While this feels odd to say as the ultimate arbiter on seeding of this tournament, this may be the strangest section yet. The tournament has had few real upsets so far, although it was not Friends‘ day, month, week, or even its year, and Mr. Show found out sad songs are nature’s onions, but so far those are the only two shows with a seed above six to exit our survey. I have a weird feeling about this motley mix of half hour comedies, but let’s see what you all think about these 16 shows. We can’t wait to see your votes!
16. Get a Life (Fox, 1990-92) – Chris Elliott is his father’s son when it comes to absurdist humor. His dad, Bob Elliott was half of the improv-before-improv-was-cool comedy team Bob & Ray. After making a name for himself late at night as a recurring Letterman foil, he got a chance to lead a sitcom, and what a weird one it was. Elliott played a 30-year-old paperboy who lived with his dad (played by aforementioned real life dad) with few ambitions and fewer prospects. The show was surreal and he died in a full third of its episodes.
15. Father Ted (BBC 4, 1995-98) – Three Irish priests are exiled to a craggy island (called Craggy Island) and the punchline is this madcap show. Father Ted Crilly has no real moral compass, but is the closest to normal of the three; however, that’s mostly because the others are dimwitted bumbler Father Dougal and the elderly lecherous alcoholic Father Jack.
14. The Middle (ABC, 2009-18) – Patricia Heaton’s right-wing politics are thankfully nowhere to be seen in this underrated family comedy about an Indiana (why are so many shows set in Indiana?) family just trying to keep it together. What made this show especially work were the three children were not an afterthought; Brick, Sue Sue, and Axel on the surface were stereotypes (weird kid, joiner girl, dumb jock), but it only took two or so episodes to reveal the characters’ complexities to a point that would be impossible to describe in this blurb.
13. Space Ghost: Coast To Coast (Cartoon Network, 1994-2001/Adult Swim, 2001-04) – Would we have the Adult Swim we do without this bizarre repurposing of a 1960s cartoon universe. Creator Mike Lazzo took the simple good v. evil Hanna Barbera concoction Space Ghost and turned it into a ’90s-style late night talk show with the lead character now a demented doofus and his enemies manning the controls and delivering typical, if more sinister, sidekick banter. SG would then interview real world celebrities–although confuse would be more accurate than “interview.”
12. Happy Days (ABC, 1974-84) – Famously taped before a live studio audience, the adventures of Milwaukee’s… well not finest, but most awkward teenagers rode the 1950s nostalgia of the ’70s well into the ’80s as Richie Cunningham, Potsie, Ralph Malph, and the rest had adventures at home at Al’s Diner and all around the town. As Homer Simpson observed “they weren’t all happy days,” but the gang was sure to learn life lessons along the way. And we can’t not mention the cooler-than-cool greaser and original shark-jumper played by the nicest man in Hollywood.
11. The Dick Van Dyke Show (CBS, 1961-66) – One of THE classic sitcoms, Carl Reiner’s semi-autobiographical half hour was a goldmine for three named future legends as Dyke played comedy writer Rob Petrie (ooh, early meta), married to Mary Tyler Moore’s Laura in a well-appointend New Rochelle, NY, home. Time was split between his time in the writers room (which contained Rose Marie and Morey Amsterdam) and his home. We miss Carl Reiner.
10. Kroll Show (Comedy, 2013-15) – If anything, Nick Kroll’s fever dream of a sketch show is underrated for how seamlessly it took the vaguely blended sketch show (i.e. Mr. Show, Monty Python) to a new level, creating what was essentially a comedy anthology in a blender. In addition to connecting characters from various parts of the Krolliverse, multiple stories were brewing, true arcs were developed, and segments like the Oh Hello guys, PubLIZity, Fabrece Fabrece, and Rich Dicks intertwined into a beautiful, if nonsensical melange. How many sketch shows can say they inspired a hit Broadway show?
9. The Last Man on Earth (Fox, 2015-18) – After scouring the country and finding no sign of life after an unspecified plague, Phil Miller returns to his home of Tucson and does all of the sort of Home Alone-y stuff you might expect. Spoiler alert, but the show’s title is all but blown up in the first episode and by the end of the first season it is clear Will Forte’s self-centered klutz Phil is clearly nowhere near the final sentient being on the planet.
8. A Different World (NBC, 1987-93) – OK, this is as good as any place to discuss a room and its elephant. Obviously, there’s a certain show that could have a high seed that has not and will not show up. Honestly, all things being equal, I’d put said show on the list and let people vote, but 128 spots filled up fast, and it just was not worth bumping a show not starring, created, and named after a serial rapist. Its spin-off, however, is fair game and here’s where we find the misadventures of Denise Huxtable and her Hillman College friends.
7. Fresh Off The Boat (ABC, 2015-20) – Based loosely on the life of celebrity chef Eddie Huang, Nahnatchka Khan’s program showcased the Huang Family as they navigated life in Orlando, Florida, while trying to keep elements of their heritage. As with The Middle, the three Huang sons–Eddie, Emery, and Evan–began as caricatures (hip-hop head, ladies’ boy and mama’s pet) but grew into deeper portraits. FoB also boasts the incredible talents of Randall Park and Constance Wu as the often perplexed dad and social climber mom–but again, those labels don’t begin to tell the tale of the show’s parents.
6. South Park (Comedy Central, 1997-present) – Trey Parker and Matt Stone may be the most extreme examples of hit-or-miss creators. The flimsily animated residents of the suburban (exurban?) Colorado town excel at filleting the hypocrisies of modern society as Parker and Stone pushed the boundaries of what could be shown on TV further and further. Often they disappeared up their own Libertarian asses, but when it clicked (see oft-killed-by-bastards Kenny as Terry Schiavo for example) the result was (and still is) true brilliance, and the duo is not above admitting when they are wrong (see ManBearPig/Al Gore).
5. Modern Family (ABC, 2009-20) – This may be a controversial seeding (in either direction, really), but the ultimate extended family sitcom, when it was good, was very, very good, even if at times it could resign itself to coasting on its established characters and tropes–or going in the opposite direction and having the family members do uncharacteristic things. However, when it commited to a concept or leaned into being a door-slamming farce, MF was one of the most well-written shows on TV. Ed O’Neill made a triumphant return to television as a slightly less ridiculous, but often just as prickly a curmudgeon as Al Bundy in Jay Pritchett, patriarch of a family that included his daughter Claire’s standard sitcom family and son Mitchell’s groundbreaking gay couple with adopted Vietnamese daughter Lily.
4. Brooklyn Nine-Nine (Fox, 2013-19/NBC 2019-present) – Mike Schur’s shows are 2-for-2 so far, with another one maaaaybe the top seed of the final bracket. His cop show (co-created with Dan Goor) puts SNL-er Andy Samberg at the center as Jake Peralta, the ace detective of BK’s 99th District whose held back by one thing–his own enormous ego. While it’s a smaller universe than Schur’s other shows, it’s still the ensemble element that allows the show to shine, led by Emmy-nom-magnet Andre Braugher as his rigid and refined Captain Holt (who just happens to also be a gay man who has smashed through barriers in this universe’s NYPD). Only The Simpsons and maybe Bob’s Burgers rival B99 in its success at creating awaited annual event episodes–every year has an elaborate Halloween Heist and a Doug Judy (Craig Robinson as Peralta’s outlaw buddy) adventure.
3. Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO, 2000-present) – Larry David releases seasons of his groundbreaking (mostly) improvised show at about the rate you would expect from the world’s most famous curmudgeon. David has let his idiosyncratic freak flag fly for 10 seasons and counting as the Seinfeld co-creator continuously embroils himself in conflicts around Los Angeles, usually of his own making (although no one in his universe comes out smelling particularly sweet). Often the mini-misadventures combine into one grand unraveling of a finale, as when he performed in The Producers or when a series of events led to the burning down of both his spite shop and the shop it was built to spite.
2. Schitt’s Creek (CBC/Pop, 2015-20) – This show could be a slow burn, but for fans, once immersed in the daily indignities of the fallen-from-grace Rose Family–exiled to the backwater town of Schitt’s Creek after an accountant screwed them over–it became a gentle obsession. Dan Levy crafted truly unique characters in Johnny (played by Levy’s dad Eugene), Moira (Catherine O’Hara), David (Dan himself), and Alexis (Annie Murphy). Few individuals could be as entitled and annoying, yet also charming and endearing as this klan, and their neighbors were the sort of TV inhabitants who both seemed impossibly ridiculous yet familiar from our lives in reality. Absurd people exist. We are all absurd ourselves. Anyway, while it remained a cult favorite, it certainly deserves this elevated position. In the last few years, the show has won all the awards, and we love that journey for the show.
1. All In The Family (CBS, 1971-79) – What is there to say about Norman Lear’s masterpiece? The name “Archie Bunker” itself has become a stand-in for every uncouth, casually racist and sexist man from Queens or beyond (it’s no coincidence that our most loudmouthed President is from the same general area). While some mistook Carroll O’Connor’s iconic patriarch as a hero, most saw him as an archtype of a philosophy our society (at least Lear and other’s hoped) was trying to get beyond and perhaps as a symbol of the capacity for change even in the most stubborn of us. Above all else, this show would be long forgotten if the antics of and banter between Archie, wife Edith, daughter Gloria, and son-in law Michael (aka Meathead) weren’t breathtakingly funny.