Sometimes there is nothing better than a punch to the gut to make a comedy more believable. Sometimes, you are just watching a drama sprinkled with a few laughs to ease up the tension. Some say a good joke is based in just that: discomfort. It does’t matter, as Josh Groban sings in Crazy Ex-Girlfriend “If you saw a movie that was like real life you’d be like ‘What the hell was that movie about?’ It was really all over the place. Life doesn’t make narrative sense”.
Something worth noting about this selection is the neurodiversity of experiences portrayed as well as how themes of mental health and recovery are addressed. Here are six shows ranked from most comedy-like to most gut-wrenching drama according to an approximate overall feeling.
The Letdown (2017): We Are Okay
Often suggested after watching Workin Mums this show actually features a mother that has not (yet) returned to the workplace and is struggling with life post-baby. Her sort-of-friends also have their own burdens to bear. More “uncool” in some ways, it touches upon the difficulty of achieving effortless normalcy. Sometimes more monotonous than it is dark, this series carries a profound intention. See also: Catastrophe.
IMDb synopsis: Audrey (Alison Bell) is determined not to be defined by motherhood. In theory, this seems fairly easy. In practice, her career-focused husband, self-obsessed mother, and fancy-free best friend make it damn-near impossible. 7.5/10
Created by: Alison Bell, Sarah Scheller
Crazy ex girlfriend (2015): Still Pretty Light?
This show was suggested to me quite a few times, When I finally caved and gave it a go, I can’t say I was won over right away. Did I ever really get into it, or did I just get sucked-in the drama and stayed for the songs? Probably. You never know what to expect in this one: the story escalates very rapidly, takes some unexpected turns, and has an impossibly anti-hero as its protagonist. One that never owns up to mistakes, piles-on the bad decisions and hits self-loathing right on the nose. Right when you thought you had enough, it peels another layer. If the more limited not-all-men-lean-in-feminist morality drawn throughout the show doesn’t always hit the note, you can be sure the songs are pitch-perfect and will you leaving- inexplicably- wanting for more. Just ask the Santa Ana Wiiiiinds.
IMDb Synopsis: A young woman (Rachel Bloom) abandons a choice job at a law firm and her life in New York in an attempt to find happiness in the unlikely locale of West Covina, California. 7.8/10
Created by: Rachel Bloom, Aline Brosh McKenna
Fleabag (2016): Getting A Little Darker
100% more British, arguably funnier than crazy-ex girlfriend and overall of higher comedic quality, Fleabag with its two short seasons is a must see. Its creator, Phoebe Waller-Bridge and the show have been awarded a Golden Globe and icon status amongst many fans. There is something about this show, perhaps because it is based off her one-woman-show, that is both so dark and touching. She often breaks the 4th wall and addresses the audience.
IMDb Synopsis: A comedy series adapted from the award-winning play about a young woman trying to cope with life in London whilst coming to terms with a recent tragedy. 8.7/10
Created by: Phoebe Waller-Bridge
Dead to me (2019): Hilarious but Deep
The fact that this show still manages to be funny is quite the exploit, for it is also gritting, insightful sometimes nail bitingly suspenseful. Never too scary -which I appreciate- it draws on one of my favourite themes: female friendship and its unravelling. Loss, grief, guilt, attachment all find their place within amazing character development and bad-ass characters.
IMDb Synopsis: A series about a powerful friendship that blossoms between a tightly wound widow and a free spirit with a shocking secret. 8/10
Created by: Liz Feldman
Work in Progress (2019): Touching and Poignant
I must admit, I was a little shaken after finishing the show. I felt grateful I was able to witness it and I am very glad it is out there. Because it is a semi-autobiographical story, a lot of intention has been put into channelling a sense of authenticity, in the way it is directed and filmed to the improvisational style of acting.
IMDb Synopsis: Abby, a 45-year-old self-identified fat, queer dyke whose misfortune and despair unexpectedly lead her to a vibrantly transformative relationship. Chicago improv mainstay Abby McEnany co-created/stars in this uniquely human comedy series. 7.2/10
Created by: Tim Mason, Abby McEnany
Big Little lies (2017): Some Chuckles Here and There… Maybe
With an all star cast of mainly feature film comedians (Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Shailene Woodley, Zoë Kravitz, Laura Dern, Meryl Streep) you know from the get-go this Golden Globe winner must have something good up its sleeve. Centred around a mysterious investigation the story unpacks every character’s darkest secret for two seasons. Going back and forth in time, the show mimics the undisturbed deepness of the ocean against the crashing waves. In the background of warm and polished exteriors, wealthy families’ facades are shaken. To be honest, it was sometimes really hard to watch.
IMDb Synopsis: The apparently perfect lives of upper-class mothers, at a prestigious elementary school, unravel to the point of murder when a single-mother moves to their quaint Californian beach town. 8.5/10
Created by: David E. Kelley