The Best Sitcoms Of The ’80s

Above: 10 of our favourite sitcoms from the '80s
Above: 10 of our favourite sitcoms from the '80s

Where did all the sitcoms go, because they used to dominate weeknight television. A good sitcom was able to stick around for four or five seasons and the truly great ones approached or surpassed double digits, unless they opted to pull the plug on themselves.

Those days are gone. Sitcoms are all but dead.

Sure, there are still new series getting rolled out each year and a handful of staples (Hello Modern Family) still plugging away, but given that many of the shows that were launched during the previous two Fall “new show” seasons have either failed to make a serious impact or been cancelled already, it’s safe to say sitcoms aren’t what they used to be.

They used to be awesome. They used to be appointment viewing.

As much as that concept no longer exists in the days of PVRs, Netflix and OnDemand services, it wasn’t that long ago that you made a point to be home and tuned in to NBC for two hours on Thursday nights. We miss those days.

Here’s a look at some of our favourites from the ’80s, the Golden Era of the Sitcom.

Cheers

If there were a tournament of the greatest sitcoms of all-time, Cheers would find its way to the Final Four with ease and probably into the championship game. It might even be the favourite in that final match-up, depending on who is setting the odds. It was just that good.

There was so much to like about the Boston bar where everybody knows your name. From Norm and Cliff and their permanent spots down on the end and the Coach/Woody Boyd tandem of bartender sidekicks to Frasier and Lilith and Carla being Carla, this show had such an amazing ensemble and that’s not even taking into account Sam, Diane and Rebecca.

It produced a successful spin-off and launched several of the actors onto bigger and better – if a show can do that, you know it’s a great show.

Seinfeld

It may be considered a ’90s show, but Jerry, Elaine, George and Kramer officially came into our lives in 1989. It may have only been five episodes, but the start date of the show says 1989, so it counts. And going back to the Cheers, Final Four analogy, Seinfeld also has a spot in the that last quartet locked up. There might not be a sitcom that has had a lasting impact on society the way that this show did. Bits on the show became pieces of everyday life and they still are to this day.

You may not remember where you got yadda yadda yadda from, but you still use it. You see a guy with an overstuff wallet, you still call it a Costanza. You know what holiday is fast approaching? No, not Christmas – Festivus! Serenity Now!

Family Ties

When you get name-dropped in the greatest summer jam of all-time, you know you did something important. (See: Summer Girls by LFO)

Michael J. Fox was Alex P. Keaton, eldest child of ex-hippies Steve and Elyse, brother of Mallory and Jennifer, and eventually Andrew, whom Alex tried to mold in his image. Backdropped on the swing back to conservatism during The Reagan Era following the care-free ’60s and ’70s, they were your standard suburban family in the ’80s and while there were always different battles being fought, they were ultimately solved through love and understanding.

Growing Pains

“Show me that smile again…”

The Seavers were the quintessential television family and ABC’s answer to The Keatons – loving parents, Jason and Maggie, mischievous eldest son Mike, bookworm duaghter Carol and little scamp Ben. Eventually they added in an infant daughter, Chrissy, and welcomed a trouble youngster named Luke into their home as well. No matter what troubles they faced, they’d get through them, because they had each other and an awesome theme song.

Looking back on Growing Pains now, it stands as (1) the jump off point of Leonardo DiCaprio’s career, (2) the show that Robin Thicke’s dad used to be on, and (3) the last time we really had any kind of interest in Kirk Cameron and what he had to say about the world.

Note: Growing Pains was ABC’s answer to Family Ties on NBC… and Growing Pains was better.

The Cosby Show

Discussing this show doesn’t have to bleed into discussing its star and the current situation that has him in the news. They can exist in different spaces.

The Cosby Show was a terrific show that not only dealt with traditional sitcom issues, but it also put an African-American family of means front and center. This wasn’t George and Weezy moving on up, Arnold and Willis getting adopted or James and Florida Evans trying to make ends meet – this was a doctor, his lawyer wife, their five kids (everyone always forgets about Sondra!) and Cliff’s sweater collection living in a decked out brownstone.

It was a great show that lived at the top of the ratings for its entire eight-year run.

Roseanne

If The Cosby Show presented ’80s viewers with a different look at African-American families than they normally saw, Roseanne did the same when it came to the “traditional family” you saw on television as well.

This wasn’t a “hugs and kisses, everything is going to work out in the end as long as we love each other” unit – they were rough around the edges, the kids all had moments of being serious headaches (and not in the loveable scamp way either) and the show dealt with a lot of the issues that became more prevalent during its run like infidelity, divorce, teenage sex, drugs and so on.

It was also one of the first shows where they tried to slip a character change passed you, as if you weren’t going to notice that Becky looked totally different.

Married… with Children

Speaking of unconventional families…

If Roseanne showed a slightly less vibrant family than you normally saw on television, Married with Children was the stripped down, dragged through the mud, unfiltered version of what a television family could be… and it was awesome.

Because TV shows can get away with so much more now, you kind of forget how different Married with Children was when it launched, but The Bundys were so left of center and off-colour that people wanted it taken off the air. Parents didn’t want their kids watching it, but they did, because it was such a departure from everything else that was on at that time.

And because Kelly Bundy was smoking hot! (Note: Christina Applegate is still smoking hot.)

The Simpsons

Some people never understood that The Simpsons could be both a cartoon and a sitcom, failing to see that just because the characters were animated, they weren’t any different than the characters that populated live-action shows, but make no mistake about it – The Simpsons is one of the best sitcoms of all-time; a definite Elite Eight team in the aforementioned March Madness angle.

While its cultural influence has waned, The Simpsons was an unmatched pop culture phenomenon when it hit. There was more Simpsons merchandise available than anything else you could buy – from dolls and lunchboxes to CDs and t-shirts and hats and wristbands and you get the point. It was everywhere, including the Billboard Hot 100, where “Do the Bartman” made it all the way to No. 11.

Not bad for a cartoon that got its start on the short-lived The Tracey Ullman Show.

The Golden Girls

You know how Betty White is ultra-popular and everyone’s favourite funny old person these days? Well she was just as funny back when she was playing dimwitted Rose and she had three equally funny cohorts to share the screen with too.

The Golden Girls is one of those shows that seemed designed for a specific audience during its initial run and if you weren’t in that demographic, the idea of watching four women living together in Miami didn’t seem as appealing as catching up with some of the other options. But looking back now, this show was underrated and underappreciated and it stands up well over time.

The cast was strong, the stories and jokes were smart and in hindsight, having a show that wasn’t about a traditional family unit was a welcomed departure from the norm. Do yourself a favour: go back and watch The Golden Girls. Thanks us later.

Full House

You can’t drop a list of the best sitcoms of the ’80s and not include the show that gave us Bob Saget, John Stamos, Candice Cameron (Bure) and the Olson Twins, plus a healthy dose of Aunt Becky, Stephanie Tanner’s trademark “How rude!” and all of Dave Coulier’s charming idiocy.

Also, it’s on Netflix now and may or may not be the “pre-work, 6:00AM show of choice”  for a certain AmongMen.com writer’s wife.

There was so much campy, hokey goodness on this show that you have to embrace it, just like you have to love the fact that Bob Saget was nothing like Danny Tanner, the Olson’s became far and away the biggest stars to come off this show and “You Oughta Know” was apparently written about Joey freaking Gladstone!

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte

E. Spencer Kyte is a freelance journalist based in Abbotsford, British Columbia, where he lives with his wife and dog. In addition to his work here, he writes about sports for Complex Canada and covers the UFC for various outlets. His mom also still tells him what to do on a regular basis, even though he’s nearly 40. He tweets from @spencerkyte.

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