Late Bloomers: Five Shows That Are Funnier Now Than When They Started

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We never thought we'd like Cougar Town either.

Fall is here — goodbye endless re-runs and crappy reality shows, and hello TV premieres. Some sitcoms click from the start (see: Modern Family), but others take a while to get good. Here's a look at four returning comedies and one dramedy that you might have written off after the no-laughs pilot or uneven first episodes but which now deserve a second (or third) chance.


1. Parks and Recreation (NBC, entering fourth season)

The American version of The Office initially suffered by sticking too closely to the show's original British incarnation. Likewise, Parks and Recreation initially suffered by sticking too closely to The Office during season one. But with mid-level bureaucrat Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler) revamped as a significantly more intelligent version of Michael Scott, along with the inspired additions (literally) of Rob Lowe and Adam Scott, the show's campy ensemble hit its stride. The show also benefited from a slew of hilarious guest stars, including Megan Mullally, Parker Posey, and Louis C.K. Word on the street is Patricia Clarkson has just been cast as Ron Swanson's first ex-wife. Consider me signed on for season four.


2. Community (NBC, entering third season)

Community seemingly exists in a Shakespearean "Green World" where normal societal rules do not apply, so it might be less applicable to say it took a while to find its niche, and better to say it took a while for people to get used to it. In season one, critics were calling it a not-quite-there version of 30 Rock or The Office, but by season two they seemed to realize that Community was striving to create something uniquely its own — where the sweet moments are more tongue-in-cheek than on The Office and the snarky moments are sweeter than on 30 Rock. The show's got that meta feel that smart sitcoms now have, with a highlight being the Community/Mad Men crossover scene with Annie (Alison Brie) and Abed (Danny Pudi). Genius.


3. Cougar Town (ABC, entering third season)

Cougar Town is not technically returning to TV until November, but it definitely deserves a spot on this list. The creepy reality show-ish concept (older women, younger men) surely would have sunk this Courtney Cox vehicle if the creators hadn't wisely ditched it fast and furiously in Season One. "Cougar" Barb Coman (Carolyn Hennesy) is thankfully the only remnant of the show's former incarnation. Her brief appearances now provide an in-joke reminder of the show's shed skin. In case the plot lines weren't enough to convince you that Cougar Town has rethought its angle, each episode of Season Two began with a brief opening sequence subtitle, like: "Badly Titled" and "Regretfully, We Give You." My favorite simply read: "Titles Are Hard."


4. Castle (ABC, entering fourth season)

I'd say it's the rare Castle viewer who's tuned in for the predictable murder plots. (Hint: the guest star did it.) For a good many episodes, the show rested entirely on Nathan Fillion's wit and charm as Castle. It took a season for the Kate Beckett (Stana Katic) character to become just as quick-tongued and clever as her novelist counterpart, for us to see why she might be a match for him after all. The later seasons also fleshed out Detectives Esposito (Jon Huertas) and Ryan (Seamus Dever), who for a while were a forgettable Rosencrantz and Guildenstern pair. Castle is also amusingly self-aware. Since Richard Castle has written every clichéd murder plot available, he can point out the holes in the "real-life" cases he and Beckett are working on and simultaneously allude to the silliness of cop shows themselves.


5. Raising Hope (FOX, entering second season)

Early in its first season, Raising Hope's biggest laughs came from Cloris Leachman playing the Alzheimer's-riddled matriarch of the family. But over the course of the season (with the help of a fantastic performance by the always-wonderful Martha Plimpton, as the thirty-nine-year-old grandmother of the titular infant), it seemed to find a balance between the ridiculous and the heartfelt. The show's creator, Greg Garcia, gave us My Name is Earl, but this time the downwardly mobile family depicted came to feel less like caricatures as the show went on. (I do wish they'd stuck with the original, edgier title though: Keep Hope Alive.)