Let’s count down the funniest shows on TV the past two decades.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This list was obviously not proofed correctly as it omits STELLA, perhaps the funniest show in all of existence. “Stella” will get an article all its own in the coming days.
10. Boy Meets World (1993-2000)
I almost gave this spot to “Fresh Prince” on account of Will Smith’s acting chops far outshining anyone on “Boy Meets World,” which devolves into the sappiest of sap at times, but the strengths of the TGIF stalwart proved too much.
The first few seasons of BMW is childhood-based comedy gold. Ben Savage is by far at his most likeable when he’s in the fourth grade, as are all his classmates. It’s the evolution of Eric from teen heart throb to mentally challenged chubster that sees this 90s classic through its toughest of times, providing one of the comedic turns of the decade.
9. Community (2009)
Dan Harmon’s quirky ensemble “Community” has been on the outs with NBC recently, but seems poised for a fourth season, which in itself is a small miracle. Still, the third season has been borderline–with more than a few gems, of course.
The first and second editions of the series, though, are brilliant. “Community” at its finest is not only as good as any show on this list, but is also *unlike* any show on this list. It’s irreverent/low-brow/metta/slap stick/pop culture comedy all at once. Episodes are highly conceptualized spoofs of films and other TV shows; an entire game of dungeons and dragons; an entire episode in a single room with the group arguing about a missing pen. But “Community” gets intimate, too.
The chemistry to “Community” is a delicate thing, and the fact that it succeeds about as often as the rest of these shows is impressive. Season four will determine whether “Community” is an all time great or a flash in the pan.
8. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (2005)
“Sunny” left on a series low in terms of comedy with a two part high school reunion, the second part somehow even less entertaining than the first, capping a mediocre, if not ugly three season slump. The two contractually guaranteed seasons to come look like bleak affairs for sure.
Seasons 1-4 though, forget about it! Often described as “Seinfeld” on crack, “Sunny” lives up to the comparison, if not in no way at all subscribing to it. The first season is essentially a mini series, low-fi episodes dealing with one hotly debated topic after the next: race relation, abortion, etc. They are great episodes, but it’s not until Danny DeVito joins the cast does the show achieve the tempo that saw it add copious strips to the highlight reel of “FUNNIEST TELEVISION SHOWS EVER.” Seasons 2-4 are some of the loudest, most offensive, cleverly structured episodes you will see on TV.
7. 30 Rock (2006)
“30 Rock” is to sitcoms as tennis is to sports. You can’t zone out when you’re watching tennis, otherwise when you occasionally look up there might be two guys just standing there. You’ll have no context. If you snooze on 30R for even a minute you’ll likely miss a few zingers which all establish the momentum crucial to the success of a “30” episode. In this way it compares to “Seinfeld” more than “Sunny.”
“30 Rock” has the unfair advantage of having Tracy Morgan, who is automatically funny in everything, and Alec Baldwin, whose comedic timing is so inspiring it’s understandable to admit Alec Baldwin himself has remained in the past, and Jack Donaghy has replaced him. 30R also has Tina Fey, the best writer in television, and strong support from Jane Krakowski as Jenna and and Scott Adsik as Hornberger. There is a stable of talent on deck in characters like Kenneth, Lutz, Frank, plus cameos which are generally cast and plotted perfectly, highlighted perhaps by Kelsey Grammar’s villainous turn as himself.
“30 Rock” is a rare show that has recovered from a mediocre season before, so this lackluster outing is not so troublesome as we are likely hitting the home stretch of one of the fastest, smartest comedies of the decade.
6. Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000)
“Freaks” don’t feel like a 90s show, does it? Probably because the billion stars it produced all caught on with audiences several years later. Imagine if we had four more years of Seth Rogen comedies, with him as TEENAGER? He’d be a legend in the dope community by now.
“Freaks” is a perfect treasure due to its brevity. Nothing really gets outplayed, no one evolves so much that they are unrecognizable from the start, but enough to have kept you interested. It’s the start of a process, one that promised to be a substantial reward to any viewer. Sadly, it was axed before its time. The last episode, which features James Franco playing a game of dungeons and dragons, is a personal favorite, and a perfect note to end a series which played nostalgia so perfectly.
5. Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000)
This show has to come back. It’s a pleasure to look forward to. I don’t care if I have to wait three years. Let Larry do his thing. When he comes back, he will come bearing gifts, as always.
The meme-generator was on over driven in the most recent season, 2011’s eighth, bi-sexuals, car periscopes and Michael J. Fox. Episodes of “Curb” are so good for many different reasosn. Some for the cyclical story telling, such as the painfully funny “The Doll,” others for roving adventures like “The Car Pool Lane,” and still more for those seamless, poetic gems like–I’m looking at you “The Baptism.” While at its craziest “Curb” makes Jerry and the gang look pedestrian, the early seasons are, in a word, calmer and more intimately outrageous than its predecessor.
Tentpoled by consecutive season finales entitled “##Opening##”, “Curb” achieved legendary status in the ranks of television comedies, and will stand the test of time alongside its father–nay, its brother–“Seinfeld.”
4. Newsradio (1995-1999)
Hands down the most underrated show of the 90s, “NewsRadio” boasts possibly the best ensemble cast in TV history. Phil Hartman is at his very best, and in turn he is supported by career-bests from Andy Dick, Joe Rogan, Maura Tierney and Vicki Lewis. Dave Foley and Stephen round out an absolutely stellar cast that gelled to perfection early on and somehow improved on in it for two full seasons.
“Newsradio” is a momentuous experiment in storytelling, similar to “30 Rock,” which features a static set for the majority of every episode, with characters darting from one side of the stage to another, always with some witty rejoinder–or, if they can’t think of a witty rejoinder, just have Matthew fall down.
“Newsradio” is not a dish you recommend, it is one you consume, greedily, unconcerned about others sharing the treat. If you are one of the lucky persons owning the series on DVD like myself, I commend you. Otherwise, get your shit together.
3. Flight of the Conchords (2007)
It’s hard to imagine I find three shows funnier than “Newsradio,” but the top three are juggernauts. “Flight” comes in at third considering its brevity, despite that brevity being one of the smartest things about the show. The wear and tear took its toll on the band and it began to show in the final stages. The plug was pulled at the correct time, and in the correct fashion to suggest a season or two in the distant future ep (inside joke!).
The episodes we do have are what comedy should be. Bret Mckenzie and Jemaine Clement bear the load in virtually every episode, charismatic to pull it off but gladly excepting saving turns from the whimsical Rhys Darby, the demented Kristen Schaal and the always clutch Arj Barker. “Flight” featured absurdity, subtely and pschedelic acid trip music videos (on more than one occasion). More often than not the songs are worth the 30 minutes themselves, and the videos always are!
2. Seinfeld (1990-1998)
What be said about “Seinfeld” that hasn’t already been said? All the lists its top, awards its won, cult and mainstream following it’s accrued over the years…all deserved. Strike the laugh track from this show and you’ve got comedy perfection. If “Curb” is a meme-generation then “Seinfeld” is American culture incarnate. Close talker, double-dipping, soup nazi; not to mention the classic episodes like “The Parking Garage” or the infinitely better “The Subway” which helped shape sitcoms in a new way, dared them to be inventive. Most importantly, “Seinfeld” held to its mantra of “No hugs, no learning.” After 9 perfect season we leave the four self-obsessed miscreants just as we left them. Will another duo like David & Seinfeld grace TV again? It’s unlikely, but here’s hoping.
1. Arrested Development (2003)
Ah, “Arrested Development,” we hardly knew ye. This summer’s Netflix reboot of the series along with confirmation of the long awaited film softens the blow, but it’s impossible still to forgive Fox for what they did with the hands down funniest show of the last 20 years (if not ever). Not only did AD balance a masterful ensemble cast with spot-on cameos, it played the spectrum of comedy from physical to political and all the notes in between, not to mention having a somewhat intricate and extremely entertaining storyline to boot.
Like most brilliant shows, AD is not something you can jump right into. You need context. You need to start from the beginning and enjoy it until the bitter, premature end. Go do it. Now.
11. Kids in the Hall (1989-1994)
12. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)
13. Futurama (1999)
14. The Office (2005)
15. Parks and Recreation (2009)
16. Bored to Death (2009-2012)
17. Scrubs (2001-2010)
Late Night with Conan O’Brien (1993-2009) — I’ll have to write an article about it some day soon, but I don’t understand how Conan’s TBS show and stint on The Tonight Show are/were so poor. The current format is awful and has been for the majority of its run, and while The Tonight Show had some very good stretches, neither compares to the heights of Late Night. It’s a talk show though, so that disqualifies it. I see it in the top 5 easy.
The Colbert Report (2005) — No talk shows.
Entourage (2004-2011) — Entourage was always a dramedy, despite it’s early seasons being effortlessly hilarious. The last few seasons leave a bad taste in my mouth. So drama + weak outroduction = out of contention.
The Simpsons (1989) — Having topped our Cartoon countdown just a few weeks ago, and technically starting in the 80s, we benched The Simpsons on this one. It would have landed in the #3 spot at worst. At best? On a good day you can’t bea The Simpsons.
South Park (1997) — See above.