Monday, January 30th, 2012

Kicking Off the Best Sitcom Episode Ever Tournament: I Love Lucy vs. The Honeymooners and The Simpsons vs. Seinfeld

Today, we're kicking off a pretty big and relatively ridiculous project: the Best Sitcom Episode Ever Tournament. We here have gathered up 32 nominations for the single best sitcom episode to ever air (thanks in part to all of your suggestions) and made a bracket. We'll now be pitting all of these classic and future-classic episodes against each other in a single-elimination battle for supremacy, with your votes determining which episode advances and which stays behind.

And I know, comedy is subjective and there's no real "best" episode out there. Some people will find their all-time-favorite didn't even make the bracket. But don't sweat it: this is the internet. It's just for fun. Because in the end, it's just an excuse to talk about some of the funniest episodes of TV ever made.

We'll be putting two polls up per day for the first round, which starts today. Today's competition: I Love Lucy — Lucy Does a TV Commercial vs. The Honeymooners — Head of the House and The Simpsons — Last Exit to Springfield vs. Seinfeld — The Contest. Heavyweights right off the bat!

You can see the full bracket above, and here's each region broken down so you can see everything more clearly, as well as the first two polls:

I Love Lucy — “Lucy Does a TV Commercial,” May 5, 1952

Classics are classic for a reason, and it’s the same reason “Lucy Does a TV Commercial” is one of the most well-known episodes of TV ever. When Lucy finds out that Ricky’s hosting a TV commercial, she pulls out all the stops to star in it — first treating us to a meta performance of the “Lucille Ricardo Show” from inside her television to convince Ricky to cast her, and finally putting off the hired actress and showing up at the studio herself. Once there, Lucille Ball’s talent for physical comedy and her irrepressible charm truly take over the screen. From her horrified grimace at the first spoonfuls of the 23% alcoholic Vitameatavegemin, to her hiccupping, swaying, slurring drunken malapropisms, it’s the Lucy show, all right, and it’s definitely lovable. — Hallie Cantor

The Honeymooners — “Head of the House,” March 31, 1956

Pretty much every episode of The Honeymooners follows one of two formulas: either Ralph Kramden comes up with a hare-brained scheme with his carefree buddy Ed Norton, or, like in “Head of the House,” he boasts (in this case, to a reporter) that he’s the King of His Castle, though it’s really his long-suffering wife, Alice, who’s in charge. Ralph’s bravado is published in the newspaper, and he tries to hide the story from Alice. She, of course, reads it, and he spends the rest of the episode proving how much of The Man he is. It’s got nearly every trope in the book — Double Take, Jerk with a Heart of Gold, and Every Episode Ending — because The Honeymooners practically wrote said book. Watching a Honeymooners episode, and “Head of the House” in particular, in 2012 is like the history of sitcoms in a tight 22-minute package. — Josh Kurp

Poll closed.

The Simpsons — “Last Exit to Springfield,” March 11, 1993

Mendoza. “If only we'd listened to that boy, instead of walling him up in the abandoned coke oven.” The Big Book of British Smiles. “I want a burrito!” Poor Chuckie Fitzhugh. Dental plan…Lisa needs braces. Don Homer. Backdoor shenanigans. Hired goons? A thousand monkeys working on a thousand typewriters. “Let’s get him, fellas.” Any Simpsons fan immediately recognizes (and laughs at) every one of those references, and they’re all from ONE EPISODE. “Last Exit to Springfield,” written by Jay Kogen and Wallace Wolodarsky, is impossibly perfect; it’s jam-packed with dozens of references, yet never feels overstuffed. Every line is necessary, every line is hilarious, and for a show with nearly 500 episodes, “Last Exit” is THE episode to start with for any person unlucky enough to not have seen The Simpsons before. — Josh Kurp

Seinfeld — "The Contest," November 18, 1992

Forget best sitcom episode ever — I would argue that the funniest moment from any sitcom ever is the above, when Kramer bursts in Jerry's door, slams money down on the counter, and says "out!" It still forces a belly laugh from me, even having seen this episode countless times. And what makes this moment so funny is what makes this episode so perfect: it's an entire episode about masturbating (well, about not masturbating), but they never explicitly say what the Contest is about. So Kramer's near-immediate failure and bold admission of such carries so much subtext that you can't help but laugh. In one word and bold motion, we get so much about this character and so much about this show. They didn't need to over-explain things or wring jokes out of the dirtiness of the act the episode was centered around. By playing a little bit coy, they ratcheted up the tension so when you put everything together in your head, it was just about perfect. — Adam Frucci

Poll closed.

Brackets designed by Steve Dressler.

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  • Bill@twitter

    This is a fun idea. And the Simpsons vs. Seinfeld bracket here is ridiculously difficult. For my money, those might be the two greatest sitcom episodes ever.

    Things that might be problematic are the fact that, I suspect, very few of us have seen many of the older sitcoms, and might not take the time to watch them.
    Also, sitcoms with a large pull on the internet, like Community, might unreasonably take most of the votes. Just the fact that only Community and Seinfeld have two episodes already telegraphs that.

    • http://splitsider.com Adam Frucci

      @Bill@twitter The Simpsons has two episodes as well! But yeah, you're right. We were concerned about young-person bias when putting the list together, but I also think that sitcoms have objectively gotten better in the past 10-20 years with the advent of cable, DVR and the internet, allowing for multi-episode arcs and jokes that pay off over multiple episodes. Sitcoms no longer have to be self-contained little things that work independently of all other episodes.

      Not that that makes them inherently better. But I do think we're seeing more ambitious and adventurous sitcoms now than we were in the 70s and 80s. Speaking as someone born in 1983. Hence the just for fun disclaimer!

    • My Number is my Address

      @Adam Frucci I think you are generally right but there were some great things done in the 70s/early 80s (Soap, Mary Hartman, Fernwood2Nite) but since the Office there has been a real flourishing in a short time, Office (not entirely fair to include the UK, if the Office why not Brass Eye, Inbetweeners, Alan Partridge?), Office US, 30 Rock, AD, Curb, Community, Party On, Parks and Rec, Philadelphia, Venture Bros, Children's Hospital… This is a great time we live in.

    • Bill@twitter

      @Adam Frucci @My Number is my Address @Anthony Coro: All good points indeed. And Adam, I see now that Simpsons has two and I'm glad, they deserve it.

  • Anthony Coro

    I love this idea and can't wait to see how it plays out. I'll confess a bias towards more recent sitcoms as well–but as Adam argues, I do think that sitcoms maybe haven't gotten funnier per se, but in the past decade or two, they've become much more clever. Of course there are plenty of exceptions in both directions but that's the general sense I have.

    I am so not looking forward to the Office US vs. UK matchup. Both of them are awkward humor at its finest and most uncomfortable.

  • Navahomie@twitter

    "Where's my burrito"* :)

  • cutiger22

    I know how hard it is to pick one episode to represent an entire series, and for the most part you guys did a phenomenal job. I have to say you whiffed on It's Always Sunny though. There are so many episodes that would have been better- Charlie has Cancer, Underage Drinking: A National Concern, Million Dollar Baby, The Gang Gets Invincible, Sweet Dee has a Heart Attack, etc. But really, the clear choice to me is Mac Bangs Dennis's Mom.

  • Multiphasic

    I'm a little disappointed that Scrubs didn't get a single representative. Just because Braff turned into a smug twee dickbeast and the show endured five seasons of death throes doesn't change the fact that seasons 1–3 entirely redefined the shit you can get away with in 20 minutes.

  • http://sparklepony.blogspot.com Peteykins

    "Chuckles Bites the Dust" FTW!

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Keith-Kisser/1225412836 Keith Kisser

    Lucy and The Simpsons, no contest. Neither The Honeymooners nor Sienfeld have aged well. In the case of the Honeyooners, turns out that jokes about beating your wife just aren't funny anymore for some weird reason. As for Seinfeld, well, it was never funny to begin with and has just gotten tired.

    As for the 21st century brackets, I'm unimpressed. I can think of a dozen episodes of How I Met Your Mother that are funnier than any episode of The Office (UK or US, take your pick).

  • Stephenson Billings@facebook

    Oh crap, I missed the nomination process… I was hoping to see All in the Family in there… The Sammy Davis Jr. episode from season 2 is one of the great ones.

  • Francis Rizzo III@twitter

    As great as it is to see two reps for Community, no inclusion for The League is disappointing.

    I'm curious as to what the numbers mean. Are they seedings? Is so, it should be 1-8 in each section, with 1 vs. 8, 2 vs. 7, etc. #tourneynerd

    • http://splitsider.com Adam Frucci

      @Francis Rizzo III@twitter The numbers don't mean anything – they aren't seeds. We probably should have taken them out of the bracket. They were just so we could keep track of how many shows we had. Seeding would open up a whole other can of worms/nerdfights, so the ordering is pretty much random in each bracket.

  • doggans

    Oh, man, when it comes time to vote between "Spy for a Spy" and "It May Look LIke A Walnut", I will be paralyzed with indecision. Two of my favorite episodes of two of my favorite shows from way before I was born.

  • ranran

    My god, you're going to make me choose between "Steve Guttenberg's Birthday" (the best sitcom episode of the last 10 years) and "Over the River and Through the Woods" (the best episode of ANY tv show EVER)? How does this even happen? I'm to believe these are wildcards?

  • sonictreats

    i just think there are better representatives available from some of the shows mentioned…Larry Sanders' "Hank's Night in the Sun"…the Newsradio episode where Jimmy James runs for President, or even where they skip ahead to fifty years in the future…the Frasier episode with the old-time-y radio play…the U.S. Office's "The Injury" (and it's very hard to choose between "Diversity Day" and U.K.'s "Training")…but i love this competition and am thoroughly enjoying everyone's comments!!

  • Allen Groue@facebook

    Really, you include Friends but no Modern Family? IS THERE NO JUSTICE IN THE WORLD??? (I generally agree with the rest of the inclusions).

  • Ryan McAteer@facebook

    Scott Tennerman must die aired in 2001.