I wrote what I believed to be the 20 greatest comedies of all time a while back and at the time I was generally satisfied with the list, however as time has passed other comedies have come to the front of my mind which were snubbed and really belong, hence I have updated the list. So let’s get going!
If only Scrubs had lasted 5 seasons instead of 8 we could be sitting here marvelling over a legendary doctor comedy that was just brilliant. Instead sadly we are sitting here not talking about that because they made 3 seasons too many, but at least the last episode was a credit to the series as a whole. What is that they decided to make a 9th season but with half the original cast and basically ruining what they did in the last episode……ugh. Another American show that didn’t know when to stop making their show (this is a theme throughout). It is sad to concentrate on how bad Scrubs became but it was just so bad towards the end that it really is impossible to ignore. Scrubs began as a really funny show, with good well written characters and an interesting twist as you followed the inner thoughts and imagination of John Dorian. Sadly the writers ran out of ideas and instead followed the same old tired pattern again and again. I mean do people in hospitals not work in shifts? Someone should have told the writers of Scrubs.
- The Fresh Prince of Bel Air
I thought about just writing the theme tune out as why this show is great (it really is a good theme tune, BEST EVA!!!) but it really would be a disservice to what the Fresh Prince achieved. Stick a street wise kid into a family full of rich snobby people and you have what sounds like a great idea for a reality TV show, you also have a great idea for a comedy series. I always have considered Fresh Prince a kids show (was on kids networks in Britain), and maybe it is but it really did tackle more adult themes like civil rights, social issues and sex. It really kick started the career of Will Smith (but nobody else oddly enough) and deservedly so, and who doesn’t love Will Smith? If you watch an episode of Fresh Prince today it still feel fresh (not a pun), maybe it is because (unlike many other shows in the 90’s) they did not shy away from serious issues that a family encounters and it is a credit to the show that 20 years on it is still in many ways relevant.
- Family Guy
I like Family Guy, although I have complained in the past that I feel the quality has dropped off considerably in recent years from Seth MacFarlane spreading himself too thin/ running out of ideas, and Family Guy does deserve these criticisms. There is nothing smart about Family Guy; it isn’t really trying to be smart, Family Guy is random comedy and it is clear to anyone who has watched more than one episode. The formula is generally the same, a character does something wacky (usually Peter) and the episode carries on from there and by the time of the next episode everything is forgotten about. It sounds like I don’t like the show but I do it can still be funny, but just not as often as it used to be. Still if you like cultural references about pretty much anything and totally random comedy then just ‘remember the time’ and you’ll be there.
- SpongeBob Squarepants
It does seem odd that you would put any kids TV show on a list of top anything (that isn’t kids TV obviously) but SpongeBob really is a very funny show. A lot of people will dismiss SpongeBob as being just a stupid kid’s show, which it is, but in being a stupid kid’s show it does tell a lot of adult based jokes that are not aimed at the kids. It runs in an episodic sketch format similar to that of Louie (but with actual parts where you laugh and enjoy the episode). There is nothing particularly complicated about SpongeBob (it is a kid’s show after all) yet what it does it does very well and really is very good. How can a show about a sponge living in a pineapple under the sea not be funny? Don’t feel ashamed people above the age of 10 give it a go, you will be pleasantly surprised.
- Modern Family
I have written in the past that I think that Modern Family is currently the best comedy on TV but I do think the general quality of Modern Family has dropped recently, mainly because the show seems to have run out of ideas and they are beginning to repeat themselves. It is easy to describe what makes Modern Family great, it has an excellent cast. Each episode is well constructed and each episode stands on its own. If there is a criticism of the show it would be that there is very little season plot and at times it goes in a circle with its storylines (this isn’t a surprise considering they have done almost 100 episodes, some of them will be similar). Nonetheless this is very much the current best network comedy on TV and also the best show produced by American network channels.
Imagine a show in which you use broadly the same characters but every season you change the premises of the show. Crazy right and still this is exactly what Blackadder did. When you talk about Blackadder you naturally ignore the totally naff first series and concentrate on the vastly superior final three series. Blackadder transforms from a blubbering idiot into a sophisticated, charismatic and snarky anti-hero in the second series and the real Blackadder begins. The changing of the setting and era from series to series allows Blackadder to re-create itself and also allows for the writers to make historical jokes and episodes based on the time period with which they are based. Blackadder is at its best in the final scene of Blackadder Goes Forth (set WW1); the classic moment when the cast are finally going over the top, the whistles blow and the beloved characters pile over and their outcome is left unknown, Blackadder at its best.
Just in case you have ever wondered what it would be like to live in the 31st century look no further than Futurama, the (probably) realistic outcome of the world in years to come. Like most cartoons Futurama follows the silly storyline, parodies and satirical comedy formula. What sets Futurama apart from its competitors is it is set in the future, this allows for Futurama to have sillier storylines than anyone else and it doesn’t look like its being forced. I mean look at the best characters, for me it’s Dr. Zoidberg and Bender, characters that couldn’t really work in any other show without it being a stretch. Sadly Fox cancelled Futurama after 4 seasons and although it came back from a 5 year hiatus it hasn’t quite caught the chemistry that the original run had, still a great show though.
- Eastbound & Down
Kenny Powers is one of the greatest comedy characters of all time, he’s so damn good that he makes baseball look mildly interesting (some feat I know). Eastbound & Down drops f-bombs (fucks to you and me) left, right and centre and they aren’t scared of tackling the tough subjects (about titties and asses and stuff). Yes Kenny and his faithful steed Stevie tackled all of lives eternal problems, like how to live in Mexico, become a pro ball player and the importance of drugs and alcohol to one’s life. Yes Eastbound & Down isn’t only a great show, it is also a manual on how life should be lived.
The only spin-off on the list (I don’t consider Futurama a spin-off cause it is a totally different show) making it the greatest spin-off ever in my opinion. Frasier also has the unusual distinction of being better than the original show that it was a spin-off of (although I don’t know if it is fair of me to judge that because I haven’t really watched Cheers very much, this is going off consensus). Frasier a smart comedy about smart people, on paper it just does not look like a success, who wants to watch a comedy about a snobby psychiatrist? Yet Frasier just works. Maybe it is the inclusion of the down to earth characters, maybe it’s because it is just really well written or maybe it’s both. Personally I think it is both, not only was casting spot on (Kelsey Grammer is perfect as Frasier) the writers were also able to consistently produce solid episodes (which isn’t easy in a 20+ season). Like most American shows it probably ran too long but that shouldn’t take away from the fact that Frasier was a stroke of genius.
- 30 Rock
The TV show about making a TV show, pretty simple concept and it works so well. 30 Rock does it all (parodies, word play, silly actor things) and it does it all very well. The best comparison I can come up with for 30 Rock is that of a live action Simpsons/ South Park/ Family Guy. It is funny to watch the first couple of seasons of 30 Rock is almost like watching a completely different TV show to what happens in the later seasons. This isn’t really a criticism more of an observation of how 30 Rock progressed across the years. It is a shame that despite all the deserved critical success that 30 Rock received that it couldn’t transform that into viewing figures. It is sad to see a quality progressive TV show struggle whilst lesser regressive TV shows prosper (Two and a Half Men, Big Bang Theory and so many more). Maybe in the long run people will look back and think it was probably a good thing that 30 Rock got cancelled when it did. I think that 30 Rock will go down as a cult classic, and who knows in 5 years or so we might be re-visiting 30 Rockefeller Plaza.
- Peep Show
It is really hard to describe exactly what Peep Show does because there is nothing quite like it anywhere else on TV. Sure other shows have done the total opposites best friends and the talking in head to yourself stuff but no show has used a POV system in the way that Peep Show has. To just talk about how Peep Show is filmed is unfair to how good of a show it is. Peep Show utilises its inner monologue style perfectly allowing us to peer into the cynical and sarcastic world of Jez and Mark. Peep Show follows the classic British comedy formula, social awkwardness + sarcasm = funny. However it also sadly follows the American formula of going about 2 seasons too long.
- Father Ted
“I have a great idea for a TV show. Let’s make a show that is about three catholic priests living on an island in Ireland. That will be hilarious.” When you look at the premise of Father Ted it sounds shit, instead you have the foundations of one of the greatest comedies of all time. Like many British comedies Father Ted plays on the socially awkwardness of its main character as he is thrown into the odd social situations created by the wacky inhabitants of Craggy Island. Ted along with Dougal and Father Jack create an odd family concoction, but god damn it works so well. The Catholic Church has taken a bashing lately for a lot of sordid behaviour, if only they showed a video of Father Ted in priest training camp (I imagine it is a camp, all single beds obviously…..). If you like quirky comedies about priests in Ireland then Father Ted is for you and let’s be honest who doesn’t?
- Still Game
Never heard of Still Game? I’m not shocked, why not go and check out an episode right now, this list is still going to be here when you’re finished… Did you watch it? Yeah, probably should have told you to put the subtitles on… Go try again. Yeah, Still Game is that good! Like many of the comedies in this list Still Game on the face of it is a hard sell, a show about a bunch of old pensioners kicking about a shity part of Glasgow doesn’t sound like comedy gold, but it has been done so well it very much is that. Still Game has a special place in my heart with it being the only Scottish comedy on the list and the style of comedy is so very Glasgow/West of Scotland that it feels and looks like something I could witness on any given day. If you’re looking for a comedy which you haven’t seen before and your friends can’t play the ‘oh that’s you just watching that?’ card (assuming of course you live outside of Scotland) then give Still Game a try, it is more than worth your time. Just don’t forget the subtitles, it’ll make things easier for you.
- The Inbetweeners
The Inbetweeners is the show with which I personally can most relate to. When I watch the Inbetweeners I honestly think ‘huh I could see myself in that situation and react to it in a similar matter’. If you watch shows like 90210, the OC or Gossip Girl you think that all teens are cool, composed, witty, good looking, can dress well, have good haircuts and are usually rich. Now I don’t know about the teen life people who are reading this had, but based on my own teen life (and most of the people I know) I had none of these qualities. This is where the Inbetweeners just falls in perfectly to the picture. The four main characters have none of these qualities; they live very regular lives and quite frankly are losers. Think about it honestly, have you seen any teens recently? There is nothing glamorous about it, and the Inbetweeners catches the tone of what it is like to be a teen and not be a cool kid so well, that it almost feels like a story about my own school life. Add all of what I have just said to the fact that it is a really funny show and is very well constructed and you get the outcome of easily the best ever school based show (sorry Saved by the Bell).
- The Simpsons
Everyone knows and loves the Simpsons, a show that has been on longer than I have been alive with over 500 episodes. Ok we all know that the shows quality has dropped off drastically from the early years, but it really is hard to keep up that level of quality. That is why the Simpsons is no.6 on this list, for the early episodes, the good years. Not the years where we receive endless pointless celebrity cameos or pointless trips to foreign lands (why would you leave Springfield it’s great). The Simpsons has such a rich vein of characters within and out with the main cast, ask someone who their favourite Simpsons character is and you could receive about 20 different answers. From Homer to Grandpa Simpson from Chief Wiggum to Wullie, the list goes on, and that rich array of well-loved characters should be the envy of most TV shows. What I love about the Simpsons the most though is that a 5 year old, 14 year old and an 80 year old can watch the Simpsons and get it and like it. The Simpsons has such great appeal across the board it is a true testament to the writing. The sad part however, is the question of if the Simpsons finished 10 years ago would it be higher up the list? And the sad answer is yes.
What a show. Seinfeld is an incredibly well written show with each episode culminating in a usually satisfying conclusion. However more importantly is the story arc that the writers create for each season (or across a handful of episodes), this is part of the formula which makes Seinfeld great. It shows great forward planning from the writers and creates very few throw away episodes. The unique quartet of characters in Seinfeld plays perfectly into the storylines with Jerry (the comedian that the audience can relate to), his friend George (Jerry’s socially awkward and neurotic best friend [in my opinion the 2nd greatest TV character of all time]), Kramer (Jerry’s crazy neighbour) and Elaine (Jerry’s friend/ex-girlfriend). Elaine is a particularly well written character, usually male writers fall into the trap when writing for females of making them nothing but eye candy with no real substance and with at best very little character development. Elaine is the complete opposite of the standard female in a comedy stereotype. Over 20 years since Seinfeld first aired on our television screens it is still one of the best comedies around even to this day, a massive credit to the shows quality writing and its lasting legacy.
- The Office
The Office (the British one of course not the ‘meh’ American re-make) is the greatest British made comedy ever in my opinion. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant revolutionised comedy in ways in which many other writers and TV shows have tried (US Office, Parks and Recreation). Show the Office to someone who has never seen or heard of it (unlikely but maybe somewhere in the Amazon or something) and they will struggle to tell if this is a spoof or an actual documentary. The writing is what makes the Office so great, not only have Gervais and Merchant perfectly captured the inner workings of an office but also perfectly captured real life documentary based TV. Everyone knows a David Brent, a loser that loves his work too much, thinks he’s best mates with his staff and thinks he’s hilariously funny but is nothing but a pain in the arse. Gervais and Merchant have shown that they are very talented writers with a string of other shows (Extras, Derek, Ricky Gervais Show) but probably their greatest stroke of genius is that they only made 15 episodes of the Office. When people would have been throwing money at them to create more episodes, they decided instead to keep the legacy of the Office strong a lesson that American TV shows should really be paying attention to.
- South Park
It seems incredible that South Park has been on our television screens since 1997, since then we’ve seen 237 episodes, a movie and a host of computer games centring around 4 small boys (who have barely aged) from Colorado and the dysfunctional town of South Park. What makes South Park great? South Park is quite simply a ridiculous comedy that puts kids into stupid situations that are so totally unrealistic that it could only happen in South Park. There is nothing quite like South Park on television even to this day, and although the quality has dropped off significantly since around season 10 Parker and Stone still can produce episodes that have you remembering what it was like in the good old days. A lot of people don’t watch South Park because it is a cartoon or its comedy is vulgar and these people are missing a treat, a comedy that has the cutting edge and relevance that The Simpsons wished it had. South Park is not about fancy drawings (in fact the lack of graphic quality adds to its charm) it’s about the jokes and the storylines (as ridiculous as they may be), and this is part of what makes South Park a great show.
- Arrested Development
The Bluth’s are my favourite comedy family of all time. If you have watched an episode of Arrested Development it really isn’t hard to understand that statement. The Bluth’s are the perfect mix of wacky and well….wacky people, from Michael to Maeby or from Lucille to Franklin every Bluth has their hang-ups, each differentiates them from the other Bluth’s. The chemistry the cast of AD possess with each other is a rare thing, allowing for their stories to interchange with perfect synergy. Couple this together with seamless and funny storylines; it is no surprise that AD has placed second in my list of all time comedies. The word play in AD is nothing but genius, manipulating the English language to hilarious extremes never seen before (Tobias anyone). The only negative about AD is the meagre 53 (original) episodes. However maybe the lack of AD could be considered a positive, as over exposure of TV shows like Scrubs, Family Guy and others have damaged their legacy, in comparison AD’s legacy lives on strongly and has led to the rejuvenation of everyone’s favourite family (thanks Netflix). Long live the Bluth’s! (and the Funke’s but mainly the Bluth’s!).
- Curb Your Enthusiasm
Best comedy of all time? I think it is. Best comedy character of all time? I think Larry David is. Every season stands by itself, and each season has its own story arc which develops with every episode until the inevitable conclusion. Larry David is in one word amazing. Larry’s hijinks, social ineptitudes and his defiance towards pretty much anyone or anything allow the audience to instantly connect as Larry says and does things that make you wish that you also had the audacity to say without the concern of whether or not it is socially acceptable. Include on top of this a great cast of characters like Jeff (Larry’s fat best friend/agent), Susie (Jeff’s bitch wife), Leon (Larry’s black guy friend that lived with Larry because of Katrina and pretty much never left) and Funkhouser (with his deep sexy voice….), add that Curb is a mainly unscripted comedy, and you receive the formula that creates in my opinion the ultimate comedy and the greatest comedy ever.
So there you go the updated Greatest 20 Comedies of all time! So what do you think? Are there any slaps in the face? Are there any shows that just don’t belong? Or have I got it spot on? Let me know what you think, all comments are appreciated. Plus don’t forget that you can get all the latest updates of my super-duper work by joining on Facebook and Twitter, because why the fuck not?