The 2016 fall TV season kicks off with a particularly rich batch of comedies, from network family sitcoms to existential crises punctuated by jokes to shows that wear their weird hearts on their sleeves.
But since watching all of them would mean a guaranteed cratering of your social life, here are our top seven comedy recommendations counted down to our very favorites — decided after watching every advance copy we could get — to help you figure out what you might like to give a shot.
(You can check out our full rankings of 43 new fall TV shows here.)
7) Fleabag (Amazon)
Debuted: Friday, September 16, on Amazon
Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s six-episode series has already aired in the UK, but Amazon’s decision to bring the bracing comedy stateside is cause for celebration.
The show is adapted from her stage play of the same name, and Waller-Bridge stars as the title character — a witty, angry, and often miserable woman who’s trying to keep herself together after a pair of recent deaths in her life, while those around her try to brush them off and move on.
Fleabag speaks directly to the audience between scenes, twisting a traditional voiceover to make it more intimate, more conspiratorial. And Waller-Bridge is so much fun to watch that you might not realize until the end of each episode that her story is downright devastating.
6) One Mississippi (Amazon)
Debuted: Friday, September 9, on Amazon
Comedian Tig Notaro, more or less playing herself, returns home to Mississippi in the wake of her mother’s death, where she’s forced to reconnect with a stepfather and brother she probably doesn’t know as well as she should.
Moving and affecting, the series has a dreamy tone that evokes grief and longing without pushing too hard, and even if Notaro isn’t the world’s greatest actress, she’s taken a lesson from many, many other comedian-centered shows and surrounded herself with a cast that balances out her weaknesses.
5) The Good Place (NBC)
Debuted: Monday, September 19, at 10 pm on NBC; moved to Thursdays at 8:30 pm on September 22
One of the fall’s most promising new comedies is also one of its strangest. Kristen Bell plays a woman who mistakenly ends up in "the Good Place," a.k.a. heaven, after she dies and must hide the reality of her selfish life on Earth to keep herself out of "the bad place."
This tricky-to-execute concept likely would’ve proved too much for a shakier creative team to handle, but Bell and her co-star Ted Danson — who essentially plays the Good Place’s concierge — have plenty of sharp and wonderfully irreverent material to work with thanks to creator Mike Schur (Parks and Recreation, The Office). Keep a close eye on the set’s background; there are jokes and sight gags everywhere.
4) Better Things (FX)
Debuted: Thursday, September 8, on FX
From the mind of Pamela Adlon (Louie) comes Better Things, a wry and deeply felt series about a single mother named Sam (Adlon) who’s raising three daughters — ranging in age from 4 to 16 years old — while pursuing an acting career.
But that premise makes the show sound a whole lot more basic than it is, thanks to Adlon’s particularly spiky humor and mature performances from her TV offspring (Mikey Madison, Hannah Alligood, and Olivia Edward), who all remind you in their own ways that kids can be hilarious, mean, selfish, and loving, all at once.
3) Speechless (ABC)
Debuted: Wednesday, September 21, at 8:30 pm on ABC
Speechless is the best new network comedy of the fall because it manages to make a family sitcom feel like a brand new concept. The show kicks off as the DiMeo clan makes its umpteenth move to a fancier school district, the better to accommodate their teenage son J.J. (Micah Fowler), who has cerebral palsy and communicates by typing words into a touchscreen computer.
The cast is fantastic, with strong anchors in Fowler and Minnie Driver as the mom who makes sure J.J. is taken care of, no matter how aggressive she needs to get. And with a joke-packed script from former Friends producer Scott Silveri — whose brother has cerebral palsy — it’s immediately self-assured and full of heart.
2) Atlanta (FX)
Debuted: Tuesday, September 6, at 10 pm on FX
There’s nothing on television quite like Atlanta, which is not something we say lightly, given how many TV shows exist in this era of Peak TV. Former Community star Donald Glover — who left the show in its fifth season to work on his own projects — returns to his hometown of Atlanta to give viewers a glimpse of what life is actually like for a specific swath of the city’s residents, many of whom are poor and black and rarely seen on television.
Per Glover, Atlanta doesn’t have a traditional writers’ room; the members of his all-black writing team swap stories and then write based on their conversations, and director Hiro Murai didn’t have much TV experience when he signed on. As a result, Atlanta is unique and incredibly intimate. With Glover’s big-dreaming Earnest "Earn" Marks anchoring the show, Atlanta is funny, surreal, and entirely its own.
1) Insecure (HBO)
Debuts: Sunday, October 9, at 10:30 pm on HBO
Issa Rae was a highly sought-after talent after the success of her 2011 web series The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl, and her long-awaited new HBO series Insecure proves why.
Co-created with Larry Wilmore, Insecure is a sharp comedy about a fictionalized version of Rae who’s grappling with a static relationship and the realities of often being the only black woman in the room — especially at her job doing inner-city youth outreach, where she’s surrounded by white people who insist they’re enlightened even as they treat her with kid gloves.
Alongside her best friend Molly (Yvonne Orji), Issa learns how to be the most confident version of herself, whether by rapping at her own reflection in the mirror to hype herself up before going out or by opening up to her kind (if aimless) boyfriend. Every episode of Insecure is better than the one before, and director Melina Matsoukas makes every frame of its South Los Angeles setting shine.
(And hey: the first episode is currently available on HBO and streaming on HBO Go early, so get to it!)