Tuesday, August 28, 2012

My All-Time Favorite TV Comedies


The first thing I need to admit to is that I love television and the second thing is that I watch way, way too much of it.  I decided a few weeks ago to do a short series on my favorite television programs of all time.  The more I thought about it, the more clear it became to me that I needed to split up the list a little and make multiple lists.  This first post is dedication to my all time favorite TV comedies.

To make the list, there were a couple of criteria.  First and foremost, I had to like the show and it had to make me laugh.  I know, I know, a no-brainer.  Secondly, and this one wasn’t a requirement, but it helped when I was divided.  I considered over twenty-five situation comedies for this list.  I had to put some thought into it.  I had to not only recall I much I enjoyed the programs originally and how well that comedy held up over time.  It was also hard for shows from the mid to late 1980s to make the list because at that time I was in college and didn’t watch very much television.  I just didn’t watch Cheers or The Cosby Show all that often.  I have watched them in syndication and while I enjoy them both, I just couldn’t put them on the list.  Some of the programs on the list are from the 1970s.  I am not old enough to remember much about their original runs but I have seen them in syndication or on DVD.  I just found them better than those I left off the list. 

One more note – I found ranking the top four was a very easy task.  Ranking the others was very difficult, even after I decided which programs were even going to make the list.
Here goes…

10) Barney Miller/The Jeffersons – I cheated by ranking these two shows predominantly from the 1970s together.  Both were not only hilarious but they were socially important.  Barney Miller was a cop show that featured a widely diverse ethnic cast interacting in a squad room.  Characters came from many backgrounds including African American, Polish, Asian American, Puerto Rican, Jewish, and Asian American.  The squad also included a woman and an elderly cop (who can forget “Fish”).   While some jokes played off their differences, the writers worked hard to avoid blatant, short sighted stereotyping.  In fact, Barney Miller often exploited stereotypes as a way to make fun of those who believed them.  The Jeffersons featured television’s first interracial couple and gave America an African American character that was born poor and raised himself and his family up to a life of comfort through hard work.  George Jefferson was a strutting loud mouth with a heart of gold, buried deep within his egotistical fa├žade.  Both of these shows deserved to make this list, for both their quality and social importance.

9) Scrubs – This show was certainly not for everyone.  It was definitively out there at times.  People either loved it or hated.  Most who hated, just didn’t get it.  It was wacky, charming, zany, and most assuredly, an acquired taste.  Its delightful cast was led by the lovable Zach Braff and gruff veteran John C. McGinley.  The program enjoyed a long run on NBC but then switched to ABC for its final two seasons.  The last season in particular, without the stellar cast that that carried the show before, was a disaster.  Do not let this keep you from enjoying the first seven seasons filled with laughs, love, crazy antics, and sexual tensions aplenty.  This original Bill Lawrence creation was just crazy enough to keep me laughing for a long time.

8) The Big Bang Theory – What could be more lovable than a group of shy, socially awkward science geeks?  Well, not much.  This modern, instant classic has perfectly blended charming nerds dealing with work and women, with hilarious results.  The program has done a terrific job adding girls to the mix in a believable manner.  Jim Parsons as the socially inept super genius is especially brilliant and the Kaley Cuoco as the beautiful, intellectually average foil to her braniac neighbors are this CBS comedy’s strongest performers but there are no weak leaks in this fun, sweet offering.  There is no end sight as of yet and I am thrilled.

7) Everyone Loves Raymond – This is one of the best network adaptations of a stand up routine into a series.  Ray Romano headed this classic cast of comedic veterans with his trademark monotone and blandness.  This doesn’t sound as funny as it was, mainly because Romano learned to deliver with great timing and he surrounded himself with the likes of Doris Roberts and Peter Boyle as his meddling parents – that lived right across the street.  Patricia Heaton and Brad Garrett were perfect as the put upon wife and brother, never good enough for Ray’s mom.  These actors were brilliant at delivering their lines and actions with perfect timing, and the results kept me in stitches for years. 

6) That 70’s Show – Who knew?  A cast of mostly inexperienced, unknown teenagers set in the late 1970s, with all that unique culture had to be a hard sell.  At the time, I think only Fox would have considered this premise but it lead to a great eight year run.  Those unknown teenagers grew to be superstars and all have had continued success post-70s.  Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis in particular have enjoyed terrific careers.  This program mixed teenage antics with hilarious parents.  There was love and hilarity throughout the series and maintained strong episodes late in their run, even with a few cast defections.  There wasn’t a single regular that didn’t pull their comic weight and the cast grew together with terrific classic comedic timing.  This original deserves it place on my list and while many may consider this and Scrubs as doubtful entries, they were both among my all time favorites and therefore on my list.

5) Modern Family – Did this program make this list at such a high position because it is on every week and fresh on my mind.  Maybe but Modern Family makes me laugh out loud each and every week.  The extremely large ensemble cast is truly funny from the youngest “Lilly” to the oldest “Jay”.  Each actor has found their niche within the comedic family and they all show their talent.  As with such classics in their own time, like The Cosby Show and Roseanne, this program displays modern family values in its own unique manner.  It is aptly titled and if you are not watching it, you should be. 

4) All in the Family – Does any actor in sit-com history deserve more credit than Carroll O’Connor for his work as the bigoted Archie Bunker?  I doubt it.  O’Connor played Bunker with surprising heart.  Bunker was a horrible racist who knew, deep down, that his old time views of the world, of people themselves, was wrong but he just wasn’t equipped to change.  This program took place during the tumultuous early 1970s, when America had yet to adjust to the social changes that had occurred in the previous decade.  I firmly believe Archie Bunker had a hand in pushing the thought process of many Americans away from prejudice and discrimination by showing how incredibly wrong and ignorant those out dated attitudes were.  Jean Stapleton and Rob Reiner were absolutely terrific in their roles and All in the Family deserves this ranking.  This show also produced several quality spin-offs, including The Jeffersons.  If you get a chance to catch this gem on DVD, please do so.

3) The Simpsons – Homer, Bart, and the gang just keep going.  If this were a live action program, Bart would be in his thirties, little Maggie would be out of college, and Homer would probably have passed on.  And it would have been cancelled long ago.  Luckily for us, The Simpsons can stay young forever.  The satirical masterpiece is the longest running prime time, non news show in the history of television.  It continues to be strong, and more importantly, funny.  They continue to take tongue-in-cheek shots at everything from pop culture, the entertainment stars, to society in general.  Their antics continue to amuse and, in its silly little way, teach us a little about ourselves and the world around us.  Many people would not include a cartoon on this list but The Simpsons have always made me laugh and their history speaks for itself.  This show is without a doubt, one of the greatest TV comedies of all time.

2) Friends – This program enjoyed probably the greatest cast chemistry of all time.  Six very good actors worked together to produce six of the greatest and most beloved characters on television.  Each and every character was funny and unique in their own way.  The episodes when all six are together for most of the scenes were always the best because they were so great together.  These people became our friends.  We cared what became of them.  We didn’t want them to go away.  It has been more than eight years since the last episode aired but fortunately for us, they live on in syndication and DVD.  There are very few programs that I would like to see a reunion movie but I would love to see for Friends, done correctly, of course.  I want to see how their lives turned out.  Are they still close or have they floated apart as so often happens in real life as people move around and their families grow.  Food for thought…

Some programs that were considered but not included were Seinfeld, Two and a Half Men, Cheers, The Cosby Show, Roseanne, Home Improvement, Happy Days, The Dick Van Dyke Show, WKRP in Cincinnati, South Park, and The Office. 

1) M*A*S*H – The show was developed from a slap stick movie by the same name.  It started its run in the early 1970s and it also started out as a slap stick anti-war program set during the Korean War.  After about fifteen episodes though, the creators and writers realized they could do so much more.  M*A*S*H endured terrible first season rankings to become one of the most watched programs, in percentage of television sets, in history.  The last episode in 1983 is still one of the most watched non sporting events all time.  This show produced one of the greatest single TV characters of all time in Alan Alda’s Hawkeye Pierce.  Alda’s many layered Hawkeye was funny, smart, good looking, good hearted, and deeply troubled.  Usually his true soul, tortured by the blood and death round him, was hidden by his brilliant sense of humor.  Hawkeye always stood up for the downtrodden and protected those who struggled to protect themselves and was a television hero in every sense.  An absolutely brilliant, talented ensemble cast surrounded Alda, often changing season to season.  The writers were brilliant in making sure the replacement characters were nothing like the departed characters, keeping the comedy and situations fresh year to year.  Watch this show on DVD, with the laugh track turned off (a terrific feature on these DVDs, by the way), and enjoy the joy and experience the horror endured by these doctors and nurses in a military hospital in a combat zone.  Brilliant, absolutely brilliant.

I hope you enjoyed this list.  I had a blast compiling writing it.  Until next time…thanks for reading.