Continuing his quest to just make this site a list site, Steve Taylor-Bryant lists his favourite American sitcoms in a list. List…
Ian went for scenes in his second list article way back when, and to be fair to the nice chap he picked some gooduns. I can’t though. Some of favourite shows have gone on for over a decade and unlike U.K. shows where you might get six to thirteen episodes, most U.S shows are twenty plus and take forever to get through. There is no way I can search all them to pick ten favourite scenes. It’s also quite difficult to narrow my thinking down to just ten shows. Challenge accepted! (we didn’t challenge you – Ed) so now to another list, did you know I liked lists? Now, there’s a couple of things I think we should agree on before I dive into listing every show I’ve ever seen and then trying to grade them, firstly…
No Animation! American Dad is better and funnier than Family Guy and until you can all agree on that then cartoons are banned from our thoughts.
Secondly, there is no room in this list for M*A*S*H. Before you start flinging your insults in my direction hear me out. M*A*S*H is almost perfect television, M*A*S*H is neither a situation comedy nor a drama, M*A*S*H is too important and too good to be classified as anything, classifying M*A*S*H leads to bad things, very bad things, so no M*A*S*H. Just take it as read that if it was allowed it would win, but it’s not so it can’t.
I also want to shout out some also rans. So many shows have seeped their way over the pond and into our very British pop culture and that’s not a bad thing. I originally had a list of twenty-five shows to try and narrow down into a ten and when you think neither Friends, Big Bang Theory, or How I Met Your Mother were in there and they are the most repeated U.S shows on British television, it tells how stiff the competition for my ten might become. Just because the show isn’t in my final list doesn’t mean I don’t consider it a great show. It might be that it had one perfect season but not enough consistency to prevail today, or it might just be my mood as I finalise the list, with comedy being such a subjective thing it’s no surprise that my ten might not match up with yours.
The Fresh Prince of Bel Air
Grace Under Fire
The Golden Girls
The Good Place
I Love Lucy
3rd Rock from the Sun
So, after reading those doozies, what could possibly be left to go in my ten? Read on…
10 – My Name is Earl (2005 – 2009)
You know the kind of guy who does nothing but bad things, and then wonders why his life sucks? Well... that was me. Every time something good happened to me, something bad was always waiting around the corner. Karma. That's when I realised I had to change. So, I made a list of everything bad I've ever done and, one by one I'm going to make up for all my mistakes. I'm just trying to be a better person. My name is Earl.
I loved My Name is Earl. I loved the concept of a bad, poor, white trash guy trying hard to be a better person but failing massively most of the time. I loved the writing from Gregory Thomas Garcia and his team which was smarter than it seemed, and elevated old and tired cliché characters into a very watchable project, and I adored the casting. I’d not seen Jaime Pressly in anything before and her vicious tongue was just what the show needed, adding an almost villain scenario to the comedy, and I would honestly watch Jason Lee in anything. He has a quality to his delivery that makes him stand out in everything, whether it’s a Kevin Smith film where he plays a smaller part but makes himself memorable, or whether he’s the main guy like he is here carrying every episode on his shoulders.
9 – Scrubs (2001 – 2010)
Dr. Kelso: Dr. Cox, did you get my memo stating that residents should wear their lab coats at all times?
Dr. Cox: Yes, I did. At first, I just threw it away, but then I thought, that's not grand enough a gesture; so, I made a model of you out of straw, put my lab coat on it - with your memo in the pocket - and invited the neighbourhood kids to set fire to it and beat it with sticks.
Scrubs was great. Because of the ridiculously stupid hours I worked at the time, I had the DVD boxsets, so I could just come home from work and no matter how tired I am known I had something funny to watch. There had been so many medical dramas on television by the time the new century started but not that many good medical comedies and Scrubs was like the anti-ER. Whilst the show was mainly focused on the interns and their daily struggles through training and life in general it was those peripheral characters that I liked the most. Dr. Kelso as the evil head of everything leaving strife and torment in his wake, the janitor and his constant stalking of JD, both good fleshed out comedy characters played perfectly by actors who had great timing and facial expressions. It was Dr. Cox though that I gravitated towards. I liked John C. McGinley from films, and to be honest I remember him as a more serious actor, playing possibly creepy and slimy characters rather than strong comedic roles and maybe that’s why he stood out more but his delivery of every line, his ability to make comedy look easy, they are traits that are a natural gift and make you very watchable.
8 – Married with Children (1986 – 1997)
Peggy: Did you miss me?
Al: With every bullet, so far.
Married with Children was my first experience of relationship comedy. I had probably watched relationship stuff before, but it was probably too subtle for me to understand and when Married with Children started I was eleven and it was not subtle, it was a shovel in face way of delivering humour. |There was nothing unique about the writing and I’m pretty sure that if I had even a passing interest in research I could find other shows that had the downtrodden husband, lazy and expensive wife, stupid teenage girl, bright teenage boy scenario but none of those would have the supreme talents of Ed O’Neill as Al and Katey Sagal as Peggy Bundy. That’s why Married with Children was funny, it wasn’t the family dynamic or even the writing, although the writing was pretty good, it was watching Ed O’Neill and Katey Sagal go at it like rabid dogs for twenty minutes like no other couple on television. It was humorous abuse, it edged closely to inappropriate, it made you laugh.
7 – Malcolm in the Middle (2000 – 2006)
Hal: Look at that sky, Malcolm. Just think. Somewhere out there, all those stars and planets, there might be at this very moment a space dad who just got kicked out of his space trailer, who's looking down on us. Or would it be up at us? Or maybe sideways?
Malcolm: Trust me, Dad, they're all looking down on us.
I don’t know what I liked the most about Malcolm in the Middle, the fact it didn’t have canned laughter, or a live studio audience feel, or the fact that the writing just seemed a level above everything else on television at the time. Probably a mixture of both. With canned laughter you as a viewer know where the punchline is which makes viewing comedy easy and a bit lazy, when there isn’t that guide for the viewer you’d better hope that the cast and the script can really deliver because there is no safety net. Deliver they all did. The script week in week out was smart, tense, funny, packed full of obvious humour but some beautiful moments of comedy that weren’t so obvious and these moments were all delivered by a cast that were on top form. Whilst Frankie Muniz as Malcolm was the obvious focal point and he excelled in his part, especially given his age at the time, it was the incomparable Bryan Cranston that should take all the plaudits. He was just phenomenal as Hal and showed every sign of the success he was to have later in life from the very first episode. He carried every seen like a leader of troops making sure no one was left behind. Great performance, great show.
6 – Mork & Mindy (1978 – 1982)
Nanu – Nanu…
How can you not include Mork & Mindy in any list like this one? You can’t. You are legally bound to include anything Robin Williams related in any good list that you are writing. It is so decreed. Although, if I’m honest with honest with myself it may not make the ten on another day, it flicks between comedic genius and just weird dependant on my mood.
5 – Taxi (1978 – 1983)
I'm not really a cab driver. I'm just waiting for something better to come along. You know, like death.
Taxi was extraordinary comedy, an ensemble with no weak point is so rare that it should be classed as an endangered species and I truly believe that no show since Taxi that involves an ensemble has been as strong. Judd Hirsch at the top of his game, Danny DeVito doing what only Danny DeVito can do, Marilu Henner bringing class and elegance as well as strong comedy, Tony Danza in his best ever role, Jeff Conoway and Andy Kaufmann bringing some serious game, and Christopher Lloyd delivering line after line in a way that makes me wish we could have bottled that and sold it to wannabee actors, we'd have made a fortune. They don’t make television like this anymore and I really don’t know why, maybe it’s Uber’s fault.
4 – Frasier (1993 – 2004)
Roger, at Cornell University they have an incredible piece of scientific equipment known as the Tunnelling Electron Microscope. Now, this microscope is so powerful that by firing electrons you can see images of the atom, the infinitesimally minute building blocks of our universe. Roger, if I were using that microscope right now, I still wouldn't be able to locate my interest in your problem.
Frasier was successful for two reasons. Reason one – it was incredibly smart and didn’t apologise for it, in fact it made you smarter just watching it. Whilst not many of the viewing public could relate to Frasier or his brother Niles, the writing allowed you a way in, a way to feel sorry for them, to emphasise, to laugh, or to hate. It was inclusive like not many shows had managed to achieve at the time, and it was damn funny. Reason two – it was surprising. Not one of you reading this that remembers Cheers thought that your life needed a spin off show about this character, and if you tell me you did you are flat out lying. No one expected a spin off from Cheers anyway, but if there was a chance of one it would have been a buddy comedy featuring Cliff or Norm, or it would have been a ridiculous look at the life of Woody, neither of which would have been picked up for a second season let alone run for the eleven seasons that Frasier did. Because we didn’t see it coming, because it was so surprising we didn’t know what to expect and by the time we had worked it out it was too late, we were hooked.
3 – Arrested Development (2003 – Present)
Rita: And they think the stupidest things are funny.
Michael Bluth: Yeah, that's a cultural problem is what it is. You know, your average American male is in a perpetual state of adolescence, you know, arrested development.
Narrator: Hey. That's the name of the show.
I got hooked hard by Mitchell Hurwitz’ irreverent look at family. What they achieved, especially early on, with the antics and dynamic of the Bluth family was superb and was made in a way that I had never seen before, a way that just worked fantastically from the very beginning. It was almost like an alternative sketch show of the strangest characters you could think of stitched together by a narrator, the brilliant Ron Howard, that just seemed to make perfect sense to me, although it didn’t work for everyone. The fact it didn’t work for everyone but I ‘got’ it is half of its appeal, it’s like feeling lucky at the same time as being entertained.
2 – Seinfeld (1989 – 1998)
Surveys show that the #1 fear of Americans is public speaking. #2 is death. Death is #2. That means that at a funeral, the average American would rather be in the casket than doing the eulogy.
Seinfeld could very easily be my number one choice, and yesterday it was which shows how changeable my top two are, but at two it is for today. I’ve always liked Jerry Seinfeld as a comic, none of his jokes are jokes, they are what seems like effortless observations that just happen to be funny, although as I’ve learnt over the years he puts in a lot of work to look that effortless. This is what the Seinfeld show was, it was basically his stand-up routine played out with some friends, it was clever observations and comments on everyday life, the kind of things everyone in the audience could pick up on, just delivered in a way that only a select few will ever accomplish. The characters were over the top extensions of people we have all met and known, we all have a crazy friend like Kramer, they maybe aren’t asylum ready nuts like Kramer but they are getting up there, we all have a friend like George that constantly worries, that allows his neurotic thoughts to spill out of his mouth, and we all know an Elaine, someone who believes her standards are higher than they actually are, and we all know a Jerry, the one in our social group that can sniff out the funny in anything. That’s why Seinfeld worked, it was our lives on screen, it was simple yet effective, it seemed effortless and we all wanted that. I would imagine that if you were a New Yorker you’d find it even funnier as there was some references and jokes that a British guy like me couldn’t quite understand but if you were on the inside of the joke I bet you laughed hard.
1 – The Larry Sanders Show (1992 – 1998)
Dimitri, my man, you and I both clean up shit for a living. The only difference is my shit talks back.
What Garry Shandling achieved with the character of Larry Sanders was funny enough, but the entire show showed levels of writing genius that we haven’t seen much before or since. The behind the scenes look at the late-night talk shows we all like was a funny concept to begin with, but when you have Garry Shandling as the main star you can expect a lot of humour and shenanigans. What was great about The Larry Sanders Show though was how Garry didn’t hog the limelight, the show was created by him and starred him as the titular character, but the best of the writing went to his cohorts on screen, almost unselfishly. Hank (Jeffrey Tambor) and Arthur (Rip Torn) delivered the killer lines each episode, leaving Garry Shandling to concentrate on being the focal point, the quarterback if you like, that introduced the plays, then picked up the ball and threw the touchdown. He managed the talent, the guest stars to make them look they weren’t in on the joke even though they may have been, he kept the show looking like a documentary rather than a comedy show and left the grounding of the show in its sitcom scenario to others, especially Tambor and Torn. I miss The Larry Sanders Show. I miss Garry Shandling. I miss Rip Torn.
Images - IMDb/Wikipedia