TGIF, Gang! It’s the host with the most, Andy Larson, here with the third part of a trilogy of posts here on the GotS website surrounding what’s becoming a hot button issue around our bullpen, Sitcoms!
Yes, maybe it’s that time of year where all the new seasons of shows start hitting the airways after a long summer of reruns. Maybe it was spurred by a recent discussion we had while recording next Tuesday’s podcast in which we started naming the top Comic Book related TV Shows (make sure you subscribe btw so us don’t miss it).
But regardless of the reason, here I am being asked to write a third list on this topic for the site so that we can put up a Twitter poll asking you folks which of the main 3 GotS hosts got it right. I will say though that I resisted the peer pressure from Stew & Chad to make this list for a long time (CLICK THEIR NAMES TO SEE THEIR PREVIOUS LISTS!).
Why you ask? I mean doesn’t it seem like it’s a fun thing to do?!? Sitcoms bring joy and laughter to so many, this should be fun topic to cover, right?
Well…no. Not for me it isn’t at least. Why you might ask? It’s because I haven’t really watched a new sitcom in like 15 years.
Yep, as crazy it sounds, I have never seen 30 Rock, Community, Parks & Rec (other than Ron Swanson Quote montages), How I Married Your Mother, Modern Family, The Office, Arrested Development, Always Sunny, The Good Life, Curb Your Enthusiasm, you name it. In fact, I honestly don’t think I’ve even seen Scrubs other than a handful of episodes. Yup, the only recent ones I’ve watched a number of episodes of is “The Big Bang Theory” and “That 70s Show”, but neither of those shows are as good those ones I remember from my youth.
To me, sitcoms are somewhat of a relic of some bygone past. A time when there were like 3 channels, and options for entertainment were limited. Plus it was a simpler time, so much easier to laugh at things back then. No fancy pants high concept shows wrapped up in faux documentaries where people talk directly to the cameras (why the hell is that a THING!!), or shows told in flash back, or ones dealing with people trapped in hell. Nope most of my sitcoms were done in a couple of sets with laugh tracks so you knew where it was appropriate to snicker.
I guess your next question is if I haven’t been watching sitcoms for the past 20 years, what have I been watching?
The answer is old sitcoms…oh and cartoons.
I love cartoons.
Family Guy, Futurama, American Dad, Bob’s Burgers, South Park, Disenchanted, Aqua Teen, Space Ghost, Sealab…the list goes on and on and on. In fact, I could have probably filled by list entirely with just cartoon sitcoms from the past 20 years.
However, my colleagues here at GotS like to crap on cartoons every chance they get, often times cutting them from the criteria for “Best Movie” or “Best TV Show” or random reasons that don’t really make sense.
I know the real reason though. They are Cartoon Haters…pure and simple.
But don’t worry, I’m about to show how ignorant they are in a second…once we get to my list.
Plus, this is somewhat of a loaded question idea for a list anyways. Mainly because there’s a difference between asking the question “What were the most influential/critical sitcoms in history” or “What are your favorite sitcoms to watch”. I mean with a list of critically acclaimed or “important” sitcoms, it would be hard not to put on “All in the Family” on a list like that. However I don’t really like “All in the Family” so right from the word go, this list is going to be pretty damn subjective.
So this is not a list of the top 10 Sitcoms of all time. It’s a list of my 10 favorite sitcoms over the years. The ones I will still stop and watch if they happen to be on even if I’ve seen the episode 100 times.
As a result, I will say most on here are much more personal picks especially my 10-6. However, I will damn near fight anyone that says my top 5 don’t have a place among the true sitcom royalty.
Anyways, in the immortal words of the Godfather of the American sitcom, Jackie Gleason….
And AWAY WE GO!
10.) Gilligan’s Island
Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale…a tale of an extremely underrated sitcom!
Sure, some might scoff at the inclusion of 7 folks who never seemed to get off an island despite hundreds of failed attempts and having a genius “Reed Richards” type that could make robots out of coconuts.
However, everything about this show is iconic! From the theme song the alone, I betcha everyone in America could name all of the main characters from Gilligan to the Skipper to the Professor, which is something you can’t say about most other shows. Plus this show pushed the boundaries of the sitcom genre in terms of where a sitcom could take place whereas most took place in just houses. So without Gilligan, you wouldn’t have more modern shows like “The Good Life” for example.
Besides, without this show would we have the “Ginger vs. Mary Ann” debate?
By the way, it’s Mary Ann. Mary Ann every day. Dawn Wells in Gingham. Put a fork in me, I’m done.
9.) Perfect Strangers
Although some might reduce this show to something of a “niche” sitcom, Perfect Strangers was the highlight of the TGIF line up for me, and the only show from that sitcom group I still watch today. Maybe it’s because it particularly resonated with me because I too had a cousin in frequent GotS guest, J. Andrew Scott, that was incredibly close with to the point that we were more akin to brothers than cousins, so I could definitely relate and appreciate the crazy antics Larry and Balki got into every week.
Although some might also view this as just another rip off of the “The Odd Couple” that would discount the incredible on screen chemistry and comedic timing Mark Lynn Baker and Bronson Pinchot had with each other and how that really elevated this show to something truly special. Let’s all do a “Dance of Joy” to that!
8.) Married With Children
One of the few shows I believe all of the Ghosts Hosts had in common, it’s hard to argue that in terms of pure raunchy humor, there’s nothing better than Polk High School’s football legend (who threw for 4 touchdowns in a single game) turned shoe salesman and the misadventures of his wonderfully white trash brood.
I’ve been a long time fan of the show as I believe it was the first program I ever watched on FOX back in the way early days when there was nothing except this, the Tracy Ullman Show, and America’s Most Wanted. As a result, personally I’ve always been more of a fan of the episodes with Steve vs. Jefferson as Al’s BFF/next door neighbor. Steve just always seemed more believable as Al’s buddy, whereas Jefferson seemed like a cartoonish simpleton, and that got on my nerves.
Still though, there was one reason I watched this show in reality: Peg Bundy.
Yeah, while other guys might have drooled over the obvious hotness of Christina Applegate, I always thought Kathy Sagal delivered the real goods. Especially now that I’m older, her overwhelming sexuality on that show is really hard to ignore.
I believe I read somewhere that Kathy and Ed O’ Neil even played their roles in that way. That although Al was often seen complaining about it, in reality, the Bundys had insanely great sex. That’s the reason they stayed together. That chemistry and physical attraction. Definitely puts a unique spin on the episodes if watched through that lens.
7.) Golden Girls
Another great sitcom that happens to be on all of the Ghosts lists, is the utterly charming tale of 4 women enjoying their golden years as roommates in Florida. I know it sounds on paper to be something more likely to be on the Hallmark channel instead of Comedy Central, but the Golden Girls succeeded in smashing pretty much every preconceived notion about what made for a good sitcom. This is mainly thanks to a stacked cast of female sitcom veterans who knew what it took to make engaging characters and the timing to pull off great dialogue.
For me though personally, this is the sitcom that is the most like comfort food to me. I didn’t laugh as much at this show as I did just find it soothing to my spirit. I mean it’s a show pretty much about grandmas, and what are grandmas if not symbols of warmth, love, and care especially in times of trouble. It wasn’t heavy handed or boring however like a drama could have been, so in disguising the comfort as entertainment, I was so much more receptive to it.
Honestly, in these even more uncertain times, I think we could all use a healthy dose of the Golden Girls even more than we used to. It’s sitcom chicken soup for the soul.
6.) WKRP in Cinninatti
A Larson family favorite.
Although some might have never even seen an episode of WKRP, at my house growing up, we watched nothing but this show in reruns. In fact, other than M*A*S*H* and Cheers, this was probably my single most watched sitcom in my house until I was 8 or 9 years old.
As a result, I knew all the characters by heart. Whether it was the sleazy Herb Tarlek, the nerdy inept Les Nesman, the solid bromance between Venus Flytrap and Andy Travis, or even the “Ginger/Maryann” version 2.0 duo of Loni Anderson’s Jennifer and Jan Smithers‘ Bailey Quarters, these were all TV friends of young Andy Larson.
But far and away the reason you watched this show was for Howard Hessman’s Johnny Fever, who seemed like just another comedic hippie burn out DJ on the surface, yet through his undeniable charisma and complex emotional nuances, became almost like a second Alan Alda like Hawkeye on the show. A silent leader that could carry entire episodes just through his performances. It’s no wonder I was also a huge fan of his later show “Head of the Class” as well.
But yeah, Any show that can immortalize the phrase “As God is my witness, I thought Turkeys could fly”…that’s worth being in a sitcom hall of fame in my opinion.
5.) The Cosby Show
Yep, here comes the most difficult entry on this list. That moment my list loses in the Twitter poll because of the actions of Bill Cosby. Yeah, there’s no denying it. Bill Cosby turned out to be a real scumbag of a person in real life. No question. I’m not arguing that fact, and I’m definitely not defending the man. He’s a real sleazeball who fooled us all for decades with his charming on screen antics.
However, sometimes, you really have to separate the man from the art. And The Cosby Show as just a TV show is a remarkable program. A heartfelt genuinely sincere attempt to provide a touchstone type family unit that everyone regardless of race could embrace succeeded so well that for decades the “Cosby Sweater” was something we all believed in as a symbol of perfect parenting even with all the modern day struggles of the real world. That’s not even accounting for the tremendous strides the show made for minorities in mainstream popular culture.
I guess that’s the real tragedy of all this. I really did love The Cosby Show. And I really did believe the unique mix of warmth, humor, and intelligence that Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable showed in the Cosby Show was a model for the type of fatherhood we wish we all had. It’s a real shame I can’t really talk more about it…
So although I’ll repeat it later in this list, I want to go on record saying that when it comes to sitcoms I sincerely question the intelligence of my cohosts.
Case in point, 74% of people polled on a recently on Twitter by GotS said that M*A*S*H* was indeed a sitcom. I mean it wasn’t even close. That’s the great majority of people. And yet if you ask either of them, they will insult the intelligence of those gracious enough to participate in the poll and try to feed you Trump-like “fake news” style spins on the truth.
Yes, M*A*S*H* is a sitcom and it’s one of the best…period.
Like “All in the Family” it didn’t shy away from dealing with the serious/complex moral issues that arose from its own backdrop. I mean War is Hell. And if you set your comedy in the middle of a war, you have to deal with that. And I’ll fully admit that as the series progressed, it began to move further and further away from straight yucks and started crossing the line into drama.
However, those first 3 seasons, the “golden age” of M*A*S*H* in my opinion with Col. Blake in charge, Trapper John in the swamp, and Klinger in a dress, those seasons are pretty much straight sitcom satire. It’s a shame we didn’t get more seasons like that and instead we got the serious stern nature of Col. Potter and the quiet emotionalism of BJ Hunnicutt which changed the whole dynamic of the show.
Plus Frank Burns left. You needed that smarminess to help balance the show. It would have been number 1 on the list if all the seasons were like the first 3. But still being number 4 ain’t bad…for y’know…a list. A list about SITCOMS!
Like M*A*S*H*, this could have been another sitcom at the top of my list as it had a lot of things I liked. One of the best theme songs in the biz, terrific supporting characters (Norm & Cliff should have had their own spin off), and Ted Danson’s Sam Malone anchored all of it with leading man type style and playfulness.
However, it falls short because like M*A*S*H*, due to casting changes, it lost a lot of its greatness the moment Diane left. Diane Chambers, played terrifically by Shelly Long, was the perfect foil for Sam Malone, and their “will they/won’t they” dynamic provided the hook that kept audiences coming back week after week. In fact, without them, I doubt we’d have slang like “Shipping” or “OTP” in terms sitcoms, as the ground they broke with their love affair changed forever what people expected from good sitcom couples.
Sure, they tried to recreate that magic with the Sam/Rebecca relationship that followed, but even as a preteen watching it unfold as the episodes aired, something seemed hollow and out of place compared to the magnetism that Sam/Diane had. In fact, I’d argue the moment Diane left, the relationship piece of Cheers shifted to Fraiser/Lilith which would have been fine, if they were the main characters instead of supporting ones.
So yes, for me, the show should have ended when Diane left. That final scene with Sam seeing her walk up the steps alone on their wedding day knowing she’ll never return before fading to a “what if” happy ever after where they had grown old and gray together still gives me the chills.
That should have been the series finale, and the show suffered in silence afterwards because it continued long after it.
2.) The Simpsons
Yeah, my cohosts are idiots.
I’m sure they are charming wonderful individuals in real life just like Dan Slott, but when it comes to making sitcom lists, yeah, they are dullards.
“Oh, the Simpsons can’t be included because its a cartoon”. Yeah, that’s a close minded attempt to subcatagorize media because it makes it easier to discount the immense impact a piece of fiction had and how it crosses boundaries. That’s like saying Moby Dick shouldn’t be on the List of “Great American Novels”. It should be number 1 on the list of “Great American Novels about Large Aquatic Mammals that used to be confused with being Fish”
“Oh the Simpsons can’t be included because it’s been on longer than any reasonable show should be.” Albeit that’s true, but y’know what, most sitcoms are on much longer than they should be. They are formulaic and easy to produce so Hollywood keeps cranking those episodes out. Hell, you just read my write up of Cheers. Again, That should have ended with the Diane leaving episode, but nope it went on for 8 more occasionally funny, but mostly soul crushing years.
These are just paper arguments.
No show except for my number 1 has given me as a viewer over the years than the Simpsons. No show has more episodes I can quote or scenes I can replay in my mind.
In fact, I really did want to include it as number 1 and should have just for the episode where Homer gets the Sugar pile from the Jack Knifed Truck driven by Hans Moleman and gave me a quote I still use today when explaining my goals in life:
“In America, first you get the Sugar, then you get the Power, then you get the Women”
From Ralph Wiggam, to Hurricane Neddy, to The Shinning (do you wanna get sued!?!), a Canoe made of Country Ham, just so many great memories.
Heck, I think I’m the only person in America still watching the new episodes and laughing. It really is a bottomless well of comedy, and it could go on for 60 years if it wants to.
And finally we get to number 1. As if there was any doubt. Like the stillness of a mountain lake in the early morning, some things you just have to stand back and marvel at their perfection.
The greatest thing about telling a show about “nothing” is the fact that simultaneously you can also tell a show about “everything”. That’s what real life is. Everything. It’s all encompassing in it’s mundane randomness, it’s ironic sense that real life is a strange mix of absurdity and nihilism yet governed by iron clad rules/truths which are equally laughable. One does not double dip a chip, One should not be a close talker, One should value a marble rye, One should not do a dance with the kicks, and finally One should not steal another man’s move.
It’s all life, except told through the lens of truly funny people. That’s what a sitcom should be. It’s what we wanted all along, but we didn’t know how to put it into words before Seinfeld came into our lives.
And unlike M*A*S*H* and Cheers, they kept the same cast the entire run, so the magic never wavered. Unlike Simpsons they knew when to call it quits so the magic wouldn’t wane. The only thing I feel is to its detriment, is the fact that the final episode did suck royally, but hey, lots of great shows have terrible endings, so that’s nothing new.
Yes, Seinfeld is the only sitcom on this list I could watch full marathons of and the only one that even after seeing episodes 100 times I still laugh out loud over. Although I will say that I’m more of a fan of the later episodes after Larry David left as a writer, as those episodes are definitely more avant-garde and ridiculous in premise which I feel fits the show better. But heck they are all wonderful!
In closing here’s a list of 10 of my favorite episodes of Seinfeld in no particular order: The Merv Griffin Show, The Serenity Now, The Frogger, The Contest, The Opera, The Van Buren Boys, The Chicken Roaster, The Strike, The Fucilli Jerry, and The Deal.