Thursday, December 8, 2016

The Ten Funniest Situation Comedy Episodes By Decade: The 1960s

The 1960s was the last decade in which situation comedies favored idealized versions of American life. There would be send-ups of current events, from the British invasion to the spy craze, but the humor was always more sweet than cynical, mischievous instead of mean. That was probably a relief to many Americans as the turbulent decade progressed away from the staid status quo of the 1950s into an era of war, assassinations and political turmoil.  

These were the funniest sitcom episodes of the decade. As with the 1950s list, a two-show per series limit still applies – which sadly renders ineligible about 30 more episodes of Get Smart.

The Dick Van Dyke Show
“The Curious Thing About Women” (1962)
While this list is not a top-ten ranking, I wanted this episode to be first because for me it was not just another hilarious show in a brilliant series. Watching it first in syndication as a kid, and many times thereafter, my future career aspirations were inspired by the office scene where Rob, Sally and Buddy develop an unremarkable event (Laura opening Rob’s mail before he gets a chance to read it) into a classic comedy sketch. I can’t think of another scripted moment on TV where the abundant joy of creativity that writers occasionally experience was more perfectly expressed. The scenes with Mary Tyler Moore and the inflatable raft were pretty funny too. 

“The Joker is a Card” (1965)
“Yaga-Zoo-Zee, Yaga-Zoo-Zee, Yaga-Zoo-Zee-Zim!”
Paul Lynde makes his first appearance as Samantha’s practical joke-obsessed Uncle Arthur, and it’s one for the ages. Every moment he’s in this is perfect, especially when he offers to teach Darrin a spell to put Endora in her place. The payoff scene is as celebrated a moment as Bewitched ever produced. 

Get Smart
“Mr. Big” (1965)
Everything that made Get Smart one of the funniest series from any decade was already in place in its first episode, written by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. You got your shoe phone, your Cone of Silence, and a villain sure to incite offense in humorless defenders of political correctness. 

The Lucy Show
“Lucy and Viv Build a Shower” (1963)
While Vivian Vance would remain with The Lucy Show for another two seasons, this episode features the final classic physical comedy sequence that she and Lucy would share. They worked so well together by this time that the shower scene was not even rehearsed before it was filmed. 

Green Acres
“Don’t Call Us, We’ll Call You” (1965)
The first season of Green Acres features one long story arc as Oliver and Lisa Douglas leave New York for Hooterville, so Oliver can pursue his farm livin’ dreams. Every episode brings more surreal frustration; here, having just mastered the generator in the previous episode (“You can’t have a 2 with a 6”), he now finally gets his phone installed – at the top of a telephone pole outside his bedroom window. 

The Andy Griffith Show
“The Big House” (1963)
“Here at the rock we have two basic rules…the first rule is…obey all rules.”
Whether it’s Andy or Opie and Aunt Bee or Floyd or even Otis, whomever you meet in Mayberry will make you feel welcome. But if you’re looking for laughs, the episodes featuring Don Knotts’ as Barney Fife cannot be topped. In “The Big House,” the state police temporarily lodge two hold-up men in Mayberry’s jail, allowing Barney to play hard-boiled lawman. They promptly escape – not once but three times. 

Get Smart
“A Man Called Smart, Part 1” (1967)
Of course you’ll want to watch all three parts of this story, which was originally intended for theatrical release. But it’s the first installment that features a masterpiece of slapstick comedy starring Don Adams, a stretcher and a revolving door. Adams, whose distinct voice and catchphrases were a big part of the show’s success, never utters a word throughout the sequence, and still earns huge laughs. There is also an innovative opening chase scene that portends Adams’ association with Inspector Gadget. 

The Dick Van Dyke Show
“Coast-to-Coast Big Mouth” (1965)
The first episode of the show’s fifth and final season contains the most memorable of Carl Reiner’s always-welcome appearances as Alan Brady. The story has Laura going on a game show and getting tricked into revealing that Brady is bald. Rob’s horrified reaction is hilarious, but the highlight finds Laura trying to save her husband’s job. Her confrontation with Alan, as he sits glowering at his desk behind a display of now-useless hairpieces, remains one of the series’ best moments. 

The Beverly Hillbillies
“The Giant Jackrabbit” (1963)
This is probably the most famous episode out of nine seasons, and while I could make a good argument for a few other classics this is one time where I’m content to follow the crowd. The ‘A’ plot has Granny in full Wile E. Coyote mode, trying to trap a kangaroo she mistakes for a jackrabbit. The ‘B’ plot has the Clampetts trying to order food from a caterer – in the annals of funny one-sided phone conversations, this one is up there with the best of the master, Bob Newhart. 

Hogan’s Heroes
“Will the Real Adolf Please Stand Up?” (1966)
Hogan’s Heroes took the evil sting out of the German army through the bumbling antics of Col. Klink and Sgt. Schultz – but what would happen if the neutered Nazis ever met their fuhrer? Here, Sgt. Carter impersonates Hitler, to distract the commandant while Hogan smuggles secret plans to the underground. Larry Hovis creates the funniest take on one of history’s worst monsters since The Producers

Next: The 1970s


  1. Great top ten. For THE BEVERLY HILLBILLIES, I'd probably pick one of the Louis Nye appearances as Sonny Drysdale, but Giant Jackrabbit is a great pick too.

    I'd have a very hard time leaving F TROOP and CAR 54 out, IMO both shows were consistently side-splittingly funny. For the former, "The Day the Indians Won", "Our Brave in F Troop" and "The Singing Mountie" are all strong contenders; for the latter, "Boom, Boom, Boom" (with some great physical comedy from guest star Jan Murray), "Toody Undercover" (my favorite episode, though Muldoon doesn't appear much) and "How Smart Can You Get?" are all worthy of consideration.

  2. "A Man Called Smart" was a delight from start to finish. A true classic!

  3. "The Giant Jackrabbit" was a great pick here, as it's still the highest-rated half-hour of television since 1960.