What are the greatest American sitcoms of all time? Everybody will have their own opinion, but there are a few shows that will probably appear on most lists. People will disagree about whether modern shows are better than the old ones – most of the comedies on the list below (which was the result of an on-line vote) are fairly recent, but perhaps the people voting weren’t old enough to remember the golden age of TV, if, of course, it ever existed. However, nearly all these shows are still regularly shown on cable and satellite channels. Here, in reverse order, is the list of ten all-time greats, as voted for.
10. Married…With Children (1987 – 1997)
This Fox sitcom ran for eleven series, and was one of the first to feature a seriously dysfunctional family, including an underachieving father, a useless mother, a dim-witted daughter and girl-crazy son. The stories featured family members fighting, making up, and arguing with the neighbours. The show, which was set in a Chicago suburb, was unusual in portraying social problems, and also in having a talking dog.
9. Frasier (1993 – 2004)
The show’s main character was Frasier Crane, a psychiatrist who offered advice on a Seattle radio station. The show was an offshoot of Cheers, also in this list, in which Frasier had appeared as a regular bar customer. Frasier’s social circle in Seattle included his father, who moved in with him because of his mobility problems, and his annoying brother Niles. Frasier and Niles would have liked a cultured and sophisticated city lifestyle, but Dad and his therapist Daphne didn’t fit well into the plan. Much of the comedy came from Frasier’s frustrated ambitions.
8. All In The Family (1971 – 1979)
Although it was based on the British comedy Till Death Us Do Part, All in the Family was not quite as outspoken or hard-hitting as the British show. Nevertheless, it dealt with subjects which had not been handled in American sitcoms before, as in every show its working-class hero Archie Bunker aired his prejudices and argued with his family. Archie was portrayed as an ignorant bigot, who was nevertheless in some ways a sympathetic character.
7. I Love Lucy (1951 – 1957)
The oldest sitcom on this list, and the only one which was made in black and white, I Love Lucy starred Lucille Ball and her real-life husband Desi Arnaz, who in the show, as well as in real life, was a band-leader. The story lines concerned the couple, who lived in a New York apartment block, and their neighbours Fred and Ethel, who were also their landlords. Lucy kept trying to break into show-business and many of the plots featured her unrealistic ambitions, and her husband’s exasperation.
6. M*A*S*H (1972 – 1983)
M*A*S*H ran for eleven years from 1972 onwards, much longer than the three-year Korean War which was its setting. In fact, much of the storyline could be seen as a satire on the subject of the more contemporary Vietnam War. The show was based on the film MASH, itself based on a 1968 novel about a mobile army surgical hospital. The heroes were conscripted surgeons who hated the war but did their best to save the lives of the seriously wounded soldiers who arrived in their makeshift operating theatre. The humour was cynical and sometimes dark, though the show became slightly more soft-hearted in later seasons.
5. Cheers (1982 – 1993)
Cheers was set in a fictional Boston bar of the same name, and the principal characters were the bar’s staff and regular customers. In the first few seasons, the bar was run by its owner Sam, a former footballer, and many storylines centred on the sexual tension between Sam and the pretty but conceited waitress, Diane. Later, the bar was managed by Rebecca, who also bickered with Sam but was not-so-secretly attracted to him. The location for the exterior shots was the real Bull and Finch bar, which is still in business.
4. The Big Bang Theory (2007 – ?”)
Science education in the USA received a big boost when this comedy about four nerdy university scientists became popular. Sheldon and Leonard share an apartment in Pasadena, and Raj and Howard are frequent visitors. Penny, a waitress and would-be actress, lives across the hall. The laughs come from the scientists’ social incompetence and their obsessions with games, science fiction, and comic books. The scientists (except for Sheldon, who can’t handle relationships) crave sex and intimacy, but not quite enough to change their habits.
3. The Simpsons (1989 – ?)
The only animated show in this list, The Simpsons portrays a couple with three children who might be a typical working-class family if they weren’t such a bright shade of yellow. It has run as a separate show since 1989, which makes it the longest-running comedy show in American TV history. The Simpsons uses the cartoon format to comment sharply on many aspects of contemporary American life, and has been described as the greatest cartoon of all time.
2. Seinfeld (1989 – 1998)
Unusual among US comedy shows in being determinedly unsentimental, Seinfeld featured the comic Jerry Seinfeld, playing a version of himself, plus a group of his fictional friends. Described as ‘a show about nothing’, Seinfeld followed the daily lives of the characters as they dealt with the humdrum problems of life in New York. Although nothing much happened, the dialogue was sharp and funny, and the show lasted for nine seasons.
1. Friends (1994 – 2004)
The top US comedy show of all time depicted a group of six nice-looking, cool young people living in a fashionable part of New York. During the ten years the show was running, the six formed relationships with each other in various permutations, but remained a close group, as did the actors portraying them. Their idealised lifestyle, and clever one-liners, made them the kind of group everybody would like to join. Friends was a popular show right from the start, and won numerous awards.