We’ll skip all the blah blah blah and get straight to the meat. However, in case you need a little catching up, check part one here.
90. Get a Life (Fox, 1990-1992)
When the Fox network turned their lights on in the mid-Eighties, they immediately got a reputation for edgy programming. Their shows were not the typical police procedurals or family-friendly comedies. One of the greatest (and quirkiest) triumphs of their early years was “Get a Life.” Although it only ran for two seasons, it was must-watch TV during my formative years. It walked the fine line between funny and “can you believe this?” stupidity better than almost any show before or since, and set the marker for future shows like “Scrubs” and “Arrested Development.”
Chris Elliott (perhaps now best known for “There’s Something About Mary” and also for somehow siring a hot-as-hell daughter,) starred as Chris Peterson, a 30-year old newspaper delivery boy. That should have been enough to sell you right there. Peterson was a completely awkward man-child, the type of which you’d barely blink at today, but was pretty novel in 1990. Add in his straight-laced best friend, his completely oblivious parents, and a series of surreal storylines (including his own death…yes, Chris Peterson died…in several episodes) and you have one of the most inventive and freaky sitcoms to ever grace the television. Fortunately, a DVD of the complete series was released in 2012. Those of you who think today’s shows are edgy, check out “Get a Life” and get educated! (Big Money)
89. Will and Grace (NBC, 1998-2006)
Will & Grace was NBC’s best “happy accident” of the last two decades. The titular characters—masterfully portrayed by Eric McCormack as the neurotically uptight Will, and Debra Messing as Will’s polar opposite, Grace—started the series capitalizing on the “sitcom as a romantic comedy” template that Mad About You had perfected just a few years prior. In fact, in the first two seasons there was an elephant in the room where Will and Grace’s relationship was concerned, casting a lingering doubt about Will’s sexuality, which was toned down to begin with. As the series developed, so did the complexity of the relationship, eventually ending in what can only be described as a messy breakup. But Will & Grace was a comedy, right? Enter the “happy accident”…
The “happy accident” was the audience’s response to the comedy supplied by the dynamic duo of Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes in the roles of Grace’s assistant-turned confidant Karen Walker, and Will’s other best friend, Jack McFarland. In stark contrast to both Will and Grace in nearly every way, the pair were a force to be reckoned with. While McCormack and Messing had their fair share of laughs, it was clear that the biggest laughs were saved for Mullally and Hayes. In the course of eight seasons, they managed to take small supporting roles and turn them into award-winning characters.
The lasting legacy of the show will no doubt be the fact that it was the first sitcom featuring an openly gay male lead. While you can be critical of the portrayal of the gay characters in the early seasons, or the casting of a straight man in the lead role—Hayes was initially elusive about his sexuality, only recently revealing that he is gay—it’s hard to argue that the evolution of the Will and Jack brought them from very overtly stereotypical pastiches to layered, and ultimately more believable versions of the characters. In the end it was those characters that made Will & Grace a sitcom that everyone could connect with, occasionally cry with, and more often than not, laugh hysterically with. (Michael Parr)
88. Happy Endings (ABC, 2011-2013)
I was all set to march at ABC Studios protest-style when it was announced that “Happy Endings” would be completing its run after three seasons. Hope stayed alive-a move to USA was rumored-but alas, it appears that we have seen the last of our beloved Brad, Jane, Alex, Dave, Penny and Max. A sharp ensemble comedy that took a few episodes to find its sea legs, “Happy Endings” was uproariously hilarious and also managed to break a little bit of ground by featuring non-stereotypical African-American and gay characters in (respectively) fussy Brad (played by Damon Wayans Jr.) and slovenly Max (Adam Pally.) A solid series of guest stars (including Megan Mulally, Andy Richter and Damon Wayans, Sr.) added to the fun. A few years from now, when Entertainment Weekly inevitably publishes another issue dedicated to shows that ended before their time, I’d be willing to venture a bet that “Happy Endings” will be near or at the top of the list. Part of me is hoping that the writers and cast have a change of heart and the show is somehow reactivated. (Big Money)
87. The Young Ones (BBC Two, 1982-1984)
“The Young Ones” sounds conventional enough on paper — four mismatched university students share a bedsit and get on each other’s nerves — but “conventional” is pretty much the last word you would use to describe it. Everything about “The Young Ones” was over the top, in your face, down your trousers and up your arse. To say that “anything might happen” in a given episode barely scratches the surface. An episode might center around an undetonated nuclear bomb falling into the boys’ house; resident punk Vyvyan would foil the BBC license inspector by devouring the TV (“It’s a toaster!”); or a plate of discarded veggies in the sink might suddenly come to life and start dancing. “The Young Ones” found an American audience through MTV, appearing on the channel just as “The Cosby Show” was blasting into the firmament and reaffirming the sitcom format as the primary television vehicle for “family values.” For those of us unfortunate enough to be reared on that stuff — really, don’t get me started about TV comedy in the ‘80s — “The Young Ones” wasn’t so much a breath of fresh air as a blast in the face from a garden hose. Audacious enough to its native audience, the show was so unlike anything on American TV it seemed almost alien — except it was so recognizable, so refreshingly honest and anarchic, and so goddamn fun. (Dan W.)
86. One Day at a Time (CBS, 1975-1984)
The Seventies were a pretty groundbreaking time for sitcoms, and although single parenting wouldn’t register more than a shrug these days, it was a pretty big deal when “One Day at a Time” debuted in 1975. Bonnie Franklin starred as Ann Romano, a recent divorcee who moves to Indianapolis to “find herself” (why choose Indianapolis, though??) She moves into an apartment with her two daughters, Julie (MacKenzie Phillips) and Barbara (played by the phenomenally gorgeous Valerie Bertinelli.) While the often dramatic storylines were a big reason folks tuned in, just as many teenage boys tuned in to get a gander at Valerie. Oh, there was also the building superintendent, Schneider. The sketchy, slightly lecherous, mustachioed character was played by Pat Harrington.
As the show progressed, Franklin and Bertinelli became television mainstays. Phillips’ character came and went as the actress went in and out of drug rehab. Schneider became more and more integral to the plot lines, and they shoehorned another kid (Glenn Scarpelli) into the series. Although “One Day” went on for about two or three seasons too many, it remains one of the most memorable sitcoms of the ’70s and early ’80s, as evidenced by the outpouring of grief after Franklin passed away earlier this year. (Big Money)
85. I Dream of Jeannie (NBC, 1965-1970)
Jeanie was arguably trying to go after some of that Bewitched money, the former debuting three years after the latter’s premiere. The premise was quite similar: blonde housewife has magical powers, and hijinks ensue as the mystic sphere collides with the domestic. Even so, Jeannie had enough subtle differences to make it entertaining. For example, master-cum-husband Tony’s employment by the Air Force was an interesting twist. Jeannie may not hold up as well as some of its contemporaries, but the theme song remains one of the genre’s most memorable (famously sampled by DJ Jazzy Jeff), and ripples of Barbara Eden’s wardrobe can be seen in sexy genie costumes even today. Fun fact: Jeannie’s bottle was actually a promotional Jim Beam decanter from the 1964 holiday season. (Dr. Gonzo)
84. Gilligan’s Island (CBS, 1964-1967)
Pop Quiz: How many seasons were the crew of the S.S. Minnow stranded on Gilligan’s Island? If you guessed three you’re correct! If you guessed more than three, like everyone else I asked, you were incorrect.
Thanks to reruns the loveable crew of the Minnow continued their successful rise through TV history.
Gilligan, the Skipper too, the millionaire and his wife, the movie star, the professor and Mary Ann, all stranded off the coast of Hawaii, where their three-hour tour lasted for three long seasons. Visitors would come and go but Gilligan and his mates never managed to get off that forsaken island.
The show may forever be recognized for the theme song and this question: Ginger or Mary Ann?
You make the call! (KJ)
83. Futurama (Fox, 2003-2007/direct-to-video, 2008-2009/Comedy Central, 2010-2013)
Futurama divided opinions right from the very beginning. On day one it inherited both a group of supporters and detractors from The Simpsons audience – such are the mixed blessings of following arguably the most loved comedy ever (jeez, no pressure guys) – but the simple truth is that long after that giant of a show’s standards started to drop, Futurama continued producing the type of comedy it’s fans loved. Contentious relationship with broadcasting partner have seen the show’s death and resurrection once already, and it could again face the chop as 2013 winds down, but through it all, it’s maintained the careful balance of intelligent and dumb humour, controversial themes and heartfelt storytelling, that make the series the joy that it is. If Groening and Cohen can’t find a new home for it, we will be losing one of a true under-appreciated gems of animated comedy. (Duan)
82. 227 (NBC, 1985-1990)
227 ostensibly began as a star vehicle for Marla Gibbs who, at the time of the show’s launch in 1985, had established herself as a network television staple by spending the previous decade stealing scenes on The Jeffersons as the sharp-tongued maid Florence Johnston. But what started as an attempt by NBC to cash in on CBS’s most beloved supporting actress at the time evolved into a production featuring one of the best ensemble companies of the last 30 years, thanks in large part to the on-screen chemistry between the members of its predominantly black, female cast that consisted of a solid mix of veteran television actors and talented newcomers.
Set in Washington, D.C., 227 followed the lives of a group of nosy but supportive neighbors who lived in a middle-class apartment building. With most of the show’s action taking place in the apartment of Gibbs’ Mary Jenkins character and on the building’s front stoop, the series featured Alaina Reed Hall (of Sesame Street fame) as levelheaded best friend Rose Lee Holloway and Hal Williams (who played Smitty on Sanford and Sons) as Mary’s hard-working, loving husband Lester, the archetypal “normal dude surrounded by a bunch of crazy women.” 227 also introduced kid actress Regina King, who later went on to successfully star in a series of John Singleton films and Jerry Maguire in the ‘90s, and developed into a somewhat surprising star vehicle for Jackée Harry as the nasal, antagonistic, vampy Sandra Clark. Harry won an Emmy in 1987 for Outstanding Supporting Actress in a Comedy Series, eventually supplanted Gibbs as the show’s main star, leveraged the character into a TV pilot of her own entitled Jackée, and kicked down the door for vampy, nasal female television stars. (I’m looking at you, Fran Drescher.)
227 will be best remembered for its fantastic scene-acting, sharp writing, and excellent long-term use of its premise over the course of its five seasons. Its legacy, however, is its social importance as much as its entertainment value. If The Jeffersons and The Cosby Show proved that black families had a place on network television, then 227 showed that black women could carry an entertaining and profitable sitcom. It’s easy to argue that the success of 227 paved the way for the development of later long-running sitcoms like Living Single and Girlfriends, and gave black women a voice on network TV that had previously been silenced. (Michael Cunningham)
81. Blackadder (BBC1, 1983-1989)
Known in the U.S. mostly to PBS aficionados, the four seasons of “Blackadder” — each in effect a series in its own right, with a recurring cast playing variations on the same characters through the ages — remain one of the great achievements of British television comedy, a pitilessly sardonic celebration of venality, selfishness, needless cruelty, and other timeless comic virtues. The series follows the title character, Edmund Blackadder, from the Middle Ages through World War I, as he seeks each time to raise his fortunes at the expense of the coterie of nitwits that seem to perpetually plague him. He does this through cunning, ruthlessness and some of the most lyrical wit ever heard on TV. (The comic simile was a “Blackadder” standby: “Your services might be as useful as a barber’s shop on the steps of the guillotine.”) Conceived as something of a riposte to “Fawlty Towers,” “Blackadder” actually mirrors its predecessor quite closely, with doltish but lovable Baldrick standing in for Manuel and various queens, princes or generals taking the place of tyrannical Sybil. Where “Blackadder” ups the ante is with its unrestrained misanthropy, along with a dream-team cast of comic heavyweights (including Rowan Atkinson, Hugh Laurie, Stephen Fry and Miranda Richardson) all working at the peak of their formidable abilities. (Dan W.)
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