There’s nothing quite like finding a perfect new show or movie: something that keeps you entertained for its entire runtime and makes you think deeply for hours or days after viewing. This new column on the Reelgood Blog will take one excellent new film or series and provide a hearty list of semi-related recommendations to make your latest streaming obsession even more rewarding. This week’s list is about Reboot, the hilariously meta new sitcom from Modern Family creator Steve Levitan.
Reboot is Hulu’s next marquee comedy. From Modern Family creator and former Frasier producer Steve Levitan, the show follows the remake of Step Right Up!, a popular but cheesy ‘90s and aughts fictional sitcom with the original cast in tow (played by the excellent Judy Greer, Keegan-Michael Key, Johnny Knoxville, and Calum Worthy). Where the original sitcom focused on silly puns, practical jokes, and psychical comedy, this Hulu revival (yes, it’s even Hulu in the show) promises to be edgy, dramatic, and with ample social commentary courtesy of a young new showrunner (played by Rachel Bloom). This new era comes under scrutiny when the original show creator for Step Right Up! (Paul Reiser) joins the set and tries to make the show more old-school.
One of the show’s biggest assets is the way it manages to satirize the way streaming networks recycle and repurpose old IP to appeal to new audiences. In the pilot, as Bloom’s character pitches her idea for a rebooted version of Step Right Up, a Hulu exec says, “Edgy? I love edgy. You’re talking to the guy who greenlit season five of The Handmaiden’s Tale.” (Hulu doesn’t care it’s the target of the some of these jokes as long as Reboot does well for the streamer). The show manages to stay pretty meta: a biting look at faded fame and the machinations of streaming big business. In one joke, a young exec at Hulu reveals she has no comedy experience but is the network’s VP of comedy. Elsewhere, a young actress from a reality TV show called F*ckbuddy Mountain takes a role on the show thanks to the streamer’s market research.
Besides the searing take on the industry, Reboot is a sitcom’s sitcom. It seamlessly navigates the different perspectives in comedy and blends a thoughtful mishmash of old-school vs. new-school ideas about what’s funny. The way Reiser and Bloom’s characters serve as foils both to each other personally and how comedy works make for fascinating television. In addition, the cast of the show thrives in this dynamic, especially Greer and Knoxville. It might end up being one of the funniest shows of the year, and week-by-week, it gets better and better on Hulu. Compared to Netflix and HBO, Hulu really thrives on making good thirty-minute comedies. The other networks need more efficient sitcoms.
1. Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO Max)
This is a minority position, but I firmly believe that Curb Your Enthusiasm is a funnier and better show than Seinfeld, Larry David’s other show. While Seinfeld was culturally ubiquitous, shaped the ‘90s by it being “a show about nothing” and became the most successful sitcom of all time. In 2021, over two decades after the divisive final Seinfeld episode aired, Netflix paid a whopping $500 million for streaming rights to the iconic sitcom. That’s all extremely impressive, but the show had no episode as edgy and laugh-out-loud funny as the Curb Your Enthusiasm highlights “Palestinian Chicken,” “The Freak Book,” and “The Doll.” It’s the best TV comedy of all time, not just the best sitcom.
2. Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers (Disney+)
No one could have guessed that a live-action and CGI remake of a popular animated kids’ show from 1989 would actually be a great streaming movie in 2022. Chip ‘n Dale: Rescue Rangers, which stars John Mulaney as Chip and Andy Samberg as Dale, takes on a similar approach to Reboot by relying heavily on satirical and meta humor, all while making fun of the glut of rebranded and rebooted properties. Writing in Vulture, film critic Alison Willmore, says in a positive review, “Chip ’n Dale: Rescue Rangers has more in common with Who Framed Roger Rabbit than it does the series with which it shares a name.” The film manages to make fun of the entertainment industry’s never-ending nostalgia factory while being one of the better examples of it.
3. Bojack Horseman (Netflix)
Like Reboot, whose heroes are washed-up actors who were once in a supremely successful and cheesy sitcom from years past, Bojack Horseman hones in on the star of a long-canceled sitcom and their grappling with fame (or lack of it). Even though Bojack is a cartoon show, it’s one of the deepest explorations into mental health and toxic behavior portrayed on TV. Bojack Horseman is a cartoon horse with self-destructive tendencies that make for effective, if not profoundly depressing, television. The show’s hero can be vile and upsetting in his decisions but still wants to do the right thing and heal from his trauma.
4. Modern Family (Hulu and Peacock Premium)
Modern Family, which was created by Reboot creator Steve Levitan, is a good and dependable show that, while critically acclaimed, felt more middle-of-the-road as time went on. Whenever the Emmys would dole out another Outstanding Comedy Series award to this show from 2010-2014 in lieu of more cutting-edge material, TV critics would roll their eyes at another opportunity lost for the voting body to get with it. Despite this small tension between critics hoping something like Parks and Recreation or Girls could get the nod (the 2010s were a weird time), Modern Family trudged on and remained more popular than any of its competitors. Considering Levitan’s tenure with Frasier, then Modern Family, and now Reboot, he’s truly seen each iteration of the sitcom for the past three decades.
5. Extras (Philo and FuboTV)
Listen, I know Ricky Gervais isn’t the most-liked comedian in 2022. His “aren’t I a stinker?” schtick has been grating for what seems like dozens of award shows, and his “God isn’t real, and am I offending you yet?” comedy doesn’t even pass most Twitter standards. That said, he’s responsible for the U.K. iteration of The Office and HBO’s Extras, which, at best, means it’s a wash. Extras was a solid and clever show about two friends (Gervais and Ashley Jensen) who were aspiring actors and paid the bills working as extras on films, TV shows, and theater productions. In the show, they’d have screwball interactions with real-life actors (who’d play fictionalized, often worse versions of themselves). Though it’s been a while since I’ve revisited these episodes, the Kate Winslet cameo was excellent and surprisingly prescient, considering her career following the appearance.
6. UnREAL (Rent or Buy on Prime Video)
You can’t have a conversation about shows that are delightfully meta without mentioning the Lifetime original series (yes, really) UnREAL that aired from 2015 to 2018. While it failed to live up to its excellent debut season, the show was a searing (and fictionalized) depiction of what really happens on a reality TV set honing in on a producer (Shiri Appleby) who must manipulate contestants on a popular dating show to make great television and also save her reputation with her pushy boss (Constance Zimmer). When it first aired, it was shocking that a series that felt this prestige-y aired on Lifetime. While I can’t vouch for the later seasons, the first one still holds up.
7. Frasier (Paramount+, Hulu, and Peacock Premium)
One of Reboot creator Steve Levitan’s earliest gigs (following stints on Max Glick and Wings) was as a writer and producer on Frasier, where he won an Emmy in 1996. While television comedy has changed so much since Frasier was on the air, the show still holds up thanks to the whip-smart writing and the in-family drama between Frasier (Kelsey Grammer), Niles (David Hyde Pierce), and patriarch Marty (John Mahoney). The show flows so seamlessly across 11 seasons that if you binge it, the show becomes comforting and almost hypnotic. Though I don’t think I’ve ever had sherry or many of the fancy wines and high-society luxuries these vapid characters obsess over,
8. Abbott Elementary (Hulu and HBO Max)
The Emmy-winning breakout sitcom from Quinta Brunson, which follows a group of elementary school teachers trying to do their jobs in the criminally-underfunded Philadelphia public school system, is as funny as its heart is big. Brunson’s a smart writer who subtly infuses the realities of public school education with grace, humor, and a stellar ensemble cast without it ever coming off like a lecture. This week in a tweet, Brunson accurately referred to her writing style as being a “medicine in the apple sauce kind of girl” instead of being too “on-the-nose.” There’s a reason this show has already won Emmys and is poised to reach similar heights that no network primetime sitcom has hit since Modern Family.
9. Superstore (Hulu and Peacock Premium)
Where the fictional sitcom in Reboot, Step Right Up!, struggles to find its voice between old-school sitcom jokes and current 2022 perspectives, the canceled-too-soon Superstore got the balance totally right during its excellent run on NBC. While shot documentary style like The Office or Modern Family, it felt like a classic ensemble sitcom like Cheers or Taxi but managed to include diverse, working-class characters living paycheck to paycheck and working for a soulless big box retail corporation. It was a great perspective to take as a network sitcom, but the jokes were even better than its biting proletariat politics.