In this week’s Top 10 Tuesday, we explore the top live action sitcoms.
10. Silicon Valley
With only 1 season under its belt, I was reluctant to add Silicon Valley to my list. Ultimately I did because, well, it is just too damn good not to. To compromise for its limited run, however, I decided to place it last on the list. This HBO comedy series follows a start-up in Silicon Valley. Unlike many other shows that have tried to take on similar groups, Silicon Valley absolutely nails it. The personality disorders, the greed, the entitlement, the anxiety, all of it is what those of us who follow tech have come to know. Of particular notice for this series is the last performance of breakout actor Christopher Evan Welch, who tragically passed away 4 months before the show premiered. Welch portrayed Peter Gregory, a tech billionaire eccentric who surely registers on the spectrum. It was a brilliant but short lived performance that would have skyrocketed his career.
9. Parks and Recreation
With its final season debuting tonight, Parks and Recreation’s greatest strength is its eccentric cast of characters and the legitimate chemistry between them. From the larger than life Libertarian Ron Swanson, to super chipper protagonist Leslie Knope, to the constantly disparaged Larry/Jerry/Terry Gergich, the residents of Pawnee, and the town itself, are like living caricatures. Chris Pratt’s (Guardians of the Galaxy) career took off largely due to his role as Andy Dwyer, a dim-witted musicians with his head in the clouds. Parks and Recreation is a cheerful, light hearted adventure through bureaucracy that… LITERALLY… deserves the praise it gets.
8. Malcolm in the Middle
This family sitcom introduced US audiences to Bryan Cranston, who would later own our eyes with his portrayal as crystal meth kingpin Walter White in Breaking Bad. Though audiences were initially hesitant to buy into Cranston in such a serious role because he already played such an iconic character in Malcolm in the Middle. Cranston portrayed Hal, the father of 4 sons, and husband to Lois, a matriarch who ruled with an iron fist. The titular character of Malcolm, portrayed by Frankie Muniz, was a boy genius in a blue collar lower middle class family. His oldest brother Francis was sent off to military school after his excessive trouble making became too much, second oldest Reese was a bully who was destructive and perhaps mentally unstable, and youngest brother Dewey an old ball who might just be a genius as well.
7. 30 Rock
Tina Fey’s beloved series 30 Rock was all about dealing with larger than life personalities and egos. Fey portrayed Liz Lemon the Showrunner of a Saturday Night Live-esque variety series. In episode 1, her new boss Jack Donaghy, portrayed by Alec Baldwin, asserts his position by changing her show The Girly Show into the Tracy Jordan Show (oddly abbreviated as TGS). Tracy Jordan being a Eddie Murphy-esque delusionally eccentric egomaniac who is portrayed by Tracy Morgan. Other major players include the always smiling and cheerful NBC Page Kenneth Parcell, and fading starlet Jenna Maroney. Filled with meta humor about NBC’s business, and vast eccentricities, 30 Rock is 7 seasons of comedy gold.
6. I Love Lucy
In many ways, I Love Lucy established what the sitcom is. I Love Lucy was the first sitcom to be shot in front of a live studio audience, and while the idea of a studio audience seems antiquated today, the existence of such a set-up helped to develop the comedic timing used in sitcoms to this day. The titular character of I Love Lucy, portrayed by the unconquerable Lucille Ball, was a firecracker of a housewife with aspirations towards the show business her husband had. Her Husband, Ricky Ricardo, portrayed by real life husband Desi Arnaz, was a Cuban immigrant Nightclub Owner/Performer. This interracial coupling almost didn’t make it to TV in the face of the era’s mainstream racial discrimination and separation. As such, in addition to establishing the “rules” of the TV sitcom, I Love Lucy also broke ground in the way interracial relationships were perceived on television.
5. Arrested Development
This Fox cult comedy helped to re-establish the careers of Michael Cera, Portia de Rossi, Tony Hale, and Will Arnett, while revitalizing the careers of Jason Bateman, Jessica Walter, and Jeffrey Tambor (who won a Golden Globe this weekend for his performance in Amazon Instant series Transparent). The series ran from 2003 until 2006 before it was cancelled. Due to fan demand, Netflix secured the rights to the series and brought it back in 2013, a move that taught us a lesson about the new shape of the industry, anything can come back. Arrested Development followed the eccentric Bluth family, whose father was locked away for fraud, and whose crumbling real estate business is held together by the second youngest son, the under-appreciated Michael Bluth.
6 Seasons and a Movie, has long been the tagline of the NBC comedy Community. The tagline was a meta joke about the ideal run of a TV series. Thanks to Yahoo, Community has achieved its 6th (upcoming) season. Community follows a collection of misfits at a ridiculously inept Community College. Community is perhaps best known for the uncompromising direction of it’s Showrunner Dan Harmon. Disputes with NBC and Sony actually got Harmon kicked off of his own series after its 3rd season, though fan and cast demand brought Harmon back for its 5th season, after which the series was cancelled until Yahoo picked it up at the last minute. The reason for Harmon’s initial sacking is largely assumed to be related to the very public feud between Harmon, and series co-star Chevy Chase, who himself left the series towards the end of its 4th (and Harmon-less) season.
Louie ranks so high on this list for one reason. It changed the face of comedy by completely eschewing the rulebook. At times Louie can be traditional, at times it is avant garde, at times it can downright depressing and dour. Nothing is off limits with the tone of Louie. Much of this is credited to the shows micro-budget, which allows series creator and star Louis CK to handle virtually every role in the shows production. CK produces, writes, directs, stars in, and edits the series by himself. Because he has pulled in the series at such a low risk price point, network FX essentially lets him do whatever he wants, which makes Louie a demonstration of the power of auteur television.
2. Seinfeld/Curb Your Enthusiasm
I can already feel the torches at my back, Seinfeld isn’t my number 1 pick, and I have also grouped it with another series. Why? Because Curb Your Enthusiasm is from the same Showrunner, and acts as a meta-spiritual-successor to the iconic 1990s series. Seinfeld, the infamous show about nothing, is seen by many as one of the greatest shows in TV history, regardless of genre. But it is Curb Your Enthusiasm that i find more interesting, taking many of the same themes (neurotic social awkwardness and Jewish American culture) as Seinfeld, Curb follows a fictionalized version of Seinfeld co-creator Larry David (portrayed by Larry David himslef), as he destroys social etiquette in Hollywood while struggling with what to do after creating the biggest sitcom of all time. David was the model for George Costanza, so Seinfeld fans should immediately pick up on the beats of Curb.
1. Married with Children
So what could beat out Seinfeld? For me the answer has always been Married With Children. This might be expected to those of you who read our top 10 sitcom characters article, as I consider Al Bundy to be the greatest sitcom character ever created. Married with Children follows the Bundy family, a lower-class clan lead by patriarch Al, a woman’s shoe salesman, and matriarch Peggy, a stay at home mom, who only shops and watches TV. In Married with Children, Al Bundy is in a nightmare of his own creation, his wife is clingy, demanding, and takes everything he has, his daughter is a slut with an incredibly low IQ, and his son is a perverted virgin. To make matters worse, his new neighbor is a feminist that hates everything that Al holds dear, and uses everything she has to crush it. I still watch re-runs of Married with Children every day, and every day I am blown away by the performances of Ed O’Neill and Katey Sagal as Al and Peg Bundy. Married with Children was politically incorrect in all the right ways as it pummeled our detestable hero with modern american life.
Put down the pitchforks. Tell us what you think our comments, and stay tuned to TVEnthusiast for more coverage of all of your favorite shows.