5. “Curb Your Enthusiasm”
Notable Directors: Robert B. Weide, David Steinberg, Andy Ackerman, Larry Charles
Nominated 10 times for Best Directing at the Emmys, “Curb Your Enthusiasm” worked with a small stable of directors, which probably went a long way in helping to keep the show’s intimate off-the-cuff feel working smoothly. The way in which “Curb” danced around with reality while making brilliant use of its eclectic guest cast, pushing its stars to find hilarity in some supremely awkward, awful moments, was an impressive achievement, one we’re excited to see return this fall.
Notable Directors: Louis C.K.
“Louie” pretty much sets the benchmark for auteur comedic television. There’s a reason every post-2010 comedy series built around the artistic stylings of a writer-director-actor gets compared to “Louie”: Louis C.K.’s DNA is built into nearly every part of this show, including the direction. He was behind the camera for all 61 episodes, and the grounded intimacy he managed to create with handheld cameras is the reason a lot of people see “Louie” as one of the definitive fusions of television and indie cinema. There’s a lack of pretension and matter of directness to C.K.’s style that recalls mumblecore filmmaking. It’s noticeable for largely how unnoticeable it is most times, and it puts a real spotlight on the lived-in performances that guide the series from comedy to heartbreak. Later seasons found C.K. embracing long takes and playing with style a bit more, but the show’s earliest seasons showcased its raw comedic power.
3. “The Comeback”
Notable Directors: Michael Patrick King, Michael Lehmann, Greg Mottola, John Riggi
While the mockumentary format might feel done, the “raw footage” approach helped keep “The Comeback” from ever feeling overly packaged or predictable, while also allowing the show to delve into the darkest or grossest scenarios possible, taking chances other shows might have avoided. The boldest choice they ever made, though, was the decision to deviate entirely from format for the Season 2 finale, creating a beautiful and perfect ending for the series we’ll never forget. (Though we’ll always keep hope in our hearts for the possibility of a Season 3.)
Notable Directors: Armando Iannucci, Chris Addison, Becky Martin, David Mandel
A lot of what makes great comedic direction is deciding which performer needs to be highlighted in any given moment, and no series makes that as clear as “Veep.” What’s so exceptional about the direction is that most scenes play out in extended long takes with the camera showing off a handheld dexterity as it bounces around the ensemble. This means, unlike other comedies, “Veep” isn’t getting different coverage and then choosing shots in the editing room. Every performer needs to be on at every moment, whether the camera is on them or not, and this kind of direction forces the entire series to feel like a live-wire act of unpredictable comedy. Where the camera ends up is also one of the shows’s biggest strengths. “Veep” has some of the most hilarious reaction shots in television history, often spotlighting a character’s reaction to a verbal joke over the performer making it. It’s what makes Tony Hale’s performance so triumphant, the camera often turning to him for a quick second of shock and awe that leaves you howling.
1. “Arrested Development”
Notable Directors: Anthony Russo & Joe Russo, Jay Chandrasekhar, Greg Mottola, Lee Shallat-Chemel, Paul Feig, Patty Jenkins, Mitchell Hurwitz & Troy Miller
Created by Mitch Hurwitz, “Arrested Development” owed so much to its details, meticulously sewn into the background of so many shots. While the fourth season, directed by Hurwitz and Troy Miller remains controversial due to its deconstructed character focus, the original three seasons featured a stellar lineup of directing talent (including the Russo Brothers, Paul Feig, Patty Jenkins, Jay Chandrasekhar and more) and some of the most consistently hilarious running jokes in television history. Watching the model home slowly disintegrate in the background while one of TV’s greatest comedic ensembles tore into each other was just one of the masterful strokes that made this series unforgettable.