My Top 10 Fave Sitcoms

10. AMERICAN DAD (2005-2019)

Another Seth McFarlane animated Fox show – albeit dropped in 2014 and picked up by TBS – starring McFarlane as a redneck CIA agent Stan Smith with a typecast homebody housewife (at least she seems to be at first, but Fran’s as mad as Stan is). The nerd son Steve hangs about with his nerd friends, one of them voiced by Moonlighting’s Curtis Armstrong, while Steve is voiced by Scott Grimes, currently starring alongside Seth in the fab The Orville. Last family members are left-wing protestor hippie Hailey (Rachel McFarlane, Seth keeping it in the family) and Roger the alien (also Seth), a moral-free gender-fluid selfish alien taken in by the Smiths, and who has a million disguises. Lastly there’s Klaus the German fish – or rather a former spy in the body of a goldfish, still hoping to be a man again and as mad as the rest of the clan.

The mix is pretty fine for plots, social commentary, sci-fi, political, parodies, surreal (even the apocalypse end of days!) and sometimes very dark humour, and also features oodles of famous guest stars, notably the recurring role of Stan’s CIA boss – Patrick “Captain Picard” Stewart sending himself up beautifully. As with other Seth shows Walter Murphy is on hand to score the show fabulously – for oldies like me he’s the bloke who had a 1976 hit with A Fifth Of Beethoven, a disco classical bit of fun. Some of my fave guest stars: Alyson Hanigan, Andy Samberg, Bryan Cranston, Burt reynolds, Chris Isaak, David Boreanaz, Eartha Kitt, Ed Asner, George takei – and that’s just a selection of A to G on the full list! For cult TV fans like me (and clearly the show’s stars and creators) it’s a paradise of riches. Some of the episodes don’t always work, some of the stuff the characters do can make you feel a bit icky – but it’s not real! It’s got a talking walking goldfish and an alien! Still great.

 

9. CHEERS (1982-1993)

Great theme tune, heartwarming song and concept, that you can get a “family”, friends & romance by going out and drinking alcohol regularly – not sure about the last bit, but it certainly can help joining a club! Anyway, classy show which took time to become a huge hit, great writing, great cast (Shelley Long, Ted Danson, Woody Harrelson, Kelsey Grammer, Bebe Neuwirth, Kirstie Alley, and many more who have appeared in things Star Trek, Star Wars, Pixar). Frasier was the spin-off success which is making a comeback soon, and while individual episodes were variable in belly-laughs, they tended to revolve around the Sam/Diane verbal sparring – he a former baseball star now running a bar, she a pretentious intellectual having to work as a barmaid – and their ongoing love/hate relationship. When Shelley Long left the show, Kirstie Alley brought in a new dynamic as hot-desperate-loser and corporate ownership of the bar as an extra. Still very watchable and the first of 2 American 80’s shows in the top 10.

8. BLACKADDER (1983-89)

Covering all 4 series & specials of the decade, this show falls only behind the over-rated Only Fools & Horses in polls to find the best comedy series of all-time in the UK, I would place it either 2nd or first in terms of UK series – today it’s second, but a year from now it might be top again, depends on how I’m feeling on the day. Richard Curtis, Rowan Atkinson & Ben Elton staked a unique premise – the same characters in different time-periods and different roles, which gave great opportunity to comment on themselves, the time-period, and contemporary society – this is currently being used again in Ben Elton’s great Upstart Crow series, a show that would definitely be included in my list of faves if I were to start from scratch today. The dialogue is sharp & witty & biting, the acting (or rather the cartoon over-acting) is fab, and the cast top-notch, the best of the 80’s pop up along the way, not least Rowan Atkinson & Tony Robinson as the conniving Blackadder & his put-upon dumb servant Baldrick, the core of each show. My fave series was Blackadder II in the Elizabethan period with Miranda Richardson, Stephen Fry & a host of memorable guest spots from the likes of Rik Mayall & Tom Baker. The final scene of the final World War 1 episode (let’s just forget that Millennium Dome special) was as heart-breaking a moment as you can get in cartoon whimsy. Unlike most short-run series (just 24 episodes) I’ve never got bored with these 24 (plus specials).

 

7. THIRD ROCK FROM THE SUN (1996-2001)

Manic, slapstick, quirky, this endearingly mad sitcom was broad in it’s humour, but followed the tradition of The Addams Family & Mork & Mindy in having central other-worldly characters able to shine a light on the quirks of the society they find themselves in – in this case 4 aliens are assigned a mission to observe culture from the point of view humans, and they masquerade as a family (The Solomons) led by the brilliant John Lithgow, a great actor who is in overdrive here, as Dick, the father, future movie-star Joseph Gordon-Levitt as the son Tommy (the oldest, wisest of the 4 aliens), Kristen Johnson as Sally, her militaristic alien having to cope with changing sex to a leggy female hot blonde, and Harry (French Stewart) as the sender of their messages to home through his seemingly-quite-damaged brain. The fab Jane Curtin (of sitcom Kate ‘n’ Allie, and Saturday Night Live 70’s fame) plays Dick’s co-Professor love interest, and Seinfeld’s Wayne Knight (also of Jurassic Park) plays a loveable tubby Police Officer with a crush on blunt Sally.

The humour comes from the antics of the aliens misunderstanding social niceties, having a ball let loose with all the nicer things in life, and yet still having anxieties about the bosses coming (William Shatner doing OTT fabulously, as The Big Giant Head, & John Cleese, trying to steal Mary away from Dick, being an extreme version of John Cleese). The cast were regulalrly rewarded with performance nominations, but the writing and show were never that highly-regarded, probably because it appeals to kids with it’s slapstick, manic broadness. I love it though, sometimes character, plot and acting is more than enough to be funny.

 

6. M*A*S*H (1972-83)

One of the most unlikely premises for a sitcom ever, never mind one that hit high ratings for a decade, the show was essentially a spin-off of the 1970 movie of the same title which was a dark comedy cult success. Set in the early 50’s Korean War, the show ran 3 times longer than the war did, but what it really was a political and socially liberal criticism of the Viet-Nam war, which had been running for 7 years by this time as the US plunged into the Watergate crisis along with the realisation that they can actually lose wars. So how did it work? There was a Marx Brothers disrespectfulness of stupid authority (later borrowed by Blackadder), lead Alan Alda (who had been in the Phil Silvers Show back in the 50’s) was even showed as a Groucho Marx fan, but this was tempered with the realisation that these 2 surgeons (drafted into military service to work in the Mobile Army Surgical Hospital) were entirely brilliant at their job – saving lives of young injured men. Co-star Wayne Rogers was a good foil for lead Hawkeye Pierce, as they weaved amongst a great cast of characters and actors (Loretta Swit, Head Nurse Hotlips Houlihan, who played it by the military book but wasnt above dalliances with prestigious military officers, or her weasel regular Frank Burns, a not-great surgeon with right-wing selfish views, and the butt of many a prank and caustic comment – played comically by Larry Linville).

One of the strengths of the show was the coming and going of cast members and characters: clumsy well-meaning Commnder Henry Blake was actually memorably and tearfully killed off when actor McLean Stevenson left, and was replaced by the great Dragnet-actor, and sitcom veteran Harry Morgan. A one-off character, Cpl KIlnger (Jamie Farr), dressed in drag to get a discharge from the army on mental grounds, became a huge fave and cast regular as his outfits got ever-more extravagant (no-one explained where he got the cash!) and his antics ever-more extreme to get that never-acquired discharged. The madness of living with war & death was the theme, and the show swung from black humour, farce to stark reality, commenting on the inhumanity of man to others. The show ran with the then-traditional laugh-track (against the producers, cast & writers wishes) in the States, except during the surgery scenes, but in the UK from day one there was no laugh track. This was a major plus in the critical acclaim of the show, leaving you to decide what was funny. I used to watch re-runs in the USA with the laugh track and it cheapens the impact quite considerably, the themes were too important for tackiness. Eventually some of the cast moved on to a spin-off, after Alda decided he’d had enough – by that time his power and influence over the show had moved it too much into maudlin self-righteousness at the expense of the darker edge that the early years had in spades – and the War ended in the most-watched final TV episode of all-time in the States. With 106 million, and viewing figures now split amongst online media, that will easily remain the biggest none-sporting or event moment of all-time. Biggest Ever TV episode of any show.

 

5. FATHER TED (1995-1998)

Gentle, amiable, loveable comedy set amongst witless priests in Ireland, this is the top-rated UK (Channel 4) sitcom on the list. It was irreverent, silly, had running character gags, cartoon-styled surreal plots and visuals, taking the piss out of the format, pop culture and people. Some of the great moments include “I don’t believe it” with Victor Meldrew actor Richard Wilson on location going apeshit at hearing his tired catch-phrase, Father Ted trying to explain to simple Father Dougal about cows in the distance not being the same as toy cows just because they looked the same size, a milk-float with a bomb on it a la Speed, and A Song For Europe’s My Lovely Horse.

Writer’s Arthur Matthews & Graham Linehan were men on a mission, inspired by Seinfeld, and Fawlty Towers, and the cast and characters were great OTT extremes: Dermot Morgan’s conniving Father (“the money was just resting in my account!”) Ted, Ardal O’Hanlan’s simple Father (“That’s mad Ted”) Dougal on hearing something religious, Frank Kelly’s angry alcoholic woman-chasing Father (“GIRLS! BOOZE! FECK!”) Jack, Pauline McLynn’s tea-obssessed Mrs (“tea father? Ah go on go on go on go on, GO ON!”) Doyle and a host of great supporting characters, not least Graham Norton as a hyperactive priest riverdancing with some students in a small unstable caravan.

The wistful irish theme tune and original songs were composed by Neil Hannon of The Divine Comedy. Fans of the show were many and famous, Maurice Gibb being buried with a DVD box set of the show, and it just runs and runs to this day in the UK & Ireland. Sadly, 3 series was all there is, following actor Dermot Morgan’s sudden death shortly after the wrap-up of 3rd series filming and the decision to leave it there was made.

 

 

4. GREEN ACRES (1965-71)

The oldest sitcom in the top 20, the highest-placed non-animation show, and one of the most inventive and surreal shows, well ahead of it’s time. I watched it as a boy and loved it, watched it as a teen in Singapore and loved it, watched it as an adult and still loved it, and bought the book of the series with a foreword by Matt Groening who was inspired and influenced by it. Is it dated? Well yes, but also no: it exists in it’s own version of reality – in the first series it starts off traditional sitcom: an affluent New York City attorney (Eddie Albert) gets fed-up with the soul-less rat-race and moves to the country, buying a farm deep, deep in rural from an engaging conman Mr Haney (Pat Buttram) and drags his Hungarian socialite wife (Eva Gabor, the younger more talented sister of Zsa Zsa) kicking & screaming to a ramshackle farm in Hooterville, location of sister show Petticoat Junction, and including some of the cast as supporting occasional characters. Executive Producer Paul Henning had already had major success with The Beverley Hillbillies – Hick hillbillies strike oil and move to affluent Beverley Hills – and Petticoat Junction, and offered the show to writer/producer Jay Sommers, which was a stroke of genius.

From the first second the bouncy memorable theme tune burst into action the show hit the ground running, (the Vic Mizzy theme later popped up in many a hit record, notably Groove Is In The Heart (Deee-Lite) and Just Buggin’ (Whistle), Mizzy already having struck TV theme immortality with The Addams Family, and reportedly Green Acres was being planned to become a musical, starting with the theme song, but has yet to appear) parodying the famous 1930 painting American Gothic. Plotwise, the local community citizens seem to be a bit eccentric and out-of-time, treating anything more recent than the 20’s or 30’s and newly fandangles, or naive, or bizarre (not least Arnold The Pig, the most-famous TV pig ever, who appropriately loved watching TV and getting involved in people’s lives, with dreams of becoming a Hollywood star). Yes, this is 1965, and yes it’s a real pig.

The cast is brilliant, the characters live in their own universe with their own logic – at first Lisa Douglas (Gabor) seems utterly out of place and hates it, while the community views husband Oliver as a sad city dweller with no clue (but they are all supportive and utterly loveable and free from malice) – he drives a tractor dressed in his best NYC lawyers suit – but by the second season it’s Lisa who joins their mad world and lives by their inverted logic. The show isn’t really in the countryside, it’s painted backdrops, the credit sequences are aware that they are TV credits and pop up anywhere, on chicken eggs (even square ones laid by the square-egg chicken), side of buildings, and the cast (usually Eva Gabor) muse on them and what is happening this week with them, pure breaking-the-fourth-wall years before any other show did. They pioneered a return to nature a decade ahead of The Good Life. The Douglas’ farmhouse never got improved (The Monroe Brothers worked on it for 6 years and never managed to improve anything, Alf & Ralf quarrelled, Ralf always looked forlornly for a man – she was a girl, breaking stereotype barriers years ahead of other shows where women were housewives, even the fantasy shows, not manual labourers/”skilled” workers), Hank Kimball was the local agricultural advisor – who turned up, rambled in a chain of thought that he interrupted himself on, lost the plot quickly, and had to be prompted to get back to the point (sound familiar? Ronnie Corbett, The Two Ronnies?) and as played by Alvy Moore I never tire of the wordplay. All episodes were written by Jay Sommers, which gave the show continuity, running gags, and increasing playfulness with the format as it went on. Kids loved the slapstick and wacky characters, adults appreciate the wordplay and knowing winks.

Sadly, healthy ratings couldn’t save any of the rural shows surviving a massive purge of any rural-based or themed shows in 1971 when CBS decided they weren’t pulling in enough ad revenue. They opted instead for more urban-based shows missing the point that these were parodies of modern America, not dumb hick shows appealing to “dumb hicks” with no spending money.

Happily, TV Guide listed 2 of the episodes amongst the Top 100 Greatest Episodes Of All-Time, and it lives on in spirit in The Simpsons. Not bad for a 55-year-old daft show that no-one has heard of these days….

 

3. FAMILY GUY (1999-2019)

I didn’t take to this Fox show immediately – coming after The Simpsons it seemed harsher, brasher, less loveable, and walked a thin line between edgy humour and bad taste, something it has retained throughout the 20 years of production. Fox seemed to think so too, as it was cancelled in the early years, but always sprung back following strong performances on DVD and reruns. Creator & star Seth McFarlane (of which I’m a huge fan, still, with latest sci-fi show The Orville, movies like A Million Ways To Die In The West & Ted, & spin-off animated shows like American Dad & The Cleveland Show) based Family Guy on The Simpsons & the US 70’s sitcom All In The Family (itself a rewrite of UK Till Death Us Do Part) – which is why irreverence, politics, society, pop culture, relationships, get the same unsentimental, critical treatment. Being animated (taking the piss is protected under US law) allows them to go places other shows can’t, but also allows affection parody, most notably the trio of episodes based around the original Star Wars movies, which are brilliantly accurate and amusing without losing the love.

The Griffin family is led by Peter, a loud-mouthed buffoon with no social skills or boundaries (in one episode he is turned gay) is clearly modelled on Archie Bunker, and his wife Lois (Alex Borstein) on Edith Bunker, right down the parody of All In The Family’s TV theme song, while dumb Chris (voiced by Buffy’s Seth Green), plain, unpopular Meg, the butt of everyone’s bullying (voiced by movie star Mila Kunis), Stewie (a matricidal, genius-inventor talking baby) make up the kids, and talking , walking conceited racist dog Brian (voiced by MacFarlane, along with Peter & Stewie) completes the family. Back-up characters include Mayor West (Batman’s Adam West playing a scatty version of himself), ancient wanna-be paedophile Herbert, sex-obssessed borderline-abuser Quagmire, dull Cleveland, and disabled angry cop Joe, among many many more.

So….not surprising it’s not to everyone’s taste! There is no subject they won’t tackle or ridicule, sometimes go too far (for me it was the ridiculing of Amy Winehouse’s behaviour before she died, or the AID’s song) more often they hit the right note, showing a wide range of viewpoints but generally taking the “right” stance from my point of view, and the cult shows they reference are a joy to me. The violence? It’s the same as Tom & Jerry where Tom gets sliced into pieces, only to come back to life immediately, just bloodier. Usually. Sometimes the point is to lampoon, say, the media’s response to a tragedy, rather than laugh at the tragedy (it’s a cartoon, it’s not real!) and that point might get missed by some.

Anyway, still running, still on TV every night…

here’s some good bits from season 11, quality is pretty much consistent throughout.

2. FUTURAMA (1999-2013)

A Simpsons Matt Groening spin-off, stylistically, and probably my fave sitcom by virtue of the futuristic, sci-fi nerd worshipping setting and cast, and in-references to all things sci-fi/fantasy (long before Big Bang Theory). Problem was, it was never as big as The Simpsons, due to it’s more niche appeal, and kept getting cancelled, first time in 2003, from thereafter living on through DVD issues, one-off DVD’s, re-commissioning, and ultimately going for a good 140 episodes and 7 seasons. More compact than The Simpsons, the plots obviously have a wider remit, as they can take place anywhere, anytime (though The Simpsons did this, it wasn’t every episode) and they had brilliant writers, including key mover David X Cohen, who’d written many of the best Simpsons episodes. It’s no shock that the dip in quality of The Simpsons was directly attributable to the instant quality of Futurama, appealing to people you might not expect it to – such as Private Eye editor Ian Hislop. It didn’t hurt that they had talking heads in jars of 20th century politicians to keep commentaries contemporary, if less obvious. It also didn;t hurt that the writers were by far the most “over-educated” PHD-galore cast of sci-fi nerds in TV history (probably), packing as much into a show as they could, honing it constantly.

The cast was set around 20th century delivery-boy loser Fry getting frozen, awoken in the far future to become…a spaceship-based delivery boy (Played by Billy West, a regular voice-over in animation, and playing multiple characters like Zapp Branigan & Jewish crustacean Dr Zoidberg, and Professor Farnsworth, Fry’s distant and ancient mad-scientist nephew). He yearns for one-eyed assertive Leela, a mutant from the sewers of New New York (played by the fab Katey Sagal of Married: With Children fame), and his best mate moral-free loudmouth robot Bender, more into floozy female robots, beer and money than actual bending and working deliveries.

Amazingly, even after years away, the cast & crew all came back renewed with the same high quality as if they’d never been away, still dragging in guest stars (like the one with most of the Star Trek: Next Gen cast as their characters as if they were real and set in the future, or the one where Leonard Nimoy is the guest head in the water-filled bottle nibbling on fish food, or the one with Vice President Al Gore doing his Global Warming stuff – but funny). Overall the show has more consistency than Groening’s other show….but that other show at it’s best was as good as Futurama, AND was influential, so for that it’s getting top spot (even though I’d rather rewatch Futurama).

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zjvdnzCkBGQ

 

1. THE SIMPSONS (1989-19 so far)

From primitive Matt Groening shorts featured in The Tracey Ullman Show to the longest-running sitcom in US TV history. Sitcoms elsewhere may have lasted longer than 30 years (Last Of The Summer Wine ran from 1973 to 2010) but that involved complete cast changes and comparatively fewer episodes – 295 over 31 series (it regularly missed years during it’s run – while The Simpsons is still going, 656 episodes, 30 series, and commissioned for more, so apart from chronologically it will overhaul Wine shortly. Sadly, the quality hasn;t kept up with the decades. The first series was quirky and charming, but slow compared to it’s prime run (series 2 through 10 or 11) after which it became increasingly patchy. At it’s best though, oh my goodness it was a cultural phenomenon and completely changed the sitcom format in terms of what became possible: lampooning, satire, media references, a vast cast of recurring characters, a Tom & Jerry attitude to violence (Itchy & Scratchy were a pisstake of what it really look like), an awesome cast of famous guest voices, either as themselves, or as characters, and a whole mini-universe of musings on human beings and their quirks with elements of truth to them. More, it often went off at tangents and experimented with the animated format – computer-graphics, annual halloween gore-fests set outside the regular family Simpson “reality”, future-world guessing (in one famous instance they predict President Trump), but always good-natured – even when faced with actual monsters like Mr. Burns.

Bart Simpson, the son, was geared around being the centrepiece of the show initially, with his rascally catchphrases and conscience-lite “Just do it” attitude – he even got Michael Jackson on board with a chart-topping single Do The Bartman, and guesting too as an inmate who thinks he’s Michael Jackson. Don;t expect to see that one in future, though. Elsewhere, comics, games, a fab movie spin-off very late in the run, the fun Simpsons 3D ride at Universal Studios, and lucrative salaries for it’s ongoing stable of voice-over actors: Dan Castellenata as Homer, the actual star of the show once it found it’s feet, was also in the Tracey ullman Show along with Marge Simpson (and her sisters) actor Julie Kavner. Julie was long-familiar to me as beloved sister of Rhoda (The Mary Tyler Moore Show spin-off which was widely-screened in the UK in the mid-70’s), while Hank Azaria (A NIght At The Museum’s Boris Karloff-a-like, Friends) and Harry Shearer (Spinal tap and much more) made up the bulk of the voices of most of the subsidiary characters. liberal hippie daughter Lisa (Yeardley Smith) & brash Bart (Nancy Cartwright, who also does a lot of the other kid voices) make up the main cast. One regular famous guest voice was Marcia Wallace (Mrs Krabappel – “Hah!” – Bart’s teacher, who’d been a fave of mine from 70’s sitcoms like The Bob Newhart Show, and guest spots in Bewitched, Taxi and many more. She became a fixture on US gameshows (being as she was funny) and I got to see her in 1979, guesting in The Match Game aka Blankety Blank, while in LA (they were giving out free audience tickets on Sunset Boulevard).

Name dropper.

Fave characters? Comic Book Guy. Chief Wiggum. Ned Flanders. Krusty The Clown. Kelsey Grammar as Sideshow Bob. The wacky style of characters can be traced back to Green Acres, one of Groening’s TV show inspirations. Fave running gag? Bart phoning Mo for made-up people: “Phone call for Amanda. Last name Huggenkiss”. Mo (to the Bar): I’m looking for Amanda. Anyone seen Amanda. I’m after AmandaHuggenkiss”. Well, aren’t we all….

Greatest TV comedy show ever? Very probably. There isn’t a great compilation overview though, so here’s a Halloween cartoon within a cartoon clip cos you’ve all seen The Simpsons, and if you haven’t where have you been for 30 years!?

My Top 20 Fave Sitcoms

20. FRASIER (1993-2004)

Spin-off of the long-running Cheers, Frasier also ran for 11 years and was record-award-winning, giving Kelsey Grammer the unique record of playing the same character for a record-breaking 20 years for a sitcom character. A huge fave of critics, the scriptwriting was sharp, smart and full of great one-liners. The cast was superb, now moved from Boston to Seattle, divorced from Lilith, a radio Shrink, and newly-reacquainted with his family, Frasier had a great supporting cast of characters in his pernickity pyschiatrist brother Niles, his ex-cop disabled no-nonsense dad Martin, and his dog, his radio producer Man-eating Roz, and Martin’s live-in carer from Manchester the blunt Daphne. All beautifully acted, and invariably the cast either were nominated or won Emmys each year of it’s run. Millicent Martin played Daphne’s mum, which was a nice bit of 60’s UK TV nostalgia for older viewers, and one of my fave characters was Frasier’s ruthless Manager, Bebe.

One of the fun bits were the celebrity cameo voice-overs popping in as radio phone-in’s with issues for Frasier to advise on: Christopher Reeve, Daryl Hannah, John Lithgow, Ben Stiller, and oodles of others. The relationships between the main characters provided the backbone to the show, but the most-popular was probably married-man Niles falling secretly in love with Daphne, and the show ran with it for years – peaking with Daphne finding out, Niles being divorced from his never-seen-much-talked-about-wife Maris by then, and them eloping to get married on impulse. Thereafter the show lost it’s sparkle, which is generally a huge no-no in TV’s: once you lose the flirting and longing, you get cosy and boring as the replacement, or else tedious melodrama. One of my fave spin-offs were Frasier and Niles essentially morphing into Sideshow Bob and his brother Cecil in the Simpsons. Both poised and dignified, the loss of dignity and murderous intent for Bart Simpson in the show is hilarious.

 

19. RED DWARF (1988-2018)

The show that never dies, and an unlikely long-runner (sporadically) being as it’s a cast of 4 or 5 set in the distant future on a mining space ship Red Dwarf after the end of the rest of the human race bar one – Dave Lister, beer-swilling laddy Scouser inspiring a whole TV channel in his name, and latterly paying for 2 great revival series (with one more to go). Rob Grant & Doug Naylor started, executive-produced and scripted the early episodes and series, and following the partnership split, Doug Naylor carried on alone from series 7.

As I’m a sci-fi nerd you’d expect I’d get into the show right off the bat – not so. Sci-fi comedy had always been crap, so I expected this to be the same, especially with the premise: former street-poet Craig Charles as Dave, a descendant of a cat (Cat – Danny John-Jules), and an obnoxious dead now-hologram Arnold Rimmer (impressionist comic actor Chris Barrie) together with sarcastic seemingly-simple Norman Lovett as a computer. My mum enjoyed it though, and I gradually started watching it series 2 and 3 and it just got better as it went on with the addition of android Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) and computer Holly replaced by Hilly (stand-up Hattie Hayridge). Peaking around series 5 or 6, the next two series went onto film and the whole mood changed, it needed the studio audience. Plus the whole banter and interplay changed for the worse with the addition of Kochanski (Lister’s long-crush, originally an occasional welcome guest played by pop star Claire Grogan) – played by Chloe Annett, which waters down the basic concept of the last human and his frustrations, kept sane by his non-human mates and escapades. A total lads show.

The BBC run ended in 1999 and it took channel Dave to commission a 2008 filmed 3-episode special to boost it back to life, as the cast became available in between other work, like Coronation Street (Craig Charles). It didn’t quite work, but did let Dave bring the show back proper, studio audience and cast of 4, in 2012 for series 10, then series 11 and 12 2016 and 2017, all of which caught the classic mood of the early 90’s. Great one-liners, great sci-fi homages, great characters, fun plotting and a very warm unsentimental ensemble make for a show that is still good fun. I hope they do more!

18. THE BIG BANG THEORY (2007-2019?)

Still running, though not quite as sharp and geeky as it’s earlier seasons, The Big bang Theory is a sci-fi nerd’s wet dream: so many pop culture, science and sci-fi/fantasy references run through the show that you would imagine it would be a minority interest sitcom. Not so. It’s huge worldwide. The premise, 4 geeky scientists/engineers in their 20’s, is a sort of nerdy version of Friends, minus the women – the only regular female cast mate is neighbour Penny to flat-sharing Sheldon & Leonard (named after sitcom legend Sheldon Leonard), a not at-all nerd, hot and popular and self-assured. Over the seasons Leonard and Penny get together and marry, and she gets 2 scientist girlfriends to hang out with (Bernadette, Howard’s future wife, and Amy, Sheldon’s future wife) leaving poor old Raj unhitched to date). With more female cast members the balance of the show got less nerdy and more soap, but still maintained it’s sci-fi credentials, notably the number of Star Trek actors passing through, not least semi-regular former child actor and Next Gen star Will Wheaton playing himself.

Overall I prefer it to it’s obvious ancestor Friends, not just for the sci-fi/pop culture elements that I can relate to, but because the characters aren’t as annoying – more lovable than irritating, as Ross, Chandler, Monica and co could be at times. There’s also a sort of spiritual Roseanne going on (only not as tedious, and thank goodness no Roseanne Barr) with 3 cast members featuring, 2 as semi-regulars, and Johnny Galecki as star. The break-out star though is Jim Parsons as award-winning super-ego-super-nerd-super-IQ scientist Sheldon, complete with all his many many hang-ups, quirks and foibles. My introduction to the show came through my niece who said I should watch it (3 seasons in I’d not heard much of it really) as it was so Me. Apparently I’m a bit like Sheldon. Well, not in my universe am I anything remotely like Sheldon! (Except in the less annoying ways). I did love it though, right from the Barenaked Ladies theme song down to the endless guest stars from the sci-fi genre that I admire, and the long-running worship of Stephen Hawking, and the lads-together comics-fans camaraderie. The Comic Shop is a world I know every well.

Currently I’m one and a half seasons behind so can’t comment on recent quality, but it remains enjoyable if no longer my fave live-acted sitcom – that baton has been passed on to another still to come. There is at least one more season (the 12th) to go, after that probably renogotiating all the contracts will become too expensive and onerous I’m guessing…

17. BOTTOM (1991-1995)

Who doesn’t love a great Bottom? No, not Shakespeare, not naughtiness, but Bottom Of The Heap. The late great Rik Mayall & the equally great Ade Edmondson are basically playing older, less niche, less animated, versions of their Young Ones characters, but this time it’s Richie and Eddie, a couple of unemployed flatmate losers obsessed with trying to have sex with a woman. Any woman (Richie is till a 40-year-old Virgin). Slapstick, sentiment-free, aggressive, joyful, loveable, annoying, conscienceless, manic, pitiable, and very very funny. It spawned a stageshow version during the TV run, and a movie Guest House Paradiso in 1999, and was created by the duo as a sort of logical extension of their Comedy Club routines in the early 80’s The Dangerous Brothers.

Fellow “Young Ones” actor Christopher Ryan joined the cast, a mere 18 episodes were filmed over 3 series, and the stupid BBC brass turned down the fourth series someone on high just not getting the jokes. Not a man. Of the sexes, men more likely find the show very funny, because it’s men as losers, it’s easy to see bits of oneself in it, in a cartoon Tom & Jerry violent fashion, and it’s Ade & Rik at the top of their game. It’s not as innovative and game-changing as The Young Ones but it works way better as a sitcom. The Young Ones, apart from less than a handful of episodes tends to feel a bit disjointed and hit ‘n’ miss it’s approach, not unlike Python where bits of it remain brilliant, but chunks of it are less so.

Best episode: I think the gas man taped to the ceiling…here’s the lead-up

and for good measure here’s a bunch of stage ad-libbing equally funny…

16. SOAP (1977-81)

A complete parody of US daytime soap operas, Soap was madcap, chock-full of great outrageous characters, smart and takes soap plotting to fantastical extremes, such as sex-change, gangsters, cheating politicians, gay relationships, murder and onwards through devil-child possession, alien abduction and south-american dictators. The casting was genius, not least Katherine Helmond as well-off matriarch of the richer of two main squabbling-related families The Tates & The Campbells, Jessica Tate. She was flirty, naive, genuinely funny (she later turned up in the UK Girls On Top series). Then there was Robert Guillarme as butler Benson, black, sarcastic, caustic and pretty disliked and commented on most people in the show and all their bad traits. So popular the character got his own spin-off show set in the world politics.

Billy Crystal was innovative as gay son Jody Campbell, at first stereotypically camp but settling in to become not-remotely-camp and a proper role model in a UK TV world that didn’t have any non-camp recurring characters of gay men. It also made him a huge movie star. Then there was the ventriloquist half brother who though his doll was real and had ongoing arguments with him, the doll offending everyone at ever opportunity – Chuck & Bob. Dinah Manoff & Richard Mulligan also starred in another TV sitcom sort-of-spinoff Empty Nest (also by Soap creator Susan “Golden Girls” Harris), while Dinah was one of the pink ladies in Grease to boot. The large supporting cast was equally manic and inventive throughout the 4 series, and is regularly and rightly played as one of, if not the greatest ever, ensembles ever put together.

Very daring for it’s time, and subject to outrage and criticism from some more conservative quarters, I loved the first 3 series especially, recording them on reel-to-reel tape and playing them over and over until the advent of video-recorders came along, and then DVD’s. It only played late night on various ITV regions in the UK, so it was a bit sporadic to catch and meant dedication to staying up late. Totally worth it. These days it rarely ever gets shown (BOOOOOOO!) but as the template for later styled shows like Third Rock From The Sun, The Golden Girls (the former equally manic, the latter equally wise-cracking and pop-culture-smart), not to mention animated shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy and others, it deserves the kudos it has had from Time Magazine (one of the 100 Best TV shows of all-time), The Huffington Post (“timeless”) and The Museum of Broadcast Communications “arguably one of the most creative efforts by network television before or after”. It’s also bloody hilarious.

15. MARRIED WITH CHILDREN (1987-97)

The new Fox TV’s low-brow sitcom success (for Fox, very much an infant network) was anti-PC, broad innuendo and toilet humour writ large on American TV for the very first time. The British know all about that genre, though, it’s basically the format of the Carry-On movie series. When I’ve said how much I love the show, I’m more likely to get sighs of despair than I am anyone agreeing with me that it’s beautifully written, at least the early series are, and the characters are just terrific with spot-on performances from Ed O’Neill (later of Modern Family), Katey Sagal (who will appear again on this list), Christina Applegate (later of various comedy movies), and David Faustino as the Bundy family, selfish all – from shoe-salesman failure father Al, his lazy sex-staved wife Peggy, sneaky, conniving son Bud, and dumb babe daughter Kelly. Throw in the nagging Marcie (Amanda Bearse), Peg’s neighbour and friend & her 2 hubbies, and you have a show littered with unsentimental ridicule, one-liners, insults, social commentary, and any number of -ism-based comments, notably sexism.

It might sound like a no-hoper in these PC-days, and it was attcked at the time by many groups taking offense at it’s crudity and non-pc lines, but it does actually break the mould in the US where nobody had ever gone to the bathroom in over 30 years (except to have a bath), or talked about males with low sex-drives, or slagged off the neighbour for her chicken legs. The actors make it endearing, no question, it’s very much influential in attitude, at which point I refer to any Seth MacFarlane show, unafraid to make statements that might challenge, but at the same time make it plain that the Bundy’s are not NICE people, and they only reluctantly stand-up for each other when they are under attack from non-Bundy’s. The format was nicked by many networks in other countries, including the UK (ITV did a 7-episode attempt which showed how much you need a great cast, cos it was utter rubbish headed by Russ Abbot). As for me, I’m not generally offended by comedy, especially when words come out the mouths of characters not meant to be role models – that is, after all, real life, and ignoring it and pretending it doesn’t exist is just sticking your head in the sand. And the baser universal side of human existence can be smart and beautifully-written too, and worthy of taking the piss out of, or allowing it to take the piss out of pretentiousness and insincerity. It IS cruel at times though, so you have been warned!

14. THE IT CROWD (2006-2013) 25 episodes

The first of 2 Graham Linehan-written shows in the top 20, and a wacky joy for me – great scripts, off-the-wall eccentricity, characters, a great cast (most of whom have popped up in films since), and anyone who has an IT department at work can see little nuggets of absurd recognition in some of this. Granted it’s taken to extremes, but beautifully done. I particularly loved Noel Fielding as goth Richmond, banished to a mystery room and with the ability to seemingly hang from the ceiling at will, IT nerd Moss (Richard Ayoade), and the IT-illiterate Jen (nominally in charge but thinks she has the whole of the internet in a box). Throw in later seasons manic ego Matt Berry as Douglas Reynholm, and this Channel 4 gem is a wonder to watch and enjoy.

13. BROOKLYN NINE-NINE (2013-2019)

One of the great ensemble US comedies of the last decade, packed with great actors and characters, minority-supporting, loveable, smart, sharp, witty, fast-paced, character-driven scripts, leading to one of the great mysteries in modern TV – why on Earth Fox cancelled it in 2018! Fox, to be fair, have consistency in cancelling the greatest sitcoms on their books, clearly not having a clue what quality is. Happily NBC picked it up, and I’m still waiting to see the result of that. The break-out character was stand-up Chelsea Peretti as Gina, though the star and backbone is comedian-actor Andy Samberg, and the creative force was Parks & Recreation creators Dan Goor & Michael Schur. The whole cast is great though!

12. MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE (2000-2006)

Stylistically borrowing heavily from the earlier Parker Lewis Can’t Lose, this filmed sitcom had no studio audience and no laugh track, leaving the viewer to work out what was funny and clever and exaggerated. One of many Fox shows at the top end of my listings (much as it pains to me to admit it, Fox have made quality comedy shows, pushing the boundary away from traditional sitcoms), this was a fabulous ensemble cast, full of charm, wackiness, character, and based around a dysfunctional household of boys and an over-bearing mother and laddish father, played brilliantly by Jane Kaczmarek and the now-big-movie-star Bryan Cranston. Any show with a lot of child actors usually is a sign to turn off right away, but the boys are all played sentiment-free, much more rounded and flawed, like real kids, and wholesomeness and goody-goodness is an actual target of the family, but not in a broad Married With Children way. I especially love the supporting cast, the large, geeky Craig, co-worker of the family’s mom Lois, who is infatuated with her, the grandma (Cloris Leachman as always providing OTT greats, this time a bitter, vindictive humorless ogre) and the German immigrant rancher Otto (Kenneth Mars honing the same character he played to brilliance in What’s Up Doc and Young Frankenstein screwball comedy movies). Cloris Leachman was Phyllis in Mary Tyler Moore, and Phyllis her spin-off, and also was in Young Frankenstein, Mel Brook’s genius pastiche of horror movies, among many films and TV shows. It’s a great show.

11. THE CLEVELAND SHOW (2009-2013)

One of 3 Seth McFarlane animated sitcoms in the top 11, This Family Guy spin-off lasted 4 years before the cast was assimilated back into Family Guy (in the case of Cleveland Brown, notoriously dull friend and neighbour of Peter Griffin) and newly-added in the case of the rest of the family, Donna, Rallo, Cleveland Jr & Roberta who were all newly-created or revamped for the new location of Stoolbend. Cleveland was much wackier in his new role, and dull was dropped, and his sidekicks included Tim The Bear (voiced by Seth McFarlane) & his wife (voiced by news magnate Ariana Huffington), redneck Lester & His wife, mobile scooter-bound and overweight, Gus the barman (film director David Lynch), short-arse Holt (Jason Sudeikis) & a host of other great characters.

I was sad the show never really caught on & got prematurely cancelled (not least because they only released the first 2 seasons on DVD boo!), to me it was almost on a par with other McFarlane shows – who has since moved into movies like A Million Ways To Die In The West & Ted, and the fab new Star Trek parody comedy-drama The Orville on Fox. Yes, it’s another Fox show, yes, it’s often broad and crude and cruel, but it’s also culturally observant, politically-commenting & socially-smart with great and silly dialogue and situations. It’s also free from gooey sentiment & has a host of famous guest stars like Kanye West & Bruno Mars. Top notch.

My Top 30 Fave Sitcoms

30. CHELMSFORD 123 (1988-90)

Running for only 13 episodes over 2 series, this Channel 4/Hat Trick Productions Roman Empire Chelmsford-set historical sitcom is largely forgotten these days which is a huge shame. 123 AD is the year, and it was created by, and starred in, and written by Jimmy Mulville and Rory McGrath, a sort of piss-take on damp, miserable Britain populated by conniving and stupid Brits and Lording-it-over resentful Romans posted overseas to keep the peasants in check. Character-based, but with a delightful sense of knowing anachronism (especially Howard Lew Lewis as Blag, a simple hulk with a penchant to making references to 20th century stuff when he comes over all giddy), and a cast of many familiar writers, actors and comics of the 80’s and 90’s (and beyond) such as Andy Hamilton (Drop The Dead Donkey), Neil Pearson (ditto), Philip Pope (Blackadder), and others. The two creators played a Roman Governor Aulus Polinus (Mulville) and a sarcastic tribe-leader Badvoc (McGrath).

In some ways it was the precursor to current good sitcom Plebs (also set in Roman times), also very contemporary in approach, despite the setting. Mostly though, like all short-run sitcoms it was the scripts (daft and snappy in this case) that carried it, only unlike some lower-down the list I haven’t become tired-through-repetition of them. Never likely to be, either, as it’s never repeated anywhere. Boo hiss!

29. FRIENDS (1994-2004)

OK here’s a shock – one of the most-successful sitcoms ever is only at 29! This smart, sassy, wise-cracking group of mates was a twist on the concept of what constitutes “family” – at the root of almost all sitcoms in traditional settings based on character and plot. The cast became internationally famous, and gave Jennifer Aniston a decent comedy movie actor career, Matt Le Blanc a Top Gear stint and various sitcoms, and the others popped up in movies and TV shows, or the stage: Courtney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer. Relationships tended to be external to the group in the early days, other than the “burning” Ross/Rachel future romance, and the guest cast (many of whom were very good and went on to big things – see Antman Paul Rudd) could be either one-off or recurring for a while, before the storyline wore out.

The characters were very well-defined, though I never found them that endearing myself, whiny professor Ross grated, and his sis Monica was a bit loud, Rachel a bit annoyingly scatty, and Chandler – despite his long-running sarcastic quips – also left me a tad on the sighing side. Joey’s loveable lech was fun at the start of the series, but got tiresome as the series dragged on for two series too many. That left the main attraction, kookie Phoebe, in a world of her own, and the main reason to watch the show, other than the sharp scripts. That, and the theme tune.

It all got very incestuous (with all but the actual brother/sister, and Phoebe) in the internal relationships in the later silly seasons, but those early ones had some gems, such as The One With The Prom Video. Genuinely amusing running gags helped, as did wacky parents (Teri Garr, for one, after I’d already seen her in real life in the audience on a US movie quiz TV show pilot), but I wish they’d ended it after series 7, or 8 at a pinch. I still struggle to sit through those final series. Still enormously popular though, the show remains rated as one of the greats, and it’s influence can be seen in the biggest current sitcom in America – of which more later.

 

28. NEWHART (1982-1990)

Bob Newhart is one of my all-time comics, either as stand-up (his records sold well in the 60’s, such as his classic The Driving Instructor sketch) or comic actor on TV or movies. His finest moments, for me, though are in this second hit TV series set in in New England, as an Inn owner, and peopled by a great eccentric supporting cast of characters, and with a gorgeous Henry Mancini theme tune. Initially it started off more or less in the same decent classy mode as his 70’s hit series The Bob Newhart Show (which co-starred I Dream Of Jeannie’s Bill Daley and Marcia Wallace aka Mrs Krabappel in The Simpsons – I saw them both in the audience of the USA version of Blankety Blank and even got Bill’s autograph – and one of my fave actresses as a teen, Suzanne Pleshette, star of many a Disney movie) but as the series progressed it got increasingly bizarre and fantastical.

The more off-the-wall it got the more I liked it, Bob was just perfect as the sane, exasperated anchor at the centre of madness (much like the 60’s classic Green Acres sitcom), and went on to feature in similar kindly elderly roles in comedy movies of hot comics who were inspired by him. My fave characters though were selfish, lazy, spoilt-rich-girl maid Stephanie, and the 3 backwoods brothers, “Hi I’m Larry. This is my brother Daryl, and this is my other brother Daryl”. The two Daryl’s never uttered a word until the very last episode, and the famous (in America) last episode was a major treat as Dick (Bob) gets hit by a golf ball and wakes up in bed next to Suzanne Pleshette realising the whole 8 series have been a dream (a la Dallas, and as more recently borrowed in Breaking Bad). Perfect way to go, really! Sadly, not much in the way of classic clips for Newhart, just whole episodes, as it doesn’t lend itself to isolated one-liners so much…

27. THE YOUNG ONES (1982-84)

One of my all-time fave shows in the 80’s and 90’s, this one is another 12-episode classic run that has worn off over the decades a bit, partly due to the pacing, partly due to repeat watching over and over. By this time I had a betamax videorecorder and I could watch fave shows often – which if anything makes the flaws stand out more. Some of the episodes though, especially second season ones like Bambi (a University Challenge piss-take that is still funny) never tire. Written by Ben Elton, Rik Mayall & Lise Mayer, setting up for Blackadder, the anarchic show about repulsively selfish, violent, hippie, and conniving students living in digs together was a riotous mickey-take of Uni life, but while it had extreme elements of recognition in it, it was more comic-strip violence and playfully playing with the sitcom format. Most episodes had bands as guests, like Madness and Motorhead, and characters could at any time address the audience directly – not exactly a TV first, but something I’ve always enjoyed – while in their flights of fancy.

Starring the fab much-missed Rik Mayall as Rik (a pretentious slimy poet anarchist with a penchant for Cliff Richard – hence the series name and a later charity collaboration – who everyone hates instantly), and Ade Edmondson as Vivyan (a punk with destructive tendencies, self-or-otherwise), Neil (Nigel Planer as the grimiest, most-depressed hippie ever – so popular he had a solo hit record covering Traffic’s Hole In My Shoe in character) and Mike, the character that was supposed to be Comic Strip mainman Peter Richardson, but wasn’t (it was taken on by Christopher Ryan) – Richardson was a driving force behind co-contemporary new wave of comedy series The Comic Strip Presents, which also starred Ade Edmondson, his future wife Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French and many other live venue Comedy Store regulars who also crossed-over to guest on The Young Ones. The full list of guests is a veritable who’s who of Alternative Comedy of the early 80’s, and a veritable Giants Of British TV & Film Comedy of the next 30 years. Influential much!

Ben Elton, like the other main character-writer-stand-up Alexei Sayle (as various Balowski family members), specialised in politically-charged anti-Tory left-wing venomous stand-up. Not necessarily funny out-of-time, but ohmyword could we do with some of that right now. Thatcher then, May now. The other feature of the show were the cutaways (now a staple of Family Guy and the like), albeit to puppet-replicas of rats, bits of food, and anything really where the fancy took the writers. Best of all was the use of Rik & Ade as antagonists, based on their slapstick, insult-based, stand-up live routines, and which they took to perfection in their later TV sitcom Bottom. So anyway, “Daddy’s got a Jaguar”, get out the lentils, and put on Cliff singing Devil Woman cos here’s some clips…

 

26. Police Squad! (1982!)

Developed by the makers of Airplane, that classic zany movie pisstake of the Airport movies, David & Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and starring one of the main cast from that movie, Leslie Nielsen gaining a new lease of life as a comic actor having played the leading man for most of his career, this mickeytake of the 70’s cop show was hilarious. Just like the movies they specialised in it was a hit and miss collection of visual gags in the background, literal sentence word-play, childish gags, and comic-strip style violence and playing with and aping the television format, especially then-big Quinn Martin cop shows. The pacing was fast, very fast for the time, but ultra-modern if compared to current sitcoms in the post-Simpsons era, and it still works. Guest stars, such as Lorne Green, could be killed off in the opening scene without uttering a word. The voice-over episode title was always wrong compared to the text version. Just tickled me every time!
Leslie Neilsen was poker-faced brilliant, the supporting cast good (including Mission: Impossible’s Peter Lupus) and the show lasted a mere 6 episodes, one those bizarre instances of being ahead of it’s time. It did well in re-run’s though, despite being only half the episodes of even UK TV series like Fawlty Towers and The Young Ones. The producers had the last laugh though – they did the 3 Naked Gun movies on the back of the success in reruns, which were even better than the TV series. The show would rate higher – had they made more episodes – as I’m not including the Naked Gun movies in the rating: the first movie is firmly inside my all-time fave top 100 movies, as listed a few years back. Probably time for a review of that list what with some fab movies over the last 3 or 4 years that need adding…

25. THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES (1962-71)

This show should never have worked, and the critics were out in force from day one at the concept: a family of hick hillbillies discover oil on their backwoods land become instant millionaires and move to the ultimate rich playground of Beverly Hills in a mansion next door to their conniving and greedy banker, so he can control their naivety. Coming over as if they had dropped complete out of 1865 with no awareness of the modern world (you have to accept the premise to get the love, and also forgive Granny’s otherwise loveably cantankerous gun-toting moonshine-making non-PC viewpoints) the show was actually a brilliant inverted way of looking at 1960‘s America which remains pretty relevant today in it’s targets (the pursuit of money, unscrupulous bankers, the condescending moneyed rich). The Clampetts, Jed (the widower family-leader), his nephew Jethro (dumb as good-natured dishwater, but hot and athletic), and daughter Ellie-May and her tomboy-yet-gorgeous animal lover innocent, along with wiry Granny, Jed’s mother-in-law, are loveable. Jed is not dumb, just unworldly, and there is a real moral backbone to the show, I’d go so far as to call it satire, albeit hidden amongst low-brow gags and lines. The cast is balanced by the slimy banker Milburn Drysdale, trying to keep the Clampett’s cash in his bank, usually by getting his Jethro-obsessed spinster secretary Miss Jane to do his bidding to keep the Clampett’s happy.

The cast is fabulous, including many guest stars and recurring characters, from Buddy Ebsen as Jed (who was the original Tin Man in the Wizard Of Oz till the body paint caused him to become ill and be replaced), Max Baer Jr (Jethro), Donna Douglas (Ellie-May) and Granny (Irene Ryan), Miss Jane Hathaway (Nancy Kulp, gay in real life and with a tendancy for plain dress suits in the show, quite unusual at the time), and tragically, Sharon Tate, who became world-famous as the pregnant murder victim of evil Charles Manson and his cult followers during the show’s run. The creator behind the show was Paul Henning, who proved he had the magic touch with 2 spin-offs, with related cast-members, Petticoat Junction, starring Bea Benaderet (who played Jethro’s ma in the Hillbilllies), and Green Acres – of which more later), but the shows various audiences proved to be the undoing of them – the “rural” comedies were seen to appeal to low-brow non-advertising-target-audiences, so despite high ratings and Emmies throughout the runs, they were cancelled in an attempt to replace them with more young, urban, advert-friendly shows in 1970/71.

The show’s TV theme pretty sets up the premise with a great country banjo track, and my own love is seeing how great character-actors use the “aliens-seeing-us-for-first-time” take on modern life, I don’t think there were any shows prior to Hillbillies that did that, and it fit right in to the fantasy sitcom explosion of the 60’s. Plus, I loved the characters, the warmth, and my Beverly Hillbillies comic annual 1965 or so, which I still have. As an adult, I kinda went cold then hot on the show during various re-runs over the decades, but have come back to it in recent years following the world banking crisis, cos this show kind of said all you needed to know about greedy bankers 50 years earlier. Some cliches remain evergreen because of the nuggets of truth in them. Oh, and Max Baer, hunky to the max, dressed in 19th century drag as Jethro’s sister Jethrine has to be seen. Fab!


24. RISING DAMP (1974-78)

Maybe a little flattered here in rankings, and somewhat dated these days, but this was the very rare beast back in the day: a great British ITV sitcom. They were as rare as unicorns in a hurricane. Eric Chappell was the creator and writer and takes the most credit: by 2004 it was still the highest-rated ITV sitcom of all time in the BBC’s Top 100 all-time list. What makes it work is the setting, a crummy series of bedsits and flats in a house run by a tight-fisted, bored, interfering, letching, right-wing landlord – as played to perfection by Leonard Rossiter – Rigsby could have become unlikeable, as the main antagonist in each episode as he forces himself on his lodgers Alan (played by the already-loveable Richard Beckinsale ex of decent sitcom The Lovers with Paula Wilcox, and father of actress Kate) and Philip (played by Don Warrington to smooth perfection). Both shared a bedsit, Alan as a poor medical student, a bit naive, and Philip more worldly and second generation black – chased by Miss Jones (the wonderful Frances De La Tour, more recently of Hogwarts) the single, sophisticated lady on hard times in the flat below. Philip has some fun pretending to be the son of an African Chief getting a British education, and Rigsby has the hots for Miss Jones (and every other woman).

The chemistry between the actors and the characters is a delight, and the scripts sharp. Maybe students don’t have such crummy digs anymore, but it was pretty common back in the day (see The Young Ones for a comic-strip version), and the setting allows more than a touch of farce, and some social commentary – Rigsby is politically-incorrect and outspoken and rude (when he’s not creeping to Miss Jones) but he’s not a bigot, which is a bit of a saving grace compared to other sitcoms at the time featuring mixed casts – the godawful Love Thy Neighbour springs to mind as a cast trying to rise above a terrible premise.

The guest actors were also fabulous and the plots whimsical – the episode where Rigsby thinks he’s run over his beloved cat Vienna is a goodie (It’s a fur-stole related to his social-climbing aspirations), as is the one where he tries to woo Miss Jones with waving in front of her nose some burning wood from an African Love-Tree (Philip’s wardrobe bottom, actually), guaranteed to make her fall for him (it doesn’t). Richard Beckinsale alternated between Porridge and Rising Damp, 2 giants of 70’s sitcom, until his very early death in 1979 the year after both series had finished. Leonard Rossiter had further success with The Rise & Fall Of Reggie Perrin in the 70’s, also working on 2 sitcoms, and he too died far too soon in 1984. Influence: Rossiter/Rigsby’s vocal style, I would suggest, not unlike Eddie Izzard…

23. THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW (AKA YOU’LL NEVER GET RICH AKA BILKO) (1955-59)

The greatest sitcom of the late 50’s no contest, nothing else comes close, and a perennial re-run right through to the 90’s, this black & white show has been absent for too long, probably thanks to being in b&w which does the heads of younger TV viewers in – so they say. Poor things, so sensitive. Filmed live in front of an audience, mistakes and all, it was more of a stage show set in a backwards quiet Fort Baxter army motor pool in Kansas. In some ways the show is very 1950’s and of-its-time, a bit quaint, optimistic, nothing too demanding or dark but it works for 2 reasons: Creator & main writer Nat Hiken (who went on to write other hits like Car 54 Where Are You?) had snappy dialogue, and great characters, with an eye for comic actors (not necessarily skilled, just “right” for the role) and included early spots for future greats like Alan Alda and Dick Van Dyke; the other reason is Phil Silvers. The man was a force of nature with his break-neck delivery of dialogue, and his scheming, money-obsessed, gambling, lazy, but big-hearted and loyal Sgt Bilko was one of the great TV characters. Bilko was smart, inventive, and could pull the wool over the Jet Set socialites, and the army brass led by his adorably gullible Colonel Hall, and it made Phil Silvers a star – albeit typecast (even in Mad Mad Mad Mad World and Carry On…Follow That Camel he’s still brilliantly Bilko).

The back-up cast were equally endearing, and for the 50’s relatively ethnically mixed – as is only right for conscription representing the whole of the USA as it was comprised at the time. In one episode they even aped Elvis’ induction into the army, keeping it sitcom-“real”. Favourite characters for me are Colonel Hall as played scattily by Paul Ford, the sluggish Pvt Doberman (Maurice Gosfield, later Benny The Ball in the Bilko-based animated 60’s gem Top Cat), and Joe E. Ross as hopeless gambling Army Camp cook Sgt Ritzik and his nagging wife played by Beatrice Pons. So good they ended up starring in Nat Hiken’s next show Car 54 Where Are You in essentially the same roles, albeit police-based not army. The show won loads of awards, inspired later greats, and was beloved of many for decades. Quite right too.

22. PARKER LEWIS CAN’T LOSE (1990-93)

Probably the sitcom I most want on DVD, it’s hard to get hold of being as it was a Fox show only shown on SKY in the UK, which meant hardly anyone saw it. A real tragedy as it was very much a precursor to later fast-paced format-breaking, pop-culture-referencing, cool shows like Malcolm In The Middle. Parker Lewis went further though, breaking the barriers between audience and show in a way first seen in the 60’s on Green Acres, and it took use of camera-techniques into the realm of art. Smart, sassy and likeable, the show was basically a good vs evil fun look at High School, starring the cool Parker Lewis (Corin Nemec, later of Stargate) and his cool wannaberockstar mate Mikey, as they deal with plotlines involving the bratty short little sister, girlfriends, schoolwork, loud shirts, a prefect/vampire-like snitch of the Principal, and a huge bully/dim gentle giant obsessed with “eat now”. And what a Principal Grace Musso is. Far and away the highlight of the series is her loud, plotting, sneering character as played brilliantly by Melanie Chartoff – she shouts and the glass on her door smashes into pieces in every episode.

If you like surreal, want to get the vibes of the early 90’s US in a wholesome non-school-shooting world, a bit tongue-in-cheek, and engaging inventiveness, then you may wish to check out the show. it grows on you and deserves to be better known…

21. THE ADDAMS FAMILY (1964-66)

Written in part and originated by Marx Brothers scriptwriter Nat Perrin, the fantasy b&w show was based on a series of cartoons by Charles Addams, and ran opposite rival The Munsters. The Munsters won the ratings war, but The Addams Family was COOL. Siouxsie modelled her look on Morticia, the wife and mother of the Gothic household containing a bizarre extended well-off family of misfits and creatures that viewed themselves as normal and the rest of the world as distasteful and bizarre, but had hearts of gold in amongst the death-macabre-obsessions and lack of concern with shuffling off the mortal coil.

The characters and the cast are sheer brilliance, no less, and the scripts mildly amusing mickey-takes and distorted views of 1960’s America’s pop culture and values, and the black and white actually helps the monster mood of the show – colour would have been awful! It still comes over as charmingly classy, a bit dated, but the performances of Carolyn Jones as Morticia and John Astin as Gomez, deeply-in-love parents to Wednesday and Pugsley, are still just fabulously skilfull while the key mad-cap former child actor Jackie Coogan as Uncle Fester, together with lesser faves like Lurch the Butler, Thing (a hand in a box), Grandmama, and Cousin It (a short mass of hair and nothing else much) give great support. They even had Morticia’s mother played by the terrific Margaret Hamilton, the immortal Wicked Witch Of The West in Wizard Of Oz.

Spawning remake TV series, TV movies, 2 fab feature films with an equally great cast, which made the fab Vic Mizzy finger-snapping theme tune a 90’s hit (albeit in remake), and cartoon TV series have all helped keep The Addams Family alive in pop culture as The Munsters have dropped out of favour. The episodes are those which give the stars a chance to shine, like Gomez driven by passion when Morticia speaks French. “Cara Mia!” “You Rang”, blowing up toy trains, chalking an x on Morticia’s sleeve to note where Gomez had got to kissing her hand and arm, and general anarchy fits totally in with the groundbreaking style of The Marx Brothers and is the 2nd-rated sitcom of the 60’s by me.

So, at last, only 20 to go…

1 from the 60’s
2 from the 70s
5 from the 80s
6 from the 90’s
5 from the 00’s
1 from the 10’s

My Top 30 Sitcoms (Part 2)

30. CHELMSFORD 123 (1988-90)

Running for only 13 episodes over 2 series, this Channel 4/Hat Trick Productions Roman Empire Chelmsford-set historical sitcom is largely forgotten these days which is a huge shame. 123 AD is the year, and it was created by, and starred in, and written by Jimmy Mulville and Rory McGrath, a sort of piss-take on damp, miserable Britain populated by conniving and stupid Brits and Lording-it-over resentful Romans posted overseas to keep the peasants in check. Character-based, but with a delightful sense of knowing anachronism (especially Howard Lew Lewis as Blag, a simple hulk with a penchant to making references to 20th century stuff when he comes over all giddy), and a cast of many familiar writers, actors and comics of the 80’s and 90’s (and beyond) such as Andy Hamilton (Drop The Dead Donkey), Neil Pearson (ditto), Philip Pope (Blackadder), and others. The two creators played a Roman Governor Aulus Polinus (Mulville) and a sarcastic tribe-leader Badvoc (McGrath).

In some ways it was the precursor to current good sitcom Plebs (also set in Roman times), also very contemporary in approach, despite the setting. Mostly though, like all short-run sitcoms it was the scripts (daft and snappy in this case) that carried it, only unlike some lower-down the list I haven’t become tired-through-repetition of them. Never likely to be, either, as it’s never repeated anywhere. Boo hiss!

 

29. FRIENDS (1994-2004)

OK here’s a shock – one of the most-successful sitcoms ever is only at 29! This smart, sassy, wise-cracking group of mates was a twist on the concept of what constitutes “family” – at the root of almost all sitcoms in traditional settings based on character and plot. The cast became internationally famous, and gave Jennifer Aniston a decent comedy movie actor career, Matt Le Blanc a Top Gear stint and various sitcoms, and the others popped up in movies and TV shows, or the stage: Courtney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry and David Schwimmer. Relationships tended to be external to the group in the early days, other than the “burning” Ross/Rachel future romance, and the guest cast (many of whom were very good and went on to big things – see Antman Paul Rudd) could be either one-off or recurring for a while, before the storyline wore out.

The characters were very well-defined, though I never found them that endearing myself, whiny professor Ross grated, and his sis Monica was a bit loud, Rachel a bit annoyingly scatty, and Chandler – despite his long-running sarcastic quips – also left me a tad on the sighing side. Joey’s loveable lech was fun at the start of the series, but got tiresome as the series dragged on for two series too many. That left the main attraction, kookie Phoebe, in a world of her own, and the main reason to watch the show, other than the sharp scripts. That, and the theme tune.

It all got very incestuous (with all but the actual brother/sister, and Phoebe) in the internal relationships in the later silly seasons, but those early ones had some gems, such as The One With The Prom Video. Genuinely amusing running gags helped, as did wacky parents (Teri Garr, for one, after I’d already seen her in real life in the audience on a US movie quiz TV show pilot), but I wish they’d ended it after series 7, or 8 at a pinch. I still struggle to sit through those final series. Still enormously popular though, the show remains rated as one of the greats, and it’s influence can be seen in the biggest current sitcom in America – of which more later.

 

28. NEWHART (1982-1990)

Bob Newhart is one of my all-time comics, either as stand-up (his records sold well in the 60’s, such as his classic The Driving Instructor sketch) or comic actor on TV or movies. His finest moments, for me, though are in this second hit TV series set in in New England, as an Inn owner, and peopled by a great eccentric supporting cast of characters, and with a gorgeous Henry Mancini theme tune. Initially it started off more or less in the same decent classy mode as his 70’s hit series The Bob Newhart Show (which co-starred I Dream Of Jeannie’s Bill Daley and Marcia Wallace aka Mrs Krabappel in The Simpsons – I saw them both in the audience of the USA version of Blankety Blank and even got Bill’s autograph – and one of my fave actresses as a teen, Suzanne Pleshette, star of many a Disney movie) but as the series progressed it got increasingly bizarre and fantastical.

The more off-the-wall it got the more I liked it, Bob was just perfect as the sane, exasperated anchor at the centre of madness (much like the 60’s classic Green Acres sitcom), and went on to feature in similar kindly elderly roles in comedy movies of hot comics who were inspired by him. My fave characters though were selfish, lazy, spoilt-rich-girl maid Stephanie, and the 3 backwoods brothers, “Hi I’m Larry. This is my brother Daryl, and this is my other brother Daryl”. The two Daryl’s never uttered a word until the very last episode, and the famous (in America) last episode was a major treat as Dick (Bob) gets hit by a golf ball and wakes up in bed next to Suzanne Pleshette realising the whole 8 series have been a dream (a la Dallas, and as more recently borrowed in Breaking Bad). Perfect way to go, really! Sadly, not much in the way of classic clips for Newhart, just whole episodes, as it doesn’t lend itself to isolated one-liners so much…

 

 

27. THE YOUNG ONES (1982-84)

One of my all-time fave shows in the 80’s and 90’s, this one is another 12-episode classic run that has worn off over the decades a bit, partly due to the pacing, partly due to repeat watching over and over. By this time I had a betamax videorecorder and I could watch fave shows often – which if anything makes the flaws stand out more. Some of the episodes though, especially second season ones like Bambi (a University Challenge piss-take that is still funny) never tire. Written by Ben Elton, Rik Mayall & Lise Mayer, setting up for Blackadder, the anarchic show about repulsively selfish, violent, hippie, and conniving students living in digs together was a riotous mickey-take of Uni life, but while it had extreme elements of recognition in it, it was more comic-strip violence and playfully playing with the sitcom format. Most episodes had bands as guests, like Madness and Motorhead, and characters could at any time address the audience directly – not exactly a TV first, but something I’ve always enjoyed – while in their flights of fancy.

Starring the fab much-missed Rik Mayall as Rik (a pretentious slimy poet anarchist with a penchant for Cliff Richard – hence the series name and a later charity collaboration – who everyone hates instantly), and Ade Edmondson as Vivyan (a punk with destructive tendencies, self-or-otherwise), Neil (Nigel Planer as the grimiest, most-depressed hippie ever – so popular he had a solo hit record covering Traffic’s Hole In My Shoe in character) and Mike, the character that was supposed to be Comic Strip mainman Peter Richardson, but wasn’t (it was taken on by Christopher Ryan) – Richardson was a driving force behind co-contemporary new wave of comedy series The Comic Strip Presents, which also starred Ade Edmondson, his future wife Jennifer Saunders, Dawn French and many other live venue Comedy Store regulars who also crossed-over to guest on The Young Ones. The full list of guests is a veritable who’s who of Alternative Comedy of the early 80’s, and a veritable Giants Of British TV & Film Comedy of the next 30 years. Influential much!

Ben Elton, like the other main character-writer-stand-up Alexei Sayle (as various Balowski family members), specialised in politically-charged anti-Tory left-wing venomous stand-up. Not necessarily funny out-of-time, but ohmyword could we do with some of that right now. Thatcher then, May now. The other feature of the show were the cutaways (now a staple of Family Guy and the like), albeit to puppet-replicas of rats, bits of food, and anything really where the fancy took the writers. Best of all was the use of Rik & Ade as antagonists, based on their slapstick, insult-based, stand-up live routines, and which they took to perfection in their later TV sitcom Bottom. So anyway, “Daddy’s got a Jaguar”, get out the lentils, and put on Cliff singing Devil Woman cos here’s some clips…

 

 

26. Police Squad! (1982!)

Developed by the makers of Airplane, that classic zany movie pisstake of the Airport movies, David & Jerry Zucker, Jim Abrahams, and starring one of the main cast from that movie, Leslie Nielsen gaining a new lease of life as a comic actor having played the leading man for most of his career, this mickeytake of the 70’s cop show was hilarious. Just like the movies they specialised in it was a hit and miss collection of visual gags in the background, literal sentence word-play, childish gags, and comic-strip style violence and playing with and aping the television format, especially then-big Quinn Martin cop shows. The pacing was fast, very fast for the time, but ultra-modern if compared to current sitcoms in the post-Simpsons era, and it still works. Guest stars, such as Lorne Green, could be killed off in the opening scene without uttering a word. The voice-over episode title was always wrong compared to the text version. Just tickled me every time!

 

Leslie Neilsen was poker-faced brilliant, the supporting cast good (including Mission: Impossible’s Peter Lupus) and the show lasted a mere 6 episodes, one those bizarre instances of being ahead of it’s time. It did well in re-run’s though, despite being only half the episodes of even UK TV series like Fawlty Towers and The Young Ones. The producers had the last laugh though – they did the 3 Naked Gun movies on the back of the success in reruns, which were even better than the TV series. The show would rate higher – had they made more episodes – as I’m not including the Naked Gun movies in the rating: the first movie is firmly inside my all-time fave top 100 movies, as listed a few years back. Probably time for a review of that list what with some fab movies over the last 3 or 4 years that need adding…

 

25. THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES (1962-71)

This show should never have worked, and the critics were out in force from day one at the concept: a family of hick hillbillies discover oil on their backwoods land become instant millionaires and move to the ultimate rich playground of Beverly Hills in a mansion next door to their conniving and greedy banker, so he can control their naivety. Coming over as if they had dropped complete out of 1865 with no awareness of the modern world (you have to accept the premise to get the love, and also forgive Granny’s otherwise loveably cantankerous gun-toting moonshine-making non-PC viewpoints) the show was actually a brilliant inverted way of looking at 1960‘s America which remains pretty relevant today in it’s targets (the pursuit of money, unscrupulous bankers, the condescending moneyed rich). The Clampetts, Jed (the widower family-leader), his nephew Jethro (dumb as good-natured dishwater, but hot and athletic), and daughter Ellie-May and her tomboy-yet-gorgeous animal lover innocent, along with wiry Granny, Jed’s mother-in-law, are loveable. Jed is not dumb, just unworldly, and there is a real moral backbone to the show, I’d go so far as to call it satire, albeit hidden amongst low-brow gags and lines. The cast is balanced by the slimy banker Milburn Drysdale, trying to keep the Clampett’s cash in his bank, usually by getting his Jethro-obsessed spinster secretary Miss Jane to do his bidding to keep the Clampett’s happy.

The cast is fabulous, including many guest stars and recurring characters, from Buddy Ebsen as Jed (who was the original Tin Man in the Wizard Of Oz till the body paint caused him to become ill and be replaced), Max Baer Jr (Jethro), Donna Douglas (Ellie-May) and Granny (Irene Ryan), Miss Jane Hathaway (Nancy Kulp, gay in real life and with a tendancy for plain dress suits in the show, quite unusual at the time), and tragically, Sharon Tate, who became world-famous as the pregnant murder victim of evil Charles Manson and his cult followers during the show’s run. The creator behind the show was Paul Henning, who proved he had the magic touch with 2 spin-offs, with related cast-members, Petticoat Junction, starring Bea Benaderet (who played Jethro’s ma in the Hillbilllies), and Green Acres – of which more later), but the shows various audiences proved to be the undoing of them – the “rural” comedies were seen to appeal to low-brow non-advertising-target-audiences, so despite high ratings and Emmies throughout the runs, they were cancelled in an attempt to replace them with more young, urban, advert-friendly shows in 1970/71.

The show’s TV theme pretty sets up the premise with a great country banjo track, and my own love is seeing how great character-actors use the “aliens-seeing-us-for-first-time” take on modern life, I don’t think there were any shows prior to Hillbillies that did that, and it fit right in to the fantasy sitcom explosion of the 60’s. Plus, I loved the characters, the warmth, and my Beverly Hillbillies comic annual 1965 or so, which I still have. As an adult, I kinda went cold then hot on the show during various re-runs over the decades, but have come back to it in recent years following the world banking crisis, cos this show kind of said all you needed to know about greedy bankers 50 years earlier. Some cliches remain evergreen because of the nuggets of truth in them. Oh, and Max Baer, hunky to the max, dressed in 19th century drag as Jethro’s sister Jethrine has to be seen. Fab!

24. RISING DAMP (1974-78)

Maybe a little flattered here in rankings, and somewhat dated these days, but this was the very rare beast back in the day: a great British ITV sitcom. They were as rare as unicorns in a hurricane. Eric Chappell was the creator and writer and takes the most credit: by 2004 it was still the highest-rated ITV sitcom of all time in the BBC’s Top 100 all-time list. What makes it work is the setting, a crummy series of bedsits and flats in a house run by a tight-fisted, bored, interfering, letching, right-wing landlord – as played to perfection by Leonard Rossiter – Rigsby could have become unlikeable, as the main antagonist in each episode as he forces himself on his lodgers Alan (played by the already-loveable Richard Beckinsale ex of decent sitcom The Lovers with Paula Wilcox, and father of actress Kate) and Philip (played by Don Warrington to smooth perfection). Both shared a bedsit, Alan as a poor medical student, a bit naive, and Philip more worldly and second generation black – chased by Miss Jones (the wonderful Frances De La Tour, more recently of Hogwarts) the single, sophisticated lady on hard times in the flat below. Philip has some fun pretending to be the son of an African Chief getting a British education, and Rigsby has the hots for Miss Jones (and every other woman).

The chemistry between the actors and the characters is a delight, and the scripts sharp. Maybe students don’t have such crummy digs anymore, but it was pretty common back in the day (see The Young Ones for a comic-strip version), and the setting allows more than a touch of farce, and some social commentary – Rigsby is politically-incorrect and outspoken and rude (when he’s not creeping to Miss Jones) but he’s not a bigot, which is a bit of a saving grace compared to other sitcoms at the time featuring mixed casts – the godawful Love Thy Neighbour springs to mind as a cast trying to rise above a terrible premise.

The guest actors were also fabulous and the plots whimsical – the episode where Rigsby thinks he’s run over his beloved cat Vienna is a goodie (It’s a fur-stole related to his social-climbing aspirations), as is the one where he tries to woo Miss Jones with waving in front of her nose some burning wood from an African Love-Tree (Philip’s wardrobe bottom, actually), guaranteed to make her fall for him (it doesn’t). Richard Beckinsale alternated between Porridge and Rising Damp, 2 giants of 70’s sitcom, until his very early death in 1979 the year after both series had finished. Leonard Rossiter had further success with The Rise & Fall Of Reggie Perrin in the 70’s, also working on 2 sitcoms, and he too died far too soon in 1984. Influence: Rossiter/Rigsby’s vocal style, I would suggest, not unlike Eddie Izzard…

23. THE PHIL SILVERS SHOW (AKA YOU’LL NEVER GET RICH AKA BILKO) (1955-59)

The greatest sitcom of the late 50’s no contest, nothing else comes close, and a perennial re-run right through to the 90’s, this black & white show has been absent for too long, probably thanks to being in b&w which does the heads of younger TV viewers in – so they say. Poor things, so sensitive. Filmed live in front of an audience, mistakes and all, it was more of a stage show set in a backwards quiet Fort Baxter army motor pool in Kansas. In some ways the show is very 1950’s and of-its-time, a bit quaint, optimistic, nothing too demanding or dark but it works for 2 reasons: Creator & main writer Nat Hiken (who went on to write other hits like Car 54 Where Are You?) had snappy dialogue, and great characters, with an eye for comic actors (not necessarily skilled, just “right” for the role) and included early spots for future greats like Alan Alda and Dick Van Dyke; the other reason is Phil Silvers. The man was a force of nature with his break-neck delivery of dialogue, and his scheming, money-obsessed, gambling, lazy, but big-hearted and loyal Sgt Bilko was one of the great TV characters. Bilko was smart, inventive, and could pull the wool over the Jet Set socialites, and the army brass led by his adorably gullible Colonel Hall, and it made Phil Silvers a star – albeit typecast (even in Mad Mad Mad Mad World and Carry On…Follow That Camel he’s still brilliantly Bilko).

The back-up cast were equally endearing, and for the 50’s relatively ethnically mixed – as is only right for conscription representing the whole of the USA as it was comprised at the time. In one episode they even aped Elvis’ induction into the army, keeping it sitcom-“real”. Favourite characters for me are Colonel Hall as played scattily by Paul Ford, the sluggish Pvt Doberman (Maurice Gosfield, later Benny The Ball in the Bilko-based animated 60’s gem Top Cat), and Joe E. Ross as hopeless gambling Army Camp cook Sgt Ritzik and his nagging wife played by Beatrice Pons. So good they ended up starring in Nat Hiken’s next show Car 54 Where Are You in essentially the same roles, albeit police-based not army. The show won loads of awards, inspired later greats, and was beloved of many for decades. Quite right too.

22. PARKER LEWIS CAN’T LOSE (1990-93)

Probably the sitcom I most want on DVD, it’s hard to get hold of being as it was a Fox show only shown on SKY in the UK, which meant hardly anyone saw it. A real tragedy as it was very much a precursor to later fast-paced format-breaking, pop-culture-referencing, cool shows like Malcolm In The Middle. Parker Lewis went further though, breaking the barriers between audience and show in a way first seen in the 60’s on Green Acres, and it took use of camera-techniques into the realm of art. Smart, sassy and likeable, the show was basically a good vs evil fun look at High School, starring the cool Parker Lewis (Corin Nemec, later of Stargate) and his cool wannaberockstar mate Mikey, as they deal with plotlines involving the bratty short little sister, girlfriends, schoolwork, loud shirts, a prefect/vampire-like snitch of the Principal, and a huge bully/dim gentle giant obsessed with “eat now”. And what a Principal Grace Musso is. Far and away the highlight of the series is her loud, plotting, sneering character as played brilliantly by Melanie Chartoff – she shouts and the glass on her door smashes into pieces in every episode.

If you like surreal, want to get the vibes of the early 90’s US in a wholesome non-school-shooting world, a bit tongue-in-cheek, and engaging inventiveness, then you may wish to check out the show. it grows on you and deserves to be better known…

21. THE ADDAMS FAMILY (1964-66)

Written in part and originated by Marx Brothers scriptwriter Nat Perrin, the fantasy b&w show was based on a series of cartoons by Charles Addams, and ran opposite rival The Munsters. The Munsters won the ratings war, but The Addams Family was COOL. Siouxsie modelled her look on Morticia, the wife and mother of the Gothic household containing a bizarre extended well-off family of misfits and creatures that viewed themselves as normal and the rest of the world as distasteful and bizarre, but had hearts of gold in amongst the death-macabre-obsessions and lack of concern with shuffling off the mortal coil.

The characters and the cast are sheer brilliance, no less, and the scripts mildly amusing mickey-takes and distorted views of 1960’s America’s pop culture and values, and the black and white actually helps the monster mood of the show – colour would have been awful! It still comes over as charmingly classy, a bit dated, but the performances of Carolyn Jones as Morticia and John Astin as Gomez, deeply-in-love parents to Wednesday and Pugsley, are still just fabulously skilfull while the key mad-cap former child actor Jackie Coogan as Uncle Fester, together with lesser faves like Lurch the Butler, Thing (a hand in a box), Grandmama, and Cousin It (a short mass of hair and nothing else much) give great support. They even had Morticia’s mother played by the terrific Margaret Hamilton, the immortal Wicked Witch Of The West in Wizard Of Oz.

Spawning remake TV series, TV movies, 2 fab feature films with an equally great cast, which made the fab Vic Mizzy finger-snapping theme tune a 90’s hit (albeit in remake), and cartoon TV series have all helped keep The Addams Family alive in pop culture as The Munsters have dropped out of favour. The episodes are those which give the stars a chance to shine, like Gomez driven by passion when Morticia speaks French. “Cara Mia!” “You Rang”, blowing up toy trains, chalking an x on Morticia’s sleeve to note where Gomez had got to kissing her hand and arm, and general anarchy fits totally in with the groundbreaking style of The Marx Brothers and is the 2nd-rated sitcom of the 60’s by me.

So, at last, only 20 to go…

1 from the 60’s
2 from the 70s
5 from the 80s
6 from the 90’s
5 from the 00’s
1 from the 10’s

20. FRASIER (1993-2004)

Spin-off of the long-running Cheers, Frasier also ran for 11 years and was record-award-winning, giving Kelsey Grammer the unique record of playing the same character for a record-breaking 20 years for a sitcom character. A huge fave of critics, the scriptwriting was sharp, smart and full of great one-liners. The cast was superb, now moved from Boston to Seattle, divorced from Lilith, a radio Shrink, and newly-reacquainted with his family, Frasier had a great supporting cast of characters in his pernickity pyschiatrist brother Niles, his ex-cop disabled no-nonsense dad Martin, and his dog, his radio producer Man-eating Roz, and Martin’s live-in carer from Manchester the blunt Daphne. All beautifully acted, and invariably the cast either were nominated or won Emmys each year of it’s run. Millicent Martin played Daphne’s mum, which was a nice bit of 60’s UK TV nostalgia for older viewers, and one of my fave characters was Frasier’s ruthless Manager, Bebe.

One of the fun bits were the celebrity cameo voice-overs popping in as radio phone-in’s with issues for Frasier to advise on: Christopher Reeve, Daryl Hannah, John Lithgow, Ben Stiller, and oodles of others. The relationships between the main characters provided the backbone to the show, but the most-popular was probably married-man Niles falling secretly in love with Daphne, and the show ran with it for years – peaking with Daphne finding out, Niles being divorced from his never-seen-much-talked-about-wife Maris by then, and them eloping to get married on impulse. Thereafter the show lost it’s sparkle, which is generally a huge no-no in TV’s: once you lose the flirting and longing, you get cosy and boring as the replacement, or else tedious melodrama. One of my fave spin-offs were Frasier and Niles essentially morphing into Sideshow Bob and his brother Cecil in the Simpsons. Both poised and dignified, the loss of dignity and murderous intent for Bart Simpson in the show is hilarious.

19. RED DWARF (1988-2018)

The show that never dies, and an unlikely long-runner (sporadically) being as it’s a cast of 4 or 5 set in the distant future on a mining space ship Red Dwarf after the end of the rest of the human race bar one – Dave Lister, beer-swilling laddy Scouser inspiring a whole TV channel in his name, and latterly paying for 2 great revival series (with one more to go). Rob Grant & Doug Naylor started, executive-produced and scripted the early episodes and series, and following the partnership split, Doug Naylor carried on alone from series 7.

As I’m a sci-fi nerd you’d expect I’d get into the show right off the bat – not so. Sci-fi comedy had always been crap, so I expected this to be the same, especially with the premise: former street-poet Craig Charles as Dave, a descendant of a cat (Cat – Danny John-Jules), and an obnoxious dead now-hologram Arnold Rimmer (impressionist comic actor Chris Barrie) together with sarcastic seemingly-simple Norman Lovett as a computer. My mum enjoyed it though, and I gradually started watching it series 2 and 3 and it just got better as it went on with the addition of android Kryten (Robert Llewellyn) and computer Holly replaced by Hilly (stand-up Hattie Hayridge). Peaking around series 5 or 6, the next two series went onto film and the whole mood changed, it needed the studio audience. Plus the whole banter and interplay changed for the worse with the addition of Kochanski (Lister’s long-crush, originally an occasional welcome guest played by pop star Claire Grogan) – played by Chloe Annett, which waters down the basic concept of the last human and his frustrations, kept sane by his non-human mates and escapades. A total lads show.

The BBC run ended in 1999 and it took channel Dave to commission a 2008 filmed 3-episode special to boost it back to life, as the cast became available in between other work, like Coronation Street (Craig Charles). It didn’t quite work, but did let Dave bring the show back proper, studio audience and cast of 4, in 2012 for series 10, then series 11 and 12 2016 and 2017, all of which caught the classic mood of the early 90’s. Great one-liners, great sci-fi homages, great characters, fun plotting and a very warm unsentimental ensemble make for a show that is still good fun. I hope they do more!

18. THE BIG BANG THEORY (2007-2019?)

Still running, though not quite as sharp and geeky as it’s earlier seasons, The Big bang Theory is a sci-fi nerd’s wet dream: so many pop culture, science and sci-fi/fantasy references run through the show that you would imagine it would be a minority interest sitcom. Not so. It’s huge worldwide. The premise, 4 geeky scientists/engineers in their 20’s, is a sort of nerdy version of Friends, minus the women – the only regular female cast mate is neighbour Penny to flat-sharing Sheldon & Leonard (named after sitcom legend Sheldon Leonard), a not at-all nerd, hot and popular and self-assured. Over the seasons Leonard and Penny get together and marry, and she gets 2 scientist girlfriends to hang out with (Bernadette, Howard’s future wife, and Amy, Sheldon’s future wife) leaving poor old Raj unhitched to date). With more female cast members the balance of the show got less nerdy and more soap, but still maintained it’s sci-fi credentials, notably the number of Star Trek actors passing through, not least semi-regular former child actor and Next Gen star Will Wheaton playing himself.

Overall I prefer it to it’s obvious ancestor Friends, not just for the sci-fi/pop culture elements that I can relate to, but because the characters aren’t as annoying – more lovable than irritating, as Ross, Chandler, Monica and co could be at times. There’s also a sort of spiritual Roseanne going on (only not as tedious, and thank goodness no Roseanne Barr) with 3 cast members featuring, 2 as semi-regulars, and Johnny Galecki as star. The break-out star though is Jim Parsons as award-winning super-ego-super-nerd-super-IQ scientist Sheldon, complete with all his many many hang-ups, quirks and foibles. My introduction to the show came through my niece who said I should watch it (3 seasons in I’d not heard much of it really) as it was so Me. Apparently I’m a bit like Sheldon. Well, not in my universe am I anything remotely like Sheldon! (Except in the less annoying ways). I did love it though, right from the Barenaked Ladies theme song down to the endless guest stars from the sci-fi genre that I admire, and the long-running worship of Stephen Hawking, and the lads-together comics-fans camaraderie. The Comic Shop is a world I know every well.

Currently I’m one and a half seasons behind so can’t comment on recent quality, but it remains enjoyable if no longer my fave live-acted sitcom – that baton has been passed on to another still to come. There is at least one more season (the 12th) to go, after that probably renogotiating all the contracts will become too expensive and onerous I’m guessing…

17. BOTTOM (1991-1995)

Who doesn’t love a great Bottom? No, not Shakespeare, not naughtiness, but Bottom Of The Heap. The late great Rik Mayall & the equally great Ade Edmondson are basically playing older, less niche, less animated, versions of their Young Ones characters, but this time it’s Richie and Eddie, a couple of unemployed flatmate losers obsessed with trying to have sex with a woman. Any woman (Richie is till a 40-year-old Virgin). Slapstick, sentiment-free, aggressive, joyful, loveable, annoying, conscienceless, manic, pitiable, and very very funny. It spawned a stageshow version during the TV run, and a movie Guest House Paradiso in 1999, and was created by the duo as a sort of logical extension of their Comedy Club routines in the early 80’s The Dangerous Brothers.

Fellow “Young Ones” actor Christopher Ryan joined the cast, a mere 18 episodes were filmed over 3 series, and the stupid BBC brass turned down the fourth series someone on high just not getting the jokes. Not a man. Of the sexes, men more likely find the show very funny, because it’s men as losers, it’s easy to see bits of oneself in it, in a cartoon Tom & Jerry violent fashion, and it’s Ade & Rik at the top of their game. It’s not as innovative and game-changing as The Young Ones but it works way better as a sitcom. The Young Ones, apart from less than a handful of episodes tends to feel a bit disjointed and hit ‘n’ miss it’s approach, not unlike Python where bits of it remain brilliant, but chunks of it are less so.

Best episode: I think the gas man taped to the ceiling…here’s the lead-up

and for good measure here’s a bunch of stage ad-libbing equally funny…

16. SOAP (1977-81)

A complete parody of US daytime soap operas, Soap was madcap, chock-full of great outrageous characters, smart and takes soap plotting to fantastical extremes, such as sex-change, gangsters, cheating politicians, gay relationships, murder and onwards through devil-child possession, alien abduction and south-american dictators. The casting was genius, not least Katherine Helmond as well-off matriarch of the richer of two main squabbling-related families The Tates & The Campbells, Jessica Tate. She was flirty, naive, genuinely funny (she later turned up in the UK Girls On Top series). Then there was Robert Guillarme as butler Benson, black, sarcastic, caustic and pretty disliked and commented on most people in the show and all their bad traits. So popular the character got his own spin-off show set in the world politics.

Billy Crystal was innovative as gay son Jody Campbell, at first stereotypically camp but settling in to become not-remotely-camp and a proper role model in a UK TV world that didn’t have any non-camp recurring characters of gay men. It also made him a huge movie star. Then there was the ventriloquist half brother who though his doll was real and had ongoing arguments with him, the doll offending everyone at ever opportunity – Chuck & Bob. Dinah Manoff & Richard Mulligan also starred in another TV sitcom sort-of-spinoff Empty Nest (also by Soap creator Susan “Golden Girls” Harris), while Dinah was one of the pink ladies in Grease to boot. The large supporting cast was equally manic and inventive throughout the 4 series, and is regularly and rightly played as one of, if not the greatest ever, ensembles ever put together.

Very daring for it’s time, and subject to outrage and criticism from some more conservative quarters, I loved the first 3 series especially, recording them on reel-to-reel tape and playing them over and over until the advent of video-recorders came along, and then DVD’s. It only played late night on various ITV regions in the UK, so it was a bit sporadic to catch and meant dedication to staying up late. Totally worth it. These days it rarely ever gets shown (BOOOOOOO!) but as the template for later styled shows like Third Rock From The Sun, The Golden Girls (the former equally manic, the latter equally wise-cracking and pop-culture-smart), not to mention animated shows like The Simpsons, Family Guy and others, it deserves the kudos it has had from Time Magazine (one of the 100 Best TV shows of all-time), The Huffington Post (“timeless”) and The Museum of Broadcast Communications “arguably one of the most creative efforts by network television before or after”. It’s also bloody hilarious.

My Top 50 Favourite Sitcoms Part 1

50. I LOVE LUCY (1951 – 1960)

Actually this sit-com should be a few places higher, but I wanted to start the run-down with the most important sit-com in history. That isn’t hyperbole, it’s a cast-iron fact, if only for the various innovations that Lucille Ball and husband Desi Arnaz made to television: Lucy was a B-list cinema star, the only real female actor who could do physical comedy both in facial expressions, delivery of lines and body slapstick, this made her a natural to develop a TV show; She insisted her Cuban singer/bandleader husband be the co-star against Network Exec wishes; they refused to move to New York to film the usual low-quality TV recordings which were broadcast – instead they based in LA and took a large paycut to pay for the shows to be recorded on film (in b&w); this decision had massive effect – I Love Lucy was filmed with 3 cameras, in high quality, in front of an actual enthusiastic live studio audience (no canned laughter, other TV shows “borrowed” Lucy’s laugh-track!), with film professionals (TV union rules disallowed TV employees) and giving Lucille Ball the ability to play to the audience, making the show lively and vital; in exchange for the paycut Lucille & Desi set up their own studio and business Desilu (who later became famous for the first Star Trek episodes), and were able to broadcast I Love Lucy throughout the world, and in re-run for the next 65 years and counting. Lucille Ball became the most-famous female face in the world for the next 10 or 20 years.

The show itself? It’s all about Lucy, the ambitious, talentless, optimistic, trouble-prone but loveable housewife, and her sidekick best-friend Ethel (Vivan Vance), getting into scrapes. It’s very 1950’s idealised pre-feminist Americana, but that was what sold it to the rest of the world – here was a normal way of life that was positively affluent compared to life in other societies, things like refrigerators were mod-cons out of reach of ordinary people. It became so successful, some of the routines became comic immortal, and at the time Lucy’s pregancy led to massive TV ratings, the show topped the ratings for years, as Lucy attracted bigger and bigger guest stars (all as themselves) – Hollywood royalty joined in on the fun wholeheartedly, but Lucy never became one of them, she ridiculed her star-struck self, and spoke to the man or woman in the street. Ironically, as Lucille Ball was totally in control, a powerful woman in the male-dominated media industry of the 50‘s. Obviously, it is now utterly period, but it’s still charming, amusing, and as the template for all that followed it is guaranteed to remain referred back to by TV sitcom creators for as long as the form remains popular – I’d guess, as long as western society endures then…

My take? I only caught the much inferior 3rd Lucy series Here’s Lucy from the late 60’s, by which time she was getting on a bit and there were better shows on TV, but Lucy was still a TV legend. When I finally got to see the 50‘s shows in the 80’s, it was easy to see they were the real deal, I got to visit the Lucy shop-cum-tribute many times at Universal Studios Florida, and I bought the DVD’s. Still holds up well.

Best clips:

her classic scene:

her slapstick brilliance:

…and finally the comedy dialogue

49. ARE YOU BEING SERVED (1972-85)

British innuendo saucy seaside humour at it’s best, this Jeremy “Laugh-In” Lloyd and David Croft creation became a hit in the USA and topped Australian ratings, against all the odds – it’s VERY English, a bit low-brow, mocks the posh establishment and manners, and also the working class. It gently takes the mickey out of people putting on airs and graces, lauding it with superiority, and is a microcosm of British society social strata. If that sounds too pompous, then it’s a big laugh with fabulous caricatures, great comic actors, pushing the boat to see what you can get away with in prime time (who could forget Mrs Slocombe’s bedraggled pussy, or Mr. Humphrey’s camp “I’m free!”), terrific slapstick, OTT delivery, and it was always always good-natured. Mollie Sugden is immortal as Mrs Slocombe, already well-loved from Carla Lane’s decent The Liver Birds, and it made a star of John Inman as Mr. Humphreys, and Wendy Richard as dolly-bird Miss Brahms, years after she was the cockney lass on Mike Sarne’s fab novelty UK chart-topper Come Outside – Eastenders fame beckoned once the show was cancelled in the 80’s. It ran for too long, to be honest, and never really got over the loss of 2 of the original cast members, Trevor Bannister leaving and Arthur Brough dying, by which time it had become more of a self-caricature in the 80’s, though not so much that the cast and characters couldn’t reunite for Grace & Favour in 1992.

For me, it was camp fun, I loved Molly Sugden, the very Carry On.. British humour was right up my street, ooerr missus, and appropriately this just scrapes into my chart ahead of the equally saucy Frankie Howard one-man TV sitcom vehicle Up Pompeii. That had better scripts, but lacked an ensemble affectionate group to support it. This was just lovable, albeit of it’s time. Precious few clips on youtube though…

48. SEINFELD (1989-1998)

Stand-up comic Jerry Seinfeld is the star of, and co-creator with Larry David of, this very New York urban comedy. The show famously “about nothing” is really about 4 friends and their families and lives, and where none of them are really that likeable – the golden rule of sitcoms is to be loveable, but Jerry, George (Jason Alexander), Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfuss) and Kramer (Michael Richards)are essentially self-absorbed, selfish, and picky – and in the case of Kramer crazy to boot. Emotional depth is absent, no lovey-dovey stuff at any time, the characters never learn from their mistakes and they aren’t sympathetic towards each other: instead you have a wealth of guest actors, some on the way to big things, a tight script, great one-liners in the New York Jewish tradition, and inventiveness – the notion of re-gifting took up one episode to great effect, another was waiting to get served in a restaurant. Critically lauded and a 90’s US ratings topper, they killed the show off at the height of it’s popularity and have stuck to that decision.

Shockingly low in my ratings, that’s 2 giants of sitcoms disposed of already in my list! Both Seinfeld and I Love Lucy are clearly greats of sitcoms, and “better” than many higher up the list, but in my case I came to Seinfeld a bit late in the day. For a start, the selfishness of the characters annoyed me, the arguing grated, the shouting put my teeth on edge, that boo-doop, boo-doo, boop doop soundtrack every 5 minutes just got on my nerves early on and got worse with time. I was, however, won over by the cast and scripts, and the more bizarre the plot the more I liked it. I also can’t resist a golden one-liner, and there loads of them throughout the show’s run.

 

47. TAXI (1978-83)

A good-natured sit-com set around a taxi cab company in New York, run by the short-of-stature tyrannical Louis (Danny De Vito), starring Judd Hirsch as Alex, Marilu Henner as Elaine, Tony Danza as Tony, Jeff Conaway as Bobby, Andy Kaufman as the annoying and sweet Latka, Carol Kane as his girlfriend, and in the 2nd series the real star of the show Christopher Lloyd as the Rev Jim Ignatowski, a burnt-out hippie from years of substance abuse. Guest stars included Danny De Vito’s real-life wife Rhea Perlman and many others. Needless to say it made stars of all of the above, most migrating to movie success, or else TV sitcom success post-Taxi.

This James L. Brooks & co show was a precurser to even-better sitcoms which will feature later, won Emmy’s, was well-written, warm without being too sentimental or cloying, and had very good well-defined characters and covered any number of dark or unusual topics for plots. Unusually for a US TV show, it was also shown in UK prime-time and repeated over the next decade or so before being banished as if it never existed, despite the big-name cast. Andy Kaufman died young, a stand-up comic who inspired REM’s Man In The Moon song and the movie of the same name – in which the cast played themselves in the biopic!

I always enjoyed the show, but my real enthusiasm was for Christopher Lloyd, just before he did Back To The Future, and his character had me laughing-out loud at some points (I tend to be a smiler, punctuated with very occasional bouts of helpless, crying laughter) especially the taxi-driving exam he had to take to become a permanent cast member. Crying I was!

46. THE FLINTSTONES (1960-66)

No, this wasn’t a kids show, it was Prime Time animated fantasy soap in the States, the first to do that and the most successful for 30 years. Hanna-Barbera churned out kids TV shows for decades, but they hit gold with this innovative show: essentially they took the 2nd-biggest US sitcom of the 50’s (The Honeymooners) and transplanted the characters into the Stone Age, but a fantasy world with dinosaurs as modern-convenience equipment or pets, homes made of rock, and sabre-tooth tigers as kitty-cats. I can’t stress just how unlikely it was that this got past TV Execs!

What made it work was the cast of working-class American characters, Fred and Wilma, and their best friends Barney & Betty Rubble. Later on the kids came along, Pebbles and Bam Bam, and added to cast – along with numerous guest stars of the screen and sports portraying Stone Age versions of themselves (Ann-Margrock for example voiced by then-big Ann-Margaret). The renamed stone-age wordplay alone was genius (Gina Loadabricks, Mick Jadestone & The Rolling Boulders, Rock Pile – for Rock Hudson), the pastiche perverted look at mid-20th century suburban culture and pop culture was brilliant, and the voicing, especially Mel Blanc and Alan Reed as Barney and Fred, just great. Barney & Fred had more than a touch of the Laurel & Hardy, 2 lovable idiots, the loud one thinking he’s smarter than the quieter one – but not really in fact. The invention was terrific – the poor downtrodden dinosaurs address the audience direct lamenting their lot and the humans, the cars run on people legs, showers are woolly mammoths blowing water out their trunk.

2 live action movies eventually turned up in the 90’s, both perfectly good fun and full of stars, the B52’s immortalised the wonderful theme tune (one of the first TV greats) as themselves (the BC52’s) and in the charts, but they never really quite clicked totally, being an affectionate parody of a parody and all. As with I Love Lucy, the show still stands up well, much better than the one it was based on, the somewhat unlovable aggressive loudmouth of The Honeymooners, his “Bang zoom, to the the moon” threats to his wife are most definitely not-PC these days. Fred is a pussycat underneath the bluster, thankfully. So great it has turned up in shows owing a lot to it, such as The Simpsons and Family Guy, and for me, I have a 1965 Flintstones annual from xmas prezzie time, kept it all these years and still fun – love the Gruesomes (take on The Munsters/Addams Family, who were directly made in the fantasy 60’s sitcom explosion that owed it all to The Flinstones: don’t what TV execs were on in those days, but they need to get on it again!). Fab!

45. THE MUPPET SHOW (1976-81)

Jim Henson’s Sesame Street sorta-spinoff that had to move to the UK to get produced and broadcast (shame on Exec Suits!), helped by Lew Grade, UK TV giant. I’d loved Sesame Street’s fresh style when it turned up on Singapore sometime in late 1970 or early 1971, so I was already a fan for some more-adult-oriented gags, puns, Vaudeville songs, silliness, and a host of UK or US guest stars, and as time went by, and The Muppets became huge, the guest names got bigger as everyone joined in the fun. Now, some may be exclaiming that the Muppets wasn’t a sitcom, it was a variety show – sorry, no I’m not having that – each episode was plotted, usually around the guest stars interacting with the amazing cast of characters, be it Miss Piggy gunning for Kermit, the guest wanting to perform some high art (and ending up over-run with muppets) or Kermit just exasperated at the anarchy. The sketches, and the musical numbers were integrated into the plot as interruptions, while the real story went on backstage.

The cast, voiced by Jim Henson, Frank Oz and others, was a list of incredible still-famous Muppet characters, Gonzo, Sam The Eagle, Fozzie Bear, Statler & Waldorf (my faves, loved the put-downs), The Swedish Chef, Beaker, Animal and many others. All were just brilliant creations, and the recurring in-jokes a joy (Doctor Bob, Pigs In Space for a start), they were a hit with kids and with A Level students (take my word, I was one) and with older folk too, with the Music Hall backdrop and old-time tunes. So good, in fact, that numerous movies, spin-offs, parodies, merchandise and sequel series all trotted along before and after Disney acquired the rights and made a fun 3D Theme Park attraction out of the setting too. Of course, the jokes were very hit and miss, the songs could be rubbish or brilliant (Mah Na Mah Na was a hit as a result, ditto the Muppets own singles Halfway Down The Stairs and Don’t Dilly-Dally On The Way and Wipeout) and some guests were better than others, but the just good-natured feel-good vibes outweigh the naff bits. Legends!

44. GIRLS ON TOP (1985-6)

One of those rare things: an ITV sitcom that I liked, this was like a female answer to The Young Ones in the 80’s new wave of young comics, written-by and starring Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Ruby Wax and Tracey Ullman. The show was about 4 wacky flatmates, leftie-activist bullying Dawn/Amanda, simple and docile Jennifer, loud, brash, self-centered Ruby/Shelley and manipulative flirt Tracey/Candice. The landlady (Joan Greenwood was so cool, too) – totally off-the-wall romance writer. I don’t get why this has been forgotten in the mists of time, I prefer it to all the huge successes the cast went on to do (so that means no Abfab, Vicar Of Dibley, Tracey Ullman Show among others, sorry, and Comic Strip presents – which predated and featured the future superstar female comedy double act French & Saunders – is ineligible). At least one-spin-off in the list though, no prizes for guessing which!

Guest stars include Helen Lederer, Stephen Frost, Robbie Coltrane, Alan Rickman, Hugh Laurie, Harry Enfield, and Katherine Helmond, star of a US show of which more later. Perhaps because it was only 13 episodes (with Tracey missing the last 6 due to being pregnant, so that’s an reasonable excuse!), and despite having a theme song written by the fab Squeeze, it never really got repeated much – personally I think it was much more cult Channel 4 or BBC2-ish product and would have been better remembered if it had been shown on them. It never really fit into ITV target audiences. The other main point is that the characters were not-sympathetic, being caricatures, but that never hurt The Young Ones in a younger target-audience, but not so helpful in a cosy ITV environment. Still a forgotten goodie, anyway.

43. MORK AND MINDY (1978-82)

Happy Days was a cult sitcom among teens, set in the 50’s, and sending Ron Howard on the way to movies, and The Fonz made Henry Winkler a star. Amiable enough, it had 2 spin-offs while on the air, the wacky Laverne & Shirley which was more fun, starring Penny Marshall, sister of producer the late Garry Marshall, who then spotted talent when he saw it in the shape of the not-just-wacky-but-out-of-this-world hyperactive million-words-a-second late Robin Williams guesting (oddly!) as an alien from outer space (Mork from Ork). Cue this family-friendly spin-off set in Boulder, Colorado. I think we can all agree that without Robin Williams hitting the screens like a whirlwind of energy, and adlibbing much of his dialogue (as he did subsequently in movies), this show would have been at best mildly pleasant and forgettable. As it is, especially in the first season, Williams’ Mork is unforgettable, a lost innocent puzzled by an uncaring world, and his loudmouth obese off-screen alien boss.

It’s main downfall is also Robin Williams main downfall in the movies: as we now know prone to real-life depression, Williams (and Mork) is also prone to cloying oversentimentality at times, largely around his love for Mindy (Pam Dawber), and it can get a tad preachy in later seasons, even with the also-wacky comic hero of Williams’ Jonathan Winters, as a baby “adult” alien. The scripts aren’t great, overall (certainly the worst scripts of any series in this list), and the supporting characters not great (bar the fab mentally spaced-out “Prophet” Exidor) but it has to be here for Mork and Robin Williams contributions. The first season is the best season, too many cast changes and mucking around and blanding out ruined the later seasons, but for 12 months it was fresh and exciting, and made a major movie star of Robin Williams. No clips from the actual show, as the Out-takes (not broadcast-able on 1970’s US TV) give much more of a flavour of the frenetic pace and ad-libbing of Robin Williams, and I SO wish I could have been in those audiences for taping!

Na-nu Na-nu!

42. BEST OF THE WEST (1981/82)

Eh? Wassat? I hear everyone exclaim. This is an Earl Pomerantz creation, scriptwriter on Taxi and 3 other higher-rated shows which featured many of the guest stars in this great Western mickey-take, such as Christopher Lloyd and Betty White, two giants of TV comedy for me, and other TV & film faves like Slim Pickens, or Richard Moll, bald-headed Night Court star and regular lovable big, tall villain of screen. Night Court very nearly made my list too. The main cast was also fab, the idealistic marshall Sam Best (Joel Higgins), his wisecracking cooky wife (Carlene Watkins), the slimy saloon owner (Leonard Frey), veteran Tom Ewell as the town doctor, Valri Bromfield as a rather tomboy gal, and Tracey Walter as the fab henchman Frog.

So, I loved the cast, the scripts were great, famous guest stars, and the creative team side all went on to even greater things, so what could possibly go wrong? Err, ABC dilly-dallied over renewing it, so the star buggered off to another show and they cancelled it after one season – having decided late to renew when it was too late. Idiots. This could have been one of the greats, I’m sure it would have built up an audience over time like so many classy sitcoms have. The comedy western was already a nostalgic film genre, from the 50’s right through to the last great Mel Brooks movie, and it just seemed so right to have a sitcom dedicated to it a decade on. On the plus side, the writers found gainful employment in 1983 in a giant of the sitcom so they weren’t sitting around twiddling their thumbs and that show’s gain was at this show’s loss, so I can’t be too crabby. I just wish it would be repeated or made available on DVD!

No clips available sadly…

41. THE MUNSTERS (1964-6)

Hot on the heels of My Favorite Martian’s TV sitcom success, The Munsters was one of two “freak-family” sitcoms to air the same month (Sept 1964), both black and white (which really suited the mood and look and design of both), The Munsters was the more popular – the rival will appear later in the list – but the less oddball. A lot of the laughs was the juxtaposition of The Munsters traditional American sitcom family set-up, the hapless working dad, the homebody mum, the kid in school, the teen girl, and grumpy grandpa who lived with them, complete with their suburban lifestyle ambitions versus their actual Horror Movie roots: Herman Munster (the brilliant Fred Gwynne) was a Frankenstein monster created by Grandpa (the equally brilliant Al lewis – both he and Gwynne had starred for years together in Car 54 Where Are You? and worked great together in their various scrapes). Grandpa was a vampire mad scientist, Herman had married nagging, pushy, Vampira-ish Lily (Hollywood star Yvonne De Carlo) and their son Eddie (Butch Patrick) was a young Werewolf. Marilyn (Pat Priest and Beverley Owen) was the plain teen daughter who couldn’t keep a boyfriend (to the family – to everyone else she was a gorgeous Monroe-esque blonde who’s dates were scared off by the rest of the family).

The show worked because of the cast chemistry, especially the three adult leads, who were just SO lovable. The novelty wore off after a while, admittedly, script-wise, as there are only so many spooked visiting officials in a state of shock and surprise you can base a wacky plot around, but the performances were never less than worthwhile, and including child actor Butch Patrick who unusually seemed confident and capable without being either sickly sweet or annoyingly arrogant, like most child-stars. The theme tune was also a masterpiece of surfer-instrumental-done-Halloween-stylee, though the more traditional season 1 version was the better than the season 2:

Other fave things: Paul Lynde (Uncle Arthur in Bewitched which also debuted this month, The Hooded Claw in Perils Of Penelope Pitstop) as a near-sighted doctor, John Carradine and Dom DeLuise as guests; The Munstermobile (a souped-up Hearse); Lily’s floating light silky dresses; Herman referring to his job at the Parlor all the time (Funeral Parlor); Eddie’s hero-worship of his buffoonish well-meaning dad. To get an idea of how good the cast was you only have to sit through 10 minutes of the remake from 1988, in colour, and despite good old fave actors like John Schuck and Lee Meriweather in it. It just wasn’t worthy! The problem was, of course, for the cast they became huge in re-runs and eternally typecast as the characters they played. Poor Old Fred Gwynne grew to hate Herman Munster, understandably, as he was a good actor. Has it worn well? Yes, provided you don’t try and watch them back to back and just enjoy the classy silliness, and can ignore that 60’s insistence on laugh-tracks for filmed sitcoms.

40. FAWLTY TOWERS (1975-9)

Or Farty Towels as one intro sign read. Only 12 episodes of this classic sitcom from writers and stars John Cleese and Connie Booth (real-life UK/US ex-husband-wife) were made, 2 seasons of 6, but what an impact it had for the Monty Python star, and on British pop culture! Basil Fawlty was a conceited, angry, social-climbing intolerant hotel owner better at annoying and insulting his guests than catering for them, and his bossy, nagging wife Sybil (Prunella Scales) was the real force behind the business. Throw in maid Polly (Booth) the voice of tolerance and reason, and stereotypical simple and underpaid Spanish waiter Manuel (Andrew Sachs) – “Que?” “No, he haaamster” (a pet rat) – and you have a great 4-some to hang on wacky regulars and guest stars around.

Sometimes John Cleese’s OTT Basil made me squirm, sometimes his casual bullying and hitting his imported cheap labour just annoyed me, but it was forgiven for the classic one-liners and insults, and flowery descriptive sarcasm. Basil invariably got himself into trouble in his snobbish attempts to impress people he regarded as socially superior, or by mistakingly being dismissive to people he regarded as plebs (but who weren’t), and much of the humour was based around British obsessions with niceties and social faux pas, never more so than the visiting Germans episode (“Don’t mention the war!”) when he was suffering from concussion and mentioned the war at every opportunity, or bluntly stares at his nurse:

John Cleese pretty much grabbed his movie career more from Basil Fawlty than Python, and guested in other classic (American) sitcoms which it inspired and which will pop up later in the rundown, and in turn guest actors like Bernard Cribbins, Geoffrey Palmer and David Kelly popped up in FT. Becoming a critically-acclaimed and popular masterpiece of conciseness (12 episodes only) inspired other creative sitcom talents to do the same in the decades that followed, because it left no bad taste in the mouth that shows that run on too long tend to leave behind, and there is a cohesiveness that having the same writers gives while leaving you begging for more and keeping the quality high. The only reason it’s not higher is I’ve seen them so many times that minor flaws start to annoy, and familiarity breeds contempt. Give me a decade away and I’ll rate it much higher again…

Top 10 clips here:

39. THE GOLDEN GIRLS (1985-92)

Smart, sharp, witty, caustic and lovable Emmy-award-winning and popular, The Golden Girls went against perceived wisdom and had 4 elderly main characters, and all women, as the stars. Susan Harris, creator of Soap, set the show in Miami, Florida as 3 women and an elderly Italian-American mother shared a house – I toured past the house exterior in Disney MGM/Hollwood Studios many times before they bulldozed it – and it reached a whole new audience. Why was it so great? The scripts were good, the cast were fab (Bea Arthur & Rue McClanahan had worked together on Maude, the timeless Betty White had been in sitcoms back to the 50’s, and most famously in The Mary Tyler Moore Show from 1970 onwards, and Estelle Getty made-up to look much older), the topics covered romance (Obviously) but also more ground-breaking serious issues.

Rue and Betty switched their lined-up roles to avoid being typecast – McClanahan had already done scatter-brained, and White the Man-Eater – which was good for them, but spoiled it for me cos Betty White is at her best when dealing out assertive flirty dialogue. Bea Arthur’s character Dorothy annoyed me more than the others, though she had most of the clever put-down lines, this tended to grate after a while. A flaw was the lack of sympathy for simple-minded Rose from the other 3, though they are shown to love each other as good friends as the series grows, cue the theme song Thank You For Being A Friend. Enormously popular with many confirmed bachelors, the OAP setting appealed beyond that thanks to the cool, knowing dialogue and content, and it helped to show that retiring didn’t mean at-death’s-door and knitting for older women. The amazing Betty White is now in her 90’s and still a hero for me, Uber-cool, she’ll do a celebrity roast, an awards, or a comedy movie cameo and steal the show from everyone else, sharp and fun-filled, cutting but good-natured.

38. PORRIDGE (1974-7)

Writers Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’ best TV sitcom, everything just worked beautifully in this prison-set show, great sharp dialogue, cynicism with a warm heart, great characters and a fabulous cast led by the wonderful multitalented “Two Ronnies” Ronny Barker as repeat-prison-offender thief Norman Stanley Fletcher. Support from Richard Beckinsale as Godber was a step-up from his previous TV series The Lovers and as good as another top TV show from 1974 he starred in which is yet to feature. The supporting cast included prison warders Fulton Mackay and Brian Wilde with recurring co-stars and guests like Christopher Biggins, David Jason and many others.

A mere 21 episodes over 3 series, it spawned the little-seen TV series Going Straight, which featured Fletch out of prison and with his family (his daughter Ingrid was now girlfriend to Godber), and a feature film spin-off. In 2016 a remake one-off (so far) had a completely new cast, but lacked the sparkle of the originals. The show managed to avoid getting too sentimental but was somehow probably too clever and too cosy to be realistic, but who cares, the scripts were terrific! Great set-ups to one-liners like “Beautiful Babs”, “Fill that jar” and “are you a practicing homosexual?” stick in my mind with the punchlines “don’t know what her name is”, “what – from here?” and “what, with these feet?” Trust me, hilarious in context…!

37. PHYLLIS (1975-77)

A forgotten gem starring the timelessly wonderful Cloris Leachman, star of Young Frankenstein and other comedy movies, and numerous sitcoms from Mary Tyler Moore Show to Malcolm In The Middle. Phyllis was actually a spin-off from The Mary Tyler Moore Show, where she starred as Mary’s conceited, self-obsessed, critical landlady. The first spin-off, Rhoda, was doing fine in the ratings in 1975, so they stuck Phyllis between it and huge show All In The Family, with a great supporting cast, some great scripts (later borrowed and essentially rewritten in other creatively-related sitcoms like The Golden Girls and Cheers – Glen & Les Charles were writers and producers of Taxi, Cheers, MTM and David Lloyd writer of those shows and also Soap, Frasier & The Bob Newhart Show. In other words, a first-class pedigree. The first season of the show was instantly struck by real-life tragedy as one of the cast was murdered 3 episodes in, but the ratings were actually even higher than for Rhoda – a show I also loved and which just missed the list – and Mary Tyler Moore Show. Sadly, the Network forgot the “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it” scenario and mucked around with the cast and setting for the second season of both Phyllis and Rhoda, which led to both plummeting ratings and cancellation for both, Phyllis only lasting 2 seasons, unable to cope with the deaths of two more elderly (and popular) cast members, and the illness of another on top of all the changes.

the fab cheesy showtune theme tune

I loved Cloris and Phyllis, it was what you would call Politically Incorrect, and genuinely side-splitting at times, most memorably an episode i recorded on reel-to-reel featuring Phyllis’ daughter Beth going out with a boy who’s parents were little people, and Phyllis’ inability to avoid referring to height accidentally in every way possible was so good it cropped up in The Golden Girls in much the same scenario and gags. Cloris Leachman is an 8-time Emmy-winner, and 1946 (!!) Miss America finalist, always funny and inventive, and at the age of 82 became the oldest perfomer on Dancing With The Stars, and the 90-year-old keeps on working, from Family Guy to Hawaii 5-0 guest spots and more. Just to show she can do drama as easily as comedy, she turned in an Oscar-winning dramatic performance in The Last Picture Show in 1971, among many others. Legend! Love her.

36. THE MONKEES (1966-68)

Half pop-video of a pop group created for TV, and inspired by the Beatles madcap movies, and stylistically The Marx Brothers movies crossed with playing with the relatively new artform of television in creative ways, The Monkees sitcom seemed to enrage the British press for daring to (gasp) feature some actors singing other people’s songs to backing musicians. The Beatles had no such problems with the instantly huge band who dominated the charts in 1967 in both the USA and UK: they saw them for what they were (two musician singer-songwriters who took a chance on a break – Mike Nesmith wrote many of the best Monkees songs, not to mention having a hand in MTV’s start-up, and Peter Tork was a hippie folkie) along with two actors who happened to be great singers (child actors Micky Dolenz, and the Brit Davy Jones) and occasional good songwriters. The promo videos were amusing, and from my point of view, powerful, 2 or 3 a week tucked inside loose fantastical plotlines.

The Monkees played themselves, as struggling Californian musicians, and the plots ranged from saving European princesses, mad scientists with groovy monsters, Davy’s string of romances, and many more toying with Hollywood movie settings in a playful way (see Some Like It Lukewarm cross-dressing clip).

That’s not to say they didn’t take the piss out of the charlatans in the movie and music business (they did), but it was always madcap, not vicious. The irony was, The Monkees fought a battle with Don Kirshner, music maestro, over having control over their own recordings (which they won, and creatively successfully). Don was so angered he started his next TV show band as a cartoon band so they couldn’t argue back (The Archies) who I also loved (musically), the TV show was kindergarten tosh I’m afraid. The TV show creators, Bob Rafelson and Bert Schneider, had greater ambitions though – they went on to do The Monkees hippie psychedelia-tripping movie Head and then Hippie-cult Easy Rider. They were proper cool! Me, I still love the TV show in small doses – it’s endlessly endearing and whimsical, albeit not “belly-laughs” in any way: the characters are too broad, and the scripts aren’t built along smart-dialogue lines, it was more in the self-mocking pop-culture vein of the 1966 Batman series (which is actually funnier, but doesn’t qualify as it’s not really a “sitcom” as such, it’s a superhero show which is intentionally hammy). Best episode: I Was A Teenage Monster, starring future Bond villain Richard Kiel and a fabulous German mad scientist and hunchback henchman. All together now: “Goorahhhh!”

35. THE HIGH LIFE (1994/5)

A short-lived sitcom of only 7 episodes, this Scottish-based piss-take of budget airlines remains an unknown BBC treat, starring and created by future movie-star Alan Cummings and Forbes Masson. A sort of advance-scout for Come Fly With Me, this series was much-more satisfyingly whole, with it’s madcap surreal moments of Eurovision mickey-taking, Batman spoofing and a host of camp, bitchy quips and characters like Hitler-In-Tights Shona Spurtle, or the drunk, clueless posh pilot Captain Duff. The showtune theme song sets the mood….

The stars though were Cummings & Masson as Sebastian & Steve, based on their stage characters that developed on the live circuit, and the scripts were also written by them. I loved the one-liners, putdowns and flights (arf!) of fantasy, and felt it had much more life in it than one series. They actually wrote another series, but Alan Cummings decided he’d rather be an international movie star in America than a minor cult comic actor in Scotland and England (selfish git!), so sadly it never happened. Doh! Still, sitcom’s loss was The X-Men’s gain. Memorable moment: Their Eurovision entry song. Such a pisstake!

34. THE NEW STATESMAN (1987-94)

This rarity (an ITV British series that I actually rate) rested on two main attractions: The brilliant Rik Mayall as a slimy, unscrupulous, lascivious Tory MP in Thatcher’s Britain, and fabulous biting satire on the British Government (from Laurence Marks and Maurice Gran), and to a lesser extent all of those on the edges and manipulations of British politics. That Rik Mayall, as Alan B’Stard, was at his best, was a bonus – a sort of less manic version of his Rik from the The Young Ones, but one who had ambitions of power and money, perfect for 80’s UK and it’s Yuppy privatisation middle-class obsessions. The scripts were sharp, the plots increasingly ludicrous; starting from B’Stard’s arms sales, his large majority after having his car brake lines cut, using pornography for blackmail, getting shot, nuclear waste dumping for profit, offshore banking, BDSM in brothels, getting poor voters to agree to lose the right to vote for tax exemption, underage girls for sex, slavery, nazis, cocaine and US politics, attempted murder, capital punishment returning, the end of North Sea Oil, animal testing activists, KGB collaborations to restore Cold War budgets, Siberian Prison, EU blackmailing using his wife as prostitute, adolph Hitler’s penis, charity scams, Robert Maxwell spending time dead for tax purposes, and ending on B’Stard manipulating events to cause a vote to leave the EU, ending Trade Unions, and heading a new right-wing party which sweeps to power using the French to drum up anti-foreigner fever, only to find that he can’t be Prime Minister and in power after all.

In short, it’s predicted every sordid headline in British politics for the next 30 years, exposed the ruling classes for what they are, and got many a laugh along the way, including at the expense of the inbred stupid titled rich, played beautifully by Michael Troughton (son of Doctor Who Patrick Troughton). The show ended in 1994, but remains just as relevant and needs repeating. Never as cosy and gentle as Yes Minister, it’s setting was too broad and biting for that, it was also more farcical than political shows that followed, such as The Thick Of It, and remains my fave political-based show. Rik Mayall brought the cast back together in 2006 and 2007 for a stage show touring version that had New Labour as the backdrop. I saw it and it was fab, and Rik was a legend. Much missed.

Comic Relief No. 10 Special..

33. GET SMART (1965-70)

Smack in the middle of the James-Bond-inspired superspy surge came this fabulous parody of the genre. Starring stand-up Don Adams as Agent 86 (Max Smart) and Barbara Feldon as Agent 99, the show had catch-phrases galore and was hugely successful, including spin-off movies and a good remake movie in 2008. The secret of it’s success? Mel Brooks (along with Buck Henry) and the scripts, which were witty, childish, popculture parodying, a bit of romance, a marvellous human-looking robot (Hymie), who took every instruction literally, and an oh-so-cool modern groove that adults and kids loved. They did a series of novel adaptations of many episodes, and I bought them all in the early 70’s, nostalgic for the cult TV show that was now off the air, but a real fave. The books, if anything, were better than the TV episodes, very funny and a little more depth (in a shallow way).

Quotable, award-winning, and in Don Adams an OTT bumbling, inept, yet successful Spy, here’s a few lines and guest stars:

“I ASKED you not to tell me that!” (after someone had just told him that)

“Would you believe…?” (after Max invariably was trying to make outlandish excuses on being captured by KAOS agents)

The Cone Of Silence (a plastic bowl lowered over the Chief’s desk for confidential conversations. Sadly Max and the Chief never hear each other properly)’

Harry Hoo, guest Hawaiian Private Eye. “This is Hoo”. “Who?” “That’s what I said, Hoo” Cue Abbott & Costello routines.

Don Rickles, legendary comic guest star (still going and on twitter in his 90’s)

Milton Berle, huge TV legend of the 50’s and 60’s

Ernest Borgnine, Carol Burnett, James Caan, Bob Hope (!!!), Leonard Nimoy, Vincent Price, and many many more

Mel Brooks went off to movie success mid-series, leaving Buck Henry to keep the fight up against the network execs trying to bland out the premise and show, as they will always tend to try to do, not having a clue why comedy works and all. Max and 99 (we never did get her name) eventually marry and have kids, but she made history being the first American working sitcom mom, still a spy. Worst thing about the show? That annoying 60’s sitcom staple, canned laughter. It would work much better without….

32. SLEDGE HAMMER! (1986-88)

From spies to a show inspired by Get Smart featuring detectives – in this case a piss-take of the numerous US cop shows that dominated 70’s and 80’s TV, with the ultimate 80’s anti-hero, right-wing, gun-loving (he sleeps with his gun and talks to it), sadistic, over-the-top misogynist – given his partner is a very capable woman, cue lots of friction and snappy dialogue. There is no depth to the character, of course, he’s a total caricature, but he is just played so brilliantly by David Rasche as a wild-eyed one-liner he becomes quite lovable in his anti-pc-ness. No doubt Alt-Right fans took him to be a hero, but the intent is to mock (some people would be too stupid to realise that, or just revel in it anyway). The show had a laugh-track forced on it for US broadcast, against the creator’s wishes, but the DVD’s are mercifully laugh-track free, and it works beautifully well.

The scripts ranged from mocking the cliched plots and devices of many a cop show, but extreme (the Elvis Impersonator Killer is very funny) to getting on the verge of fantasy (at the end of season 1 a nuclear bomb goes off killing everyone in the show as a teaser for the network to renew a show they were about to kill off – it worked but they made the production drop the beautiful actual film quality recordings for a cheap, fuzzy, low-fi video substitute in season 2). The dialogue was witty and banter-full, and the guest actors to the small cast were many and varied: Adam Ant, Ray Walston (he of My Favorite Martian, another fave show of mine, and Paint Your Wagon/ South Pacific, among many), Armin Shimerman (DS9’s Quark), Brent Spiner (Data from Star Trek: TNG), Bernie Kopell (Get Smart), Clint Howard (brother of Ron, minor star of many a cult fave TV show and movie), Bill Bixby (the other My favorite Martian star, and the Incredible Hulk’s alter-ego on TV), and Davy Jones (The Monkees) – if there’s one thing I love it’s a great guest cast, and this show had great taste in picking them! Great fun!

an appreciation of the show

 

31. THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW (1970-77)

Mary Tyler Moore is pretty unknown these days, but once upon a time the star of the movie Thoroughly Modern Millie was a huge TV sitcom star, and along with her co-owning MTM production company husband, a veritable TV byword for quality, Emmy-award-winning, television. Mary first became famous as the dutiful housewife Laurie Petrie in the classy and highly-regarded early 60’s The Dick Van Dyke Show, which ran until 1966. Her own show, though, which was as well-written (still rated one of the greatest of all-time) was also groundbreaking – Mary was a single working-woman in her 30’s, the show based both on her home life and her working office life, and was the first to allow women the freedom not to be just housewives. Engaging and insecure, but kind and intelligent, the show worked as an ensemble show – James L. Brooks, Executive Producer and co-creator, crops up time and again in my list, proving it a great format – and the wackier-supporting cast were just brilliant.

For a start, Valerie Harper’s pushy, blunt, Jewish Rhoda Morgenstern was instantly popular (Mary’s best friend) and eventually spun-off into a successful sitcom of her own – you may know her screen sister better as Julie Kavner aka Marge Simpson. Mary’s landlord was the egotistical, superficial Phyllis Lindstrom, played by huge fave of mine Cloris Leachman, of many a great TV series and movie (see spin-off Phyllis lower-down the list). Mary’s boss was the loud, brash, but goodhearted Lou Grant, head of the TV newsroom on the local TV station who hired Mary as Producer cos she was cheap to hire and easy to push around (initially). Ed Asner is also a great an accomplished actor of TV and film, (see “Up”, “Roots” and his own drama-TV spin-off Lou Grant that took over the reigns as the sitcom ended. The same character in a serious setting (investigative journalism) that MTM show, like all the others, was quality.

Later characters replaced those in the spin-offs, but the greatest one was the fabulous Betty White as rival show host Sue Ann Nivens, a scheming, smiling, flirtatious, ruthless gem of a character (the template for Blanche in The Golden Girls, who White was initially set up to play before swapping with Rue McLanahan for empty-headed Rose). Sue Ann grabbed many of the one-liner insults, and Betty delivered them with just as much skill as she still does. Invite her to a celebrity roast at your risk! I first saw the show in Singapore as a 12-year-old and loved it throughout it’s run, I loved the melodic, wistful theme tune and credits, the cast, the characters, the scripts – at it’s best it was side-splitting, not least the award-winning episode featuring the death of station TV host Chuckles The Clown, where he is reported to have died while in a town parade dressed in a peanut costume. A rampaging elephant attempted to shell him… Just. Brilliant.

Tragically, the show remains largely unknown in the UK, where the BBC only showed series 1, bailing out just as it started to find it’s feet, and it was left for late-night ITV regional showings sporadically from 1975 to give it some airtime (spin-off Rhoda, for example, was much more successful on BBC2 from 1974 onwards). The final episode and the show itself, though, are much more revered in the USA. Quite rightly.