Tuesday, January 15, 2008

The Best Sitcoms Ever

The sitcom was invented for television. It has a dilemma, a development, and a resolution all neatly wrapped into a 30 minutes package with some laughs thrown in for good measure. Here’s my list of the best of the best.

I Love Lucy

The granddaddy of all sitcoms. The one that established the rules by which we all live today. This is the one that established the three-camera standard that is the norm today. It was one of the first to be filmed in front of a live audience on high quality 35mm film, ensuring its preservation forever. We are eternally grateful for that.

Neither Ball nor Arnez needed the job — they were already at the height of their respective careers. And that let them take chances with the show, giving it a unique personality. Owning their own production studio helped, too. They were beholden to no one, only to the enjoyment of their fans.

WKRP in Cincinnati

Arthur thought turkeys could fly. And that pretty much sums up this ensemble farce.

One of the very best comedies to be cancelled at the height of its creativity. It was a true character study. Johnny, the washed-up stoned DJ. Les, the never-been-washed news guy. Venus, the nerdy teacher turned cool DJ. Herb, the slimy salesman. Bailey and Jennifer were a study in contrasts never seen since Mary Ann and Ginger. All presided over by the befuddled Mr. Carlson. And all revolving around loveable Andy, trying to make sense of it all.

It all fell together perfectly. Such an ensemble cast will never again be constructed. Nor should it be.

MASH

The Korean War lasted three years. MASH, the TV show, lasted eleven seasons.

But the MASH wasn’t about the war. In fact, the war was just one character in the series.

MASH was about love, pain, comedy, loss, farce, and everything in between. It was equally about the tragedies of war as the resilience of humanity. It was about distain for authority as well as the rule of order. It was about the weakness of man resulting in infidelity as well as the love of a man for his family.

MASH covered the entire spectrum of emotions and pathos. Who knew that a war could reveal so much about ourselves?

Mary Tyler Moore

Laura Petrie busted out of her capri pants and landed in Minneapolis as the na├»ve Mary Richards. She fell in love with Mr. Grant and he returned the favor, even though she could never call him “Lou”.

Over the years, the show evolved. Mary moved from the apartment with the kitchen on the left to an apartment with the kitchen on the right. Phyllis and Rhoda left for their own shows. Georgette and Sue Ann took their place. Ted never grew up. Murray never got a promotion.

And in the end, everybody was fired except for the goofball Ted. In the ultimate TV irony, everybody huddled, sang a song about Tipperary, and turned out the lights.

What’s missing?

I could have written about lots of other shows. Both of Bob Newhart’s hits. Andy Griffith. Dick Van Dyke. My Three Sons. And the trifecta of Green Acres, Petticoat Junction, and the Beverley Hillbillies. Each of those almost made my cut.

But two shows won’t be on my list. How could I miss writing about “Friends”? And what about “Seinfeld”?

Well, I would have had to have watched them, wouldn’t I? But I gave up television as a vast wasteland the same time that Bob Newhart woke up in bed with Suzanne Pleshette and realized his second series was just a bizarre dream. I’m sure television has produced a good sitcom since then. It just hasn’t been in front of my eyeballs.