People sure can be fickle, can’t they? We see this all the time. Tech manufacturers are constantly releasing the latest version of their smartphones, tablets, TVs, e-readers, household appliances and everything else. They get us hooked on it, upgrading our everyday electronics, however marginal the differences may be.
Now, some of us aren't about that life. Some of us have kept the same cell phone for a decade. An ancient Sony Ericsson K750i or something (remember those? Probably not). There's nothing wrong with that, either. Things were made to last, back then, and without a billion apps all draining its power, old cell phones like those had a battery life of... oh, about six months. They wouldn't break down every other day, either.
Why are we telling you this? Because, sometimes, nostalgia isn’t deceptive. It usually is, but we just wanted to give you a positive story before launching into the sad truth: most of the time, things just aren’t as good as you remember them being.
If you showed one of today’s cool, young Fortnite players something like Space Invaders, they’d wonder why you were wasting their time with this ancient relic. It’s a similar thing with the classic sitcoms of yesteryear, for the most part.
The problem is hype, a lot of the time. Shows are so fondly remembered that, if you’ve never seen it before, its reputation precedes it. It’s hard to live up to that.
With that in mind, let’s take a look at some iconic sitcoms that just don’t cut the mustard any more (and a couple that absolutely do). Some long outstayed their welcome, others have very dated attitudes and perspectives. From The Simpsons to Friends, let’s dive in.
20 DOESN’T HOLD UP: The Simpsons
Now, some of us are huge fans of The Simpsons. Have been for a couple of decades now. At its best, the show deftly blends sophisticated satire and parody with the sillier stuff, like Homer being airlifted out of Springfield Gorge and repeatedly bashing his head on the side of the cliff all the way up. Then the ambulance crashes and he falls all the way down again. Something for everyone, humour-wise.
Having said that, though, even the staunchest of fans will probably tell you that the show hasn’t been firing on all cylinders for some time now. After 30 seasons and over 650 episodes, that’s completely understandable, but the very worst thing a beloved sitcom can do is outstay its welcome.
19 DOESN’T HOLD UP: The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air
This entry’s sure to be controversial. We hear you, friends, I absolutely do, because it pains us to say that The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air doesn’t hold up. This one was a huge part of many of our childhoods. Throw in the fact that Will Smith is probably the actor some admire the most, and we're super grateful to the show for making his acting career… well, exist in the first place.
You’re free to refute all of this, of course, but for us, it’s the style of humour that makes the show feel rather dated today. Much of it boils down to three things: Will’s snark about Uncle Phil’s weight, Will’s snark about Carlton’s geekiness, and Will’s snark about Hilary being spoiled and naïve.
It’s all very sassy and deeply ‘nineties,’ especially when it comes to the contents of Will’s closet. Man, you could see the guy from space.
18 DOESN’T HOLD UP: Will & Grace
Now, we're a little conflicted here. We're not quite sure how we feel about Will & Grace just now.
At the time the show first aired in 1998, it was praised for its much-needed efforts in bringing openly gay lead characters into the mainstream. Not simply as a controversial selling point, but matter-of-factly. It didn’t become a Friends-style phenomenon, but Will & Grace developed a substantial fanbase. It was rebooted in 2017, in fact, and that’s where the problems start to come in.
As The New York Times has put it, “NBC’s ‘Will & Grace’ Hasn’t Changed. But The World Has.” Perhaps that’s exactly what we’re looking at here. It was welcomed back, but in more of a take-it-or-leave-it sort of sense. It wasn’t necessary.
17 DOESN’T HOLD UP: My Name Is Earl
As we’ve reported before, My Name Is Earl had one very important asset on its side: a neat central idea. Earl Hickey is a petty criminal, whose personal life is more dramatic than every soap opera in the world combined. He becomes absorbed by the idea of karma and making amends after winning the lottery, losing his ticket, and recovering it again (after performing a good deed).
The show revolves around his list of misdeeds (one of which he attempts to make amends for in each episode). The trouble with this, though, is that the range of ridiculous things he’s done makes him a difficult character to empathize with. The supporting cast, too, are entertaining enough, but they’re such predictable caricatures that they can start to grate after a while.
The show tried to change itself quite a lot during its third season, but it lasted only from 2005 to 2009.
16 DOESN’T HOLD UP: South Park
That’s right, friends. We’re going there. This is going to be a super-controversial one, because… well, of course it is. Controversy is the name of the South Park game.
As is the case with The Simpsons, Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s animated sitcom has been doing the rounds for a long darn time. Not nearly as long, mind you, but it’s coming up to its 300th episode. The key question’s the same, though: is it still relevant?
South Park’s whole shtick is satire (well, satire and being as offensive as possible to as many people as possible), but in the world as it is today, that’s an increasingly tough thing to deliver. As Trey Parker told ABC America recently, “what was actually happening was much funnier than anything we could come up with.” Does America Still Need South Park?, The Inquirer asks, and that’s a tough one to answer.
15 DOESN’T HOLD UP: Cheers
Ah, Cheers. Where everybody knows your name, and they’re always glad you came. As we’ll see later, this hit sitcom spawned a spin-off that became perhaps even bigger than Cheers itself (and ran just as long), but how does the original hold up today?
Well, perhaps not quite as well as you might think. For some, it made the common misstep of referencing real-world sports stars and personalities of the time (nods that are largely irrelevant now) a little too often, and the whole guys-at-a-bar thing led to comments and attitudes that just wouldn’t fly today.
Still, the show debuted in 1982 (how young does Woody Harrelson look here?), you can’t really judge it too harshly for showing that age a lot of the time.
14 DOESN’T HOLD UP: Fawlty Towers
If the British are known for anything, it’s for their tea drinking, monocle-wearing, and super-sophisticated accents. The problem is, that’s actually three things, none of which are related to the real British issue: their uniquely dry sense of humor.
This is apparent in all manner of British sitcoms, Fawlty Towers being a fantastic example. This iconic show centred around the titular hotel and its harassed and snarky owner, Basil Fawlty.
It may still be darn funny to watch, but there are certain aspects of it that are definitely uncomfortable now. The poor Spanish waiter Manuel (with his tenuous grasp of English) often takes the brunt of Basil’s temper, and that sort of thing just wouldn’t fly today.
13 DOESN’T HOLD UP: Family Matters
Family Matters, we suppose, is a little more obscure than some entries on this list. There are certainly many who won’t be familiar with the show itself, as it’s been overshadowed by its breakout character: Steve Urkel. A fountain of popular catchphrases (Did I do that? and the meme-tastic I’ve fallen, and I can’t get up among them), Urkel is probably better known today than Family Matters itself.
The issue with Urkel (and with the show at large) is his unrequited love for his neighbour, Laura Winslow. The way he pines after and pursues her is downright uncomfortable at times, taking things to extremes despite the ‘harmless’ sitcom backdrop.
12 DOESN’T HOLD UP: I Love Lucy
Following on from that concept, here comes I Love Lucy. One of the oldest shows on the rundown, it ran from 1951 to 1957. As you can imagine, then, certain attitudes and ways of thinking have dramatically shifted from its first transmission, and some of the social norms depicted would be downright unthinkable today.
In the pilot episode alone, one Redditor writes, the entire plot revolves around Lucy’s fear that Ricky wants her out of the picture. She fears that he’s given her poison to drink, but is totally a-okay with the fact that he only gave her sleeping powder to calm her down.
Several times throughout the show’s run, Lucy is also physically punished by Ricky for stepping out of line.
11 STILL HOLDS UP: Friends
Now, again, this one’s highly debatable. There are many of us who were too young to have been fans of Friends when it was originally broadcast, or who simply didn’t watch it. Opinions from these new viewers have certainly been mixed.
Is the show still enjoyable to watch today? Is it still as relatable for twenty-and-thirty-somethings everywhere? Many would argue that it is. At the same time, though, it certainly falls short of some of today’s standards. The running jokes about Chandler’s masculinity, Ross’s insistence that his young son play with a G.I. Joe instead of a Barbie doll, Joey’s attitude towards women… all these things have been criticized.
10 DOESN’T HOLD UP: Joey
Speaking of Joey Tribbiani, let’s not forget that when Friends finally finished in May 2004, nobody was quite ready to say goodbye yet. This had been one heck of a gravy train, after all, and you don’t turn your back on that sort of thing easily. As a result, the spin-off Joey was born.
The series centered around the character moving to Los Angeles to dedicate himself to his acting career, and had slim to zero involvement from the other core Friends cast (although David Schwimmer did direct an episode or two). Joey just didn’t have the impact or the staying power that its parent show did, and was canceled midway through season two.
9 DOESN’T HOLD UP: Bottom
Now, those of us who were born right at the end of the eighties have a lot to be grateful for. For one thing, it means that we don’t really remember anything from that horrific decade. For another, it means that we're nineties children through and through, and the nineties were one heck of a time to grow up.
It was the age of peculiar, attitude-ridden cartoons like Biker Mice From Mars and Street Sharks (yes, cool, crime-fighting sharks on roller skates). It was also the era of Bottom, a beloved and super-inappropriate British sitcom. Adrian Edmondson and the late, great Rik Mayall played two roommates who pursued women in the most uncomfortable of ways, and fought each other in the… well, most uncomfortable of ways.
8 DOESN’T HOLD UP: Everybody Hates Chris
Now, this next sitcom is based on the teenage life of comedian Chris Rock. The promo posters for Everybody Hates Chris read, “If he wasn’t picked on, he’d have no material.” As you can probably tell, then, it’s going to go to some slightly questionable places.
Everybody Hates Chris was broadcast from 2005 to 2009. It’s one of the more recent shows on this rundown, but it also suffers a little from changing sensibilities. While it tackled the issues that Rock faced growing up very well (issues that don’t tend to get much airtime on TV), the character was picked on just a little too much for our liking. Yes, it’s a comedy, but it’s the character was a young teen.
7 DOESN’T HOLD UP: Family Guy
Generally, Family Guy seems to be one of those shows that people tend to feel super-passionately about. You’ll either hear people rhapsodising about how much they love it and what a gift Seth MacFarlane is to mankind, or they outright detest it. There don’t tend to be many casual, dip-in-and-out Family Guy watchers.
It does have a huge fanbase, there’s no denying that. The show was just renewed for its nineteenth season, in fact. Clearly, it does hold up, but in the future? Maybe not so much. The fact is, so much of the humour is based on cultural references, and those sorts of things tend to age very, very badly.
6 DOESN’T HOLD UP: How I Met Your Mother
How I Met Your Mother is another popular sitcom with a big following. More of a cult following, compared to some of the heavy-hitters on this rundown, but a passionate fanbase nonetheless. Viewers tuned in for almost a decade, from September 2005 to March 2014, wanting to hear all those secrets of how the meeting with ‘The Mother’ actually came about.
It’s quite a sweet little framing device for a sitcom, sure, but aspects of this one don’t sit right with a lot of people. Barney’s endless stories about his pursuit of women (and the various ways he went about it), coupled with the show’s lackluster later seasons, have made it a little controversial.
5 DOESN’T HOLD UP: Three’s Company
It’s fascinating to look back, isn’t it? Some of the things we watched, wore, listened to, said and so on… just what the heck were we thinking? Like the Friends flashback episodes with Ross’s hilarious afro, looking back with hindsight can be a brilliant, hilarious, and frightening thing.
The thing you’ve got to remember, though, is that you’re very much looking through a lens here. In the case of Three’s Company (a sitcom revolving around three single roommates and the couple who own their apartment building), the grown-up jokes and unmarried friends living together (as friends, mind you) seem wildly inappropriate. The show’s run took place from the late seventies to mid-eighties, however.
4 DOESN’T HOLD UP: Happy Days
Of course, there’s a huge, leather-jacket-wearing elephant in the room here: you can’t really expect Happy Days to hold up now. It’s a show created in the seventies, depicting life in the fifties and sixties. All kinds of things just aren’t going to translate today. The show’s still one of the most popular sitcoms of all time, though, so here it is in the rundown regardless.
If you don’t understand the whole greaser/biker thing of the time, you’re not going to ‘get’ Happy Days now. Still, the show’s more about emulating and idealizing a certain time, more than it’s a product of it.
3 DOESN’T HOLD UP: The Big Bang Theory
The Big Bang Theory is another sitcom that first aired relatively recently (September 2007), but has firmly established a place in our hearts since. Well, not all our hearts, of course; there are certain elements of the portrayal of the comic-loving culture here that have been controversial.
It’s shining a mainstream light on an entirely different type of character, but is their portrayal positive or negative? That’s going to be down to the individual viewer to decide.
Another issue is that, as with Family Guy, The Big Bang Theory is littered with very specific cultural references. Looking back on the show in hindsight (as its twelfth and final series draws to a close), that could prove to be its undoing.
2 DOESN’T HOLD UP: Gilligan’s Island
Gilligan’s Island is another classic show that many might consider beyond repute. Gilligan himself has risen out of the confines of the show itself to become iconic in his own right, alongside such sitcom superstars as Homer Simpson and Jerry Seinfeld. Only the very best can reach those dizzy heights.
Regardless, though, Gilligan’s Island is super-dated today. This isn’t the show’s fault as such (its three seasons ran from September 1964 to April 1967, making it one of the oldest shows in this rundown), it’s just the passage of time, but there it is.
Throw in the fact that the main characters were sadly one-dimensional, and new viewers would struggle to understand the hype.
1 STILL HOLDS UP: Frasier
As we saw earlier in this rundown, Cheers is one of the most beloved sitcoms ever to come out of the U.S. Certain characters, opinions and storylines may strike us as much more objectionable today, but that’s just the way of progress.
Frasier emerged from the ashes of the show, a spin-off that followed Cheers regular Dr. Frasier Crane in his move back to his hometown of Seattle. Frasier itself ran for eleven seasons and was critically acclaimed as a more ‘sophisticated’ sort of sitcom. While, again, the references are a little dated today, the show’s clever writing is as razor-sharp as it ever was.
As we’ve reported previously, rumors and rumblings about a potential reboot continue to gather steam. How this will work with the late John Mahoney, we don’t yet know, but it’s clear that the show is still held in very high regard.