Ah, the situational comedy. Nothing can compare to a skillfully written half-hour sitcom. The laughs, the gasps, and even the tears they elicit in those who watch them make for some of the most memorable moments on television. We put together a list of the 10 best sitcoms of all time, which includes shows from different eras that capture a piece of American history, reminding us long after that era has ended of what life was like at that time period with humor and heart.
1. I Love Lucy (1951-1957)
You can’t have a list of the best sitcoms of all time without including the OG.
This black-and-white sitcom was adapted for television from the popular radio comedy My Favorite Husband, which featured Lucille Ball opposite Richard Denning. The radio show was written by Jess Oppenheimer, Madelyn Pugh, and Bob Carroll Jr., who all went on to write for I Love Lucy.
Ball played the wife of a band leader (Desi Arnaz, her real-life husband) who constantly tries to become a star – despite her having no talent, and gets herself (along with her best friend) into the funniest predicaments.
The show is a classic and the episodes are easy to watch over and over again. You can trace a lot of modern-day episodes of popular sitcoms to some done before in I Love Lucy. The friendship between Lucy and Ethel (Vivian Vance) is one of the many highlights of this clever, well-written show that stands the test of time.
2. Schitt’s Creek (2015-2020)
Created by Dan and Eugene Levy, this sitcom is about an extremely wealthy family who lose all of their money due to fraud. The only asset left to them is a small, unsophisticated town named Schitt’s Creek. They relocate there. Culture shock ensues.
The show quickly gained a huge following due to so many iconic comedic moments: Moira (Catherine O’Hara), the family matriarch’s signature high fashion looks and crazy wigs, Alexis’ (Annie Murphy) spoiled rich girl attitude, and David’s (Dan Levy) refined tastes in clothes and men, all of which completely clashes with the small town and low key vibe of the people of Schitt’s Creek.
What makes this show moving and unique is the humor never comes from a place of being mean and nasty, but from a deep love for community and family.
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3. Friends (1994-2004)
This is an easy pick for one of the best sitcoms of all time. Created by David Crane and Martha Kauffman, there’s no more iconic sitcom than Friends. The show follows the personal and professional lives of six 20 to 30-year-old friends living in the Manhattan borough of New York City.
This show made the cast celebrities overnight and revitalized the sitcom genre. For a while, everyone wanted to write the next Friends given the success of the show. In a lot of ways, Friends feels like a portrait of a very specific time period with a lot of the plot lines and jokes not fully feeling current anymore, but the success of the show and its popularity has not been replicated by many others since.
4. Insecure (2016-2021)
Created by Issa Rae and Larry Wilmore, based on Issa Rae’s web series Awkward Black Girl, Insecure follows the awkward experiences and racy tribulations of a modern-day African-American woman. The characters in this show are so real and the day-to-day issues they face seem relatable as though they’re a portrait of a generation of women coming of age in the late 2010s.
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The fact that this started as a web series made for almost no money should inspire writers to go out and experiment and find their voices in any way they can.
5. The George Lopez Show (2002-2007)
Created by Bruce Helford, Robert Borden, and George Lopez, this show was groundbreaking simply by depicting a Latine middle-class family. The show had comedian George Lopez star as a Los Angeles manufacturing plant manager attempting to deal with his wacky family through random mishaps.
It felt just like a regular sitcom that happened to have an all-Latine cast.
The stories did revolve around the usual stereotypes around Hispanic and Latine people; immigration or jail, however, the show primarily told regular everyday stories about family, raising kids, working, and navigating a marriage.
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6. Will & Grace (1998-2020)
Created by David Kohan and Max Mutchnichk, this show is about a gay lawyer Will and a straight interior designer Grace who share a New York City apartment.
Will & Grace originally went off the air in 2006 only to get a reboot in 2017 that began as if the show had never ended.
Since the final episode of the 1998–2006 run aired, the sitcom has been credited with helping and improving public opinion of the LGBT community, with then U.S. Vice President Joe Biden commenting that the show “probably did more to educate the American public” on LGBT issues “than almost anything anybody has ever done so far.” By simply showing gay people living their lives, dating, and looking for love, this show was groundbreaking.
7. One Day at the Time (2017-2020)
This reboot of the 1975 sitcom with the same title follows three generations of the same Cuban-American family living in the same house: a newly divorced former military mother, her teenage daughter, her tween son, and her old-school mother.
The 1975 version of the show was created by Whitney Blake and Allan Manings and the 2017 version was developed by Gloria Calderon Kellet and Mike Royce with iconic television producer Norman Lear as Executive Producer.
The original family in 1975 was all white, so having the reboot be about a Latine family made it all new, fresh, and current. The show also stars Rita Moreno as the family’s matriarch, proving that Moreno is as timeless as the show. One Day at a Time tackled racism, PTSD in the military, and LGBT+ sexuality in honest and real ways while also delivering laughs and paying homage to the original show. If only it had lasted longer.
8. Seinfeld (1989-1998)
The famous “show about nothing!” There’s definitely a reason for Seinfeld being considered one of the best sitcoms of all time.
Created by Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld, this show was once known as the show about nothing. Seinfeld leaned on misunderstandings for plot and portrayed life in New York City as a single young person without many responsibilities. The show is about the continuing misadventures of neurotic New York City stand-up comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his equally neurotic New York City friends. Seinfeld broke ground by having the famous bottle episode, “The Chinese Restaurant.” The episode also takes place in real-time as the gang waits for their table to be ready.
(A bottle episode is an episode of television where all the action takes place in one set, typically using only the main cast and no guest stars, they are cheaper to shoot and usually made after the show is running over budget.)
9. The Simpsons (1989- )
Of course we had to include an animated show on our list of best sitcoms of all time! Created by James L. Brooks, Matt Groening, and Sam Simon, this show about the satiric adventures of a working-class family in the misfit city of Springfield started as animated sketches for The Tracey Ullman Show on April 19, 1987. It is the longest-running American animated series, the longest-running American sitcom, and the longest-running American scripted primetime television series, both in terms of seasons and number of episodes.
The Simpsons have been around for so long, different generations have watched the show as it has evolved throughout the decades, and continues to be as current as ever tackling everyday issues each season.
In the most recent season, the show commented on how it became a portrait of an America that no longer exists — where a family can own a home and two cars on a single union job income. Nowhere in the country does that still exist, but when the show started, they were considered middle-class and dysfunctional. Now, in a way, they are aspirational.
10. The Office | US Version (2005-2013)
Based on the BBC show created by Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant and developed for American television by Greg Daniels, this show launched the careers of many iconic performers like Steve Carell, Mindy Kaling, and John Krasinski.
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This workplace comedy is a mockumentary about a group of typical office workers, where the workday consists of ego clashes, inappropriate behavior, and tedium. Michael Scott, played by Steve Carell will forever be remembered as the world’s worst boss and many people have commented that the show could never be made today given Michael Scott’s highly inappropriate behavior.
The romance between Jim and Pam is one of the few in television history that you never get tired of watching again and again. This show will have you saying “That’s what she said” anytime anyone around you utters anything remotely suggestive.
After examining this list of the best sitcoms of all time, the main thing that stood out was how each one of these shows seems to feel like a time capsule or a portrait of a certain period in America. It’s easy to argue that sitcoms perhaps hold the mirror to society and show us who we really are under the guise of comedy, with three laughs per page and a nice little ending where all is well that ends well.
No other television shows can capture the soul of a people quite in the same way. By learning what makes these shows special we get insight into not only what makes us who we are (and who we were) as a society but also how important it can be as writers to capture the unique moments unfolding right now. Maybe one day you’ll learn from this post and write one of the best sitcoms of all time!
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