If a show is considered funny, irreverent, or just plain goofy, its dramatic contributions to the TV landscape are often overlooked.
It can be risky for shows reliant on comedy to tackle serious subjects, like death, because when it goes wrong, it falls into after-school-special territory.
When it’s done well, though, the treatment of the subject has resulted in some of TV’s most moving and honest moments.
Take Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist as an example. The big draw of the show is the fact it’s a musical comedy. To the show’s credit, it consistently executes big musical numbers in a fun way.
Who is going to forget Lauren Graham and Renee Elise Goldsberry’s sing-off on Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist Season 1 Episode 10 any time soon?
However, what makes Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist, a compelling watch is its exploration of death, grief, and loss.
Simon’s alienation from everyone because of his grief for his dad and Maggie being overwhelmed while making funeral arrangements on Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist Season 1 Episode 11 are handled with care and come across as truthful.
Characters breaking out into song, like the cemetery patrons singing “We Gotta Get Out Of This Place,” add to the honesty of the depiction because the songs articulate the emotional truth of the situation.
Even though the premise of Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist is unrealistic, how the Clarkes and company mourn the loss of their loved ones is very relatable.
Whereas it was somewhat surprising to find out Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist was delving into these topics, The Unicorn was always upfront about being a series centered around what happens after someone you loved passes away.
With its premise of a guy becoming a chick magnet because he’s widower, The Unicorn gave itself the tough task of being funny without being disrespectful.
On the comedy front, it’s hit or miss. The instances of the show taking Wade’s — the titular Unicorn — grief and his struggle to cope with the changes to his life seriously are the times when the show shines.
The Unicorn Season 1 Episode 3 is a good illustration of this. The episode is about Wade’s friends pressuring him to join a support group because they think he has anger issues.
It’s a lackluster episode until Wade takes the group’s leader words to heart and expresses his anger about his wife’s death.
The scene is beautifully handled because of Walton Goggins’ performance and the script’s candor about the unfairness of losing the person you thought you would be spending the rest of your life with.
The Unicorn also does a good job of knowing how to far to push the dramatics without making the audience miserable.
For some, Futurama Season 5 Episode 2 crossed that line. It’s the episode where Fry finds the petrified remains of his dog, Seymour, and infamously ends with loyal Seymour waiting for Fry to come back.
The ending is brutal, but it does enhance the episode’s message about letting go of your loved ones and the dangers of trying to bring them back to life even if the technology is available.
Of course, getting to that point is a long, arduous journey, which Dan and Ella discovered during Lucifer Season 4.
As irreverent as Lucifer is, the show wisely realized Dan and Ella’s grief for Charlotte wasn’t something they could get over in an episode. Instead, the show let it play out throughout the entire season.
Lucifer also wasn’t afraid to show how grief can change people for the worse. Dan reverted to being a douche. Ella suffered a crisis of faith.
Hardly the most fun storyline, but it was necessary to show both Dan and Ella struggle with their grief for it to ring true when they found some measure of peace on Lucifer Season 4 Episode 10.
But how do you deal with the death of someone you had a contentious relationship with? That was the question Holt had to grapple with on Brooklyn Nine-Nine Season 7 Episode 7 when his arch-nemesis Madeline Wuntch passed away.
What seemed like episode-long parody of the five stages grief became a moving meditation about how much Wuntch meant to Holt and the genuine sadness of knowing she isn’t around anymore.
Death is the ultimate blind slide, as Marshall found out on How I Met Your Mother Season 6 Episode 13. For most of the runtime, it was your typical How I Met Your Mother Episode. The gang found Barney’s doppelgänger. Robin was humiliated at work.
Then came the very last scene of Lily telling Marshall his dad passed away. Jason Segel masterfully conveyed the shock and devastation you feel upon finding out someone you loved passes away.
How I Met Your Mother’s controversial ending tarnished much of the series, but the scene of Marshall finding out his dad died is one of the few moments that isn’t tainted. It remains just as poignant and honest now as it did when it originally broadcast.
These funny shows weren’t afraid to take death seriously. Because of that, they’ve given audiences honest depictions about what it’s like to lose someone you love.
Over to you, TV Fanatics!
What other funny shows were honestly dramatic about death?
Do you think TV comedies or dramas tell stories about death better?
You can watch Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist online at TV Fanatic.
Becca Newton is a staff writer for TV Fanatic.