The Comedy Half-Hour Tournament’s Outstanding 128 Rolls Into Section D…

There seems to be an abundance of characters–by which I mean a lot of iconic jerks. We’ve got George Jefferson, Al Bundy, Basil Fawlty, Sterling Archer, the “Gang” from Philly, the entire Bluth Family, Alf, the Workaholics “Friendship Family”; and we’re not sure what to do with Hawkeye, Mindy Lahiri, and the Sex and the City women. Does Murphy Brown balance them all out? And then there’s this guy…

With apologies to A.A. Ron Balakey, we’ll move on to the vote. Here’s the ballot, and please head on over to GBOAT to discuss (and just a hint: we won’t really know if you vote twice).

The Contenders:

16. Alf (NBC, 1986-90) – Just for argument’s sake, let’s say this show barely beat out Dinosaurs to get here in the battle of sitcoms featuring puppets AND incredibly bleak, nihilistic endings. I feel like over the years, we’ve downplayed just how weird the tale of Gordon Shumway’s stay with the Tanners actually was, with its cat eating, peeping toms, and the fact it inspired one of the writers to pen the autobiographical Permanent Midnight in which Alf is renamed Mr. Chompers.  

15. Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist (Comedy Central, 1995-2002) – There’s a definite bias towards H. Jon Benjamin in this draw (and he’ll show up again in this very section). Here he’s the aimless son of Jonathan Katz’s soft-spoken and laid-back-to-a-point psychiatrist. Throughout its seven years, Katz’s couch was the site for popular and up-and-coming comics to perform their bits in therapy form; everyone from Ray Romano to Jim Gaffigan to Dave Chappelle to Wanda Sykes graced the chair. Even legends like Rodney Dangerfield, Joan Rivers, and Garry Shandling dropped in for a session.

14. My Name is Earl (NBC, 2005-09) – Greg Garcia’s history as co-creator of the meh sitcom Yes, Dear (not hyperlinked) could not prepare us for the quirkiness of his second (and first solo) project. Affable dirtbag Earl Hickey (Jason Lee) loses a winning lottery ticket after being hit by a car. In the hospital he learns about karma, does good, and finds said lottery ticket. Seeing it as a sign, the show premise is set (at least for the first season): Earl does good deeds for others using his lottery money–of course, being as this is a TV show and a comedy, something always goes at least a little bit wrong.  

13. Married… with Children (Fox, 1987-97) – Somewhere below lowbrow lies the comedy that helped launch Fox as a real network, before a certain animated family shot them into the stratosphere. Certainly genius in its own way, the delightfully vulgar comedy launched the careers of Ed O’Neill as proud slob Al Bundy, Katey Sagal as his sex-hungry wife Peg Bundy, and Christina Applegate as their airhead daughter. It also starred David Faustino as dorky son Bud Bundy. 

12. Workaholics (Comedy Central, 2011-17) – Stoner slackers Anders, Adam, and Blake extend their college hijinks into office life to varying degrees of success. One of the first YouTube to regular television successes, it also introduced Jillian Bell as their beleaguered office mate. 

11. Sex and the City (HBO, 1998-2004) – Candace Bushnell’s column beget Sarah Jessica Parker’s Carrie Bradshaw. Surrounded by her three besties, their love (and lust) interests, and boozy brunches, Bushnell/Bradshaw’s stories of making it in NYC became one of the most beloved and hated series of all time (kind of an unintentional them in this section). So are you a Miranda or a Samantha?

10. Archer (FX[X] 2009-Present) – We’re in the Jessica Walter Memorial Section, as you can see what this group’s top seed is. On this show she played the boozy mother (she has a type) of H. Jon Benjamin (again) as secret agent Sterling Archer, a wisecracking, ornery secret agent fighting the Cold War as a member of ISIS (not that Isis).

9. The Mindy Project (Fox, 2012-15/Hulu 2015-17) – Mindy Kaling’s solo project often struggled to stay on the air, but that was not for lack of critical praise or cult following. A successful OB/GYN, Mindy Lahiri was a total mess when it came to her personal life, especially romance. The series began with her as duped by rom-coms but sort of abandoned that frame, yet even with the revamps, it deserves a place as a classic comedy. Chris Messina shined as her main (but not only) will-they/won’t they.

8. Living Single (Fox, 1993-98) – Shortly after her call for “U.N.I.T.Y.,” but long before she equalized, Queen Latifah was the star attached to Fox’s series about six friends sharing a Brooklyn brownstone. In fact, you could argue that this show which preceded Friends by a year is show zero of the close knit group of six trope (which shockingly isn’t an official TV Trope). Kim Coles was a standout as well-meaning Synclare.

7. The Jeffersons (CBS, 1975-85) – The Bunkers’ neighbors moved on up from Queens to the east side of Manhattan and stayed there for eleven seasons. If you want to feel old, Sherman Helmsley was 33 when he first played the role of soon-to-be dry cleaning mogul George Jefferson. The series which took place primarily inside the high rise, also featured a rich supporting cast for George to hurl insults at, including Marla Gibbs as Florence, the Jeffersons’ maid and TV’s first interracial couple in Tom and Helen Willis (the latter the real-life mother of Lenny Kravitz). In a cool turn, last year an all new cast read the first episode live, and the 88-year-old Gibbs popped in to play her original role.

6. Key & Peele (Comedy Central, 2012-15) – It’s almost stunning how short this seminal sketch show’s run was before Keegan-MIchael Key became one of the most sought-after character actors and Jordan Peele, one of cinema’s great auteurs. While, admittedly, the duo borrowed a lot from David Chappelle’s abandoned hit program–including the storytelling wraparound–the pair had honed its chemistry so well on MADtv that it doesn’t matter. Between the NFL East-West Game, Luther (Obama’s anger translator), Andre & Meegan, and Mr. Garvey, the show spawned an abundance of unforgettable recurring sketches. They were also vanguards in using YouTube to promote its show.

5. M*A*S*H (CBS, 1972-83) – When this show ended after extending the Korean War for eight years in its alternate universe, its finale was the gold standard for anticipated endings and broke all non-Super Bowl related viewership records–and it’s still the top dog among any episode of a scripted series (although technically the finale was a TV movie or a collection of five episodes). I’ll just say it–we seeded the adventures of Hawkeye, Hot Lips, Trapper John, Radar, Klinger and the rest a tad too low (or more accurately, I did as I made the final list).

4. Fawlty Towers (BBC, 1975-79) – Arguably the funniest and most culturally important show with fewer than 13 episodes (and only one show had fewer–it’s in the next section), John Cleese and Connie Booth’s comedy about the farcical escapades going down in a half-rate Torquay bed & breakfast is an absolute cult classic. Cleese’s best character, Basil Fawlty, a preening, arrogant buffoon had zero redeeming features, yet you still felt for the craven hotelier. Unfortunately, the character of Manuel the Spanish waiter is about as problematic as Cleese’s recent tweets about transgender people, but Manuel’s catchphrase did inspire a very happy and good-natured Scandinavian band, so, does that even out?!

3. It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX[X], 2005-Present) – The deranged misadventures of “The Gang” have grown from a 200 dollar pilot filmed by struggling actors Rob McElhenny, Glenn Howerton, and Charlie Day to fourteen seasons and running and a huge cult following (that verges on mainstream). The show was already having some success and didn’t really need the star power of Danny DeVito joining as perverse Frank Reynolds, but it didn’t hurt things. Buoyed by a universe of oddballs surrounding the group’s home location of Paddy’s Pub, it’s one of the most clever (and meta) shows on television–one of those programs where just when you think it’s starting to slip, it delivers an ingenious episode like “The Gang Beats Boggs” or “Time’s Up For The Gang.”

2. Murphy Brown (CBS, 1988-98, 2018) – Did its forgettable and short-lived reboot knock it out of a top spot? Probably not, but this long-running show featuring Candice Bergen (SNL‘s first female five-timer) as a groundbreaking and unflappable investigative journalist is one of TV’s most important show. It gets extra points for the time her having a baby as a single woman broke VP Dan Quayle–remember when he seemed the lowest the GOP could sink? Ah, good times. Bergen’s Brown was based on journalist Linda Ellerbee, btw. Also, don’t deny yourself clicking the show title and watching the 1980s-ist of promos.

1. Arrested Development (Fox, 2003-05/Netflix, 2013, 2019) – the story of a wealthy family who lost everything, and the one son who had no choice but to keep them all together. In time, we would come to realize Michael Bluth was about as messed up as the rest of the family. This deliriously funny show was the master of both the live-action cutaway, the running gag and of poking fun at its own low ratings and the perilous fate it was in almost the whole of its original run. It’s been revived twice in seasons I loved but that was not shared by a lot of the fan base. Sadly, the promised movie may now be a non-starter with the passing of Jessica Walter and Jeffrey Tambor’s mistreatment of Walter behind-the-scenes. But we’ll always love it–how many shows go as deep in their references as basing a season-long joke around a forgotten dalliance of long forgotten 1960’s television star George Maharis. Has anyone in this family ever seen a chicken?

Thanks for voting and see you on Sunday with the results of the latest round. Voting goes through 5pm on Sunday.

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