Will audiences of the future find 30 Rock funny, the way we still enjoy I Love Lucy and Cheers? That’s the question Salon critic Matt Zoller Seitz poses in a smart piece arguing that today’s cultural reference-laden sitcoms, or “footnote shows,” as he calls them, all come with an expiration date. In fact, Seitz points out, early episodes of the show that launched the trend, The Simpsons, are already incomprehensible to kids.
While we agree that series like Community may not have decades-long shelf lives, we do believe that plenty of 21st-century sitcoms have what it takes to make generations of fans laugh. After the jump, we list ten shows we think will pass the test of time. Add your suggestions (and feel free to take exception with ours) in the comments.
Curb Your Enthusiasm
Larry David’s long-running HBO series picked up where Seinfeld (which, by the way, will also still be funny forever) left off. In just about every episode, a curmudgeonly, self-centered, somewhat fictionalized Larry totally blows some social norm or another and reaps the out-of-proportion consequences of his actions. Although the show does draw on current events (Hurricane Katrina, the Broadway revival of The Producers), the recurring theme — that if we just did whatever we wanted instead of conforming to accepted etiquette, life would be chaos — is timeless.
The cult, canceled-too-soon series definitely has that single-camera, ’00s look. But at its heart, this show is just about a rich, messed up family full of bizarre characters, played brilliantly by some of the most talented comic actors of our time (Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi, David Cross, Jessica Walter, etc.). The absurdist humor combines physical comedy and recurring character-based gags, neither of which are terribly dependent on current cultural references.
Parks and Recreation
Although he lumps it in with other “footnote” shows, Seitz actually admits that Leslie Knope and co. may be fit for the long haul, calling Parks and Rec “a more earnest and authentically warm series [than Community] that has more to do with observable reality than pop culture riffing. Where Parks and Rec expertly balances in-the-moment character comedy and reference-based humor (such as Mark’s ‘I Fell in the Pit’ from Season 1, a sendup of pompous early-’90s grunge rock).” Considering that the music in question has already made it about two decades, we’ll assume it won’t ruin the show for the next generation. As Seitz implies, what makes Parks and Rec funny isn’t its shout outs to Hillary Clinton; it’s the universal characters of Knope, the goofy but lovable small-time political striver who worships Clinton, and her colleagues that make it a keeper.
The family sitcom is as old as Ozzie and Harriet, and Modern Family updates the tradition for the 21st century. Sure, now we have a gay couple raising an adopted baby and a white grandpa married to a Colombian woman about half his age, with a child. So, while it isn’t all stay-at-home moms and boys being boys, Modern Family is very much a part of that tradition — and it’s still wholesome, often heartwarming fun for all ages.
The Botwin — now Newman — clan doesn’t have much time to consume all the TV, movies, news, and music required to constantly drop cultural references. That is because they’re too busy growing and/or selling marijuana, running from Mexican gangsters, and coming to terms with their own destructive urges. Weeds is a madcap farce; it’s absurd now, and it will be absurd 25 years from now. Of course, if America ever legalizes pot, future generations may well wonder what all the fuss was about.
It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia
The key to this show’s longevity is pretty simple: We will always be entertained by the heartless machinations of assholes.
King of the Hill
First of all, King of the Hill lasted 13 seasons, from 1997 to 2009. In many ways, Mike Judge’s show was like a less, over-the-top, hyper-allusive Simpsons: it follows a blue-collar family, using their characters to address social and political issues. You could argue that this means it’ll become dated fast, but most of the topics the show chose to focus on were pretty universal. Plus, we loved the characters themselves more and more as time went on — especially Bobby!
The Office (UK)
In the past few years, the American Office has turned into something we wouldn’t endorse tomorrow, much less in 25 years. But Ricky Gervais’s original series is lean, very mean, and the fact that US audience find it funny means that it can’t be too caught up in culturally specific humor. Barring a future where few of us work in offices and have co-workers (and hey, that may be coming), The Office should continue to crack up working stiffs everywhere.
Bored to Death
A frustrated author with hilarious friends turns to unlicensed private detective work for inspiration. Much of the show is funnier if you live in (or at least know something about) New York — but the premise wouldn’t have been out of place half a century ago. Yes, there are jokes about the death of print journalism and book publishing. Mostly, though, Bored to Death is about a trio of man-child buddies and their (mostly failed) romantic exploits.
That ’70s Show
We don’t have to spell this one out for you, right?