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Best TV of the '00s: Comedic Actress

by Jason Hughes, posted Jan 2nd 2010 10:02AM
Julia Louis-DreyfusMore of our best of the decade coverage, which started on Tuesday. You can read the other posts at the link above. Here, we talk about the women who made us laugh the most during the decade.

Since Lucille Ball, television has been a bastion of funny ladies, and the '00s were no exception. Like Lucy, many of the women on this list played second fiddle to no one. And those that weren't the stars of their own shows managed to steal the scene anyway the moment they got in front of the camera.

The '00s will probably go down in television history as one of those decades where the sitcom sputtered and almost died -- again! But it's alive and well now, with an amazing turn-around in 2009. But, as this list proves, it was never truly in danger. Throughout the decade these women provided plenty of laughs in both the hour and half-hour formats, proving that as long as we want to laugh, there will be brilliant actresses around to crack us up.

Here's our list of the top funny ladies of the decade:


Julia Louis-Dreyfus, The New Adventures of Old Christine

Bob says: The New Adventures of Old Christine is one of those shows that very few people talk about, even the people who watch the show every week. If you don't watch it, you're missing Julia Louis-Dreyfus give a tour-de-force performance as one of the most screwed up characters on television.

It's a performance that's so different from Elaine on Seinfeld. She could have easily just copied that character, or taken one trait from that character and gone with it. Instead, she has created someone who is messed up and insecure and sometimes rather stupid and unlikable. But you like her anyway. She's great at both sarcasm and slapstick, and is truly doing one of the great comedic performances on TV in recent memory.

Portia Di RossiPortia di Rossi, Arrested Development/Better Off Ted

Mike says:
This tall blonde made a name for herself as a sexy attorney on Ally McBeal, but she revealed her true comedic chops on Arrested Development. Di Rossi proved she could be just as funny as the boys (Will Arnett, David Cross, Michael Cera) while playing the narcissistic Bluth sister, Lindsay, on Mitchell Hurwitz's single-camera comedy. She continues to win me over as the uber-confidant and steely Veronica on Better Off Ted.

Jane KaczmarekJane Kaczmarek, Malcolm in the Middle

Michael P. says:
Being the only female on Malcom in the Middle had to be tough, but Jane commanded the spotlight playing Lois for six seasons. She was a crazed mother who may have been a bit too brash at points, but you knew that underneath it all she had good intentions and wanted to see her family succeed. Jane deserved all the Emmy nominations she received just for the way you knew Lois' emotions by how she contorted her face.

Jessica HynesJessica Hynes, Spaced

Annie says:
Spaced wrapped up its run in 2001, and in those two short seasons, Jessica Hynes (then Stevenson) managed to solidify her spot as a cult comedy princess. We've seen a lot of actresses try to play up adorable quirkiness as their "thing," but everything about Hynes's portrayal of Daisy Steiner seemed very natural and very funny. Her frumpiness and willingness to take on less cutesy physical comedy was highly endearing and super-different from the typical hot girls that try to pass as goofballs.

As the years passed, we have also seen Hynes clean up beautifully, giving very good reason for geeks to list Hynes as one of their dream girlfriends (pick up the US release of the Spaced DVDs to hear comedian Patton Oswalt absolutely crumble in front of her during a guest commentary). Plus, she made out with the tenth Doctor. Come on.

Megan MullallyMegan Mullally, Will & Grace

Jason says:
It's easy to forget about Mullally, because Will & Grace kind of faded toward the end of its run, but for a time, it was one of the sharpest and funniest sitcoms on television. And, throughout its entire run, no matter how good or bad the material, Mullally was a revelation as the funniest rich, drunk schmuck on television.

She was brilliant no matter who she was matched up against in the cast, though no one could touch the chemistry between her and Sean Hayes as Jack MacFarland. From the voice she affected for the character, to her narcissism, to her constant abuse of Grace's fashion, Karen proved to have more depth as the years went by. But it was her shallowness that was hilarious and made us all fall in love with her.

Lauren GrahamLauren Graham, Gilmore Girls

Joel says: Yes, I have an unabashed crush on Lauren Graham, stretching back to her guest stint on NewsRadio and her failed '90s series. Her presence is what got me watching Gilmore Girls in the first place. She somehow managed to project a goofiness to match her really-cute-girl-from-my-biology-class image; she was never afraid to look silly on the show (or in late night interviews), and she was able to handle Amy Sherman-Palladino's rapid-fire dialogue with ease.

But at the same time she was able to convey the deep emotions that came with the role, from her on-again-off-again romance with Luke to the tense-but-loving relationship she had with her parents. Why she was never even nominated for an Emmy for playing Lorelai, I'll never know.

Nothing encapsulates Graham's range more than from this scene from the show's third-to-last episode, when Lorelai sees Luke enter the bar during her karaoke performance of "I Will Always Love You:"



Mary-Louise ParkerMary-Louise Parker, Weeds

Danny says: It's hard to imagine what comedy can be found from a widow with children who has to choose between peddling pot or losing her suburban home, but Parker's performance as the marijuana matriarch finds the good humor in just about every situation. And since this is at heart a comedy, her work never goes too over the top or takes herself so seriously that you can't enjoy the lighthearted stoner humor that makes such an insane situation comedy great. She's the Meryl Streep of Cheech and Chong comedies, if Meryl Streep ever starred in a Cheech and Chong comedy.

Tina FeyTina Fey, Saturday Night Live/30 Rock

Brad says: Coming off her role as the first female lead writer for Saturday Night Live, Fey turned it around to a lead role on a television show about being the lead writer on a fictional Saturday Night Live. But it's not the situation or the quirky cast of characters that make the show, it's the centerpiece of Liz Lemon.

Liz strikes me as a fictionalized version of Tina Fey, much like Larry David's television character is a fictionalized version of himself. She is good at heart but has quirks and issues (particularly with self-esteem) that make her interesting and relatable. She also never fails to make me laugh at least a few times per episode.

Kristen SchaalKristen Schaal, Flight of the Conchords


Nick says: Schaal only got a couple of seasons to strut her stuff on Conchords, but she nailed the creepy, obsessive fan Mel in a way that stays with you if once you've seen it. Her moon eyes, constant insinuations, the way she ignored her husband -- all make her the most effective stalker since Glenn Close in Fatal Attraction. She didn't get much of a chance to develop, but now she's trapped in amber, forever staring at Bret and Jemaine, swooning in her head over the next inappropriate wall-sized fan painting she'll give to them for their apartment.

Kristen WiigKristen Wiig, Saturday Night Live

Jonathan says: Maybe it's too early to call (she's only been on SNL since 2005), but in that time Kristen Wiig has risen to the top as the late-night sketch show's go-to girl. Drawing comparisons as a modern day Carol Burnett, Wiig has more characters in her arsenal than you'd ever imagine and every single one of them is laugh-out-loud funny. Maybe she's not the most memorable comedic actress on this list, but she's certainly done enough to earn a spot -- Gilly, the Target Lady, the sister with the tiny hands on The Lawrence Welk Show -- there's a reason we counted down her top ten moments last year.

Amy Poehler, Saturday Night Live / Parks and Recreation

Joel says:
You can't mention Kristin Wiig without talking about the woman she essentially replaced on SNL, Amy Poehler. She was the show's go-to player for so many years, that it's hard to remember that she didn't arrive on the show until the first episode after the 9/11 attacks. She was promoted to full cast status later that year, mainly because she could inhabit so many different characters and put herself out there physically (think of Amber, the one-legged reality show contestant, and you'll have the idea). Add to her abilities the fact that she co-founded the Upright Citizens Brigade, whose theater has become the main comedy feeding system to the entertainment biz, and you have a true comedy powerhouse on your hands.

Late last year, she left SNL to star in Parks and Recreation, a show that had a bumpy start but is improving, mainly on the shoulders of Poehler's performance as the too-earnest Leslie Knope. But SNL just can't let her go, as she's been back for Weekend Update stints on both Thursday nights and on the main show.

Kristin ChenowethKristin Chenoweth, Pushing Daisies

Allison says: Yes, I realize this makes three Kristien/Kristins in a row, but what can I say. They all are special K's, and none more special han Kristin Chenoweth. It was a terrific decade for Chenoweth, including a Tony-nominated starring role on Broadway in Wicked, a brilliant dramatic turn on The West Wing, and an Emmy for her delightful comic work on Pushing Daisies. As Olive Snook, Kristin was the other woman, the girl with her nose pressed up to the glass because Ned's heart belonged to Chuck. Nevertheless, Kristin embodied spunk and charm and wackiness... and she even sang beautifully, too.

That's our list of the wonderful women who tickled our funny bones. Should we have included Amy Poehler for her own work on SNL and Parks & Recreation? How about Doris Roberts or Patricia Heaton for Everybody Loves Raymond, and now The Middle for Heaton? Who kept you in stitches throughout the '00s? Let us know in the comments.

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fibrowitch

I am sad that you left the ladies of Scrubs off the list. Each of of them created amazing characters, in what I think was the best comedy of the decade.

January 05 2010 at 10:50 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jeramy

Good list. Lauren Graham (who should won at least a couple of Emmys) wa probably the TV actress of this decade, perhaps after Edie Falco. Lorelai was at once incredibly smart, dizzy, wise, cynical and romantic. I understand GG wasn't a show for everybody, but she handled the dialogue and the complexity of her character beautifully.

Kristen Chenoweth, Jane Kaczmarek and Tina Fey are my other favorites from that list. I also love Kristen Wigg. Some of her characters have gotten old, but she's easily been the most lively and inventive female castmember on SNL this decade and possibly ever.

It would have been great if Jessica Walter, Kelly Bishop, Sarah Chalke and Anna Friel had been included. Maybe Jane Lynch.

Honestly, as wonderfully funny and vulnerable as Alyson Hannigan was of 'Buffy' is as dull and redundant as she is on 'How I Met Your Mother'. Though much of that goes to the writing of her character.

January 04 2010 at 5:49 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
greatone

@Emily
I came to post the exact same thing. How can Alyson Hannigan be missing from the list? If Lauren Graham is on the list Alyson definitely deserve to be on the list.

January 04 2010 at 12:00 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
LindaT No1

Debra Messing of Will and Grace. The entire cast should be recognized, for sure.

Also, Wanda Sykes too.

January 04 2010 at 11:56 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Emily

Where's Alyson Hannigan? She started decade still making a vampire slayer look dull on "Buffy" and has spent the last 5 years showing that she can be as funny as some of the funniest men in the world. I love a lot of the women on this list, but surely she deserves at least a nod?

January 03 2010 at 4:35 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Pilar

I really love K.Chenoweth!! Yes, she really deserves being in this list!

January 03 2010 at 10:44 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Landon

No Sarah Chalke? Boo Jason, Boo. I expect better from everyone who's not Bob.

January 02 2010 at 9:21 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to Landon's comment
Joel Keller

You realize Jason didn't write the entire post, right? Each selection is prefaced by who picked the person.

January 02 2010 at 10:05 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Stella

I'm glad that MLP is recognized. She is an amazing actress whether it's drama or comedy. I also love Lauren Graham. As sorry as I am for Tierney's departure from Parenthood, replacing her with LG was a good decision.

January 02 2010 at 8:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Jeff

Gilly is one of the worst characters ever on SNL. The skit isn't funny.

January 02 2010 at 7:11 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
dj

really good list. wish there was room for Ashley Jensen. she brought spark to her limited time on 'Ugly Betty', but it was her turn as Maggie on 'Extras' that is near-legendary. Ditsy, simple, and often-times with no filter, she stood toe-to-toe with the genius that is Ricky Gervais. and her performance in the 'Extras' finale was heart-breaking as well.

January 02 2010 at 1:53 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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