A Sitcom can be beautiful things. Sometimes a punchline is pulled off so well that it makes an old cynic like myself believe in the afterlife.
The problem with sitcoms is that they can be hard to get into. You have that friend who says to you “You should watch this, it’s so funny. You’ll love it” Nothing could be a bigger kiss of death than someone assuming to know what I would like.
I don’t know about you, but I have a specific, delicate taste when it comes to comedy.
You read about three shows you can watch online for free.
Now I know that it can be hard to recommend something to someone. Especially when it comes to comedy but here is my attempt. You may already be aware of some of the shows that I talk about but hear me out.
The episodes that I recommend are episodes that can be watched with next to no knowledge of the show as a whole.
You can watch these episodes context-free.
For that reason, there are some notable omissions from the list.
Let me explain why.
Parks and Rec: This show is odd, I watched most of this when it was on Amazon Prime. I remember laughing quite a bit, but I could not name a specific episode for you. It all blended into one.
Fraiser: This is the last excellent laugh track sitcom. It still holds up today. The dynamic between the cast is wonderfully matched. I can’t think of any specific episode. The “Are you happy” has an excellent structure and tight script, but I’m not familiar enough with the show.
The Office UK: This masterwork of comedy is so short and sweet that to pick one episode out would be unfair. If anything it is best to take a few days, watch it in its entirety during December. That way you can finish on the Christmas Specials.
Curb Your Enthusiasm: Larry David is a comedy, God. Larry gave us not just one but two of the most beautiful works of humour in television history. It has a weak first season, but it found it’s stride from the second season onwards. It’s been getting more sophisticated ever since. For my money, it should have ended after the Seinfeld reunion. It was the shows natural conclusion. Each season’s final episode is usually the strongest because there is a build up that is why it’s not on the list. It’s the hardest show to come into cold.
As a bonus, SNL did the best essence of a Curb episode with the man itself. Please watch:
5: Friends – The One with Unagi (SE06 EP17)
Friends was a juggernaut when I was growing up. Has it aged well, remember when it was just Friends on repeat on e4 regularly? Does e4 still exist? I haven’t watched it since it came to Netflix.
The show might not be at the same overall quality as some of the other shows on this list. You know Phoebe or Joey would be the most inconsistent characters. One week their an idiot the next they’re genius who everyone needs advice from.
The show improved after the England wedding plotline. That’s because David Schwimmer was allowed to unleash his physical comedic talents. I mean this as the highest praise possible but David Schwimmer is the TV version of Jim Carrey.
This episode of Friends brings out his best qualities. There’s him being a nervous creep, shouting and waving his arms around.
It ends with a double take in the post-credits sequence. Even thinking about it now makes me laugh like an idiot.
4: Seinfeld – Parking Garage (SE03 EP06)
I’ll admit that I’m not as big a Seinfeld fan as some people out there. I find Jerry Seinfeld to be not my cup of tea. Seinfeld the show took two seasons to find it’s feet. I was watching because it came so highly rated that I thought I had to keep going. It wasn’t impressing me. That was until Parking Garage. It all made sense a “show about nothing”. The characters are trying to find their way back to their car but get lost in a labyrinthian car park. It was the first episode where I thought, “Now I get it”. It has an almost Beckettian quality as the characters keep going in circles unable to leave.
The characters are all in the one place at the one time, and the chemistry works well.
3: It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia – Charlie’s Mom has cancer (SE08 EP06)
First of all, let me just say that I understand if you don’t like this show.
I recommend this show to people. Sometimes they’ll watch it, and I’ll ask them what did they think, “It’s OK, there’s a lot of shouting.” There is, and I’ll be honest that can be a deal breaker for many. If you persevere, it’s like a nastier version of Seinfeld.
Many shows decrease in quality as time goes on. It’s Always Sunny In Philadelphia is an outlier. The first season you can skip. Once Danny Devito joins the cast the show gets much better. It trundles along, and it’s well above average. It’s fun to see how low these people will sink. The plots of each episode have such fantastic structure. “Mac is a Serial Killer” is an early highlight.
I don’t know what happened, but the show becomes genuinely transcendent in the seventh and eighth season. My favourite episode begins with a character calling another old. It ends with the gang exhuming their mother’s body. What I love about It’s Always Sunny is that it follows the plot through to their logical conclusion.
This one is no exception.
2: The American Office – The Convict (SE03 EP09)
The two Offices show the difference between British and American comedy. In the UK version, they are aware of how grim their life is, and they want to get on with things. In the American version, they’re aware. Instead, the Yanks give it the best effort for themselves and those around each other. I mean the staff rewrote the words of Rent for Michael Scott leaving. Can you imagine the Slough branch doing the same for Brent?
The American Office took a while to get going. The first season was a write-off. They tried to remake the UK version, it didn’t work. The second season it started to find it’s stride. The third season is the golden age. After that, it starts to go downhill at a slight decline then it goes off a cliff then it’s over.
The Convict is a great episode to watch cold. It does what the show does best and be a “both ways” episode. On the one hand, it’s trying to tell a story about second chances and helping with race relations in America. Of course, it goes as well as can be expected. It finishes with one of the best to camera monologues with one of the best punchlines “It wasn’t because he was black”.
This episode was written by Merchant and Gervais. If you’re looking for an episode that is as close to a crossover as you can get then start here.
1: 30 Rock – TGS Hates Women (SE05 EP16)
30 Rock, I’ve been thinking about this, is my favourite sitcom. It does everything that I love. It’s a joke factory show. It’s joke after joke after joke. The jokes don’t always stick but when it lands, no matter how many times I see it, still has me laughing like a child.
It doesn’t help that I deeply, deeply relate to Liz Lemon. Take from that what you will.
TGS Hates women like The Convict episode of The Office is a great “both ways” episode, from the opening gambit “Oh no, my period” to female empowerment that backfires. This episode does what 30 Rock does best. 20 minutes of non-stop jokes, they have a bit of a sexist twist which gives it extra sting.