When asked to name my favorite sitcoms of all time, I am usually met with blank stares or puzzled expressions. While most people will rattle on about, “Happy Days,” “I Love Lucy,” “Laverne and Shirley,” et al, I have a somewhat different list. You see, I grew up in a Scotland, where we were not privy to most, or all, of these shows. Most of the shows that I grew up loving are unheard of stateside or, are known by different names, adapted from their British counterparts. With that in mind, I’ll give you my list of US favorites, almost all of which are fairly recent, as well as a few Britcoms that some of you may know or have caught on PBS.
Arrested Development – This was the show that re-launched the career of Jason Bateman, playing straight man to a cast of outlandish characters, one crazier than the next. The show was able to survive the cancellation axe a few times, before finally succumbing after 3 glorious seasons, as most viewers were either unable or unwilling to tag along for the craziness that was the Bluth family.
Seinfeld – A gem of a sitcom that ran for 9 great seasons, not bad for a show about nothing. Created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld and based, loosely, on the stand-up of the latter. Like most successful sitcoms, it featured a great ensemble cast, but the limelight was usually stolen by Kramer (Michael Richards) or George Costanza (Jason Alexander).
The Larry Sanders Show – Gary Shandling used all his experience from guest hosting, “The Tonight Show”, and channeled it into Larry Sanders, a fictional late night talk show host whose neuroses often threatened to destroy him. The show was a mix of clips from the fictional talk show, featuring a host of big name stars playing themselves, often in self deprecating style, and documentary style, backstage footage. The show ran on HBO for 6 years before signing off in 1998.
Family Guy – Okay, I know it’s an animated series, but it does follow the sitcom style of TV series, therefore it makes the list. Yet another show that has, miraculously, been cancelled and revived on numerous occasions. Lewd, crude and, at times, horribly offensive, but always funny. The Griffin family makes the Simpsons look like the Brady Bunch.
Curb Your Enthusiasm – Another Larry David offering; only this time he is the star and, similar to Seinfeld, the show follows the everyday details of his life. The show has run on HBO for 6 seasons, with a 7th expected sometime in 2009. What sets, Curb, aside from most is that it is very loosely scripted and almost all of the show that airs is improved. Given that format, it is astonishing that very few of the jokes fall flat, with most hitting the mark to great effect. For those who haven’t seen the show, you should be warned that it does contain some rather risqué language, including one episode where the “C” word is dropped in rather spectacular fashion.
Britcoms – I couldn’t end any list of TV comedies without mentioning some of the favorites I grew up with. A fair number of these can be caught on PBS or BBC America and are well worth the watch.
Steptoe And Son – A father and son junkyard business is the backdrop of this show (sound familiar? It should, Sanford and Son was the US version). Crude and, at times, stomach churningly vile, it’s a British classic.
Only Fools And Horses – The tale of 2 brothers, one a rather dandy businessman dealing in stolen goods, the other a thick as a brick simpleton, living with their cantankerous grandfather. Every episode is a classic.
Fawlty Towers – This is the TV show, that in my mind at least, is the one that every other sitcom should be measured against. Written by, and starring, John Cleese and Connie Booth, it is set against the backdrop of a horrible fictional hotel run by the insanely inept, Basil Fawlty (Cleese). Only 12 episodes were ever made, Cleese and Booth both deciding that they had created episodes they could not top. It’s easy to agree with them as each one is a brilliantly crafted, superbly written classic. PBS runs 12 episode marathons on a regular basis, and if you haven’t seen them, I recommend tuning in next time round.