The weekend after Thanksgiving is a time for eating leftovers and bingeing television. In the spirit of Too Much TV, The Ringer has decided to explore a ’90s sitcom that holds a particular fascination in the streaming era. We now present: Frasier Day.
Here, the Ringer staff won’t be exploring Frasier, but instead will revisit their favorite comedies that are available to binge alongside the Kelsey Grammer vehicle.
Ben Lindbergh: Before I started streaming Cheers on Netflix last year, the classic sitcom occupied a hazy, sentimental space in my mind. Although I couldn’t recall specific story lines, I associated the series with warm memories of trying to stay up past my bedtime in my grandmother’s bedroom, where I’d inevitably drift off during its sepia-toned title sequence, its GOAT TV theme song, or its snappy exchanges that largely went over my 5- or 6-year-old head. Watching Cheers today still brings me back to childhood, but I’ve also learned to love it on a non-nostalgic level. Devoting myself to the series as an adult has made me appreciate it as a consistently smart and still-influential landmark whose legacy lives on in today’s TV landscape through a generation of writers weaned on the Boston bar.
With a back catalog of 275 episodes, Cheers is an almost inexhaustible time killer; since I started watching it 20 months ago, I’ve changed jobs, gotten engaged, and gotten married, and I’m through only Season 6. Aside from the occasional obscure cultural reference or cringy joke about Coach’s undiagnosed CTE, Sam and Diane’s physical fights, and Sam openly lusting after Rebecca (his boss!), the humor holds up to the end. Cheers remains the highest-quality comfort TV — and, as an added bonus, a treat for longtime fans of Frasier (also streamable, by the way) who first learned to love Kelsey Grammer’s sitcom psychiatrist in his later TV life.
Parks and Recreation
Zach Kram: The first point in Parks and Rec’s favor is that unlike the Offices and HIMYMs, this show never grew stale, and in fact slotted its best-ever episode (“Leslie and Ron”) into its last season, before ending with a perfect finale.
The second and broader point in Parks and Rec’s favor is that in addition to its strong core cast — an attribute that every sitcom on this list possesses — this show boasts the deepest bench of the bunch. No sitcom town outside The Simpsons’ Springfield is better fleshed out or filled with funnier recurring characters whose mere presence on screen every half a dozen episodes fills the viewer with joy.
Pawnee is the setting for the best streaming sitcom because of characters like Jean-Ralphio Saperstein, Joan Callamezzo, and Perd Hapley, the TV star whose name appears third on this list of names. Even the town’s most minor citizens (the creepy Orin; the tattooed Herman Lerpiss; the indefatigable Brandi Maxxxx, who probably shot 23 films as I wrote this parenthetical) have more memorable lines and personality tics by themselves than, say, the entire non–Dunder Mifflin population of Scranton combined.
Victor Luckerson: The adventures of pint-sized radical Huey Freeman and his thug-in-training little brother, Riley, were a brief, wondrous tentpole of the Adult Swim lineup in the mid-2000s. The Boondocks was funny because of the incredible voice work by a murderer’s row of comic talents, including Regina King, Charlie Murphy, and Katt Williams. It was smart because of series creator Aaron McGruder’s ability to deftly blend pop culture and politics; think Samuel L. Jackson as a gangster stand-in for Donald Rumsfeld who recites both the “Say what again” speech from Pulp Fiction and the “Unknown Unknowns” speech from, uh, the Iraq War.
But The Boondocks was important because of the way it consistently subverted expectations for how black characters were supposed to act (Atlanta has more than a little Boondocks DNA). Gangstalicious was a vulgar gangster rapper who was also gay. Uncle Ruckus despised black people so much he convinced himself he had reverse vitiligo. Huey didn’t give a damn if Barack Obama was the first black president. Somehow almost everyone on this show is experiencing life as an outsider, and the show wrings humor from their struggles.
Also, “Dick-Riding Obama” still goes.
Julie Kliegman: With all due respect to Scrubs, the first sitcom I fell in streaming love with, I’ve got to go with ABC’s Happy Endings, which ran only three seasons. Its shenanigans (Casey Wilson dating a Mr. Hitler, to name one) were too out there for its time: “God, we could have been rich,” Adam Pally once told The Ringer about what might have happened had the show premiered in 2015. But now, on Hulu, it shines, so long as you ignore Dave’s presence.
Be sure to watch the episodes in the order of their production codes, not in the order in which they aired. Come for Eliza Coupe and Damon Wayans Jr.’s chemistry (relationship goals), stay for occasional drop-ins by Megan Mullally.
Michael Baumann: I’m not sure why they’re still making new episodes of Archer, but the early seasons, available on Netflix, are all things to all people. It’s a shallow, bawdy workplace comedy; an action-adventure program that recaptures the glamour of early James Bond; and an absurdist critique of the national security apparatus. It can be watched at 3 a.m. in an altered mental state or combed meticulously for every obscure reference — and it takes some combing, because the jokes come thick and fast, like Airplane multiplied by In the Loop — and enjoyed the same amount.
What sets Archer apart is the attention to detail; in Season 5, the show’s sixth-most important character embarks on a country music career, and they went out and produced an entire album that turned out to be pretty good. An episode that takes place in Monaco features the Grand Prix in the background, with a leaderboard that reads: “Bell, Bivens, Devoe.” Not a second of screen time nor an inch of on-screen real estate is wasted, which makes Archer not only funny, but — importantly for Netflix — infinitely rewatchable.
Jordan Coley: I don’t know. Maybe it’s the fact that all of the characters sound as if they’re voiced by the same woman from Staten Island in various stages of a cold. Maybe it’s the fact that those pussy hats from the Women’s March look conspicuously similar to the one Louise Belcher wears on the show. Maybe it’s the fact that talking to a raw Thanksgiving turkey is the funniest thing that’s ever been done. Maybe it’s the fact that none of the characters have chins. I’m sincerely not sure. All I know is Bob’s Burgers is a joy and having all seven, wonderful seasons at your fingertips is a gift, you ungrateful heathen!
The Office (British)
Jason Concepcion: The British version of The Office, which ran for 12 episodes plus two Christmas specials starting in July 2001, isn’t just one of the all-time great sitcoms, the progenitor of numerous international adaptations including NBC’s long-running Steve Carell vehicle. It’s also, according to me, the best love story, in any medium, of the past 20 years.
The Office is about the goings-on at a nondescript paper supplier, managed by a needy and painfully subaverage regional manager, David Brent (series cocreator Ricky Gervais). Like the American version, the soul of the series is an office crush. In this case, between Tim (Martin Freeman), a salesman, and Dawn (Lucy Davis), the receptionist. Dawn is engaged to the boorish warehouse worker Lee, who constantly belittles her dreams of becoming an artist. She and Tim begin a flirtation that blossoms into real feelings. When they finally (SPOILER) get together, it happens in a way that’s achingly perfect; like two souls finding each other across a sea of cubicles.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
Nicole Bae: There’s a lot of great peak TV out there — much of which I have not seen because I, a creature of habit, am too busy rewatching episodes of the most perfect sitcom of all time: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. A perfect ensemble (Season 13 really won’t be the same), clever dialogue, and iconic moments make for a special TV show dear to my heart. With every wild episode, the gang inadvertently dives head-first into a range of delicate topics typically reserved for shows like Law & Order. It’s juuust inappropriate enough to make you feel uncomfortable in the best way possible. Right, Mac?
Katie Baker: “Jack doesn’t play video games anymore,” laments Dr. Rainbow Johnson of her young son Jack in the third season of ABC’s Black-ish. “He watches some foul-mouthed, fish-’n’-chip-eating Swedish guy play video games.” It’s a correct assessment of kids these days, and it’s part of an episode titled “Their Eyes Were Watching Screens,” a loaded and apt reimagining of the name of a 1937 Zora Neale Hurston novel. Such is Black-ish: It makes you laugh, it makes you reevaluate, and it knows how to dish out meaningful social criticism along with its zingers. (Recent episodes tackled postpartum depression and Juneteenth.) Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross are delights, and in a rare departure from most TV offspring, so are all their children — one of whom is starring in a spinoff set to air in January. From dealing with terrible coworkers to handling in-laws to navigating kids who stumble upon porn (“like, ‘German exchange student arrives in Tokyo, orders pizza, and can’t pay for it’ dirty”) Black-ish never preaches as it delivers its message.