Wednesday, May 12, 2021

Rolling Stone’s Top 100 Sitcoms List – What it Got Right – And Wrong

 

Rolling Stone magazine recently put out a list of the 100 greatest sitcoms of all time. You can see the results here

 

My gut reaction as a classic TV fan was to bemoan the selection of so many recent and even current shows, including several that debuted after 2015.  It wouldn’t be fair to dismiss them completely, as I’ve never watched them. That said, when the objective is to select the very best efforts within any artistic endeavor, one of the criteria that should be considered is eminence that lasts beyond a moment in time or even a generation. Will Derry Girls, Bluey, and Party Down (yes, they all made the list) still be celebrated (or even remembered) by millions of fans in 25 years?

 

On the positive side, the list was not as tainted by recency bias as most “best of” television lists published since the millennium. The inclusion of The Jack Benny Program and The George Burns and Gracie Allen Show indicate that someone at Rolling Stone is over the age of 30, or cognizant that great television didn’t start with The Simpsons

 


 

Speaking of which – that’s the show selected at #1. And that is also my first critique. I know several people with excellent taste who think the show is brilliant. It has never been my cup of tea, but that is not the basis of my objection. I simply don’t believe that any animated series, regardless of quality, should finish first in a category dominated by live-action productions.

 

Last week’s blog mentioned the similarities between The Honeymooners and The Flintstones, but they remain fundamentally different entities. Animation opens up story, setting and character possibilities that a live-action series could not create. With 100 open slots I’m fine with The Simpsons landing on the list somewhere, but not in the top spot.

 

Cheers ranked #2, which I guess means it is considered the best live-action sitcom ever made. But I’ve never met anyone who thought so. 

 


 

I’ve written several top 100 lists on various topics for various publications. My 2004 book, What Were They Thinking? The 100 Dumbest Events in Television History was basically one long list (with hopefully some good insight and humor thrown in about each entry).  I know – it’s hopelessly out of date now. Television has done countless stupid things since, from that short-lived comedy series starring the Geico cavemen to calling Brian Stelter a journalist. 

 


 

But I’ll let you in on a secret about these things: there really isn’t a lot of difference between #32 and #46 and #59. What you choose as #1 is important, as are the top five and top ten, and then you want to pick a few choices at the bottom of the list that may be borderline, but will generate angry letters if they’re not included.

 

That being the case, this is not a terrible list. I Love Lucy, All In the Family, MASH, The Honeymooners and The Mary Tyler Moore Show deservedly ranked in the top ten. The Dick Van Dyke Show should have been there as well but just missed at #11. 

 


 

Rather than quibble any further about rankings, let’s look at the more considerable error of omissions. I can make a case for a lot of vintage shows that were left off the list to find space for shows that satisfy the inclusion/diversity directive. But these are the most egregious:

 

Green Acres

The three rural comedies created by Paul Henning were all omitted from the Rolling Stone list. Much as I like them I’m fine with not including The Beverly Hillbillies and Petticoat Junction, but not acknowledging the twisted genius (yes, genius!) of Green Acres suggests no one at the magazine is aware of its cracked brilliance. It’s the closest TV has ever come to the kind of surrealism captured by Lewis Carroll in Alice in Wonderland, without the crudeness or cruelty inherent in more recent exercises in absurdism.

 


 

The Adventures of Ozzie & Harriet

It is television’s longest-running live-action situation comedy, and the only one to star a real family.  It also features dozens of classic music performances from Ricky Nelson, now in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You’d think that would appeal to Rolling Stone. But even without “Travelin’ Man” and “Hello, Mary Lou,” this is a series that finds life-affirming joy in the mundane, and clever humor in everyday tasks.  Nearly 70 years after its debut, it is still as laugh-out-loud funny as I Love Lucy

 


 

The Monkees

Speaking of the Rock Hall of Fame, it is widely believed that RS publisher Jann Wenner is the reason why The Monkees have not been inducted, so perhaps it’s not surprising that the magazine he founded didn’t care for the group’s TV show either. But The Monkees won the Emmy for Best Comedy Series in its first year, played a pioneering role in the evolution of the music video, and opened up situation comedy into a freeform exercise that was cutting edge at the time and still seems pretty fresh now. 

 


 

The Brady Bunch

A sentimental choice? Fine. But why should that be a deal-breaker? If you set out to create a television show, which would be more difficult, and which would be considered a greater success – to create a series that critics call brilliant but lasts a year or two and is watched by a few thousand, or to create a series that millions love, because it makes them happy in a world where happiness is too often in short supply? A show where fans can identify the episode within the first ten seconds, and still look forward to watching that same story unfold again? The Brady Bunch is not a “great” show by any standard yardstick of how television achievement is measured; but it mattered to people. I believe that should count for something. 

 


 

5 comments:

  1. While I admit I've never been a fan of Green Acres, it genuinely pains me that Beverly Hillbillies didn't make that list. COME ON. Agreed about Ozzie & Harriet, and I sure appreciated what you wrote here about The Monkees & Brady Bunch! Nicely said!

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  2. I agree the Beverly Hillbillies was a unique idea with many hilarious situations! It definitely should have made the List!

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  3. Get a Life! I mean the show. Network TV's closest brush with sitcom surrealism.

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  4. I am AMAZED that Batman did not break the list -- let alone the Top Ten. Comedy gold.

    Also disappointing is no show for The Addams Family. As that is still generating reboots 50 years later, it's got to have something!

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  5. I am AMAZED that Batman didn't great the Top 10, let alone the Top 100! Comedy Gold!

    Also surprising ... no Addams Family. Here it is, 50 years later with countless reboots and more to come. It's got to have "something!"

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