Is the 2011-2012 Sitcom Schedule the Worst in a Decade?
Every year in the fall, and then again in the middle of winter, we get our hopes up for some of the new network sitcoms that are set to premiere on the Big Four (ABC, CBS, FOX, and NBC), and The CW, kind of, and we immediately write off others. Take 2011, for instance: we all knew Whitney and Last Man Standing were going to stink, but hey, Free Agents (before it got cancelled…) and New Girl are actually kind of good! But how does this season so far (which isn’t full completely, and won’t be until Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23 and Napoleon Dynamite, among others, premiere) rank against, say, 2000-2001 and 2005-2006? Below, you’ll see the full list of every 30-minute, scripted sitcom that has premiered on the five network channels listed above (plus WB and UPN, back in the day) since 2000, and how each season compares to its post-Y2K brothers and sisters. I apologize in advance to any hardcore Emily’s Reasons Why Not fans.
If Oliver Beene, which was fine at best, is the best show to come out of the 2002-2003 season, I think last place is a fitting and deserved spot.
Bad: 8 Simple Rules for Dating My Teenage Daughter (3), Abby (1), A.U.S.A. (1), Bram & Alice (1), Do Over (1), Family Affair (1), Good Morning, Miami (1), Greetings from Tucson (1), Half & Half (4), Hidden Hills (1), In-Laws (1), Less Than Perfect (4), Life with Bonnie (2), Lost at Home (1), On the Spot (1), The Pitts (1), Still Standing (4), Wanda at Large (2), What I Like About You (4)
I could have sworn 8 Simple Rules was on longer than three seasons. John Ritter passed away during the filming of season two, and the producers added James Garner and David Spade to the cast, but it went off the air after three years and 76 episodes. TGIF is eternal, though. Bram & Alice was Alfred Molina’s third ill-fated sitcom (The Losers and Ladies Man, anyone?), and it ran for only four episodes. The Scott Foley-starring A.U.S.A. had a terrible title (the acronym stood for Assistant United States Attorney) and awful ratings, and, sadly, not only was Lost at Home not good (although Mrs. Coach from Friday Night Lights was on it), it’s also the final project with Gregory Hines’ name attached to it, before he passed away from liver cancer.
Worst: My Big Fat Greek Life (1), because it tried to extend the popularity of an awful movie and ended up with an even worse TV show.
Neither one of these are all-time great shows, or even very good shows, but in a shitty, crowded year for comedies (see below), they stood out from the pack, thanks mostly to Donal Logue and Kevin Corrigan’s energetic performances on Grounded and Will Ferrell’s irreverent humor on The Oblongs.
Bad: Bette (1), DAG (1), The Geena Davis Show (1), Girlfriends (8), Grosse Pointe (2), The Hughleys (4), Madigan Men (1), My Wife and Kids (5), Nikki (2), Normal, Ohio (1), The Trouble with Normal (1), Tucker (1), Welcome to New York (1), Yes, Dear (6)
2000 was a relatively high-profile year for sitcoms, with Geena Davis (The Geena Davis Show), John Goodman (Normal, Ohio), Jim Gaffigan (Welcome to New York), and Bette Midler (Bette) all receiving starring roles on three different comedies—none of which lasted longer than a season. Girlfriends and Yes, Dear churned out new episodes for years, and to their credit, they never tried to be anything more than they were; it’s just that what they were wasn’t all that interesting. (Although Girlfriends is probably the best UPN sitcom of all-time.) And like much of David Alan Grier’s non-In Living Color/Jumanji career, DAG just kind of happened.
Worst: The Michael Richards Show (1), because the best thing about it was the main character’s name, Vic Nardozza, and even that’s not very funny.
There are a lot of things that bug me about Big Bang Theory, too, especially Sheldon, but I don’t think it’s a bad sitcom. It’s about as good as a sitcom can be on CBS that isn’t How I Met Your Mother. In fact, 2007-2008 had a lot of decent, kind of good sitcoms, like Chuck and Aliens in America (which was so much better than its racist-sounding premise and advertising would have you believe), but nothing amazing.
Bad: Back to You (1), Carpoolers (1), Miss Guided (1), The Return of Jezebel James (1), Unhitched (1), Welcome to the Captain (1)
Jezebel James was the much anticipated return of Amy Sherman-Palladino to TV after the Gilmore Girls creator left the WB drama after it sixth season. It lasted three episodes. But at least it was memorably bad, unlike the bland-to-a-fault Welcome to the Captain (starring Fran Kranz and Jeffrey Tambor), Bruce McCulloch’s Carpoolers, and Back to You, the pre-Modern Family show from Christopher Lloyd and Steven Levitan that literally NO ONE enjoyed. Unhitched had Bobby and Peter Farrelly as executive producers and starred Rashida Jones, but it wasn’t meant to be, and the show, about a group of friends BLAH BLAH BLAH, lasted six episodes.
Worst: Cavemen (1), because what the fuck was Nick Kroll thinking?
Maybe it’s too early to call these four shows successes, but they’ve all been extremely promising so far, with the exception of Free Agents, which was extremely promising before it got cancelled after four episodes. There’s no reason to think the quality will drop as the shows further develop their characters, although New Girl could quickly rise from a B- to a B+ if Zooey stops singing so much.
Bad: 2 Broke Girls, How to Be a Gentleman, Last Man Standing, Man Up
Maybe it’s too early to call these four shows failures…actually, no, it’s not. One of these shows doesn’t exist anymore (Gentlemen); if only the others would be so considerate.
Worst: Whitney, because remember this?
Upcoming: Allen Gregory, Napoleon Dynamite, Don’t Trust the Bitch in Apartment 23, I Hate My Teenage Daughter
Even though we’re in the midst of a full-blown 30 Rock backlash, it’s still one of the most consistently funny and offbeat shows on TV. Tina Fey can do no wrong. (Except for Date Night.) Plus, hey, it’s better than The Tracy Morgan Show (see 2003-2004).
Bad: Andy Barker P.I. (1), The Class (1), The Game (5), Happy Hour (1), In Case of Emergency (1), The Knights of Prosperity (1), Notes from the Underbelly (2), Rules of Engagement (6+), ‘Til Death (4), The Winner (1)
I’m still not entirely sure The Knights of Prosperity, about a group of criminals who try to rob Mick Jagger’s apartment, actually happened. I mean, did the Rolling Stones frontman AND David Letterman’s comically oversized pants really think Knights was a show worth putting their name on? Elsewhere, Rules of Engagement has been on TV for forever, appealing to America’s seedy David Spade-loving underbelly (as opposed to Jennifer Westfeldt’s Notes from the Underbelly), while Brad Garrett’s voice annoyed many in ‘Til Death. The Winner, starring Rob Corddry and Erinn Hayes, did not live up to its title. (That was bad, I’m sorry.)
Worst: Twenty Good Years (1), because while Til’ Death was more obnoxious, Twenty Good Years starred Jeffrey Tambor and John Lithgow and still managed to be unfunny. It’s The Bucket List, but with TWO old white guys, and even more unfulfilled potential. Almost as disappointing: David Crane’s The Class, which starred Lizzy Caplan and Jesse Tyler Ferguson.
The 2003-2004 season had one of the greatest shows of all-time, and a whole heaping pile of crap. It pains me to put Arrested this low, but see below.
Bad: All About the Andersons (1), All of Us (4), The Big House (1), Coupling (1), Cracking Up (1), Eve (3), Happy Family (1), The Help (1), Hope & Faith (3), I’m with Her (1), It’s All Relative (1), Like Family (1), Luis (1), Married to the Kellys (1), Method & Red (1), A Minute with Stan Hooper (1), The Mullets (1), Quintuplets (1), Rock Me Baby (1), Run of the House (1), The Stones (1), The Tracy Morgan Show (1), Two and a Half Men (9+), Whoopi (1)
Just a bad, bad year for network comedy. There’s of course, the King of Crap, Two and a Half Men, but also Whoopi (guess who was in that!); The Tracy Morgan Show; Quintuplets, starring Andy Richter, but not Donnie Richter; The Mullets, which should have been better, considering it was created by comedic geniuses Bill Oakley and Josh Weinstein, of Simpsons fame; and the Anthony Anderson-led All About the Andersons, among others. Yikes.
Worst: Coupling (1), because it’s the biggest mistake in the error-filled résumé of Jeff Zucker.
Happy Endings and Raising Hope have become two of the best comedies on TV, and Bob’s Burgers, one of the best animated comedies. Happy, in particular, has slowly been gaining weird of mouth love after ABC gave it a mid-season premiere, but because fans of the show speak loudly and with a Penny-like enthusiasm (if you watched it, you’d get it), the ratings have increased since season one. Loren Bouchard’s Bob’s Burgers and the voice of Jon H. Benjamin will be a welcome winter return to Fox’s Sunday night schedule, if only because it means less Cleveland Show.
Bad: Better with You (1), Breaking In (1+), Friends with Benefits (1), Love Bites (1), Mad Love (1), Mike & Molly (1+), Mr. Sunshine (1), Outsourced (1), Perfect Couples (1), Running Wilde (1), $#*! My Dad Says (1), Traffic Light (1)
This was only last season and I have no recollection of Better with You. All the other shows I remember, however, including Matthew Perry’s droll and unfunny Mr. Sunshine; the not-quite-Arrested Development-part-two Running Wilde, created by Mitchell Hurwitz; and Love Bites and Friends with Benefits, which NBC burned off in the summer, when no one was watching. (They succeeded!) $#*! My Dad Says, starring William Shatner, was just as bad as everyone assumed it would be, and while Melissa McCarthy is wonderful and hilarious, Mike & Molly is not.
Worst: The Paul Reiser Show (1), because it momentarily made us hate Larry David.
Four solid, consistent sitcoms (which applies to the four above, although How I Met is the best of the group, and Old Christine the worst) and a bunch of crap beats one very good sitcom, no middle-ground, and a bunch of crap any day.
Bad: Courting Alex (1), Crumbs (1), Freddie (1), Free Ride (1), Four Kings (1), Hot Properties (1), Kitchen Confidential (1), The Loop (2), Love, Inc. (1), Modern Men (1), Out of Practice (1), Sons & Daughters (1), Teachers (1), Twins (1), The War at Home (2)
In the long-ago fall of 2005, Freddie Prinze, Jr. fresh off of doing nothing worthwhile since She’s All That six years prior, starred in Freddie, about a guy living with three female family members. Hilarity ensued. Kitchen Confidential had a stellar cast, led by Bradley Cooper, John Cho, Xander from Buffy, and Sam from Freaks and Geeks, but the show was derailed by scheduling problems (it aired on Fox, during baseball playoffs season) and iffy writing. The Curb-like scripted/improv Sons & Daughters, meanwhile, had Lorne Michaels’ name attached to it, but only ran for 10 episodes, while Four Kings, which starred Seth Green (who had Robot Chicken and Family Guy to fall back on), lasted seven.
Worst: Emily’s Reasons Why Not (1), because it’s become the standard for bad sitcoms lasting a comically short amount of time. One episode, that’s all it took before Emily was cancelled. One episode.
I will not rest until American Dad! gets the appreciation it deserves. Remember that awesome time-bending episode of Community from two weeks ago? Well, the guy who wrote it, Chris McKenna, wrote an even better time-bending episode of American Dad!, “Rapture’s Delight.” Watch it now, fall in love, and then come back and we’ll talk (with Dunder Mifflin historian Megh Wright) about how season eight of The Office isn’t as bad as people say.
Bad: Center of the Universe (1), Committed (1), Complete Savages (1), Cuts (2), Father of the Pride (1), Life on a Stick (1), Jake in Progress (2), Joey (2), Rodney (2), Second Time Around (1), Stacked (2)
I remember really wanting the expensive-looking Father of the Pride to be awesome, because I was (am) obsessed with John Goodman and Carl Reiner, and was also head-over-heels in love with Shrek-style animation. I was 17, and I was wrong. It stunk. Life on a Stick came from the same guy who created Andy Richter Controls the Universe, Victor Fresco, but it wasn’t nearly as whimsical, while, well, Joey was Joey. Committed and Second Time Around couldn’t get their networks to commit to a second season for either, and Stacked (the Pam Anderson show) was anything but. As for Cuts, pun-based shows starring Shannon Elizabeth should never last more than two seasons, and it didn’t.
Worst: Listen Up! (1), because sportswriter Tony Kornheiser is an arrogant prick and didn’t deserve to have a show based on his life, starring none other than Jason Alexander, ever air on TV.
Quite possibly the best comedy on TV today, combined with a show that could have been all-time great, in a down year in terms of network giving the green light to sitcoms? Parks and Better make for a stellar #3 ranking.
Bad: Do Not Disturb (1), Gary Unmarried (2), In the Motherhood (1), Kath & Kim (1), Surviving Suburbia (1), Worst Week (1)
Kath & Kim and Worst Week were based on beloved Australian and British sitcoms, but their American remakes, starring Molly Shannon and Selma Blair (17 episodes) and Kyle Bornheimer (16), went unloved. In the Motherhood was based on a web series and had a strong cast, led by Cheryl Hines, Horatio Sanz, and Megan Mullally, but was canceled due to low ratings after five episodes. Abraham Higginbotham has written for two great shows, Arrested Development and Modern Family, and two spectacularly bad ones, the aforementioned A.U.S.A and Do Not Disturb, starring Jerry O’Connell and Niecy Nash. Bob Saget’s Surviving Suburbia couldn’t survive season one.
Worst: Sit Down, Shut Up (1), because we know how good Mitchell Hurwitz can be.
The Tick and Undeclared are three of the most beloved cult shows of all-time, and every time I see a man walk down the street with a puppy suit, I think of Andy Richter Controls the Universe, second only to Freaks and Geeks in terms of one-season comedic nerdy love. Scrubs ran a bit longer than it should, but seasons 1-5 (when things weren’t as wacky) are fantastic, while Bernie Mac remained consistently good during its five-year run.
Bad: According to Jim (8), Bob Patterson (1), Danny (1), The Ellen Show (1), George Lopez (6), Inside Schwartz (1), Leap of Faith (1), Maybe It’s Me (1), Men, Women, & Dogs (1), Off Centre (2), One on One (5), Raising Dad (1), Reba (6), What About Joan? (2)
Otherwise known as the year of the crappy name-based sitcom (Andy Richter and Bernie Mac, excepted). There was Joan Cusack stealing (and not in a good way) precious onscreen time away from Kyle Chandler on What About Joan?; Jason Alexander continuing the Seinfeld Curse on Bob Patterson, as motivational speaker Bob Patterson; Ellen DeGeneres trying, and failing, to recapture the glory years of Ellen with The Ellen Show; Reba McEntire appealing to America’s heartland on Reba, and confounding everyone else with the show’s huge success; the wonderful Daniel Stern living in a post-Dilbert, not so wonderful haze on Danny; George Lopez being George Lopez on George Lopez; and, of course, According to Jim, the ultimate “HOW THE HELL DID THIS AIR FOR EIGHT SEASONS?” show.
Worst: Emeril (1), because it’s the worst titular-based show of all-time.
I’ve shouted my love of Community from the proverbial rooftop of the Internet many times before (and recap the show every week), but I’m not putting 2009-2010 just because of Community. Modern Family has successfully cradled the line between massive ratings and massive comedy nerd appeal in a way no sitcom has pulled off since Seinfeld, and Cougar Town and The Middle are two of the more under appreciated shows on TV. A great season for comedy, and all four of the shows are still on TV! That’s the most impressive thing of all.
Bad: Accidentally on Purpose (1), The Cleveland Show (3+), Hank (1), Romantically Challenged (1), Sons of Tuscon (1)
Hank, about a Wall Street executive (played by Kelsey Grammar) losing his job, is so perfectly 2009, and just like how 2009 blew, so did Hank. The Cleveland Show continues to sluggishly drag on, even though I’ve never met a person who actually enjoys the show, while Sons of Tuscon also aired on Sunday nights, but only ran for 13 episodes. (It was the first live action sitcom to air on Fox Sunday nights between 8-10 p.m. since the equally shitty The War at Home.) The less said about Accidentally on Purpose, the better.
Worst: Brothers (1), because I hated Michael Strahan when he was on the New York Giants, and I hated him even more as an actor.