Halftime is over! We’re warmed up and ready to get into the second half of our sitcoms list.
Wondering where your favorite sitcom is? Stunned that a show you love placed lowly in the rankings? Give us a shout–we’d love to hear your feedback!
50. Louie (FX, 2010-present)
If “Seinfeld” was a show about nothing, then “Louie” is a show about anything. Ostensibly concerned with the trials of a single dad in New York, “Louie” disdainfully ignores the conventions that supposedly define the situation comedy. There is often no continuity between episodes – different actors have filled the roles of Louie’s mother and children — and precious little continuity within them. What you get instead is an exhilarating journey through Louis C.K.’s comic id. Most shows created by or for standup comics boil that comic’s act down to a few easily translated essentials: Roseanne the “domestic goddess,” Seinfeld the observational, “D’ya ever notice?”-style comic, and so on. “Louie” takes the opposite approach: it zooms out instead of in, showing us an indifferent world in which Louie is just one more ant-like speck struggling to survive and be happy. (The New York City of “Louie” is the real deal, not a studio lot, and you feel its authentic presence in every frame.) The standup appearances Louie makes at the Comedy Cellar — becoming, like those in “Seinfeld,” more infrequent as the show goes on — are his attempt to come to grips with this absurdity by breaking off and defining small pieces of it. I’m the first to admit that “Louie” is not always laugh-out-loud funny; sometimes it’s poignant, or lyrical, or goofy, or sometimes it doesn’t quite work and it’s not really anything in particular. But it usually does work, and when it does, there’s nothing else like it on TV. (Dan W.)
49. That ’70s Show (Fox, 1998-2006)
Probably one of my favorite shows of all time, I’ve been watching That ’70s Show most likely since it first aired in 1998 (indirectly, thanks to my parents, of course). Following Eric, Donna, Kelso, Jackie, Hyde, and Fes through their awkward teenage years into college almost made you feel like you were growing up with them in the Formans’ basement. Pretty much the whole show is watching Eric and Donna fall in love, Jackie overcoming her self-centeredness to fall in love with Hyde, Kelso maturing and raising a baby after a one night fling with a librarian goes wrong, Fes eating lots of candy and trying to score with the ladies (mostly successful with the whore-y Laurie) Kitty drinking and giving motherly advice, and Red threatening to stick his foot up your ass. Burn! (Cassandra)
48. Mork & Mindy (ABC, 1978-1982)
The character of Mork from the planet Ork originated on a Happy Days episode, in which an unknown, OCD comedian named Robin Williams portrayed an alien who was attempting to abduct Richie Cunningham. ABC execs were so impressed with Williams’ guest spot that they created an entire series for the Orkan character, and Mork & Mindy made its series debut in 1978.
The show centered around the misadventures of Mork – a lovable, childlike alien who attempts to observe human behavior, but has trouble assimilating to Earth’s customs – and his relationship to Mindy, the attractive, likable, girl-next-door who takes Mork in as a roommate upon learning of his alien identity, and constantly has to cover for his well-intended mishaps. Primarily a stage for Williams’ prodigious physical and improvisational comedy, with Pam Dawber’s Mindy playing the “straight man,” Mork & Mindy made Mork’s frequently used Orkan terms like “Na-Nu Na-Nu” and “Shazbot” staples of American schoolyard talk among nerdy kids in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. At the end of each episode, Mork privately reported to his alien superior Orson about the lessons he had learned about humans that day, making for great satirical monologues on contemporary American culture.
In a great sitcom tradition of failure that continues to this day (most recently on Fox’s New Girl), Mork & Mindy officially jumped the shark when it established a romantic relationship between the previously platonic title characters in season two, and this new development combined with a shift in time slot caused the show’s ratings to quickly go into the tank. By season four, Mork and Mindy were married, Mork hatched Jonathan Winters from an egg as their offspring, and nobody was watching. The show was mercifully cancelled shortly thereafter, and Williams went on to have an Academy Award-winning film career, while Dawber had mild success starring in the ’80s sitcom My Sister Sam.
Nickelodeon’s “Nick at Nite” block of programming and its TV Land network have given Mork & Mindy a lot of love over the past two-plus decades, frequently broadcasting the show’s re-runs in prime time and giving it heavy promotion across its family of networks. As a result, the family-friendly sitcom (which currently runs on Hub Network) has earned generations of new fans since it was cancelled in 1982. And because it launched Williams’ brilliant career, Mork & Mindy will always be viewed as an important (if brief and somewhat dated) moment in network sitcom history. (Michael Cunningham)
47. The Larry Sanders Show (HBO, 1992-1998)
Years before HBO redefined TV drama with “The Sopranos,” they redefined the situation comedy with “The Larry Sanders Show.” Coinciding roughly with the retirement of Johnny Carson and Bill Carter’s subsequent exposé of it, <i>The Late Shift,</i> the series brought a knowing, cynical view of network TV to a public that was ready and eager for it. The cast was phenomenal: Garry Shandling as vain, pitifully insecure Larry; Jeffrey Tambor as Hank Kingsley, the most unctuous sidekick in history; and Rip Torn as Larry’s take-no-prisoners producer Artie, whose colorful vocabulary took complete advantage of the freedom afforded by HBO. The show pioneered the self-mocking celebrity guest shot — Elvis Costello trashed the show’s green room, Gene Siskel punched John Ritter in the nose, and David Duchovny developed an ersatz homoerotic crush on Larry that was one of the single funniest things you could see on a TV screen at the time. The show was so perfect a mirror of its strange subject matter that it bled over into real life: Perry Farrell refused to bring Porno For Pyros to any talk show other than Larry Sanders’ fictional one, and David Letterman was inspired to develop a show for Tom Snyder directly from an episode of “Sanders.” While the show’s ‘90s setting dates it, “The Larry Sanders Show” is a direct precursor of the tightly scripted single-camera sitcom form that culminated in “Arrested Development,” and deserves to be remembered alongside it. (Dan W.)
46. Spin City (ABC, 1996-2002)
Spin City is the show that brought Michael J Fox back to television. The show focuses on deputy major Mike Flaherty (played by Fox) who is trying to manage Randall, a fictitious Mayor of New York City. Randall is somewhat dim-witted but charming. Mike and Randall are assisted by a womanizing Chief of Staff (Stuart), an intelligent gay, black, Head of Minority Affairs who owns a suicidal dog (Carter), and an ass-kissing Press Secretary (Paul). Together, they make for a wonderfully-dysfunctional office sitcom. (May)
45. Married…with Children (Fox, 1987-1997)
When family sitcoms were all cutesy and wrapped up in a little moral at the end, Fox’s “Married…with Children” came along and dropped a hot, wet fart in those sitcoms’ faces. Stirring up protest for its crass characters and controversial plotlines, it soldiered along for 11 seasons (probably 3-4 seasons too long, but who’s counting?) and made stars out of four previously unknown actors who would go on to become television mainstays…well, three of them, anyway.
Al Bundy (played masterfully by Ed O’ Neill) is a loser. Years after his life’s defining moment (scoring three touchdowns in the Polk High championship football game,) he’s a Chicago-area shoe salesman. A shoe salesman! He’s married to professional housewife Peggy Wanker Bundy (Katey Sagal) who would rather spend her days watching Oprah and eating Bon-Bons than getting a job. Their kids are no more sympathetic. There’s prototypical dumb blonde daughter Kelly (Christina Applegate should’ve won an Emmy for this role) and devious, nerdy son Bud (David Faustino.) Add in the Bundys’ better-off neighbors Marcy Rhodes-D’Arcy (played by Amanda Bearse, who beat Ellen to first out lesbian on TV, btw) and her husbands Steve Rhoades and Jefferson D’Arcy, and you had a recipe for uproarious comedy.
The classic episodes are numerous; Kelly’s appearance on a game show (and the rigorous training she went through to memorize trivia answers) was a keeper, as was the time the Bundys moved into the supermarket. Any episode involving “NO MA’AM” or Bud as “Grandmaster B” was awesome. Hell, even Buck the Dog was comedy gold. Let’s just all ignore the episodes in which they tried to shoehorn in a cute kid, Seven. Hell, even the Bundys made that a dream. (Big Money)
44. Laverne & Shirley (ABC, 1976-1983)
Laverne & Shirley was part of the self-contained world of characters that Garry Marshall created in his late 1970s streak. Along with Happy Days and Mork & Mindy, Laverne & Shirley solidified Marshall’s kingpin status. Following the concept of Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley followed its namesakes through much of the 1960s. While Penny Marshall and Cindy Williams took the title roles, Michael McKean and David L. Lander stole the spotlight as the neighborhood goofballs Lenny & Squiggy. The show’s arguable shark moment was when the cast picked up and left Milwaukee for L.A., but you’ve gotta respect the blue-collared lens of the transition: the gals’ jobs at Shotz Brewery had fallen to cost-saving automation. But the show’s true shark moment was probably when two episodes into production, a pregnant Cindy Williams (Shirley) left the show, her character running out the rest of season 8 in name only. Schlemiel, schlimazel. (Dr. Gonzo)
43. Taxi (1978-1982, ABC, 1982-1983, NBC)
How can you draw comedy out of the goings-on at a taxi dispatching office? Easy. Just cast a collection of misfits and weirdos and put them to work!
“Taxi” was the Emmy-winning sitcom that made stars out of Tony Danza, Judd Hirsch, Christopher Lloyd and Andy Kaufman, while making bigger stars out of already established Jeff Conaway and Danny DeVito. As the employees of the Sunshine Cab company in New York City, hilarity ensued in this prototype for shows like “The Office.” The diminutive DeVito, as dispatcher Louie DePalma, was an irascible loudmouth with a Napoleon complex, doling out orders to the likes of amateur boxer Tony Banta (Danza, who never met a character named Tony that he didn’t like.) Lloyd (as burnout Rev. Jim Ignatowski) and the late, great Kaufman (as immigrant Latka Gravas) provided much of the offbeat humor, while Marilu Henner and Conaway provided the sex appeal. Although “Taxi” lasted five seasons, there’s the sense that it was before it’s time. I guess I probably shouldn’t say that too loudly, for fear that someone will try to create a reboot. (Big Money)
42. Flight of the Conchords (HBO, 2007-present)
Flight of the Conchords describe themselves as, “”the almost award-winning fourth-most-popular folk duo in New Zealand.” If that’s not enough to pique your interest, just watch the first episode of HBO’s half-hour comedy, The Flight of the Conchords.. The TV show (which aired from 2007-2009) revolves around real-life comedians/musicians, Bret Mckenzie and Jemaine Clement, whom essentially play a parody of themselves, as two musicians trying to make it big in New York City. While part of the fun is watching Bret and Jemaine awkwardly try (and fail) at making music and dating women, the other fun part of the show is the musical sequences. Each episode has a few musical numbers packed in, with songs like “The Most Beautiful Girl (In The Room)” (best line: “You’re so beautiful, you could be a part-time model. But you’d probably still have to keep your normal job…”) and “Hiphopopotamus vs. Rhymenoceros” (wherein the band try their hand at rap music, but end up with rhymes like, “My rhymes are so potent that in this small segment/I made all of the ladies in the area pregnant/Yes, sometimes my lyrics are sexist/But you lovely bitches and hoes should know I’m trying to correct this.”) Whether you get hooked on Clement and McKenzie’s stellar comedic timing or find yourself bobbing your head to their surprisingly catchy tunes, you’ll find yourself falling in love with this hilarious show either way. (Brittany)
41. M*A*S*H (CBS, 1972-1983)