in the comedy series "Veep." Louis-Dreyfus was nominated for a Golden Globe for best actress in a comedy series for her role in "Veep" on Thursday, Dec. 12, 2013. The 71st annual Golden Globes will air on Sunday, Jan. 12. (AP Photo/HBO, Lacey Terrell)

Enough with the drama! All you hear these days is how we're basking in a Renaissance era of sophisticated and daring TV drama.

OK, Miley Cyrus' name gets bandied about a lot, too, but mostly it's the exquisite quality of shows like "Breaking Bad," "The Good Wife," "Mad Men" and "Masters of Sex."

Sitcoms have become the forgotten stepchildren of primetime. Not hard to understand in a season when only two, "The Big Bang Theory" and "Modern Family," rank in Nielsen's Top 20, a season when before Halloween even arrived people were asking, "Is 'The Michael J. Fox Show' still on the air?"

So you may be surprised to learn that laughs are still to be found. Look no further than these five very diverse comedies, all working wonders in and out of the traditional sitcom framework:

What if they made the funniest show on TV and nobody watched? It already happened with "Arrested Development." The loopy, 'larious saga of the Bluth family languished in the ratings basement at Fox a decade ago. This year, the streaming service Netflix reunited the sterling cast (Jason Bateman, Jessica Walter, Tony Hale, Portia de Rossi, Michael Cera, etc.) for another riotous go-round of nuclear dysfunction, surreal storytelling, and priceless throwaway gags.

Because the actors' schedules were impossible to reconcile, "Arrested's" creator, Mitchell Hurwitz, had to come up with a narrative gambit that initially seemed odd and disjointed. But when all the plots began to coalesce, round about Episode 5, the comedy magic was back in the bottle.

HBO's "Veep" is the sharpest Beltway satire the medium has ever seen, mostly because it focuses not on the power wielded by politicians, but on their desperate venality. Julia Louis-Dreyfus plays an image-obsessed, perpetually out-of-the-loop VPOTUS, riding her incompetent staff (Anna Chlumsky, Tony Hale, Matt Walsh, et al) to find her something, anything that will lend her the veneer of importance.

The deliciously caustic creation of Armando Iannucci, "Veep" also boasts a terrific supporting cast, including Kevin Dunn, Dan Bakkedahl, Nelson Franklin and Timothy Simons.

Confession: I've never liked Louis-Dreyfus, not in "Seinfeld," not in "The New Adventures of Old Christine." But thanks to her work in this nearly note-perfect farce, I'm now her biggest fan.

The unlikely comeback vehicle for Tim Allen, "Last Man Standing" on ABC, is a thoroughly traditional, absolutely charming sitcom. No bells or whistles, just the old home / workplace split (a la "The Dick Van Dyke Show") stocked with sharply drawn characters in conflict. Allen, as a right-wing crank running a Cabela's-like outdoors superstore, is a crafty pulling guard. But the rest of the ensemble has remarkable chemistry, even the kids (Molly Ephraim and "Justified's" Kaitlyn Dever).


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