IFC (or Independent Film Channel), originally a spin-off of Bravo, debuted in 1994 as a channel that was primarily focused on showing independent films. In the 2000s, it made the smart decision to expand from just film to television by airing both acquired and original programs. The network had some controversy in 2010 when it started airing commercials and censoring programs, a move that angered some of its viewers. But IFC quickly changed its tune and quit the censorship (but kept the advertisements), now practically bragging that it airs movies uncut and unedited.
IFC — the initials, as of last January, no longer stand for anything — prides itself on showing cult-classic films and television shows, and creating programs that are bound to gain a cult following, thus becoming something of a cult network in itself. It’s not the most popular network, but it’s the most interesting, one that has picked up offbeat comedies that wouldn’t fit elsewhere (or were canceled on other networks) and one that provides a home to TV weirdos. IFC has a pretty small slate, though it will expand in the upcoming years, and it’s a consistent one. Here are the shows you should be watching on IFC — which, let’s face it, are basically all of them.
Comedy Bang! Bang!
Comedy Bang! Bang! is an adaptation of Scott Aukerman’s podcast of the same name. The podcast, which started in 2009, quickly became essential listening for all comedy fans (or just fans of the silly) and the transition to an IFC TV series felt natural. It often features deadpan humor but is always enthusiastically and gleefully weird. Comedy Bang! Bang! — hosted by Aukerman and co-starring band leader Reggie Watts, with a rotating group of famous faces as guests — finds humor in just about everything, whether it’s Paul F. Tompkins doing his absurd and brilliant Cake Boss impression, the personification of various objects in the studio, or just giving Scott Aukerman fake names.
It’s pure madness, and perfect for IFC’s “slightly off” brand. Not only does the show return on Friday for a 20-episode third season, but it’s already been renewed for an expanded fourth season that will have 40 total episodes.
At the risk of becoming known as “that podcast network,” IFC greenlit a Marc Maron sitcom in 2013. Maron is best known as host of the popular WTF With Marc Maron podcast-slash-therapy session that all of your favorite comedians have appeared on. Maron isn’t an adaptation of the podcast like Comedy Bang! Bang!, but WTF does exist within the universe of the show. Maron plays a fictional version of himself who rubs shoulders with other famous comedians and hosts a podcast out of his garage.
Truth be told, Maron doesn’t immediately hook you. The first couple of episodes aren’t memorable, and it takes until Nora Zehetner shows up in the later half of the first season for things to become interesting, and for Maron’s hard-to-watch qualities to find a foil, someone who matches him and calls him out. The show is a must-watch for fans of Marc Maron and returns on Friday, paired up with Comedy Bang! Bang!, for a second season.
The Spoils of Babylon
Technically, The Spoils of Babylon isn’t an IFC series. It’s a one-off miniseries that ran for six weeks at the beginning of 2014. The ratings weren’t too good and the reviews were mostly average, but it’s still worth the watch. The ambition behind it is so admirable. Spoils is a parody of the “TV events” that were popular in the ’70s and ’80s (and that have been making somewhat of a comeback, mostly as recurring miniseries but also with events like NBC’s upcoming Rosemary’s Baby adaptation).
The six-part series had a huge, impressive cast: Will Ferrell, Tobey Maguire, Kristen Wiig, Jessica Alba, Haley Joel Osment, Tim Robbins, Val Kilmer, and more. There’s a fictional story within a story, introductions by its “director,” and over-the-top hilarious acting, and a plot that’s hard to describe in just a few sentences. Spoils started off with a great pilot episode and failed to lived up to those highs, but the rest of the (short) series is a fun watch.
If you’ve only heard of one show on IFC, then it’s definitely Portlandia. The sketch comedy was a breakout hit in its first season, and it’s still the show that most defines IFC as a network. It’s easy to boil down Portlandia to a handful of buzzwords — Quirky! Hipsters! Feminism! — but it’s always been a little smarter than what you’d expect. Created by Fred Armisen and Carrie Brownstein, it features scripted sketches with some improv.
Portlandia takes a satirical but often charming look at the hippies and hipsters that populate this version of Portland — a Portland where Twin Peaks‘ Kyle MacLachlan is mayor (former real mayor of Portland Sam Adams plays MacLachlan’s assistant) — but it’s clearly built out of love. The guest stars can sometimes be distracting, but the sketches are solid and ready to take over the Internet. Lately, the show has become a bit more character-driven rather than focusing solely on quick sketches shutting down fixed-gear bikers, ensuring viewers that it still has material for upcoming seasons.
The Birthday Boys
The Birthday Boys is the lesser-known of the two sketch shows on IFC, and probably the least known of any original IFC show, but it’s a good one. As much as I enjoy Portlandia, I also just dig the straight-up silly sketches of The Birthday Boys, a show that reveals its credentials with the involvement of Bob Odenkirk as executive producer. Its humor is not always the most groundbreaking, but it’s reminiscent of the first Portlandia season in that it’s full of go-for-broke comedy. There is no hidden agenda here: The Birthday Boys just want to make you laugh, and so they do. It’s energetic, creative, layered — some sketches blend in with others — but most of all, it’s just funny.
As mentioned, IFC is still pretty small. What’s left is The Grid, a 15-minute rundown of indie culture; Trapped in the Closet, R. Kelly’s wonderfully absurd hip-hopera that will never end but will probably not be new for another few years; and some great syndicated programming (Arrested Development, Freaks and Geeks, Malcolm in the Middle).
IFC’s past shows are just as great as its current ones. Some of the standouts? The Increasingly Poor Decisions of Todd Margaret, a British dark comedy starring David Cross, Will Arnett, and Spike Jonze. It only ran two seasons — Cross decided to end it, not IFC — but that was the perfect endpoint, and it’s one of the funniest shows of the decade. Out There was a one-season, sometimes-surrealistic animated sitcom chronicling the awkwardness of adolescence and the loneliness of being an outcast.
There is also the cult comedy Greg the Bunny, which IFC picked up three years after Fox axed it; Onion News Network was a half-hour adaptation of the popular web videos and a nearly flawless satirical news program; and, of course, The Whitest Kids U’ Know, a brilliant sketch comedy, originally on Fuse, that was highly addictive and features so many sketches and quotes that I still laugh about.
What’s most fascinating about IFC is its upcoming slate, a nice blend of interesting shows that will help catapult the network to the mainstream without compromising its eccentricity. American Storage is about the friendship between a storage facility employee and the man (Rob Huebel) who lives in one of the units; American Documentary is a series of fake documentaries and biopics about fictional events and people. And the highly anticipated Garfunkel and Oates, from the comedy-folk duo of Kate Micucci and Riki Lindhome, will premiere this summer.