After the producers of “The Office” confirmed that the upcoming ninth season of the Dunder Mifflin series will be its last I did a segment on WTOP, a D.C.-based news radio station. During that segment, one of the anchors raised an interesting question: Where does “The Office” rank in the pantheon of NBC comedies? That query — coupled with the fact that NBC is attempting this week to launch a slate of new laugh-fests in the form of “The New Normal,” “Go On” and “Guys With Kids” — prompted me to meditate further on the subject.
What are the best , most culturally significant comedies that the peacock network has aired since the advent of must-see comedy blocks in the early 1980s? And how do they rank? Here’s my attempt to to come up with an answer in the form of a top 10 list.
I urge you to compose your own top 10 lists of NBC comedies in the comments section; particularly convincing arguments that “Inside Schwartz” belongs at No. 1 may be featured in the Celebritology column that runs in this Sunday’s Style section.
Update/note: Before you post a comment complaining about the lack of older NBC comedies, please know that the above headline is a bit misleading. This list reflects the best from the past 30 years. Hence, no “Get Smart.”
10. Tie: “Scrubs” and “Community”
When “Scrubs” debuted in 2001, it accelerated the speed of TV comedy, perfecting the “Wait, what did he just say?” approach to live-action prime-time humor two years before “Arrested Development” would come along and elevate it to an art form. “Community,” about to enter its potentially dicey, Dan Harmon-less phase, has been similarly unafraid to go weird. An 8-bit video game episode? Half-hour “Law & Order” spoof? Sure! Why not? As a result, it may have developed the most loyal cult following of kooky geeks in NBC history.
9. “Will & Grace”
Before Cam and Mitchell attempted to hilariously co-parent on “Modern Family,” Will and Jack were over on NBC demonstrating that gay men can be stereotypically flamboyant (Jack’s Sean Hayes) or not at all stereotypically flamboyant (Will’s Eric McCormack). The core cast of comedic sparkplugs, also including Debra Messing and Megan Mullally, took often exceedingly broad material and turned it into something capable of convincing even the stodgiest TV viewer to crack a smile.
8. “30 Rock”
This is the show that established Tina Fey as a comic talent beyond “SNL,” that breathed fresh oxygen into Alec Baldwin’s career, that attracted some of the best cameo appearances of any series on television and that inserted the phrase “I want to go to there” into our lexicon.
7. “Parks and Recreation”
How can I make a case that “Parks and Rec” deserves to rank above “Community” or “30 Rock”? Very easily: I like it more and therefore, I’m biased. But seriously, what “Parks and Rec” does better than those other fine comedies is establish memorable characters who both inspire memes and genuinely make us care about them. I think we can all agree that the world would be a far worse place without Ron Swanson in it.
“Frasier” fatigue set in for some around 1998, when we watched it win the Emmy for best comedy series for the fifth year in a row. But the Kelsey Grammer show snagged all those awards for many valid reasons, including the fact that it was the rare spin-off that matched the quality of the show (“Cheers”) that spawned it .Perhaps more importantly, it was the rare laugh-track sitcom that still managed to radiate intelligence. Oh, and also, Niles was really funny.
5. “Family Ties”
“Family Ties,” another white-suburban-family sitcom, didn’t exactly kickstart a new subgenre of comedy. But it was very funny, a key element in NBC’s uber-popular early ‘80s Thursday comedy block and responsible for introducing us 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”
When NBC announced plans to air an American version of Ricky Gervais’s perfectly squirm-inducing British series, it sounded like a terrible idea. And after the first couple of episodes, it seemed like that was exactly what it would turn out to be. But then the Scranton paper company employees started to grow on us, and the writers began to find a rhythm, and eventually, “The Office” turned into a reliably funny commentary on an increasingly unstable American workplace culture.
It made no sense that they had such huge apartments or that Ross had a pet monkey or that they all basically dated each other. Yet “Friends” ballooned into something beyond a mere comedy. It became a phenomenon inseparable with the decade in which it was born: the ‘90s, in all its Rachel-haircut, “We were on a break!” glory.
2. “The Cosby Show”
Finally, an affluent African-American family had its own sitcom, and one that happened to be the most watched show in America. It was a culturally significant moment, without question. But that’s not why we tuned in every week. We did that because the Huxtables were so likable and because the squabbles between siblings 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. Why? Because they’re both masterpieces of TV comedy, even if — in my opinion — they both started to lose some of their juice after their sixth seasons. Still, both shows are pretty darn close to perfect, the sitcoms that other sitcoms still strive to be. “Seinfeld” was probably the more daring and culturally significant 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.
Just missed the list: “Night Court,” “A Different World,” “Third Rock from the Sun,” “Mad About You,” “My Name is Earl.”