From the advent of television through today’s DVR revolution, there’s one constant that has remained a part of the ever-evolving television landscape: the family sitcom. The appeal of situational comedies often lies within the viewer’s ability to relate to the dynamics and archetypes he sees on the screen, and few things sum up the universal American human experience quite like extended families. Be they utterly dysfunctional or without flaw, these are 10 of the funniest and most influential sitcoms about families I can think of:
- The Cosby Show – When it comes to family sitcoms that are actually family-friendly, few shows hold a candle to the genius that was The Cosby Show. Running for eight seasons, The Cosby Show was one of the first to depict the life of an affluent African-American family, and was absolutely the biggest sitcom hit of the 1980s. Based upon Bill Cosby’s clean style of stand-up comedy, the show never ventured into more risqué waters for the sake of a cheap laugh, but also never failed to deliver.
- Roseanne – On the opposite end of the late 1980s television spectrum from the squeaky-clean Cosby Show was the Conner family. Crass and often unrepentantly crude, Roseanne offered a realistic depiction of blue collar Middle America that still managed to bring in the laughs despite frequent scraping of the bottom of the barrel when it came to good taste.
- Everybody Loves Raymond – One of the most successful sitcoms of its era, Everybody Loves Raymond still lives on in popular syndication. While riotously funny, the underlying themes of vague desperation and thinly-veiled anger made for a more realistic depiction of everyday family life. From meddling in-laws and adult sibling rivalry to marital discord, Everybody Loves Raymond managed to make the more trying situations of real life something that could be laughed at, which is perhaps the secret of its long-running success.
- The Brady Bunch – The Brady Bunch offered American viewers one of their first glimpses of a blended family, with Carol and her girls building a life with Mike and his boys. While the adults were universally referred to as “Mom” and “Dad” with no mention of step-parents, it still brought blended families to American living rooms for the first time.
- Family Ties – When two hippies settle down and start a family, imagine their chagrin (and the hilarity that ensues) when two of their three children grow up to become Republicans! That was the premise of Family Ties, the show that launched the career of Michael J. Fox and turned him into a household name.
- Full House – The set-up for Full House was an experiment in unfortunate events: a widower incapable of caring for his three daughters alone enlists the help of a bumbling best friend and brother-in-law. Fortunately, the premise proved to be a successful one, as the hilarious show ran for several seasons and launched the adorable Olsen twins to stardom.
- Family Matters – It seems outrageous to anyone that was watching television in the 1990s, but there was a time when Steve Urkel was only intended to be a glorified extra. When his presence launched the Winslow family into pop culture history, Jaleel White’s character was made a focal point of this seminal sitcom.
- The Wonder Years – While The Wonder Years was a hit in the 1980s, it was a nostalgic coming-of-age hit that waxed poetic about the Arnold family’s experiences in the 1960’s. Fred Savage was also the youngest nominee in Emmy history at that point for his turn as main character Kevin Arnold.
- Growing Pains – This is a show that had a relatively modern story line (even though it also aired in the 80’s) in that the family contained a work at home psychiatrist and a stay at home Mom. Marissa Mayer aside (Yahoo!), it’s more and more common for people to work out of their house so it’s possible that even more families could relate to the show now than did when it was originally on the air (Dog with a Blog anyone???).
- The Andy Griffith Show – It may have been customary in the 1960s to name a show after its star actor, but the Andy Griffith Show was definitely a sitcom centering on Aunt Bee, Opie and Andy as they navigated the world of Mayberry, North Carolina. Ending its final season in the number one slot, TV Guide named The Andy Griffith show the ninth-best show in American television history.
While the modern face of television seems to be dominated by reality shows (yes, I am a sucker for them too) and serialized documentary programs, there are still a few family sitcom gems on the air. With that said, our family finds ourselves watching reruns of Full House and others more often than you might imagine (our kids love them).
Anyone want to argue for any other TV show? Please drop a comment below or reach out to me on twitter @KenneyMyers.