70. Alice (CBS, 1976-1985)
“Alice” was one of the first successful adaptations of a feature film into a TV series. In this case, the successful movie “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore” was turned into a half-hour weekly comedy. Linda Lavin played the title character, who moved to Phoenix, AZ with her young son after being widowed. Not exactly sunny so far, but believe me, “Alice” was a comedy series! Once moving to Phoenix, Alice got a job as a waitress at Mel’s Diner, and that’s where the fun began. Mel, owner of said diner, was a grouchy spendthrift, portrayed perfectly by the late Vic Tayback. Alice’s partners-in-waitressing were scatterbrained Vera (portrayed by Beth Howland) and the uproarious Southern Belle Flo. Played by Polly Holiday, she became the breakout star of the cast with a catchphrase (“kiss mah grits!”) and a spinoff (“Flo”) to match. While it’s been ages since I’ve actually caught an episode of “Alice,” I have fond memories of it as one of the first memorable sitcoms of my youth. The theme song is lodged in my head for all time, and every now and then, I still get the urge to sassily shout “kiss mah grits!” at anyone who I want to tell to f off. (Big Money)
69. Home Movies (UPN, 1999/ Cartoon Network, 1999-2004)
Originally developed for UPN and swiftly canceled by them, “Home Movies” became the first series ever aired on Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim block, where it earned a sufficiently devoted following to run four seasons. It set a high standard for the new sort-of network: not merely funny but fresh and good-hearted, and considerably less anarchic than the original fare Adult Swim would eventually be known for. Like its predecessor “Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist,” the show was loosely scripted and largely improvised by its talented cast, which included co-creator Brendon Small and pre-“Archer” Jon Benjamin (playing both boorish Coach McGuirk and booger-picking Jason). It centered on eight-year-old Brendon Small, a budding filmmaker with an absent father and a bit more creativity than he knows what to do with. Much of the humor of “Home Movies” comes from the films Brendon makes, which don’t so much send up popular films (the way a show like “The Critic” did) as filter them through the lens of a precocious but ultimately not very worldly young boy. (For instance, check out Brendon’s attempt at courtroom drama, which goes far beyond mere parody in its delightful weirdness.) Witty, bizarre and occasionally poignant, “Home Movies” is one of the most underrated animated series of the last decade. (Dan W.)
68. The Addams Family (ABC, 1964-1966)
Based on a series of cartoons by Charles Addams, The Addams Family ended up being one of the more popular TV shows of all-time. And it was only around for two seasons!
Despite being in the late 60’s, the show continues to get references (at least in my family) via the theme song, by calling an abnormally tall person that has no basketball skills Lurch, or by my dad calling my bald buddy Uncle Fester, not because he resembles his stature but because he also resembles his demeanor.
As my buddy Spoo, who watched the show during its original run, said, “Yes, it was off-beat and mostly watched by kids, but it had adult sophistication and really funny. Carolyn Jones, who played Morticia Addams, was a real mother-figure and Uncle Fester was everybody’s uncle!” (KJ)
67. Night Court (NBC, 1984-1992)
I didn’t start watching “Night Court” until it was well into its run as part of NBC’s Thursday night sitcom powerhouse lineup. I didn’t fully appreciate “Night Court” until I was slightly older, it was in syndication, and I understood most of the adult humor. It was definitely a deviation from the standard sitcom, and a precursor to many of the sitcoms that followed in that it was a little dark, and a lot surreal.
The show took place in…uh, Night Court. More specifically, a night court in New York City. The court was presided over by the goofy Harry T. Stone. Played by Harry Anderson, Stone was a bit of a manchild-he favored loud ties, magic tricks, and the music of Mel Torme. The cast of characters around him ranged from wide-eyed bailiff Bull Shannon (a gentle giant if there ever was one) and the positively lecherous attorney Dan Fielding. Perhaps coloring my perception of lawyers for the rest of my life, Dan defined the word “sketchy,” hitting on everything that moved. John Larroquette inhabited that role so well that he won a shelf full of Emmys in the late Eighties and early Nineties for his work and overshadowed a formidable cast that also included Charlie Robinson, Markie Post, and Marsha Warfield. Even the recurring characters, like John Astin as Harry’s stepdad/dad and Brent Spiner as a yokel that found himself playing defendant quite often, were special. “Night Court” is the rare sitcom that could have been placed in any era and would’ve been just as funny-a testament to great writing and one of the all-time great ensemble casts. (Big Money)
66. Archer (FX, 2010-present)
In some regards, the animated aspects of Archer are its worst virtue. That’s not because the animation is poor, but rather that the writing and performances are so absolutely spectacular that being shoe-horned into the “adult animated comedy” field downplays the brilliance of the show. Featuring an all-star cast of talented comedians — including the dead-pan master Jon Benjamin and Arrested Development alums Judy Greer, Jeffrey Tambor, and Jessica Walters — Archer succeeds by following the Seinfeld recipe of establishing a cast of uniquely dysfunctional people who behave poorly and cause themselves all sorts of trouble. The unique twist, however, is that these assorted assholes also run a 1960’s styled spy agency. From the self-absorbed Archer to the sex crazed (and just generally crazy) Cheryl to the mad scientist Kreiger, every character is complex and treated with as much care as any borderline sociopath deserves.
Archer’s plots are often chaotic, but the best humor comes from the show’s embrace of screwball running gags (“Lana… DANGER ZONE!”) and insanely esoteric cultural references (name one other show that has dropped allusions to Herman Melville, legendary catcher Johnny Bench, and the 70’s movie Gator). I can’t think of a more quotable comedy to come out in the last decade, especially among animated shows. Ultimately, Archer carves out its own unique niche with a style of humor you can’t find anywhere else. Brilliantly written and masterfully acted, Archer isn’t just one of the best animated comedies of recent memory. It’s one of the best new comedies PERIOD. (Stephen)
65. Absolutely Fabulous (BBC One, 1992-96, 2001-04, 2011-12)
Kate and Allie. Cagney and Lacey. Patsy and Edina. Just like it doesn’t get any more American than the first two pairings, Eddie and Patsy are the epitome of British hipsters in Absolutely Fabulous, a show which ran on and off from 1992 until 2012’s Olympics-inspired finale. The premise is simple: two upper-class single London women attempt to keep the party going well into their 40s, 50s and beyond. Hilarity ensues. And yet Ab Fab is much more than the party running away from these two delusional figures. There’s the college-aged daughter who ends up being a caretaker for her mother, the grandmother who is so far gone from reality that sometimes she appears to be the one most observant, the personal assistant that in any other profession would be committed but appears to have enough dirt on Eddie to keep her job in perpetuity, and the two ex-husbands who float in and out of Eddie’s life with their own baggage and drama. Absolutely Fabulous is as much a cultural reflection of the times as it is a family comedy, and the references splattered throughout the series act as time capsules of British pop culture that those in the know will catch instantly. Word has it that a movie version is coming. Here’s hoping that the biting wit and lack of decorum continues on. (John Hill)
64. Perfect Strangers (ABC, 1986-1993)
There was something wonderful about 80’s sitcoms: an ability to tackle borderline politically incorrect subjects in a goofy and light-hearted manner. It’s hard to imagine a show like Perfect Strangers lasting long in today’s sitcom world, but in its time it was a staple of ABC’s growing line-up. Playing off the classic trope of different worlds colliding, the show placed Chicago white collar Larry Appleton with his Eastern Mediterranean cousin Balki, a poor and simple shepherd struggling to grasp the speed of modern life – and where he’s allowed to keep his sheep.
The humor was never terribly complex, but the characters were loveable, especially the big-hearted Balki. There was a strong chemistry between the leads, and the plotlines always dove-tailed into some sort of heart-warming lesson about tolerance and understanding by the end. Plus, the show gave us the sassy Harriet Winslow and her police officer husband Karl. But we’ll talk about them later down the list (hint!). Regardless, Perfect Strangers is a fun curio of a bygone era of sitcoms, and one that still gets the laughs and the studio “awes” over two decades later. (Stephen M.)
63. Dinosaurs (ABC, 1991-1994)
62. Freaks & Geeks (NBC, 1999-2000)
No matter what he does in his career, I believe that Judd Apatow’s greatest achievement took place during the 1999-2000 television season, when he produced Freaks and Geeks. I would argue that the show, created by Paul Feig, doesn’t really fit the traditional definition of a sitcom, since it was an hourlong comedy-drama. But nevertheless, it’s on this list and it was amazing for several reasons. Unlike typical sitcoms, Freaks and Geeks offered a realistic portrayal of teens, albeit teens in 1980-1981 in the Detroit suburbs. These weren’t precociously wise kids cracking rapid-fire jokes; rather, these were awkward kids dealing with all the difficult shit that comes at you in high school. And although they were all nobodies at the time, the cast of F&G was an amazing collection of talent who went on to become some of the biggest names in Hollywood: James Franco, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel are all bona fide movie stars, while Apatow (The 40-Year-Old Virgin, Knocked Up) and Feig (Bridesmaids and tons of TV including Arrested Development, The Office and Nurse Jackie) have become top directors. Linda Cardellini, Busy Phillips, Martin Starr and John Francis Daley have all worked steadily as well. The show also did a terrific job incorporating music, whether it was the Grateful Dead, Rush, Styx or Van Halen; thankfully, the DVD set was able to license all the music and keep the episodes intact. Sadly, Freaks and Geeks only lasted one season, courtesy of NBC’s mismanagement of the show. But it lives on, thanks to a rabid fan following, the DVDs and occasional reruns on IFC. (Jay)
61. Fawlty Towers (BBC Two, 1975, 1979)
It’s a near certainty that Fawlty Towers will have the lowest episode count of any show that makes our countdown. John Cleese created the greatest British TV series of all time and all it took him was twelve episode, spread across two seasons, with a four year gap between them. The decision to pull the show when he did was a testament of Cleese’s genius. It’s a decision that enhanced the legacy of Basil Fawlty and his supporting cast because unlike so many of the other great comedies of our time, they didn’t allow the concept to burn out, and thus, never compromised the quality of the end product. The result is that Fawlty Towers is not just iconic as a series, but each individual episode is legendary in it’s own right. Those twelve half hour episodes have been on heavy rotation since the 70’s and they remain comedy gold. (Duan)
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