Comedy is hard. Well...that’s not technically accurate. Comedy isn’t necessarily hard, but good comedy certainly is. Anyone can make a funny quip or memorize a joke or two, but it takes a master to filter the absurdities of life into a consistent stream of humor. That being the case, any comedy TV show that comes along and manages to make millions of viewers laugh for weeks on end is automatically impressive. For one of those shows to be considered an all-time classic is nothing short of an entertainment miracle.
Still, not all classic comedies are made equally, and comedy has a tendency to age incredibly poorly. After all, if you hear the same joke 50 times, it’s doubtful that the punchline is still going to have the same impact that it once did. Even the best comedy TV shows suffer from that. However, classic comedy TV shows that have aged especially poorly have a way of making you feel ashamed that you ever laughed at the joke in the first place. They make you cringe at the thought of ever having laughed at them. As for the best classic comedies...well, they may not make you laugh out loud anymore, but they will surely bring a smile to your face.
Given that Monty Python’s Flying Circus has the ability to absolutely befuddle people to this day, it’s hard to imagine how television viewers in the ‘60s and ‘70s were able to process it. Flying Circus was, essentially, just a sketch show, but the sketches themselves were often utterly bizarre slices of a very specific style of humor.
Flying Circus works because it was creatively handled by a group of comedic geniuses that were all fond of acting quite silly. While physical “goofball” style comedy tends not to age well, Flying Circus was an inherently intelligent program. Its best sketches require you to try and understand just what is happening while you’re laughing uncontrollably for reasons you can’t exactly explain. Even the skits that have been parodied ad nauseam can still make you laugh.
At the risk of making a joke every has desperate writer has turned to in an hour of need, it must be said that how much you like Everybody Loves Raymond really depends on how much you like Ray Romano. While it’s not entirely the Ray Ramano show - Peter Boyle certainly steals most of the scenes he is in - the show’s humor is mostly derived from Romano's comedic stylings.
The problem there is that Romano is a pretty generic comedian. He’s not necessarily bad, but it doesn’t take long for his jokes to grow stale. We can assure you that his humor couldn’t carry the show through a remarkable nine-season run. Everybody Loves Raymond is, at best, the kind of series you throw on in the background when you’re cleaning the floors.
To be fair, Frasier does start to go downhill after about four or five seasons. To be even fairer, the same can be said of many comedy TV series. At its best, however, Frasier was a special television show. It was similar to its parent show Cheers in terms of comedic structure - more on that later - but used its unique premise as the basis for some truly original content.
Frasier is a very smart comedy series, but not because some of its main characters are fond of using words not seen in the real world outside of Scrabble. Its intelligence is derived from the writers’ ability to examine this very specific subsection of life and find ways to make it oddly relatable. It certainly doesn’t hurt that the show is endlessly quotable.
With some exceptions, most people who remember Saved by the Bell fondly probably watched it when they were pre-teens or young teens. While that makes sense given that the show focused on characters - though certainly not actors - in that age group, you do have to remember that the vast majority of people at that age do not have the sense of humor that they'll have when they reach adulthood.
The point is that Saved By The Bell’s humor is juvenile in the worst possible ways. Every single character in the show is either awful (Zack), boring (Jessie), or so annoying that they may actually be the cause of brain aneurysms (Screech, obviously). The only people who still find this show funny are either still in that young demographic or are just the kind of viewers who find awfulness in any form to be amusing.
Malcolm in the Middle is one of those shows that never really got the appreciation it deserved in its time. Yes, the series ran for seven seasons, and was by all accounts a ratings success, but it always felt like more people were talking about the latest reality show or some lesser sitcom.
While we’ve seen working class and blue-collar comedies before - some of them are on this list - Malcolm in the Middle is special in that it almost hits too close to home in its portrayal of an average family. From arguments over the expense of orange juice to family outings based on coupon night, Malcolm in the Middle didn’t necessarily derive its humor from the family’s financial situation, but rather consistently found ways to show that in spite of it all, life is just kind of funny sometimes.
Hey, we’re just as shocked as you are. If you leave That ‘70s Show to your memories, you’ll probably reflect with a smile on its talented cast, a memorable episode or two, or a couple of great one-liners. However, we challenge you to go back and try to watch a few episodes of the series in a row.
Granted, most people agree that the show took a nosedive in quality in its last couple of seasons - boy, did it ever - but even in during the “good” years, That ‘70s Show forces you to endure a lot of really, really bad jokes and repetitive storylines in order to get to the few comedic gems that can be harvested from otherwise forgettable scripts. Plus, the show’s constant reliance on marijuana-based jokes feels woefully outdated and often inaccurate.
When we talk about the greatness of Roseanne, we’re mostly talking about seasons 2-8. That probably seems like a pretty broad disclaimer - you could arguably hand-pick great episodes or seasons from even bad comedies - but Roseanne was a show that didn’t really “find” itself in the beginning, and most certainly lost its way during the infamously awful final season.
That aside, Roseanne is still a brilliant and hilarious series. Roseanne Barr minced no words when she said that Roseanne was a show about a white trash family. Many of the characters on the series were incredibly poor, which was something of a novelty for sitcoms of this era. While that aspect has helped Roseanne age better than some other series, most of the show’s humor can be attributed to some clever jokes, fantastic episode premises, and the acting abilities of John Goodman and Roseanne Barr.
Every now and then, a bland and inoffensive comedy is bound to become a ratings hit. Families have to watch television too, and they often turn to shows that make the kids feel like they are watching grown-up television and makes the parents feel like they’re watching something that doesn’t make them instantly turn to the liquor cabinet for relief.
Full House played that role nicely, but that doesn’t make it a funny show. If you watch just a few episodes of Full House, you will have seen pretty much every joke in this series’ arsenal. Characters in this show aren’t really characters at all. They’re just players in ill-conceived pieces of grade school humor. The same can be said of many shows, but the incredible success of Full House makes it an especially notable example of the “vanilla sitcom” genre.
First off, the Cheers theme song is still arguably the best theme song in television history. It’s the kind of song that you’ll find yourself involuntarily singing out loud. No, that song doesn’t contribute to the show’s humor, but it is the perfect introduction to a series that has the ability to stick with you whether or not you actually consider yourself to be a fan of this kind of sitcom comedy.
Like many of the best shows on this list, it’s really Cheers’ writing that sets it apart. Granted, humor is subjective, but there is something about Cheers’ diverse cast of characters and creative storylines that helped ensure that it spoke to a wide variety of viewers. The show’s easygoing - but clever - humor makes watching another episode really feel like you’re returning to your sanctuary of a watering hole.
You know, it’s actually pretty remarkable how well some of those old Nickelodeon cartoons have aged. Rocko’s Modern Life, for instance, is still a very clever - and kind of dark - piece of entertainment. Even more kid-friendly shows like Rugrats are good for a chuckle.
Doug, however, stands out as the black sheep of the ‘90s Nickelodeon animated lineup. Granted, the series was surprisingly mature in regards to its coming of age premise, but the show itself often consisted of dull storylines mixed with fantasy sequences nowhere near as compelling as Nickelodeon’s wackier series. It’s nice that Nickelodeon was willing to air a more grounded show, but Doug was still clearly trying to be a comedy, and it just does not work as a funny series.
Were it not for the fact that The Larry Sanders Show deals with a cultural phenomenon - the late night television rating wars - that no longer exists and often featured celebrities that are barely celebrities anymore, you could easily trick someone into believing that the show is a modern HBO comedy.
Actually, The Larry Sanders Show was one of the series that helped establish HBO as a premier source for quality original programming. At the time of its release, there was no show quite like it. The Larry Sanders Show is kind of a prelude to workplace comedies like The Office, but there are few series in television history that manages to pull off its blend of classic sitcom humor and dry wit.
Some people have argued that Married...With Children is the polar opposite of many sitcoms, in that the show got funnier when it abandoned its more grounded ideas and just became goofy. That’s true to a degree. Most of the show’s memorable moments didn’t occur during its fairly generic early years.
However, even the show’s “better” middle seasons rely on a style of humor that just doesn’t work anymore. Married...With Children was designed as a piece of shock entertainment. The problem is that few of the show’s jokes are really that shocking anymore in our post-South Park television world. Even if the show did get slightly better when it became wacky, it didn’t take long for the Married...With Children to devolve into a series of repetitive cheap gags that get really old, really fast in a modern context.
It’s hard to properly explain just how far ahead of its time All in the Family was. Actually, even by modern standards, a sitcom starring a jaded, middle-class white man who has found a reason to hate pretty much everyone, but doesn’t really believe the things he believes, is a pretty gutsy idea for a series.
What makes All in the Family so compelling is that Archie Bunker isn’t a villain. He’s not exactly a hero, but he’s certainly not portrayed as the villain. He’s just a guy that no longer lives in his golden era and isn’t willing to adapt to a new one. This seemingly simple concept became the foundation for a comedy series whose jokes about nostalgia, race relations, sex, and the absurdities of average life still ring true.
In a way, Family Matters doesn’t belong on this list. That’s not because it’s a sometimes good show with a few bad moments, but rather because it’s a series so unbelievably awful that it makes the other shows that haven’t aged well on this list look pretty great by comparison.
It wasn’t long before Family Matters became the Steve Urkel show. Once that happened, it proceeded to devolve into one of the most painful and awkward comedies in television history. What started as a show about the life of a working-class family became a series that regularly featured storylines involving clones, robots, and time travel. The Urkel phenomenon defies explanation and it certainly doesn’t become any easier to comprehend when you’re trying to watch an entire 30-minutes of his antics.
Naming Seinfeld one of the best-aged comedy series ever almost feels like a cheat. “Of course it’s aged well,” you might say. “It’s Seinfeld.” Yet, it’s truly remarkable to realize that not a single episode of the series aired in the 2000s. The show was certainly ahead of its time in terms of its humor, but the amazing thing about Seinfeld is that networks still struggle to replicate the elements that really made it a success.
Seinfeld was appointment television in its day, despite the fact that the show rarely used serialized storylines. Instead, the series’ creative team just kept finding new ways to turn bits of stand-up comedy into scenarios so creative and so unlike everything else on the small screen that you had to tune in, just because you knew everyone was going to be talking about the latest episode. It was a smart, yet wacky, sitcom filled with memorable characters and quotes that have become a language of their own.