8 Greatest Modern Sitcoms (Monk’s Cafe)

…In which yesterday’s portly 16 becomes today’s rather slender 8

I’m Alan Partridge beats Parks and Recreation

Is it just me or is Tina Fey not, in fact, the funniest woman in America (therefore: the world). From the couch I’m sitting on, she’s not even the funniest woman on NBC’s Thursday night schedule. As Parks and Recreation continues to be slap-your-thighs-in-wonderment incredible, that would be Amy Poehler, the Hilary Clinton to Fey’s SNL Sarah Palin. 

True or not, Parks… is Exhibit A, B, and C in the case against giving up on a show too early. Starting out, it was just about the most blatant Office rip-off imaginable – with a female Brent/Scott, like that’s fooling anyone – while the straight-jacket of its initial storyline (something about turning a pit into a park) seemed, well, inescapable. Look at it now though! Big laughs every single episode, eye candy everywhere (for starters, Rob Lowe for the ladies, and Rashida Jones for gentlemen), and a whole host of genuinely likable characters. It’s a juggernaut of japes, alright… and even so, that’s right my friends, Partridge is overtaking anyway. In his Lexus, wearing leather driving gloves, and on his way to the Linton Travel Tavern.

Seinfeld beats The Inbetweeners

For all that The Inbetweeners isn’t exactly the kind of sitcom you’d recommend to your grandparents any time soon (in my case, alas, it really would be futile), there’s still something about it capable of winning them over anyway. Sure, they might think some of the language a touch ‘blue,’ and, sure, there’s a decent chance they won’t relate too closely with its filthy torrents of adolescent randiness… and yet, somewhere round about the edges, I reckon it’s a fair bet they’d spy the outline of a Norman Wisdom or a Sid James peeking through. And they’d like that, because they used to when they weren’t so terribly fucking old. Right?

…Nevertheless, if The Inbetweeners is a funny telling of an always funny tale (innocence perverted by heaving balls), Seinfeld in its masterly way is all of that and then some. Even if, all those years ago, BBC 2 did insist on ‘showcasing’ it around midnight. Some of us had school in the morning,  you know…

The Larry Sanders Show beats Gavin & Stacey

With the benefit of being an ocean away, I guess I’ve never really noticed the apparent over-exposure of Messrs. Horne and Corden post-Gavin & Stacey. So I haven’t yet had the experience of finding them cloying, or annoying, or whatever else it is they’ve seemingly become. Instead, in the company of an ever-lovely Jacqueline (who simply can’t get enough of the Welsh accents), Gavin & Stacey is reliably a treat. Still more so given BBC America’s typically skewed take on ‘the best of British telly’ (80% Doctor Who, Top Gear, and Gordon Ramsey).

In any case, try this out for size. Most modern sitcoms fall more-or-less into one of two camps: Camp Seinfeld, which welcomes the loser as well as such things as giving up, getting even, and pettiness; and Camp Friends, which prefers to make room for lovable triers, looking on the bright-side, and hoping for the best. British sitcoms are nearly always better at the former – yet from Rob Brydon’s ever-affable Uncle Bryn to the large chunks of screen-time it gives over to happy-go-lucky family piss-ups, Gavin & Stacey is a triumphant example of the latter.

Having said all of that, it’s nowhere near as good as Larry Sanders, is it?

The Office (UK) beats Flight of the Conchords

If you’ve never seen Flight of the Conchords you should almost certainly arrange an appointment with your local doctor/therapist/analrapist*/priest/rabbi/guru/imam, and as quickly as possible, at that – before the defective part of your brain making terrible decisions succeeds in destroying you completely. Well, roughly speaking anyhow.

Flight… is ridiculously entertaining. So good, in fact, it even manages to make New Zealand seem somehow greater than the (universally accepted) sum of its parts (sheep, rugby, The Lord of the Rings, and an inferiority-complex relative to Australia). Just consider Murray for a second, the high-water mark of its killer ensemble.# I put it to you, ever-discerning reader, that in no substantial way is he any less funny than a George Costanza or a Hank Kingsley or an Alan Partridge. You could look at Murray doing anything, or nothing, and still count on it being wet-yourself-funny.

In other words, definitely only a narrow win for The Office this time round… but a win nonetheless. On account of being globally influential and such.

[ * – © Tobias Fünke, Arrested Development. ]

[ # – and, no, I don’t look like Jemaine, thank you very much. ]

Arrested Development beats Friends

Friends gets a bad wrap quite a bit, doesn’t it? For being slick, and formulaic, and… popular. Well, what a stinky pile of poo poo – you could say the same things about The Bee Gees and they gave the world Nights on Broadway and Tragedy. So what if Friends has all the edginess of a cupcake, and is no more subversive than a squirrel munching on some nuts? It’s a perfectly acceptable way of pleasantly passing 22 minutes and that, hot-damn-diggedy, is its one and only job. It can’t compete with Arrested Development, though. That would be like asking a regular smart person to count things faster than Rain Man.

(For the record: 1. Aniston, 2. Cox, 3. Schwimmer, 4. Kudrow, 5. Perry, 6. LeBlanc; no offense to Kudrow personally.)

The Royle Family beats The Office (US)

Hmmm, let’s put this one down to my innate, good old-fashioned, cricket-loving, Edward Elgar humming, sense of fair play. Of course The Office has something pretty special about it, but it can’t be two of eight best modern sitcoms, can it? That would be like asking ‘what’s the best kind of food’ and then suggesting only different kinds of Indian curry. Actually, no, scratch that, suggesting only different kinds of Indian curry would, in fact, just be correct.

What price, by the way, there ever being an American remake of The Royle Family? Far be it from to rush to judgement or anything, but I’m pretty sure that would DEFINITELY BE THE WORST KIND OF RUNNY DOG-SHIT. Indeed, as lad-mag Loaded used to say, a bunch of arse. Anyhow, altogether now: I would like to leave this city/This old town don’t smell too pretty…

Peep Show beats The Sarah Silverman Program

Imagine sharing a long car journey with Jesse Armstrong and Sam Bain (aka: the two men who write most of the things that Mark and Jeremy say/think in Peep Show). They’d probably come across as a pair of self-deprecating comedy geniuses, wouldn’t they? (Let’s just assume so, anyhow; it’s easier that way). Now imagine sharing some small-talk over a couple of bagels with Sarah Silverman. She’d be pretty funny as well, right. But – and I really can’t stress this enough – also completely terrifying, no?

At least that’s my take on the difference between these two shows… Even if The Sarah Silverman Program did reach the same lofty heights as Peep Show (it doesn’t), there’d still be the ‘problem’ of otherworldly, comedy maverick Silverman to deal with. She’s a genuine rib-tickler par excellence, no question, but good luck trying to relate to her! Mark and Jeremy might be bat-shit crazy too – but at least they’re bat-shit crazy like we are (less the helping-hand of comedy-genius screenwriters, of course…).

Curb Your Enthusiasm beats The Trip

Now then, if I think about it for about… seven seconds… these two shows actually have a fair bit in common. Even if the sights of Larry David’s sunny California are nowhere to be seen in The Trip‘s driving tour of north-west England. Both include famous people playing exaggerated versions of themselves, both are kind of ‘meta,’ relying substantially on improvisation, and both are a lot more fun than those other things suggest. The Trip, though, in its slightly more peculiar way, is also things like poignant and beautiful… as if, ah, that’s what happens when a sitcom is conceived by an art-house film director (Michael Winterbottom as if you didn’t already know, you big movie nerd, you).

Anyhow, if you haven’t already, treat yourself to every minute (!) of The Trip on YouTube… And when you’re done with that, add some Curb Your Enthusiasm to your Netflix/LoveFilm and count down the sorry lot of seconds till the most joyous day it lands in your letterbox.

…Which gets us – gulp! – to the figurative garter belt of… Round Three. Steady now, and take a sneak-peak at how it’s shaping up:





So, only the heavyweights left now, right? But who’s Muhammad Ali today, and who’s Muhammad Ali circa-1974? (Yeah, I know, that joke’s in questionable taste, isn’t it.) As before, all will be revealed…


About newjonnytransit

Same as ever, only better.
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