For more than eight decades, the sitcom has both marked the times and provided a balm against them. From Rob Petrie tripping over his ottoman on The Dick Van Dyke Show to Ilana face-planting on a Broad City subway car; from The Honeymooners’ Ralph Kramden barely containing his frustration with Ed Norton to Atlanta’s Paper Boi doing 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 sides.
To choose the 100 greatest sitcoms ever, we first had to decide how to define the term. Sketch comedies were out, from the explicit, like Saturday Night Live and The Muppet Show, to the more ambiguous, such as The Rocky and Bullwinkle Show. Ditto comedy-drama hybrids that ran around an hour — Freaks and Geeks, say, or Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. Half-hour dramedies presented a blurrier picture; we took those 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.” Where Enlightened and The Wonder Years seemed to fall just too far over the drama side of the line, for example, Atlanta and Better Things had enough comedy to qualify. This list is also composed entirely of English-language comedies, primarily American ones, with a handful of British and Canadian shows making the cut.
Mostly, though, we were looking for a consistent group of characters and settings. Then we considered not just how much these series made us laugh, but also how much they influenced the shows that followed, how well they reflected the world around them, and, on occasion, how deeply they made us feel emotions beyond mirth.