Top 10 TV comedies

I love television. And despite my recent infatuation with reality TV, what I like to watch most is comedies (ok, Laker games first, then TV comedies). I have a long and intimate history with TV comedies and have finally decided to rank them (actually, I ranked them a few years back during the pre-blog era and lost the list…so I had to re-create it). My qualifications/criteria/comments regarding the creation of this list:

  • A show does not have to be a “sitcom” in the sense of 30 minutes, laugh track, etc. It doesn’t even have to be classified as a “comedy”…it just has to be funny.
  • I’ve excluded sketch/variety/talk show comedy. I just don’t see Saturday Night Live or Late Night in the same way I see these shows.
  • The gist of how I ranked them is this: if all of these shows were on at the same time and I had only one TV (and no DVR), what would be my preference for watching them?
  • I would love for you to post your top 10 list in the comments. Here’s a pretty comprehensive list of TV comedies to get you started.

You may notice the omission of shows that some would consider no brainers for this list. Let me explain a few of these absences from my list…

  • The Honeymooners, The Dick Van Dyke Show, Arrested Development, Newhart: Sorry, I just never got around to watching these shows, so I can’t rank.
  • Friends: I’ve never liked this show. It has its funny moments, but I pretty much hate every character except Chandler and Joey. I always saw Friends as a lame attempt at emulating Seinfeld. Remember Union Square? Just like that.
  • Cheers, M*A*S*H, All in the Family: I enjoy these shows, but they just don’t quite reach elite status with me.

Finally, there are three current shows that I find very funny. They’re not on this list because I don’t think they’ve withstood the test of time and/or reached their full potential yet: 30 Rock, Modern Family, and The Office. Maybe someday. In fact, only one of the shows on my list is currently in first-run status — and that one’s been around for quite a while. Call me an old fogey, but it’s my list.

OK, without further ado…

10. Married…with Children (1987-1997): Al Bundy is a sitcom dad hall-of-famer, spouting some of the best sitcom one-liners ever. This show was unabashedly low-brow…and so good at it. “One on the back, for dancing.”
9. The Cosby Show (1984-1992): With bits culled from Bill Cosby’s stand-up act in the early years, this show was a fresh, hilarious-yet-wholesome take on ’80s family life.
8. I Love Lucy (1951-1957): A sitcom pioneer that truly stands the test of time. You know how they say that pretty much every story that can be told was covered by the Greek tragedies and Shakespeare’s plays? Pretty much every sitcom story that can be told was covered by I Love Lucy in some form or another. “One pound per person.”
7. Three’s Company (1977-1984): This show went downhill fast, ending as a caricaturish shell of its early years…but boy were those early years amazing: a sublime mix of physical comedy and innuendo that remains unsurpassed in the annals of television history (according to me, anyway).
6. The Golden Girls (1985-1992): Who would’ve thought that four old ladies living out their years in Miami would be so funny? The ridiculous tales they spun — from Sicily to St. Olaf to the Deep South — have me in stitches every time I watch. “I lost Andy Bo and a beaux!”
5. Night Court (1984-1992): As one-dimensional as he was, Dan Fielding is one of the great sitcom characters…and the rest weren’t too shabby, either. This show was unrelenting in its attempts at humor. It didn’t always succeed, but when it did, it was awesome.
4. Sex and the City (1998-2004): The only non-traditional comedy on my list, SatC was consistently really funny in a very sharp way, which you can’t say about too many shows for its entire run. No cheap laughs here (well, ok, there were a few cheap laughs). “Oh my God, she’s fashion roadkill!”
3. Family Ties (1982-1989): There was so much comedy gold to mine with these characters. Even when it jumped the shark with the introductions of Andy and Nick, as well as Mallory becoming really dumb, it delivered the laughs. Great, great jokes. “There was a kangaroo…in my living room.”
2. Seinfeld (1989-1998): It was really difficult for me to decide the order of the top 2 spots. If ever a case could be made for a tie at the top, this would be it. The four main characters — and pretty much all the other characters — were terrible, petty people…but damn, were they funny! Somebody once wrote about this show: “If you’re funny, that’s all you have to be.” So true. This show didn’t care, didn’t need any “very special episodes”, didn’t need to bring in new characters to keep it fresh. It was just funny. “See, you know how to take the reservation; you just don’t know how to hold the reservation.”
1. The Simpsons (1989-?): In the end, I chose The Simpsons over Seinfeld because its seasons ~2-7 were the greatest comedic run in television history. Like Sandy Koufax during 1963-1966. As close to perfection as I’ll probably ever see. The right balance of physical comedy, stupid jokes, smart jokes, pop culture references…this show just nailed it during that stretch. Animation certainly opens up this show to possibilities that live-action shows do not have, but there have been plenty of animated shows before and since that abuse those possibilities. The Simpsons walked that razor’s edge time and time again for the better part of 6 straight seasons — it’s going to be hard to top that. “Mmmmm, 64 slices of American cheese.”

all in the family
the cosby show
i love lucy
three’s company
the golden girls
night court
sex and the city
family ties
the simpsons


Filed under Entertainment, Top 10, TV

24 responses to “Top 10 TV comedies

  1. Vineet

    I agree with about half the list ๐Ÿ™‚

    There are several that I wouldn’t have on my list for reasons similar to yours for Arrested Development and others, but I would have to add:

    Arrested Development – definitely worth streaming/renting/buying/tivo-ing – I think you would really like it

    South Park – can be hit or miss, but even now after 10 years, it can still knock it out of the park (more consistently than The Simpsons these days).

    Other classic shows that I grew up watching in reruns:
    The Brady Bunch and Gilligan’s Island.

    It’s hard to judge recent series, but other shows that would be in my short list:
    The Office (US – I never watched the British series), 30 Rock, How I Met Your Mother, and then Modern Family and Cougar Town which both had great first seasons.

    Scrubs can be hit or miss, but hits more than it misses for me.

    Overall – a solid list – just needs some tweaks ๐Ÿ™‚

    • san mateo pete

      Thanks, Vin. I’ll definitely have to try Arrested Development

      I mentioned Modern Family in my post, but I’ll go a little further in saying that it’s about as good a sitcom first season as I’ve ever seen and probably the best sitcom first episode I’ve ever seen.

  2. Tom

    1. Arrested Development
    2. 30 Rock
    3. Frasier
    4. The Office (British version)

    I just read a list of the top 50 ( and I’m realizing I’m just not that into comedies. The four I’ve listed above, though, I think are great.

    • san mateo pete

      Thanks, Tom. And thank you for the Associated Content article…a pretty good list. Though I’m not sure how anyone could rank Laverne & Shirley, Mork & Mindy, The Facts of Life, Diff’rent Strokes, Futurama, The Wonder Years, et al. over Night Court.

  3. Nizar

    My list

    10 – Family Ties
    9 – Coupling (UK)
    8 – Sports Night
    7 – Murphy Brown
    6 – Designing Women
    5 – Frasier
    4 – Friends
    3 – The Cosby Show
    2 – The Office (US)
    1 – Seinfeld

    Honorary mention:
    Family Guy
    Golden Girls
    Different Strokes
    The Jeffersons

    Current favorites:
    How I met your mother
    30 Rock
    The Office
    Big Bang Theory
    Modern Family
    My Boys

    Intrigued by:
    next season’s “Outsourcing”

  4. Todd Hausman

    An excellent list Peter! Very thoughtful. Let me add to the nostalgia with my own contributions. I missed a period of shows in the 80’s so many of favorites were actually in reruns when I got back home from school.

    Honorable mention:
    Dinosaurs (1991 to 1994) Live action foam dinosaurs – what isn’t to love? If anything this show needs to be remembered for the phrase “Not the mama.” A phrase that rings very true in my life today.

    Rosanne (1988 to 1997) I hated this show but it did change American TV so it deserves props. It was the anti-Cosby show in almost every way. All the characters were flawed but lovable.

    South Park (1997 to Present) I’m not sure this show could or should be considered a sitcom but it falls in the modern genre of boundary pusher. It many ways it is the anti-Simpsons. Every episode has a moral, some more shocking than others.

    10. Perfect Strangers (1986 to 1993) The first two seasons of Perfect Strangers are some of the best on TV. The timing between Mark Linn-Baker and Bronson Pinchot is impeccable.

    9. Bewitched (1964 to 1973) Even though the producers switch Darrens on us, I still love the show. Samantha is one of the most charming characters on TV. Darren is a classic foil. The rotating and reoccurring guest stars made the show. For me, you can do no better than Paul Lynde.

    8. The Jeffersons (1975 to 1985) Can someone get promoted without the immortal words “moving on up” being uttered? “The Jeffersons” was a spin-off of “All in the Family” but really was the foundation on which “227” and “Amen” were built. You don’t see shows the talk about race relations in the same way on modern network TV – you have to go to Comedy Central for that now.

    7. My Favorite Martian (1963 to 1967) To be honest Ray Watson is one of my favorite actors of all time. I think it is because he reminds me of my favorite choir director but I digress. Ray Watson and Bill Bixby together, that’s the argument.

    6. Frasier (1993 to 2004) This show has probably the best assemble cast in the history of television. Every show has its ups and downs, Frasier never jumped the shark.

    5. Newhart (1982 – 1990) Bob Newhart is the perfect everyman. He had perfected the character years before appearing on this sitcom but he left the airwaves with people wanting more and that says a lot. I know folks love the “The Bob Newhart Show” but I’ve never seen an episode.

    4. It’s Gary Shandling’s Show (1985 to 1990) + Larry Sanders Show (1992 to 1998) – It is a sellout thing to do to lump two shows but this shows are reflections of the same type of humor. I think this show just hit my youthful humor. I loved the opening theme song. Gary Shandling remains a classic unhero and this show in the first three seasons really called it out.

    3. Golden Girls – copy cat.

    2. Simpsons – copy cat.

    1. Seinfeld – copy cat.

    Great list and thanks for the challenge!

    • san mateo pete

      Thanks for the very detailed comment, Todd! A few thoughts on yours…

      – Completely agree with your Perfect Strangers assessment. Had it been better a little longer, it would be in Three’s Company territory for me.
      – Loved Newhart, probably top 20 for me.
      – I recall really liking It’s Garry Shandling’s Show, but my recollection is hazy. Didn’t watch The Larry Sanders Show because I didn’t have HBO at the time…I’ll have to find that on DVD.
      – You can’t place Seinfeld above The Simpsons without an explanation…

  5. Todd Hausman

    Oh man! I forgot “The Office” and “30 Rock” but they are still on the air and so probably shouldn’t be judged.

  6. TJ

    My votes:

    — Arrested Development
    — Office (UK)
    — Flight of the Conchords (weaker in the second season, but I loved it)
    — 30 Rock (I didn’t like this at first but it’s great)

    Todd’s mentioning Perfect Strangers takes me back – a great show

  7. TJ

    ooh… don’t forget Freaks and Geeks

  8. Todd Hausman

    Ah yes, the great Simpsons/Seinfeld debate. Similar to South Park, the Simpsons created its own genre. Since it is a cartoon it isn’t quite a classic sitcom – notably the cartoons don’t age so the show doesn’t have to adapt to the actors e.g. Growing Pains and Cosby Show. “The Simpsons” definitely has its peaks and valleys but still chooses to push forward. Similar to “Newhart”, “Seinfeld” decided to go out on top which for me makes it a far better show because I can only remember the good times. While I can remember the highs of “The Simpsons” I can also recall several lows and several sharks that it is close to jumping. ๐Ÿ™‚

  9. Jim

    Great list! All 10 are great shows, so I’m scratching my head trying to think how I can come up with a distinctive list.

    Btw, one you missed: “The Burns and Allen Show”. Before all our times, but always in reruns. We don’t need no stinkin’ fourth wall.

  10. Joe Eds

    Well I need to chime in too. I think by what I’ve read so far I’m much younger than the other commentors, so I have a different perspective. But for the record my current official #1 and #2 would be The Daily Show and The Colbert Report, but since variety shows are nixed here’s my other list….

    1) The Simpsons – It never recovered from the death of Phil Hartman. However, Seasons 3 through 9 is the best thing TV every produced.
    2) The Office (UK) – Remarkable how much they nail day-to-day office life. Rides the rail of hilarious and said to perfection.
    2) Seinfeld – Not as great as most remember, but the classics are some of the best. Yadda, Yadda.
    3) The Office (USA) – Seasons 2 and 3 are great. Its trailed off a bit, but so has every single show people have listed, so I’m forgivable.
    4) Arrested Development – Immaculate 1st season. 2 almost as good, 3 just an insane mess. But god is it quotable.
    5) Curb Your Enthusiasm – “I Thought he was a monkey.”
    6) Spaced – UK show that brilliant captures the minds of pop culture obsessed 20-somethings.
    7) How I Met Your Mother – also great show about single and in your 20’s. Can be very clever at times.
    8, 9, 10) Wings, Drew Carey Show and South Park

    • san mateo pete

      Thanks for your list, Joe! And thank you for pointing out how old we are. (Related story: Tom (the second commenter above) and I were in a meeting with two younger people yesterday. He said the inclusion of Night Court on my list was crazy. I asked the other two people what they thought. They said, “I’ve never heard of Night Court“.) Your list definitely skews younger (and more British) than mine, but excellent nonetheless. I’m definitely going to have to watch Arrested Development

      BTW, your comment about every single show trailing off is generally true. However, I stand by my opinion that Sex and the City never trailed off, which is one of the main reasons it ranks so high on my list.

  11. Jim M

    That’s a pretty solid list. I’d nominate a few more (in no particular order):

    1. South Park. There are few shows on TV that can push the bounds of censorship, decency and make me laugh out loud. And yes, those things are related. (and also why I’d rank Married with Children higher on the list).

    2. Mork & Mindy. Maybe I’m just the old guy in this discussion, but that series was groundbreaking. And it introduced the world to the comic genius of Robin Williams.

    3. Cheers. A well-written, long lived show that made me laugh out loud. Who doesn’t love Norm? The show only improved after they dumped Diane. Still solid in reruns.

    4. Entourage. Smoking. Hot. Women. And funny too. I can look past the poor acting.

    5. Scooby Doo. Ask any parent – it’s just as popular today as it was 30 years ago.

    6. The Flintstones. An excellent animated comedy that still entertains.

    and my nominee for ‘least funny “comedy” of all time” – Full House. The remaining copies of that show should be incinerated.

    • san mateo pete

      Thanks, jman. Some thoughts on your thoughts…

      South Park: wickedly funny show, but I never watched it regularly enough for it to break my top 10.

      Mork & Mindy: my memories of this show are too hazy. I do remember liking it.

      Entourage: you keep telling me to watch this…I’ll get around to it sooner or later.

      Scooby-Doo: loved it as a kid, but not that funny (intentionally, anyway).

      The Flintstones: it’s been too long since I watched it to judge.

      Full House: this show, while pretty bad, still entertains the hell out of me (at least the early years). And it’s far from being the least funny comedy. Much worse: Small Wonder, Family Matters, Step by Step, Mama’s Family.

  12. Katie

    OK, you seriously have never seen Arrested Development? Epic fail. Next time you are down here, you have to borrow our DVDs.

    Agreed on Family Ties and on Three’s Company. Seriously hilarious.

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