10 shows like ‘Our Flag Means Death’
There are any number of fantastic shows premiering almost every single day, which is why HBO Max’s surprise hit Our Flag Means Death is such an impressive feat. Starring the delightful duo of Rhys Darby and Taika Waititi, Our Flag Means Death tells the somewhat true story of Captain Stede Bonnet, an aristocrat unsatisfied with his comfortable life and seemingly ideal family. Bonnet’s decision to blow everything up in an attempt to live the pirate life sees him bankroll and captain his very own ship, The Revenge.
Before Our Flag Means Death arrived on HBO Max, few people likely realized that a high seas period piece sitcom featuring a factually liberal depiction of the infamous Captain Blackbeard was exactly the antidote our chaotic timeline needed, but here we are. Viewers are all but guaranteed to find plenty to love within Our Flag Means Death, one of the year’s best comedies. For those hankering for more of the same, we compiled a list of shows we think find you’ll find similarly endearing.
The Flight Of The Conchords
There’s something very specific about the dry, quirky style of New Zealand comedy. For many in America, The Flight Of The Conchords was their first taste, and they were quickly hooked. Starring comedic and songwriting duo Jermaine Clement and Bret McKenzie, Flight Of The Conchords first began as a BBC radio series before evolving into an HBO show of the same name. Much of the series is built around the duo’s parody folk songs — like a little less on the nose Weird Al — and their unsuccessful attempt at building a music career in New York City. Its connection to Our Flag Means Death lies in the duo’s manager, played by Rhys Darby well before he ever became the dreaded Captain Stede Bonnet.
What We Do In The Shadows
The obvious through-line here is producer Taika Waititi, who’s fingerprint and unique style of screwball humor are evident in both shows. There’s more than personnel that makes these shows similar, however. Both Our Flag Means Death and What We Do In The Shadows rely on the strength of their ensemble, featuring and highlighting unknown comedic actors performing at the top of their game. They also both take the classic sitcom set up — a group of people connected by circumstance rather than choice — and stretch it to absurd limits. Our Flag Means Death may not hit the highs of What We Do In The Shadows, but it frequently comes close.
People Of Earth
Our Flag Means Death creator David Jenkins got his start with this similarly absurdist sitcom starring Daily Show alum Wyatt Cenac. In it, Cenac plays a journalist who is working on a story about the supposed survivors of alien encounters. Things progress as you might expect, with reptilians in disguise, extra-terrestrials, and alien invasions, and the show manages to balance it all while maintaining the high-concept but sweetly rendered comedy at its core.
No one would mistake Our Flag Means Death for an accurate historical depiction. The same can be said for The Great, which takes the very real story of Catherine the Great’s accession to the Russian Throne while taking extreme and hilarious artistic liberties. Created by Tony MacNamara (The Favourite), The Great finds a similar balance between the emotional and the absurd, allowing for a middle ground that veers between exploring a character’s inner turmoil and situating them as the butt of the joke.
Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt
Premiering in 2015, Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt was Tina Fey’s much-anticipated follow up to 30 Rock. The show found Fey embracing a much more high-concept brand of comedy, something Our Flag Means Death is known for. Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt follows the story of the titular Kimmy as she adjusts to life after escaping from a doomsday cult run by the singular Jon Hamm as “The Reverend.” If that sounds a bit intense for comedy, don’t fret. The show’s zany tone and breakneck pace undercut almost any trace of pure pathos — which is fine, given how well it works.
One of the most criminally underrated shows of the early 2010s, Wilfred is the story of Ryan (Elijah Wood) and his unconventional relationship with his neighbor’s dog, Wilfred. Okay, I’ll be honest, “unconventional” doesn’t quite cut it. That’s because, to Ryan, Wilfred is not the dog he appears to be to everyone else. Instead, he takes the form of a pot-smoking, stuffed animal-humping adult Australian man in a dog costume. Part psycho-drama, part stoner buddy comedy, Wilfred never shies away from taking some of the biggest swings I can remember seeing on television, committing one hundred percent to its premise while finding comedy within its absurdity.
This 2019 Spanish-language comedy centers around a group of friends and business partners whose goal is to scare their clients silly. Created by and starring Fred Armisen, Julio Torres, and Ana Fabrega, Los Espookys leans into its absurd premise with gusto but — in a similar way to Our Flag Means Death — its best moments come when exploring its characters’ unconventional camaraderie.
Another show that manages to blend comedy with genre storytelling, Truth Seekers comes to us from writing and acting duo Simon Pegg and Nick Frost. Anyone who’s seen the pair’s movies — like crowd favorites Shaun Of The Dead and Hot Fuzz — know the built-in chemistry you get with these two excellent comedic actors. The story in Truth Seekers follows a haphazard team of paranormal investigators, and lands right in Pegg and Frost’s wheelhouse. Truth Seekers was unfortunately canceled after a single season, but it remains an enjoyable watch for those looking for a spoonful of comedy to mix with their paranormal horror.
The only network show on our list, CBS’s Ghosts is another series that takes typical sitcom tropes and turns them on their head. Ghosts centers on Sam (Rose McIver) and Jay (Utkarsh Ambudkar), a young couple who inherit a mansion haunted by the show’s titular apparitions, an eclectic group pulling from the mansion’s long past. The set-up allows for a deep cast of zany side characters — including a vet from the American Revolution, a hippie, and a Wall Street hotshot — each of whom allow the show to take its many unexpected turns.
This list is full of high-concept comedy, but perhaps no show quite pulls off its bizarre premise as well as Pen15. The story is simple enough, focusing on two young teenagers navigating middle school and puberty with all the attendant awkwardness you would expect. The twist comes in the form of our two leads, Maya and Anna, who are played by the show’s over-30 creators, Maya Erskine and Anna Konkle. It sounds preposterous — and it is — but somehow this duo makes it work, delivering viewers one of the most honest and downright hilarious displays of young womanhood ever to grace television screens.