I start from the 50s. Most of 50 comedies were pure trash, ‘Father Knows Best’ and ‘Donna Reed Show’ setting the tone. The two notable exceptions were Lucy show and Honeymooners. Both were hilarious, and Honeymooners was way ahead of its time. That was the only show where husband and wife were at each other’s throat. I remember in one memorable episode, Alice tells Ralph to shut up. That was almost a blasphemy in those days; a wife did not speak to her husband that way, at least not in comedies. Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed both the shows, but other than that 50s was a washout.
60s and 70 was the golden age of comedy, and I remember many good shows. There were the twin shows I Dream of Jeannie and Bewitched, both great shows, combining comedy with fantasy.
Another show that combined fantasy with comedy quite successfully was Gilligan’s Island. Though it ran only for three seasons, it was a very good comedy show. Then there were shows with rural themes, Beverly Hillbillies being the best of the bunch, but Petticoat Junction, Green Acres (the mirror image of Beverly Hillbillies) were also quite good.
And of course, who can forget MASH and All in the Family (and its spin-off, Jeffersons)? In addition to being funny, they also tackled important social issues. They broke many taboos, but left may others in place (e.g. taboos about homosexuality, pornography etc. were untouched by these shows).
Mary Tyler Moore was in a class by itself, and it broke new ground, describing a beautiful young woman, who is not interested in marriage but only in her career. It had many successful spin-offs such as Rhoda, Phyllis, Lou Grant etc. Then of course, there was Alice, WKRP in Cincinnati, Taxi etc. adequate, though not very good.
80s and 90s did have their share of good comedies, though I prefer 70s comedies more. I remember Caroline in the City, Dharma and Greg as being particularly good comedies.
Three is Company was my huge favorite, and broke new ground (a man sharing an apartment with two women). I still watch the reruns sometimes. John Ritter was the master of physical comedy.
I also fondly remember Mama’s Family. Vicky Lawrence is a great actress and comedian. I think the only reason the show was successful was Vicky Lawrence (though some of Carol Burnett’s best work is in this show). I also remember Mork and Mindy (where Robin Williams got his start), a rather lame attempt at combining fantasy with comedy. While not very good, it had its moments.
Another of my favorites is Sabrina the teenage Witch. I find the combination of fantasy and humour very appealing.
Then came Married with Children, one of my all time favorites. The theme is particularly fascinating. There is a bit of Peggy Bundy in every woman, a bit of Al Bundy in every man, a bit of Kelly and Bud in every teenager. The show took that small portion, 5 %, 10% etc, magnified it to 100% and struck gold. I still fondly watch the reruns sometimes.
But to come to my all time favorites, we have to cross the pond. A lot of British TV is trash, same as American TV. However, the British manage to produce a few very good programs, and good British TV is very good.
I remember several good British comedies, Only When I laugh (about three hypochondriacs), Mixed Blessings (about an interracial couple), Robin’s Nest (the precursor of Three is Company), Birds of a Feather (about two sisters whose husbands are in prison) etc.
Then there is the immortal Jeeves and Wooster (by P.G.Wodehouse). Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry were born to be Jeeves and Bertie Wooster. Thoroughly enjoyable, excellent comedy.
I must also mention the Carry On films. While not a TV sitcom, these were extremely funny movies, frequently with sexual undertones, double entendre etc.
And now we come to another of my all time favorites, Yes, Minister (and Yes Prime Minister). It is a spoof of British government, British civil service, but could be equally applicable to any country (including Canada). The show was very funny, extremely well written and totally relevant. The dialogues were of very high quality. Let me give an example.
Prime Minister Hacker wants to discredit an MP of his own party; he is getting to be too popular and PM senses a potential threat to his leadership. In a meeting with his assistant and with the Permanent Undersecretary they decide to plant a story about the MP in a newspaper, and then the question is, which newspaper? The discussion inevitably comes round to the merit of different newspapers.
“You see, Prime Minister, The Guardian is read by the people who think they should run the country, The Times is read by the people who think they run the country, financial Times is read by the people who run the country, Morning Star (a Communist newspaper) is read by the people who think that the country should be run by foreigners and Telegraph (a far right newspaper) is read by the people who think that it is.”
“And what about the Sun?”
“Oh, Sun readers don’t care who runs the country, as long as they have huge, big t i t s.”
In none of the comedy shows have I come across a dialog of such wit, such humour, such pith, such high standard (and it also has some realism besides).
I would put it second, almost tied with Married With Children (Married I would put a close third).
So, what is my all time favorite (drumroll, please!!!)? It is a British show, called ‘Fawlty Towers’ Only twelve episodes were made, I wish there had been more, many more. John Cleese (Basil Fawlty, proprietor of Fawlty Towers) is a great comedian, I would put him among the all time greats. All the supporting actors were also very good, very funny.
Some of the episodes, such as ‘Waldorf Salad’ (where an ugly American comes to stay at Fawlty Towers and starts throwing his weight about) are truly immortal.
So I would put Fawlty Towers as first (by a mile), Yes Minister (and Yes, prime Minister) as second and Married With Children as close third.
Anyway, enough about me. What is your all time favorite Comedy show?
Fawlty Towers the classic British comedy (external - login to view)