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: Where to begin with the troubles that plague The Office? That reboot idea sure seems necessary, though I don’t know if I can say that I like its chances for success.
One of the biggest problems of season 8 of The Office was its profound lack of focus. It is true that, at its best, The Office has captured the random absurdity amidst the day-to-day drudgery of office life and therefore focus is something that is not really necessary – and perhaps even counterintuitive – for its success. But while The Office has not always had a strong sense of focus plotwise, it has, for most of the series’ run, had a strong sense of the type of show that it wants to be. This past season did not have that sense, at all, so when the Florida storyline provided the show with a focus regarding the plot, it was a good thing that there was at least some focus. “Tallahassee” stood out among the Florida episodes, mostly thanks to some classic Dwight moments the likes of which we do not get to see as frequently as we used to. His struggling through appendicitis and then returning to the presentation after surgery was appropriately suspense-filled comedy: the audience was on edge (a state of mind that can easily prompt laughter), knowing that at any moment, he might collapse or his guts might spill out in front of everyone, and the fact that he was going full-bore despite his condition only made it more amusing. “Tallahassee” also featured the best cold opening of the season (Jim creating a fake murder scene in his hotel room), and that is no backhanded compliment, as the cold opens were a rare consistent bright spot this season.
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!”)
The premise of The Office, for both the U.K. and U.S. versions, in terms of the main character, is a terrible boss who is so unaware of his own shortcomings such that he thinks he is the best boss in the world. This unlikability, while funny initially, resists durability. If dragged on too long, it becomes either too depressing or too shticky. That is why the U.K. Office ended after only two seasons, and why the U.S. Office has made it clear that Michael Scott is not as bad as he first appeared, that he is essentially sweet-natured, and thus plenty lovable. Still, it has generally remained the case that Michael’s coworkers have had to look past his foibles to be able to see that likability. So it was gratifying in “China” to behold Michael looking impressive, with no exceptions necessary. He expresses concerns over the rising economic power of China, a concern worth having, and when he states his facts, he actually seems to know what he is talking about. He is even able to show up Oscar, the office’s resident pretentious blowhard. If a show is going to be on the air for several years, an audience appreciates it if there is a character that it can get behind, and there were plenty of moments in “China” in which Michael proved that he is such a character.
Next up: Parks and Recreation
The Office was decidedly different this season. Some said it went downhill. I say it became darker and purposefully ambivalent and definitely more interesting. This turn resulted in a style in which the episodes ran together, and few particularly stood out, as they did in seasons past. Those that did were typified by a consistent comedy style that is more or less the show’s traditional style. “The Meeting” fit this model with Dwight getting involved in a crazy scheme (and teaming up with Toby, of all people) and Michael causing more harm than he can imagine with his meddling shenanigans. The laugh-out-loud, belly laugh, and chuckle moments were in steady supply, including the cheese-cart sneak entrance, Michael feeling “partially responsible” for Jim not getting the promotion, Darrell’s sister, Michael texting David Wallace while he and Jim were on the phone with him, and Toby depressed by paperwork. While I am fascinated by the recession-inspired storylines, I like to know that the traditional laughs of The Office can still be pulled off.
Next up: The Office