20 Perfect TV Shows for Short Attention Spans

For both quick laughs and thoughtful reflections, try one of these highly bingeable half-hour comedies.

Kayvan Novak stands in a grocery-store aisle, in "What We Do in the Shadows."
John P Johnson / FX

In May 2020, my colleague Sophie Gilbert compiled a list of half-hour shows for a “deeply strange and very exhausting era.” The pandemic had just gotten under way, with no semblance of an end in sight, so she sought shows that offered some measure of comfort for a viewership whose “emotional bandwidth ran out during the eighth Zoom call of the day, and whose current side hustles as math teachers, peacekeepers, and Bob Ross might leave them with little left at the end of the day.” The titles she chose then were affecting and nuanced, but few were comedies. For this update to Sophie’s list, I’ve opened up the criteria to highlight what’s turned out to be a flourishing genre, anchored by the revival of traditional sitcoms such as Abbott Elementary. The shows I’ve listed are easy to binge, with most episodes hovering around half an hour or less, and they indulge in humor, whether outright or otherwise. Maybe they’ll make you laugh. Maybe they’ll inspire you to reflect. Whatever happens, they won’t ask too much of your attention span.

Shows That Will Remind You of the Joy of Community

Tyler James Williams surrounded by young students, in "Abbott Elementary"
Ser Baffo / ABC
Abbott Elementary (ABC and Hulu) | Currently airing its first season (on brief hiatus until March 22)

This series, with its relentlessly optimistic protagonist and a mockumentary format, will remind viewers of Parks and Recreation. Yet Abbott Elementary, about a group of teachers working at an underfunded Philadelphia elementary school, feels utterly fresh, given its sharp writing about the public education system’s shortcomings and its cast’s lived-in chemistry. In other words, it passes with flying colors.

Derry Girls (Netflix) | Two seasons; 12 episodes total; renewed for Season 3

Set at the end of the Troubles, Derry Girls juxtaposes the era of political unrest with a group of teenagers’ antics in the titular Northern Ireland town. Despite that serious backdrop, the series provides charm in spades, making the case that the gang’s adolescent ambitions—such as getting noticed by crushes—are as worthwhile as what’s happening in the news.

Rutherford Falls (Peacock) | One season; 10 episodes; renewed for Season 2

This sitcom’s premise—about two lifelong friends who clash over their community’s treatment of its Indigenous history—could have yielded a didactic show. But the writers (many of whom are Native) skillfully ground the subject in character-focused comedy, producing a show that considers the complexity of America’s social issues with curiosity, sincerity, and warmth.

Schmigadoon! (Apple TV+) | One season; six episodes

In this parody of 1940s musicals, Cecily Strong and Keegan-Michael Key star as backpackers stranded in a neighborhood where people frequently communicate through song and dance. Featuring a stacked cast of Broadway heavyweights (Kristin Chenoweth! Alan Cumming! Ariana DeBose!), this high-concept series’s jokes are made for theater lovers, but anyone can appreciate the rapturous magic of finding an ensemble that feels like home.

Somebody Somewhere (HBO Max) | One season; seven episodes; renewed for Season 2

After the death of her sister, a 40-something woman lives aimlessly in her tiny Kansas hometown—until she finds unexpected friendships in the people around her. Starring the comedian Bridget Everett, Somebody Somewhere is partially rooted in Everett’s own experiences, and her lead performance is a master class in tender, disarming comedy. Expect tears of sadness and of joy.

Shows That May Bring You Back to Your Younger Years

Three people sitting on a couch with perplexed expressions, in "As We See It"
Ali Goldstein / Amazon
As We See It (Amazon) | One season; eight episodes

As the showrunner behind the introspective tearjerkers Friday Night Lights and Parenthood, Jason Katims isn’t known for comedy. But his latest series, about three autistic roommates trying to make sense of adulthood, is as funny as it is thoughtful. The show treats their experiences of pursuing romance and independence with a light touch, pointing out how growing up is a universal challenge.

Girls5eva (Peacock) | One season; eight episodes; renewed for Season 2

Along with providing a bevy of infectious-slash-ridiculous songs, this Tina Fey–co-produced comedy—which follows the reunion of a girl group that had one pop hit in the ’90s—dives headlong into nostalgia and absurdity. Even in its zaniness it also manages to scrutinize the power of female friendships, the inanity of girl-power feminism, and, most important, the lasting influence of youthful desires.

Reservation Dogs (FX on Hulu) | One season; eight episodes; renewed for Season 2

Watching this gem of a show can feel like spending an afternoon with childhood best friends, inventing adventures out of thin air. The coming-of-age comedy, which follows four Indigenous teens trying to move on after their friend’s death, invites the viewer into its characters’ inner worlds and nimbly balances their hilarious misadventures with their heartfelt dreams.

The Sex Lives of College Girls (HBO Max) | One season; 10 episodes; renewed for Season 2

Co-created by Mindy Kaling, this show, about four freshmen roommates, is part sex comedy, part teen drama—and wholly endearing. Fair warning: Awkward flirting scenes will induce cringing, but the group’s journeys—of figuring out who they like, what they enjoy, and where they belong—will inspire anyone to remember that specific sense of freedom that came with the end of teenagehood.

Shows That Can Inspire Self-Reflection

Jean Smart sitting onstage, in "Hacks"
Hacks (HBO Max) | One season; 10 episodes; renewed for Season 2

This show’s Emmys speak for themselves: Jean Smart is outstanding as a legendary comic working with a young writer; the scripts are as incisive as they are side-splitting; and the directing captures the expansive yet suffocating nature of celebrity. The series is a riveting study of two comics and their differences—as well as the limits of gender, age, and success.

I Hate Suzie (HBO Max) | One season; eight episodes; renewed for Season 2

This British import traces stardom through the lens of trauma. Literally: Every episode follows another emotional stage the actor Suzie (played by Billie Piper) experiences after her racy photos are leaked. As uncomfortable as her spiraling may be to watch, Suzie’s quest to repair her reputation and reinvent herself is intimate, frank, and well worth the binge.

I May Destroy You (HBO Max) | One season; 12 episodes

Created by Michaela Coel, this Emmy-winning limited series about a writer piecing her life together after being sexually assaulted navigates an elegant balance between its delicate themes and its darkly comedic tone. I May Destroy You is fearless and empathetic in its study of an unmoored character—the kind of storytelling that creates room for viewers to think deeply about their own worldview.

Little Voice (Apple TV+) | One season; nine episodes

This romantic dramedy follows a young singer-songwriter trying to find her footing in New York City. The story may be predictable, but Little Voice is sweet, breezy, and quietly moving in its exploration of what authenticity means for an artist today. Plus, the original tracks by the series’s co-creator, the singer Sara Bareilles, make for a lovely listen.

Single Drunk Female (Freeform and Hulu) | Currently airing its first season

The title’s not wrong: 28-year-old Sam (played by Sofia Black-D’Elia) is in less-than-stellar shape when Single Drunk Female begins. But the show, executive produced by the Girls co-creator Jenni Konner, is less about Sam being a train wreck than about her genuine attempt at recovery, and it offers a refreshing, sensitive, and savvy take on a delayed coming-of-age.

The Other Two (HBO Max) | Two seasons; 20 episodes total; renewed for Season 3

The bulk of this series tracks the fame-chasing shenanigans of the two much older siblings of a Justin Bieber–like pop star, to uproarious effect. But despite the pair’s self-involved journey through Hollywood, the growth of their poignant, if unusual, familial bond makes the show a truly rewarding watch.

Shows That Offer Bite-Size Scares

Linda Cardellini standing on a dark road, in "Dead to Me"
Saeed Adyani / Netflix
Dead to Me (Netflix) | Two seasons; 20 episodes total; renewed for Season 3

Christina Applegate and Linda Cardellini play women who bond after meeting in a grief support group—except one of them has a disturbing secret. Across two seasons, the show has examined, with a mischievous touch, how their friendship survives. Come for the twists; stay for how much fun Applegate and Cardellini are obviously having.

Los Espookys (HBO Max) | One season; six episodes; renewed for Season 2

The Spanish-language series follows a group of friends who turn their unusual hobby—creating horror simulations—into an equally unusual business. For all the gore, though, the show, which features an ensemble cast including Fred Armisen, is more absurd than scary; instead, its approach is smartly silly, playfully uncovering why each character finds pleasure in conjuring spooky magic.

Only Murders in the Building (Hulu) | One season; 10 episodes; renewed for Season 2

Steve Martin and Martin Short welcome the pop star Selena Gomez into their double act to excellent effect: This mystery comedy about true-crime-podcast obsessives determined to solve a murder in their building is both engrossing and charming. Its careful dispensing of clues can awaken any viewer’s inner investigator, while the cast’s gleefully combative chemistry wrings plenty of laughs.

The Afterparty (Apple TV+) | Currently airing its first season

Tiffany Haddish leads an all-star comic cast in this inventive series about a death at a high-school-reunion after-party. When each guest turned suspect submits testimony, their account is rendered in the genre that fits their perspective. (One episode is animated, for instance, while another incorporates horror elements.) You never know exactly what the next half hour will bring.

What We Do in the Shadows (FX on Hulu) | Three seasons; 30 episodes; renewed for Season 4

If none of the above shows offer long enough binges to your taste, consider sinking your teeth into What We Do in the Shadows. This mockumentary-style comedy, based on the 2014 film from Jemaine Clement and Taika Waititi, tracks a group of vampire housemates dealing with the modern world. Three seasons in, it’s scary how consistently funny the series has been.