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Streaming Is Easy, Comedy Is Hard

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According to Rotten Tomatoes, Britannica, and me, the best comedy series of all time is “Seinfeld.” Beyond that, I know that recommending comedy shows is a risky business. Given the trickiness of humor, you won’t like all of the following shows, but you will probably love one or two.

Freaks and Geeks, set in a suburban high school in the 1980s, aired in 2000 to a thunderous silence and was canceled after 12 episodes, due to lack of support by NBC (remember network television?). 

Created and produced by Paul Feig and Judd Apatow, it has since become a cult classic. The cast of wild high-school kids includes Linda Cardellini (as the school’s star “mathlete”), Seth Rogen (his first role at about age 17), as well as other actors who later became comedy stars:  James Franco, Samm Levine and Jason Segal. Watching these famous performers at the start of their careers is a hoot. Stream on Hulu, Amazon and Apple.

Derry Girls is a British sitcom about the lives of four teenage girls at a Catholic school in Northern Ireland in the 1990s. This is a teen show unlike any other. The crazy situations and witty dialogue are hilarious, but there is a serious undercurrent because of The Troubles (the 30-year conflict in Northern Ireland). You will need closed captions to understand the Irish slang. Six episodes on Netflix.

The kids are amusing, but let’s move on to some serious comedy about folks like us, old people. The undercurrent here is often more poignant. Is there anything funny about funerals or erectile dysfunction? Well, yes, when Alan Arkin and Michael Douglas are involved, as in The Kominsky Method. Douglas plays Sandy Kominsky, an acting coach in his 70s, and Arkin plays Norman Newland, his agent and best friend. 

The dialogue between the two is priceless, and the women in the show add to the fun and drama: Kathleen Turner as Sandy’s ex wife and Jane Seymour as Norman’s old flame. Three seasons on Netflix.  Season three offers more tears than laughs, but it’s a sweet end to an enjoyable show that knows when it’s time to go.

To pull off a comedy about comedy you need impressive writing and acting. HBO’s terrific new show Hacks has an abundance of both. It stars Jean Smart (“Frasier,” “Mare of Easttown”), who is nothing short of wonderful in her role as Deborah Vance, a stand-up Las Vegas comedian who looks lovely at age 70 or so, but whose jokes are aging badly.  

Enter Ava Daniels (charmingly played by Hannah Einbinder), a 25-year-old, bisexual TV writer, who is hired to help freshen up her material. The ensuing clash of generations leads to many surprising developments.

 There are plenty of laughs along the way, but some episodes are quite moving, and one is even shocking. This show is the most likely to please everyone. 

If you don’t fall in love with these two gals, you probably need to go back to Seinfeld (180 episodes, just stolen away from Hulu by Netflix for $500 million).

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