Here it is, my list of my TOP TEN favourite TV Comedy shows of all time. With deep regret I had to axe The Cosby Show and 30 Rock.
10. Friends:- for the simple fact that you just can’t get away from it, it’s on every channel and it’s always on when there is nothing else to watch. Everyone has their favourite character and their least favourite. You don’t have to think too hard and there are definitely laughs to be had even after ten views. You have to give them credit for a show that captured audiences for almost ten years. But if you want a sociological perspective on the relationships and plots in Friends then there’s a plethora of analysis by, believe it or not, paid sociologists. My favourite is a paper presented at the 4th European Feminist Research Conference which examines the relationship between Joey and Chandler and the homosexual/ heterosexual boundary constantly flirted with. It’s actually really good – Click here to read.
9. Just Shoot Me:- Set in the partially dysfunctional office of fashion magazine Blush, the show surrounds the editing staff led by George Segal who does a brilliant job of being the rich, egotistical yet bumbling and still all knowing, lovable “father” to the cast. He is ably or rather un-ably assisted by the devoted Dennis Finch played by David Spade who fancies himself as his boss’ son/ inheriter. He is scamster, trickster, joker, ever eager womaniser and nemesis to photographer Elliot DeMoro who hangs out with models. DeMoro eventually has a relationship with the boss’ daughter, feminist writer and the morally upright Maya Gallo who is always distraught as she is constantly compromising on her principles. Bringing this all together is Wendy Mallick’s character as ex-model, heavy drinking and drug taking, serious party animal Nina Van Horn, with her partner in sordid drunken, drug fuelled escapades, Binny, whom we never see and eventually dies. The characters are well meshed together and the plots are hardly bereft of moral shortcomings and extravagances, to produce a really funny show.
8. Allo Allo:– Set in German occupied France, in the village of Nouvion, this brilliant but often overlooked comedy is a tribute to sexual humour, funny accents and a great ensemble of characters united against the various “rulers”. It’s a spoof on Germans, the French and the English with all the characters played by English actors. Set around Rene’s cafe, he plays his own twin brother, also named Rene after he was ordered to be shot by General Von Klinkerhoffen.The continuing troubles of “The British Airmen” holed up in Rene’s mother in law’s bedroom and Rene’s reluctance to let the Resistance push him around and the valuable painting of the “The Fallen Madonna with the Big Boobies”, the perfect leverage against the local Colonel, run through the entire series. The cast is later joined by another of my favourite characters, the English Spoo dressed as a French polucemen – an English actor playing an English spy pretending to be a French policeman trying to put on a French accent to blend in, as a comic contrast to the rest of the English cast, playing French locals with perfect French accents. There’s an even a few episodes named after his accent like “Up the Crick without a Piddle”. My favourite characters have to be the Colonel and his sidekick Haans. The local German Officers and the Rene’s troupe turn a blind eye to each other’s nefarious activities as they are all in fear of the Gestapo led by Herr Flick and his red lipped Helga. There are so many classic lines, like Herr Flick answering the phone saying, “Flick the Gestapo” pause “No, I said FLICK the Gestapo”. To add to Rene’s worries is having to ignore the leering advances of the German Lieutenant Gruber who desperately fancies Rene.
7. Fawlty Towers:- The tragicomic Basil Fawlty is brilliantly brought to life by John Cleese with Andrew Sachs playing the incompetent Spanish waiter, always at the receiving end of bags of physical comedy (and torture) from his irascible boss. This is a classic so it’s no wonder that a British Film Institute poll named this the greatest British TV show of all time. It’s been an inspiration for the likes of Curb Your Enthusiasm, Seinfeld and many comedy actors. The cantankerous hotel owner is forever sabotaged by his own suspicions, prejudices. ambitions and shortcomings and of course, by his wife Sibal “his little nest of vipers” with her smoking and long drawn out cackle. Polly, played by Connie Booth who was co-writer with Cleese and then wife, is the able general assistant, kitchen hand, housekeeper etc. Inspired by a real hotel owner who “viewed us as rather an inconvenience”, the show ended after two series and 12 episodes, not for lack of ideas but because the writers felt they should quit while they were ahead, leaving us with a little treasure of episodes you can watch repeatedly. They are all my favourites but gun to the head I’d choose: The Hotel Inspectors, the Psychiatrists, Communication Problems and The Builders.
6. Fraiser:- I can’t get enough of the clever witticisms, the repartee and that snooty characters have been made so lovable and celebrated in all their geekiness. Even the unseen character of Maris is more fully drawn than some seen TV characters in less admirable shows. Who would ever think that pompous, pretentious, snooty and insecure would make for great comedy! Each plot is crafted to perfection and David Hyde Pierce is the epitome of perfection with his phobias, OCDs and unrequited love for Daphne, the physiotherapist. My favourite episode is “The 3 Valentines Days” with the character Niles preparing for his valentine’s day with little words and mostly physical comedy set to the music The Marriage of Figaro by Mozart (you’ll know it when you hear it)
5. The Office (UK) :- Ricky Gervais plays David Brent,a Post Basil Fawlty tragicomic character, a man desperate for popularity “who would never put a foot in it when he could stick in both size nines”. No doubt one of the best shows the UK has ever produced. “The Office has achieved cult status. Further exquisitely observed archetypes made the show even stronger: Tim the desk-bound dreamer (Martin Freeman) and Gareth, the yomping yes-man (Mackenzie Crook). But Gervais created a monster in Bren; his goateed picture remains the go-to image whenever a newspaper runs a story about bad boss behaviour.” I love anything that Ricky Gervais does, his podcasts, his stand up, I’ll watch this guy anywhere. Brent’s behaviour is cringe worthy but like a traffic accident, you can’t help but look. I haven’t seen these episodes for a quite a while but some of my favourite scenes are the dance at the office party and the motivational speech where his misplaced self-esteem tries to get a bored and awkward looking audience to “laugh, just because it makes you feel good.” and ends with playing the chorus from Tina Turner’s “Simply the Best”, running out of the room and returning to the centre of the group, clapping his hands above his head like he’s in rock concert.
4. Seinfeld:- This had to feature in the list. The show that’s about nothing and everything that’s trivial but somehow dwells on the great social, cultural questions of sexual politics, race, social rules and much more, this is another much analyzed show that captivated the 1990s. While the characters analyse the mundane and minutiae of life like coffee or nakedness they tackle something more universal about human behaviour and obsessions. I frankly don’t care much for Jerry Seinfeld’s character, it’s George that is the star. His total bafflement with the cards he’s dealt in life, his utter laziness and small sense of self makes for great comedy. My favourite episode has to be “The Contest” and “‘The Smelly Car” and when Kramer sells his life stories to Elaine’s boss for his biography. When trying to seal the deal with NBC for a show about nothing, George can’t help but stare at NBC Head’s daughter’s breasts which costs them the deal. Jerry explains to George the tactful way to look at a woman’s breasts: “Looking at cleavage is like looking at the sun: you don’t stare at it, it’s too risky. You get a sense of it then you look away!”
3. Curb Your Enthusiasm:- 8 seasons and still going, Larry David gets himself in to all sorts of trouble for just being his genuine own self. You feel bad for the guy and at the same time you cringe at his antics. He flirts with societal norms and gets it so wrong. It never seems to be his fault but it always somehow is. That it is mostly all improvised with no laughter track makes this show, not seem like a TV show, but like watching this guy either lie his way through life or be brutally honest to his detriment.
2.Big Bang Theory:- A far cry from “Friends”, this is a hilarious show with clever, high IQ dialogue, about 4 geeky nerdy uber brilliant scientist friends and their hot sexy neighbour who puts up their nerdity. The scientists are Sheldon Cooper with his neurosis, encyclopedic knowledge and scientific analysis of absolutely everything; Howard Wollowitz, the transgressing Jew who lives with his mother, has an obsession with and geeky unsuccessful approach to chatting up women; Rajesh Kuthrapalli, the innocent Indian astrophysicist who has to get drunk to talk to women and Leonard – almost normal. Penny played by Kaley Cuoco of 8 Simple Rules is the “normal”, beauty without the brains, wannabe actress currently a waitress neighbour. The geeks are the heroes of this show and the pretty people are the freaks. Too many great Sheldon quotes, but some include when Penny’s hunky new dumb boyfriend asks, “Is that a laser? It’s bitchin’ And Sheldon replies, “Yes. In 1917, when Albert Einstein established the theoretic foundation for the laser in his paper “Zur Quantentheorie de Strahlung, his fondest hope was that the resultant device be bitchin’“. I’m only up to Season 3 and I highly recommend you start watching this show.
1. The King of Queens:- My obsession with this show knows no bounds. Never before has an overweight TV character used his physical size to a hilarious advantage like Kevin James does with so much perfection, as Doug Heffernan. Then there’s Leah Remini’s character, Carrie Heffernan, the white collar Manhattan legal secretary who has “the body of a supermodel and the mouth of a construction worker”. Her sass, temper, ambition and tolerance for her husband’s screw ups is beautifully contrasted with his blue collar, rational, sweet, total lack of ambition and avoidance of exertion. Despite his sweet nature he’ll lie to you straight as an arrow, usually to his wife. His gluttinous gorging on junk food knows no limits and is the source of much tension between the two like when Carrie sends him to an over-eaters support group but because of the lack of donuts there he goes next door to the abused men’s group instead. Doug Heffernan’s weight is the centre of so many great lines, like when he invents the “shirt plate” or when desperate to pull out of the stock market and loses money says, “Go on, say it, chunky cost us money.” When they seek marriage counselling advice and make a list of derogatory words they are no longer allowed to use against each other, Doug says,“You are no longer allowed to call me fat in all its forms – fatty, fat guy, fat-say-jack, package donkey, elastopants, beaver teeth, blob, the blob, blob barker, blog of the hut and rub-a-dub-chub. Oh and Fatty McButter Pants, some kid at the bank called me that”. Jerry Stiller as Carrie’s father, living in their basement throws the comedy over the edge. He is old, crotchety, loud, neurotic, manipulative, scheming and down right crazy. The only way to keep him busy is to get a dog walker to walk him. I also love the use of selective camera close ups in this show. The cast is complemented by Doug’s friends and Carrie’s lack of friends. If you haven’t seen this show then go out and buy the box set. The laughs just keep on comin’.