45 voters

The Best TV Shows That Use Improvisation

August 19, 2020 301 votes 45 voters17 items

List RulesVote up the shows that prove you don't need a script to get laughs.

Improvised sitcoms aren't completely made up on the fly, but they do have uniquely flexible scripts that allow them to find the funny in a more naturalistic way. Many improvised series are presented as documentary-style shows, which creates the narrative room for the often less polished results of improvisation.

Curb Your Enthusiasm might be the most well-known improvised situation comedy, and the most improvised. Using simple outlines with a single paragraph summarizing each scene the show relies on the actors' ability to improvise and play off of each other. The outline-as-script method is how most improvised sitcoms maintain their structure over a season while keeping things loose within each episode. Even the animated Home Movies initially worked from scene outlines, with the animation created to match the resulting voice work. Reno 911! - both the original and the Quibi reboot - are also famously improvised. More traditional sitcoms such as Parks & Recreation or The Office were not completely improvised but did leave copious wiggle-room in the scripts for their talented casts to shine.

Vote up the improvised sitcoms that may have been made up on the fly but still are the best at delivering the laughs.

  • Curb Your Enthusiasm is an American improvised comedy television series produced and broadcast by HBO, which premiered on October 15, 2000. It has aired 80 episodes over eight seasons, the last of which aired in 2011. The series was created by Seinfeld co-creator Larry David, who stars as a fictionalized version of himself. The series follows Larry in his life as a semi-retired television writer and producer in Los Angeles and later New York City. Also starring are Cheryl Hines as his wife Cheryl, Jeff Garlin as his manager Jeff, and Susie Essman as Jeff's wife Susie. Curb Your Enthusiasm often features guest stars, and many of these appearances are by celebrities playing versions of...  more
    • Actors: Cheryl Hines, Jeff Garlin, Susie Essman, J.B. Smoove, Shelley Berman
    • Premiered: October 15, 2000
    • Network: HBO
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  • Photo: Adult Swim
    Home Movies is an American animated television sitcom created by Loren Bouchard and Brendon Small. The show centers eight-year-old Brendon, who makes videos with his friends Melissa Robbins and Jason Penopolis in his spare time. He lives with his divorced mother, Paula, and his adopted baby sister, Josie. He develops a skewed father/son-like relationship with his alcoholic, short-tempered soccer coach, John McGuirk. Home Movies premiered on UPN on April 26, 1999. The channel cancelled the series after five episodes, but Cartoon Network purchased the rights to the series, seeing potential in it. It aired it as the first program on their nighttime adult-oriented Adult Swim block on the day of...  more
    • Actors: Brendon Small, H. Jon Benjamin, Melissa Bardin Galsky
    • Premiered: April 26, 1999
    • Network: UPN, TOON
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  • Photo: Parks and Recreation / National Broadcasting Company (NBC)
    Parks and Recreation (NBC, 2009) is an American television sitcom created by Greg Daniels and Michael Schur. The series follows Leslie Knope (Amy Poehler), a perky mid-level bureaucrat, and her parks department of Pawnee, as they pursue sundry projects to make their city a better place....  more
    • Actors: Amy Poehler, Aziz Ansari, Nick Offerman, Aubrey Plaza, Chris Pratt
    • Premiered: April 9, 2009
    • Network: NBC
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  • Photo: Comedy Central
    Reno 911! (Comedy Central, 2003) is an American comedy television series created by Thomas Lennon, Robert Ben Garant and Kerri Kenney-Silver. It is a mockumentary-style parody of law enforcement documentary shows, specifically Cops, with comic actors playing the police officers....  more
    • Actors: Robert Ben Garant, Thomas Lennon, Niecy Nash, Kerri Kenney, Wendi McLendon-Covey
    • Premiered: July 23, 2003
    • Network: COMEDY
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