The Best Sitcom Episode Ever Tournament is pitting 32 of the greatest episodes of funny TV shows ever produced against each other in a single-elimination winner-takes-all (well, takes-nothing) competition. Every day, we're putting up episodes for you, our loyal readers, to vote on. Today: Seinfeld vs. Friends and I Love Lucy vs. The Dick Van Dyke Show.
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 "I'm 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
Friends — "The One With the Embryos," January 15, 1998
The One With the Embryos has a simple plot: a competition between the guys (Joey and Chandler) and girls (Monica and Rachel) to see which side knows the other better. The jokes are plentiful and soundly funny, because they all stem directly from the identities of the characters (who else but Chandler Bing would let his TV Guide be delivered to “Miss Chanandler Bong”?). The subplot in which Phoebe finds out she’s going to be a surrogate mother for her brother (guest star Giovanni Ribisi) adds heart to an episode that does what this show did best: let us have fun just hanging out with characters who’d become our own friends. — Hallie Cantor
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 Dick Van Dyke Show — “It May Look Like a Walnut,” February 6, 1963
We think of high-concept, “weird” sitcom episodes as being a relatively recent phenomenon, but back in 1963, The Dick Van Dyke Show was doing stories about a character fearing that walnuts will steal his thumbs and imagination. The character in question is Rob (Van Dyke), who keeps his wife, Laura (Mary Tyler Moore), up all night by watching a scary science-fiction movie in bed. The next day, walnuts are strewn all over their house, Rob’s friends are acting weird, and a man who resembles comedian Danny Thomas but calls himself Kolak visits Rob at his office. It’s elaborate and distinctive, and so beloved that the show’s official fan newsletter is named…the Walnut Times. Thumbs up, indeed. — Josh Kurp
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