For more than eight decades, the sitcom has both marked the times and provided them with a balm. Of Rob Petrie tripping over his beanbag on The Dick Van Dyke Show to Ilana face-planting on a Wide city metro car; of Honeymooners‘Ralph Kramden barely containing his frustration with Ed Norton for AtlantaPaper Boi does the same with his cousin Earn; from Lucy Ricardo getting drunk on Vitameatavegamin to Fleabag enjoying Gin in a Tin with the hot priest, the genre’s most beloved characters have been by our side.
To pick the 100 best sitcoms of all time, we first had to decide how to define the term. The sketch comedies had come out, from the explicit, like Saturday Night Live and The Muppet Show, to the most ambiguous, such as The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Ditto comic-dramatic hybrids that lasted about an hour – Freaks and Geeks, say, or Crazy ex girlfriend. The half-hour dramas presented a more blurry picture; we’ve taken them on a case-by-case basis, applying our own version of Supreme Court Justice Potter Stewart’s famous definition of obscenity: “I know it when I see it.” Or Enlightened and The good years seemed to fall too far on the dramatic side of the line, for example, Atlanta and Better things had enough comedy to qualify. This list is also made up entirely of English-language comedies, mostly American, with a handful of British and Canadian shows making the cut.
Most of the time, however, we were looking for a cohesive group of characters and settings. Then we considered not only how much these shows made us laugh, but also how much they influenced the shows that followed, how much they reflected the world around them and, on occasion, how much they made us feel emotions beyond mirth.