In my Twitter bio I describe myself as a “sitcom fetishist,” which is perhaps a bit of a misnomer considering I don’t derive pleasures of that nature from watching sitcoms (though perhaps Kelsey Grammer’s voice could be considered close), but it is most certainly an art from that I think has fallen to the wayside far too much. This isn’t to say sitcoms aren’t still around — they certainly are — but I feel that today’s sitcoms are somewhat unable to capture the magic that some of my favorites have through the years.
So, this list will be comprised of my 10 favorite sitcoms of all time, not the ones that I’m calling the greatest sitcoms of all time, since if I were to do such a list someone would probably expect classics like Seinfeld or Friends, neither of which I think are very good (sorry). Additionally, this list will only be comprised of straight-up sitcoms, which means comedy shows I love like Rick and Morty or Monty Python’s Flying Circus that aren’t strictly sitcoms won’t be counted. I’ll also only be counting shows of which I’ve seen every episode, for fairness’s sake. So great classics like M*A*S*H or Taxi, which would most likely be here, will be absent since I haven’t seen them in their entirety, and recent hits that are still ongoing, like The Middle, Brooklyn Nine-Nine, or Always Sunny, will be absent as well.
With all those rules you’d think it’d be difficult to come up with 10, but in fact I still had difficulty paring this list down to a solid 10. That said, you can rest assured that because of this, these are the 10 sitcoms I consider to be the cream of the crop, and some of the best comedic entertainment available. So, without further ado, my top 10 favorite sitcoms of all time.
In a world of ER’s and Grey’s Anatomy’s, Scrubs gives us a refreshingly cartoonish and heartwarming look at the goings-on of a hospital and its staff — from doctors to interns to nurses to the Janitor. And, yes, we capitalize Janitor, because who really knows his name? Scrubs had everything. Musical numbers, cutaway gags, tearjerkers, homages, and, most importantly, a great cast of characters at the heart of it that made you actually care. Additionally, Scrubs had an incredibly strong list of supporting characters — who could forget the hospital’s sadsack a capella-singing lawyer Ted, Dr. Cox’s conniving ex-wife Jordan, or (most memorably) The Todd? While Zach Braff’s narrations and hilarious fantasy segments bookended the already tight framework of the various mishaps and tribulations that come with being a medical intern, the real heart of the show was the relationship between JD and his reluctant mentor Dr. Cox. To this day Dr. Cox remains one of my favorite sitcom characters of all time (beaten out solely on this show by Neil Flynn’s Janitor), and the tenuous father-son bond he grew with JD is especially heartwarming on a show that legitimately brought a tear to my eye more than once. And it’s even better if we pretend season 9 didn’t happen.
Best episode: “My Screw Up”
9. The Office (UK)
Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s The Office was perhaps the instigator for the stream of “mockumentary” sitcoms that followed, but remains probably the best example of its usage. Set in the fictional offices of Wernham-Hogg paper, the UK version of The Office is dry, sharp, and relentlessly difficult to watch for all the right reasons. Martin Freeman excels particularly as Tim, and the will-they-won’t-they between Tim and Dawn seems rote now (and the US version is perhaps to blame), but it’s still a joy to watch. And, of course, the bumbling antics of the accidentally racist/sexist/terrible boss David Brent and his lap dog Gareth are still hilarious 15 years later. The Office represents much of what makes British comedy ever-so-slightly different than the US variety, be it the lack of a laugh track (thank God), the rapidity and dryness of the gags, or just their ability to elevate things beyond the standards by which Americans measure what’s appropriate. David Brent’s final words are that he merely wishes to be remembered as someone who put a smile on everyone’s face. And he certainly did.
Best episode: “Christmas Special pt 2” or “Quiz”
8. Parks and Recreation
Off the heels of perhaps the most cynical show on this list we come to Parks and Rec, a delightfully goofy look at the local government of a small town in Indiana. Originally envisioned as a public-sector counterpart to The Office (which it indeed was for its first season), Parks and Rec evolved into a simply joyful sitcom wherein it was acceptable to have a song called “5,000 Candles in the Wind” written as a tribute to a miniature horse (it makes sense in context). Like many sitcoms on this list, Parks and Rec excels because of the strength of its ensemble cast. Amy Poehler’s giddy and obsessive Leslie Knope is perfectly counterbalanced by Nick Offerman’s breakfast food-loving libertarian Ron Swanson. The stupidity and childishness of Chris Pratt’s Andy Dwyer are complimented well by his eventual wife, the brooding jerk-with-a-heart-of-gold April, played superbly by Aubrey Plaza. And, of course, we can’t forget the perpetually cheerful and insanely health-conscious Chris Traeger, a perfect performance from Rob Lowe. God, there’s so much to love about this show. Interestingly enough it’s one of two shows to feature Henry Winkler in a recurring role …
Best episode: “Moving Up”
By far the better of Matt Groening’s animated sitcoms, Futurama is a delightfully satirical look at the future of the world 1,000 years down the line through the eyes of our hapless fish-out-of-water protagonist, Phillip J. Fry. Alongside the already strong main cast including the one-eyed spaceship pilot Leela (an excellent performance from Katey Sagal), alcoholic robot Bender, ditzy PhD student Amy, and Rastafarian accountant Hermes, we have a veritable rogues’ gallery of hilarious side characters like John Goodman’s Robot Santa, Lrrrr and his wife NdNd, and Dan Castellenata’s Robot Devil — and that’s not even mentioning all the characters played by Billy West (can you say Zapp Brannigan?)! Futurama deftly manages parodying and paying its dues to countless sci-fi classics, while also telling some great stories and building up some awesome character arcs. Bring it back, Matt!
Best episode: “How Hermes Requisitioned His Groove Back,” “The Prisoner of Benda,” or “The Luck of the Fryrish”
Arguably the quintessential sitcom, Cheers had all the right elements for the making of a perfect sitcom: memorable running jokes (NORM!), a true bond between the characters, a recognizable set, a catchy theme song, and, at its heart, a romance for the ages (or at least the first five seasons). There’s a reason why Cheers is one of the most easily-recognizable sitcoms of all time (besides its enormous 11-season run). Cheers embodied something people needed to see on their TVs in the 80s (and still do today): camaraderie, friendship, and, well, a place where everybody knows your name. The creators are recorded as saying that they wished they’d had a neighborhood bar like Cheers in their hometowns, so they thought they’d bring one to everyone’s TVs. And for 11 years, they did. Cheers survived everything that would kill a TV series today — the departure of a lead actress, the death of a lead actor, terrible ratings in its first season — and still managed to bring people like Woody Harrelson and John Ratzenberger into the spotlight. Not to mention Frasier Crane, who we’ll be discussing later … With perhaps the greatest sitcom finale of all time, Cheers closed the door in 1993 on what was quite possibly the friendliest bar on earth. Wouldn’t you like to get away?
Best episode: “Thanksgiving Orphans”
5. The Office (US)
Hey, The Office is back! This time, we’re talking about the Steve Carell-helmed Americanization, which arguably succeeded its predecessor in every way. To be fair, British TV is a cutthroat game, and I sort of see the American Office as a fully-realized version of what the original could’ve been, given time. Where the UK version was cold, cynical, and cringey, the American version (given a little time) gives us a deeper look into similar characters, and offers more heart and character development across its 9 seasons. Steve Carell’s Michael Scott is the obvious greatest character, offering the same clumsiness and lack of political correctness of his British counterpart David Brent, but bringing new angles to the character to make him a truly sympathetic character that the viewer is happy to root for. The Jim and Pam romance is also a treat, as well as every single thing Dwight, Kevin, or Creed do. Sure, it slowed down in its final years following Carell’s departure, but it never lost that shine of cheeky social commentary at the expense of the American workplace, and for that it’ll always be one of my favorites.
Best episode: “Office Olympics,” “Diversity Day,” or “Broke”
Community is certainly one of the cleverest sitcoms of all time, putting an exquisitely self-aware spin on the typical college comedy by giving us a look at Greendale Community College and its insane inhabitants. There’s so much to love about Community that it’s hard to compile a list, but I’ll try– The ever-classic “Winger speech,” the study group summoning Beetlejuice over three seasons, a bottle episode, Abed calling the bottle episode a bottle episode, Troy and Abed in the morning, Chevy Chase’s racist grandpa Pierce, a monkey named Annie’s Boobs, “I’ll have … a birthday cake!”, not one, but two Dungeons & Dragons episodes, just the right amount of LeVar Burton, and, of course, a Ken Burnsian documentary about a
blanket pillow fort narrated by the illustrious Keith David. It’s impossible to explain any of that within context, but just the sheer fact that Community has a character who’s aware he’s on a sitcom is enough to warrant a watch. Six seasons and a movie!
Best episode: “Remedial Chaos Theory”
There are some who would lynch me for daring to put Frasier above Cheers on this list, but I just can’t help it — I love Frasier to death. As a supporting cast member on Cheers for 9 years, Kelsey Grammer brought a delightfully theatrical presence to the screen, something previously unheard of. Frasier was bombastic, melodramatic, and — most important of all — hilarious. In fact, Kelsey Grammer’s performances as Frasier Crane served as my primary inspiration when I played Much Ado’s Benedict a few years back, and indeed there’s something almost Shakespearean about the premise of Frasier (the show). We have a set of psychiatrist brothers, one who spends 6 years unable to admit his love for an enchanting Englishwoman, and the other who helps others on the phone every day with their familial issues who can’t even begin to deal with his own. Frasier was decidedly high-brow and clever, and you could tell with the live studio audience who sometimes took a few seconds to catch the joke — but when they did, it was a riot. Rounding off the main cast we have Niles, Frasier’s even more eccentric brother, Martin, his father, Roz, his producer, Daphne, his father’s home healthcare worker, and — who could forget — Eddie, his father’s relentlessly adorable terrier. Frasier ran for another 11 seasons, meaning Frasier Crane as a character was a household name for 20 years straight. And I wish we could have 20 more.
Best episode: “Dinner Party”
2. Fawlty Towers
If I can’t put Flying Circus on this list, I’m sure as hell going to put Fawlty Towers on it. In my opinion, Fawlty Towers is straight up the funniest sitcom of all time. Husband-and-wife team John Cleese and Connie Booth gave us a look into the management (or mismanagement) of the rundown motel Fawlty Towers in Torquay. Every episode featured spectacular writing, some of the funniest character interactions ever put on screen, and ever-escalating lies that spin our poor protagonist Basil Fawlty into a knot. Fawlty Towers is England’s second-greatest gift to the world (right behind America), and firmly cements John Cleese as one of the funniest men of all time. Watch it, you won’t regret it.
Best episode: “Basil the Rat”
1. Arrested Development
Ah, Arrested Development. How do I love thee? I don’t have enough time to count the ways. Arrested Development was simply too clever for TV. Rife with running gags and continuity out the wazoo, Arrested Development is far better suited to the Netflix era than the traditional one-episode-a-week format. In the Bluth family we find a true ensemble cast, and every single character gets their moments to shine. Within the family we get great characters like Will Arnett’s failed magician GOB (But where did the lighter fluid come from?), Michael Cera’s lonely George Michael Bluth, mama’s boy Buster, hapless double entendre-spewing Tobias (the world’s first analrapist [an analyst and a therapist, you see]) and the Bluth patriarch and his twin brother, both played by Jeffrey Tambor. Even the recurring characters like Henry Winkler’s Barry Zuckercorn and Scott Baio’s Bob Loblaw are a treat to see show up. And if you’re starting to sense a theme here, just wait til you hear Ron Howard’s narrations which expertly punctuate an already hilarious show. Arrested Development is simply a triumph for the comedic genre, and it’s one show I recommend everybody watch.
Best episode: Seasons 1-3