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sitcom smackdown

Why Some Comedy Greats Didn’t Make the Sitcom Smackdown

Limiting a best-sitcom bracket to just sixteen shows is one of the surest ways to boost TV-fan teeth-gnashing. If it’s any consolation, you are not alone in obsessing over what was left out: The Vulture staff settled on its final competitors only after days of heated arguments, vicious name-calling, passive-aggressive aspersions on each other’s taste, and one attempted strangulation with a promotional ALF scarf. But lest you think that some of your favorite modern comedies were dismissed with a wave of the hand, here is a brief explanation of why some of the most memorable shows on TV over the past 30 years did not make the final cut. (Keep in mind that any criticism of these series is only meant to explain what got them bumped in favor of others, not to minimize them in any way. We don’t want to spark another assault.)

Curb Your Enthusiasm: George Costanza writ large — to some of us, excruciatingly so. The minutia that Larry David gets worked up about doesn’t have quite the same universality as that other little show he co-created.

Everybody Loves Raymond: A terrific show with a crackerjack ensemble that is much smarter (and funnier) than the average family comedy. But did it move the sitcom needle in any way? No.

Family Guy: As hilarious as many believe this can be, it’s not as clever or groundbreaking as The Simpsons or South Park. We’d also argue that a really good sitcom has some sort of emotional hold on you, and there’s no way that Seth MacFarlane is even attempting to do that.

Frasier: This was a tough one. It’s arguably the best spinoff ever, and brilliantly written, yet also redundant with Cheers — a show that had an undeniably greater and more lasting impact. We like to think that Frasier is still is on the list, just glued to Cheers’ back.

How I Met Your Mother: Another solid comedy with an instantly gelled ensemble and a high concept that has miraculously held up for eight seasons (and counting). But its central mystery is not enough to rationalize taking another show's spot with a second Friends.

It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia: More nihilistic even than Seinfeld, and still hilarious eight seasons in. But at the end of the day, not Seinfeld.

King of the Hill: Easily the most humane animated sitcom ever created, with characters as lovable and indelible as those on live-action shows. But ultimately, it is that very realism that limits it; the show never reaches in the ways The Simpsons and South Park do.

Married with Children: We considered this mostly for its historical importance. It set the tone for comedy on Fox, and was audacious at a time when sitcoms weren’t particularly audacious. Admittedly, we’re not huge fans, but we also couldn’t deny that it spawned a legion of crass shouters, for better or (mostly) worse.

Modern Family: First-rate characters and performances, and skillful writing, but ultimately it’s made up of things we’ve seen before: The Office’s mockumentary setup, and a million family comedies. This would have been a shortsighted pick.

Murphy Brown: Important and smart at the time, but so topical that it now seems quaint at best, unwatchable at worst. There are jokes about congressmen who were obscure then!

NewsRadio: Despite our deep nostalgia and affection for this slightly surreal Mary Tyler Moore Show update, it feels lightweight now. But when we do a Greatest Sitcom Ensembles bracket, this will be in the top ten.

Parks and Recreation: It’s certainly the most endearing sitcom currently on TV, with an irresistible cast with whom we want to spend every Thursday night. As it is the only one of the Big Four of NBC’s recent Must-See comedy era to not make the list, excluding it feels like a slap across dear Leslie Knope’s face — and yet, in the end, what makes it unique now is that it recalls a time when comedies could be smart and sweet, so it is at heart a throwback.

Scrubs: Adorable, with chuckles galore, but we couldn’t get around the disjointed lurching between slapstick and earnest inner monologues.

Strangers with Candy:  Deep down, we knew this was never going to make it in. And as much as we’d love to live in a world where we could surprise you by including a sitcom as delightfully warped as this cult classic from Amy Sedaris and Stephen Colbert, among others, the competition is too great. So consider this an introduction, or a reminder to go watch it again. Now!

3rd Rock From the Sun: Terrific, game cast and a good example of a high and wacky concept well handled: smart/dumb humor at its most exuberant. But other than Joseph Gordon-Levitt, it didn’t introduce anything new (though he may be enough for some people).

Will & Grace: At its best it was very good, there are few stronger supporting actors than Megan Mullally and Sean Hayes, and it certainly spawned a cultural moment. But the show hasn’t aged as well as others; the tone is off — okay, shrill. It can feel like people are just shouting at you.