Today, we’re kicking off a pretty big and relatively ridiculous project: the Best Sitcom Episode Ever Tournament. We here have gathered up 32 nominations for the single best sitcom episode to ever air (thanks in part to all of your suggestions) and made a bracket. We’ll now be pitting all of these classic and future-classic episodes against each other in a single-elimination battle for supremacy, with your votes determining which episode advances and which stays behind.
And I know, comedy is subjective and there’s no real “best” episode out there. Some people will find their all-time-favorite didn’t even make the bracket. But don’t sweat it: this is the internet. It’s just for fun. Because in the end, it’s just an excuse to talk about some of the funniest episodes of TV ever made.
We’ll be putting two polls up per day for the first round, which starts today. Today’s competition: I Love Lucy — Lucy Does a TV Commercial vs. The Honeymooners — Head of the House and The Simpsons — Last Exit to Springfield vs. Seinfeld — The Contest. Heavyweights right off the bat!
You can see the full bracket above, and here’s each region broken down so you can see everything more clearly, as well as the first two polls:
I Love Lucy — “Lucy Does a TV Commercial,” May 5, 1952
Classics are classic for a reason, and it’s the same reason “Lucy Does a TV Commercial” is one of the most well-known episodes of TV ever. When Lucy finds out that Ricky’s hosting a TV commercial, she pulls out all the stops to star in it — first treating us to a meta performance of the “Lucille Ricardo Show” from inside her television to convince Ricky to cast her, and finally putting off the hired actress and showing up at the studio herself. Once there, Lucille Ball’s talent for physical comedy and her irrepressible charm truly take over the screen. From her horrified grimace at the first spoonfuls of the 23% alcoholic Vitameatavegemin, to her hiccupping, swaying, slurring drunken malapropisms, it’s the Lucy show, all right, and it’s definitely lovable. — Hallie Cantor
The Honeymooners — “Head of the House,” March 31, 1956
Pretty much every episode of The Honeymooners follows one of two formulas: either Ralph Kramden comes up with a hare-brained scheme with his carefree buddy Ed Norton, or, like in “Head of the House,” he boasts (in this case, to a reporter) that he’s the King of His Castle, though it’s really his long-suffering wife, Alice, who’s in charge. Ralph’s bravado is published in the newspaper, and he tries to hide the story from Alice. She, of course, reads it, and he spends the rest of the episode proving how much of The Man he is. It’s got nearly every trope in the book — Double Take, Jerk with a Heart of Gold, and Every Episode Ending — because The Honeymooners practically wrote said book. Watching a Honeymooners episode, and “Head of the House” in particular, in 2012 is like the history of sitcoms in a tight 22-minute package. — Josh Kurp
The Simpsons — “Last Exit to Springfield,” March 11, 1993
Mendoza. “If only we’d listened to that boy, instead of walling him up in the abandoned coke oven.” The Big Book of British Smiles. “I want a burrito!” Poor Chuckie Fitzhugh. Dental plan…Lisa needs braces. Don Homer. Backdoor shenanigans. Hired goons? A thousand monkeys working on a thousand typewriters. “Let’s get him, fellas.” Any Simpsons fan immediately recognizes (and laughs at) every one of those references, and they’re all from ONE EPISODE. “Last Exit to Springfield,” written by Jay Kogen and Wallace Wolodarsky, is impossibly perfect; it’s jam-packed with dozens of references, yet never feels overstuffed. Every line is necessary, every line is hilarious, and for a show with nearly 500 episodes, “Last Exit” is THE episode to start with for any person unlucky enough to not have seen The Simpsons before. — Josh Kurp
Seinfeld — “The Contest,” November 18, 1992
Forget best sitcom episode ever — I would argue that the funniest moment from any sitcom ever is the above, when Kramer bursts in Jerry’s door, slams money down on the counter, and says “out!” It still forces a belly laugh from me, even having seen this episode countless times. And what makes this moment so funny is what makes this episode so perfect: it’s an entire episode about masturbating (well, about not masturbating), but they never explicitly say what the Contest is about. So Kramer’s near-immediate failure and bold admission of such carries so much subtext that you can’t help but laugh. In one word and bold motion, we get so much about this character and so much about this show. They didn’t need to over-explain things or wring jokes out of the dirtiness of the act the episode was centered around. By playing a little bit coy, they ratcheted up the tension so when you put everything together in your head, it was just about perfect. — Adam Frucci
Brackets designed by Steve Dressler.