Arrested Development leads a very strong pack.
So we all know Arrested Development is number one. This list is really a battle for spots two through 11.
This has been an interesting decade for the sitcom. Malcolm in the Middle (which didn’t make this list) debuted in 2000 and ushered in an acceptance of single-camera, no-laugh track shows. FOX in particular was fond of greenlighting, then shortly thereafter, canceling, them.
NBC’s Thursday night lineup fell apart after Friends, then was resuscitated because NBC gave the public a chance to actually find and enjoy The Office. CBS got the best sitcom ratings after Friends ended; in the process, they even defied their usual policy and allowed a couple of legitimately funny shows on the air.
Unlike reality shows and dramas which have found incredible traction on the cable networks, sitcoms (with only a few notable exceptions) remain the domain of the broadcast networks.
Looking back at the 2000s, some absolute garbage hit the air… but, in between, TV also gave us some of the finest shows (and arguably THE finest show) in comedy history.
This list will cover sitcoms only, meaning three shows from this decade that almost certainly would’ve made this list — The Colbert Report, Da Ali G Show and Chappelle’s Show — are excluded. It is also only for shows that debuted after January 1, 2000, meaning no South Park (even though it entered its golden age this decade), no Family Guy, no Futurama, and, worst of all, no The Parkers.
At the end, after the honorable mentions, I also included something I haven’t included in any other Decade in Review lists thus far: An “intentionally omitted” section. I figure, if I’m going to leave off Entourage people are going to want to know why.
Now, on to the list of the best sitcoms of the decade.
11 | How I Met Your Mother (CBS, 2005-present)
This spot was a battle between Scrubs and How I Met Your Mother. Both had similar arcs — come out of the gate strong, build an audience on a likable ensemble and quirky humor, get the critics and “hip” sitcom viewers on your side… then run out of new stuff for the characters to do and overcompensate by dialing the wackiness and forced relationship storylines to a turn-off level.
Ultimately I went with How I Met Your Mother because they still haven’t played the biggest card in their hand — revealing The Mother. And because, up until this disastrous season, they were operating on an almost “can’t miss” level. In other words: There’s still hope for How I Met Your Mother.
Scrubs, sadly, hasn’t been the same since Garden State… and now, on its new network with its new cast, it feels like a major league pitcher who can’t hit the 90s with his fastball anymore so he’s found a way to junkball his way to a 13-11 record with a 5.14 ERA. Scrubs is Paul Byrd.
10 | The Office (U.S.) (NBC, 2005-present)
I wanted to leave The Office off this list. I can’t even bring myself to watch it anymore. But this is a list covering the decade, not just the past two years, so The Office qualifies.
There was a lot of good in the American import of The Office. The first season was brutal, but once they realized Michael Scott is NOT David Brent… and realized that they had some fantastic characters outside of the five people who get their own screen in the credits (Michael, Jim, Pam, Dwight, Ryan)… it hit its stride.
Some of the storylines worked perfectly — early Pam and Jim tension, Michael and Holly, the branch merger, Dwight and Angela, Ryan becoming the boss, and even the Michael Scott Paper Company.
Unfortunately, time hasn’t treated the show well. Seeing Michael cartoonishly alternate between world’s biggest idiot and world’s biggest asshole hasn’t just become tiresome, it’s become unwatchable. Pam and Jim getting together and getting married was an inevitability… but by taking the key piece of tension for the show and thoroughly resolving it, a lot of the draw is gone. Seeing Andy madly and bumbling in love — we’ve been there. Seeing Jim realizing he’s losing his soul to The Man — we’ve been there. Seeing Dwight in the middle of a Machiavellian scheme — we’ve been there.
But this spot on the list is for the good times; if the decade had ended two years ago, The Office probably would’ve been top three.
9 | Andy Richter Controls the Universe (FOX, 2002-2003)
Oh what could’ve been. Andy Richter was doing edgy, absurdest comedy TV a few years before the public was ready for it… so the show only managed to squeeze out 19 episodes. (Only 15 of which FOX aired.)
The episodes that were made, though, were almost all glorious. It was a perfect role for Andy Richter — office drone with a crazy imagination — and the supporting characters are all perfectly conceived and perfectly cast, too.
Like so, so many FOX sitcoms, it never found an audience so it only lasted for two mini-seasons. They’re really worth getting on Netflix. You can bang out the whole series on Christmas afternoon. It’s better than talking to your family.
8 | Flight of the Conchords (HBO, 2007-2009)
Flight of the Conchords is a dry, great comedy that perks up even more when the guys bust into song. Basically, it’s a much drier, much hipper Glee.
I absolutely love the show, so I feel like I have to justify why it’s only ranked 8th here. So, weirdly, I have to tell you all that’s wrong with it, not what’s right with it.
I don’t think the songs always hit — at around three songs per episode, they can’t all be spectacular. Plus, because it’s so dry, when the humor isn’t hitting as hard, sometimes the show feels like it’s dragging. Still… I’ll take Flight of the Conchords dragging over watching almost anything else. And you know you’re never too far away from a song pulling you right back in… even if that song is Rock the Party.
7 | The Big Bang Theory (CBS, 2007-present)
It’s good that the show, and, more importantly, Jim Parsons, are starting to get noticed and nominated for awards. Jim Parsons singlehandedly makes this show so great in his role as Sheldon… the theoretical physicist who’s personality is some mix of Mr. Spock and Asperger’s syndrome.
He’s basically Kevin Garnett to the late ’90s Minnesota Timberwolves or Will Ferrell to late ’90s SNL — without him, they’d just kinda plod into obscurity, with him they’re a championship contender.
It took me a little while to get on board with Big Bang Theory — the pilot turned me off but, when they hit their stride, I came back. I like the nerd jokes (though not as much as their laugh track does, though… I think they inherited it from That 70s Show, which it inherited from Married With Children). I laugh out loud at least a few times every episode. And, most importantly, at only two-and-a-half seasons in, this show is just hitting its prime.
I also give it credit for the best theme song of the 2000s.
6 | Curb Your Enthusiasm (HBO, 2000-present)
I think this past season of Curb was perfectly emblematic of the series. When it’s on, it’s a level of funny that no one can touch. When it’s off, though… it’s off.
Watching Larry David do an impression of George. Larry and Jerry Seinfeld interacting. Larry scheming to get Cheryl a role in the Seinfeld reunion. All absolute classics, the kind of stuff that makes people pay for HBO even when they never watch anything else.
But watching Larry heckle and embarrass Sammy Greene when she’s singing… or watching him unnecessarily annoy his doctor… or watching him be gratuitously rude to kids with a lemonade stand… or having the big season finale center as much around him wronging a coffee stand worker (in a contrived way) as it was around the Seinfeld reunion — that’s when Curb, and Larry, become too much to handle.
That unevenness keeps me from ranking it any higher like most TV critics have, but I stand by it. Two out of every three episodes being amazing puts it solidly on this list… the one out of three that doesn’t quite hit the mark keeps it from being near the top.
5 | Undeclared (FOX, 2001-2002)
Judd Apatow’s second series (right after NBC gave up on Freaks and Geeks) had all the elements we’d see when he became the Godzilla of movie comedy later in the decade: Three-dimensional characters, legitimately funny writing, character-driven stories, heart and Seth Rogen.
Undeclared had an original… yet so, so, so identifiable and real… take on the things that freshmen in college go through — like weird roommates, long distance relationships, picking a major, existential crises, changing out of your high school persona, fraternities and overbearing RAs, just to name a few. You could see elements of yourself, and what you went through in college, in pieces of every character. They were fully developed right from the start.
The show never got a following and only lasted for about two-thirds of a season — which, I guess, was ultimately for the best, because it drove Apatow away from TV and toward movies… where he finally found his audience.
4 | The Office (U.K.) (BBC Two, 2001-2003)
It had an immeasurable amount of influence on comedy in the 2000s… everything from Arrested Development to Modern Family to every single web series in the history of web series contains elements of the visual and written style of the original Office.
Its comedy is the epitome of discomfort — the situations that Ricky Gervais’s David Brent wound up in were more uncomfortable than every episode of MTV’s Parental Control combined.
It was only 14 episodes. (The British have a different set of expectations for what constitutes a full series run, apparently.) That’s why I only put it fourth… unlike its American counterpart, once it resolved its emotional tension with Tim and Dawn, it didn’t have time to hit its downward spiral. There’s something to be said for going out John Elway-style… but since I gave demerits to shows like the American Office, Scrubs and How I Met Your Mother for sticking around and struggling, I can’t reward the British Office for not giving it the old college try.
That being said (to quote Curb)… this show really was amazing in its brief run… you can actually see brilliance at work. It stands with The Simpsons as the two most influential sitcoms of my (and most of the readers of this site’s) lifetime.
3 | It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia (FX, 2005-present)
Almost all of the shows on this list have the nice, shiny polish of a big budget network. It’s Always Sunny is the opposite. It’s the dirty, gritty fringe… the place where not everyone dares to go, and the place that scares a lot of those who are brave enough to arrive.
It’s Always Sunny is nothing if not polarizing — a show where the second episode features a character holding a sign that says “What if Jesus Were Aborted?” will do that — but I’m firmly in the “It’s genius” camp.
Sunny does something that no other sitcom has pulled off — it works even though every single main character is a terrible person. You aren’t supposed to like them, yet you can’t wait to see how their self-centered, misanthropic, diabolical schemes go.
It’s not just laugh-out-loud funny — it’s you-need-to-pause-and-rewind, quote-to-your-friends funny… a zone that few shows ever hit.
2 | 30 Rock (NBC, 2006-present)
After I watched the pilot, I never would’ve guessed it would be here. But one line kept me coming back — Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy as GE’s “VP of Television and Microwave Programming” — and, before my eyes, I watched 30 Rock transform into the most complete sitcom on the air today.
The writing is so incredibly good and fresh — they never, ever, ever cop out and take a corny punchline. Liz Lemon’s self-deprecation, Tracy Jordan’s randomness, Kenneth Parcell’s blissful hayseed ignorance, and Jack Donaghy’s perfect balance of contempt and caring… it all just flows so naturally with great stories, brilliant social satire and spot-on parody. (MILF Island?)
NBC takes a lot of shit for its performance this decade, but sticking with 30 Rock has to be its crowning achievement. (It’s either that, or having the brilliant idea to make a show about 400-pound people starving themselves.)
1 | Arrested Development (FOX, 2003-2006)
The guy writing the 2,500-word list is going to justify this pick to someone who’s skimmed half of ’em? COME ON!
- Modern Family (ABC, 2009-present)
Only 10 episodes in it’s too soon to put it in the top 11… but it’s my favorite new show of the year and has serious potential to be a non-corny family sitcom. Finding one of those is like catching a unicorn.
- Extras (HBO, 2005-2007)< Another very short-running Ricky Gervais/Stephen Merchant series. The celebrities doing self-parody remains the highlight; skewering mediocre TV comedy in the second season was also solid. Never quite reached appointment TV levels though.
- Scrubs (NBC, 2001-2008; ABC, 2009-present)
I choose to remember the good times.
- Weeds (Showtime, 2005-present)
Each season deviates further and further from the original premise of an otherwise-normal suburban pot dealing mom. And it only produces a few laughs a season. But some of the early stuff was good and entertaining enough to land here.
- Stella (Comedy Central, 2005)
Good when it wasn’t being too po-mo. You know, postmodern? Weird for the sake of weird, alright?
- The Sarah Silverman Program (Comedy Central, 2007-present)
Has some funny moments, but can feel very forced and desperate. A little too much “look at how incredibly funny and edgy I am!”
- Entourage (HBO, 2004-present)
If not for Ari and Lloyd, wouldn’t even qualify as a comedy. The guys live in a consequence-free world where they follow no rules and come out on top. The four friends still are yet to develop any chemistry — the scenes where they joke and make fun of each other are cringe-inducing. Centering the season around E and his love life… frankly, anything about E… was enough to make me and thousands of others give up on the show for good.
- Two-and-a-Half Men (CBS, 2003-present)
You just feel like you’re watching a sitcom. There’s occasionally funny stuff but it’s bogged down in banal stories and repetitive, predictable writing.
- Eastbound and Down (HBO, 2009-present)
Danny McBride’s rise to fame might be the most inexplicable of the decade. I guess some people “get” him?
- Reno 911 (Comedy Central, 2003-2009)
I gave it so many chances and it just couldn’t hold me. The characters felt too “sketch” to sustain an episode, let alone a series — they belong in four-minute chunks on Saturday Night Live.
- Summer Heights High (ABC Australia, 2007)
Just because it’s foreign doesn’t mean it’s good. What’s worse than a guy doing one zany character? (A guy doing three.)
- American Dad (FOX, 2005-present)
Most of the Family Guy characters with slightly different tweaks… but minus the most important one, a Stewie equivalent.
- Monk (USA, 2002-2009)
Ya know, for all those Emmy wins, you’d think you’d know at least one person who’s watched it.