There are many building blocks of the internet, but the cornerstones are think pieces, offhand lists, and other hollow provocations meant to stir arguments and, therefore, briefly redirect web traffic. Engaging such material is utterly pointless. Then again, it’s not like I have anything better to do.
Rolling Stone returned to an old favorite this week: unprompted list making. The canon-shaping demon spawn of Jann Wenner has a long, proud legacy of ranking pop culture artifacts to invite debate, delight, and scorn. The latest endeavor is a product of the part of the house devoted to television criticism, a division that took on greater authority a couple years ago when Alan Sepinwall took the lead role. He and a few cohorts took it upon themselves to identify the 100 Best Sitcoms of All Time, winding up the usual array of cool modern efforts, staples of obsessive binge-watching, and duly revered classics.
As is my preference in such matters, I step forward with a finger raised not to quibble with their selections and arrangement (except to note that the top two titles should be switched), but to add a few extra selections. Without calling out programs that could be artfully excised to make room, I would have liked to see the following six sitcoms on the list. In alphabetical order:
Andy Richter Controls the Universe (Fox, 2002-2003)
Following his initial departure from the role of Conan O’Brien’s sterling sidekick, Andy Richter took on the starring role, and lent his name, to this gleefully absurdist sitcom, created by Victor Fresco. In its subverting of the workplace comedy with dashes of scampish invention and anything-for-a-laugh abandon, it got to the 30 Rock model five years before Tina Fey did. Andy Richter Controls the Universe gets extra credit for being the only series to properly showcase the crack comedic talents of Paget Brewster, except for maybe the one that allowed her to get schnockered and relate tales of historic import.
Kate & Allie (CBS, 1984-1989)
Two longtime friends, both recently divorced, cohabitate in comfy Greenwich Village digs, raising their kids and generally navigated the challenges of easing into adulthood in a society still skewed in favor of the young or those successfully coupled up. As the titular characters, Susan Saint James and Jane Curtin have a real rapport, and the writing consistently favors wit, wisdom, and emotional authenticity over gag-lobbing clamor.
Newhart (CBS, 1982-1990)
Understandably relegated to runner-up status in any discussion of the finest sitcoms named after Bob Newhart, this sitcom set in a Vermont inn played to the master comic’s strengths, especially as it expanded its scope to regularly employ the oddball residents of the local town. It’s also a fine example of a show making shrewd adjustments, adding major characters as expertly as Cheers did. Newhart has more to recommend it than its famed finale twist.
Raising Hope (Fox, 2010-2014)
Greg Garcia’s follow-up to the clever — but clearly fated to burn out quickly — My Name is Earl, this family sitcom has a cartoonish verve and an acute understanding of what it’s like to scramble through a lower-middle-class existence in the modern U.S. The cast is aces, smartly portraying characters that are distinct enough from one another to develop proper comedic tension while feeling believably connected at the same time.
Santa Clarita Diet (Netflix, 2017-2019)
Here’s Fresco again, this time creating a black comedy that spoofs zombie stories, putting the ravenous craving for human flesh into a suburban wife, mom, and realtor, playing with trademark goofball geniality by Drew Barrymore. The inspired writing allows the show to careen right up to the edge of farce while remaining tightly contained. Santa Clarita Diet comes across as a zingy magic act.
Silicon Valley (HBO, 2014-2019)
I’ve rarely seen a television comedy as tightly, ingeniously plotted as this send up of the booming, busting merry-go-round of technology companies. Entire season’s worth of shifting fortunes are packed into single episodes, and seedlings tossed seemingly at random sprout into towering trees that that the hapless heroes swing into face first.
I have chomped on digital bait before.