After the enormous response I received after writing my article, Best Sitcoms of All Time I decided to get a little more specific and come up with a list of the Top 20 best sitcoms of the 90s. This list is, of course, far more contemporary, and I hope this time around the majority of the readers will be able to identify with the shows I’ve listed here.
The 90s was another decade that produced many of the greatest sitcoms ever made, following up the success of the 80s that brought us such classic shows as Cheers, The Cosby Show, Night Court, Newhart and Family Ties. For those that are sticklers shows like Will and Grace and King of Queens will be conspicuously absent. Since these shows had the bulk of their run in the 2000s I’ve elected to keep them off the list. That said, here are my picks for the best of the decade:
20 – Men Behaving Badly – Much like The Office this was a British sitcom that enjoyed success and tried to duplicate that success in an American market. The British show is a comedy classic, the American version, well, not so much. Rob Schneider, Ron Eldard and Justine Bateman did deliver some laughs during the short run. The U.S. version is worth a watch, but if you really want to get the full flavor of the series as it was intended to be definitely check out the British version.
19 – Just Shoot Me – A sitcom centering around a fashion magazine Just Shoot Me had a strong cast that kept the show going even though the plot lines were often pretty thin (even for a sitcom). David Spade is at his sarcastic best as assistant Dennis Finch, and the character interaction between Finch and Maya Gallo (Laura San Giacomo), Nina Van Horn (Wendie Mallick), Jack Gallo (George Segal), and Elliot DiMauro (Enrico Colantoni) helped the show last 148 episodes.
18 – Family Matters – Though it may have featured one of the most irritating characters in television history – nerdy neighbor Steve Urkel (Jaleel White), this spin-off of Perfect Strangers had enough charm to last a whopping 215 episodes, making it the second longest running sitcom in TV history with a largely African-American cast.
17 – Full House – Though the Olsen twins are now international fashion moguls, way back when they were just a couple of cute kids living with John Stamos and Bob Saget. This show is a little too cute to appeal to the teenage/young adult male demographic, but it was a good family show for parents to enjoy with their younger kids.
16 – The Nanny – The Price is Right Drew Carey is primarily known as a comedian, and he along with co-stars Ryan Stiles, Diedrich Bader and Kathy Kinney cracked audiences up for the better part of 10 years with their antics on this show. Kinney is particularly good (but scarily vulgar) as the Tammy Faye Baker-esque, muumuu-wearing Mimi Bobeck. With a cast of great improv comedians it makes one wonder if they ever managed to stay on script.
13 – Mad About You– Another sitcom that might not have as much appeal to the males in the crowd due to its strong resemblance to a chick flick. Helen Hunt, who has since gone on to enjoy a successful movie career and Paul Reiser, who had previously appeared in the sci-fi classic Aliens star, and share some of the best onscreen chemistry ever shared by a couple on the small screen.
12 – Wings– There really is an unlimited number of potential settings for sitcoms. If a show about a couple of brothers running a small airline out of Nantucket can enjoy a successful run, then just about any idea can “fly”. Well, let me qualify that, any cast that features such great actors as Tony Shalhoub, Thomas Haden Church, Timothy Daly and Steven Weber can make a go of it. Even supporting actor David Schramm is brilliant, creating one of the most obnoxious sitcom characters of all time in the form of the oily and overbearing Roy Biggins. Definitely an underrated comedy and an easy pick for one of the best sitcoms of the 90s.
11 – Roseanne – Speaking of obnoxious characters, Roseanne Barr’s sarcastic matriarch certainly ranks right up there. This show was an ABC cornerstone for much of the 90s, staying in the top 4 for 6 of its 9 seasons and earning actors Roseanne Barr, John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf plenty of well deserved hardware for their respective performances on the show. The show was also a pioneer in the sitcom genre for being one of the first to tackle many sensitive subjects not normally seen outside of serious TV dramas.
10 – News Radio – Another underrated show is my pick as I enter the top 10 sitcoms of the 90s. The show featured an absolutely brilliant cast that included late, great SNL alum Phil Hartman, former kid in the hall Dave Foley, Andy Dick, Joe Rogan, Stephen Root and Maura Tierney. The top notch writing perfectly complemented the stellar acting ability and comedic timing of the cast, making for one of the most consistently funny shows on television.
9 – The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air – Though he is now one of Hollywood’s biggest motion picture star, this former rapper earned his acting wings as the lovable goof-off Will, a teenager from West Philadelphia who winds up living with his rich aunt and uncle in Bel-Air. Smith quickly proved he not only possessed immense charisma and comedic timing, but also had some serious acting chops missing in many of his fellow rappers who’ve tried to make the jump to the big screen. As good as Smith is Alfonso Ribeiro is just as good in support in the role he was born to play as Will’s annoying, nerdy cousin Carlton. Want a laugh? Do a YouTube search for Carlton dancing. Absolutely classic.
8 – Murphy Brown– Few sitcoms in the history of television have been as decorated as this newsroom comedy starring Candice Bergen, and with good reason. With incredible writing, even better acting and a consistency that every sitcom should strive for there can be little argument for this show’s inclusion on the list. Bergen is brilliant in the lead role as Murphy Brown, and her performance didn’t go unrecognized, earning her an incredible 5 Emmy Awards as Outstanding Lead Actress in a Comedy Series during the show’s run.
7 – Home Improvement– Where Mad About You was a show catering to a female demographic, this show is definitely one for the guys. Tim Allen stars as Tim “The Tool Man” Taylor, a power tool obsessed man’s man who hosts his own home improvement show. The premise is simple, but funny (at least to guys). One of those rare shows that don’t seem to age, this show is still relevant and funny, and you’ll still find yourself cracking up if you watch the old episodes.
6 – Everybody Loves Raymond – As I mentioned above I previously compiled a list of the best sitcoms of all time, and the outrage at the exclusion of this show was expressed over and over again in comments. Well, hopefully this makes up for it (though I’m sure some will complain it’s not high enough). Ray Romano is a brilliant stand-up comic and he makes a seamless transition from behind the mic to the world of television. As good as Romano is as Raymond Barone, his supporting cast really make the show, with Patricia Heaton, Brad Garrett, Doris Roberts and Peter Boyle all hilarious in their respective roles.
5 – Married… With Children – The Fox Network is known for pushing the boundaries of what is generally considered good taste for network television, and though this sitcom about the underachieving Bundy family may seem tame by today’s standards, back in the early 90s it certainly sparked its fair share of controversy. Ed O’Neill, who has recently made a triumphant return to television on the show Modern Family stars as one of television’s most iconic patriarchs, former high school football star and current shoe salesman Al Bundy. He, along with his wife Peggy, his children Bud and Kelly form one of the most dysfunctional families ever to appear on TV.
4 – Frasier – Speaking of decorated shows, Frasier sets the bar when it comes to accolades, and this spin-off from the 80s hit show Cheers earned a record 37 Emmy awards during its incredible 11 year run. Kelsey Grammar reprises his role as stuffy psychiatrist Frasier, but it is David Hyde Pierce as Frasier’s geeky brother and fellow psychiatrist Niles who really steals the show. Truly one of the best sitcom supporting characters ever.
3 – The Simpsons – Will this show ever end? Honestly, I hope not. I don’t know how creator Matt Groening keeps coming up with so many original ideas, but his prolific mind has been our gain for 2 decades now. Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa, Maggie and the dozens of supporting characters that inhabit the town of Springfield have become as well known over the years as the characters of any other “real life” show on television. The humor is irreverent, but always hilarious, and even the most jaded viewer will be hard-pressed to keep from cracking a smile at Homer’s antics.
2 – Friends – Few casts before or since have enjoyed as much chemistry as Matthew Perry (Chandler), Matt LeBlanc (Joey), David Schwimmer (Ross), Courteney Cox (Monica), Jennifer Anniston (Rachel) and Lisa Kudrow (Phoebe) did on the massive hit sitcom Friends. The show’s concept is a simple as you can imagine: it follows the interaction between a group of 6 friends and the relationships they form. Despite the simplistic recipe the show became a massive hit, and that can be chalked up to the fact that Friends had something to appeal to every taste. The sarcastic Chandler and the incredibly dumb Joey provided plenty of comic relief while Ross and Rachael provided romance. Phoebe and Monica each had their own charms and neurosis that viewers could identify with. All in all this was a show that reflected the lives of groups of friends everywhere, and just seemed to ring true in so many ways.
1 – Seinfeld – Really, this should come as no surprise. Seinfeld was not only the funniest show on television in the 90s, it is arguably the best sitcom of all time. Jerry Seinfeld and his friends redefine the phrase self-centered, and their constant misadventures in this show about nothing has given us some of the most memorable quotes in television history, many of which are still in use today. Perhaps the biggest reason the show still remains immensely popular today is due to the fact that it didn’t overstay its welcome. It ended on a high, never jumping the shark. Always leave your audience wanting more, they say, and Seinfeld did this to perfection.