The past few weeks, Vulture has been has been having a bracket-style “Sitcom Smackdown” to determine the best sitcom of the the past 30 years. Yesterday, The Simpons was chosen as the winner. Today, however, Arrested Development was crowned in the readers’ bracket. Here’s how I how I would have ranked the shows that were in contention. (I haven’t been a regular viewer of all of them, so for some, I had to guess based on reputation. I’ve indicated how much I’ve seen of each show in parentheses.)
1. Arrested Development (seen every episode, most – possibly all – multiple times)
2. Seinfeld (seen most episodes, most of them multiple times)
3. Community (seen every episode at least twice)
4. The Simpsons (started watching regularly in season 11, seen a handful of episodes from before then)
5. Cheers (only seen clips)
6. The Larry Sanders Show (not sure I’ve even ever seen clips)
7. Louie (started watching regularly in Season 3)
8. 30 Rock (seen every episode)
9. The Office (seen every episode)
10. South Park (seen several episodes here and there)
11. The Cosby Show (only seen clips)
12. Roseanne (seen a few episodes)
13. Friends (seen a few episodes)
14. Malcolm in the Middle (watched it regularly until it moved to Fridays, then lost track of it)
15. Golden Girls (seen bits and pieces)
16. Sex and the City (walked through the room while my sister watched it a few times)
Some Good Shows That Could Have Made It:
-The Wonder Years – More of a dramedy, and thus it initially feels weird to include it a best sitcom discussion, but it was excellent.
-Parks and Recreation – If I were going to leave out one of the late 00′s/early 10′s NBC Thursday standbys, it wouldn’t be Parks and Recreation. Actually I probably wouldn’t leave out any of them.
-Curb Your Enthusiasm – Maybe it loses influence points by virtue of its Seinfeld connection, but it is still curmudgeonly hilarity to the nth degree.
-It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – It’s strange that a show with a decidedly anti-mainstream sensibility has lasted 8 seasons. It feels like it should have been a one- or two-season cult oddity. That it’s not is surely some sort of accomplishment.
-NewsRadio – I’ve never seen it, but from what I’ve heard it was the little quirky comedy that could of the nineties.
-Archer – Comedy may be subjective, but Archer is the most purely funny sitcom on the air right now.
-King of the Hill/Beavis and Butt-Head – Mike Judge, never getting any respect.
-Frasier – The best spin-off of all time was different enough from its predecessor to earn recognition all its own.
-Futurama – The best sci-fi sitcom of all time. Not that there have been that many of those, but this is still no faint praise.
-Family Guy – Before it became weighed down by a shock for shock’s sake sensibility in its current state, its mess of pop culture-saturated cutaways was innovative.
-American Dad! – What was once a Seth MacFarlane also-ran has now surpassed its predecessor.
-Murphy Brown – I’ve never watched, but I’ve heard that while it is a bit dated, it is worth remembering for how important it was at the time to the TV landscape.
Some Good Shows With Fewer Than Three Full Seasons (And Thus Not Meeting Vulture’s Criteria):
-Bob’s Burgers – Currently the best show on Fox’s Sunday animation block, and possibly the best show on TV right now.
-Stella – A one-season wonder that may have limited appeal, but if you are part of that appeal, then you are devoted to it.
-Flight of the Conchords – When I first read a review of FOTC, Gillian Flynn said that the show it most closely resembled was Stella. So I was immediately on board. But despite its uniqueness and surreality, FOTC is goofy and lighthearted enough to appeal to the masses.
-Happy Endings – I’ve never really watched Friends, but Happy Endings totally out-Friends Friends, doesn’t it?
-Girls – It provokes strong reactions from a great varitey of people – that is like the definition of great art.
-Enlightened – I haven’t started watching this, but I’ve been hearing several times this year that it’s the best show on TV right now.
Season Analysis: Parks and Rec continued to be one of the best comedies on TV, with strong performances all season particularly from Nick Offerman (who remained basically the same as Ron Swanson, just more awesome) and Aubrey Plaza (with April actually, shockingly, growing and maturing).
Leslie Knope cares a great deal about everyone she has ever met, because she puts forth a full effort in everything that she does, and thus she just cannot help herself. So of course she always gives everyone the most thoughtful Christmas gifts possible: for Andy – a gold Mouserat record, for Donna – a leather-print robe, for Tom – a watch and a tiny throne (since he couldn’t get tickets to the Watch the Throne tour), for April – a painting of her killing the Black Eyed Peas, and for Ron – a button for closing his office doors. The gift of socks for Jerry was the nicest touch: a classic make fun of Jerry gag, but also sweet, as Jerry is apparently so boring that the gift of socks indicates that Leslie truly understands him. With Leslie suspended from work in the wake of the scandal with her and Ben, she finds herself in the unusual situation of not being able to take care of everything and then some. Therefore, the dual Christmas gifts from the rest of the Parks Department of the gingerbread version of city hall and volunteering as Leslie’s campaign team could not have been sweeter, in that this was the perfect moment for everyone else to step up and show Leslie that they could take care of her just as she has always taken care of them. It was one of the purest examples of friendship inspired by Christmas that I have ever seen on any sitcom.
Year after year, Thursday continually proves itself to be the most loaded, most rewarding night of television, and I feel like singing that out in a blog post. Here are all the shows that I have regularly watched on Thursdays this season (September 2011-now), ranked in ascending order of quality (of the current season). And, for your entertainment, I have also included a memorable quote from several of these shows from their current seasons.
12. The Secret Circle
11. The Office (“I haven’t had this much fun since seeing Zoo E Desk Channel at the Cocarella Music Festival.”)
10. The Big Bang Theory
9. Up All Night
7. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (“Dennis is asshole. Why Charlie hate?”)
6. 30 Rock (“I finally understand the ending of The Sixth Sense. Those names are the people who worked on the movie!”)
5. Billy on the Street (“I LOVE MERYL STREEP!”)
4. Archer (“Thanks, Holly Hindsight.”)
3. Beavis and Butt-Head (“Masturbation frequency dialed in.”)
2. Parks and Recreation (“Anyone want to go to JJ’s for some after-dinner omelettes?”)
1. Community (“Boopy doopy doop boop sex!”)
We love relationships on TV when they are in the pre-consummation stage because of the romantic tension inherent in that stage. Tension makes for great entertainment. By the time of “Road Trip,” Leslie and Ben both knew their feelings for each other, but a relationship had not yet begun due to a strongly enforced guideline against interoffice romance. Thus, the tension became even more frustrated. And when there is a problem, you can count on Leslie Knope to make a spectacle out of dealing with that problem, as she did so marvelously with her anti-romantic mix CD for her road trip with Ben. Meanwhile, the subplot of Tom testing out his Newlywed Game ripoff, “Know Ya Boo,” provided perhaps the steadiest stream of laughs of the entire season, particularly Tom’s rundown of esoteric cable channels (Boom, Zip, Wow, Slurp, Slurp Latin, Slurp HD). Donna and Jerry’s success as a couple on “Know Ya Boo” was an old, but often hilarious, sitcom staple: characters who have previously had little interaction together displaying a freakily uncanny knowledge of each other.
Next up: Running Wilde
“What if he shows up with another woman? What if one of my sleeves catches on fire and it spreads rapidly. What if instead of tic tacs I accidentally pop a couple of Ambien and I have to keep punching my leg to stay awake?”
“Those are all insane hypotheticals and I promise you they won’t happen.”
“They have happened. All of these have happened to me.”
Less awkward and more endearing than Michael Scott and Liz Lemon, but just as hilarious, Leslie Knope has suddenly become the most likable lead character on NBC Thursday nights. She is so upfront about her strangeness that you will either laugh or gasp nonstop, whichever one happens first. “Practice Date” was an opportunity for Amy Poehler to run completely free and crazy with her performance. It was one of those episodes whose hilarity is best explained by listing quotes, so here are some more:
“Do you have like a first-date outfit I could borrow? Like, I don’t know, a pair of cargo pants?”
“Yeah I wouldn’t go with the cargo pant.”
“What about like a sexy hat?”
“I don’t even know what that is.”
“What if I get drunk and talk about Darfur too much? Or not enough? What if I don’t bring up Darfur enough?”
“Another time I went to a really boring movie with a guy and while I was asleep he tried to pull out one of my teeth. I literally woke up with his hand in my mouth. We went out a couple times after that but then he got weird.”
“Let’s begin our conversation.”
“What’s on the note cards?”
“They’re possible topics of conversation.”
“Whales. Parades. Electricity. And the rest are blank.”
“Yeah, well I couldn’t think of anything else.”
“Is she practice laughing?”
“You’re 20 minutes late. I almost left.”
“Well, I was, dropping my niece off.”
“What’s your niece’s name?”
“Torple. What? I don’t know. That’s not a name. I don’t have a niece. My niece’s name is Stephanie?”
Next up: The Office