Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the top 40! I wish I had Casey Kasem on hand to announce the remaining sitcoms. Alas, his asking price is too high.
While we welcome healthy debate (and these lists are created partially for that reason, please be aware that these lists…hell, any list, is based on opinion. There’s no definitive way to quantify the greatest anything, especially when it comes to media. Just be aware that these are the combined opinions of over 25 individual writers of varying ages, genders and backgrounds. I’d venture a guess that we’re a lot less monochromatic than many of the publications and websites that do similar lists. I’m saying this just to note that there will be disagreements and differences of opinion, but they should all be considered in the spirit in which this list was compiled.
Anyway, enough of that stuff. Let’s have some more fun. We brought Urkel for the ride!
40. Family Matters (ABC, 1989-1997; CBS, 1997-1998)
The show that spawned Steve Urkel was originally a fairly traditional family comedy. Henrietta Winslow was an auxiliary character on “Perfect Strangers” who got spun off into her own sitcom. She was a typical midwestern housewife with an extended family, including her bumbling husband Carl (a police officer), her ladykiller son Eddie and innocent daughter Laura. Urkel was the geek next door, and as occasionally happens, the character no one expected anything out of winds up blowing up. By the show’s third or fourth season, the gangly, nasal Urkel (played with aplomb by Jaleel White) had become a pop culture icon. He had catchphrases (“did I do that?”) and even a doll! Laura Winslow never had a doll! Over the show’s ten season (!!) run, characters came and went, and Urkel became way too mature for his role (not that it stopped the producers from shoving him into those high waters.) Perhaps the “Family Matters” camp should’ve said “when” a couple of years before they actually did, and Jaleel White has now become so typecast it’s going to be hard to picture him in anything again. But…yeah, Urkel! (Big Money)
39. Modern Family (ABC, 2009-present)
From its very first episode, in the scene where Phil Dunphy (the hysterical Ty Burrell) did a dance from High School Musical to prove he was “the cool dad,” Modern Family established itself as a modern-day classic, adapting The Office’s mockumentary format and spinning it across three families. Sure, it features some of the archetypes we’ve all seen many times before — the buffoonish father and the straight-arrow mother, the older man with the younger wife, etc. — but the way this family blends together, and the sharp, often brilliant way the writers mix situational comedy with farce and sentiment, feels utterly brand new, contemporary, and completely relatable. (And that’s not even counting the matter-of-fact way, relatively speaking, the show handles a gay couple and their adopted child.) To watch Modern Family is to love it; this is a show borne from real-life that makes us laugh at and appreciate our own families even more. (Martin)
38. The Golden Girls (NBC, 1985-1992)
I’m probably aging myself so much when I say I’ve been watching Golden Girls for probably 15 years (I used to watch it with my grammie when I was little, although completely unaware of the humor in it until recent). Sophia, Dorothy, Blanche, and Rose are the friends you want your grandmother to have. As someone who had a little Italian nana, Sophia is hilarious and full of wit and sass. Dorothy is the responsible and sensible one, even though she occasionally lets her emotions get the best of her, especially with her ex-husband Stanley. Rose is the extremely lovable ditz from St. Olaf, Minnesota, who inspires laughter because of her innocent childhood stories of growing up on a farm. Blanche is the raunchy, scandalous, provocatively dressed one of the group, who the others often make digs at for being loosely bound. Now that it’s on TV Land, late night TV hasn’t been funnier. (Cassandra)
37. Home Improvement (ABC, 1991-1999)
Tools, cars, grunting and groaning … that’s manly stuff!
Home Improvement was based off of Tim Allen’s stand-up comedy, and it put the future Buzz Lightyear on the map.
Allen played Tim “the Toolman” Taylor, loyal husband, father of three boys and host of his own home improvement show, “Tool Time”.
Home Improvement was a hit, consistently rating in the top 10 for its entire run. It launched the career of Allen, gave the former Playboy cover girl Pamela Anderson her TV break, and introduced us all to Jonathan Taylor Thomas (where are you now?).
Personally, the show hit home. It was one of the few shows we sat down to watch as a family. Probably because we could relate. Though I wasn’t much like Brad, the Taylor’s oldest son, I was the eldest of three boys. Like the Taylors, we had a Randy, and like the Taylors our Randy was the smart mouth son of the group. Jill Taylor (Patricia Richardson) had similarities to my own mom (though my mom would’ve garnered her own spin-off), and my dad, ever the handyman, was similar to The Toolman himself. (KJ)
36. Martin (Fox, 1992-1997)
I will admit that “Martin” wasn’t always a good show. In fact, seasons four and five were pretty pitiful in comparison to the first three. But, when Martin hit the scene in the summer of 1992, the edgy sitcom gave the non-Seinfeld watchers their own version of must-see TV. I’m not going to mince words. The show catered to a minority audience. Whereas Seinfeld was watched by most of my Caucasian friends, most of my non-Caucasian friends were tuned into “Martin”. And so was I.
“Martin” worked because of his zaniness for sure. He was running 100MPH, testing the limits of what you could do on broadcast television. He was able to utter the word “motherfucker” with his teeth clenched on an episode and it made it through the censors. The guy was crazy. Yes, as in, “You so crazy.”
But the show also worked because his co-stars were really good too and gave him something of substance to play off. Tisha Campbell played Gina, his big-headed and charming girlfriend who had him wrapped around her finger. Tichina Arnold played Pam, his comedic foil. Both Campbell and Arnold had singing chops and would use them from time to time on the show. Thomas Mikal Ford played Martin’s sensitive friend Tommy, who had no job (maaaaaaaaan). And Carl Payne, who was also Cockroach on “The Cosby Show” played his dumb friend Cole. Former SNL star, Garrett Morris played Stan, his cheap boss in pimp suits at the radio station. Morris was a fantastic character who only lasted the first three seasons.
Lawrence’s forte was creating characters including the around the way girl, Sheneneh, the little snot nosed big mouthed kid Roscoe, the worst karate mentor ever Dragon Fly Jones, and the pimp of all pimps, Jerome. They were memorable characters who will withstand the test of time.
“Martin” turned Martin Lawrence into a movie star in the mid 90s to early 2000s. While his own personal life got in the way of the success of his show, I’ll put the first three seasons of Martin up against any show on this list when it comes to laugh out loud humor. Martin was LOL before LOL was cool. (GG)
35. Police Squad! (ABC, 1982)
The fact that Police Squad! made this list shows the genius of the people I write alongside.
Police Squad! had six episodes. Let me repeat that last part … six episodes! Yet it was still nominated for an Emmy for Outstanding Writing in a Comedy Series and Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy Series (the late-great Leslie Nielsen earning that nod). And it still made our top 100!
What made Police Squad! so genius?
How about a special guest star (like William Shatner, Florence Henderson or Robert Goulet) who gets knocked off in the opening credits, two different episode titles, one read out loud by an announcer, while a completely different title is shown on screen, and a freeze frame style end credits where the actors just freeze what they are doing, despite pouring coffee or holding a convict in custody.
Then there are jokes like, “Who are you and how’d you get in here?”
Police Squad! was way before it’s time, a real-life version of The Simpsons or Family Guy, that unfortunately, was gone too soon. The jokes were rehashed in the Naked Gun movies but even those couldn’t compare to the six episodes that were Police Squad! (KJ)
34. The Dick Van Dyke Show (CBS, 1961-1966)
It was over lunch a few weeks back where I mentioned to a friend of mine that we at PopBlerd! were going to be counting down the top 100 sitcoms of all-time. As a Baby Boomer he threw out a few from his generation, speaking passionately about The Dick Van Dyke Show and how it changed television for the better. I thought I would let Mr. Spoo explain it himself, since he’d do a better job than I ever would:
This is a timelessly funny show that came onto TV when TV was still pretty young. It was ground-breaking because it presented situations that everybody could imagine themselves getting into. The stars were either well known comedians or up-and-comers. Van Dyke and Mary Tyler Moore were pretty new to the game. Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam were well established. I don’t think anyone of any age could watch this show and not split a side laughing. I don’t know how many awards they got, but it was a bunch, including being considered one of the best (like top 100, for sure) ever aired. Carl Reiner was the originator of the show – his kid, Rob Reiner, is probably best known as “Meathead” in All in the Family.
One cool thing about these shows is that so much of it was improvisational. Morey would go out of his way to bust up Richard Deacon and the whole cast would g into fits and have to do retake after retake. Van Dyke would do his famous trip-and-fall at odd times – usually unexpectedly – and the scene would be left in because it was so good.
I know this isn’t much – mostly just fond memories of a kid in the 60s. Comedy today isn’t as much fun. (KJ)
33. Frasier (NBC, 1993-2004)
“Now baby I hear those blues a-callin’, tossed salads and scrambled eggs…”
The best odds maker in Vegas couldn’t have picked the über-pretentious Fraiser Crane as the obvious pick for a Cheers spin-off; in fact, the creative team behind Fraiser themselves were reluctant to commit to another series spun off from the beloved barroom sitcom. As the story goes, Kelsey Grammer approached Wings show runners David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee with the proposal to craft a new—and entirely Cheers-less—show for him. Long story short, the brass at NBC wasn’t buying a show starring Grammer unless he was reprising his role as Fraiser Crane, and thus Fraiser was born. (Or is it re-born?)
Taking Fraiser out of Boston and transplanting him clear across the country in Seattle where he was to begin his life anew was just the start of radical changes; introducing a brother (the hilarious David Hype Pierce as Niles Crane); resurrecting a father (Fraiser had told the gang at Cheers that his father was a dead scientist, rather than the very much alive former cop, Martin Crane, played by John Mahoney); and giving him a new career as a call-in radio personality. In all, it took the character of Fraiser Crane about as far from his former self as Seattle is from Boston. Though, Fraiser really was about more than just the man; with the comedy often surrounding the impossible situations that not only he got into, but his family as well.
With ten years with the character before the first episode, Grammer was well equipped to breathe a new life into Crane, but it was Pierce who literally stole the show. In Niles Crane, Pierce acted as foil in the first few seasons, providing a bell weather for just how normal Fraiser really was. In later seasons, the two would almost swap places: with Fraiser taking on the more neurotic and pretentious role, and Niles settling down with his partner Daphne (played by Jane Leeves). The heart of the show remained the family dynamic between the ensemble, and left the air after an astounding eleven seasons (Grammer played Fraiser for a total of twenty years) leaving behind a trail of laughs. (Michael Parr)
32. Boy Meets World (ABC, 1993-2000)
As we watched Cory Matthews (Ben Savage) grow up and meet the world, we witnessed all the momentous occasions that are likely to mark a young man’s ascent through puberty, maturing through heartbreak, humility and homework. He survived all the craziness of adolescence alongside his best friend Shawn, played with electric charisma by Rider Strong, his brother Eric (Will Friedle), who grew wackier by the season, and love of his life Topanga (Danielle Fishel). The three would always be guided under the watchful eye of neighbor/mentor George Feeny, embodied by brilliant veteran actor William Daniels. When Topanga gave Cory his first kiss in the very first episode of the series, we could tell exactly what kind of strange series would follow when Cory’s hair literally stood up on end. Boy Meets World never settled down and told a coming of age tale with zany misadventures amid grounded realism. Certainly there are many who grew up with Cory, Topanga and Shawn that were elated this past year with the news there would be a sequel series, “Girl Meets World”. Viewers will again observe the exploits of a prepubescent thrust into the wilds of junior high – albeit this time with Cory and Topanga’s daughter, Riley (played by Rowan Blanchard). Nostalgic fans of the original are sure to dive into this new series, perhaps alongside children of their own. Feeny! (Tristan)
31. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX, 2005-present)
The early 2000s saw FOX sister station FX bloom with original programming such as The Shield, Rescue Me and Nip/Tuck. In the wake of these lauded dramas, FX needed some comedy to counterbalance the serious nature of their programming. It’s Always Sunny exploded on the scene with its irreverent plots and brazen humor. The show follows four friends – Dennis (Glenn Howerton), Dee (Kaitlin Olson), Mac (Rob McElhenney) and Charlie (Charlie Day) – who run Paddy’s Pub, a dive bar located in South Philadelphia. Typically the show follows their daily lives, where a situation arises that often challenges the friends into taking some sort of ridiculous action. Shenanigans ensue, and the gang usually devolves into chaos. In the second season, Danny DeVito joined the cast as Frank Reynolds, Dennis and Dee’s father. The already insane exploits of the gang were exacerbated by the presence of a man somehow more bizarre than them. The show gets better and better with each progressive season, like a fine wine (that you leave out in the sun and contemplate throwing away, but guzzle down happily anyway). I can’t wait to see more of this vintage comedy, which will be one of the flagship programs on new FX sister station, FXX starting in September. The gang is signed for at least two more seasons of insanity, so I’m sure we can all drink to that! (Tristan)