NewsRadio (NBC, 1995-1999)
This might be cheating because I watch NewsRadio every single year — aside from the first few seasons of The Simpsons, it’s the show I revisit the most often — but it’s still my all-time favorite live-action sitcom. A workplace comedy that was simultaneously a product of its time and ahead of its time, NewsRadio followed a staff at a New York City radio station. At its center is Dave (Dave Foley), an anxious kid who we can’t help but love. The show subverted the will-they/won’t-they dynamic that took over NBC sitcoms by having him hook-up with Lisa (Maura Tierney) within the first half-hour.
NewsRadio is a show that I whole-heartedly recommend to everyone: It also stars Phil Hartman and is perhaps the only sitcom with writing good enough to make both Andy Dick and Joe Rogan viable comedic actors. I couldn’t tell you how many times I’ve watched this series, but I can tell you that I will always laugh at Dave breaking Bill’s cane, at Dave’s sad “I wish I was big” plea, and, of course, the most memorable complaint ever: “I try to be good hard worker man, but refrigemator so messy, so, so messy.”
Malcolm in the Middle (Fox, 2000-2006)
What did I do before Malcolm in the Middle appeared on Netflix? It was a welcome distraction from graduate school and now, it’s a welcome distraction from everything else in the world. For my money, Malcolm is one of the most underrated sitcoms. It was great from its pilot episode, setting up the stressed-out world of a family with four (later five) rowdy sons and their forever-frustrated parents. In a manner similar to Roseanne (which I’m currently rewatching), the series didn’t focus on a rich family, but instead a family who is low on the totem pole: they live in a shithole of a house, and have to really work for a living. Their struggles with money play a big role in the show, which makes it refreshing, especially in comparison to most of the comedies currently on television.
What’s also special about Malcolm is that the titular character was, without a doubt, the worst character of the show. We saw everything through his eyes — the craziness of the family, the frustration of his situation, the boredom a smart kid faced in a world he often believed he was too good for — but it all just served to prove that being smarter than your family doesn’t make you better than them. He was perpetually a dick — especially to the girls that surrounded him — and he was, at his core, a pretty sad dude who needed his family, even when he didn’t think so.
Arrow (The CW, 2012-Present)
For someone with a love for comic books and an even bigger love for comic book adaptations, it’s weird that I’d never watched Arrow before this year (especially because of how often it’s praised by critics). A few months ago, I quickly fell in love with The Flash, a spinoff of sorts also from Greg Berlanti, and based on how good that show was, I figured it was time to give Arrow a chance. I didn’t regret it.
Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) is a billionaire playboy who returns home after being shipwrecked and presumed dead for five years. As these things go in comic books, Oliver spent those five years learning how to become a strong, skilled, and obviously super hot vigilante. As Arrow, he uses his archery skills to fight the corruption that has overtaken his hometown. It’s an addictive series — I watched nearly two seasons on Netflix over Thanksgiving break, forgoing sleep, and then caught up on the current season — and it’s darker than I expected. The character development — particularly with Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards), my new heroine, and John Diggle (David Ramsey), Oliver’s necessary confidant — keeps me hooked. Even the sillier aspects (Arrow basically just tells everyone that he’s Arrow, and also I’m pretty sure this entire town will become vigilantes by the end of the series) work here.
Family Ties (NBC, 1982-1989)
Every year, I try to pick at least one Must-See TV sitcom from NBC to watch straight through. Family Ties won this year, mostly because so many people couldn’t believe I hadn’t already seen it (I know). My knowledge of Family Ties was very limited, save for a reference to Alex P. Keaton in LFO’s “Summer Girls,” so I had no idea what to expect, but was pleasantly surprised. It’s a sitcom that doesn’t appeal to me much on paper — it takes place during the Reagan administration, is focused on a hyper-conservative boy (Michael J. Fox) and his politics, and can be sickeningly sweet at times — but I ended up loving it, racing through all 168 episodes in exactly one month.
Alex P. Keaton is someone who is so wildly unappealing to me that I actually love him and his money-obsessed, annoyingly sexist ideals. In the most memorable episode, he begins working at a bank under a female boss and is such a pig that he dumbs down his reports for her, and even slips in recipe ideas. It’s such old-fashioned sexism played for laughs but the way his family reacts and scolds him is perfect.
Sister, Sister (ABC/The WB, 1994-1999)
On a whim, I watched a stray episode of Sister, Sister… which led to me watching every single episode of Sister, Sister (and then, of course, watching every episode of Smart Guy). There isn’t really much to say about the series except a) it is still a perfect television show and b) the episode about Tia and Tamera pretending to be boys so they can join a hockey team and prove they are just as good at sports was probably my earliest introduction to feminism, and I’m eternally grateful for it.
Fear (MTV, 2000-2002), Dinosaurs (ABC, 1991-1994), and Kid Nation (CBS, 2007)
These three wildly different shows are lumped together for a simplistic reason: I had planned to watch only a handful of episodes of each in preparation for writing about them, but eventually ended up marathon-watching all three entire series because I had forgotten how good and addictive they are.
Each of these series I can only talk about in hyperbole: Fear was the scariest reality show every put on television, a series that took ordinary people and placed them in “haunted locations” with creepy challenges; Dinosaurs was the weirdest sitcom I’ve ever watched, a fever dream of a show that was a send-up of conventional family comedies but with dinosaurs at the center (and the saddest ending ever); and Kid Nation was the most disturbing reality show to ever air (and that’s saying a lot) as it left kids alone to fend for themselves and create their own society, resulting in them murdering chickens and drinking bleach. (Though, it’s worth mentioning that they seemed to fare better than the adults in Fox’s similar reality “experiment” Utopia this year.)
Animorphs (Nickelodeon, 1998-2000)
Growing up, Animorphs by K.A. Applegate was one of my absolute favorite book series. I mean, it was about cool teens who battled aliens by morphing into any animal they had previously touched! It was the ultimate break from reality. So I was predictably excited when the TV show premiered on Nickelodeon — so much so that I recorded every episode on VHS tapes that are still somewhere in my basement — and while it wasn’t as amazing as it could have been, it was definitely enough to keep me happy.
When Animorphs popped up on Netflix earlier this year, I was eager but hesitant to revisit it because there’s no way it could have held up the test of time (even if Shawn Ashmore did). The special effects are pretty funny, the show is way more serious than I remember, and the acting isn’t exactly great but it’s still a fun watch (though I maintain it deserves a reboot). And the racial diversity within the main group of teens is still admirable, even in 2014. It’s one of those Nickelodeon shows that’s entertaining to revisit even if you may not like it as much as the first time. But some things never change: I still want to be an Animorph and I’m still terrified of Yeerks.
A single episode of Gilmore Girls (The WB/The CW, 2000-2007)
If there’s one thing that I’ve learned in my life, it’s that it is impossible to mention that I have never watched Gilmore Girls without practically every person in the room stopping short and staring at me like I just grew two heads. I get it — I watch a terrible amount of TV (especially teen dramas) and I adored Bunheads to pieces — but I haven’t really had the desire to watch.
But this year, as part of TV Hangover’s monthly television parties, we threw a Gilmore Girls event wherein we screened two episodes. I watched my first full episode: “They Shoot Gilmores, Don’t They?” It was a strange experience that I didn’t fully grasp: Are Rory and Jess always awful people? Is that green jacket supposed to make him a badass? Why would Lorelei wear heels to a dance marathon? How do they possibly go through all that dialogue without stopping to take puffs from an asthma inhaler? Still, it wasn’t bad! (But I left before the second episode.) I swear, I’ll get around to this series eventually.