From family stories to band-of-misfits hangouts, classic rom-coms to workplace mockumentaries, cringe comedies to antihero showcases, and some shows that defy definition, these are the hundred series that have made us laugh, think, occasionally cry, and laugh all over again.
For more than eight decades, the sitcom has both marked the times and provided a balm against them. From Rob Petrie tripping over his ottoman on The Dick Van Dyke Show to Ilana face-planting on a Broad City subway car; from The Honeymooners’ Ralph Kramden barely containing his frustration with Ed Norton to Atlanta’s Paper Boi doing the same with his cousin Earn; from Lucy Ricardo getting drunk on Vitameatavegamin to Fleabag enjoying Gin in a Tin with the hot priest, the genre’s most beloved characters have been by our sides.
To choose the 100 greatest sitcoms ever, we first had to decide how to define the term. Sketch comedies were out, from the explicit, like Saturday Night Live and The Muppet Show, to the more ambiguous, such as The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Ditto comedy-drama hybrids that ran around an hour — Freaks and Geeks, say, or Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Half-hour dramedies presented a blurrier picture; we took those on a case-by-case basis, applying our own version of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous definition of obscenity: “I know it when I see it.” Where Enlightened and The Wonder Years seemed to fall just too far over the drama side of the line, for example, Atlanta and Better Things had enough comedy to qualify. This list is also composed entirely of English-language comedies, primarily American ones, with a handful of British and Canadian shows making the cut.
Mostly, though, we were looking for a consistent group of characters and settings. Then we considered not just how much these series made us laugh, but also how much they influenced the shows that followed, how well they reflected the world around them, and, on occasion, how deeply they made us feel emotions beyond mirth.
100 – ‘Schitt’s Creek’ (Pop TV, 2015-2020)
Having lost his fortune after being bled dry by a business manager, video-store mogul John Rose and his family find themselves relocating to Schitt’s Creek — a small backwoods town that John once bought for his son David as a joke. What starts out as a fish-out-of-water comedy turns into an ode to community and kindness, and it’s to the credit of co-creators and co-stars Eugene and Dan Levy that the series finds the perfect balance between genuine sweetness and side-splitting snark. Catherine O’Hara’s Moira Rose is the diva to end all divas; Annie Murphy’s Alexis completely updates the ditzy-socialite type for the 21st century (her theme song is priceless); and if eye-rolling were an Olympic sport, both the older and younger Levys would be gold medalists. By the time Dan pulled the plug after six seasons, he’d already given the world a modern TV classic — one that swept the comedy categories at last year’s Emmys. D.F.
99 – ‘Frank’s Place’ (CBS, 1987-1988)
The most hard-to-find show on this list (muddy VHS transfers of a couple of episodes are on YouTube, but otherwise you’d have to visit the Paley Center to see it), this warm-hearted gem reunited WKRP in Cincinnati creator Hugh Wilson with one of that show’s stars, Tim Reid, for a serio-comic trip to New Orleans. Reid played Ivy League professor Frank Parrish, who inherits the family restaurant and travels home with the goal of selling it and leaving quickly, only to fall victim to a voodoo curse that forces him to stick around and run the place. Usually more wistful and sweet than laugh-out-loud funny, Frank’s Place explored class and race — like an episode where Frank learns about the “paper bag test” a local black social club uses to keep out darker-skinned men like him — in ways that felt years, even decades, ahead of its time. A.S.
98 – ‘Derry Girls’ (Netflix, 2018-Present)
Against the backdrop of the Troubles in 1990s Northern Ireland, headstrong Erin (Saoirse-Monica Jackson), her kooky cousin Orla (Louisa Harland), uptight Clare (Nicola Coughlan), and party girl Michelle (Jamie-Lee O’Donnell) — plus her cousin, “wee English fella” James (Dylan Llewellyn) — stumble through teenage antics from burning down the local chip-shop owner’s flat to clogging the toilet at a funeral repast with weed-infused scones. Creator Lisa McGee wrote the show based on her own experiences growing up in Derry, which explains its earthy charm and gimlet-eyed nostalgia. These are characters full of heart but devoid of sentimentality, as only people who’ve been getting on with their lives amid generations of conflict can be. Bonus points to Siobhan Sweeney as the deadly-dry Sister Michael, beleaguered headmistress of the girls’ school, and Game of Thrones’ Ian McElhinney as curmudgeonly Granda Joe. M.F.
97 – ‘Night Court’ (NBC, 1984-1992)
Comedian/magician Harry Anderson made such an impression in a handful of Cheers episodes as con man Harry the Hat that he was rewarded with his own show. Night Court was the silly tale of a genial young judge, Harry Stone (Anderson), presiding over nightly hijinx involving ridiculous low-stakes crimes, the lechery of prosecutor Dan Fielding (John Larroquette, who won four straight Emmys for the role), and the eccentricities of public defender Christine (Markie Post), court clerk Mac (Charles Robinson), and bailiffs Bull (Richard Moll) and Roz (Marsha Warfield). The underrated utility player of NBC’s Eighties comedy empire. A.S.
An Australian animated series targeted at preschoolers, Bluey is primarily a sweet, heartwarming show with a lot of lessons about the power of imaginary play and the challenges of growing up. It is also a screamingly funny depiction of the indignities of parenthood, as dad Bandit (voiced by Aussie indie rocker David McCormack) routinely suffers public humiliation and physical pain from his willingness to go along with whatever role-playing game his little girls have chosen for the day. A.S.
“Don’t be sad; you’re not that kind of clown,” Chip Baskets’ estranged wife once told him. Baskets, though, tended to be a sad kind of show. Or at least a bone-dry comedy that took various broad, familiar comedy devices — Zach Galifianakis played both failed clown Chip and his petty twin brother Dale, while Louie Anderson got in drag to play their mother Christine — utterly seriously. There was still plenty of room for laughter, particularly via Martha Kelly’s deadpan delivery as Chip’s only friend. But Baskets was ultimately great for embracing the sad-clownhood that Chip was told to avoid. A.S.
Over four seasons (the fifth and final arrives later this year), the trials and tribulations of Issa Rae’s neurotic alter ego Issa Dee have been a study in the messy realities of being young, single, and perpetually lost. Through Issa, her friends Molly (Yvonne Orji), Kelli (Natasha Rothwell), and Tiffany (Amanda Seales), her exes Lawrence (Jay Ellis) and Daniel (Y’lan Noel), and more, Rae presents black lives in full, hilarious imperfection, delivering a classic hangout show firmly rooted in her native Los Angeles (not to mention one that features a lot more sex than Sex and the City). TV Issa hypes herself up by freestyle rapping in the mirror. Real Issa doesn’t need the hype — the woman looking back at her is a comedy legend in the making. M.F.
This unabashedly prurient animated comedy has middle schoolers battling real hormones and their randy avatars, Hormone Monsters (voiced by Maya Rudolph and co-creator Nick Kroll), as they enter puberty. In one recent meta exchange, best friends Andrew (John Mulaney) and Nick (Kroll) ponder a show-within-the-show inspired by Hulu’s Pen15, which, like Big Mouth, features adults playing horny adolescents. “I mean, the main characters are kids,” Nick says, “but the show is so filthy.” Andrew replies, “It’s too much! And I like dirty stuff.” Big Mouth may be filthy enough to scare off these kids, but it’s also thoughtful, imaginative, and kind in a way that makes it a welcoming look back (or, depending on who’s watching, look ahead) at a physically and emotionally tumultuous time of life. A.S.
For every teenage girl who quietly balked at being sugar and spice and everything nice, Daria Morgendorffer was an icon in combat boots and glasses. The titular hero of this animated Beavis and Butt-Head spinoff took sardonic to new heights, deadpanning her way through interactions with her dopey high-school classmates, her oblivious white-collar parents, Jake and Helen, and her pretty, popular, and ditzy younger sister Quinn. Daria’s wry observations, delivered in a jaded monotone (often to her equally dry-witted, artsy friend Jane), were a clarion call to budding slacker-feminists everywhere. M.F.
Nobody played irascible, chauvinistic sons of bitches in the early 1980s better than Dabney Coleman — and instead of trying to soft-pedal the Texas character actor’s toxic-caveman persona for primetime audiences, this NBC sitcom doubled down on it. Coleman’s Bill Bittinger is the Number One-rated daytime talk-show host in Buffalo, New York, railing against the smut peddlers and immoral businessmen tainting our great nation. He’s also a quick-tempered hypocrite, a nightmare of a boss, a selfish bastard, and a womanizing, sexist pig. A critical hit from the get-go, this was one of the rare sitcoms of the time to truly revel in its lead character’s bad behavior; the pilot concerns Bill finding out that his best friend has just died… and then desperately trying to get the guy’s job at 60 Minutes. The fact that it only lasted two seasons is an injustice that still inspires Bettinger-level tantrums in fans. D.F.
‘The Big Bang Theory’ (CBS, 2007-2019)
Many shows on this list needed time to find themselves, but none required quite as much time as The Big Bang Theory, which took the better part of three seasons to solve two crucial problems. The first was deciding that viewers should be laughing with, not at, its nerdy heroes, particularly Jim Parsons (giving a remarkably specific performance) as the fussy, almost-certainly-on-the-autism-spectrum theoretical physicist Sheldon. The second was recognizing that Sheldon’s neighbor Penny (Kaley Cuoco) needed friends of her own, rather than just being Sheldon’s straight woman and the object of lust for his roommate Leonard (Johnny Galecki). Adding Melissa Rauch and Mayim Bialik to the existing ensemble (which already featured Simon Helberg and Kunal Nayyar) better balanced the tone, as well as the gender composition, and unlocked the best in everyone. A.S.
‘A Different World’ (NBC, 1987-1993)
Originally a Cosby Show spinoff about Denise Huxtable’s life at the fictional all-black Hillman College, the series quickly settled around Jasmine Guy’s pampered Southern belle Whitley and Kadeem Hardison’s ambitious Dwayne Wayne, sporter of TV’s most famous flip-up sunglasses. (Cosby banished a pregnant Lisa Bonet from the cast after the first season.) Starting with Season Two, showrunner Debbie Allen brought her real-life experiences at Howard University to the show’s stories, presenting a diverse roster of African American students from all different backgrounds who faced all kinds of challenges. The result was a topical sitcom that was anything but corny. These were young adults wading through the issues of the day — date rape, the AIDS crisis, race relations, sexism — without any speechifying from parents. One more sign of the show’s cultural footprint: For four of its six seasons, Aretha Franklin herself sang the theme song. M.F.
‘Party Down’ (Starz, 2009-2010)
Are we having fun yet? This series about a dysfunctional team of cater-waiters leaned into the “situation” part of situation comedy, while simultaneously playing with the genre’s traditionally static nature. Every episode involved failed actor Henry (Adam Scott) and friends working a party and pondering their thwarted ambitions. But the nature and location of the event varied wildly from week to week, from a debauched adult-film awards afterparty to a guest-free birthday celebration at the home of actor Steve Guttenberg. The crackling ensemble — including Lizzie Caplan, Ken Marino, Martin Starr, Ryan Hansen, Jane Lynch, and Megan Mullally (who replaced Lynch in Season Two) — worked well in any setting, in any smaller combination. A little-watched failure at the time, it’s become the rare potential revival that everyone’s rooting for. A.S.
‘Soap’ (ABC, 1977-1981)
Designed as a parody of soap operas, writer-producer Susan Harris’ cult sitcom replicated the target of its mockery to a stunning degree. The Tate and Campbell families at its center seemed to suffer through new melodramatic plot twists every five minutes — not just murder and adultery (of course), but alien abductions, courtroom accusations, Satanic possession, and more. Mob bosses, Latin American revolutionaries, and a ventriloquist stepson also show up just for good measure. It’s best remembered today for introducing Robert Guillaume’s wisecracking butler Benson, who’d go on to star in a much more accessible spinoff, and for giving the world the first openly gay primetime character, courtesy of Billy Crystal’s Jodie Dallas. D.F.
‘Living Single’ (Fox, 1993-1998)
The first four decades of television’s existence were dominated by the Big Three networks: ABC, CBS, and NBC. As Fox, UPN, and the WB came onto the scene, they attempted to build ratings by going after underserved audiences, with comedies aimed at nonwhite viewers a priority. There was a stretch in the Nineties where those networks featured sitcoms fronted by, among others, Martin Lawrence, Jamie Foxx, Steve Harvey, Eddie Griffin, and Robert Townsend. Not all of the shows were great, but Living Single — with overflowing chemistry among Queen Latifah, Kim Fields, Kim Coles, and Erika Alexander as a quartet of friends navigating life in the big city — definitely was. In time, all three upstart networks whitewashed their lineups, and similar shows with all-white casts like Friends and Sex and the City got more mainstream hype. But Living Single got there first, and was terrific. A.S.
‘The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show’ (CBS, 1950-1958)
“Say goodnight, Gracie.” “Goodnight, Gracie!” Real-life married couple George Burns and Gracie Allen brought their radio-show double act to television, and turned the whole thing into an early example of the meta-sitcom: The first episode kicks off with Burns breaking the fourth wall and explaining the concept of the comic “straight man.” The idea was that audiences were watching a “typical day” in their lives (that’s the couple’s actual Beverly Hills house in those exterior shots), with Allen’s daffy version of herself baffling their neighbors, traveling salesmen, doctors, dinner party guests, and — in between his constant stream of peanut-gallery commentary — her loving husband. D.F.
‘Modern Family’ (ABC, 2009-2020)
Pilot episodes are hard. Comedy pilots are almost impossible. The vast majority of shows on this list started with half-hours that didn’t come close to suggesting their eventual greatness. With Modern Family, though, comedy vets Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd knew exactly what they wanted to do from the start. The premiere even plays great on later viewings, after you already know the twist: the three seemingly separate families you’ve been watching — aging Jay (Ed O’Neill) and trophy wife Gloria (Sofia Vergara), bickering suburbanites Phil (Ty Burrell) and Claire (Julie Bowen), and new parents Mitchell (Jesse Tyler Ferguson) and Cam (Eric Stonestreet) — are all part of the same extended clan. The downside of arriving so fully formed is that the show’s adult characters didn’t have as much room to grow, and later seasons so curdled the relationships that it was a wonder none of the couples divorced. But that start gave Modern Family enough early momentum to carry it to a record five consecutive Outstanding Comedy Series wins at the Emmys. A.S.
‘Letterkenny’ (Crave, 2016-Present)
“Pitter patter, let’s get at ’er” is one of this Canadian comedy’s many catchphrases, and patter is its specialty. Set in a rural Ontario town populated by “hicks, skids, hockey players, and Christians,” the series is mostly talk — each conversation turns into competitive wordplay among the show’s weird character combinations — punctuated by periodic action where alpha male Wayne (Jared Keeso, who developed Letterkenny with co-star Jacob Tierney) and friends brawl with a rival crew. Though Wayne never loses a scrap, Letterkenny clearly values his brains — or, at least, his wit — over his brawn. A.S.
‘How I Met Your Mother’ (CBS, 2005-2014)
Live by cleverness, die by cleverness. In its best moments, the story of lonely architect Ted Mosby’s (Josh Radnor) quest for true love creatively bent the laws of time, space, and reality. And, through Ted’s friends Barney (Neil Patrick Harris), Robin (Cobie Smulders), Lily (Alyson Hannigan), and Marshall (Jason Segel), HIMYM introduced more new conceits for urban single life (like Barney’s attempt to institute a lemon law for dating) than any comedy this side of Seinfeld. But when the final season introduced the Mother, a.k.a. Tracy (Cristin Milioti), who was everything viewers could have hoped for, then killed her off so that Ted and Robin could get together in the future, it ended things on the sourest of notes. Still, for those first few seasons, few comedies of its era were smarter or more endearing. A.S.
‘Will & Grace’ (NBC, 1998-2006, 2017-2020)
He’s a lawyer and she’s an interior decorator. He’s gay and she’s straight. They’re longtime BFFs Will and Grace (Eric McCormack and Debra Messing), and along with their two closest friends — the boozy, bawdy Karen (Megan Mullaly) and the Cher-idolizing Jack (Sean Hayes) — they manage to get out of social scrapes, sling scathing insults and help each other through numerous romantic ups and downs. This immensely popular Must-See TV staple featured a quartet with off-the-charts chemistry and attracted a who’s who of guest stars; it’s easier to list who didn’t drop by for a cameo or two-episode arc. When then-V.P. Joe Biden admitted that Will and Grace was instrumental in changing his opinion about gay marriage, it was evident that the show had transformed the public conversation around queer culture. It was so beloved that, 11 years after its series finale, NBC brought everyone back for three extra seasons. D.F.
‘Sanford and Son’ (NBC, 1972-1977)
Redd Foxx could read the phone book and it’d still make for one of the best sitcoms of all time. Here, he plays the titular Fred Sanford, a widowed junk dealer who lives with his “big dummy” son Lamont (Desmond Wilson) in a rundown apartment in L.A. With its mostly black cast and Norman Lear at the helm (adapting the show from a British comedy), the series sliced and diced the racial politics of the day. But it was Foxx who sold it all, with a gift for physical comedy that had viewers at home howling right along with the studio audience. In one scene where Fred is reporting a robbery, the cop asks if the perps were colored. Foxx rears his head back and cocks an eyebrow. “Yeah,” he says after a beat. “They were white!” M.F.
‘WKRP in Cincinnati’ (CBS, 1978-1982)
When you’re responsible for one of the single funniest half-hours in the history of American television — “Turkeys Away,” where the titular radio station’s program director foolishly attempts to drop live poultry from a helicopter because “As God is my witness, I thought turkeys could fly!” — then you’re already a contender for a list like this. Add indelible characters like cynical morning-show DJ Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) and soulful overnight DJ Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid), plus a smart culture-clash premise about the stuffy old station introducing rock & roll to its playlist, and you’ve got an all-time winner. A.S.
‘Peep Show’ (Channel 4, 2003-2015)
This Britcom (co-created by Succession showrunner Jesse Armstrong) became a word-of-mouth cult favorite even in the U.S. Stars David Mitchell and Robert Webb — who did their own brilliant sketch series, That Mitchell and Webb Look, a huge influence on Key and Peele — played a couple of socially inept London mates, bumbling and slacking through life; the actors wore head-mounted cameras for a point-of-view feel. Peep Show was also where future Oscar winner Olivia Colman first turned heads. Most classic scene: Webb gets up at his uncle’s funeral to give a bizarrely poignant rant comparing Jesus to Enya. R.S.
‘One Day at a Time’ (Netflix, 2017-2019; Pop, 2020)
Most reboots have little reason to exist beyond the availability of a familiar brand name. The smart ones find a purpose of their own. So Gloria Calderon Kellet and Mike Royce’s remake of Norman Lear’s Seventies sitcom about a single mom raising teenage daughters makes its heroine, Justina Machado’s Penelope, into an Army veteran dealing with PTSD. She’s also a Cuban-American raising a queer daughter (Isabella Gomez’s Elena) and slick son (Marcel Ruiz’s Alex) in a world increasingly fraught for their areas of intersectionality. Even goofy building superintendent Schneider (Todd Grinnell) was reimagined as a recovering addict, and, along with Elena, a woke comedic counterpoint to Penelope’s conservative Cuban mother Lydia (the great Rita Moreno, chewing scenery like her life depended on it). Like the best of Lear’s original sitcom empire, this One Day deftly juggled broad family comedy and serious discussion of the problems of modern life. A.S.
‘New Girl’ (Fox, 2011-2018)
Early New Girl episodes were almost entirely about Zooey Deschanel as Jess, a quirky young woman who moves into an L.A. loft with three guys to get over a bad breakup. The series put all of Deschanel’s off-kilter charm to great use, including her singing voice. But its magic came from gradually revealing that the three roommates — Max Greenfield’s repentant douchebag Schmidt, Jake Johnson’s eccentric bartender-novelist Nick, and Lamorne Morris’ prank-loving Winston — were each somehow weirder than Jess. The premier hangout comedy of the last decade. A.S.
‘Blackadder’ (BBC One, 1983-1989)
A dream team of U.K. comedy in the Eighties: Rowan Atkinson, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Miranda Richardson, Rik Mayall. Blackadder was a time-travel fantasy — each season took place in a different era of British history, with Atkinson as the wily wit Edmund Blackadder. The first season didn’t really count — a dull medieval Richard III parody. But after that, it was all gold, moving through the Elizabethan era, the Jane Austen era, World War One. In one of the most beloved moments, Blackadder warns a fellow soldier about German brutality: “Their operas last for three or four days, and they have no word for ‘fluffy.’” R.S.
‘Futurama’ (Fox, 1999-2003; Comedy Central, 2008-2013)
The Simpsons is an impossible act to follow in the present, so Matt Groening decided to leap forward a thousand years for this sci-fi comedy about a guileless pizza boy named Fry (Billy West), accidentally frozen for a millennia, who joins an interstellar delivery service alongside alcoholic robot Bender (John DiMaggio) and one-eyed alien warrior Leela (Katey Sagal). Futurama mostly lacked the human element that made its predecessor so special, but it was able to compensate with a satiric scope in which alien civilizations could be modeled on anything from Willy Wonka to Ally McBeal. A.S.
‘Absolutely Fabulous’ (BBC, 1992-1996)
The British comedy team of Dawn French and Jennifer Saunders created a friendship for the ages in Absolutely Fabulous. Saunders starred as Edina, a debauched fortysomething fashion scenester; former Bond girl Joanne Lumley was Patsy, a glam magazine doyenne. Together, these two raised hell in Swinging London. They drank. They smoked. They terrorized Edina’s studious daughter. Ab Fab was a Nineties sensation — at the height of the Britpop boom, it was a shock to see these women behaving badly, like a pair of Gallagher brothers, with no comeuppance or consequences. Years after the show ended, Edina and Patsy live on. R.S.
‘The Comeback’ (HBO, 2005, 2014)
As a star of Friends, Lisa Kudrow is rich and famous enough to do whatever she wants for the rest of her life. But what if she had the bad luck to instead wind up on one of those mediocre shows that always wound up airing right after Friends? That’s the premise of this acidic tragicomedy Kudrow created with Sex and the City producer Michael Patrick King. She plays largely forgotten sitcom actress Valerie Cherish, whose desperation to keep working forces her to debase herself time and again. Kudrow and King were unflinching in depicting the indignities of a business that is indifferent at best to women above a certain age, to the point that viewers may have felt the need to recite Valerie’s “I don’t want to see that!” catchphrase as her latest humiliation approached. A.S.
‘Rick and Morty’ (Adult Swim, 2013-Present)
Rick and Morty began life as a pornographic spoof of the Back to the Future films called The Real Animated Adventures of Doc and Mharti, created by Justin Roiland. When he teamed up with Community creator Dan Harmon, the idea evolved into one of the most imaginative — and darkest — comedies ever put on television. As mad scientist Rick and his victimized grandson Morty (both voiced by Roiland) travel to strange alien worlds and parallel realities, there seems to be no limit on what they can do or what the series can be. In perhaps the defining episode, Rick transforms himself into a pickle to avoid family therapy with Morty, daughter Beth (Sarah Chalke), and granddaughter Summer (Spencer Grammer), then battles rats and a drug cartel, and eventually has to go to the therapy session anyway to confront his inner demons. There’s nothing else quite like it. A.S.
‘The Phil Silvers Show’ (CBS, 1955-1959)
Meet Master Sgt. Ernest G. Bilko, commander of the Fort Baxter motor pool and the craftiest scam artist in the U.S. Army. Former vaudeville comedian Phil Silvers’ creation was so popular that most folks simply refer to the series as “Sgt. Bilko.” Every week, his officer would bilk the men in his barracks out of their earnings via con games, get-rich schemes, and any number of complicated swindles. If Bilko could convince an underling to do his job while he dreamed up ways to make a quick buck off the base’s blowhard boss Colonel Hall, all the better. Silvers almost single-handedly set up the template of the lovable-stinker sitcom archetype — it’s no surprise that both Larry David and Ricky Gervais are huge fans of the show. D.F.
‘Flight of the Conchords’ (HBO, 2007-2009)
Comedians Jemaine Clement and Bret McKenzie had billed themselves for years as “the almost-award-winning, fourth-most-popular folk duo in New Zealand.” In their HBO series, they played fictionalized versions of themselves, struggling to break through in America with the help of unqualified manager/consulate employee Murray (Rhys Darby), and fending off the advances of stalker/fan Mel (Kristen Schaal). The guys tended to be polite and reserved to a fault, only to cut loose a few times per episode with inventive, catchy musical numbers. A whimsical treat that ended only because Clement and McKenzie had exhausted their entire back catalog of songs after just two seasons. A.S.
‘Maude’ (CBS, 1972-1978)
On Seinfeld, when Elaine appears in the Hamptons wearing an old-fashioned sun hat, Jerry cracks, “And then there’s Maude!” That sums up the Maude legacy. It was a revolutionary hit from Norman Lear, starring Bea Arthur as TV’s fiercest, funniest, most sarcastic feminist yenta. And while the show began as an All in the Family spinoff — she was Edith Bunker’s cousin, always battling Archie — it eventually broke new ground, with a famous abortion episode (two months before Roe vs. Wade) and another where Maude became the first pot-smoking grandma on TV. In every way, Maude was ahead of her time. R.S.
‘The Jack Benny Program’ (CBS, 1950-1964; NBC, 1964-1965)
One of the grandfathers of the modern sitcom, this series sprang from entertainer Jack Benny’s popular radio show of the Thirties and Forties. Based on a fictionalized Benny’s life in Hollywood (possibly the original “show about nothing,” its plots followed Benny traveling to gigs or hosting a dinner party), its show-within-the-show format and self-deprecating skewering of the entertainment world would reverberate decades later in The Larry Sanders Show and Curb Your Enthusiasm. Beloved regulars from the announcer Don Wilson to the singer Dennis Day and Eddie Anderson as Benny’s African American valet, Rochester, kept audiences coming back, while tons of high-wattage “special guest stars” (Sinatra! Liberace!) hooked new viewers. Through it all, though, the biggest delight was in Benny’s masterful comic delivery — full of pregnant pauses, deadpan stares, and fourth-wall-breaking asides that influenced everyone from Bob Newhart to Stephen Colbert. M.F.
‘Get Smart’ (NBC, 1965-1969; CBS, 1969-1970)
Among the catchphrases of James Bond wannabe Maxwell Smart (Don Adams) was a claim that a bullet “missed me by that much.” When master of satire Mel Brooks teamed up with future Graduate co-writer Buck Henry to lampoon the Sixties spy craze that gave us Bond and The Man From U.N.C.L.E., they didn’t miss at all. Brooks, Henry, and Adams made Max into a parody not just of secret agents, but of a certain breed of arrogant American man oblivious to his limitations. (More often than not, Max had to be saved by his more capable partner 99, played by Barbara Feldon.) And some of Max’s iffy gadgets — a shoe phone, a Cone of Silence that always did the opposite of its intended purpose — have outlived 007’s comparable devices in the public imagination. A.S.
‘Phineas and Ferb’ (Disney, 2007-2015)
Despite having title characters who are among the most literally inventive in television history, this animated series sure liked doing the exact same thing every week, making the repetition a crucial part of the joke. In each episode, brothers Phineas (Vincent Martella) and Ferb (Thomas Brodie-Sangster) spend a day of summer vacation on an impossible quest — say, building the world’s biggest roller coaster — while older sister Candace (Ashley Tisdale) tries to bust them in front of their mother. In parallel subplots, the boys’ pet platypus, Perry, is a secret agent foiling the schemes of not-so-evil genius Dr. Doofenschmirtz (voiced by Dan Povenmire, who created the show with Jeff “Swampy” Marsh). The characters’ increasing awareness of how each day is exactly the same elevates a kids’ cartoon into something smarter than most comedy geared towards adults. A.S.
‘What We Do in the Shadows’ (FX, 2019-Present)
This ranking will probably feel absurdly low within a few years, since Jemaine Clement’s TV spinoff of the 2014 vampire mockumentary film he made with Taika Waititi is already a monstrous generator of laughs, and could grow even more powerful in seasons to come. For now, take pleasure in the abject, centuries-old stupidity of this crew of undead living in Staten Island — libidinous Laszlo (Matt Berry), arrogant Nadja (Natasia Demetriou), fussy Nandor (Kayvan Novak), terminally boring “energy vampire” Colin Robinson (Mark Proksch), and their hapless familiar Guillermo (Harvey Guillen) — and dream of what foolish heights they can scale together. A.S.
‘Designing Women’ (CBS, 1986-1993)
At first blush, this series about a quartet of Georgia women working at an interior design firm would seem to be a classic example of clapter — where a punchline is designed less to elicit laughter than to generate applause from audience members who approve of its message — in action. After all, at least once per episode, the show’s sharp-tongued heroine Julia Sugarbaker (Dixie Carter) would unleash verbal fire-and-brimstone upon someone foolish enough to disagree with her, to the thunderous response of the studio audience. But that would ignore not only how funny those rants (many written by creator Linda Bloodworth-Thomason, who clearly put a lot of herself into Julia) tended to be, but how well each member of the ensemble — including Delta Burke, Annie Potts, Jean Smart, and Meshach Taylor — got under one another’s comic skin. In the right hands, laughter and applause don’t have to be mutually exclusive. A.S.
‘The Thick of It’ (BBC Four, 2005-2007; BBC Two, 2009-2012)
Armando Iannucci’s scathing satire of backstabbing among the Prime Minister’s toadies introduced viewers to Malcolm Tucker, a spin doctor for Number 10 Downing St. and one of the most profane comic antiheroes to ever grace the small screen. Thanks to actor Peter Capaldi’s ability to turn the most baroque, obscene insults into something close to poetry (“I will tear your fucking skin off, wear it to your mother’s birthday party, and will rub your nuts up and down her leg whilst whistling Bohemian Fucking Rhapsody!”), Tucker became the raging id of England’s political class. Iannucci would export his take-no-prisoners attack on power brokers to the U.S. with Veep, but he’d already perfected the format back home. D.F.
‘Catastrophe’ (Channel 4, 2015-2019)
A romance that plays out in the wrong order: American businessman Rob (Rob Delaney) and Irish-born teacher Sharon (Sharon Horgan) have a one-night stand while he’s in London on a business trip, find out that Sharon is pregnant, reluctantly move in together, have the baby, get married, and only then really fall in love. Created by Delaney and Horgan, Catastrophe was equal parts juvenile and profound. Rarely has a show been so creatively vulgar in discussing sex and other bodily functions. (Rob’s friend Chris, played by Mark Bonnar, describes childbirth as “a little troll tobogganing out of your wife’s snatch on a wave of turds.”) And rarely has a show been as emotionally blunt in depicting the hard work that goes into maintaining an adult relationship, even between two people who are clearly better suited for each other than anyone else in the world. A.S.
‘Good Times’ (CBS, 1974-1979)
There’s a long history of TV shows reorienting themselves around minor characters who unexpectedly explode in popularity, from Happy Days’ Fonzie to Family Matters’ Urkel. Perhaps the messiest example came in this spinoff of Norman Lear’s Maude. Good Times was intended to be an issues-oriented comedy centered on parents Florida (Esther Rolle) and James (John Amos) as they raised three children in a Chicago housing project. Then comedian Jimmie Walker became a sensation as lazy eldest son J.J., with his catchphrase “Dyn-o-mite!” As the producers gave audiences more and more J.J., the show’s original stars grew increasingly frustrated. Amos was fired after three seasons, and Rolle quit the following year. Despite that tension, the best parts of Good Times threaded the needle, thoughtfully exploring lower-class black life (like youngest son Mike, played by Ralph Carter, explaining why his school’s IQ test is racially biased) while making room for J.J. to crack wise. A.S.
‘Spaced’ (Channel 4, 1999-2001)
Before they’d make a name for themselves with the zombiepocalypse comedy Shaun of the Dead, director Edgar Wright and star Simon Pegg — along with co-writer and co-star Jessica Stevenson — would give the world this Britcom about two twentysomethings who pretend to be a couple in order to secure a cheap two-bedroom apartment. A pop-culture-saturated take on life in a Gen X bubble circa the late Nineties, it was fueled with a buzzy mix of comic-book nerdom, Star Wars obsessiveness, London’s rave scene, and movies references ranging from The Shining to Pulp Fiction. At its heart, however, was the story of two friends trying to figure out how to slouch their way into maturity and adulthood. D.F.
‘It’s Garry Shandling’s Show’ (Showtime, 1986-1990)
Garry Shandling’s first sitcom found the stand-up playing “Garry Shandling,” amazed and bemused that he was starring in his very own TV show. Breaking the fourth wall, Shandling would conspiratorially turn the viewers into his co-stars, often at the expense of interacting with actual castmates. Occasionally, real-life friends and celebrities would make guest appearances; Gilda Radner dropped by to joke that she hadn’t been working lately because she had been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. (Which was true.) Shandling and former SNL writer Alan Zweibel had created the ultimate self-aware take on the comic-plays-version-of-himself sitcom — here, the series was his life. Even the opening song was in on the joke: “This is the theme to Garry’s show, the theme to Garry’s show/ Garry called me up and asked if I would write his theme song.” D.F.
‘You’re the Worst’ (FX, 2014; FXX, 2015-2019)
A romantic comedy about two people who had no business being in one… until they did. Selfish author Jimmy (Chris Gehr) and self-destructive publicist Gretchen (Aya Cash) hook up for what both assume will be meaningless sex, and each is horrified to discover they’re developing real feelings for the other. You’re the Worst generated tons of comic mileage out of their combustible pairing, while also finding real pathos in the damage that brought these two dysfunctional people together. Gretchen stands as one of the medium’s most nuanced depictions of someone battling clinical depression. A.S.
‘Murphy Brown’ (CBS, 1988-1998, 2018)
Though she had successfully hosted SNL several times, Candice Bergen was generally viewed as a serious actor who seemed most at home in dramas like Gandhi. Then Diane English cast her as network newsmagazine anchor Murphy Brown, a recovering alcoholic grappling with sobriety, middle age, and the realization that liberal Boomers like herself didn’t change the world nearly as much as they’d wanted to. Bergen’s delivery was as sharp as the features that once made her a successful fashion model, and she had great chemistry with the stacked ensemble (particularly the late Robert Pastorelli as housepainter-turned-nanny Eldin). She also wasn’t afraid to make a fool of herself if, say, English wanted her to belt an off-key Motown classic. Bergen made the fictional Murphy seem so real that Vice President Dan Quayle once started a very public feud with her — and lost, of course. A.S.
‘The Odd Couple’ (ABC, 1970-1975)
“Can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy?” asked the narrator in the opening credits of Garry Marshall and Jerry Belson’s adaptation of the famous Neil Simon play and movie. Clearly, the answer was no, and not just because sportswriter Oscar Madison (Jack Klugman) was a slob and photographer Felix Unger (Tony Randall) a neat freak. Despite a lifelong friendship, the two were temperamental opposites in every way, and Klugman and Randall made such weekly magic out of their arguments that their version of this familiar story stands tallest above every other. A.S.
‘The Bernie Mac Show’ (Fox, 2001-2006)
Some stand-ups, like Eddie Murphy or Pete Davidson, are lucky enough to break out when they’re young. Bernard Jeffrey McCullough, a.k.a. Bernie Mac, toiled in the clubs for more than 20 years before his work in the Original Kings of Comedy Tour (and Spike Lee’s concert film of it) finally got him an eponymous network sitcom, where a fictionalized Bernie and wife Wanda (Kellita Smith) took in the three children of his drug-addicted sister. By then, Mac had honed his comic persona to the point where all it took was a subtle change in expression or a half-swallowed plea to the heavens during periodic addresses to the audience to create big laughs. His death in 2008 left a giant, exasperated hole in the comedy universe. A.S.
‘Scrubs’ (NBC, 2001-2008; ABC, 2009-2010)
Young doctors J.D. (Zach Braff), Turk (Donald Faison), and Elliot (Sarah Chalke) begin their hospital internships full of optimism, only to learn that medicine is a lot harder, and sadder, than they expected. This sounds like the premise for a drama, and Scrubs had no shortage of genuine heartbreak along the way, as patients died and lessons were learned. But the series managed to unleash those tears in the context of what was otherwise a bright, goofy comedy filled with dance numbers, J.D.’s Walter Mitty-ish fantasies, and the precision rants of his prickly mentor Dr. Cox (John C. McGinley). A.S.
‘I’m Alan Partridge’ (BBC Two, 1997-2002)
Having been banished from his BBC talk show for killing a guest, TV broadcaster Alan Partridge finds himself living in a small-town hotel while salvaging his career. Over two seasons, Steve Coogan’s signature buffoon went from a parody of celebrity-presenter smarm to one of the greatest Britcom characters ever. His recreation of The Spy Who Loved Me credit sequence alone is a testament to how Coogan could turn one man’s idiocy into television-comedy bliss. He’d go on to resurrect the character a number of times (see also: the hilarious This Time) but this two-season series is peak Partridge. D.F.
‘Police Squad!’ (ABC, 1982)
Only six episodes were made of this spoof comedy starring Leslie Nielsen as humorless cop Frank Drebin, from the minds behind Airplane!, and ABC essentially canceled it after only four had aired. But what Police Squad! lacked in duration, it more than made up for in apex value. No comedy before this one had nearly as high a ratio of jokes per scene, and only a few after, like Arrested Development, would even try. What failed on ABC turned into a trilogy of top-grossing Naked Gun films, making Drebin (or, at least, his alter ego Enrico Palazzo) an idol to millions. A.S.
NewsRadio creator Paul Simms once described NBC’s iconic Must-See TV lineup to Rolling Stone as “a double-decker shit sandwich,” no doubt resentful that his whip-smart, endearingly silly workplace comedy never beat out The Single Guy or Veronica’s Closet to earn a spot next to Friends or Seinfeld. At its best, though, NewsRadio and its wonderful ensemble — including Dave Foley, Stephen Root, Maura Tierney, and the late, great Phil Hartman — was as funny as any NBC sitcom of that era, maybe funnier. A.S.
‘Barney Miller’ (ABC, 1975-1982)
The Seventies were fertile years for New York City cop stories onscreen, from taut, gritty movies like Serpico and The French Connection to this proudly shaggy office sitcom starring Hal Linden as the sensible man in an increasingly ridiculous city (and police force). Barney’s diverse unit of cranky detectives (played by, among others, Ron Glass, Abe Vigoda, Jack Soo, and Steve Landesberg) rarely left the squad room, and mostly did paperwork, presenting one of TV’s most realistic depictions of police work, as well as one of the funniest. A.S.
‘The Jeffersons’ (CBS, 1975-1988)
Archie Bunker’s neighbor George Jefferson was mentioned on All in the Family years before he actually appeared, as Norman Lear waited for Sherman Hemsley to wrap up a lengthy Broadway commitment. The wait was worth it — the role of the preening, arrogant George fit Hemsley like it had been custom-tailored at one of the Jefferson family’s dry cleaners. That flourishing business allowed George and his wife Louise, a.k.a. Weezy (Isabel Sanford), to move to a deluxe apartment in the sky in the longest-running and best of All in the Family’s many spinoffs. The show was a star vehicle for Hemsley, fueled by his strutting comic genius, but it was also keenly aware that George was never as powerful as he thought. A.S.
‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ (NBC, 1990-1996)
Now this is the story all about how Will Smith went from rapper to icon, playing an inner-city kid adjusting to life with his wealthy uncle Phil (James Avery) and uptight cousin Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro). Despite no acting experience outside of his music videos, Smith was a charismatic natural from minute one. And while Fresh Prince mostly kept things light — especially whenever Carlton was dancing to Tom Jones — it also made room for headier topics, from Will and Carlton enduring a racist traffic stop to Will confronting the father who abandoned him. A.S.
‘The Good Place’ (NBC, 2016-2020)
Sitcom premises don’t get more audacious than “heaven is irreparably broken,” but Michael Schur’s metaphysical epic about the ideal way to live your life — and afterlife — lived up to its ambition. As human dum-dums Eleanor (Kristen Bell), Chidi (William Jackson Harper), Tahani (Jameela Jamil), and Jason (Manny Jacinto) teamed with cosmic beings Michael (Ted Danson) and Janet (D’Arcy Carden) to repair the universe, The Good Place burned through plot at a rate that would terrify any other series. The show was endlessly inventive in the ways it depicted the best and worst of humanity, as well as the possibilities and pitfalls of eternity. Take it sleazy, everybody. A.S.
‘Broad City’ (Comedy Central, 2014-2019)
Not every web series is built for the promotion to the TV big leagues, but Broad City sure as hell was. A millennial buddy comedy created by and starring Abbi Jacobson and Ilana Glazer, it was as sharp, ambitious, and confident as its heroines were scattered, directionless, and clumsy. In an era when too many “comedies” were content to make viewers merely smile a few times per episode, Broad City generated huge laughs with a mix of slapstick, inanity, and unapologetic raunch — most memorably in an episode where an uninhibited Ilana cheers on neurotic Abbi’s plan to peg her boyfriend. A.S.
‘Veep’ (HBO, 2012-2019)
In the fourth season of Armando Ianucci’s ruthless political satire, VP-turned-POTUS Selina Meyer (Julia Louis-Dreyfus, at the summit of her sitcom-Mt. Rushmore career) and her senior staff testify before Congress about a scandal, where the oafish Jonah (Timothy Simons) is forced to listen to a congressman read off a list of 21 puerile nicknames his colleagues have coined for him, including “Jizzy Gillespie” and “The Cloud Botherer.” It’s perhaps the coldest moment of a series that treated insults as the ultimate weapon. No one in Selina’s orbit was spared a bit of creative cruelty over seven darkly hilarious seasons. A.S.
‘Brooklyn Nine-Nine’ (Fox, 2013-2018; NBC, 2019-Present)
Nine-Nine is taking more than a year off before its final season, in part to figure out if an unabashedly progressive sitcom about cops can remain funny in the age of Black Lives Matter. Whether or not the creative team pulls off that balancing act, it won’t diminish the previous years’ blissfully silly pleasures. Over the show’s first seven seasons, Andy Samberg’s sophomoric Detective Jake Peralta and Andre Braugher’s robotic Captain Holt brought out the best — and worst — in each other, while the Nine-Nine as a whole turned goofing off into a form of art. A.S.
‘Brockmire’ (IFC, 2017-2020)
Hank Azaria plays, among many other Simpsons characters, Moe, Chief Wiggum, Comic Book Guy, and (until recently) Apu. So you would think he’d taken his comedic voice work to its limits. But he found his greatest role, where his voice is even more important, and somehow richer and funnier, in disgraced baseball announcer Jim Brockmire, who’s mounting a comeback after years of globe-trotting debauchery that followed an on-air meltdown. As Jim narrates his own tragicomic life, Azaria’s delivery has never been stronger or more versatile, and his onscreen bond with Amanda Peet (as love interest Jules) and Tyrel Jackson Williams (as pal Charles) makes Jim lovable even at his most disgusting. A.S.
‘King of the Hill’ (Fox, 1997-2010)
Before they teamed up for this gently weird animated comedy, Mike Judge created Beavis and Butt-Head, while Greg Daniels wrote for the peak seasons of The Simpsons. Those shows would no doubt horrify Judge and Daniels’ co-created hero, Hank Hill (Judge), a Texas propane salesman who’s convinced the world is going to hell in a handbasket, and the best he can do is care for his lawn and immediate family, in that order. What made King of the Hill special — besides Pamela Adlon’s adorable oddness as Hank’s aspiring prop-comic son Bobby — was that it took Hank’s side most of the time, rather than treating him as the butt of the joke. A.S.
‘Review’ (Comedy Central, 2014-2017)
Had Review just been a collection of loosely linked sketches in which Andy Daly’s “reviewer of life” Forrest MacNeil was forced to do whatever his fictional audience told him to and then rate it on a five-star scale, it would still be a great comic achievement. The series’ masterstroke, though, was to add up the impact that each review — whether having to eat 15 pancakes in one sitting, or divorce his wife without explanation — had on Forrest’s psyche, until the mere thought of him experiencing anything became agonizingly funny. Like Forrest when he had to try cocaine, we give it a million stars! A.S.
‘Black-ish’ (ABC, 2014-Present)
ABC used the instant success of Modern Family as inspiration for a wave of family sitcoms that breathed new life into one of the medium’s oldest genres simply by changing what kinds of characters were being put through familiar plots. Many of these have been terrific, including Fresh Off the Boat (told from the POV of a first-generation Taiwanese-American kid) and Speechless (about a special needs family). The standard-bearer, though, is black-ish, in which wealthy ad man Dre Johnson (Anthony Anderson) frets that his family isn’t quite black enough in a world of increasing racial complexity. Created by Kenya Barris, the series is perfectly cast, from Tracee Ellis Ross as Dre’s slightly more sensible wife, Rainbow, to all of the kids. Anderson and Ross move seamlessly between goofy sitcom antics, like the Johnson family’s Halloween prank tradition, and heavier subjects, like a Black Lives Matter episode where Dre discusses the intense hopes and fears he felt the night of President Obama’s inauguration. A.S.
‘Friends’ (NBC, 1994-2004)
It can be difficult to separate Friends the phenomenon from Friends the sitcom. In the former, the cast — Courteney Cox, Matt Le Blanc, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer, and, especially, Jennifer Aniston — all became enormous, ubiquitous stars, inspiring every network to shift from family and workplace sitcoms to ones about attractive singles in the city. But the phenomenon of Friends doesn’t happen without the show itself being great, from the Swiss-watch timing of Perry and Kudrow to the unmistakable chemistry among those six co-stars in virtually any combination. The idea of friends being the family you choose had its power, but mainly because they were these Friends, played by these people. A.S.
‘Bob’s Burgers’ (Fox, 2011-Present)
This animated comedy’s titular restaurant, a greasy spoon operated by Bob Belcher (H. Jon Benjamin), wife Linda (John Roberts), and kids Tina (Dan Mintz), Gene (Eugene Mirman), and Louise (Kristen Schaal), is perpetually on the verge of calamity, yet somehow remains in business. Similarly, Bob’s Burgers has gone from a niche show carried by The Simpsons and Family Guy to an irresistibly quirky and kind empire in its own right, including a soundtrack album collecting the best of the series’ many irresistible song parodies and an upcoming movie. And Bob has become one of TV’s best and most relatable examples of a sane man in an insane world. A.S.
‘Sex and the City’ (HBO, 1998-2004)
As crucial to HBO’s rise as The Sopranos, this series began as a clumsy, loud, and only occasionally funny attempt at social anthropology, as seen through the eyes of Manhattan sex columnist Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker) and friends — uptight lawyer Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), prim WASP Charlotte (Kristin Davis), and lascivious publicist Samantha (Kim Cattrall). By the end, it was almost purely a drama, with concluding storylines about breast cancer, infertility, eldercare, and Carrie’s search for true love. In between, though, SATC was a frothy cocktail of wordplay, complex tales of romance and friendship, and refreshingly blunt talk about funky spunk and all the other peccadilloes of the dating class. A.S.
‘Everybody Loves Raymond’ (CBS, 1996-2005)
In the era of Seinfeld and Friends, Phil Rosenthal went old-fashioned with a sharp, suburban-family comedy inspired by his own life and that of star Ray Romano. Every episode told a single story — usually around Ray and wife Debra (Patricia Heaton) fending off the intrusions of his parents (Peter Boyle and Doris Roberts) and brother (Brad Garrett) — that turned something minor (say, a suitcase no one puts away) into a symbol of a bigger problem. “I’ve always said that I’m doing the show for CBS,” Rosenthal once said, “but in the back of my mind, it’s for Nick at Nite.” Many shows aspire to that level of classicism; Raymond achieved it. A.S.
‘SpongeBob SquarePants’ (Nickelodeon, 1999-Present)
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea? The hero of the most lovably, relentlessly surreal kids show ever made. SpongeBob is the best kind of ridiculous, where any preposterous thing can happen at any moment — say, grumpy neighbor Squidward (Rodger Bumpass) tearing up a snowball-fight peace treaty between SpongeBob (Tom Kenny) and his best friend Patrick Star (Bill Fagerbakke), only to be told it was just a copy of the peace treaty — yet it always makes sense within the elastic rules of the marvelous world created by marine-biology-teacher-turned-animator Stephen Hillenburg. And no, mayonnaise is not an instrument. A.S.
‘Better Things’ (FX, 2016-Present)
Even if you didn’t know that co-creator (along with Louis C.K., who left after the second season), star, and chief writer-director Pamela Adlon had based this series on her own life as a single mother and vaguely famous actor, you would be able to hear its ring of truth. There are stories on Better Things — about the career of Adlon’s Sam Fox, about Sam’s tempestuous relationships with her three daughters, about her periodic and mortifying attempts to date — but what matters most is the feeling of it, and the sense of warmth and authenticity that’s palpable in every scene. Better Things hasn’t won the same hype as many shows in the late-2010s boom of autobiographical dramedies, but it’s an absolute gem. A.S.
‘The Golden Girls’ (NBC, 1985-1992)
Thank you for being friends, ladies. The Golden Girls debuted in the Eighties with a radical concept: four sassy seniors living it up in one Miami household, despite their different personalities. Bea Arthur’s Dorothy was the smart one, Betty White’s Rose was the dippy one, Rue McClanahan’s Blanche was the sex bomb, and Estelle Getty reigned as Dorothy’s badass Sicilian mama. Together, the Golden Girls shared the sunshine, the cheesecake, and the headaches — especially when it came to local men. As Dorothy once lamented, “The trouble with dating a guy on life support is that you always have to go to his place.” R.S.
‘Fawlty Towers’ (BBC, 1975-1979)
John Cleese’s post-Python masterpiece introduced the world to Basil Fawlty, England’s most high-strung hotel owner and the embodiment of British class aspirations undone by pettiness and petite bourgeoisie jealousy. Drunken chefs, scurrying rats, a nagging wife, a dimwitted waiter (“Manuel!”), boorish customers, semi-senile regular residents — it was Basil vs. the world. And in all 12 episodes of the series’ perfectly choreographed, exponentially escalating chaos, the world inevitably won. D.F.
‘The Office’ (U.K.) (BBC Two 2001-2003)
The length and popularity of the American remake has eclipsed the original Office. And Ricky Gervais’ later work and brittle public persona — especially since his professional split from Office co-creator Stephen Merchant — can make his antics as boorish middle manager David Brent even harder to stomach now. But the BBC Office was far more consistent than the NBC version (admittedly, easier to do with only 12 episodes and a Christmas special), and more clear-eyed about the tyranny of its boss over employees like Tim (Martin Freeman) and Dawn (Lucy Davis). Its mockumentary style was a huge influence on 21st-century TV comedy. A.S.
‘It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia’ (FX, 2005-2012; FXX, 2013-Present)
A spectacularly smart comedy about unbelievably stupid people. Rob McElhenney created Sunny as a showcase for himself and buddies Glenn Howerton and Charlie Day, legendarily filming a DIY pilot episode for $200 in 2004. The three of them and co-stars Kaitlin Olson and Danny DeVito are not only still making the series 14 seasons later, but its irreverent approach to topical comedy is somehow still funny, long past the age when most great comedies are already running on fumes. Just don’t let Charlie huff any of those fumes on the way to Paddy’s Pub. A.S.
‘Malcolm in the Middle’ (Fox, 2000-2006)
Malcolm would rank high purely as a laugh-delivery system thanks to family-sitcom Hall of Fame performances by Jane Kaczmarek and Bryan Cranston, and the way they maneuvered their way through the series’ anarchic, absurdist tone along with sons played by Frankie Muniz, Christopher Kennedy Masterson, Justin Berfield, and Erik Per Sullivan. But Malcolm gets bonus points for hitting big as a single-camera, laugh-track-free sitcom at a moment when the TV business was trying to kill that format dead. Many other shows on this list, including Arrested Development and Scrubs, likely wouldn’t have been greenlit if Malcolm hadn’t been so beloved. A.S.
‘Louie’ (FX, 2010-2015)
What should we talk about when we talk about Louie? On the one hand, Louis C.K.’s semi-autobiography is among the most influential series, and perhaps the most influential comedy, of the last decade. In shows that followed it, like Better Things, Girls, Atlanta, Master of None, and more, you can see elements of Louie’s memoir-like approach, or its complete unpredictability in subject, tone, or even genre from one story to the next. And many of those stories — like a three-episode tale of Louie’s attempt to succeed David Letterman, or a depressed Louie traveling to China on New Year’s Eve — are extraordinary. On the other hand, C.K. has since been revealed as a sexual harasser who repeatedly exposed himself to women. Both that behavior and C.K.’s onstage reaction to his public comeuppance reframe the series’ curious and empathetic worldview as a hypocritical put-on. Louie at its best was too good and too important to leave off this list, but good luck getting through an episode of it now. A.S.
‘The Bob Newhart Show’ (CBS, 1972-1978)
Bob Newhart first became a legend on vinyl, with his hit 1960s comedy albums of martini-dry monologues. (He’s the only stand-up comic to win a Grammy as Best New Artist.) But he hit even bigger on TV as deadpan Chicago psychologist Dr. Bob Hartley, who was almost as neurotic as his patients. Suzanne Pleshette played his cerebral wife Emily in one of the coolest, brainiest marriages on Seventies TV. Newhart scored another hit sitcom in the Eighties, the totally different Newhart, where his character ran an inn in Vermont. For that show’s famous finale, he woke up back in Chicago with Pleshette, telling her, “You won’t believe the dream I just had!” R.S.
‘Atlanta’ (FX, 2016-Present)
The best thing about Atlanta is the laser precision with which Brian Tyree Henry unleashes his comic scowl as rapper Paper Boi. No, wait — the best thing about Atlanta is LaKeith Stanfield’s off-kilter delivery as Paper Boi’s buddy Darius. Actually, the best thing about Atlanta is the dreamlike quality that director Hiro Murai and others cast over the show’s titular city. Or maybe it’s how creator Donald Glover, who also stars as Paper Boi’s manager cousin Earn, makes every episode feel unexpected, like following the farce of Paper Boi struggling to get a good haircut with the tragedy of Darius meeting deracinated ghoul Teddy Perkins. Or maybe the best thing about Atlanta is… everything about Atlanta? A.S.
‘Community’ (NBC, 2009-2014; Yahoo! Screen, 2015)
Before Community, there had been meta series featuring characters who knew they were on a TV show, and series about the making of TV shows, real or fictional. But there may never have been a show that so aggressively celebrated the experience of watching and loving television. What began as a misfit comedy about a Spanish class study group at a community college soon evolved into a broad, wickedly smart pastiche of our entire pop-cultural lives, from action-movie-style paintball contests to a My Dinner with Andre homage featuring characters in Pulp Fiction costumes. A.S.
‘The Office’ (U.S.) (NBC, 2005-2013)
It’s strange to think that The Office has become TV comfort food and one of the most popular shows, new or old, ever to appear on a streaming platform. Parts of Greg Daniels’ adaptation of the UK Office — some would argue the best parts — are excruciating to sit through, as we’re trapped along with Jim (John Krasinski), Pam (Jenna Fischer), and the rest of the Dunder Mifflin Paper Company, forced to endure their delusional, needy, socially incompetent boss, Michael Scott (Steve Carell). But the remake’s enduring popularity is a measure of how human and universal it all felt, with even Michael developing a plausible degree of self-awareness before he moved on. A.S.
‘South Park’ (Comedy Central, 1997-Present)
Welcome to South Park, an all-American small town full of potty-mouth little kids like Stan, Cartman, Butters, Kyle, Wendy, and the oft-killed Kenny. (“Oh, my God, they killed Kenny!” became a catchphrase as soon as the show debuted in 1997.) Trey Parker and Matt Stone have kept their cartoon going for nearly 25 years, without ever toning it down for the mainstream. Just like always, South Park is consistently outrageous, offensive, and riotous, without any redeeming social value at all — a historic achievement, mmmmkay? R.S.
‘Fleabag’ (BBC Three, 2016-2019)
In adapting her stage play about a lonely, self-destructive young woman making bad choices in relationships with friends, family, and sexual partners, Phoebe Waller-Bridge turned the familiar device of a TV star directly addressing the audience into a weapon. Her titular character talks to the camera because she has no one else who will truly listen to her, which is as funny as it can be devastating — particularly in the masterpiece second season that finds Fleabag falling hard for a hot priest (Andrew Scott) who’s already pledged his heart and soul to the Lord Almighty. A.S.
‘BoJack Horseman’ (Netflix, 2014-2020)
“All I know about being good, I learned from TV,” explained the title character of this animated tragicomedy, a washed-up former sitcom star (Will Arnett) with a host of addictions and a knack for hurting everyone who cares about him. BoJack was a hilarious satire of Hollywood and the many antiheroes it supports, on and off-screen, while also being a sincere, periodically devastating examination of what makes one of those antiheroes tick — even if he is an anthropomorphic cartoon horse. The shifts between the silly comedy — say, BoJack’s manager/ex-girlfriend Princess Carolyn (Amy Sedaris) dating Vincent Adultman (Alison Brie), who is clearly (to everyone but her) just three boys stacked on top of each other in a trench coat — and the pain that BoJack inflicts on himself and friends like Diane (Brie) and Todd (Aaron Paul) have no business working together, but the emotional extremes complement each other beautifully. Among the saddest shows on this list, but also one of the most likely to inspire the kind of old-fashioned spit-take BoJack had to perform back in the Nineties, when he was on a very famous TV show. A.S.
‘Roseanne’ (ABC, 1988-1997)
Few series, comedy or otherwise, have been blunter or smarter than Roseanne when it comes to depicting the challenges of living in America when money is tight and the system is stacked against you. Inspired by the stand-up comedy of Roseanne Barr, the series kept the Conner family’s financial difficulties front and center, even as it mined plenty of laughs from how brassy matriarch Roseanne, her husband Dan (John Goodman), and their daughters Becky (Lecy Goranson) and Darlene (Sara Gilbert) got along, or didn’t. It’s also the rare vintage show where a revival — now called The Conners, after Barr was fired for racist tweets — makes perfect sense, since times are even harder today. A.S.
’30 Rock’ (NBC, 2006-2013)
Maybe the smartest early decision Tina Fey made in telling this fictional version of her life as SNL’s head writer was to establish early on that TGS — the show-within-the-show run by Fey’s Liz Lemon — wasn’t very good. Spared the burden of having to create convincing fake sketches (a problem that helped sink Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip, NBC’s other backstage-at-faux-SNL series from that era), Fey instead put all her energy into making 30 Rock itself a hysterical poison-pen love letter to television, actors (including Tracy Morgan and Jane Krakowski as the TGS stars), corporate America (represented by Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy, a ruthless exec who takes Liz under his wing), and more. A live-action cartoon in the best way. A.S.
‘Taxi’ (ABC, 1978-1982; NBC, 1982-1983)
NFL coach Bum Phillips once famously said of a rival, “He can take his’n and beat your’n, and then turn around and take your’n and beat his’n.” This is more or less how Taxi worked. A versatile ensemble about a group of New Yorkers working for a cab company while waiting for their real dreams to come true, it could be a wistful, kitchen-sink comedy, digging deep into realistic characters like Judd Hirsch’s sensible Alex Rieger. Or, it could cast its gaze on the collection of surreal sidekicks who worked alongside him, including Christopher Lloyd as addled Sixties burnout Jim, Andy Kaufman as eccentric immigrant mechanic Latka, and Danny DeVito as Napoleonic dispatcher Louie. In its absolute best moments, Taxi pivoted in unexpected ways, wringing goofy laughs from Alex and genuine tears from Jim or Louie. A.S.
‘The Cosby Show’ (NBC, 1984-1992)
As with Louie, it is an enormous challenge to separate the art from the artist here, especially since the family of obstetrician Cliff Huxtable was so obviously modeled on that of star-producer Bill Cosby, who would eventually be unmasked as a serial sexual predator. But nor should we ignore the series’ sharp, endearing humor, especially in the early seasons, or its considerable influence. The show was credited, rightly, with reviving the sitcom itself when the genre was on the verge of extinction, and its depiction of Cliff and lawyer wife Clair (Phylicia Rashad) as wealthy and wise parents did much to reshape attitudes about African American families. The Cosby Show shouldn’t be forgotten, even if it’s impossible to watch now (outside of Cliff-less scenes like Malcolm Jamal-Warner’s Theo trying on an imitation Gordon Gartrelle shirt). A.S.
‘Arrested Development’ (Fox, 2003-2006; Netflix, 2013-2019)
No sitcom has used running gags more or better than this Bush-era satire about the insecurities, stupidity, and other failings of the generationally rich. From each member of the Bluth family having their own chicken dance to cold matriarch Lucille’s (Jessica Walter) childish glee at the sight of private eye Gene Parmesan (Martin Mull) to never-nude ex-psychiatrist Tobias’ (David Cross) obsession with joining Blue Man Group, Arrested piled the foreshadowing and callbacks so high that the series quickly became impenetrable to new viewers. But it was an absolute joy to those who started watching before Michael (Jason Bateman) first learned that there was money in the banana stand. (Though the less said about the two belated Netflix seasons, the better.) A.S.
‘The Andy Griffith Show’ (CBS, 1960-1968)
Is there a wiser, gentler, or more likable character in all of television than Griffith’s Sheriff Andy Taylor? This sitcom was the original hangout show, where Griffith’s folksy charm and the bucolic, small-town life of Mayberry, North Carolina, would have been appealing even without the sputtering comic dynamo that was Don Knotts as Andy’s incompetent deputy Barney Fife. “Opie the Birdman,” where widower father Andy helps his son Opie (Ron Howard, then so young he went by “Ronnie”) deal with the consequences of accidentally killing a mother bird with his slingshot, demonstrates the wide range of emotions made possible in this simple, peaceful setting. But it was a pleasure to stop by Mayberry even when very little was happening. A.S.
‘Frasier’ (NBC, 1993-2004)
The best spinoff ever, period. In sending uptight Cheers psychiatrist Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) to his hometown of Seattle — where he bantered with his radio producer Roz (Peri Gilpin) and even more uptight brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce) while he and home nurse Daphne (Jane Leeves) helped care for his blue-collar father Martin (the late, great John Mahoney) — Frasier used its title character’s highbrow affectations to fuel great comic set pieces that could be equal parts literary and lowbrow. A.S.
‘Curb Your Enthusiasm’ (HBO, 2000-Present)
Curb is essentially the same show as Seinfeld, only if George were the main character, represented by his inspiration, Larry David, and so rich that he never needed to work or to suffer any social consequences for his behavior. It’s also spectacularly filthy, like the episode about a typo in the obituary for a beloved aunt of Larry’s wife Cheryl (Cheryl Hines). Seinfeld was the more consistent comedy, but is Curb at its best (Larry having to choose between Jewish ethnic pride and his love of Palestinian chicken) funnier than Seinfeld at its peak (say, Kramer slamming the money on the counter after dropping out of “the contest”)? We just might have to side with Curb on this one. A.S.
‘The Dick Van Dyke Show’ (CBS, 1961-1966)
Creator Carl Reiner wanted to turn his experience as an actor and writer on the 1950s Sid Caesar variety programs Your Show of Shows and Caesar’s Hour into an autobiographical star vehicle for himself. CBS loved everything about the idea — except for the part where he’d play the lead, Rob Petrie. Instead, Reiner swallowed his pride and hired Broadway star Van Dyke, along with a young ingenue named Mary Tyler Moore. The rest was history. The Dick Van Dyke Show was the first real workplace sitcom, and its mixture of slapstick, wordplay, and sophistication still reverberates through shows made today. A.S.
‘The Larry Sanders Show’ (HBO, 1992-1998)
Garry Shandling had done dozens of guest-host spots for Johnny Carson over the years, and was on a shortlist of people who could potentially take over The Tonight Show when the Great One retired. So who better to turn out a workplace comedy about a narcissistic, neurotic talk-show host that doubled as a cringe-comedy satire of the format, complete with celebrities playing obnoxious versions of themselves? (We still ’ship a Larry Sanders-David Duchovny romance.) The comedian turned the whining, self-conscious persona he’d perfected in his stand-up into a brilliant caricature of showbiz neediness, aided by a deep bench of supporting players: Jeffrey Tambor as his McMahon-esque sidekick Hank “Hey Now!” Kingsley, Rip Torn as the show’s unctuous producer Artie, Janeane Garafalo as the perpetually scrambling talent booker Paula, Penny Johnson as Larry’s eternally patient assistant Beverly. It remains the last word on how 1990s late-night TV’s sausage got made. No less than David Letterman once told Shandling, “This show is like every day of my life.” D.F.
‘Parks and Recreation’ (NBC, 2009-2015)
Originally born from NBC’s desire for an Office spinoff, Parks almost immediately became something different — and better. In the first few episodes, Amy Poehler’s civil servant Leslie Knope seemed like a naive cousin to Michael Scott, but Parks creators (and Office alums) Greg Daniels and Michael Schur quickly realized that other characters should react to Leslie’s boundless enthusiasm with awe instead of irritation, and that made all the difference. The warmth provided by Leslie’s relationships with her co-workers and friends makes Parks endlessly rewatchable, even before you get to all the belly laughs provided by one of the deepest sitcom ensembles ever — a murderers’ row that includes Nick Offerman as taciturn meat-lover Ron Swanson, Chris Pratt as childlike rocker Andy Dwyer, Aubrey Plaza as Leslie’s fiendishly deadpan protégé April Ludgate, Adam Scott as flustered numbers expert Ben Wyatt, and Aziz Ansari as swag-obsessed Tom Haverford. There has never been a sweeter or funnier testament to the power of, as Leslie once attempted to put it in order, friends, waffles, and work. A.S.
‘The Honeymooners’ (CBS, 1955-1956)
The tenement-apartment kitchen of volatile bus driver Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) and his disappointed wife Alice (Audrey Meadows) easily could have been the setting for a tragic stage play about desperate people grappling with the smallness of their lives. Instead, Gleason and company used that harsh reality to ground the ridiculous interplay between Ralph, Alice, gregarious sewer worker Ed Norton (Art Carney), and Ed’s wife Trixie (Joyce Randolph), and to make the jokes feel like sweet release from Ralph and Alice’s painful circumstances. Ralph’s fierce bluster — including recurring (if empty) threats against Alice that would get him and the show canceled today by the second commercial break — barely masked a desperation, and an unspoken awareness that his get-rich-quick dreams would never come to fruition. Technically, Gleason and Carney played these characters in sketches for years before and after this show, but the “classic 39” episodes are what everyone remembers. Consider it the greatest one-season series in TV history. A.S.
‘The Mary Tyler Moore Show’ (CBS, 1970-1977)
Moore invented a whole new TV archetype in the 1970s: an adult single woman in the big city, where she’s gonna make it after all. As Mary Richards, Moore was a feminist heroine, happily living alone and working in the newsroom of Minneapolis TV staton WJM. She had a deep bench of co-workers: Ed Asner as her gruff boss Lou Grant, Betty White as her snide rival Sue Ann, and Ted Knight as the world’s most pompous anchorman Ted Baxter. Off the clock, she hung with Valerie Harper as her wisecracking BFF from the Bronx, Rhoda. Most iconic moment: Mary fights to keep a straight face at the funeral of Chuckles the Clown. The Mary Tyler Moore Show went out on top, signing off in 1977 at the peak of its popularity. R.S.
‘M*A*S*H*’ (CBS, 1972-1983)
M*A*S*H spent 11 seasons covering the Korean War, a conflict that lasted only a fraction of that time. That lifespan allowed the series to essentially have three separate runs under one title: as an anti-establishment farce in the spirit of the Robert Altman film that inspired it, then a more warmhearted and experimental sitcom (remember that black-and-white documentary episode?), and finally an earnest dramedy about the toll the war had on Army medical personnel like Hawkeye (Alan Alda), Margaret (Loretta Swit), Colonel Potter (Harry Morgan), and the rest. It was in that last guise that M*A*S*H gave us its tear-jerking, epic-length series finale, which remains the most-watched single episode of television nearly 40 years later. But the lines often blurred, with those screwball early episodes making room for tragedy, while Hawkeye occasionally busted out his Groucho Marx impression, even near the more sentimental end. A.S.
‘All in the Family’ (CBS, 1971-1979)
A transformational show for television, and a Rorschach test for its audience. Blue-collar main character Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor) was a reactionary, a racist, a sexist, and a homophobe, who was forever getting into arguments with his wife Edith (Jean Stapleton), his daughter Gloria (Sally Struthers), and his liberal son-in-law Michael “Meathead” Stivic (Rob Reiner). Budding sitcom mogul Norman Lear (adapting the British series Till Death Us Do Part) was clearly on Meathead’s side, as were the show’s more progressive viewers. But plenty of conservatives — President Nixon included — took Archie as the hero, and Meathead as the clown rightly being lampooned. The show’s blunt discussion of current events was revolutionary, but so was its crude humor (the studio audience went wild at the sound of Archie’s “terlet” flushing), as well as its focus on a theoretically unlikable protagonist. In time, it would pave the way for Tony Soprano and the modern age of antiheroes. A.S.
‘I Love Lucy’ (CBS, 1951-1957)
Even without the white-hot comic genius of Lucille Ball as firecracker Lucy Ricardo, the energy of Desi Arnaz, Vivian Vance, and William Frawley as her sparring partners (playing Lucy’s husband Ricky and their best friends Ethel and Fred Mertz, respectively), and the ingenuity of iconic set pieces like Lucy and Ethel at the chocolate factory, I Love Lucy would be the most influential, imitated show in the medium’s history. As producers, Ball and Arnaz essentially invented the idea of filming a sitcom episode with multiple cameras in front of a live studio audience, a format still in use on shows like The Conners. And they insisted on recording episodes for posterity, rather than broadcasting them live and then forgetting about them. When you add those technical innovations to just how funny the show can seem decades later — even if the gender politics of bumbling housewife Lucy constantly being bailed out of trouble by paternalistic bandleader Ricky haven’t aged well — few comedies can match it. A.S.
‘Seinfeld’ (NBC, 1989-1998)
Yada yada. Master of your domain. Spongeworthy. Double-dipping. No soup for you! The catchphrases of Seinfeld have so wormed their way into everyday use, they’ve all but consumed the legacy of the rest of the series. Perhaps this is because one of those phrases, “a show about nothing” — from the Season Four arc where Jerry and George pitch a familiar-sounding show-within-the-show to NBC execs — undersells exactly what Seinfeld did so brilliantly. Yes, co-creators Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David obsessed over ephemera, but they did it with the kind of comic precision the medium had never seen before. In particular, David’s masterstroke was figuring out how to make each episode’s plots collide with one another at the end (like Kramer’s golf game inadvertently helping George play marine biologist) — now among the show’s most-copied (if rarely as well) elements. Seinfeld is the gift that keeps on re-gifting. A.S.
‘Cheers’ (NBC, 1982-1993)
A girl walks into a bar. Her fiancé strands her there, and she’s condemned to spend her days enduring insults from the other waitress and shameless come-ons from the guy who runs the place. From that simple set-up sprang the best live-action sitcom ever. In its early years, Cheers was an alternately witty and raucous romantic comedy about the unresolved sexual tension between pretentious grad-student-turned-waitress Diane (Shelley Long) and smarmy ex-jock bartender Sam (Ted Danson). The formula was so successful, its will-they-or-won’t-they DNA has been baked into half the shows made since. When Long left to pursue a movie career, and Kirstie Alley arrived as hot mess Rebecca, Cheers nimbly pivoted into an ensemble comedy, understanding that with a cast including Kelsey Grammer, Woody Harrelson, Rhea Perlman, George Wendt, John Ratzenberger, and Bebe Neuwirth, it could make up in volume of punchlines what had been lost in that priceless Long-Danson chemistry. Decades later, sometimes you still want to go where everybody knows your name — and you’ll always be glad you came. A.S.
‘The Simpsons’ (Fox, 1989-Present)
What else could it be? Some Comic Book Guy types would hold the animated comedy’s second, third, and now fourth (!) decades against it, but we’re not having that. There’s more good material in those later seasons than you’d think (Comic Book Guy himself recently starred in a clever and poignant Wes Anderson homage). Plus, those first 10 years cover so much ground in subject, style, and sheer density of humor, everything after could just be Frank Grimes listing his grievances against Homer, and it still wouldn’t drag the series’ batting average down. What began as a slice-of-life animated family comedy — really, as shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show — soon expanded into a broad social satire that saw Homer (Dan Castellaneta), Marge (Julie Kavner), Bart (Nancy Cartwright), Lisa (Yeardley Smith), and Maggie (Elizabeth Taylor!) traveling the globe, and occasionally orbiting it, mixing it up with ex-presidents, Hollywood celebrities, and homicidal kids’ show sidekicks. The sweep of the series has become so wide, and its jokes have cut so deep, that there is a Simpsons meme for nearly every topic imaginable (Homer backing into the bushes; “Old Man Yells at Cloud”), and not just because the show has been accidentally prescient about so many things, like the Trump presidency. In its early days, The Simpsons was condemned by conservatives as the show that was going to destroy Western civilization. Instead, no show will be a better artifact of what that civilization was like on either side of the millennial divide. A.S.