Hey, it’s Friday! That means that this latest bLISTerd is gonna take a couple days off, but we’ll be back on Monday with Part 6.
60. The Big Bang Theory (CBS, 2007-present)
In order to fully appreciate “Big Bang Theory”, it’s important not to view it as highbrow or intellectual; this has been the source of the inevitable backlash, this idea that “nerd culture” has permeated the mainstream to the point where normal folks eager to participate have tricked themselves into thinking that, by watching a sitcom that revolves around a series of socially awkward physicists that spout reams of scientific jargon and “Star Trek” references, they’re somehow watching something intelligent.
The truth is, it’s much more edifying to view “Big Bang Theory” as a classic sitcom in the “Friends” vein; idiot-box comfort food that centers on a specific set of characters going about their expected character beats week after week. As that kind of show, “Big Bang Theory” is an extraordinarily breezy, uncomplicated experience, bolstered by lynchpins Johnny Galecki and Jim Parsons, the latter’s Sheldon Cooper the type of bundle of neuroses and quirks that sitcom gold is spun from. And as the show has expanded its cast and scope, it’s gotten much more interesting; as Parsons’ Cooper starts to feel empathy and intimacy towards neurobiologist girlfriend Amy (played with panache by scene-stealer Mayim Bialik), we’re granted tantalizing glimpses of humanity for perhaps the iciest sitcom character to ever become a t-shirt. (Drew)
59. Barney Miller (ABC, 1975-1982)
Barney Miller was consistently one of the funniest and most realistic cop shows on TV, focused on the detectives of New York’s 12th Precinct and the everyday cases that came through the station. The vast majority of the show took place in the squad room featuring a motley, multicultural crew of great character actors led by Hal Linden as the title character and the likes of Abe Vigoda (who got his own short-lived spinoff), Max Gail, Ron Glass and Steve Landesberg. Even while it was still on the air, Barney Miller ran constantly in syndicated reruns, so I watched it all the time as a kid. M.A.S.H. got all the glory, but laugh for laugh, Barney Miller may have been the better show. (Jay)
58. Who’s the Boss? (ABC, 1984-1992)
Fresh off the success of “Taxi,” Tony Danza went right into another sitcom-playing yet another character named “Tony.” This Tony was a former baseball player, whose career was cut short due to injury. Either he didn’t get paid a hell of a lot or he blew his money on surgery, because eventually Tony ends up accepting a job as a live-in domestic, working for career woman/single mother Angela Bower. Angela, played by soap vet Judith Light, was the prototypical ’80s professional, all big hair and shoulder pads and uptight attitude. The main twosome were joined by Alyssa Milano as Tony’s tomboy-turned-hubba-hubba daughter Samantha, as well as Danny Pintauro as Angela’s son Jonathan and, of course, Kathryn Helmond as Mona, Angela’s mother, and one of TV’s first cougars (two decades before the term was coined.)
An undercurrent of sexual tension existed between Tony and Angela almost from Day One, and it seemed a foregone conclusion that they would hook up at some point. Somewhat amazingly, it took a number of years (and a couple of near-misses) before they did, in the show’s eighth and final season. Of course, once it happened, all of the energy got sucked out of the show. Well, that and the kids were older and there’s only so much mileage you can get out of a male domestic works for female career woman scenario. However, for eight fun years, “Who’s the Boss?” took that simple premise and rode it for all it was worth. Amazing that Tony’s “ay yo, yo ay” Italian from Brooklyn character could remain interesting for so long, eh? (Big Money)
57. A Different World (NBC, 1987-1993)
It could be argued that Lisa Bonet’s departure from A Different World after season one in the wake of her real-life pregnancy actually helped the show develop into a self-sufficient franchise with legitimate prospects for long-term success. Initially developed as a Cosby Show spinoff and star vehicle for Bonet and her Denise Huxtable character, A Different World changed dramatically when Debbie Allen took over the show at the start of season two, and gave it an aesthetic that more accurately portrayed the experiences of students at historically black colleges in the United States. As a result, A Different World focused on its uber-talented ensemble cast rather than oa singular star. And looking back with 20-20 hindsight on the direction in which The Cosby Show subsequently headed in its final seasons, A Different World went on to play a hell of a lot better to its younger target audience than it likely would have had Cosby continued to run the show.
The show’s characters gave it its foundation: southern belle Whitley Gilbert (portrayed by triple-threat Jasmine Guy); flip-shaded Dwayne Wayne (played by smooth-as-silk Kadeem Hardison); and impish but well-meaning Ron Johnson (brought to life by School Daze veteran Darryl Bell). A Different World is a photograph of a place and time – all New Jack affectations, shoulder pads, and Coogi sweaters. But it was also quite groundbreaking in addressing taboo issues that were and in many cases continue to be pertinent to black youth culture. The show took on topics ranging from HIV to date rape, and was the first sitcom to address the short-lived Persian Gulf War. I clearly remember being affected by an episode entitled “Cat’s in the Cradle” about a racially-charged incident at a football game recounted from the perspective of each of the participants, with wildly different narratives, ending with students who weren’t involved in the incident at all completing a heinous hate crime while those who were involved were off arguing about how it actually went down. This episode was A Different World in microcosm: a show with a heavy dose of humor and a lot of heart, but one that always taught a lesson, and wasn’t afraid to tackle some of the day’s most challenging and painful issues head-on. (Michael Cunningham)
56. 3rd Rock from the Sun (NBC, 1996-2001)
Four explorers are sent from their home planet to investigate a backwater planet (Earth!) in what seems to them a pointless expedition. Thinking this is punishment, they take native forms and attempt to emulate a real human family, hoping to some day return to their home. As the alien crew attempts to integrate into Earth society, they find themselves discovering the strange customs and culture that diversify America, while discovering more about each other by becoming as close as a real human family. Leading the team is Dick Solomon (John Lithgow), who takes a job as a professor with a nearby university. There he meets Mary Albright (Jane Curtin), with whom he endeavors to have a romantic relationship. Portraying his sister is Sally (Kristen Johnston), who herself begins a strange relationship with inept policeman Don Orville (Wayne Knight). Brother Harry (French Stewart) is their communication device, able to receive orders and messages from their leader, the Big Giant Head (William Shatner). Child actor Joseph Gordon-Levitt rounds out the cast as Tommy, who despite being the smartest member of the team, ends up with a teenaged human body and has to navigate high school and adolescence. Over the course of six seasons and hundreds of misadventures, the four grow to love the planet they are studying, enjoying the company of their friends and companions until their boss (and NBC) sadly cancels their mission. (Tristan)
55. Wings (NBC, 1990-1997)
One of the numerous members in the illustrious MustSeeTV lineup NBC rolled out in the 1990s, Wings came from veteran writers of Cheers – David Angell, Peter Casey and David Lee. (Frasier, Lilith, Cliff and Norm all made a visit to the island in the early seasons, in fact.) Like their other hit NBC comedy, the main action placed the cast in a work environment – this time an airport, Tom Nevers Field, on Nantucket Island, an island east of Martha’s Vineyard. Joe Hackett (Tim Daly) runs Sandpiper Airlines, a fledgling outfit with one Cessna plane to its name. The colorful characters that liven up the airport include Joe’s childhood best friend, Helen Chapel (Crystal Bernard), Lowell Mather – Joe’s dimwit mechanic (Thomas Haden Church), and Faye Cochran (Rebecca Schull), the only other employee of Sandpiper. His biggest worry is over the rival airline Aeromass, run by portly malcontent Roy Biggins (David Schramm). Joe’s orderly world is quickly rocked when his baby brother Brian (Steven Weber) returns for their father’s funeral. The two had been estranged because Brian had run off with Joe’s fiance Carol, but soon the pair reconcile and Joe allows Brian to run the airline alongside him. Much like their previous series, as well as the later series Frasier, most of the plotlines typically involved relationships and romantic encounters for one or two of the main characters – Joe would run through a slew of women while maintaining an on-and-off again romance with Helen, who he would eventually marry. Brian was even more of a ladies man than Joe, often having a different girl every episode, until pilot Alex Lambert (Farrah Forke) breaks his heart and Brian settles down. He eventually falls for Helen’s sister Casey (John Ritter’s wife Amy Yasbeck). However, the highlights of the show included the inane situations Lowell (Church) and cabbie pal Antonio Scarpacci (Tony Shalhoub, who would become a regular after season 3) would get into. Much like Taxi’s Jim and Latka, the pair would often be foils for the Hackett brother’s exploits, but more often than not would steal every scene in which they appeared. If you’re a fan of Monk, this is a great place to see where Shalhoub honed his skills. While it dipped a bit once Church left the show to star in his own sitcom Ned and Stacey, which would leave the show a little dull for its final two seasons, I still have a special place in my heart for this show. It’s idea of dedication to family and friends taught me the value of both through the Hacketts and their cohorts. (Tristan)
54. King of the Hill (Fox, 1997-2010)
When King of the Hill premiered in 1997 as Mike Judge’s follow-up to the legendary Beavis and Butt-Head, many expected more of the same. Namely, rude, crude and hilarious comedy that highlighted the utter stupidity of American teens raised on TV, metal and not much else. Which is why King of the Hill came as such a shock: It was a thoughtful, insightful look at a modern Texas family that was still very, very funny, but about as far from Beavis and Butt-Head as Judge could get. Teamed with Greg Daniels, who went on to create the American version of The Office, Judge skewered both sides of the political aisle while focusing on Hank Hill, a conservative Texan who loves football, propane and propane accessories and drinking beer. The show’s ratings peaked in its second season but managed to hang on for 13 seasons. Beavis and Butt-Head fans enjoyed the fact that Hank’s voice is almost identical to that of Tom Anderson, a classic character on B&B. King of the Hill survived the departures of Judge and Daniels, as well as time slot changes and shifting viewer tastes’ until it was finally jettisoned in 2010 for The Cleveland Show. A sad fate, but the show leaves behind a terrific legacy unmatched by most. (Jay)
53. Everybody Loves Raymond (1996-2005)
I have to admit I never faithfully watched Everybody Loves Raymond. The only reason I volunteered to write about this sitcom was because (more than) occasionally I am told that I remind people of Raymond Barone.
It might be that I once worked as a part-time sportswriter, like Ray did (though he did it full-time). It may be that he was whiny and sometimes considered a lazy husband (guilty and guilty). It may be that I have a close relationship with my family and thus they are over quite a bit like Frank and Marie were. It may be that he used humor to get himself into and out of situations or that overall he was a likeable dude (again, guilty and guilty).
What can I say Everybody Loves
OK … about the show: Like a lot of sitcoms, it was based on the stand-up comedy of Ray Romano. It was wonderfully acted by Romano, Patricia Heaton (two Emmy awards), Brad Garrett (three Emmys), Doris Roberts (four Emmys) and Peter Boyle. It was relatable. It was funny. It was touching. It was a success! (KJ)
52. The Mary Tyler Moore Show (CBS, 1970-1977)
51. Welcome Back, Kotter! (ABC, 1975-1979)
Well before “Seinfeld” and “Roseanne,” the practice of building a sitcom around a popular standup comic dated back at least as far as “Welcome Back, Kotter.” Gabe Kaplan adapted his routines about his high school days in Brooklyn into a good-hearted tale of a former slacker and goof-off — known in James Buchanan High School argot as a Sweathog — who returns to his old school to teach those kids whom everyone else has written off. The Sweathogs were one of the most memorable ensembles to be found on the dial at the time: wheezing spaz Horshack; Freddy “Boom Boom” Washington; Juan Epstein, the Puerto Rican Jew (it was years before I understood why that was funny); and of course, Vinnie Barbarino, played by John Travolta as a swaggering, serenely confident ladykiller (and liverwurst aficionado). The plots occasionally trod into after-school-special earnestness, but for the most part, the Sweathogs were amiable and harmless dunces, and for the first half of its run, “Welcome Back, Kotter” offered one of the funniest half-hours on TV — not to mention the best theme song. (Dan W.)