As the sitcom has evolved, the studio audience has been largely replaced by canned spurts of unnatural laughter. Some of the best sitcoms of the past and present are those filmed in front of real people. Here are some of the best; if you’ve never seen them, queue them on Netflix or search for them on Hulu next time you need a pick-me-up!
10.) Golden Girls (NBC, 1985-1992)
Imagine revisiting the “Sex & the City” girls a couple of decades into the future and you’ll get a pretty good sense of what this show is about. It even has some character parallels; Blanche Deveraux is a post-menopausal Samantha and Dorothy Zbornak is a nearly-geriatric Carrie. “Sex & the City” is practically a “Golden Girls” prequel.
9.) Perfect Strangers (ABC, 1986-1993)
Larry and his foreign, distant cousin Balki are at the center of this buddy comedy created by the man behind “Mork & Mindy.” The two work together at a discount store on the ground level of their apartment building; their boss is also their landlord, a large source of comedic fodder for the show. In 1989 the show spurned the spin-off “Family Matters,” which enjoyed some success in its nearly-decade-long run but never had the genuine charm of “Perfect Strangers.”
8.) Two and a Half Men (CBS, 2003-)
One of the few current sitcoms featuring a live audience, “Two and a Half Men” is one of the crown jewels in CBS’s prime time lineup. Charlie Sheen’s ladies man character anchors the cast, sharing an apartment with his uptight brother (Jon Cryer) and underachiever nephew (Angus T. Jones). The apartment is also frequented by a sarcastic housekeeper and the brothers’ shallow and conceited mother.
7.) Will & Grace (NBC, 1998-2006)
Will is a gay lawyer; Grace is a Jewish interior designer. The show circles around their friendship, as well as their relations with their friends Karen (the snobbish socialite) and Jack (the flamboyant actor). It was the first network television show to successful integrate homosexual characters and won dozens of awards and nominations during its run.
6.) The Cosby Show (NBC, 1984-1992)
Arguably the most popular television show of the 1980s, it is credited with changing the way African Americans are viewed and portrayed in American pop culture. The show centers around the Huxtable family, an affluent family living in Brooklyn, New York. The show was also groundbreaking for standup comedians to transition into sitcoms based on their material, as Bill Cosby was the first to successfully do so.
5.) Home Improvement (ABC, 1991-1999)
I enjoyed this show for much the same reason as I love “The Red Green Show.” TV show host Tim “The Toolman” Taylor (played by Tim Allen) reminds me of my father, always tinkering and playing around in the shop and getting himself into plenty of trouble in the process, much to the chagrin of his wife, kids, and sidekick/co-host, Al. The show is also notable for the faceless next-door-neighbor, Wilson, who partially appears in every episode.
4.) Everybody Loves Raymond (CBS, 1996-2005)
Following in the footsteps of Bill Cosby, comedian Ray Romano’s highly acclaimed television show was based on his personal experiences. The cast of characters includes Ray’s likable wife, meddling mother, sarcastic father, and perpetually-depressed brother. The show is full of zany yet everyday situations and exaggerated yet believable personalities.
3.) Friends (NBC, 1994-2004)
Often regarded as one of the most successful sitcoms of all time, the ensemble cast of “Friends” introduced us to characters that remain household names. The show’s writers had the ability to find humor in the everyday situations the characters faced, even successfully balancing laughter with social issues.
2.) Cheers (NBC, 1982-1993)
This classic show was almost canceled after the premiere episode ranked dead last. Luckily, NBC decided not to pull the plug, and the show went on to be one of the highest-rated shows on television of over a decade. Taking place entirely in a Boston bar, the show follows the lives of employees and patrons. The show also produced one of the most successful spin-off shows ever, “Frasier,” which also ran for eleven seasons.
1.) Coupling (BBC2, 2000-2004)
Leave it to the British to create one of the funniest sitcoms of all time. Take all of the best bits of “Friends,” “Seinfeld,” and “Sex and the City,” pepper it with clever scripting and an ironic sense of humor, and you’ve got “Coupling.” The show sometimes uses British terminology and makes references to UK pop culture that may leave US audiences scratching their heads, but the character development, writing, and spot-on character acting are unparalleled in American television.