Forget the Emmy's- here's the 10 funniest television shows of all time
The 2019 Emmy awards were one of the lowest rated shows in Emmy history. Part of the reason was that there was no host nor compelling award that viewers were anxious to see. Most of the reason was that television viewing has splintered into such small groups that the nominated shows were so obscure, only a small minority had followed them.
This is the same problem that dogs the Oscars, where "artistic" and "important" movies get all the nominations, while top box office hits rarely are mentioned. I still find myself compelled to watch both award shows if only out of curiosity to find what's new and worthwhile.
Most disturbing to me personally, is the direction that the Best Comedy award has gone. Most of the nominated shows- Barry, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel, Russian Doll, Veep and the winner Fleabag aren't all that funny. Good shows, yes. The best comedies of 2018-2019- hardly. Comedy, in the eyes of the television industry, has been lost and replaced by 30 minute dramedies that only occasionally attempt at humor.
Comedy is a subjective thing somewhat, but it relies on good writing, interesting characters that are always in conflict, and lots of pleasant surprises. Below you will find a list of the ten funniest tv shows of my lifetime, and why they make me laugh, even today. Watch some of the clips below for a chuckle and then watch some of the Emmy best comedy nominees for some perspective of where comedy is today.
10- Police Squad (NBC)
Judging by pure laughs per minute, Police Squad was an amazing short-lived gem. Produced by the Zucker-Abrams brothers partnership that gave us the movie Airplane, Police Squad told the story of Frank Drebbin, a hard nosed police lieutenant played by Leslie Nielsen. The humor is dry and non-stop with sight gags, puns and silliness that doesn't seem quite right in a police drama. There were only six precious episodes made, but the show launched the popular Naked Gun series of movies that continued to parody police dramas.
For similar laughs, check out Get Smart and Night Court, both of which poke fun at the law and order genre.
9- Home Improvement (ABC)
Family sitcoms have been the bread and butter of network comedies. Taking relatable family situations and making comedy out of them has been comedic gold from the Honeymooners to the Goldbergs. There are dozens of great family comedies, some still running today, but for my taste, Home Improvement was the best. This show made great use of both work and family opportunities, with Tim Allen at the head of both.
Allen let himself be portrayed as a goofball, which is essential for the comedy to work. (In his new show, Last Man Standing, Allen plays a more serious father figure) In many family shows the father is portrayed as the serious, sensible one while the kids are funny, but here it's Tim the Toolman who lets things explode all around him as he miscalculates his own expertise. The supporting cast is excellent both at home and work, but it's Allen and his goofy exuberance that makes the show.
8- Newhart (CBS)
Bob Newhart is a comedic genius and his shows dominated network television for two decades. Newhart's strength is how he surrounded himself with memorable, funny characters, while reacting in his own slow, deadpan way to the chaos that inevitably engulfed him. Bob Newhart got his start in standup comedy, as did many other comedians of his day, but he was the most successful at transitioning into situation comedies.
Of the many Bob Newhart comedies, Newhart, about an innkeeper in rural Vermont is my favorite. The colorful cast of natives play off of Newhart perfectly.
Other standup standouts include Roseanne, The Drew Carey Show, and The Cosby Show. (Before Bill Cosby's personal problems surfaced)
7- Green Acres (CBS)
Green Acres is one of the best ever "fish out of water" comedies that poked fun at a rich lawyer who moved out into the country to become a farmer. The supporting cast of this show was its main strength. The characters that made up Hooterville, the fictional small-town community in which the show is based, were memorable, funny, and silly. Eddie Arnold played the stuck-up lawyer and only sane person in Hooterville, aided by his wife Eva Gabor who played dumb but was anything but that. Arnold the pig stole every scene he was in.
The 1960's were dominated by sitcoms like this and the Beverly Hillbillies that used the opposite fish out of water scenario. All the rural comedies were axed in 1971 to make way for groundbreaking comedies like All in the Family and Mary Tyler Moore.
6- MASH (CBS)
MASH should have finished in the top five, but I placed it lower because it led the way for the "dramedy" oversupply that we see today. MASH was one of the first shows to try to both poke fun at the army and war, while going for the heartstrings with sad stories of war's victims.
That said, MASH was one of the best comedies ever produced, breaking ground in a way no other comedy had dared to do up until that point. Based on a popular book and movie, MASH told the story of the 4077th mobile hospital in Korea during the war. For 12 seasons they followed the doctors and nurses in this unpleasant war, showing madcap mirth alongside death and destruction. It was a delicate balancing act, and much of its success come from its excellent writers and its main star, Alan Alda, who stayed with the show from its humble beginnings until its epic ending.
5- The Office (NBC)
The Office paved the way for "documentary" style comedies, as the entire series run was treated as a documentary that was being made about the show itself. This allowed us to both watch the action and then watch as the characters were interviewed behind the scenes about what had just happened.
The Office, which originated in the UK, was brought to the US and given a new cast and a new location, a paper company in Scranton, PA. The show is relatable for anyone who ever worked in an office environment, and its cast and writing were strong for most of its run. Steve Carrell, who played the funny, outrageous, and inappropriate boss Michael Scott, was the breakout star of the show, which was never quite the same after he departed. The supporting cast was extensive, with Rainn Wilson taking on the butt of most of the jokes in the unlikable character, Dwight Schrute.
This format was copied by other successful comedies like Modern Family and Parks and Recreation, but The Office did it best.
4- Monty Python's Flying Circus (BBC)
Monty Python was a trailblazer that hit British television in the 60's and poked fun at everything and anything in British society. What made this show remarkable was how its brilliant sketches and characters launched a brand that became known all over the world. Monty Python shows started showing in the United States in the 70's and they became a viral hit- the first and biggest British tv show to do so.
The six comics that made up Monty Python- John Cleese, Graham Chapman, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam- were enormously talented in putting together five minute sketches, pasting them together with recurring jokes, and being silly while poking fun at the Royal family, British politicians, and cultural conventions.
After the show ended, they moved on to a series of successful movies and individual careers.
3- The Daily Show with Jon Stewart
Comedy Central 2001-2016
The Daily Show on Comedy Central started in the late 1990's as an attempt to poke fun at the news, much like Saturday Night Live's popular Weekend Update segments. Jon Stewart took over in 2001 and the show rose to become one of the most important places for people to get both laughs and real news.
Stewart was both a funny guy when he wanted to be, but he could also be smart and sincere when talking about issues he truly cared about. His interviews were excellent as he both joked with important leaders and pushed them on their bs talking points. The Daily Show had an excellent writing staff and a great set of correspondents, most of whom did field pieces where they poked fun at news-makers all over the US.
Many of those correspondents have gone on to host shows of their own, most notably John Oliver, who's HBO show does a weekly dive into important issues with both seriousness and humor. Samantha Bee, Jordan Klepper, Larry Wilmore, Steve Carrell, and Steven Colbert are other correspondents who've gone on to bigger and better things. The Daily Show is now hosted by Trevor Noah, who does and ample job, but doesn't rise to the levels of his predecessor.
2- Saturday Night Live (NBC)
This NBC sketch show has lasted over 40 years and launched dozens of major stars. One of the first comedy shows to be aired live, SNL has held on through hundreds of different cast members and four decades of comedy and tv changes.
I tire of those who claim that the first cast of 1975-1980 with Bill Murray, John Belushi, and Gilda Radner was the best. The first five years had some iconic moments for sure, but many of the more forgettable sketches have been, well.., forgotten. Likewise almost every season since has had its good and bad. For every Will Ferrell there's a cast member who bombed out after one season.
This show is a marvel in how it's produced in one week. Cast members and writers are put through a hellish amount of writing, re-writing and rehearsals for each show. Some of the sketches make it on air, many do not. The show pokes fun at politics, race, popular culture and almost anything. Some of its jokes are topical and don't age well two decades later, but for comedy, this show is as good as it gets.
1- The Simpsons (Fox)
I debated for a long time who to put at #1 on my list of all-time comedies. It came down to SNL and The Simpsons. I'm choosing The Simpsons because, unlike SNL, it has had to keep the same characters and find new ways to tell funny and interesting stories each year. Comedy doesn't always age well. Watch almost any comedy in its final season and you almost wished they'd cancel it earlier. Plot lines are played out, relationships are pretty much established, and surprises are few and far between.
Though some might argue with me, The Simpsons, an animated comedy that has kept its characters at the same ages and statuses for 30 years, has managed to find new plots and ideas where most comedies would have given up. Are the latest episodes among the funniest? Probably not, but they are surprisingly good for such an aging show.
The Simpsons tells the story of a dysfunctional family and the dysfunctional town of Springfield that they all live in. It pokes fun at everything, including the Fox network, and has included guest stars from all over Hollywood and tv. I have no idea how long they can continue to pull off this record run, but I, for one, will be sad when it finally ends.