Sentimental comedies
March 15, 2011 9:34 AM   Subscribe

Looking for TV shows, books, and movies where a smart, sharp comedic sensibility masks a deeply sentimental core.

The comedies I'm thinking of have one or more of these qualities:

- The main characters form a loving and supportive family, surrogate or otherwise, e.g., Community, Parks & Recreation, and the golden era of The Simpsons. Jack and Liz's relationship on 30 Rock also fits in here, although none of the other relationships on 30 Rock really have the same warmth or depth.

- The major characters are flawed but deeply likeable, and the writers have a clear affection for them. Again, think of Community (except for Pierce), Parks & Recreation, and classic episodes of The Simpsons.

- Bittersweet, dark humour that flows from deep pathos (e.g., the broken relationship between Annie and Alvy in Annie Hall, or the caterers on Party Down grappling with their failures.)

- The humour is often sharp enough to temper the story's tone, and prevent it from becoming sappy or treacly.

- The sentiment is an inseparable component of the story's mood and tone, but it's not always foregrounded or overt, and it's rarely saccharine or forced. (When I briefly watched Modern Family, for example, every single episode ended with a happy-family montage that felt cheesy and unearned.)

Thanks - I hope this is clear.
posted by mellifluous to Media & Arts (47 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
Scrubs is the first thing that popped to mind. It could be deeply comic, but they could also get real...and it felt earned and natural. One episode in particular rocked me to my foundation.
posted by inturnaround at 9:38 AM on March 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

Just about all of Preston Stuges' work. The Miracle of Morgan's Creek and Hail the Conquering Hero.

posted by Ideefixe at 9:41 AM on March 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Roseanne (before they get rich).
posted by biffa at 9:44 AM on March 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Arrested Development
posted by raztaj at 9:46 AM on March 15, 2011

Raising Arizona, big time.
posted by phunniemee at 9:48 AM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

You might like the cartoon "Home Movies". I remember watching a couple of episodes a long time ago and thinking it was okay. But then my roommate bought the DVD and I watched them all in order and it was incredibly sentimental (in its own weird way) with a narrative that flowed through the whole series. For the most part the show is about kids trying to understand a grown up world that the grown up don't understand. It's a funny, sentimental show that I think a lot of people over look.
posted by phelixshu at 9:49 AM on March 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

The Wonder Years
posted by fire&wings at 9:51 AM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Scrubs and Home Movies are definitely good examples. I'd also add Bones. It's not a comedy, per se, but there are a lot of comic moments, and the relationships between the characters are very much at the heart of the show. Also maybe Eureka.
posted by MsMolly at 9:53 AM on March 15, 2011

Louis CK's series Louie is available on Hulu, and it's a little more surreal than the examples you've given, but there's a very strong core sentiment there.

Dead Like Me, a Showtime series that lasted a couple of seasons.

The movie You Can Count on Me.
posted by gladly at 9:53 AM on March 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Roger & Val Have Just Got In, a British sitcom starring Dawn French and Alfred Molina. Only 6 episodes so far... not so much sentimental, but very bittersweet and pognant.
posted by afx237vi at 9:55 AM on March 15, 2011

Most of Taxi's episodes explore the deeper sides of the characters' flaws (Tony can never win a match, Bobby can never get an acting job, Alex deals with the death of his dog, etc.)
posted by Melismata at 9:58 AM on March 15, 2011

Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant are key at this. BBC Office and Extras.
posted by therewolf at 10:00 AM on March 15, 2011

Sports Night is always a good recommendation.
posted by nicwolff at 10:02 AM on March 15, 2011 [3 favorites]

2nding Roseanne
posted by rabbitrabbit at 10:10 AM on March 15, 2011

Seconding Gervais/Merchant, and adding "Dr. Katz: Professional Therapist," especially for the father/son relationship.
posted by jbickers at 10:20 AM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Larry Sanders Show!
posted by feastofviolet at 10:23 AM on March 15, 2011

SOAP. The writing wasn't as sharp as 30 Rock; more goofy.

The show was just as much about two sisters as it was about spoofing soap operas.
posted by AloneOssifer at 10:25 AM on March 15, 2011

This is why people love BtVS.
posted by quarterframer at 10:26 AM on March 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Freaks and Geeks might fit the bill.
posted by camneely at 10:31 AM on March 15, 2011 [2 favorites]

Came in here to recommend Sports Night as well. Pretty much fits your criteria to a T.
posted by bookgirl18 at 10:31 AM on March 15, 2011

Freaks and Geeks.
posted by travertina at 10:32 AM on March 15, 2011

Lisa Kudrow's "The Comeback." As heartbreaking as it is funny.
posted by hermitosis at 10:40 AM on March 15, 2011

Doc Martin
Gavin and Stacy
posted by dpcoffin at 10:46 AM on March 15, 2011

In a few ways Firefly fits in too.
posted by ducktape at 11:09 AM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

Doctor Who!
posted by Lobster Garden at 11:16 AM on March 15, 2011

The movie American Splendor. (Now even more poignant since Harvey Pekar has passed away.)
posted by The Deej at 11:28 AM on March 15, 2011

'Ugly Betty' is like that. I'm not a huge fan, but the show does grow on you.
posted by elendil71 at 11:29 AM on March 15, 2011

Seconding Bones and adding in Gilmore Girls. Please don't let the name dissuade you -- it is really funny, and has a great mother-daughter relationship at the heart of it. Veronica Mars has a great father-daughter relationship, but the rest of the relationships are more precarious. Neither Bones nor Veronica Mars is a light comedy -- VM has been called Camp Noir, as it rather straddles the line of goofy and dark, and Bones is the straight up murder mystery. Like Castle, it's surprising how funny that can be.
posted by Margalo Epps at 12:00 PM on March 15, 2011

Castle. Not a straight-up comedy but frequently funny, and Castle's close relationship with his daughter and his mom is charming.
posted by The corpse in the library at 12:02 PM on March 15, 2011

Seconding Sports Night, and I HATE sports.

Also, Home Movies. It doesn't get sentimental but a few times, but when it does you're like "Holy crap...yeah, I DO love these characters!"

Louie, if you're ok with some very non-PC humor, is probably one of the deepest comedies I've ever seen. It deals with some serious sh*t, all while being hysterical.

So yeah, essentially just seconding a lot of people's stuff.
posted by toekneebullard at 12:27 PM on March 15, 2011

For what it's worth, those inspirational endings kind of faded out as Modern Family went on, and the show got a lot stronger for it.

The Larry Sanders Show is a great example of this AND is all recently on Netflix Streaming. Judd Apatow (who worked on it early in his career) described it as being about people who really love each other, but show business gets in the way.
posted by frankdrebin at 12:34 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

The Full Monty.

I'm thinking in particular of the pair of scenes where the two happy-go-lucky guys ruin their pompous ex-boss's job interview by distracting him with his garden gnomes. It's really funny until all of a sudden it isn't- their ex-boss catches them and tells them how important that interview was to him. Very sharp turn.
posted by Clambone at 12:36 PM on March 15, 2011

The Hudsucker Proxy.
posted by Johnny Assay at 12:36 PM on March 15, 2011 [1 favorite]

The US Office (I think the UK version is much crueller)
Seconding Gavin and Stacey
The Princess BrideThe Castle
Seconding The Hudsucker Proxy
posted by hot soup girl at 12:54 PM on March 15, 2011

Nurse Jackie is one of the best shows of the past decade fifty years and meets a lot of your criteria.
posted by ceri richard at 1:18 PM on March 15, 2011

posted by rjs at 1:35 PM on March 15, 2011

All in the Family
posted by mkultra at 1:36 PM on March 15, 2011

As Good As It Gets and Little Miss Sunshine are the two that first came to my mind when I read this part of your desscription: Bittersweet, dark humour that flows from deep pathos.
posted by amyms at 2:27 PM on March 15, 2011

I'm another vote for Gilmore Girls and Gavin & Stacey, but also adding Raising Hope which I'm just now watching the first few episodes of.
posted by knile at 2:39 PM on March 15, 2011

Louis CK's series Louie is available on Hulu, and it's a little more surreal than the examples you've given, but there's a very strong core sentiment there.

This is the first one that came to mind for me. Blunt and sometimes pretty scathing, it also has a heart at its core.
posted by SpacemanStix at 4:25 PM on March 15, 2011

Takeshi Kitano's film Kikujiro came immediately to mind. It's a hilarious road movie about an incompetent gangster, played by Takeshi, and a little kid that falls under his reluctant care. Very sweet film and very funny. The film 101 Reykjavík also fits. It's about family, first and foremost.
posted by Kattullus at 8:30 PM on March 15, 2011

Daria. It's a little aged and works off high school angst, so there isn't a deep pathos, but I think it fits most of what you're asking for. Maybe the lite version of it.
posted by jyorraku at 4:16 AM on March 16, 2011

Slings and Arrows (all three seasons)

(Yay to Freaks & Geeks / You Can Count On Me!)
posted by phonebia at 6:25 AM on March 16, 2011 [1 favorite]

I love "Raising Hope", and I think it has a similar vibe to Roseanne (early Roseanne, when it was good). It is hilarious (and sometimes dark), but at its core it is very sweet.
posted by maryrussell at 1:29 PM on March 16, 2011

Came here to say Firefly, to an extent. Also Castle, to an extent.
posted by gonzo_ID at 12:08 PM on March 17, 2011

Green Wing!
posted by Ziggy500 at 7:03 AM on March 28, 2011

Another vote for Freaks and Geeks. A slightly less famous show that followed (and similarly only lasted one season) is Undeclared, set in college instead of high school.

Another TV show that's older and not exactly the same vein, but very deep and with well developed characters is Northern Exposure from the early 90s.

For some movies, The Apartment and Irma La Douce are two Billy Wilder comedy/drama/romances that straddle the bittersweet line. Play it Again, Sam is one of my favorite Woody Allen movies, and it's part of the Diane Keaton era like Annie Hall; Woody is his usual neurotic self, and he gets dating advice from Humphrey Bogart -- brilliant, right?

More in the surrogate-family vein, The Station Agent is another personal favorite. It's more bitter than comedic, but has a strong emotional chord. Kicking and Screaming has a stronger comedic bent, but is also deeply about finding a place for yourself among people (in this case the characters have just finished college). What's Eating Gilbert Grape kind of falls into a similar category, though the humor is more out of "human" moments and curiosities rather than gags.

And you didn't ask about music, but Tom Waits has to be the most (secretly) romantic/sentimental singer-songwriter, despite his noisy sound-engineering reputation. See Kentucky Avenue for an example. And he has some really hilarious lines in various songs.
posted by cheshirecat718 at 3:06 PM on March 28, 2011

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