Who doesn’t like sitcoms? I challenge you to name me one person.
I’m quite convinced that we all like at least one sitcom. We all like to laugh. Even the most miserable person you know finds amusement in things and sitcoms are a no-brainer for some giggles.
I’ve been into sitcoms for as long as I can remember. I have no idea how old I was when it happened, but I have vague memories of watching Red Dwarf one night in the 80’s. I don’t remember which episode it was, but it was definitely either series one or two because I recall the ship flyby that happened between scenes. I also know I liked it.
Of all TV that has ever been produced it’s doubtless that sitcoms make up the largest percentage of my most-liked TV shows. I rarely take time out of my day to sit and watch TV, but you can be reasonably certain that when I do it’ll be a sitcom or a documentary.
So what makes a sitcom great? How long is a piece of string? It’s a question with so many different answers. Chemistry between cast members; the setting; originality…I don’t know. I’m not a producer.
My friend Mike and I wrote a synopsis for a six episode comedy series and a full script for the pilot about a decade ago. Obviously we thought it was really good. It was about three dysfunctional twenty-somethings living in a flat together that were loosely based on us both and our other friend Adam. Mike and I really got into it and spent a decent amount of time writing, planning and discussing the series. It wasn’t all nights out, getting drunk and trying to pull.
We originally penned the series title (somewhat unimaginatively) as Twenty-Somethings, but after a confab we decided to name it after the fictional block of flats that the three main characters lived in; Pacific Rise. Mike sent the pilot script and the synopses for the entire series to the then fledgling BBC Three for perusal. Our attempt met with failure; something that still stuns me to the day given the absolute rubbish they’ve commissioned over the years. I honestly believe our idea was better than most of the stuff I ever saw on BBC Three and I’m not surprised it’s since been made an online only channel owing to low viewer figures. Yes, I’m slightly bitter, but I think justifiably so.
Sitcoms have been a major part of my life then. Some are better than others. Few are better than some. Then there are those sitcoms that leave a lasting impression on your life. Sitcoms so important that you’ll talk about them with your mates years after they’ve gone off the air.
Here are my top five favourites in no particular order. Brace yourselves…
- Red Dwarf (BBC/Dave) – I won’t beat around the bush about this next statement; Red Dwarf is the best sitcom ever made. It’s a fact because I said so. I’m genuinely sitting here typing this right now whilst wearing an Ace Rimmer t-shirt. I love this sitcom so much that I’d be able to watch it daily for the rest of my life. Chris Barrie (Arnold Rimmer), Craig Charles (Dave Lister), Danny John-Jules (Cat) and Robert Llewellyn (Kryten) are like gods to me. I’ve seen every episode several times and I’m tuned in every Thursday for the new series currently running on Dave. The show has captivated me since I was very young and still does now. It’s geeky, it’s hilarious, it’s informative and it’s clever. As an astronomy lover, its space setting is right up my street too, but it doesn’t lean too heavily on being a sci-fi sitcom. You don’t need to be an astrogeek to enjoy Red Dwarf and I think that’s what makes it so fantastic.
- Bottom (BBC) – A close second to Red Dwarf is Bottom. I mean really close. Bottom appeals to the immature side of me like nothing else does. The chemistry between Rik Mayall and Adrian Edmondson is absolutely spot-on. When Rik Mayall died two years ago I was devastated. His character, Richie, is possibly the funniest sitcom character in history. In fact, I think he definitely is. Adrian Edmondson’s Eddie is probably second. It was a show about two blokes in their mid-thirties who lived in an absolute dive of a flat together in Hammersmith where violence, fiendish plans to get rich, sex (a lack thereof), swearing and flatulence were daily occurrences. It was slapstick at its finest. You can’t bring up Bottom without somebody also bringing up The Young Ones which starred the same two men and aired a good ten years earlier, but the simple fact is that Bottom was better. The live shows they put on were hilarious too, although admittedly I didn’t think much of the movie Guesthouse Paradiso.
- Frasier (NBC) – Now the choices get a little less obvious and I have to think and decide on my next three. Frasier deserves a place on the list because it’s one of only four sitcoms of which I own all episodes on DVD. You can’t own all episodes of a programme on DVD and not be in love with it. Frasier is a very clever and heart-warming series with a brilliant cast. Kelsey Grammer played the role of Frasier Crane so well, but it would’ve been nothing without David Hyde-Pierce as his brother, Niles, John Mahoney as his father, Martin, Jane Leeves as his father’s physical therapist (and effective maid), Daphne, and Peri Gilpin as his co-worker, Roz. Not forgetting Martin’s dog, Eddie. There were other great characters aside as well. It was a fantastic spinoff of another great comedy series, Cheers. For me though, Frasier was better. I’ve never liked a snob more than Frasier Crane and his apartment always looked like the kind of place I’d love to live. Interestingly, they only ever actually filmed one episode in Seattle; the city that it’s set in (entitled ‘The 1000th Show’). The rest were filmed at Paramount Studios or other places around Los Angeles.
- Game On (BBC) – My sister would kill me if I didn’t include this on the list. To be fair, it’s not a difficult choice to include. It really was a brilliant sitcom. The only thing that marked it down was the producers having to change one of the main characters after the first series. Ben Chaplin had played the role of Matt in the first series, but didn’t return for the succeeding two after he received an offer from Hollywood to appear in a movie. Neil Stuke took over and, although he was good, the series never properly recovered from the loss of Chaplin; the drop in ratings proof of this. So it was a show about three people living in a flat; the aforementioned Matt, a hunky (in the case of Chaplin) agoraphobic; Mandy, a gorgeous blonde bombshell man-eater played by Samantha Janus; and Martin, a ginger tosser (in Matt’s words) played by Matthew Cottle. It really was a very funny series and I still find myself in conversations about it eighteen years after it disappeared from our screens. There were some unforgettable moments and the final episode of series one, Fame, remains one of my favourite episodes of any TV show ever.
- Father Ted (Channel 4) – Storming up from out of nowhere is probably the best piece of TV Channel 4 ever produced. I’ll be honest; I forgot about Father Ted. I was going to go with Two Pints of Lager and a Packet of Crisps, but as much as I love that sitcom there can be no argument about it; Father Ted was better. A show about three vicars living together on a fictional island off the west coast of Ireland sounds one of two things; a recipe for disaster or something too original to miss. It was the latter. Oh boy, was it ever the latter! I love all three of the main characters. Dermot Morgan as Ted, Ardal O’Hanlon as Dougal and Frank Kelly as Jack. All three were absolutely bonkers in their own loveable way. Then there was Pauline McLynn as Mrs Doyle just to add to the lunacy. I like other sitcoms more, but when I sit and think about it I really struggle to work out why because this really was a masterpiece of a sitcom. I still can’t watch it without a hint of sadness knowing that Dermot Morgan is no longer with us and, more recently, Frank Kelly. I’m sure if there is an afterlife they’re making people roar with laughter there as well along with Rik Mayall.
I have to say that I’m somewhat satisfied with that list. I feel bad that Two Pints and Friends didn’t make the list, but the competition was stiff. There was no space for The Fast Show and Auf Wiedersehen, Pet as neither are actually sitcoms by the letter of the law. If they were than I daresay that at least one sitcom on my list would be relegated.
“But Paul; if you’re a geek how come you haven’t mentioned The Big Bang Theory?” The reason for that is quite simple. It’s dreadful! So, so dreadful!
What do you think of my list? Have I got it right in your humble opinion or would I not know a good sitcom if it stamped on my foot and head-butted me? Your feedback is welcomed as always and I’m ready to respond.
Image two from Prolific North article ‘BBC Trust approves move to take BBC Three online’ by Stephen Chapman.
Image four from BBC News article ‘Rik Mayall ‘Bottom’ bench unveiled in Hammersmith’ by Richard Crook.