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.”