The Best Written TV Comedies of All Time

Cast of Seinfeld best written TV comedies

Comedy remains one of the most subjective genres in all of entertainment, with every audience member maintaining their own distinct taste when it comes to humor. Every so often, though, a television series comes along that appeals to a larger margin of viewers, entertaining audiences for years, sometimes decades, at a time.

Like its polar opposite in drama, the best written TV comedies hinge on the strength of a given script, with endless comedy shows relying on taut writing to entice viewers from one season to the next.

1. Seinfeld (1989-1998)

Relatable Seinfeld
Image Credit: West/Shapiro Productions and Castle Rock Entertainment.

What began as a show detailing how comedians came up with their material soon spiraled into a cultural phenomenon. A show that focuses on the mundane aspects of everyday life, Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld made everything under the sun hilarious with Seinfeld.

Whether waiting for a table for a Chinese restaurant or trying to find a car in a crowded mall parking lot, Seinfeld could make anything seem relatable, ridiculous, and always laugh-out-loud funny.

2. I Love Lucy (1951-1957)

I Love Lucy Lucille Ball, Mary Wickes
Image Credit: Desilu Productions.

One of the earliest and most influential TV series of all time, I Love Lucy introduced the foremost technical and narrative innovations still found in sitcoms to this day. Shining a light on the sensationalized marriage between Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz, the show’s indelible blend of slapstick and sight gags proved a match made in heaven, accounting for I Love Lucy’s iconic status today.

3. M*A*S*H (1972-1983)

MASH
Image Credit: CBS/20th Century Fox Television

Another landmark television show, M*A*S*H somehow managed to eclipse the critical glamor of its Best Picture-nominated namesake. Though drawing on a somewhat more light-hearted tone than Robert Altman’s film, the subsequent TV series never shied away from portraying the darker realities of war, from the needless loss of civilian life to severe homesickness that–if left unchecked–might snowball into a full-blown mental breakdown. Though ostensibly one of the best written TV comedies ever, M*A*S*H also qualifies as one of the best written TV dramas.

4. All in the Family (1971-1979)

All in the Family Carroll O'Connor
Image Credit: Tandem Productions.

Whereas most sitcoms of the 1970s tended to skirt around sensitive or controversial subject matter, All in the Family dived head-on toward them. Striking new narrative grounds with each of its seasons, All in the Family encouraged individual viewers to think for themselves on a wide range of social and political issues, including casual racism, sexism, antisemitism, and the ongoing Vietnam War.

5. The Simpsons (1989-present)

the Simpsons - intro
Image Credit: Gracie Films.

One of the longest-running television shows and one of the best written TV comedies ever made, The Simpsons popularized the idea of animated series that catered towards adult viewers–influencing countless series in the process.

While the quality of its episodes has declined over the years, The Simpsons’ first ten seasons remain peak genre television, alternating between humanistic stories of family and friendship to absurdist adventures featuring rogue monorails, vengeful children’s show entertainers, and musicals adapted from Planet of the Apes.

6. Cheers (1982-1993)

Cheers (1982)
Image Credit: NBC Universal.

Next to its creative successor, Seinfeld, Cheers tends to rank as one of the greatest sitcoms to ever grace the small screen. Rather than detailing a close-knit albeit argumentative family like so many shows before it, Cheers chose to cast a group of disparate individuals seeking escape, connection, and entertainment in the comfort of a cozy Boston sports bar.

7. The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998)

The Larry Sanders Show
Image Credit: HBO.

Using his brief stint as The Tonight Show host for inspiration, comedian Garry Shandling took an intimate look at the life of a successful talk show host from behind the television camera.

Weaving in an endless assortment of celebrity cameos, Shandling’s satirical treatment of network television proved sensational for its time, laying the groundwork for countless later series like 30 Rock and Curb Your Enthusiasm.

8. The Office (2005-2013)

Michael Scott in The Office
Image Credit: Universal Television.

Using the underlying premise of its U.K. namesake as a jumping-off point, showrunner Greg Daniels managed to re-establish his American version of The Office as its own separate entity. Exploring the mockumentary format to its fullest, The Office somehow managed to make the ordinary corporate workplace the setting of numerous creative possibilities.

9. 30 Rock (2006-2013)

Alec Baldwin, Jane Krakowski, Tina Fey, Tracy Morgan, and Jack McBrayer in 30 Rock (2006)
Image Credit: Universal Television.

Taking a page from Garry Shandling’s playbook, 30 Rock expanded upon the idea of life at a network TV show last seen in The Larry Sanders Show. With Tina Fey relying on her personal experiences backstage at SNL, 30 Rock’s dry-witted satire, its nonstop parade of celebrity cameos, and often meta-fictional jokes helped set the series apart from most other mainstream TV shows at the time.

10. Community (2009-2015)

Chevy Chase, Joel McHale, Yvette Nicole Brown, Gillian Jacobs, Danny Pudi, and Donald Glover in Community (2009)
Image Credit: Krasnoff/Foster Entertainment, Harmonious Claptrap, Universal Television, and Sony Pictures Television.

Canceled, revived, and canceled again before its final revival as a Yahoo-exclusive series, Dan Harmon’s genre-bending sitcom, Community, continues to entertain viewers almost ten years since its finale.

Often challenging preconceived norms when it came to the sitcom format, Harmon and his team took special care to satirize, lampoon, and pay meticulous respect to countless movies and TV shows before it, including episodic homages to Spaghetti Westerns, space operas, George Romero zombie films, and Tolkien-esque Dungeons & Dragons adventures.

11. South Park (1997-present)

South Park, Cartoon Wars Part 1
Image Credit: Comedy Partners.

More often than not, an animated comedy series as long-lasting as South Park tends to run out of steam right around its tenth season, lacking any new material to bring to the table. Unlike The Simpsons or Family Guy, however, South Park’s ability to mock ongoing social trends has helped the series avoid the pitfalls of its competitors.

A benchmark in satirical comedy, South Park has proven itself adept at tackling any and every imaginable subject, from global politics and the film industry to OnlyFans and cancel culture.

12. Friends (1994-2004)

cast of friends
Image Credit: Warner Bros. Television.

In a time when Seinfeld earned audience renown for its non-sentimental comedic approach, Friends went in the opposite direction, wallowing in the emotional undertones of the classic sitcom format. Giving a voice to an entire generation of viewers, Friends’ cathartic rendering of listless adults in their 20s trying to make sense of their life remains the show’s defining strength.

13. Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-1974)

Graham Chapman and Eric Idle in Monty Python's Flying Circus (TV series)
Image Credit: Python (Monty) Pictures.

Often described as the Beatles of comedy, Monty Python forever changed the comedic landscape with their monumental sketch show, Monty Python’s Flying Circus. An absurdist series in nature, Flying Circus managed to cover almost every subgenre of comedy in its four seasons, including political satire, pop culture spoofs, and sardonic meditations on art, film, and classical philosophy.

A comedic forefather to Saturday Night Live and South Parks, one cannot overstate its bearing on the course of comedic history.

14. Arrested Development (2003-2019)

Arrested Development
Image Credit: 20th Century Fox Television.

A show with a production history as storied and episodic as the central narrative itself, Arrested Development proved almost too ahead of its time from the very get-go.

Presenting one of the most dysfunctional families ever shown on television, creator Mitchell Hurwitz built a unique sitcom format for himself with Arrested Development, using every opportunity to deliver some kind of clever joke.

15. Saturday Night Live (1975-present)

Stefon by Bill Hader
Image Credit: Saturday Night Live Official Channel.

Another long-running comedy series, Saturday Night Live has managed to remain both fresh and funny from one season to the next. From satirizing modern political events to bashing contemporary celebrities, Lorne Michaels’ historic sketch comedy series has produced some of the most gifted creative minds in all of comedy, making use of everyone from Chevy Chase, John Belushi, and Will Ferrell to Conan O’Brien, John Mulaney, and Tina Fey.

16. Rick and Morty (2013-present)

Rick and Morty
Image Credit: Williams Street.

A recurring trend among more recent animated adult TV series involves a nuanced look at more philosophical themes. Like its Netflix counterpart BoJack Horseman, Rick and Morty weaves back and forth between rip-roaring comedy and a darker look at such topics as depression, trauma, and existential dread.

With intelligent deconstruction of numerous television and cinematic genres, the show ranks as one of the few animated series able to elicit laughter just as often as it can sobering self-reflection.

17. Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000)

Freaks and Geeks Seth Rogen Linda Cardellini Jason Segal
Image Credit: Apatow Productions and DreamWorks Television.

Despite its abrupt cancellation after a mere season, Freaks and Geeks has gone on to earn avid acclaim for its poignant writing and the performances of its young cast, many of whom–Linda Cardellini, Seth Rogen, and Jason Segel–went to major stardom in the years that followed.

A tender depiction of 1980s American suburbia, Freaks and Geeks excelled at probing the fears and anxieties one feels growing up, following a group of teenagers taking their gradual first steps towards adulthood.

18. Blackadder (1983-1989)

Rowan Atkinson in Blackadders Christmas Carol
Image Credit: BBC.

An all-too-rare TV series that only grew better with time, each new season of Blackadder acted as a significant improvement over its previous entry. A humorous look at Rowan Atkinson’s mischievous Blackadder bloodline from the Middle Ages to the First World War, each season of Blackadder remains worth watching in its own right.

However, the show’s final season–Blackadder Goes Forth–rises above all others, providing audiences with a depiction of war as heartrending as M*A*S*H.

19. Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-2024)

Larry Sanders and a dog
Image Credit: Darren Star Productions and HBO Entertainment.

If some people use journaling as a way to vent their frustrations, Larry David uses Curb Your Enthusiasm for that very same purpose. As with his earlier Seinfeld, David uses the context of Curb Your Enthuasism’s episodes to harp on the unspoken, often outlandish rules that make up everyday society, from awkward exchanges with friends to arguments with annoying coworkers.

20. Fawlty Towers (1975-1979)

Fawlty Towers John Cleese
Image Credit: BBC.

Departing from Monty Python at the end of Flying Circus’s third season, John Cleese turned his attention to crafting a more “traditional” sitcom in the form of Fawlty Towers. Taking inspiration from a cantankerous hotel owner he met while touring with the Pythons, Cleese crafted a dry-witted and sarcastic series with Fawlty Towers, all the while focusing on a character audiences loved to hate.

Author: Richard Chachowski

Title: Journalist

Expertise: Classic Film, Contemporary Film and TV, Video Games, Comic Books

Bio:

Richard Chachowski is an entertainment and travel writer who has written for such publications as Wealth of Geeks, Fangoria, Looper, Screen Rant, and MSN. He received a BA in Communication Studies and a BA in Journalism and Professional Writing from The College of New Jersey in 2021. He has been a professional writer since 2020. His geeky areas of interest include Star Wars, travel writing, horror, video games, comic books, literature, and animation.