It’s been a while since I checked in with my TV mega post.
Part Five of the TV Mega Post is a list of Broadcast Network Sitcoms.
Everyone hates sitcoms. But also everyone secretly loves sitcoms. And I secretly love and hate sitcoms as well. Because, like most kids of my generation, I grew up sitting in front of a B&W TV watching sitcom after sitcom until I could recite every line. The Honeymooners, The Dick van Dyke Show and The Little Rascals reruns were an essential part of the television landscape when there were only seven TV channels and no cable and no internet and no Mel Rook and the 7 Deadly Sins. And I knew every line from every episode.
And then one day they let the color bleed in with: One Day at a Time, All in the Family, Good Times, The Jeffersons, Maude, Happy Days, Laverne & Shirley and M.A.S.H..
And then the color bled back out again (so to speak) with shows like: Full House, Family Ties, Cheers, Friends and Seinfeld.
Sitcoms are the best and the worse of TV in one embarrassment filled half hour. You’re embarrassed watching. You’re embarrassed for the characters. And the characters are embarrassed for being in this week’s predicament. It’s comedy based on embarrassment. And that’s why so many people can’t even watch them. It makes them blush. It makes them cringe. Sitcoms make you cringe with one miscommunication after another.
You just want to yell, “FREEZE! Everybody Freeze!” And then climb into that oversized apartment and grab the two main characters and let them know that ONE THING that they desperately need to know about the other one. You know. That one piece of info that would solve ALL of this week’s problems.
AND NOW YOU BOTH KNOW! “He’s been a girl the whole time. He’s been in love with you the whole time. She’s your sister. She’s your boss. You’re both rich. You’re both broke. You’re both black. The cake is a lie. Soylent Green is people.” NOW YOU BOTH KNOW. Show’s over. Everybody go home. Studio audience can go home. Pack it up people. We solved the whole damn thing with simple communication.
But the question remains: What the hell happened to the sitcom format?
Well, I’ll tell you… They forgot about their live-in-front-of-a-studio-audience roots. They forgot about Jackie Gleason. Who would flub a line live like saying “I’m uh scared” instead of ‘I’m scared’ and then spend the next five minutes saying it wrong on purpose while the audience laughed their asses off. Where’s the spontaneity in canned laughter?
They forgot about Norman Lear. Who made the sitcom a true social commentary that the entire world would talk about the next day around the water cooler or the lunch table. There used to be more drama in a network sitcom than on the network dramas.
They would talk about Politics, Pregnancy, Rape, Racism and anything that was in the news. Hell, they used to MAKE the news.
They forgot how to let a show evolve. They’re much too quick to pull something off the air that they don’t understand or that makes them uncomfortable. Because of some executive who can’t answer his child’s questions about homosexuality, drugs or black people.
“Daddy, what are black people?”
“Look it up on Google, son.”
They forgot that the sitcom is an art form.
So, screw this list. They cancelled three of the shows on my original list, anyway… while I was compiling it. (Goodbye Community) Here, instead, are fifteen shows that I loved. Five classics that invented or perfected their sitcom style, five recent shows that have kept it up and five more that were cancelled much too soon.
You’ll get the picture. Just adjust your rabbit ears. The following blog post was filmed before a live studio audience.
To the list…
Make Room for Mommy, Daddy and Baby Too
The Family Sitcom was one of the earliest sitcom styles. For most episodes there was only one set. Usually a living room or a kitchen, and every story in the neighborhood would trample through one door, drop the comedy and exit through another. The list includes The Cosby Show, Family Ties, Married with Children and All in the Family.
My three favorites (one classic, one recent and one short-lived) feature the hottest mother/daughter combos in TV history starting with this 70’s single mom sitcom.
One Day at a Time (CBS)
Developed by Norman Lear
I loved this show. And I was in love with Valerie Bertinelli (like the rest of America). But the character of Schneider (the handyman) was the creepiest character in television history. All single mom’s were warned to watch out for a handyman with a 70’s porn stache. Did you know the character of Schneider was supposed to be sexy? He wasn’t.
Modern Family (ABC)
120 episodes and counting
With brilliant writing, casting and acting, from the veteran Ed O’Neill down to the youngest child, Modern Family is the best sitcom on network TV with the best cast. And the hottest mother/daughter combo with Julie Bowen and Sarah Hyland.
Grounded for Life (FOX, The WB)
Created by Bill Martin & Mike Schiff
FOX cancelled this Irish-Catholic New York family sitcom after two and a half seasons. The WB picked it up and then did the same. It deserved better. Megyn Price and Lynsey Bartilson made a hot mother/daughter combo themselves.
Time to go to work…
Down at the Office Some Funny Shit Happened
The workplace sitcom didn’t really catch on until women were accepted in the office. Nobody wanted a half hour of just dudes in suits making deals. So the first really popular ones were about women going to work. And there were a lot of great ones like The Dick van Dyke Show, M.A.S.H., Cheers, Murphy Brown, The Mary Tyler Moore Show etc.
But my three favorite workplace comedies all involved superstar casts working in broadcast media with a dynamic duo at the helm. Starting with this wonderfully star-studded radio news show.
Created by Paul Simms
Newsradio was one of the funniest workplace sitcoms with an amazing cast, including the brilliant Phil Hartman (the Ted Knight of his era… still miss you Phil), a young Andy Dick, Stephen Root, Dave Foley and Joe Rogan. I loved it so much.
30 Rock (NBC)
Created by Tina Fey
There was Hepburn & Tracy (Adam’s Rib, Woman of the Year), before that Colbert & Gable (It Happened One Night), and before that Loy & Powell (The Thin Man) and then there was the great Fey & Baldwin.
These two were so good together it was so much fun to watch them play off each other. And they never ruined it with a dopey romance. 30 Rock delivered madcap fast paced dialogue and witty repartee like hasn’t been seen on television. And then they had the gall to do it all live in front of America… twice. Damn good show. I’m going to miss it.
Sports Night (ABC)
Created by Aaron Sorkin
There was Aaron Sorkin’s fantastic quick and witty writing but there was also this amazing cast, led beautifully by the versatile Felicity Huffman and anchored by the great Robert Guillaume, that made Sports Night so damn good that I still miss it.
Bring back Sports Night.
And now a word from our friends and neighbors…
A Bunch of Friends Sitting Around Talking
Young people sharing their first apartment or going to school together or just having adventures together is our next format. A hybrid of the family and workplace sitcoms because it split time between where they lived and where they worked, went to school or just hung out. (bar, coffee shop, restaurant). The basic formula is this: two hot girls, one funny one and three non-threatening dudes. The best of this format came in the 90’s with Friends or Seinfeld and continued with Big Bang Theory
But my favorite friends sitcoms (one classic, one recent and one short-lived) are these. Starting with the most risqué sitcom of the 70’s that starred the late great John Ritter.
Three’s Company (ABC)
Three single roommates sharing an apartment. Two women and one guy? Think of the possibilities. John Ritter and Suzanne Somers were amazing in this show. With Joyce DeWitt stuck playing the straight man (so to speak) for the two comedy gods.
Ritter was the first openly gay character on a sitcom (even if he was faking it). It was more acceptable that he was gay than if he was straight living with two hot girls. Let that sink in.
How I Met Your Mother (CBS)
I loved this show. I started late, so I totally got to binge watch the first six seasons and that was legen- wait for it. I loved the story told in flashbacks and I even loved the way it ended. I thought the last season was sensational. I think they found the perfect actress to play the mother and I’m going to miss these characters immensely. -dary There I said it.
But I will really miss the prematurely cancelled but freaking hysterical…
Happy Endings (ABC)
Created by David Caspe
I’m sure the suits found a lot to complain about the hilariously funny Happy Endings. There was an interracial couple. There was an openly gay character that wasn’t effeminate. And it was actually very good and it was very funny. So their heads were exploding. I’m sure.
They treated the show like a redheaded step-child and then finally put it out of its misery. What a talented and funny cast. And a great set of writers. Damn suits strike again… the bastards.
And now it’s time for some love…
A Loving Couple or The Two Best Friends in the World
Along the same vein of the bunch of friends sitting around talking sitcom format is the Just the Two of Us format. Either a couple, always married in the beginning if they were different sexes. Or the (not gay) best friends (seriously, we’re not gay), starting with the famous comedy duos of old. (Amos & Andy, Abbott & Costello) through the bosom buddies from perfect strangers of the 80’s (Bosom Buddies, Perfect Strangers) to the two broke girls in short skirts working at a diner. And of course their next door neighbors.
The best of these was the incomparable The Honeymooners with Jackie Gleason threatening to punch his wife (the equally funny Aubrey Meadows) each week but my personal favorite was the hilarious Lucy Ball and the dashing Dezi Arnaz in
I Love Lucy (CBS)
The show could be boiled down into one important question? What sort of crazy-ass shit was Lucy going to get into this week. Lucille Ball is one of my comedy icons. Someone once described watching her as frightening. And I had to agree with them because you never knew what she was going to do from one moment to the next in any situation.
There’s what normal people would do. Also there’s what funny people would do and silly people. And of course what crazy people would do. THEN there was what Lucy would do. Which was all of those things combined and it just made you scream at your TV.
Today people can watch Lucy and say that it’s derivative of something. That it’s Monty Python or something they saw on SNL, Tina Fey or Carol Burnett. But no… they were all doing Lucy. They were all imitating Lucille Ball; One of the funniest people to ever walk on the surface of the planet. I kid you not. And she was drop dead gorgeous as well.
2 Broke Girls (CBS)
72 episodes and counting
I like the show because it feels like something out of the “live studio audience” era. All of the jokes are for the back row or for the balcony with a strong music hit for emphasis. The cast is funny and the jokes are very jokey but still funny and except for the subject matter, it all feels like something from a bygone era.
I’m still a big fan of 2 Broke Girls but mostly because the two leads are so good, so funny and both really really hot. Bring back Mary Lynn Rajskub already. She was great.
Don’t Trust the B in Apt 23 (ABC)
Created by Nahnatchka Khan
I completely understand why the suits were afraid of this one. It was raunchy and it was weird. It was funny and it was sexy. It was too good for Disney. The cast was superb. Krysten Ritter (no relation) became one of my favorite people. And it also showed us a whole other side of James Van Der Beek (the man is very funny).
James hinted at a possible movie project for the characters on his twitter feed under a pic of him and Krysten but he was probably teasing. Shut up and take my money, James.
Shut up and take my money.
And finally the wild and the wacky…
The Half Hour of Pure Insanity
And lastly there is my favorite network sitcom format; the half hour of pure insanity. This is the one that never lasts. The one that upsets the suits the most and makes the letter writing housewives write letters. A show that confuses the old people. Where the rules of society barely matter and it’s basically a free for all with science fiction and fantasy elements and basic zaniness. It can involve families or friends or work colleagues but there’s always a little something extra. And very few of them survive the first cut.
The best of these, in my opinion, was the fantastic
3rd Rock from the Sun (NBC)
Created by Bonnie Turner and Terry Turner
This was not the family sitcom or the friends sitcom or work. It was all of them at once. They were a group of aliens pretending to be a family of humans. They weren’t a family of aliens. They were just work colleagues. And their job was to observe earth culture before a possible invasion from their home planet. This was a brilliant comedy with a stellar cast.
John Lithgow, Kristen Johnston, French Stewart and a young Joseph Gordon-Levitt along with the great Jane Curtain and the hilarious Wayne Knight made 3rd Rock from the Sun a fun show to watch. One of my favorite shows of all time.
Created by Dan Harmon
Community was the best sitcom on TV for a few years. Definitely the most creative. They wouldn’t just reference pop culture and nerd culture or movies and TV shows, they would become them. The idea that all the characters were actually just hallucinating patients with mental disorders or that they were on a TV show inside one of the character’s heads made it fun. The writing and the direction on this show was second to none.
They did two amazing Dungeons and Dragons episodes and a few where they became cartoons or claymation. The show often changed the reality of their surroundings into these wonderful themes. The greatness of community was in the themed episodes.
From the amazing paintball episodes to the alternate timelines created by a roll of the dice (so many Doctor Who references), there was a lot to love about community. And that was why I loved this last season so much. Every episode had its own theme. From the savage wasteland of Lava World to the five tiered society brought on by social media run wild to the reading of Pierce’s will (what a great episode). This final season of Community was Community’s best season.
Community was the most creative and entertaining and thought-provokingly geeky sitcom on television. And then they cancelled it… the bastards.
And lastly the extremely short-lived and hysterically funny nine whole episodes of…
The Tick (FOX)
Created by Ben Edlund
The Tick was like something out of a fever dream… and it was awesome. Ben Edlund is a genius. The live-action show was based on the cartoon version that ran from 1994-96 (one of the funniest cartoons ever. If you ask me… and you just did) The Tick, the live-action show lasted a mere nine episodes on FOX. (Say it with me people… the bastards)
It has been described as an absurdist take on the superhero genre but it was much more than that. It was like a comic version of Watchmen. A bunch of guys playing superhero but only one of them has super powers… the indestructible Tick. It was blisteringly funny.
The Tick is brilliant and it’s funny and it is absurd and it should have been given time to breathe. I think it would have been amazing to see where they went. We haven’t had a good silly superhero adult comedy since the 1960’s Batman (with Adam West). It was time for a new one. But of course they cancelled it. (one more time) …the bastards.
And that’s ten… well actually that’s fifteen. Five classics, five recent shows and five that were gone too soon. So there. I’ve done the sitcom format more justice than it deserves.
Currently I’m enjoying New Girl, Brooklyn Nine-Nine and Parks and Recreation but who knows when the suits will get around to cancelling those… the bastards.
Next up… Talk Shows
See you guys on the couch,