Television in 30 Minutes or Less

Television history is built on half-hour comedies. Starting with The Honeymooners and I Love Lucy in the 1950s to shows like Cheers and Friends in the 1990s, the most remembered and replayed programs are most often the 30 minute blocks.

The new golden age of television today features the longer form 60 minute dramas, leaving the half-hour shows as the red-headed stepchild today. Though I often look for quality comedies, there just aren’t that many. The broadcasters seem to find fit to largely add the abominable laugh-track (either because people may be too stupid to know when to laugh or the writers were too poor to write something funny), and very rarely do you see a half-hour drama.

If you’re looking for a few short-form television programs, consider these six:

Last Week Tonight
Though I’m primarily writing about scripted fare here, Last Week Tonight is one of the best ways to get your news today. John Oliver’s “main stories” seem to have a way of going viral – from his expose of the insanity of state legislatures to his 18 minute love letter to the IRS. Oliver delivers his subject matter with the right mixture of attention-getting humor and well-researched fact, making him the most entertaining news on television.

The Middle
The “other” family show on Wednesday nights on ABC, though its scripts are consistently more true to life and heartfelt than its more popular cousin, Modern Family. Its cast has great chemistry and had just the right amount of crazy and sane to keep the stories fresh.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Once called “Seinfeld on Crack”, the show went from a little watched cult program to something of a phenomenon entering its 11th season next year. The five characters have put each other through the ringer, with plenty of hilarious commentary and parodies.

Though the last couple of seasons haven’t lived up to the promise of the first, Episodes is one of the best parodies of show business Hollywood has put out. The cast has great chemistry, led by Matt LeBlanc, who parodies himself.

When asked which is the more realistic show, Netflix’s drama House of Cards or the HBO comedy Veep, many Washington insiders often choose the latter. The show runs on its biting satire combined with perfect comedic timing and stinging one-liners.

Subtle and sweet, deep and thoughtful, Togetherness is a 30 minute character drama. Never before has the angst of those in their late 30s and early 40s been so brilliantly portrayed on television. From the seemingly perfect couple entering their “what does it all mean” mid-life crisis to the single friends who are still trying to get their shit together, very few shows have seen as real with well-drawn characters from the very first frame.