Like soap operas and game shows, the sitcom has been around since the black-and-white, rabbit-eared birth of television. The best of the genre tends to center around bickering families or dysfunctional workplaces. More often than not, they’re disposable, half-hour bursts of creaky set-ups followed by predictable punchlines. But every once in a while, a show will tap into something hilarious and true. That’s when sitcoms become more than run-of-the-mill time-killers; they become art.
The shows on this list, from I Love Lucy (launching in 1951) to Curb Your Enthusiasm (still in production!), all defined, redefined, revolutionized and maybe even transcended the art of the sitcom. Now, in the age of streaming, you don’t have to spin the TV dial and hope to catch something in syndication late at night. These series are available online to stream whenever you want — a treasure trove if ever there was one.
But let’s name names: From 1950 to now, which TV sitcoms were the best of the best? Check out a highly subjective (but deeply pondered) list of the best TV sitcoms of all time, ranked from number 25 all the way to number 1. Cue the IRL laugh track.
25: Everybody Loves Raymond (1996–2005)
Foghorn-voiced comic Ray Romano shaped his stand-up routine about being a clueless suburban husband, put-upon dad, and smothered son of annoyingly intrusive parents into one of the most dependably funny half hours of the 1990s — a decade that would go down as the sitcom’s second Golden Age. Ostensibly the star, Romano was more often than not the foil for his usually right wife (Patricia Heaton), his dim brother constantly vying for his parents’ favor (Brad Garrett), and of course his wonderfully suffocating mother and father (perfectly played by Doris Roberts and Peter Boyle).
Where to stream it: Everybody Loves Raymond, on Peacock
24: The Jeffersons (1975–1988)
One of the many hit spin-offs from the Norman Lear hit factory of All in the Family, this groundbreaking CBS series about an upwardly mobile African-American family presented a new kind of Black experience on the small screen years before The Cosby Show came along. As the short (and short-fused) Manhattan dry cleaner George Jefferson, Sherman Hemsley is a coil of insecurity hiding beneath his blustery arrogance. Whether getting put in his place by his beloved wife Weezy (Isabel Sanford), his insubordinate housekeeper (Marla Gibbs) or his “honky” and “Oreo” neighbors, George is the classic little man who (hilariously) roars at the world in order to justify his place in it.
Where to stream it: The Jeffersons, on Starz
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23: The Odd Couple (1970–1975)
Adapted from Neil Simon’s classic play starring Walter Matthau and Art Carney, and later, an equally fantastic movie with Matthau and Jack Lemmon, ABC’s mismatched-roommate comedy scored big laughs thanks to Tony Randall’s persnickety neat freak Felix Unger, and Jack Klugman’s rumpled, walking pigsty Oscar Madison. Here’s a case where opposites definitely don’t attract. But deep down, beneath their snob-vs-slob veneers, these divorced men find a sort of reluctant harmony and understanding that they never achieved with their long-gone wives. That is, when they’re not driving each other crazy.
22: Will & Grace (1998–2006; 2017–2020)
Eric McCormack is Will, a well-dressed lawyer; Debra Messing is Grace, a slightly daffy interior director. He’s gay, she’s straight, and they’re best friends. Adding spice to the mix are Megan Mullally as the loaded (in both senses of the word) Karen, and Sean Hayes as the flamboyantly loud and proud Jack. This NBC comedy felt revolutionary when it debuted in 1998, and it’s no exaggeration to say that it played an important role in the push toward gay rights in America, including the legalization of gay marriage. Beyond that, though, the show was (and remains) a riot with zingers worthy of Noel Coward.
Where to stream it: Will & Grace, on Hulu
21: Black-ish (2014–Present)
One of the biggest complaints you can level against the network sitcom is that it has always been a bit of a whites-only club. That finally began to change during the Obama years, thanks in part to the success of this Kenya Barris creation — a weekly family comedy that almost always hits the bull's-eye of humor and topicality. Anthony Anderson and Tracee Ellis Ross are both aces, heading up the show’s cast as a successful and happily married husband and wife who worry that their family isn’t “Black enough” for our complex moment in history. That probably makes the series sound heavier than it is, but its resonance is in how deftly it balances its timeliness with more traditional screwball silliness.
Where to stream it: Black-ish, on Hulu
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20: Sex and the City (1998–2004)
TV critics and pop-culture pundits always point to The Sopranos as the show that turned HBO into an original programming powerhouse, but Carrie Bradshaw & Co. deserve just as much of the credit. As a serial-dating Manhattan sex columnist, Sarah Jessica Parker turns the usual sitcom dating games into urban anthropology along with her three brunching besties: the prim Charlotte (Kristin Davis), the uptight Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), and the sex-hungry man-eater Samantha (Kim Cattrall). Sex and the City may come off as a tad dated in 2021, but at the turn of the millennium every episode felt like a taboo shot of truth.
Where to stream it: Sex and the City, on HBO Max
19: Veep (2012–2019)
If you’re one of the stars of the best sitcom of the ’90s, what can you possibly do for an encore? Well, if you were Julia Louis-Dreyfus, you followed up Seinfeld with this profane peek behind the curtain of American power. As the holder of the most thankless job in politics, Louis-Dreyfus plays VP Selina Meyer, a woman who masks her own sense of impotence with withering, elaborately inventive insults that she fires off at her staff and rivals like she’s holding a howitzer. Created by Armando Iannucci, this D.C. comedy is the kind of satire that stings and leaves a welt.
Where to stream it: Veep, on HBO Max