Welcome to a new Wildcard Wednesday! This week, I’m sharing results from the survey I conducted back in February. 273 readers of this blog answered, and after a month of reflection on 36 sitcoms (some of which weren’t on the survey, but suggested by you), I will be announcing the rest of the 1990s shows we’ll be covering this year, after Empty Nest (1988-1995, NBC), which will follow our current study of Roseanne (1988-1997, ABC).
The first question I asked, just to get an idea of your tastes, was which previously covered ’90s sitcom, of 19 selections, is your favorite? In first place, with 24% of the votes, was Seinfeld. That was followed by Frasier at about 20%, and then, after a big drop, Everybody Loves Raymond in third at 9%. Those would be my top three picks too — although, with Frasier just a smidge ahead of Seinfeld, and, since Raymond’s best years are in the early ’00s, I might prioritize the ’90s by bumping up Friends. (Incidentally, the series you selected the least was The John Larroquette Show.)
Another question asked you to rank your favorite decade for sitcoms from favorite to least favorite. The results, in order of favorite to least, were: the 1970s, 1960s, 1990s, 1980s, 1950s, 2000s, and 2010s. With the exception of potentially favoring the ’90s over the ’60s, my rankings would probably be the same. I say probably because I’m open to the possibility that the two decades in the 21st century could move up a tad, pending formal study.
Speaking of the 21st century, I asked where you wanted Sitcom Tuesdays to go after the 1990s, and while I fully expected you to say “On to the 2000s,” that was your third choice, behind “Back to the 1950s” and “Back to the 1970s.” Truthfully, I don’t know what I’m going to do after the ’90s yet, but that’s okay because we’re going to be here a while…
To that point, when asking you which ’90s sitcoms you thought I should cover, everyone got to pick up to five out of the following 14, and then tell me up to three that you wouldn’t want to see. I didn’t much consider the latter question in my personal research, but I was angling to get an idea of which shows inspired strong reactions, and which ones didn’t. In terms of the sitcoms that you MOST want to see here, the top five choices were, from last to first this time, Home Improvement, which 25% of you selected in fifth place; Cybill, which 35% of you selected in fourth; Becker, which 46% of you selected in third; The Nanny, which 52% of you selected in second; and in first place, with a staggering 55%… 3rd Rock From The Sun. (For the record, with only 8% of voters saying they’d like to see it here, Roc was in last place.)
Now, before I tell you which sitcoms I’ve decided to cover, let me add that in addition to the 14 options I gave you in the survey, I have also spent the last two months investigating 22 others for Sitcom Tuesday (or Wildcard Wednesday) treatment. They are: Anything But Love, Doctor Doctor, Major Dad, Blossom, Nurses, Hearts Afire, Martin, Living Single, Dave’s World, Grace Under Fire, The Wayans Bros., The Naked Truth, Caroline In The City, Cosby, Suddenly Susan, Men Behaving Badly, The Jamie Foxx Show, Spin City, Veronica’s Closet, Working, Two Guys And A Girl, and Jesse.
Of those 22 plus the above 14 in the survey, I have decided to cover SEVEN more ’90s sitcoms, and this will take us well into 2023. The seven shows I have selected — running in almost chronological order (I made a few tweaks) — are…
Evening Shade (1990-1994, CBS)
The Nanny (1993-1999, CBS)
Martin (1992-1997, FOX)
Living Single (1993-1998, FOX)
3rd Rock From The Sun (1996-2001, NBC)
Cybill (1995-1998, CBS)
Becker (1998-2004, CBS)
Additionally, I can confirm that I will be giving Wildcard Wednesday attention to Norm (1999-2001, ABC), and perhaps several others from the list above (not on the survey) that I am hoping to squeeze in at some point. As for the shows I’m not covering, I really hoped to feature all five of your top picks, but, frankly, after our 1980s study, I need a break from the family subgenre, and I just don’t have enough love for Home Improvement, or think it’s rhetorically interesting enough, to spend eight weeks on it. Another show I really tried with is Coach, because I appreciate a few of the characters (e.g., Luther). But I just don’t want to dedicate so much time to a series where half the ensemble is unhelpful (like we saw on Barry Kemp’s other major sitcom, Newhart). So, I’m afraid I won’t be getting to those this time around; maybe later…
However, I look forward to appraising Evening Shade, as I’ve been hoping to find a Linda Bloodworth-Thomason series suitable for coverage. I know Designing Women is her signature, but Evening Shade, I think, has the most individualized characterizations (also revealed in story), so it’s her effort that I can most genuinely commend. After that, I will be examining The Nanny, a popular favorite that’s broader than this era’s baseline but always boasts some big character laughs; Martin, a FOX staple with a sketch-like quality where humor is wonderfully prioritized; and Living Single, an early character-filled entry in the “Singles In The City” subgenre. Then, we’ll move on to 3rd Rock From The Sun, where high-concept silliness meets the ethos of NBC’s other contemporaneous rom-coms; Cybill, which was a tough choice, but I am eager to evaluate it as a nascent example of Chuck Lorre’s style (Dharma & Greg is likely more revealing for him personally, but you all are NOT interested in it); and finally Becker, a continuation of the type of ensemble workplace comedy descended from Cheers and Wings.
Honestly, it’s still possible that I’ll change my mind and add/remove a show from this lineup, but for now, that is what you can expect to see here in the immediate (and not-so-immediate) future. Thanks to everyone who participated in the survey and, as always, I appreciate your readership and support as we dive back into the 1990s! Stay tuned for more…
Come back next week for a new Wildcard! And get ready for another Musical Theatre Monday!
Okay good choices
Evening shade: one of the more underrated MTM SHOW. Loved the cast
The Nanny: definitely interested in your critique about the show
Martin: very surprised. As much as I love this show I do admit there are some things that do make me cringe a little bit. Cough cough the last season
Living single: no words needed another favorite
3rd rock: one of the most distinct comedies of its time. Nothing was like the show
Never seen cybil
Becker: I always love Ted Denson on this. Definitely another underrated fav
Hi, Track! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Glad you’re excited — stay tuned for more!
I was just thinking the other day that I’d love to get Jackson’s thoughts on Living Single. I really enjoy all the characters, but I enjoy Synclare’s character the most. Mainly for the fact she doesn’t fall into the same problem that most naive characters fall into: cartoonish stupidity.
So often naive and dumb are wrongly conflated. Naivete is based on ignorance or a lack of knowledge and experience. Stupidity is just a lack of understanding. It becomes so unbearable for a naive character’s depiction to become pushed to to such extreme they lose alll depth or the point of view that explains their naivete. They eventually just become one dimensional and a cheap, easy joke.
I wonder if writing that type of character is essentially a trap that writer’s create for themselves. You have a character so defined by their lack of knowledge that it becomes easy to not give them other traits to give them added dimension. As a result, unlike in real life, the naive character is unable to grow or learn thus becoming stupid. Beause if you try to add new facets later on to replace the naivete that has come to define the character, essentially you would be just creating a new character.
Hi, David! Thanks for reading and commenting.
Yes, I agree with your distinction between naïve and stupid: a motivated/explained lack of awareness vs. an unmotivated/unexplained lack of awareness. (This was a point of contention for some with regard to my adjudication of Jeannie’s characterization on I DREAM OF JEANNIE — you can check out the comments on my controversial BEWITCHED vs. JEANNIE post for more.)
As for dumb characters on the sitcom, they’re commonplace because they’re a stock type that allows for easy jokes of which there will never be a shortage, so there’s seldom a need to supplement the kind of humor they can offer, or even an urge to find new usages for them in story — the fool is functionally fruitful for drama as well, and always will be. I think more than anything else, this character has recently become conflated (since the ‘90s) with the bizarre — someone who can say or do anything, untethered to regular logic — because it enables the same kind of comic foolishness, but with more of an element of surprise and less of a straight connection to the overly familiar archetype that modern audiences now find lazy and unoriginal: an insult to their intelligence. As always, motivated, well-defined players are inherently preferable to the random or vague, for adhering to expectations is what makes the situation comedy a unique narrative art form: using the fixed elements of a “situation” for comedy.
Regarding extremes, I think every show has the right to set an aesthetic for logic/realism to which it can then be asked (by us) to adhere; so, if every sitcom creates its own expectations, then exaggeration is corrupting to its textual goals only when those expectations are breached. It’s not “one size fits all” on this metric, and I’m accordingly not bothered by broadly dumb characters if they’re consistently rendered, just as I’m (naturally) not bothered by naïve characters, who, by definition, suggest consistency.
The problem with series television, of course, is the ongoing need for story; in order to keep that figurative machine churning, standards tend to gradually loosen on behalf of characters over time — without any direct motivation from said characters. And that’s when the character work (a necessary element for the situation comedy art form) falls short, particularly during eras — and on individual shows — that endeavor to be more literally realistic… like many in the 1990s, where the “sitcom-romcom” has a need for emotional dexterity that explicitly encourages “growth” as a sign of humanity (and a necessity for premise-affirming story). On such series, a dearth of motivated growth is especially jarring and a major source of deserved criticism.
As for my thoughts on LIVING SINGLE, stay tuned…
(Note: I have flagged my comment for possible use in a future Q&A post, because even though it’s not answering a direct question, I believe I gave an insightful response that is illustrative of the unique ideology for sitcom adjudication that I have established on this blog. And I would like others to see this — thanks for sparking it!)