Every generation needs to laugh. There’s nothing quite so warm, welcoming and cathartic as sitting down with old friends, catching up on what’s been going on in their lives, and having a good giggle about it all. This is surely why the sitcom has been one of the most enduringly popular TV formats over the decades.

An abbreviation of ‘situation comedy,’ the sitcom is traditionally a half-hour show set primarily in a single key location, following the day-to-day lives of a group of people who share a specific space. A great deal of the time this means the show centres on a family, and mostly takes place in the family home; alternatively, it may mean co-workers, and be set primarily in their place of employment. Often, a key place the group socialise may also feature.

Catching up with these characters week after week (or, in this age of streaming box-set binge-watching, a lot more regularly), audiences can develop a close affection for these characters, and develop a real investment in them. At its best, this bond reaches such a degree that tuning in to watch almost feels like sitting down with loved ones in your own living room – which is no doubt why such shows often go down so well as family viewing.

Of course, family can take many different forms, and the sitcoms of the 80s and 90s explored this at length. It’s not always the traditional parents/child set-up; oftentimes it’s just about those you spend the most time with, regardless of whether or not you always get along. Sitcoms explore the highs and lows of these relationships, and while they don’t always shy away from the harsher realities, they always leave us with a smile.

Scroll on down, and give a thumbs up to all your most beloved 80s and 90s TV sitcoms – and if you don’t see your personal favourite(s) from those two decades, go ahead and add them at the bottom of the page.

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Absolutely Fabulous

After rising to fame alongside partner Dawn French as part of the 80s alternative comedy movement, Jennifer Saunders really broke through to the upper echelons of TV stardom as the creator and lead actor of sitcom Absolutely Fabulous. Inspired by an earlier French and Saunders sketch centred on a childish mother dependant on a more responsible daughter, the series hit screens in 1992 and became a major sensation. Saunders stars as Edina Monsoon, a fashion industry PR agent who enjoys a hard-partying lifestyle and garish dress sense, despite the fact that she’s on the brink of middle age. Her main cohort in drinking and debauchery is her best friend Patsy (Joanna Lumley), whilst Edina’s straight-laced daughter Saffron (Julia Sawalha) struggles to make her mother grow up. Filling out the cast are June Whitfield as Edina’s mother, and Jane Horrocks as Edina’s ditzy assistant Bubble. Absolutely Fabulous delighted audiences with its reversal of traditional family roles, its steadfast emphasis on female characters, and perhaps above all its ruthless mockery of the fashion industry. The series made icons out of its lead stars, and proved a particular career-changer for Joanna Lumley, who had not previously been known for comedy. The initial run of Absolutely Fabulous lasted for three seasons, ending in 1995, with a one-off special following in 1996. However, the show’s enduring popularity saw it revived in 2001; two further seasons and two Christmas specials followed. Finally, 2016 saw the theatrical release of Absolutely Fabulous: The Movie.

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ALF

E.T. proved that 80s audiences loved cute little men from outer space, and Mork & Mindy demonstrated that aliens could front a successful TV sitcom. Small wonder, then, that someone thought to create a sitcom centred on a cute little alien with an E.T.-like acronym for a name: ALF (Alien Life Form). Launched in 1986, ALF centres on the hairy, goofy creature of the title who crash-lands into the home of American family the Tanners. They allow him to secretly stay with them until he gets his spacecraft fixed. However, ALF quickly becomes part of the family, getting involved in the daily troubles that make up a standard sitcom. Though a largely cute, family-friendly show which made a merchandising icon out of its furry lead, ALF has its oddly dark elements. For one, there’s the fact that ALF is always trying to eat the Tanners’ pet cat. For another, there’s the revelation that he is among the last of his kind, his planet having been destroyed by ecological disaster, which informs the show’s eco-friendly, anti-nuclear ethos. As fun as ALF may have been for viewers, the cast and crew reportedly found it nightmarish dealing with the time-consuming problems of a puppet lead. For this reason the show wasn’t taped live, and had a laugh track added afterwards. Dwindling ratings saw ALF unexpectedly cancelled in 1990, notoriously ending on a sinister cliffhanger which saw ALF captured by shady government agents. This was later resolved in 1996 TV movie sequel, Project ALF.

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Blackadder

Blackadder holds a unique place in sitcom history. While it features the same central actors, each new instalment takes place in a different time period, following the history of a most despicable British family. Launched in 1983 as The Black Adder, the first season was set in the Middle Ages and cast Rowan Atkinson as the simpering son of King Richard IV (Brian Blessed), and Tony Robinson as his shrewd servant Baldrick. The show wasn’t a huge success, and when a second series came along significant changes were made. Whilst Atkinson had co-written The Black Adder with Richard Curtis, 1986’s Blackadder II saw Atkinson leave the writing to Curtis and Ben Elton, who radically reworked the characters. Blackadder became a duplicitous schemer with a barbed tongue, eager to increase his standing in the court of Queen Elizabeth (Miranda Richardson), whilst Baldrick became an unhygienic idiot. This mix of alternative history and venomous wit made Blackadder II a smash. The series continued down this path with 1987’s Blackadder the Third, casting the anti-hero as the butler of Prince George (Hugh Laurie). Two one-off specials were made in 1988 (Blackadder: the Cavalier Years and Blackadder’s Christmas Carol), before they ended with the most celebrated series: 1989’s Blackadder Goes Forth, which moved the action to the trenches of World War 1. Later, the cast and crew reunited for a final 1999 episode, Blackadder: Back and Forth, specially commissioned for screening at London’s newly-opened Millennium Dome (now the O2 Arena).

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Blossom

If any TV show could be said to have defined what it was to be a teenage girl in the 1990s, it’s probably Blossom. The popular sitcom followed the ups and downs of young Blossom Russo and her family after their mother leaves the family home. First taking to the air in January 1991, Blossom starred Mayim Bialik as the title character, the precocious youngest child and only female in a household otherwise dominated by men: musician father Nick (Ted Wass), recovering drug addict brother Tony (Michael Stoyanov) and easy-going loverboy middle child Joey (Joey Lawrence). More or less also part of the family is Blossom’s best friend Six (Jenna von Oÿ). Tackling such difficult subjects as divorce, abandonment and drug addiction from the off, Blossom helped usher in a more serious, topical age for family-oriented sitcoms. Even so, it was renowned for its light touch, the show filled with music and celebrated for Bialik’s dancing over the catchy opening credits song performed by Doctor John. The distinctive outfits worn by Bialik and von Oÿ made the actresses teen fashion icons, whilst Joey Lawrence became a major heartthrob with a memorable one-word catchphrase: “Whoa!” A huge hit, Blossom enjoyed crossovers with a number of other sitcoms of the time (notably The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and ALF). The series ended in 1995 after 115 episodes. Bialik then retreated from the spotlight for many years to purse a career in science, but later returned to acting, joining the cast of The Big Bang Theory in 2010.

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Boy Meets World

Launched in 1993, Boy Meets World was one of the most beloved school-based teen sitcoms of its era. In the beginning the show was primarily centred on the boy of the title, Cory Matthews (played by Ben Savage, real life younger brother of The Wonder Years star Fred Savage). With time, though, Boy Meets World became a fully fledged ensemble piece with a range of loveable, relatable characters. Joining Savage's Cory on his misadventures through adolescence were his buddy Shawn (Rider Strong), girlfriend Topanga (Danielle Fishel) and brother Eric (Will Friedle). The cast only got bigger throughout the comedy's seven season run, as we followed the core characters all the way from middle school to college. While primarily a light-hearted show, Boy Meets World wasn't afraid to touch on sensitive subjects, with storylines addressing underage drinking, child abuse and sexual harassment. Some critics applauded the show for featuring an interracial relationship between Shawn and Trian McGee-Davis' Angela. The show has also gained some notoriety in recent years after season six actress Maitland Ward moved into an adult entertainment career. Boy Meets World finally called it a day in May 2000, after seven seasons and 158 episodes. The show’s popularity proved enduring enough for it to spawn a direct sequel, Girl Meets World, which centred on Riley (Rowan Blanchard), the daughter of Cory and Topanga. The series ran for five seasons from 2012 to 2017, and saw the return of many cast members from the original Boy Meets World.

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Cheers

Millions of people around the world spent the bulk of the 80s at a bar in Boston, named Cheers. The eponymous drinking ground served as the location for what was, until recently, the longest-running live action sitcom of all time. Sam Malone (Ted Danson) is a former baseball player who now runs the homely bar where - as the show's unforgettable theme song puts it - everybody knows your name. He works alongside Coach (Nicholas Colasanto) and Carla (Rhea Perlman), serving regulars including Cliff (John Ratzenberger) and Norm (George Wendt). Things are shaken up by the arrival of new waitress Diane (Shelley Long), a collegiate intellectual who's out of sorts among the bar’s less sophisticated staff and clientele. Curiously, although Cheers proved to be one of the most popular sitcoms ever, it wasn't plain sailing to begin with. After premiering in September 1982, low ratings almost saw the show axed. However, it soon became staple viewing on both sides of the Atlantic. By the end of its run in 1993, Cheers was one of the most widely watched shows on television, garnering a record 114 Primetime Emmy award nominations (with 28 wins). Plus, with 275 episodes to its name it was the longest-running sitcom ever: The Big Bang Theory broke that record in 2019, ending on episode 276. Cheers even proved successful enough to survive major cast changes. When Nicholas Colasanto died suddenly in 1985, Woody Harrelson was introduced as Woody; and when Shelley Long quit in 1987, Kirstie Alley took over as Rebecca. Later seasons added another notable supporting character in Kelsey Grammer's Frasier, initially a love interest to Diane who wound up a Cheers regular. Frasier proved popular enough to get his own spin-off show, which premiered shortly after Cheers ended and became hugely successful in its own right. Still close to the heart of audiences, Cheers catapulted its cast to stardom, and most of them are still prolific actors to this day. Woody Harrelson surprised everyone by becoming a major movie star, and Ted Danson went on to further TV success with Becker, CSI and The Good Place. However, perhaps the most unexpected success story to come out of Cheers is John Ratzenberger, officially one of the most successful actors of all time thanks to his long working relationship with Pixar.

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Cybill

Cybill Shepherd had gone from stardom to obscurity and back again more than once by the mid-90s. First rising to prominence as a film actress in the 70s, the actress had been on the skids until 80s comedy series Moonlighting - but again her career faltered once that show ended and her co-star Bruce Willis went on to superstardom. Launched in 1995, sitcom Cybill cast the actress as a thinly veiled fictionalisation of herself named Cybill Sheridan, a Hollywood actress struggling to keep her career afloat in middle age. We follow Cybill in her daily trials and tribulations along with her best friend Maryann (Christine Barankski), her daughters Zooey (Alica Witt) and Rachel (Deedee Pfeiffer), and her ex-husbands Jeff (Tom Wopat) and Ira (Alan Rosenberg). Cybill is notable for being the third sitcom created by Chuck Lorre, who went on to enjoy massive success in the field as the creator and producer of Dharma and Greg, Two and a Half Men and The Big Bang Theory. A barbed send-up of Hollywood culture with a few acidic words to say about other popular shows of the time (notably Friends), Cybill proved a hit, scoring decent ratings and running for four seasons before unexpectedly getting cancelled in 1998. The show’s abrupt cancellation was a shock to many at the time; Shepherd has since claimed that it was down to her refusing the advances of Les Moonves, the former CEO of network CBS, who has since been hit with scores of sexual misconduct allegations.

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Diff'rent Strokes

As the theme song to this beloved sitcom classic reminded us, “the world don’t move to the beat of just one drum.” Launched in 1978, Diff’rent Strokes took the ever-sensitive topics of class and race relations and made them the basis of a much-loved sitcom which ran until 1985. Diff’rent Strokes centred on two orphaned African-American brothers, the teenage Willis Jackson (Todd Bridges) and his smart-mouthed little brother Arnold (Gary Coleman). After their mother’s death, the boys are taken in by her previous employer Phillip Drummond (Conrad Bain), a wealthy white middle-aged businessman. They share Phillip's family home with his daughter Kimberly (Dana Plato) and their housekeeper Edna (Charlotte Rae, who went on to star in spin-off series The Facts of Life). Conrad Bain was the nominal lead, coming to the show from earlier sitcom success on Maude; but even those who’ve never seen Diff’rent Strokes can tell you that Gary Coleman was the real star. The diminutive young actor won over audiences with his achingly cute demeanour, and wrote himself into the annals of pop culture history with his unforgettable and frequently repeated one-liner, "What'chu talkin' 'bout, Willis?" Sadly, Diff’rent Strokes doesn’t have the happiest of legacies. Coleman struggled with poor health (his 4’8” frame and child-like appearance were due to a congenital kidney disease), and he battled depression and financial difficulties before dying in 2010 aged just 42. Co-star Dana Plato’s was an equally sad story - she later descended into drug and alcohol addiction, before committing suicide in 1999 aged 34.

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Due South

One of the more distinctive and unconventional TV comedies of its era, Due South blended elements of the sitcom with police procedural drama with hints of fantasy. The net result was something resembling a more mainstream, family friendly equivalent to Twin Peaks. A Canadian production, Due South centred on Benton Fraser (Paul Gross), a Constable in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, who relocates to Chicago, Illinois (which, of course, is due south of Canada) to solve the murder of his father, who had been a Sergeant in the Mounties. There, Fraser teams up with no-nonsense Chicago Detective Raymond Vecchio (David Marciano), but the two men quickly find their attitudes and methods are in great contrast with one another. On the surface, Due South might appear to be a fairly conventional TV cop show, but it hinged more heavily on humour than a lot of other police procedural dramas. The bulk of the comedy comes from the culture clash angle, with the more rough and rowdy approach of Chicago cop Vecchio and company contrasting wildy with the good-natured, honest and ever-polite Fraser. The show played heavily on old stereotypes about Canadians being friendly and well-mannered. At the same time, Due South was more than a little off-the-wall for its vaguely supernatural overtones. Not only does Fraser have a somewhat unconventional friendship with a half-wolf, he is also visited by the ghost of his father. Created by future Hollywood screenwriter and director Paul Haggis, Due South ran for four seasons from 1994 to 1999.

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Everybody Loves Raymond

By the mid-90s, it was pretty well established that American TV sitcoms built around the stage personas of stand-up comedians could prove hugely successful. Following in the wake of Roseanne Barr on Roseanne and Tim Allen on Home Improvement, comic Ray Romano was next in line for a TV show of his own. Romano teamed up with writer and producer Philip Rosenthal to create Everybody Loves Raymond, which cast the comedian as a newspaper sports writer with a laid-back and sardonic attitude. This demeanor serves him well in his busy day-to-day life as a husband and father of three, with his parents living next door. Appearing alongside Romano in Everybody Loves Raymond were Patricia Heaton as Ray’s wife Debra, Brad Garrett as his big brother Robert, Doris Roberts as his mother Marie, and Peter Boyle as his father Frank. The show was also something of a family affair, as Ray and Debra’s children Ally, Geoffrey and Michael were played by real-life siblings Madilyn Sweeten and twin brothers Sawyer and Sullivan Sweeten. Romano and showrunner Rosenthal both drew heavily on their own home lives in building the story world of Everybody Loves Raymond. Romano is indeed a father to a daughter and twin sons in real life, and does indeed have a brother named Robert - although the character in the show is reportedly based more on Romano’s other brother, Richard. Well liked by both audiences and critics, Everybody Loves Raymond ran for nine seasons, from September 1996 to May 2005.

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Family Ties

Family-based sitcoms inevitably explore the generation gap, but few made such a point of reflecting the political divides of the 80s as Family Ties. Launched in 1982, the popular series followed the trials and tribulations of the Keatons, a family with hippy parents who are somewhat dismayed to find their children embracing the ‘greed is good’ ethos of the Reagan era. Michael Gross and Meredith Baxter are Steven and Elyse Keaton, veterans of the 60s counterculture who still hold up their liberal values, in stark contrast to their kids – in particular their self-proclaimed Young Republican son Alex, played by Michael J. Fox (who landed the role after first choice Matthew Broderick declined). Family Ties creator Gary David Goldberg did not intend for Alex to become the hero of the show, but the audience-pleasing charm of Michael J. Fox saw the character developed into the de facto lead. Family Ties made Fox a huge star, paving the way for his casting in 1985 film classic Back to the Future, which he famously shot back-to-back with the sitcom. The cast was filled out by Justine Bateman as Mallory, Tina Yothers as Jennifer and later Brian Bonsall as youngest son Andy. The show notched up some illustrious guest stars including Tom Hanks, Geena Davis, River Phoenix and Fox’s Back to the Future co-star Crispin Glover, while future Friends star Courteney Cox also had a recurring role in the last two seasons. Family Ties ended in 1989 after 176 episodes, plus a 1985 TV movie.

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Father Ted

In the annals of sitcom history, few entries are quite so wonderfully idiosyncratic as Father Ted. Written by Graham Lineham and Arthur Matthews, the Irish-British co-production gives a distinctive twist to the standard sitcom set-up of four family members in a house, by making the inhabitants of the house in question a trio of incompetent Catholic priests and their doting housekeeper. Dermot Morgan took the title role of Father Ted Crilly, an ambitious but ill-disciplined priest who has been essentially banished to the remote parish of Craggy Island due to some financial indiscretions. Here, Ted lives with the young and absent-minded Father Dougal McGuire (Ardal O’Hanlon) and Father Jack Hackett (Frank Kelly), an elderly, perpetually drunk priest with a foul temper. The three priests are looked after by Mrs Doyle (Pauline McLynn), a housekeeper who takes uncommon pride in her work, particularly making the tea. Father Ted won over audiences and critics with its uniquely off-the-wall sense of humour, and the winning chemistry of its central cast. The combination of Ted’s world-weary cynicism, Dougal’s child-like obliviousness and Jack’s inarticulate rage tickled the funny bone of millions of viewers, and the show threw the characters into all manner of bizarre and often painfully awkward situations. Father Ted ran from 1995 to 1998, with three seasons and a Christmas special produced. The plan had always been to end there, but this was made sadly final when Dermot Morgan died suddenly of a heart attack the day after they wrapped production on the last episode.

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Frasier

Cheers was the longest-running, arguably best-loved sitcom of the 1980s, so when it came to an end in 1993, no one wanted to see the series die out completely. Subsequently a spin-off series was conceived, centred on Kelsey Grammer’s supporting character, the psychiatrist Dr Frasier Crane. To the surprise of many, this offshoot took on a life of its own, enjoying success comparable to that of its predecessor. Where Cheers had been set in Boston, Frasier (whose first season premiered in September 1993) follows Grammer’s title character as he returns to his home town of Seattle. Here he finds professional success as a radio advice show host helping listeners with their problems. Of course, Frasier’s own life has no shortage of problems, as he shares his apartment with his retired cop father Martin (the late John Mahoney) and Martin's live-in nurse Daphne (Jane Leeves). Frequently stopping by are Frasier’s brother Niles (David Hyde Pierce), also a psychiatrist, and who is not-so secretly smitten with Daphne; and Frasier’s no-nonsense radio producer Ros (Peri Gilpin). Frasier stood apart from most sitcoms that came before it (Cheers included) in that it adopted a somewhat intellectual tone; although at the same time, intellectualism was frequently the object of humour, as the high brow leanings of Frasier and Niles clash with the simpler, working class sensibilities of Martin, Daphne and Ros. The show was a hit with audiences and critics, and became a staple at awards shows, scooping a record 37 Emmy wins across its 11-year run. Frasier ended in 2004 after 256 episodes, although there has recently been talk of a possible revival.

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Friends

Sitcoms have always been popular, but few have been quite so widely - and tightly - embraced as Friends. Launched in 1994, it became not only the most celebrated TV comedy of its time, but one of the all-time best-loved TV shows period, making a far greater impact on popular culture than most programmes of its ilk. Friends centres on six twentysomethings, three male and three female, living in Manhattan. Two of these – Monica (Courteney Cox) and Joey (Matt LeBlanc) - rent apartments directly opposite one another. The bulk of the action is split between these apartments and nearby coffee shop Central Perk, where Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) works. The social circle is completed by Chandler (Matthew Perry), Phoebe (Lisa Kudrow) and Ross (David Schwimmer), the latter of whom is both Monica’s brother and Chandler’s old college room-mate. With its hip sensibility and good-looking cast, Friends was specifically designed to hook a youthful audience, and it succeeded. The question of which Friend you were most like became common in magazines (and later in online quizzes), and the ups and downs of the central relationships – particularly the on-off Rachel-Ross romance – kept viewers coming back. Jennifer Aniston’s Rachel was also notable for having one of the most widely imitated haircuts of the 90s. As the show’s popularity soared, so did the star status of its cast: by the last two seasons all six lead actors were earning a then-unprecedented $1 million per episode. Friends ultimately ended in 2004 after 236 episodes, but remains a TV staple, thanks to regular reruns and its success with a new generation of viewers on Netflix. Matt LeBlanc reprised his role for short-lived spin-off series Joey from 2004 to 2006.

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Full House

Mainstream sitcoms have long been celebrated (or, in some circles, derided) for their perpetual optimism and feel-good spirit, and few shows exemplify that spirit more than Full House. Running from 1987 to 1995, it was the upbeat family sitcom with the cast that just kept getting bigger. Set in San Francisco, Full House centred on Danny Tanner (Bob Saget), a recently widowed TV news anchor with three young daughters: DJ (Candace Cameron), Stephanie (Jodie Sweetin) and Michelle (played by both Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen). Struggling with both his loss and his responsibilities as a now-single father, Danny invites his brother-in-law Jesse (John Stamos) and his old friend Joey (Dave Coulier) to come stay at his large suburban house and help raise the girls. As the years went on, the Full House ensemble grew. Kimmy Gibler (Andrea Barber), the Tanners' next-door neighbour and DJ’s best friend, went from occasional guest to full time co-star. Jesse romanced and ultimately married Danny’s fellow newscaster Rebecca (Lori Loughlin), and they had children of their own in twin boys Nicky and Alex (Blake and Dylan Tuomy-Wilhoit). Finally, there was DJ’s on-off boyfriend Steve (Scott Weinger, also famed for voicing the title role in Disney’s Aladdin). Critics may have derided the series as sentimental and formulaic, but audiences loved it. Full House ran for eight seasons, ending after 192 episodes. 2016 saw the reunion of almost the entire cast (the Olsen twins being notable absentees) for Fuller House, a reboot series centred on the now grown-up DJ, Stephanie and Kimmy. This ran for four seasons on Netflix.

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Married... With Children

Where most family-based sitcoms prefer to show blissfully happy parents and children facing daily life with a smile, Married… with Children took an altogether more cynical approach – and many viewers found the show all the more refreshing for it. Premiering in April 1987, the series centres on the far-from-perfect Bundy family, and sports a considerably less wholesome sense of humour than most of its 80s TV peers. Ed O’Neill stars as Al Bundy, a dejected shoe salesman approaching middle age. He’s the henpecked husband of Peggy (Katey Sagal), a dolled-up housewife who generally avoids doing any actual housework. Their children are the dim-witted popular girl Kelly (Christina Applegate) and the also dim-witted but considerably less popular Bud (David Faustino), both of whom generally want nothing from their parents except more money. On top of presenting a far less idyllic vision of family life than other sitcoms of the time, Married… with Children was also notable for boasting much bawdier jokes. The show’s subject matter frequently veered towards the sexual, which often prompted controversy. This reached a peak in the third season, when an episode in which Al goes bra shopping prompted anti-obscenity campaigner Terry Rakolta to call for a boycott of the series. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this high-profile outrage only helped the show’s ratings. Married… with Children ended in 1997 after 259 episodes. Christina Applegate went on to a successful film career, Katey Sagal’s later TV roles include Futurama and Sons of Anarchy, and Ed O’Neill went on to another long-running sitcom, Modern Family.

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Mork & Mindy

Few spin-off shows have taken on such a life of their own as Mork & Mindy. After debuting the role in one particularly outlandish episode of 50s-set sitcom Happy Days, comedian Robin Williams was catapulted to superstardom by playing the quirky extra-terrestrial Mork from the planet Ork in a show of his own, running from 1978 to 1982. Set in what was then the present day, Mork & Mindy saw the titular alien take up residence in Boulder, Colorado under orders from his commanding officer Orson (the voice of Ralph James), to whom he reported back every episode with updates on his observations of human behaviour. Eccentric but innocent, Mork befriends Mindy (Pam Dawber). Promising to keep Mork’s alien identity secret, Mindy allows him to move in with her and continue his ongoing studies of humanity. It was through Mork & Mindy that the previously unknown Williams really announced his comic genius to the world. His high-energy performance was an extension of the comedian’s own persona, and it quickly brought him close to the heart of millions, even if his co-stars could scarcely get a look in at times. Despite Williams’ increasing fame, the show’s ratings slumped until it was cancelled after four seasons. Still, Mork & Mindy remained prominent in syndicated reruns, and despite Williams’ later big screen success it remained one of his best-loved works. Shortly before his death in 2014, Williams reunited with Pam Dawber on another sitcom, The Crazy Ones.

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One Foot In The Grave

Few sitcoms have quite so quintessentially British a set-up as that of beloved BBC comedy series One Foot in the Grave. The show centres on Victor Meldrew (Richard Wilson), a recent retiree with a bad temper living out his remaining days alongside long-suffering wife Margaret (Annette Crosbie). The series went down a storm with audiences, and made a perhaps unlikely icon out of Victor Meldrew – thanks in no small part to his frequently repeated catchphrase, “I don’t believe it!” Premiering on 4th January 1990, One Foot in the Grave presented Meldrew as the ultimate personification of the Grumpy Old Man. Perpetually bored with retirement, everyone and everything seems to make him angry. Viewers couldn’t get enough of his tantrums, and the series delighted in presenting these, with next-door neighbour Patrick (Angus Deayton) often bearing the brunt of Victor's rage. Circumstances often took bizarre directions, with somewhat darker humour than was the norm for a mainstream-friendly comedy. Richard Wilson will forever be synonymous with Victor Meldrew, so it’s interesting to note that the actor initially turned the role down. Had Wilson not changed his mind, the producers were considering approaching famed British comedian Les Dawson, which would doubtless have made for a very different programme. One Foot in the Grave ran for a total of 42 episodes between 1990 and 2000. As the sitcom had always had a downbeat element, critics deemed it appropriate that the series concluded on a sad note, with Victor Meldrew killed off in an accidental hit-and-run.

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Only Fools And Horses

Britain produced more than its share of memorable sitcoms in the 80s, but surely none proved as popular or stood the test of time quite so well as Only Fools and Horses. First airing in 1981, the BBC 1 comedy introduced south-east London wheeler-dealer Derek ‘Del Boy’ Trotter (David Jason), his brother Rodney (Nicholas Lyndhurst), and their Grandad (Lennard Pearce). The show centred on the ambitious but dim-witted Del Boy’s ill-advised get-rich-quick schemes. Following Lennard Pearce’s death in 1984, Buster Merryfield was introduced as Uncle Albert, and in 1988 Del Boy and Rodney got love interests in Raquel (Tessa Peake-Jones) and Cassandra (Gwyneth Strong). The supporting cast was filled out with such memorable characters as Trigger (Roger Lloyd Pack), Denzil (Paul Barber) and Boycie (John Challis). The uniquely working-class British sensibility of Only Fools and Horses won over audiences nationwide, and the show became a national institution with a wealth of iconic catchphrases, among them “Next year, Rodney, we could be millionaires!” and “you plonker!” One particularly memorable scene – Del Boy falling through the bar – has been repeatedly declared the funniest moment in TV history. When the show’s initial run came to an end in 1996, the series finale was the most watched British sitcom episode ever, with over 24.3 million viewers. 16 Christmas special episodes were produced before Only Fools and Horses shut up shop for good in 2003. It’s since spawned Boycie-based spin-off The Green Green Grass and prequel Rock & Chips, as well as inspiring a West End musical.

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Red Dwarf

Once any well-established format has been explored thoroughly enough, there’s only one way to breathe new life into the set-up: take it into outer space! This is just what happened with British sci-fi sitcom Red Dwarf. Set aboard a deep space ship named the Red Dwarf, the show centres on Dave Lister (Craig Charles), the lowest-ranking crew member aboard the ship, who is sent into stasis as punishment for breaking the ship’s quarantine regulations by bringing a pet cat aboard. To Lister’s complete surprise, he is not released from stasis for three million years, as shortly after he went into suspended animation, a radiation leak killed the entire crew. Lister’s only company are a holographic simulation of his anally retentive bunkmate Arnold Rimmer (Chris Barrie), the ship’s computer Holly (Norman Lovett) and the Cat (Danny John-Jules), a humanoid which evolved from Lister’s contraband feline. Later, they are joined by an android butler named Kryten (Robert Llewellyn, although the character was portrayed by David Ross in his first appearance). At first Red Dwarf was relatively down to earth (no pun intended), following the motley crew as they tried to alleviate the boredom of floating through empty space. However, from the third season onwards the show really embraced the sci-fi angle and became more action-packed, with more alien encounters and reality-bending phenomena. After launching in 1988, Red Dwarf proved an unexpectedly enduring hit. To date, 12 seasons and a TV movie have been produced, and there may still be more to come.

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Roseanne

After Roseanne Barr rose to fame in the 80s as a stand-up comedian, a sitcom was the next logical step. Declining the role of Peg Bundy in Married… with Children, Barr instead took the title role in a series named after herself, premiering in 1988. In Roseanne, Barr plays Roseanne Conner, matriarch of a low-income family in the fictional Illinois town of Lanford. Here she lives with husband Dan (John Goodman), teenage daughters Becky (Lecy Goranson) and Darlene (Sara Gilbert), and young son DJ (Michael Fishman), with frequent visits from Roseanne’s sister Jackie (Laurie Metcalf). Unashamedly working class, the world presented in Roseanne was lightyears from the implausibly idyllic lifestyles portrayed in many 80s sitcoms. The show was bold in tackling topics other sitcoms would steer clear of, including the family’s financial instability, and the problems of adolescence facing Becky and Darlene. The show also featured a number of prominent gay characters, which was very rare for TV at the time. Roseanne is also notable for launching a few future superstars. John Goodman got his big break on the show, George Clooney had a recurring role in the first season and future Avengers director Joss Whedon was part of the writing staff. The show also has some links with The Big Bang Theory: Johnny Galecki co-starred in Roseanne as Darlene’s boyfriend David, whilst Sara Gilbert and Laurie Metcalf would later have recurring guest roles on The Big Bang Theory. Roseanne initially ran from 1988 to 1997. The show was then revived in March 2018, but Barr was fired after one season following a series of racist remarks the actress made on Twitter. The series resumed without her in October 2018, retitled The Conners.

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Saved By The Bell

For all those who were school-age in the 1990s, few TV shows encapsulate the era more perfectly than Saved by the Bell. Set in the fictitious high school of Bayside, the teen-oriented sitcom followed the adolescent experiences of its attractive young ensemble, with their overbearing principal never far away. The show started life in a somewhat different format in 1988. Originally, the sitcom was entitled Good Morning, Miss Bliss, and centred on a junior high school teacher portrayed by screen legend Hayley Mills. This show was cancelled after only 13 episodes, but the producers felt there was untapped potential in the show’s younger characters Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies) and Samuel "Screech" Powers (Dustin Diamond), as well as principal Mr Belding (Dennis Haskins). Taking these key characters and adding Mario Lopez as A.C. Slater, Tiffani-Amber Thiessen as Kelly Kapowski and Elizabeth Berkley as Jessie Spano, the action was then moved from Indiana to Los Angeles. So it was that Good Morning, Miss Bliss became Saved by the Bell, and it proved a winning formula which hooked younger viewers worldwide. 86 episodes of Saved by the Bell were made in its initial four seasons, between 1989 and 1993. Spin-off shows Saved by the Bell: The College Years and Saved by the Bell: The New Class followed, as well as two TV movies and eventually a 2020 revival series. Sadly, Screech actor Dustin Diamond died in February 2021 after a short battle with cancer.

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Seinfeld

The route from stand-up comedy to TV sitcom stardom is not an uncommon one, but when Jerry Seinfeld took that route, the results were widely hailed as ground-breaking. Premiering in July 1989, Seinfeld became one of the most acclaimed TV comedies of the era, and has often been declared one of the greatest TV shows ever. Jerry Seinfeld heads up the cast as a fictionalised version of himself, a successful stand-up comedian living in New York. As befits any sitcom, the show follows the daily life of the title character, and those closest to him: his lifelong best friend George (Jason Alexander), friend and former partner Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and his eccentric neighbour Cosmo (Michael Richards). It all sounds prosaic enough, but the trick with Seinfeld is that the show steered clear of the usual schmaltzy sitcom tropes. Seinfeld has often been described as being “about nothing;” it deliberately avoided ongoing plot threads or significant character developments. Jerry Seinfeld and series co-creator Larry David (later the creator and star of Curb Your Enthusiasm) wanted Seinfeld to explore how stand-up comedians come up with their material, hence the focal point of each episode is some sort of funny situation the characters find themselves in, which Jerry later recounts on stage. Seinfeld was a hit with audiences, and went down even better with critics and award season judges. The show's nine year run saw it pick up three Golden Globes, ten Emmys, and five wins in the Best Ensemble Cast Performance category at the Screen Actors Guild Awards, and many more awards besides. Seinfeld ended in 1998 after 180 episodes.

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Spaced

Hitting screens for the first time in September 1999, Spaced may have arrived at the very tail end of the 90s, but it was still one of the decade’s most innovative sitcoms - and it proved to have a wider-ranging cultural impact than anyone could have expected at the time. The show centred on two struggling twentysomethings, writer Daisy (Jessica Hynes, then known as Jessica Stevenson) and comic book artist Tim (Simon Pegg), who pose as a couple in order to rent a flat from perpetually drunk but kindly landlady Marsha (Julia Deakin). We follow Tim and Daisy through all manner of madcap misadventures loaded with pop culture references galore, accompanied by Tim’s army-obsessed best mate Mike (Nick Frost), Daisy’s wannabe fashionista friend Twist (Katy Carmichael), and their socially awkward artist neighbour Brian (Mark Heap). Ditching the proscenium stage/live studio audience set-up of conventional sitcoms, Spaced is one of the rare TV comedies on which the distinctive style of its director is always in evidence. While Hynes and Pegg co-wrote the entire series, every episode was directed by Edgar Wright, who would go on to make the hit films Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz and The World’s End with Pegg and Frost. With its surreal overtones and celebration of fan culture, Spaced set the scene for many more media-savvy comedies and dramas in the years ahead. Only 14 episodes were ever made, but despite fan demand all involved have been quick to quash any suggestion of a revival.

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The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air

In the late 80s, the man we now know as Will Smith rose to fame under his rapper name The Fresh Prince, and enjoyed a successful musical career alongside partner DJ Jazzy Jeff - but it wasn't until September 1990, with the launch of sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, that Smith really hit the big time. Anyone who’s ever heard the iconic opening theme song can tell you the show’s plot. Will Smith (playing a character with his own name) is a teen from West Philadelphia who – in the face of rising street violence at home - is sent to live with his aunt and uncle in the prosperous LA neighbourhood of Bel-Air. Here, Will’s easy-going ways clash wildly with those of his wealthy, well-educated relatives. Despite having no previous acting experience, Smith soon developed tremendous chemistry with his on-camera family, including Alfonso Ribeiro as Will’s nerdy cousin Carlton and the late James Avery as the oppressive but ultimately loving Uncle Phil. Much of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’s humour came from the tension between Will and Uncle Phil – but no one can ever forget the tender scene between the two of them in season 4, when Will emotionally breaks down after being abandoned by his father. Nor was this the only time the show dealt with sensitive subjects, with storylines directly tackling racism, youth crime and gun violence. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air ran until 1996, ending after 148 episodes. Smith achieved big screen success shortly thereafter, but the show remains one of the things he’s most known and loved for.

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The Golden Girls

The 80s may well have been a time in which youth culture became ever more prominent, yet one of the top-rated TV shows of the decade centred on four women in their twilight years. That show was NBC sitcom The Golden Girls, which ran for seven seasons from 1985 onward. The Golden Girls centred on four middle-aged women: the dry Dorothy (Bea Arthur, a 70s sitcom veteran thanks to All in the Family and Maude), the dim-witted Rose (national treasure Betty White), the lusty Blanche (Rue McClanahan), and Dorothy’s mother Sophia (Estelle Getty, in reality the second-youngest member of the cast). The quartet live together in the widowed Blanche’s Miami mansion, where conflict and hi-jinks constantly ensue. Though naturally popular with older viewers, the appeal of The Golden Girls spread across the generations. Its humour was often quite eye-opening for younger viewers, showing these grandmotherly figures still enjoying active and often turbulent love lives, challenging preconceptions of what getting old entails. On top of being a hit with audiences, The Golden Girls also received widespread critical acclaim and awards recognition: it’s one of the few sitcoms for which all the central cast won Emmys. The Golden Girls ended in 1992 when Arthur chose to leave: White, McClanahan and Getty went on to spin-off The Golden Palace, which ran for one season. Two other spin-offs were made in Empty Nest and Nurses. The Golden Girls also spawned numerous international remakes, including short-lived British sitcom Brighton Belles.

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The King Of Queens

Funnyman Kevin James got his first taste of sitcom stardom when The King of Queens debuted on screens in 1998. Set in a working class area in the New York borough of Queens, the comedy series centred on the day-to-day life on James’ salt of the earth delivery man Doug Heffernan, his legal secretary wife Carrie (Leah Remini) and their family and friends, including Carrie’s widowed father Arthur (Jerry Stiller). The King of Queens is one of those sitcoms which approaches the format with the opinion that there’s no need to try and fix something that isn’t broken. Noted for being in a similar spirit to classic 50s sitcom The Honeymooners, the show centres on a blue collar, All-American couple. The show’s traditional ways didn’t always win over the critics, with some reviews accusing the writers of being over-reliant on gender and class-based stereotypes. Even so, this didn’t put off viewers, as The King of Queens commanded a loyal audience for 9 seasons, totalling at 207 episodes. The King of Queens even got a spot of crossover action in there, with guest appearances from Ray Ramano and his co-stars from Everybody Loves Raymond. Things also got larger than life in the third season with the introduction of the Heffernan’s new neighbour: bodybuilder and Incredible Hulk actor Lou Ferrigno, playing himself. When The King of Queens wrapped in 2007, it was the last 90s-originated sitcom to end its run. James and Remini would go on to reunite in another sitcom, Kevin Can Wait, in 2017.

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The Simpsons

When The Simpsons started life in 1987 as a series of animated shorts featured on The Tracey Ullman Show, no one could have anticipated the cultural juggernaut that sketch would grow into. Given their own series in December 1989, the yellow-skinned, four-fingered family became the most talked-about thing on television, challenging the long-held notion that cartoons are just for kids. Essentially a family-based sitcom, The Simpsons centres on the classic American family unit: Homer Simpson, a lazy nuclear power plant worker; his wife Marge, an over-worked housewife; eldest child Bart, a rebellious under-achiever; intellectually gifted middle child Lisa; and baby Maggie, who simply sucks her pacifier and falls over a lot. It’s a simple enough set-up, but The Simpsons took advantage of its animated format to feature many things which would be impractical on a live-action sitcom, with reality-bending goings-on and a vast supporting cast of colourful characters. Moreover, The Simpsons took a sardonic look at contemporary America and popular culture, joyfully slaughtering sacred cows by the herd. In its earliest days, when much of the audience was comprised of children enamoured with the badly-behaved Bart, the show's barbed humour prompted widespread criticism; President George HW Bush was among its most high-profile detractors. However, this didn’t keep The Simpsons from becoming a ratings sensation – and over three decades on, it’s still going strong. With 684 episodes to date, it’s the longest-running prime time scripted TV series in American history. The show’s popularity spawned a wealth of merchandise, several records including 1990 chart-topper Do the Bartman, and 2007’s The Simpsons Movie.

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The Wonder Years

Four years after Happy Days ended, another nostalgic American TV show arrived – but this time, with a distinctly more nuanced approach acknowledging the real troubles of yesteryear. This was comedy drama The Wonder Years, which ran from 1988 to 1993, setting its action exactly two decades earlier: 1968 to 1973. The Wonder Years centred on average White suburbanite Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage, cast on the strength of his performance in The Princess Bride). Initially aged 12, the series charts his growth into adolescence. Similar in tone to acclaimed 1986 movie Stand by Me, it featured narration from Kevin’s adult self (future Home Alone star Daniel Stern). As well as following the standard day-to-day life of Kevin with his family and friends, The Wonder Years also touched on the social unrest of the time. The opening episode saw Kevin’s future girlfriend Winnie (Danica McKellar) learn her brother has died in Vietnam. Later, Kevin’s sister Karen (Olivia d’Abo) clashed with their conservative parents (Dan Lauria and Alley Mills) over her hippie lifestyle. The series played a significant role in the 60s nostalgia that became prominent by the 90s, not least thanks to its use of the era's music: memorably, the opening credits played out to Joe Cocker’s version of The Beatles' With a Little Help from My Friends. The Wonder Years earned an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series, and, at 13, Savage became the youngest actor ever to be nominated for the Outstanding Lead Actor in a Comedy award.

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The Young Ones

Times were changing in the 80s. Few comedy shows reflected this so directly, yet with such eccentricity, as BBC cult favourite The Young Ones. First airing in 1982, it showcased the cream of the new ‘alternative comedy’ movement. Co-written by actor Rik Mayall, Lise Mayer and Ben Elton, The Young Ones centred on a quartet of student flatmates: would-be anarchist Rick (Mayall), heavy metaller Vyvyan (Ade Edmondson), hippy Neil (Nigel Planer) and lothario Mike (Christopher Ryan). Filling out the ensemble was Alexei Sayle, who appeared as different characters in every episode: usually either their landlord Jerzei Bolowosky, or members of the Bolowosky family. As well as showcasing alternative youth culture, The Young Ones delighted viewers with its surreal humour, sporting frequent bizarre developments and asides which defied all logic. There were also abundant guest appearances from a wealth of future big names including Emma Thompson, Robbie Coltrane, Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Dawn French, Jennifer Saunders, Lenny Henry and more besides. Curiously, The Young Ones wasn’t technically a sitcom; the makers realised they’d get a bigger budget if it was classed as a variety show, hence the regular appearances from recording artists; most famously Motörhead in series 2 episode Bambi. Following the example of Fawlty Towers, The Young Ones opted to quit while they were ahead, ending after only twelve episodes. However, the core four reunited in 1986 for Comic Relief charity single Living Doll, performing alongside Rick’s idol Cliff Richard. Later, Mayall and Edmondson reunited on 90s sitcom Bottom.

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Three's Company

Launched in 1977, sitcom Three’s Company proved to be among the most enduringly popular shows of its kind. Although it’s remembered as one of the quintessential American sitcoms, the show actually has its roots on the other side of the Atlantic: it was a remake of Man About the House, a British sitcom which ran from 1973 to 1976. Three’s Company cast John Ritter as Jack Tripper, a clumsy but good-hearted former Navy serviceman who shares an apartment in Santa Monica with two women, the sharp Janet Wood (Joyce DeWitt) and the ditzier Chrissy Snow (Suzanne Somers). Relations between the three are entirely platonic, but a lot of the show’s humour derives from the misunderstandings and tensions that arise from the gender clash. Filling out the original ensemble were Norman Fell and Audra Lindley as the Ropers, landlords of our three young leads. However, the Three’s Company cast went through some changes over its eight seasons. Fell and Lindley left after season three to star in spin-off series The Ropers (a remake of Man About the House spin-off George and Mildred), whilst Suzanne Somers quit after season five to be replaced by Jenilee Harrison as Chrissy’s sister Cindy, who was in turn replaced by Terri Alden as Priscilla Barnes. Three’s Company called it a day in 1984, after which Ritter and Barnes reprised their roles in spin-off Three’s a Crowd (again, a remake of Man About the House spin-off Robin’s Nest).

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Who’s The Boss?

By the early 80s, the standard nuclear family structure and traditional gender roles (men go to work, women stay home) were no longer so readily accepted as the norm. This was addressed by Who’s the Boss?, a sitcom which brought together two single-parent families in a household where the standard gender roles are reversed. Tony Micelli (Tony Danza, a sitcom veteran thanks to Taxi) is a retired baseball player who takes a job as a live-in housekeeper for advertising executive Angela Bower (Judith Light). Tony moves into Angela’s luxurious home with his daughter Samantha (Alyssa Milano), which they share with Angela’s son Jonathan (Danny Pintauro), with regular visits from Angela’s free-spirited mother Mona (Katherine Helmond). An unconventional family unit forms, and along with it a ‘will-they-won’t-they’ romantic tension between Tony and Angela. Premiering in 1984, Who’s the Boss? became one of the most popular sitcoms of the time. From its second season to its fifth, it was in the top ten most watched TV shows in America. As well as keeping its adult stars in the public eye, the show also made a teen idol out of Alyssa Milano. Famously, Disney animators used the young actress as the basis for Ariel in 1989’s The Little Mermaid. Who’s the Boss? ended in 1992 after 196 episodes. By this time it had formed the basis for British sitcom The Upper Hand, which ran from 1990 to 1996. Further Who’s the Boss? remakes have since been produced in Mexico, Germany and India, amongst others.

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