I have enjoyed many situation comedies over the years, but here are my top five favorites You may note that Seinfeld, Cheers, All in the Family, and several others are not on my list; I know they were great series but they didn’t make the cut for me. Perhaps in another life. Of course, my list may change in the future, but for now here are my top five.
- The Big Bang Theory (2007-Present): This is a great show that makes geekdom look cool. Sheldon Cooper (Jim Parsons) and Leonard Hofstadter (Johnny Galecki) are great as physicists at Caltech who share an apartment in Pasadena, along with their three friends Howard (Simon Helberg), Raj (Kunal Nayyar), and Penny (Kaley Cuoco). Sheldon gets on my nerves but I really like Leonard, and Penny is a joy. My favorite episode so far is a sweet Christmas episode, “The Bath Item Gift Hypothesis,” in which Penny gives Sheldon an autographed napkin from Leonard Nimoy and his reaction is hilarious.
- M*A*S*H (1972-1983): This sitcom helped me get through graduate school; Alan Alda (Hawkeye Pierce) and a brilliant ensemble cast made every episode a treat. It was airing during my time at LSU (1976-1982) and it always gave me a wonderful respite from my studies. More importantly, it was a great series that voiced many of my concerns about war, society, and prospects for the world. I cannot choose one episode for this series as my favorite but there were seven that included Col. Sam Flagg (Edward Winter) that were brilliant. He first appeared in “Deal Me Out” in season 2, a crazed counter-intelligence officer who confirmed every stereotype imaginable. His scenery-chewing performances were great. Flagg’s best line: “Nobody can get the truth out of me because even I don’t know what it is. I keep myself in a constant state of utter confusion.”
- The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977): This is one of the classics in the history of television, the first show to depict a career woman. No one can forget the quintessential Mary and the newsroom at WJM-TV with Ted Baxter (Ted Knight) as the anchor, Murray Slaughter (Gavin MacLeod), and the incomparable Lou Grant (Edward Asner) as the centerpiece of an ensemble cast that also included Valerie Harper, Cloris Leachman, and Betty White. My favorite episode was “Chuckles Bites the Dust” (October 25, 1975), written by David Lloyd, about the death of a clown named Chuckles who is killed while grand marshal for a circus parade. At the parade, dressed as a peanut a “rogue elephant tried to shell him” and he died from his injuries. The newsroom laughs about this but Mary is shocked at their callousness, only to come apart with laughter during the funeral. It was a great episode.
- Barney Miller (1974-1982): I didn’t watch Barney Miller very much until I out of graduate school but then I caught it in syndication and loved it. Hal Linden in the title role was perfect; as the series captured the drama, humor, and inanity of daily activities in New York City’s fictional 12th Precinct, located in Greenwich Village. As I wrote about this in an earlier blog post, the premise of the show was that everyone is a bit off kilter. Most are not dangerous, but they are definitely weird. My favorite episode was when they arrested a fellow that everyone believed was crazy; he claimed to be an historian from the future who had used his time machine to come back to New York for field research. When he meets Det. Arthur Dietrich, the brainy intellectual in the squad room, he gushes, “are you THE Arthur Dietrich?” He lets it be known that Dietrich will do great, memorable, historic things in the future. It was a cutting edge show with a social conscience, multicultural before that was a trite term, and just excellent all the way around.
- The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd (1987-1991): Blair Brown in the title role was wonderful, as was David Straithairn in a supporting role. Molly Bickford Dodd was a divorced woman in New York City adrift in society, a bit bohemian, unable to cope with the realities of life, and constantly seeking solace. She always seemed a lot more sympathetic to me than the quartet of women from Sex and the City. It’s hard to find this dramedy anywhere, there is no DVD release and it never seems to get a run in syndication, but there are some nice clips on YouTube. My favorite line is from David Straithairn’s character who announced in a classic understatement that “I love books, good books, not bad books.” I agree.