Friday, September 14, 2012

My 15 Favorite 1980s Sitcoms

Lately, I've been reliving my childhood and re-watching a lot of the old sitcoms from the 1980s that I grew up enjoying. So I decided to make a list of my 15 favorites, more or less in descending order of my preference for them. To narrow my focus as much as possible, I only included my favorite sitcoms that aired for at least half of their total run during the 1980s – some of these started in the '70s and continued into the '80s, while others started in the '80s and continued into the '90s. However, if a popular show started or ended at the beginning or end of the '80s and enjoyed a longer run in the previous or next decade, it is not included in this list, no matter how good it may have been. Reminisce and enjoy!

15)  GROWING PAINS:  No, I didn't watch this show for the same reason a lot of girls my age did (i.e., to gawk at Kirk Cameron). I did, however, enjoy the family dynamics of this show. The idea of a family with a working mother and a stay-at-home dad was pretty unconventional, even in the mid-'80s. Though Jason (the dad – great name, by the way) did work as a psychiatrist, he did so from his own home, all the while overseeing the household, which includes Mike the troublemaker, Carol the honors student, rambunctious Ben, and (later) the precocious Chrissy. And yes, that is Leonardio DiCaprio on the far right – he joined the cast as a regular in the later seasons of the show.

14)  NIGHT COURT:  This kooky comedy was set during the night shift of a Manhattan court, presided over by the young, unorthodox Harry Stone, judge and amateur magician. Brutally honest public defender Christine Sullivan, sleazy prosecutor Dan Fielding, dim-witted bailiff Bull, surly bailiff Roz, and easy-going court clerk Mac Robinson rounded out the primary cast. Alternately hilarious and bizarre, the show was always fun to watch thanks in large part to its memorable characters.

13)  THE FACTS OF LIFE:  This classic sitcom focused on Edna Garrett, housemother and dietitian at the fictional Eastland School, an all-female boarding skill in Peekskill, New York. The girls in Mrs. Garrett's care included spoiled rich girl Blair Warner; young, gossipy Tootie Ramsey; overweight, impressionable Natalie Green; and tough, streetwise-but-vulnerable Jo Polniaczek. Though I was quite  young when this show was in its original run, and I never saw it in syndication, I can still fondly remember many of the characters very well.

12)  LAVERNE & SHIRLEY:  I have to admit that I watched this show more in syndication than I did when it was in its original run. I've probably seen every episode at least a couple of times. A spin-off of Happy Days (another one of my favorites, but more of a 1970s show), the show follows the lives of roommates Laverne De Fazio and Shirley Feeney, who work at the Shotz Brewery in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Laverne's a tough-talking tomboy, while Shirley's perky and positive. Lovable goof Lenny and his obnoxious, greasy pal Squiggy are constantly pestering the girls, while Carmine "The Big Ragu" Ragusa carries on an on-again, off-again romance with Shirley. Kookiness and mayhem abound.

11)  CHEERS:  I never really watched this show in its original run, but I did catch enough episodes of it in syndication to see what all the fuss was about. Turns out that it was a really good show, driven by a large cast of unforgettable characters. The show is set in the Cheers bar in Boston, a place where a group of locals meet to drink, relax, chat, and have fun. If you've seen the show, there's no need for me to explain who Sam, Diane, Rebecca, Coach, Carla, Cliff, Woody, Frasier, Norm, and Lilith are, because you already know. If you never watched the show, watch it – it would take me too long to explain.

10)  BENSON:  Now this one takes me back – way back! This show ended when I was eight, but it replayed enough in syndication that I still remember it vividly. When the show began, Benson DuBois had just been hired as the head of household affairs for the scatterbrained and widowed Governor Eugene Gatling and his daughter. Katie. The show revolved around Benson's housekeeping dilemmas, his fights with the German cook Gretchen Kraus, and his interactions with the governor's chief of staff, Clayton Endicott III. The governor's secretary, Marcy, and her successor, Denise, and the press secretary Pete were also major characters throughout the run of the series.

9)  FAMILY TIES:  This was the sitcom that propelled the wonderfully talented Michael J. Fox to superstardom. The show follows the lives of the Keaton family: liberal Baby Boomer ex-hippies Steven and Elyse, their enthusiastic young Republican son, Alex P. Keaton (you have to say the entire name, of course); air-headed, materialistic Mallory; athletic tomboy, Jennifer; and (later) the youngest son, Andrew. Memorable supporting cast members included Alex's friend and neighbor Skippy and Mallory's artist boyfriend, Nick.

8)  WHO'S THE BOSS?:  So, here's the setup. Retired major league baseball player Tony Micelli relocates to Fairfield, Connecticut, to be uptight, divorced ad executive Angela Bower's live-in housekeeper. Mix in Tony's streetwise tomboy daughter Samantha, Angela's awkward son Jonathan, and her feisty sexpot mother Mona, and chaos is bound to ensue. And it does – frequently.

7)  DESIGNING WOMEN:  This delightfully Southern-flavored comedy centered on the working and personal lives of four women and one man at an interior design firm in Atlanta. Elegant, outspoken liberal intellectual Julia Sugarbaker and her rich, flashy, self-centered former beauty queen sister, Suzanne own the business, although Julia is the only one of the two who actually does any work. Pragmatic designer Mary Jo Shively, sweet-natured but naive office manager Charlene Frazier Stillfield, and falsely convicted ex-con Anthony Bouvier round out the primary cast. The Sugarbakers' absent-minded friend Bernice Clifton also appears frequently. I appreciated (and still appreciate) this show for being one of the first – and still one of very few – shows to portray Southerners as anything other than ignorant, stupid, and hopelessly backwoodsy.

6)  NEWHART:  Bob Newhart has always been one of my favorite comedians. His popular 1970s sitcom, The Bob Newhart Show, remains one of my favorites. This quirky New England-based comedy is also among my all-time favorites. The show is set in a small, rural Vermont town where how-to author (and later TV talk show host) Dick Loudon owns and operates the 200-year-old Stratford Inn with his frequently-sweater-wearing wife Joanna. Dim-witted handyman George Utley, spoiled little rich girl/hotel maid Stephanie Vanderkellen, her hyperactive yuppie beau (and later husband) Michael Harris, and eccentric backwoodsmen brothers Larry (the only one who actually speaks), Darryl, and Darryl round out the oddball cast of characters.

5)  THE GOLDEN GIRLS:  This delightfully subversive sitcom centered on the lives of four older women who shared a home in Miami, Florida. Substitute teacher Dorothy Zbornak moved to Miami after divorcing her husband of 38 years (who had cheated on her with a much younger woman). Sweet but naive grief counselor Rose Nylund moved to Miami upon the death of her husband. Southern belle Blanche Devereaux, a widowed mother of six who has a seemingly voracious appetite for any man with a pulse, owns the house where they all live. Dorothy's octogenarian mother Sophia Petrillo moves in with her daughter and the other ladies after her retirement home burned down. This show was important for a number of reasons, not the least of which was that it portrayed older women who still led active lives and, yes, even had romances at an age when society would say that life had already passed them by.

4)  ALF:  I know, I probably shouldn't like this show as much as I do – but I do. Even though it only lasted four seasons (a tragedy!), this was one of my absolute favorite shows growing up. As the series begins, Gordon Shumway, a friendly extraterrestrial from the planet Melmac, crashes his spaceship into the garage of the Tanner family. Willie Tanner and his wife, Kate, don't know what to make of this strange visitor, but their kids, Lynn and Brian, instantly fall in love with ALF, the nickname they give the furry little guy (it stands for Alien Life Form). ALF is constantly getting himself (and the Tanners) into trouble by accidentally revealing himself to neighbors, friends, and complete strangers, and by causing an inordinate number of household accidents. But the wise-cracking alien is so full of joy, the Tanners can't help but do all they can to protect him and keep his existence a secret. The silly, sometimes oddball humor that permeates throughout this series is right up my alley. I'll probably always love it!

3)  THE JEFFERSONS:  This long-running sitcom focused on an upwardly mobile African-American couple, George and Louise Jefferson, who had moved on up to the East Side. Aside from the Jeffersons, the primary cast consisted of their friends and neighbors, including: biracial couple, Tom and Helen Willis; the Jeffersons' son, Lionel, and his wife Jenny (the Willis' daughter); their quirky English neighbor, Mr. Bentley; the tip-hungry doorman, Ralph; George's outspoken matriarch, Mother Jefferson; and, of course, the Jeffersons' back-talking, wise-cracking housekeeper, Florence Johnston. Sometimes unrealistic, occasionally unpleasant, but always entertaining!

2)  TAXI:  This extremely well-written, well-acted sitcom was centered around the everyday lives of a handful of New York City taxi drivers and their verbally abusive dispatcher. Sensible, pragmatic Alex Rieger was the one everyone else turned to for advice. Struggling actor Bobby Wheeler was a target of Louie's derision. Morally deficient dispatcher Louie De Palma belittles and insults his drivers constantly. Divorced mother-of-two Elaine Nardo tries to cope with the stresses of driving a cab while trying to realize her ambitions in the field of fine art. Sweet-natured but dim-witted boxer (and cabbie) Tony Banta gets knocked out time and time again, but refuses to quit until the boxing commission takes away his license. "Reverend" Jim Ignatowski is a burned-out relic of the '60s who lives in a world of his own, though he occasionally imparts surprising words of wisdom to his fellow cabbies. Quirky foreigner Latka Gravas works as a mechanic, fixing the taxis, while speaking in a strange language that no one understands and telling oddball stories about his homeland. This one's been off the air for nearly as long as I've been alive, but I've seen every episode multiple times in syndication, and I never get tired of them.

1)  THE COSBY SHOW:  Last but certainly not least, my favorite sitcom of the 1980s (and quite possibly of all time). This wildly popular sitcom focused on the Huxtable family, an affluent African-American family living in a brownstone in Brooklyn Heights, New York. The Huxtable family initially consisted of obstetrician/dad Heathcliff (aka "Cliff); attorney/mom Clair; and their five children – somewhat-aloof Sondra (who married Elvin and had twins, Nelson and Winnie); fashion-forward Denise (who married Martin and inherited stepdaughter, Olivia); ne'er-do-well Theo (the only Huxtable son); frequently misguide Vanessa; and ever-precocious Rudy. This show was also important for a number of reasons, not the least of which is that it broke then-traditional racial stereotypes by portraying African-Americans who were educated and successful. Cliff and Clair were also one heck of a good example for good parenting. Oh, and did I mention that the show is laugh-out-loud funny every single episode? No? Well, it is. Even now.

BLOGGER'S NOTE:  For the sake of making it easier on myself, I have "ripped off" the majority of these synopses (sans my own commentary) directly from the shows' respective Wikipedia pages. Credit is due to their authors, though they are unknown, but I didn't feel like putting quotation marks around everything.

No comments:

Post a Comment