We’re back and sorry for the delay, but now our championship will coincide with the Fall TV Line-ups (and that’s on purpose… yeah, that’s the ticket!). We’ve narrowed it down from 128 to 64 and now to 32 great half-hour comedies. And you voters have done a great job of spanning all eras and levels of popularity as we have shows from the 1950s on through still on the air, as well as both cult shows with 20 or fewer episodes and the longest running program of all time still in the survey. Mikes have done very well as every show Mike Schur has created or written for is still alive, as are two Mike Judge-related shows. Will we see our first number one seed fall this round (I suspect we will!). Here’s the remaining programs with the first half of the voting dropping later today!
The Remaining Seeds!!
6. Designing Women (CBS, 1986-93) – Linda Bloodworth-Thomason’s tales of the four Southern women (and one Mescach Taylor) of Sugarbaker & Associates boasted an amazing cast of Dixie Carter, Delta Burke, Jean Smart, and Annie Potts. It also featured the craziest contract deal where the libertarian Carter was allowed one on-camera song for every liberal monologue she delivered.
4. Bojack Horseman (Netflix: 2014-20) – Newcomer Raphael Bob-Waksberg’s fanciful story of an aging alcoholic ’90s sitcom star dealing with his increasing obsolescence started slowly, but those who stuck with it were blessed with one of the most potently funny and unabashedly meta and pun-happy shows on television. More importantly, its crazy world of sentient animals mixed in with humans gave us one of the most honest and compelling stories of the nature of depression as its core group of an upbeat dog, a plucky cat, a guy, a girl, and the titular horse proved to be more real, relatable representations of humanity than most live action TV shows.
2. The Daily Show (Comedy Central: 1996-present) – From its humble beginnings as a talk show featuring Craig Kilborne and his five questions, this purveyor of “faux news” grew under Jon Stewart’s stewardship into one of the most vital half-hours of television. Stewart took aim at the hypocrisy in politics and media with a sarcastic lean that belied an endless fountain of love for his flawed country–and in the process even got another long-running show canceled with a 15-minute appearance. While successor Trevor Noah’s style is more subtle, it’s been no less effective.
1. Parks & Recreation (NBC: 2009-15) – Another classic that famously got off to a slow start, Amy Poehler’s post-SNL show tried to be too much like The Office (of which it was at one point planned as a spinoff). It took off by its second season when it found its heart, building a universe of unforgettable strivers and screw-ups in the fictional Indiana town of Pawnee. At its center was its pair of platonic icons, the unapologetic meat-eater and libertarian, and unlikely staunch feminist Ron Swanson, and appealingly goofy, but hyper competent future President(?) Leslie Knope. That Nick Offerman never was even nominated for an Emmy renders that whole award show meaningless. It’s also one of three shows in this tourney that spawned its own holiday that has become celebrated in the real world, but theirs even spawned a Lifetime movie.
5. Daria (MTV, 1997-2002) – One of two spin-offs from our big upset of the last round, Daria began life, already deadpan, as a bemused foil to the hijinks on Beavis & Butthead. While Mike Judge was busy on the other spin-off (which we’ll get to eventually), Glenn Eichler & Susie Lewis Lynn took on Daria, made her even droller, gave her a goth bestie in artist Jane Lane, as they ridiculed their peers at Lawndale High–including Daria’s cheerleader little sister Quinn
3. The Office [UK] (BBC, 2001-03) – The only show with two versions in our tournament, Ricky Gervais’ and Stephen Merchant’s dark original took the mundane cubicle life and found delight in its most cringeworthy moments. Gervais’ David Brent had all the crippling insecurity and toxic narcissism of Michael Scott, but with fewer redeeming features and zero self-awareness.
2. The Good Place (NBC, 2016-20) – Mike Schur, co-creator of the American version of The Office and creator of the number one show in our last section, Parks & Recreation, took his world building to another level, the afterlife. Kristen Bell’s Eleanor Shellstrop wakes up to learn from Ted Danson’s Michael that she has made it to the super-exclusive “The Good Place” due to a lifetime of hard work and charity as a human rights lawyer–only Eleanor knows that in real life she was an “Arizona dirtbag” who knowingly pushed fake medicine on the elderly. And that barely tells you anything about this hilarious show with more twists, turns, and re-inventions than Lost
1. The Simpsons (Fox, 1989-present) – It’s The Simpsons. 700+ shows over 32 seasons. What more is there to say? Would you believe Homer was supposed to be 33 when the series started? I have had a cow over that ever since I turned 34.
4. WKRP in Cincinnati (CBS, 1978-82) – Misfits abound in this group, even if many of the ones living on the air in Cincinnati were of the hipper variety. New programming director Andy Travis, charged with reviving a radio station, brings in the rock n’ roll, all the while grappling with a clueless boss, a prissy traffic reporter, a sleazy salesman, a stoner DJ, and Venus Flytrap and Bailey Quarters who were actually pretty competent if memory serves.
3. Atlanta (FX, 2016-present) – Donald Glover’s moody and ethereal Emmy-ruling comedy is another one that gets dark as we follow 30-something Earn Marks as he tries to get his life in order and provide for his kid by hooking on to the rising star that is his cousin, who raps under the name Paper Boi. Its cast alone–led by Glover, Brian Tyree Henry as Paper Boi, and Lakeith Stanfield as Paper Boi’s ultra-eccentric friend and associate–warrants its high seed, even if there are stretches with few laughs.
2. The Larry Sanders Show (HBO, 1992-98) – Garry Shandling went from a show that knows it’s a show to perhaps the best ever show-within-a-show. After frequent guest host Shandling missed out on hosting The Tonight Show in real life, he did a notch better by creating his own iconic series where he played the narcissistic host Sanders, host of a popular late-night talk shows. With his sociopathic boss (Rip Torn) and insecure sidekick (Jeffrey Tambor), Sanders had a toxic workplace trifecta. It’s arguably the precursor of Curb Your Enthusiasm for its ability to get celebrities to inhabit the most awful versions of themselves.
1. I Love Lucy (1951-57) – Over 60 years off-the-air, comedian Lucille Ball’s classic showcase as the prone-to-misadventure wife of bandleader Ricky Ricardo (real-life husband Desi Arnaz) stills stands as the gold standard all comedies are measured against. And while we officially have just the original show listed, this can be thought to embody all the different iterations. Well, maybe except for Life with Lucy, her final series in 1987 which was sadly canceled after 13 episodes. Did you know that Rilo Kiley‘s Jenny Lewis was in that as a child?
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.
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).
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.”
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?
10. The Kids in the Hall (CBC/CBS/HBO, 1988-95) – Almost absorbed by the Death Star of sketch comedy when two of its members became SNL staff writers in the mid-1980s, Lorne Michaels changed gears and in 1988 gave David Foley, Bruce McCullouch, Kevin McDonald, Mark McKinney, and Scott Thompson their own series, where the troupe practically invented the idea of alt-comedy with their absurdly hilarious creations, such as the flying pig who entertains people on ATM lines, the head crusher, or the middle manager who goes crazy on a moderate amount of power. I will say the “He’s Hip, He’s Cool, He’s 45!” sketch feels a bit closer to home watching it now.
5. The Golden Girls (NBC, 1985-92) – Although I just recently found out these characters were supposed to be in their early 50s (NO, just NO!), nothing could stop this beloved classic ’80s show with the absurdly talented class of Arthur, McClanahan, Estelle Getty, and the unstoppable Betty White from being in this tournament with a high seed. The Florida retirees could play both gentle and fairly risque and the humor remains funny to this day.
3. Bob’s Burgers (Fox, 2011-present) – Similar to how the movie Annie Hall supposedly started as a murder mystery, rumor has it this animated series about a delightfully dysfunctional family running an unsuccessful burger shop (don’t ever call it a diner) had a darker start as well. They were supposed to be a family of cannibals. While the program still does go to some places that are danker than their creepy basement, the misadventures of the Belchers is one of the most flat-out funny shows on television.
1. Seinfeld (NBC, 1999-2008) – Speaking of shows which benefitted from evolution, comedian Jerry Seinfeld… yadda yadda yadda… worst finale, yet many still love this and it’s inarguably one of the most important half-hour comedies in history.
4. Chappelle’s Show (Comedy Central 2003-06) – Few hit shows have ended as dramatically and abruptly as Dave Chappelle’s groundbreaking sketch show. Right or wrong, we have to respect someone who walks away from 55 million dollars because he is worried about the effect his comedy would have in his community. In its two-plus seasons, Chappelle gave us Black KKK member Clayton Bigsby, Charlie Murphy’s True Hollywood Story, the Racial Draft, and got Wayne Brady to poke fun at his squeaky clean image with one of the funniest sketches ever made.
3. Party Down (Starz, 2009-10) – Here’s another show whose legend belies its short life. Rob Thomas (not that Rob Thomas) cribbed some of the craziest tales from his catering days and enlisted some of his famous-ish friends like Adam Scott, Martin Starr (he’s all over this section), Ken Marino, Jane Lynch, and Lizzy Caplan and created ten farcical stories about different gigs. Despite low ratings, he got the green light for a second group of ten, which critics loved as much as the first, but that was that. Or was it? Rumor has it, the show is on its way back with the entire cast. Fingers crossed.
2. Community (Fox, 2009-14, Yahoo! Screen 2015) – There’s no shortage of shows in the high seeds of this tournament whose ratings never matched the passion of its fans. Dan Harmon’s show about incompetent Greendale Community College and seven people who formed a study group there had to sweat every season. In fact, “six seasons and a movie” became a running gag as well as a clarion call for its fans. And even when it got its sixth season (no movie as of yet), those episodes arguably brought down a whole streaming service. That said, no show has as gleefully embraced meta and made concept episodes a central part of its ever-expanding universe.
1. Cheers (NBC, 1982-93) – While the most famous half-hour spent in a Boston bar also was immediately critically acclaimed but struggled to find its audience at first. However, that didn’t last and quickly the story of a 30-something ex-Red Sox pitcher who buys a bar while planning a comeback, and all the loveable kooks who worked and/or drank at the tavern where “everybody knows your name” caught on and would become one of the great programs of all-time, despite its bizarre no-frills promo (seriously, click the title and watch it).
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.
6. Fleabag (BBC, 2016-19) – Phoebe Waller-Bridge took Miranda‘s sloppiness, outcast status, and meta asides and sprinted off to a way darker, practically prestige drama place. Ne’er-e’er-e’er-do-well Fleabag’s real name is never revealed–nor is she ever called Fleabag for that matter–and few people have actual names in her universe (save perfect sister Claire) as she staggers between hook ups, mad crushes, bumbles, and cruel fates. Award winning actress Olivia Colman is Stepmom, she has a one-night stand with Arsehole Guy, she is professionally intertwined with Bank Manager. Yet, somehow, the show remains hilarious (and her character oddly compelling) throughout all of this.
4. Veep (HBO, 2012-19) – As politics got crazier and more bizarre in the 2010s, this show felt more and more prescient. Julia Louis-Dreyfuss created her third iconic character (ok, I may be exaggerating Old Christine‘s status to fit my point, but whatever, have you created two iconic TV characters? I sure haven’t!) with the consience lacking political climber who as the series opens holds the titular position, but during the span of the show also was Prez and Civvy. The show thrived on its vast universe of governmental miscreants and fools, including Tony Hale’s sycophantic Gary, Sam Richardson’s indefatigable Richard Splett, and Timothy Simons’ whatever-the-fuck-a-Jonah-is.
2. 30 Rock (NBC, 2006-13) – It’s hard to believe now that at one point people wondered whether this or Studio 60 on the Sunset Strip would be the successful SNL BTS parody debuting in 2006. The one created by and starring the actual former head writer naturally would last seven seasons while its rival would last one–as its creator Aaron Sorkin would generously poke fun of in a cameo. Fey created a world that celebrated, while mocking, the glory of television, while surrounding herself with a talented universe, led by Baldwin as her right-wing executive with a heart of gold boss/mentor, Tracy Morgan essentially playing himself as her excess addicted, yet shamanic star, Jane Krakowski as her vain and insecure longtime friend and former star of the show, and the absolute find in Jack McBrayer as the wide-eyed lover of the Peacock (NBC) Kenneth the Page.
1. The Office [US] (NBC, 2005-13) – While we could argue all day about this being seeded higher than the original, it’s hard to deny the importance of this Americanization of an emerging cult favorite on the current television landscape. Steve Carrell’s “World’s Best Boss” Michael Scott was a tad more relatable and redeemable than Ricky Gervais’ David Brent, but still was at a level of cringeworthy that was somehow–as hard as his screwups could be to watch–also bingeworthy. As ridiculous and incompetent as many of the characters are, and none of the workers and managers at Dunder-Mifflin come off smelling wholly sweet, they were relatable because they weren’t that far off the oddballs anyone who has ever worked in an office have seen (and deep down, we know we’ve all been a few of them at one time or another). And given this show’s staying power among the next generation, there is nowhere this could be but number one.
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