NBC’s best comedies of the past 30 years (in my humble opinion)


(L to R): Michael Richards as Cosmo Kramer, Jason Alexander as George Costanza, Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Elaine Benes, Jerry Seinfeld as Jerry Seinfeld from the cast of “Seinfeld.” (Courtesy of NBC/COURTESY OF NBC)
September 14, 2012

With the fall television season upon us and NBC beginning its attempt to win over America with comedies about group therapy and gay parenting, I dared to make a list last week in the Celebritology blog of the top NBC comedies of the past 30 years . I ranked the shows from great to exceptional, based on quality as well as short- and long-term cultural impact. Let’s just say that elicited some feedback.

“This is a lame list by someone who lacks perspective and an understanding of TV comedy,” declared the commenter angryreader. Because the headline on the list said “Ranked: The best NBC comedies of all time” when it should have said “past 30 years,” as the text did, I can understand the frustration. One loyal reader declared that if the list were for all time, “Get Smart” needed to be included. Duly noted, sir. May I also say: Missed it by that much?

Other things the commenters taught me: A lot of viewers still feel strong affection for “Night Court”; at least one person sarcastically misses McLean Stevenson’s “Hello, Larry”; and a surprising number of individuals loathed “Seinfeld.”

Here’s an abbreviated version of my “controversial” list. Feel free to add your own comments to the fray at washingtonpost.com/
celebritology. (Find the post by searching for “Top NBC comedies.”)

10. Tie: “Scrubs” and “Community”

These two shows made the list because they were/are never afraid to turn on the weird.

9. “Will & Grace”

A watershed moment for gays on television, it was also a weekly example of what a deft comedic ensemble can do to elevate otherwise broad material.

8. “30 Rock”

Still spit-take funny as it enters its final season, this Tina Fey creation inserted the phrase “I want to go to there” into our lexicon.

7. “Parks and Recreation”

Why did “Parks” rank higher than “Community” or “30 Rock”? Because it has not only established characters that generate Internet memes but also makes us care about them as human beings.

6. “Frasier”

The rare spinoff that nearly matched the quality of the show (“Cheers”) that spawned it, radiating intelligence in spite of its ever-present laugh track.

5. “Family Ties”

It didn’t kick-start a new comedy subgenre, but this very funny ’80s hit was responsible for introducing America to the most universally likable Republican of the Reagan era (and yes, I am counting Ronald Reagan): Michael J. Fox’s Alex P. Keaton.

4. “The Office”

An attempt to reboot the perfectly squirmy British series of the same name seemed like a terrible idea. But as “The Office” evolved, it eventually became a reliably hysterical commentary on the increasingly unstable American workplace.

3. “Friends”

A phenomenon inseparable with the decade that gave birth to it: the ’90s, in all its Rachel-haircut, “We were on a break!” glory.

2. “The Cosby Show”

An affluent African American family at the center of the most-watched show in America? That was a culturally significant moment. But that’s not why we tuned in every week. We did that because the Huxtable squabbles sounded a lot like our own, even if our dads never hilariously resolved them while wearing intricately patterned sweaters.

1. Tie: “Cheers” and “Seinfeld”

I tried. I did. But I just couldn’t decide which of these was better. “Seinfeld” was the more daring of the two, but “Cheers” is such a fine Sam-and-Diane wine — still so screwball-comedy brilliant three decades later — that it deserves to share that top spot with the “show about nothing.”

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