10. “Chappelle’s Show”
Notable Directors: Rusty Cundieff, Andre Allen, Neal Brennan, Scott Vincent
It’s easy to overlook sketch comedy series when it comes to directing, but no list of best-directed comedies is complete without acknowledging the genius of “Chappelle’s Show.” Each clip showed a filmmaking adaptability that every digital sketch comedy series (and the Digital Shorts of “Saturday Night Live”) would aspire to match in its wake. The direction added a brilliant lampooning of form — from children’s television series to wife-swapping reality shows and behind-the-scenes celebrity docs — and proved Chappelle’s brand was smarter than a large part of its young demographic probably realized at the time.
Notable Directors: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo, Justin Lin, Seth Gordon, Anthony Hemingway, Jay Chandrasekhar, Tristram Shapeero
Here’s how goddamn good the directors who worked on “Community” were — without it, two different action franchies might have died on the vine. Well, okay, the Russo brothers (who are now kingpins of the Marvel Cinematic Universe) and Justin Lin (who gave the “Fast and the Furious” films a needed jolt) had careers beyond the humble NBC comedy. But its insane cinematic ambitions brought out the best in everyone who worked on it, creating sequences that we’ll never forget as the series played with nearly every genre under the sun.
Notable Directors: Hiro Murai, Donald Glover, Janicza Bravo
Donald Glover’s breakout FX series “Atlanta” counts Hiro Murai as its most notable MVP. The director had never shot narrative before taking on seven episodes of the show, including the pilot, but his experience filming music videos gave him all the necessary tools to make “Atlanta” one of the most visually composed series on television. A lot of “Atlanta” unfolds in a kind of slow-motion surrealist space (as if you were experiencing the haze that kicks in off a joint hit) and Murai captures that sensation in everything from the color grading to the blocking and pacing of shots. Long takes feel extra offbeat and placid through Murai’s lens, while the blocking of characters at removed spaces (the camera is often outside of a room looking in at Glover, for example) creates a retroactive intimacy, almost as if the reality of the situation is too personal for the camera to get close. “Atlanta” ended up being so many different things it allowed a creativity to mold stylistic genres and influences into a unique whole. As Murai told IndieWire last fall, this is probably the only show on television that can feel like Kurosawa one minute and Lynch the next.
Notable Directors: Mike White, Miguel Arteta, Jonathan Demme, Nicole Holofcener
Any series that recruits the likes of Nicole Holofcener, Jonathan Demme, Todd Haynes, and David Michôd to get behind the camera is bound to appear on a best-directed list. Their work on the criminally overlooked “Enlightened” is sensitive to the point of fragile, which is essential for a story about a woman way past the point of a nervous breakout trying to rebuild her life. While each director was able to bring his or her own unique trademarks (the Demme close-up is at its most serene in his two episodes), they collectively managed to express Amy Jellicoe’s POV in visually intelligent ways. Notice how the camera glides in as Amy gets lost in her own thoughts, the frame reflecting light around her at times like a heavenly prophet, or how it views her from a far or framed between computers and door frames while stuck as an outsider at work. Amy’s rebirth and the way she feels in the world informs every directorial decision, and it makes “Enlightened” the kind of comedic character study TV doesn’t see enough of.
6. “Party Down”
Notable Directors: Fred Savage, Bryan Gordon, David Wain, Ken Marino
One of the best TV ensembles in recent memory was guided to comedic brilliance by its directors, who crafted some of the most insane, out there scenarios around the lives of disaffected caterers. “Party Down” captured so well the way in which our dreams can haunt us, maybe even ruin our lives, and the way in which these directors found the poignancy in that internal struggle makes this show so painfully relatable. With each long lingering look on Adam Scott’s face, “Party Down” broke our hearts.