Thursday, February 20, 2014

What's So Funny?

Here's something interesting: a blog list of the top 100 sitcom episodes of all time (as of 2012), from Robert David Sullivan, "Writer, editor, proofreader, and data cruncher for the A.V. Club, America magazine, and other publications."

Each episode gets a separate blog entry.  It obviously took quite a bit of work, including a lot of winnowing.  There are some series that have a hundred good episodes, so this must have been painful.  Sullivan picks a mix of "classics" and personal choices.   And a bunch of name series gets several episodes--I Love Lucy, Dick Van Dyke, M*A*S*H, Mary Tyler Moore, All In The Family, Seinfeld and others. There are also a few from Community, which Sullivan clearly considers a modern classic.

I don't have time to discuss every choice, but here's the top 20 in ascending order, with my comments:

20.  "Chuckles Bites The Bust" The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1975)

Sometimes called the greatest episode of TV ever, if anything I'd expect a backlash today, so I'm glad to see it on the list.  A higher ranking might make sense, but this'll do.

19.  "The Doll" Curb Your Enthusiasm (2001)

Curb is a fun show--really a more curmudgeonly, improvisational Seinfeld--and I think this was the first episode that made you realize it was a classic.

18.  "Coast To Coast Big Mouth" The Dick Van Dyke Show (1965)

Another classic. It's interesting that Van Dyke himself is the star of the show, yet the most memorable scene is Mary Tyler Moore talking to Carl Reiner.

17.  "Charity" The Office (UK) (2002)

There are only 12 regular episodes of this show--this is the one where David Brent finds out he's being let go.  I think the series is fine as a whole, but I'm not sure if any single episode sticks out.

16.  "Better Living Through TV" The Honeymooners (1955)

I suppose one of the "classic 39" had to make the list, and this one is as good as most.  It also has the famous screw-up that Gleason covers.  However, it doesn't have the punchline of "The $99,000 Answer."

15.  "Goodbyeee" Blackadder (1989)

Not the only Blackadder episode in the top 100, but this deserves to be the highest.  The show gets better with each succeeding series, and ended on this one, where the desperation of the characters made it funnier and also quite powerful. This is the highest (and only?) finale on the list.

14.  "The Lars Affair" The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1973)

It's considered a classic, but as great as it is, it wouldn't make my top ten of MTM episodes.

13. "The Two Mrs. Cranes" Frasier (1996)

A good one, some would call it a classic, but I don't think I'd put any Frasier episode on this list.

12. "Fancy Party" Parks And Recreation (2011)

I've come around on Parks And Recreation, but I'm not sure if any episode stands out enough to make top 20 (or even perhaps top 100).  That said, I think this was a superior episode (as many "special" episodes aren't).

11.  "The Contest" Seinfeld (1992)

Along with "The Soup Nazi" the most famous Seinfeld of all.  Can't argue with its placement. It often makes top ten lists.

10.  "The Key" Yes, Prime Minister (1992)

Never watched this show.

9. "Lucy Does A TV Commercial" I Love Lucy (1952)

I've seen it--we've all seen it--but never really went for this show.

8.  "Pier Pressure" Arrested Development (2004)

A great show, but all the episodes run together for me.  This is a fine thirty minutes with some famous bits, but doesn't stand out more than a bunch of others.

7.  "The Letter" Everybody Loves Raymond (1997)

Never really got into this show.

6.  "The Dinner Party" The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1973)

Good for Sullivan.  This may be my favorite episode of MTM.

5.  "Man In A Hurry" The Andy Griffith Show (1963)

Famous for its message, but I don't think I'd put any Andy Griffith episodes on my top 100 (and this isn't the only one that made it).

4. "I'll Be Seeing You" Cheers (1984)

Pretty memorable finale to the second season of Cheers, and very influential in the serialization of sitcoms, but I don't think any Cheers episodes should make the top ten (though the show itself might make the top ten of all time).

3.  "Edith's Problem" All In The Family (1972)

A pretty well-known episode of the show, but I think there were many better ones.  I don't think any AITF would make my top twenty.

2.  "Communication Problems" Fawlty Towers (1979)

Each episode of Fawlty Towers is a gem, but I don't think it's better than "Waldorf Salad" or "Basil The Rat," to name a couple.

1.  "I Never Bathe On Saturday" The Dick Van Dyke Show (1965)

A fine episode, to be sure, and maybe in the top twenty of the show, but not as good as, for instance, "Coast To Coast Big Mouth."

Overall, a fine list.  A lot of classics and nothing too horrible.


Anonymous Denver Guy said...

I happen to be working my way, ever so slowly, through Cheers again. I enjoy the fact that my 17 year old daughter really enjoys them, even though characters don't have cell phones or laptops.

Through the first two seasons, the standoiut for me is "Coach's Daughter," which really gelled the ensemble cast, imho. But I know I remember some great episodes from later seasons.

8:28 AM, February 20, 2014  
Blogger LAGuy said...

Cheers was a classic show and, in the early 80s, practically the only decent sitcom on TV. "Coach's Daughter" is one of the more memorable first season episodes, and the writer's have talked about how difficult it was to balance the comedy and the emotion.

There are two eras to the show, Diane and Rebecca. When Diane left, it was never quite the same. As annoying as her character could be sometimes (and many claim the actress was equally annoying), the show was more groundbreaking and powerful in the early years. It was always funny, but in later seasons it wasn't quite the same thing.

By the way, if you want to find an example of a character who does the classic sitcom evolution of starting fairly normal and turning into a caricature, you can't do much better than Cliff Clavin.

9:03 AM, February 20, 2014  
Blogger ColumbusGuy said...

A fine epitaph, as indeed intended. "A lot of classics and nothing too horrible."

4:30 PM, February 20, 2014  

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