With WandaVision arriving on Disney+ tomorrow, and its trailers paying homage to so many classic sitcoms from previous decades, the team decided to dedicate a top 10 post to sitcoms.
With so many classics to choose from, we expected this to be a tough one. Surprisingly, it turned out to be relatively straightforward and argument free! There are definitely some surprises in our final list though, so let us know if you agree or disagree with any of our choices.
10. TIE: Schitts Creek/Peep Show
Clare: Schitt’s Creek has become a worldwide phenomenon in the last 24 months. I caught up with the show just at the start of this. Having seen multiple people on Twitter talking about it, I took a chance and downloaded the first two episodes to my phone along with a bunch of other Netflix content to watch on a trip. By the end of the second episode, I was jones-ing to access Wi-Fi so that I could download the whole season. I ended up watching the first 5 seasons within a matter of weeks. It was during a particularly low point within my own life and yet somehow the Rose family managed to break through and had me laughing, crying and most importantly feeling more than I had in a long time.
Following the release of the sixth and final season in 2020, the show swept the 2020 Emmy’s, setting a record for the most nominations for a comedy series’ final season going on to win all seven major comedy awards and set another record for the most wins. It’s also been nominated for its portrayal of LGBTQ+ people, winning a GLAAD Media Award. So why do fans and awarding bodies love it so much? Schitt’s Creek is simple. It follows the typical sitcom arcs, a small town, focussed on a family unit and a wild and wacky bunch of supporting characters. But there’s something so wholesome and caring that creators Eugene & Dan Levy have managed to capture. It’s a world where change is possible. Where forgiveness is key and introspection is currency. It’s a safe world for the LGBTQ+ community, for people of different ethnic and financial backgrounds. But at its heart it’s about the Rose family, the most vapid and hateful foursome you could ever meet, learning what it is to be human, to love others, and most importantly for David and Alexis, to love themselves.
Don’t worry though, it’s also hysterical and has given us some of the best GIFs and lines in recent times. It’s simply the best and if you haven’t visited the Creek yet, it’s all on Netflix UK. I love that journey for you all.
Lee: I haven’t been persuaded by Clare to watched Schitts Creek just yet, but I did vote quite strongly for Peep Show, along with a few other great British shows such as The IT Crowd. A number of the US sitcoms on our list took at least a season to hit their stride, before going onto greatness, but for me, Peep Show immediately hit the ground running and continued its strong quality writing all the way through its 9 seasons.
The show stars David Mitchell and Robert Webb as flatmates Mark and Jeremy, with the story switching between the point of view of each character as we hear their inner thoughts. Jeremy is the lazy wannabe popstar while Mark works a demanding 9 to 5 job. Featuring Olivia Colman and a host of strong British talent, it’s just brilliantly written and very funny.
9. Curb Your Enthusiasm
Lee: With no new episodes of Seinfeld in my life (see below), I was overjoyed at the arrival of Curb your Enthusiasm in 2000, from Seinfeld co-creator Larry David. Larry plays himself, a modern-day Victor Meldrew (another classic sitcom) as he navigates daily life and all its frustrations. With the dialogue improvised, Larry deals with social irritations by saying or doing the things we’d all love to do in those situations, but are usually too polite to do. With the added bonus of no laughter track, it’s uncomfortable to watch at times, but very funny all the same.
After a 3 year break, season 10 arrived in 2020 and saw Larry setting up a “spite store” – a coffee shop called Latte Larry’s, situated next door to the coffee shop he wants to put out of business. With season 11 coming soon, it may not be quite as sharp and as funny as it used to be but is still essential viewing.
Clare: Inspired by WandaVision for this top 10, what jumped out to me immediately when the trailer dropped was the Bewitched homages. You cannot discuss American sitcom history without referencing Samantha and her magical nose. I grew up in the 90s in the UK, but it was always an absolute delight on a school holiday when I was able to catch Bewitched re-runs at lunchtime on Channel 4. I have visceral memories of lying in front of the TV just soaking in the comfort and falling in love with Samantha. It’s in some ways a prototype for what American comedy became and whist Married with Children, The Simpsons and Modern Family have all twisted this idea, they still start at the same point – the classic nuclear family, dutiful wife and terrible mother-in-law. Poor Darren just wanted his dinner on the table at the end of the day, not a witch for an in-law!
I think one of the things I also loved about Bewitched when growing up was despite its clear gender norms for the time it was made in, Samantha is still able to be a strong and powerful witch and though Darren thinks he wears the trousers, Samantha was always in charge. Even in 2021, it’s a charming watch and I plan to revisit my boxset this week before we see Elizabeth Olsen’s homage to one of television’s greatest witches.
7. Brooklyn Nine-Nine
Sarah: I’m rather picky when it comes to sitcoms and don’t tend to watch many, so Brooklyn Nine-Nine hadn’t even been on my radar until my obsessed friends signed us up for a B99 pub quiz. And now, for me, this is possibly the funniest American comedy still running, and brings some much-needed humour to the rather serious cop shows that have taken over our screens of late. With a great ensemble cast, a hilarious smart script and ridiculous comedy plots, this is a laugh a minute yet still manages to touch on real issues without being inappropriate. While all characters have their moments, the funniest has to be Captain Holt (Andre Braugher) and the pairing of Hitchcock (Dirk Blocker) and Scully (Joel McKinnon MIller). Braugher’s portrayal of the deadpan and emotionless Holt in the face of all of the absurd situations is consistently funny – Holt’s reaction to a marshmallow is a particular favourite of mine from season 4. Whereas Hitchcock and Scully are possibly the laziest detectives you’d ever meet, yet provide so much humour from their childlike (Scully) and sexually inappropriate (Hitchcock) behaviour.
6. What We Do In The Shadows
Sarah: The film version of What We Do in the Shadows is a triumph, so the announcement that they were going to make a tv show based on the same concept filled me with apprehension. However, with both Taika Waititi and Jemaine Clement taking the reins (for the first series at least), I shouldn’t have worried. The transition from film to tv is seamless and this series is just as wacky and funny (if not funnier) than the original film, as we see the hapless Nandor, Laszlo and Nadja as they try to live on Staten Island along with energy vampire Colin Robinson. Their ill-fated antics as they go about their daily lives are hilarious, and the clever sharp script makes this so fun to watch. Along with Brooklyn Nine-Nine, I’d quite happily watch this for as many series as possible if it stays at such an excellent standard.
Lee: I guess like most people who had seen the movie version of What We Do in the Shadows, I was cautiously optimistic at the announcement of a series. My optimism improved though when I heard about the casting of Matt Berry, who can do no wrong in my eyes. I must admit, I felt the show started off not so well but quickly picked up the pace and by season 2 was starting to head off in a slightly different but exciting direction to its movie counterpart. Matt Berry continues to be the highlight of the show, turning the weakest of scenes into something hilarious with just a reaction or one line comment.
Lee: There was a glorious period back in the mid-90s when new episodes of both Seinfeld and Friends were being shown on our TV screens. Certainly in the UK anyway, with Seinfeld being one of those shows where British TV schedulers just didn’t quite know what to do with it. So, one week you might find a new episode showing early in the evening, 2 weeks later you’ll find one showing at just after midnight! Despite that, it managed to find a lifelong fan in me and I remember at the time successfully convincing an old school friend to watch it, while he convinced me to give Friends a go. He got into Seinfeld, I got into Friends. What a wonderful time for comedy!
Real-life comedian Jerry Seinfeld created Seinfeld with fellow comedian Larry David and stars as Jerry Seinfeld, a successful stand-up living in New York. Along with best friend George (a character based on Larry David), ex-girlfriend Elaine and eccentric neighbour Kramer, the fab four gave us “a show about nothing”. A show with the mantra “no hugging, no learning”, and packed full of hilarious observations and situations.
Initially, Seinfeld was despised by test audiences and criticised by one NBC executive for being, “Too New York, too Jewish.”. Consequently, it received the smallest order in the history of American television – a four-episode first season. Admittedly, like many of the great US sitcoms, the early episodes aren’t so great when compared to the series as a whole, but over 9 seasons Seinfeld became a juggernaut of a show, with 76 million people tuning in to watch the farewell finale episode.
Since then, Seinfeld has become one of the most quoted shows of all time and although it’s been far too long since I revisited an episode, it still holds a very dear place in my heart. I’ve amassed cast autographs, scripts and books and I even visited The Soup Nazi when in New York, where I also got to sample a black and white cookie. Simply a classic show, and my personal number 1 sit-com.
4. The Office (US)
Clare: You cannot talk about the greatest sitcoms of all time and not discuss The US Office. It broke the rule that the US remakes are terrible, but more importantly, it managed to break the mould of US comedy and its influences in the landscape of Television sitcoms over the last 15 years is undeniable. Just on this list alone we have two other shows that came from one of the producers and writers (Michael Schur, who also went on to create The Good Place, which just missed out on making the top 10) and workplace comedies have never been as strong. Almost 10 years since it’s finale it has a fervent fanbase that continues to grow daily. US streamer Peacock has just changed all their subscription packages to centre around how much The Office subscribers want to watch.
Striking gold with the casting of Steve Carrell who was just on the precipice of stardom, the show took a season of two to find its footing, but by season 3 it’s undeniably hysterical just as it is uncomfortable. For me, the highlight of the show is the will they/won’t they storyline between Pam and Jim in the early seasons which is a necessary sitcom staple when I choose what to watch. Possibly the most talked-about sitcom couple since Ross and Rachel, it was the heartbeat behind the wackiness the show needed. I can’t imagine there’s anyone out there who hasn’t seen it at least once, but just in case, all seasons are currently streaming on Amazon Prime AND Netflix. Though, as someone who is currently rewatching the latter half of season 8, it doesn’t have the smoothest of landings after Carrell’s departure. But, there’s still 7 seasons of whimsy before that.
3. Father Ted
Sarah: Father Ted is a comedy classic. I grew up watching this (at probably far too young an age) and even watching it back now 25 years after it was released, it’s still so funny. Following the lives of 3 rather inept Irish priests and their tea lady, it’s almost a loving caricature of Ireland. From Ardal O’Hanlon’s gormless and lovable Dougal to Frank Kelly’s disgraceful and crude Father Jack, it’s just so funny and made funnier by Ted’s exasperation at his colleagues and surroundings. It’s such a shame Dermot Morgan died after the third series and we never got to see any more of Ted, as this is a brilliant show and could’ve stayed the distance.
Lee: Like Sarah, I consider Father Ted a comedy classic. It came out in a time where we were already being treated to some incredible comedy shows – not just from America, with Seinfeld and Friends, but in the UK with classics such as The Day Today and comedy quiz show Shooting Stars. But Father Ted was completely unique – quirky, brilliant and it all came to an end far too soon. Every episode was a classic but whenever I think of Father Ted, there are two episodes that always spring to mind. If you’ve ever experienced the joy of holidaying in a small caravan, going out of your mind with the awful weather and nothing to do, then you’ll appreciate the episode “Hell”, made all the more enjoyable with the arrival of Graham Norton’s annoying-as-hell Father Furlong. And then there’s the genius of “Speed 3”, where Father Dougal learns that there is a bomb on the milk float that he is driving, and that he cannot go below 4 miles per hour otherwise the bomb will explode. Absolutely brilliant, Father Ted is a worthy entry in this top 10.
Clare: My one stipulation of creating this list was that Friends had to feature on it somewhere. So, I’m delighted it’s made it to the second spot. Friends was, and still is, a cultural phenomenon unlike anything else. I know in recent years it’s come under some harsh criticism for how it looks in a more modern light. Some of this is completely warranted but I can’t deny the joy I still get from watching episodes, even the dreaded season 9! I doubt there is anything I have seen more in my life; it’s weaved into my child and eventual teenage years and even now into adulthood. I still remember sitting on the staircase watching an episode through the door crack as my Dad had sent me to bed due to the time (it was the season 2 episode where Rachel catches the pigeon in a pot. I got caught laughing on the stairs and sent back to bed.)
As you’ll have guessed from my feelings about the US Office, Ross and Rachel were the reason for the show and my never-ending love for it. I used to have a picture of Ross cut out of the TV Times in a 101 Dalmatians locket. Due to this, the peak seasons for me are 3 and 4, where we deal with the ending of their relationship and how something so meaningful could impact the rest of their lives. The show did an amazing job pivoting (see what I did there?) to focus on Monica and Chandler after this who had amazing chemistry and the show does not waver until at least season 7. There is never a moment in my life I can imagine not wanting to spend time with these Friends, and I fully imagine myself in the future sitting in a wheelchair confused, trying to tell someone about the hilarious time my friend Joey got his head stuck in a turkey.
Lee: I guess there’s no real surprise that Friends is in our top 10, although it’s probably a surprise to learn that it’s not our number 1! You don’t need me to tell you how great Friends is – it’s never really gone away and is as popular now as it ever was as it continues to find new audiences. Timeless comedy, incredible characters, great writing.
1. Parks and Recreation
Clare: I did not anticipate Parks & Recreation stealing the number 1 spot, but I could not be happier. It’s one of my all-time favourite TV shows ever created, with Leslie Knope being a never-ending source of inspiration. Much like it’s predecessor The Office, it struggles a little to find its tone in its initial short first season, but by the end of season 2 with the arrival of Ben Wyatt (be still my Adam Scott and sitcom romance-loving heart) and Chris Traeger, the show knew exactly what it wanted and needed to be. Giving us icons for the ages with The Cones of Dunshire, Lil Sebastian and introducing us to the joys of Treat Yo Self, it’s funny, exciting and utterly endearing. Much like Schitt’s Creek that started this list, it’s about the wonderfulness we find within us and our chosen family. It gives us hope that we can succeed, that we can love and it just fills my heart with joy and puts a smile on my face.
The show is nothing without its cast, with Amy Poehler front in centre as Knope, the hero we all want in the world. She can share her binders with me any day, I could listen to Ron Swanson’s giggles for the rest of my life, and hell I’ll even put up with Garry/Jerry. Take me back to Pawnee.
Lee: I remember when Parks and Rec was first recommended to me. “Give it until the second season, it’s a bit slow” was the advice I was given, and it’s something I wholeheartedly agree with. It’s also advice that I feel applies to a lot of the great American comedies, but if it’s racked up a fair few seasons, and amassed an enthusiastic following of fans, then it’s fair to say it’s usually worth sticking with.
Clare has perfectly summed up the heart and appeal of this show, but it really is the incredible cast that makes this so enjoyably watchable for me. Leslie Knope, Ron Swanson and Tom Haverford and all big favourites of mine but it really is a very strong ensemble cast, including a pre-MCU Chris Pratt. I love this show and was sorry when it finally came to an end.
Main artwork courtesy of freepik.com