And here we are folks; the conclusion. The Popblerd staff has spoken, and these are the 10 greatest sitcoms of all time.
If you need a refresher course, you can click here to backtrack to the previous ten, and there you will find links to the other 80 sitcoms that have placed on our list so far.
And now, for a bit of a controversial pick; if only because we combined two separate series into one entry. Argue away:
10. The Office (BBC Two, 2001-2003; NBC, 2005-2013)
The tale of “The Office” is a tale of two “Offices”, really: a British sitcom and its American counterpart, and how the two relate. In one corner, we have Wernham-Hogg, presided over by priggish branch manager David Brent (a wonderfully caustic and oblivious Ricky Gervais); in the other, Dunder-Mifflin, ruled by well-meaning ignoramus Michael Scott (Steve Carell, in one of the most perfect comedic performances to grace American television). The UK incarnation did what the Brits always do well with their television: they got in, made their point, and got out before they had the chance to stagnate. The BBC “Office” was uncomfortable, often brutal, often screamingly funny, often cringe-worthy. Until a reunion special was filmed after the series concluded, it offered no happy endings. It offered a portrait of the workplace as a location where people go to slowly die.
By contrast, the American “Office” is a little less bleak; and yet, it mines a vein of darkness that separates it from many other feather-light American sitcoms. “The Office” has never hesitated to shy away from Michael Scott’s excruciatingly lonely core: unable to control his mouth, he is a bundle of insecurities, eager for approval, delusional about his talents and physical appearance. And yet, the American “Office” finds the human at Scott’s core — his sales pitches are a thing of beauty, and demonstrate the almost savant-like talent that got Michael his job in the first place, and more importantly this guy genuinely loves everybody (‘cept Toby) — and makes us care about the flawed, obnoxious character at the show’s core. It doesn’t hurt that the American “Office” boasts a remarkable ensemble cast, capable of such pathos and mayhem that it’s almost balletic.
Argue over which one’s better all you want — for my money, I’m more invested in the characters of the American incarnation, but acknowledge that a terrible pair of post-Carell seasons drag the consistency curve down pretty dramatically — but they are both required viewing. (Drew)
9. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (NBC, 1990-1996)
Instead of writing about how my brother and our friend would smack each other in the back of the head and yell, “Hillary!” or how their go-to dance would be to break out The Carlton, I thought I would let our friend, Wes Westbrook, explain why he would pick The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as one of his top five sitcoms of all-time:
It is not easy for a scrawny, abnormally tall 4thgrader to change schools, let alone change states. So when I moved to Hawaii in 1990 the transition was anything but smooth. Being forced to make new friends in a new environment was difficult, but there was one thing that eased my transition. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was first televised later in that same year. The young Will Smith character shared my similar story about moving to a new community, being out of his comfort zone, and even having an estranged father, which I was able to relate to. Over the next six years I watched and laughed (even cried a time or two) along with every episode until the show came to an end in 1996. (KJ)
8. Friends (NBC, 1994-2004)
To say I loved Friends, would be an understatement. I didn’t just love Friends, I lived Friends every Thursday (and often more than that) for 10 years. Before there was TIVO, I recorded every episode and had them all on VHS. I gave my own synopsis on each episode and graded them all. In college I did a report on Friends and how unlike reality they were. My buddies and I were Ross, Chandler and Joey. My relationship in the late 90’s rivaled the see-saw relationship of Ross and Rachel (and now that I’m older I wonder if I secretly wanted it that way, just for that very reason). My personality is often compared to that of Ross Geller’s (and I still wear the Ross Geller “gel it up and push it forward” hairstyle), sadly because I spent too much darn time with Ross Geller.
Friends debuted the same month I started my senior year of high school. It was with me through my first break up, my “Wish I Was Dating” bachelorhood years of my early 20’s and my first real relationship, and the series finally came to a close just as I was moving on and into the getting married and having a family portion of my life. We had a nice run, Friends and I did.
I adored the comedic soap opera that was Ross and Rachel. I learned from Chandler and his wittiness. I loved the goofiness of Joey, the free spirit of Phoebe, and I married someone similar to Monica.
When it comes to sitcoms I’ll take the first three seasons all day, every day. To me it doesn’t get any better than the season 2 episode “TOW (The One With) the Prom Video”, where we find out that Ross is Rachel’s lobster!
While the cheesiness that was Monica and Chandler ensued during seasons 5-8, the laughs still continued as Ross battled craziness in the form of a possible third divorce, and a failed love life.
The best episodes were often the ones where it were just the six cast members. Like the amusing “TOW No One’s Ready” and the emotional “TOW The Morning After” where everyone is stranded in Monica’s apartment as Ross and Rachel talk about their relationship.
I can ramble on and on about Friends but alas, I’ll stop. But not before I leave you with one thing.
Sorry ladies, THEY WERE ON A BREAK! (KJ)
7. Arrested Development (Fox, 2003-2006; NetFlix, 2013)
There’s a poetry to “Arrested Development” that not even the great sitcoms of yesteryear can match; indeed, “Arrested” is only sitcom as a matter of formality, in that it is, technically, a “situational comedy”. And yet, once you delve in you’re treated to a show that created its own look and mythology, replete with live-action cutaways, fourth-wall-breaking narration, and a language of verbal and visual callbacks all its own. The show’s wit is a vast expanse of dense jokes with three-to-four layers of wordplay and irony, the plot a smartly observed allegory, the gags themselves ranging from easily accessible one-liners to prolonged affairs that may not see a punchline until the next episode or, hell, season.
It’s all of these things that explain why AD fans rallied so intensely to save it from cancellation, and why we roared our approval when Netflix chose to resurrect it for a fourth season this year. Consider, in the 8 or 9 years the show was off the air, how many of its quotes and gags became part of our cultural lexicon: “I’ve made a huge mistake”, never-nudes, chicken impressions, “COME ON!”, “I just blue myself.” Or consider, perhaps, how every last member of the main cast went on to greater fame: Jason Bateman and Michael Cera, sure, but even less-visible alumni like Tony Hale and Alia Shawkat are getting enough work to keep them busy. Consider how every character seems like a creation from the comedy gods: not just obvious candidates like Buster and Tobias, but even put-upon lead character Michael, one of the most perfect straight men ever to hit the small screen. But here’s the biggest thing to consider: if comedy is inherently designed to have rewatch value, consider that you can have forty marathon sessions of AD’s first three seasons under your belt, and STILL find a joke you didn’t quite catch the first time on the forty-first. That’s “Arrested Development”, at least for its first three seasons: a majestic symphony of comedy, physical and cerebral, lowbrow and still smarter than you, complete and utter comedic perfection, the most satisfying three seasons of television comedy ever made. (Drew)
6. The Simpsons (Fox, 1990-present)
You can debate all you want about when the quality of The Simpsons went downhill, or if it did at all. But in its 24th season, the show is still a cultural, if not a ratings, force. The Simpsons is now the longest-running American sitcom, the longest running American animated series, and four years ago, it became the longest running American, prime time, scripted series. The show’s satirical edge has been legendary, and its characters among the best known ever. Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa and the umpteen other characters are indelibly etched in the pop culture firmament. Even if you stopped watching years ago, chances are you can recite classic Simpsons episodes by heart. Sure, there have been missteps along the way, but there’s no denying the massive impact The Simpsons has had on our culture. Hell, “D’oh!” is now in the dictionary. What more do you want? (Jay)
5. Roseanne (ABC, 1988-1997)
We glibly summarize “Roseanne” — show takes on the struggles of the working family in Middle America, blah blah blah — without stopping to remember what a potent and revolutionary thing it was, and how it gave the show a moral authority that no competing sitcom had. Its portrayal of abuse within families, for instance, was probably the most honest of any sitcom — maybe any show, period. “Roseanne” showed how those who grow up in abusive households end up internalizing feelings of guilt, shame, distrust, and self-loathing that never go away. The Harris girls’ nightmarish childhood frequently bobs to the surface in unexpected ways, from Roseanne’s horror at herself for spanking DJ to Jackie’s struggle to break away from her abusive boyfriend Fisher. It enabled the show to tackle “serious” issues while largely avoiding the trap of the Very Special Episode, most remarkably in the episode where Roseanne’s father dies: far from the usual sitcom clichés about death, Roseanne and Jackie end up struggling once again to overcome their confining childhood roles of angry defiance (Roseanne) and conciliator (Jackie). And, in case it needs to be said, the show never failed to be less than howlingly funny when taking on a serious issue. (In the aforementioned episode, Jackie struggles vainly by telephone to explain to a deaf relative that her father has died; she finally blurts out, “Dad’s fine, he sends his love!” and slams the phone down.)
4. All in the Family (CBS, 1971-1979)
You can’t do a list of the greatest sitcoms ever without mentioning one that many people consider the greatest ever – and easily the most influential – “All In The Family”. Before “Married… With Children”, “The Simpsons”, and “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” pushed the envelope with edgy, adult comedy, Archie Bunker, Edith Bunker, Gloria and Meathead were the most famous borderline-dysfunctional
But “All In The Family” wasn’t truly an original idea. It was loosely based on a British sitcom named “Till Death Do Us Part”. You can find clips of this show on YouTube, but the main difference is that the writing on “All In The Family” was leaps and bounds better, as well as the unforgettable performances of Caroll O’ Connor and Jean Stapleton. The show was originally going to be a platform for Jackie Gleason, the other controversial husband of sitcom that seemingly everybody copied, but things changed.
From 1971 to 1976, “All In The Family” was ranked number one in the ratings, becoming the FIRST TV series to reach number one for five consecutive years – something that wouldn’t be matched until “The Cosby Show”. It received a 34.0 rating in 1971!
3. The Cosby Show (NBC, 1984-1992)
Let’s take America’s most famous family comic and create a show based on some of his standup act. Sounds good? Well, it wasn’t just good. It was great.
Bill Cosby’s Cliff Huxtable was originally supposed to be a limo driver rather than an OB-GYN. Clair, played by Phylicia Rashad, was supposed to be a stay-at-home mom rather than a lawyer. Imagine how different the show would’ve been.
Instead of a blue collar family, the Huxtables were a white collar family, not necessarily the type of minority family you saw on television. The family expected excellence out of each other, not just in schooling, but in how they stood by each other in times of need.
Cliff wanted Theo to think bigger than just bologna and cereal and an apartment and motorcycle for the rest of his life. Clair would put Theo on trial when he was kicked off the track team and lying about the reason why. (Let the record show.) But the show was more than just about family problems. It was family celebration. Who doesn’t remember the family performing a Ray Charles song for their grandparents’ anniversary or the kids tricking Cliff on his birthday before taking him to see Lena Horne?
No matter your race, the Huxtables were your people. And if you ask me, The Cosby Show was the best sitcom of them all. (GG)
2. I Love Lucy (CBS, 1951-1957)
Throughout this list, we’ve covered many sitcoms that were emblematic of their era, and even a few that have transcended generational gaps. But of the 100 sitcoms included on this list, very few can be accurately described as “iconic,” and that is perhaps the best descriptor for I Love Lucy. Beginning its run in 1951, the show quickly established itself as one of the very first programs to grab the attention of the mass television audience. Though largely predicated on slapstick and quippy one-liners, Lucy‘s comedy was so effective due to the dynamic between real-life couple Desi Arnaz and Lucille Ball (both of whom had well established careers in entertainment prior to Lucy). Like most sitcoms, the show was often formulaic – Lucy takes matters into her own hands, gets herself into some sort of pickle, hilarity ensues, followed by an easy resolution. Even so, the show’s six-season run was generally able to manipulate that formula in entertaining ways that provided classic moments in American television. Be it vitameatavegemin, stomping grapes with Ethel, the chocolate factory, the false mirror gag with Harpo Marx…the list is long and memorable. Even all these years later, I Love Lucy retains its humor, which wisely was not topical, allowing the show’s appeal to transcend the decades. In terms of the history of comedy, sitcoms, television, and American popular culture, I Love Lucy is truly an iconic sitcom. (Gonzo)
1. Seinfeld (NBC, 1989-1998)
Long thought of as a show about nothing, Seinfeld was really a show about so many things: a marble rye, a puffy shirt, a Pez dispenser, sponges, a long wait for a table in a Chinese restaurant, lost parking spaces, soup, foul odors, muffin tops, and much more. Go ahead: Think of a show that’s added as many catchphrases, buzzwords, and objects to the zeitgeist. You can’t. But Seinfeld was about much more than that: It took place in a world where the four main characters did and said things without ever considering the consequences, and never apologized for any of it — not even in the series finale when most of those things were used against them in a court of law. Jerry, George, Elaine, and Kramer flaunted a brazen irreverence for convention and good taste, mocking everything from the homeless, to the Holocaust (via Schindler’s List), to gay relationships to, yes, shrinkage. And yet, we loved them anyway. For that, and especially for the episode where George pretends to be a marine biologist and winds up pulling one of Kramer’s golf balls out of a whale’s blow hole (yes, Kramer, that is a Titleist), Seinfeld continues to be the master of the sitcom domain. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. (Martin)