The 50 best TV comedies of all time – ranked (2024)

Table of Contents
50. Ghosts (2019-2023) 49. Whatever Happened To the Likely Lads? (1973-1974) 48. Green Wing (2004-2007) 47. Drop the Dead Donkey (1990-1998) 46. Derry Girls (2018-2022) 45. Not the Nine O’Clock News (1979-1982) 44. The Office US (2005-2013) 43. Goodness Gracious Me (1998-2001) 42. One Foot In the Grave (1990-2000) 41. Catastrophe (2015-2019) 40. The League of Gentlemen (1999-2002) 39. Rising Damp (1974-1978) 38. South Park (1997-present) 37. The Vicar of Dibley (1994-2000) 36. Spitting Image (1984-1996) 35. Arrested Development (2003-2019) 34. Victoria Wood: As Seen on TV (1985-1987) 33. Detectorists (2014-2022) 32. Steptoe & Son (1962-1974) 31. Gavin & Stacey (2007-present) 30. Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-2024) 29. Nighty Night (2004-2005) 28. Phoenix Nights (2001-2002) 27. The Good Life (1975-1978) 26. The Thick of It (2005-2012) 25. Hanco*ck’s Half Hour (1956-1961) 24. Peep Show (2003-2015) 23. Yes, Minister (1980-1988) 22. The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977) 21. Spaced (1999-2001) 20. Peter Kay’s Car Share (2015-2018) 19. Fleabag (2016-2019) 18. The Day Today (1994) 17. dinnerladies (1998-2000) 16. The Fast Show (1994-2014) 15. Friends (1994-2004) 14. I’m Alan Partridge (1997-2002) 13. Cheers (1982-1993) 12. The Royle Family (1998-2012) 11. The Office (2001-2003) 10. Blackadder (1983-1989) 9. Seinfeld (1989-1998) 8. Father Ted (1995-1998) 7. Porridge (1974-1977) 6. Monty Python’s Flying Circus (1969-1974) 5. The Simpsons (1989-present) 4. Frasier (1993–present) 3. Only Fools and Horses (1981-2003) 2. Dad’s Army (1968-1977) 1. Fawlty Towers (1975-1979) References

Our hand-picked selection of the 50 top TV comedies ever mixes homegrown hits with imported gems, live action with animation, recent picks with vintage favourites. We agonised over what to include and what to leave out, with the likes of To the Manor Born, Red Dwarf, The Young Ones, Open All Hours and Ever Decreasing Circles only narrowly missing the cut. Feel free, of course, to tell us what we’ve forgotten in the comments below.

50. Ghosts (2019-2023)

A grown-up Rentaghost, anyone? The team behind CBBC hit Horrible Histories conquered primetime with this haunted house farce. It’s essentially a family sitcom as a married couple inherit a crumbling country pile – and find it comes complete with the spirits of people who died there throughout history, spanning from a caveman to a trouserless Tory MP. Across five series, it built into a warm and often touching gem with a high gag-rate and superb ensemble cast. Spooky, silly and smart. (Read our Ghosts review)

Watch it on: BBC iPlayer

The 50 best TV comedies of all time – ranked (1)

49. Whatever Happened To the Likely Lads? (1973-1974)

Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’ black-and-white Sixties hit about two Geordie best mates was solid enough. When they reunited the duo the following decade in full colour, it went to another level. White-collar Bob (Rodney Bewes) had ascended to the bourgeoisie. Cynical Terry (James Bolam) remained a proud everyman. Class tensions, male bonding and nostalgia for lost youth made for a potent mix, as evidenced by that yearning theme song: “Oh what happened to you? Whatever happened to me? What became of the people we used to be?”

Watch it on: ITVX

48. Green Wing (2004-2007)

Is it a sketch show, sitcom or spoof soap? Who cares when it’s this funny. From the team behind Smack the Pony, this surreal medical saga followed the eccentric staff at East Hampton Hospital. Standouts included Stephen Mangan’s womanising anaesthetist, Tamsin Greig’s love-lorn registrar, Julian Rhind-Tutt’s suave surgeon, Mark Heap’s creepy radiologist and Michelle Gomez’s sociopathic staff liaison officer. Innovative camerawork, a rapid-fire script and anarchic slapstick made for gloriously giddy viewing. The cast recently reunited for an audio sequel, delighting fans.

Watch it on: Channel4.com

47. Drop the Dead Donkey (1990-1998)

Their semi-improvised family comedy Outnumbered didn’t quite make the cut but Andy Hamilton and Guy Jenkin’s media satire sneaks in. Set in the frenetic newsroom of TV station GlobeLink, ordered to be more sensationalist by unscrupulous proprietor Sir Roysten Merchant (subtle), it was shot close to broadcast to maximise topicality. Real-life politicians made cameos but it was the workplace wit and well-drawn characters – particularly amoral reporter Damien Day (a star-making turn from Stephen Tompkinson) – that made it crackle.

Watch it on: Rewind TV or Amazon Prime Video

The 50 best TV comedies of all time – ranked (2)

46. Derry Girls (2018-2022)

Catch yourself on. Channel 4’s biggest sitcom hit since Father Ted was modelled on writer Lisa McGee’s experiences of growing up in Derry during the tumultuous final years of the Troubles. McGee skilfully blended the travails of teenhood with the political backdrop, lending it rare power. Full of Nineties nostalgia and sarcastic nuns, it made the names of the young cast, notably Bridgerton’s Nicola Coughlan. Cameos from Liam Neeson and Chelsea Clinton made the final episodes truly special and it bowed out after three sublime series, never outstaying its welcome. (Read our final Derry Girls review)

Watch it on: Channel4.com or Netflix

45. Not the Nine O’Clock News (1979-1982)

The satirical sketch show was pitched as an alternative to the boring old news bulletin it was scheduled against, so led with takes on topical stories. It soon expanded its remit into parody pop videos, TV spoofs and observational skits. Rowan Atkinson, Pamela Stephenson, Mel Smith and Griff Rhys Jones made for a killer ensemble, while the enviable writing team included Clive Anderson, Ruby Wax and Richard Curtis. It brought the alternative comedy boom into our living rooms, paving the way for Blackadder and The Young Ones. Crucially, it was also extremely funny.

Watch it on: Amazon Prime Video

44. The Office US (2005-2013)

Avoid comparing the NBC remake to the Brit original too closely and you’ll discover a consummate workplace sitcom. Following the everyday tedium at Pennsylvania’s Dunder Mifflin Paper Co, this endearing mockumentary was led by Steve Carell as gaffe-prone branch manager Michael Scott. A gallery of supporting characters had fizzing comic chemistry, well-served by scripts from SNL and Simpsons writers. The longer it went on, the more it became its own beast, with depth and character development. It eventually ran to 201 episodes, 15 times longer than the UK version.

Watch it on: Amazon Prime Video

The 50 best TV comedies of all time – ranked (3)

43. Goodness Gracious Me (1998-2001)

Not just groundbreaking but wickedly witty too. Having honed its craft on Radio 4, the British-Indian sketch show arrived on BBC Two with a bang. Or should that be a bhangra? Sanjeev Bhaskar, Meera Syal and co explored the intersection between Asian tradition and modern British life with a sharp eye and tongue firmly in cheek. This was equal opportunities character comedy, poking fun at both cultures and sets of stereotypes. Its most famous sketch saw the cast “going out for an English” after a few too many lassis. Satisfyingly spicy.

Watch it on: BBC iPlayer

42. One Foot In the Grave (1990-2000)

The head under the flowerpot. The puppy/phone confusion. The garden full of gnomes. David Renwick’s intricately plotted tragicomedy was replete with memorably bizarre moments. Cantankerous codger Victor Meldrew (Richard Wilson) took early retirement and found far too much time on his hands. Cue incessant complaining and an uncanny knack for getting into accidents. His long-suffering wife Margaret (Annette Crosbie) had to grin and bear it. Except when she didn’t. Domestic farce with an undertow of real affection and poignancy.

Watch it on: BBC iPlayer

41. Catastrophe (2015-2019)

Sharon Horgan is one of TV’s foremost chroniclers of 21st-century relationships in Pulling, Divorce, Motherland and Bad Sisters. Catastrophe is her crowning achievement. Horgan and co-creator Rob Delaney made sparks fly as the unlikely Transatlantic couple, thrown together by her falling pregnant after a “six-night stand”. Ribald romance ensued as their worlds collided and they raised a family against the odds. Frank and snortingly funny with lots to say about modern parenthood and huge amounts of heart. Playing the eccentric mother-in-law was Carrie Fisher’s final TV role. (Read our final Catastrophe review)

Watch it on: Netflix

The 50 best TV comedies of all time – ranked (4)

40. The League of Gentlemen (1999-2002)

As the town sign said: “Welcome to Royston Vasey. You’ll never leave!” This insular Northern community was a local village for local people. For their macabre cult comedy, sketch troupe Steve Pemberton, Reece Shearsmith, Mark Gatiss and Jeremy Dyson conjured up a fictional universe populated by nearly 100 larger-than-life characters. Stranger-fearing shopkeepers Tubbs and Edward, sad*stic butcher Hilary Briss, Job Centre bully Pauline Campbell-Jones and sinister circus ringmaster Papa Lazarou are seared into viewers’ memories. Near-the-knuckle but funny enough to get away with it.

Watch it on: BBC iPlayer or Gold

39. Rising Damp (1974-1978)

“If you scored a goal in my day, all you got was a firm handshake. Now you get covered in love bites!” Rupert Rigsby (Leonard Rossiter) was the miserly landlord of a seedy Yorkshire boarding house. His tenants included suave “African Prince” Philip (Don Warrington), hairy medic Alan (Richard Beckinsale) and frisky spinster Miss Jones (Frances de la Tour). Between them, this high-calibre quartet spun comedy gold. Impressively, Rossiter starred in two stellar sitcoms at once –Rising Damp overlapped with The Fall and Rise of Reginald Perrin. “Myyyyyy God!” indeed.

Watch it on: ITVX or Amazon Prime Video

38. South Park (1997-present)

The riotously surreal satire saw off Rick & Morty, Family Guy and King of the Hill to become one of only two cartoons on our list (you can probably guess the other). Creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone use cut-out animation to view the world through four nine-year-old boys in a Colorado mountain town. Cue bizarre adventures, black humour and copious profanity. Produced with a short turnaround time to maximise topicality, it revels in controversy and is often the hardest-hitting comedy on TV. Last year, it depicted Harry and Meghan on a worldwide “we want privacy” tour.

Watch it on: Comedy Central or Paramount+

The 50 best TV comedies of all time – ranked (5)

37. The Vicar of Dibley (1994-2000)

Jennifer SaundersAb Fab was eclipsed when her double-act partner Dawn French donned a dog collar. When the Church of England began ordaining women in 1993, writer Richard Curtis was inspired to imagine a female priest’s arrival in a sleepy rural parish. As Rev Geraldine Granger said: “You were expecting a bloke with a beard, a Bible and bad breath. Instead you’ve got a babe with a bob cut and a magnificent bosom.”Oddball villagers, Curtis’s sparkling scripts and French’s full-beam performance combined to make a huge ratings hit. Just watch out for that puddle…

Watch it on: ITVX

36. Spitting Image (1984-1996)

Hard to imagine now but once upon a time, 15m tuned in for a weekly puppet show. Caricaturing public figures in bitingly satirical sketches, it fixed many politicians in the public imagination – see Margaret Thatcher as a cross-dressing tyrant, Roy Hattersley “putting the spit into Spitting Image”, John Major as grey-skinned bore and David Owen with David Steele in his pocket. The Latex lampoonery launched the TV careers of Steve Coogan and Harry Enfield, who provided voices, and Ian Hislop and Chris Morris, who were on the writing team.

Watch it on: Amazon Prime Video

35. Arrested Development (2003-2019)

Writer Mitch Hurwitz’s absurdist delight followed a “wealthy family who lost everything”. The dysfunctional Bluth brood were brought to deliriously funny life by an ensemble of comedy luminaries including Will Arnett, Jason Bateman, Portia de Rossi, David Cross, Michael Cera, Tony Hale, Henry Winkler and Jeffrey Tambor. It was intricately constructed, self-referential and earned such a devoted following that a fan campaign saved it from cancellation. For two series at least, it was a bona fide knockout. Let’s not dwell on the ill-advised later series. (Read our Arrested Development review)

Watch it on: Netflix

The 50 best TV comedies of all time – ranked (6)

34. Victoria Wood: As Seen on TV (1985-1987)

Two soups, you say? Victoria Wood’s seminal sketch vehicle combined skits, mockumentaries and monologues to cumulatively hysterical effect. A dream cast included Julie Walters, Celia Imrie and Patricia Routledge (whose pompous character Kitty was a proto-Hyacinth Bucket). Segments were linked by Susie Blake’s snobbish continuity announcer. Songs included the unsurpassed “Ballad of Barry & Freda (Let’s Do It)”. It also boasted the greatest soap parody in TV history: wobbly-setted, Crossroads-mocking masterpiece Acorn Antiques. All hail Mrs Overall.

Watch it on: ITVX

33. Detectorists (2014-2022)

A gentle gem, as soothing as it is amusing. Creator Mackenzie Crook – with his second entry in our top 50 – and the estimable Toby Jones starred as two metal-detecting hobbyists in the fictional but bucolic East Anglian village of Danebury. As it explored the delightfully downbeat duo’s lives, loves and treasure-discovering dreams, this distinctive series notched the biggest ratings ever for a BBC Four comedy. Hypnotic, subtly hilarious and at times, near-poetic. A refreshingly authentic portrait of male friendship too.

Watch it on: BBC iPlayer

32. Steptoe & Son (1962-1974)

Would-be intellectual rag-and-bone man Harold Steptoe (Harry H Corbett) longed to move up in the world but couldn’t escape his grimy, grasping father, Albert (Wilfrid Brambell). Having written Hanco*ck’s Half Hour the previous decade, Ray Galton and Alan Simpson struck a similarly fatalistic tone at 26a Oil Drum Lane. An almost Beckettian comedy of inter-generational conflict and thwarted ambition, its social realist edge marked it out in an era of broad farce. Beneath the pair’s warring relationship, there were even glimmers of love. You dirty old man.

Watch it on: ITVX

The 50 best TV comedies of all time – ranked (7)

31. Gavin & Stacey (2007-present)

The most popular romcom of the modern era had humble beginnings on BBC Three. As long-distance Anglo-Welsh love blossomed, the show found itself promoted – moved up the channels to BBC One, where its 2019 reunion special drew a record 17m audience. It’s the supporting cast who really sing: Rob Brydon’s naive Uncle Bryn, Alison Steadman’s gossipy Pam and, best of all, scene-stealing sidekicks Smithy and Nessa, played by co-creators James Corden and Ruth Jones. We left them on an unanswered marriage proposal. This Christmas, will the answer be yes?

Watch it on: BBC iPlayer

30. Curb Your Enthusiasm (2000-2024)

Two hit sitcoms is a rare feat but Larry David pulled a successful second act post-Seinfeld. HBO’s cringe comedy differed in some respects (it was semi-improvised and set in wealthy LA, not Midtown Manhattan) but was reassuringly familiar in others (“LD” was basically playing George Costanza). Social awkwardness and spiralling fury were its themes, while a cynical supporting cast joined the fun, making cult stars out of JB Smoove, Richard Lewis, Bob Einstein and Susie Essman. Everyone was clearly having a hoot. When they almost corpsed, it only created more magic. Snarky, selfish and sick. All the funnier for it. (Read our final Curb Your Enthusiasm review)

Watch it on: Sky or Now

29. Nighty Night (2004-2005)

Hiya Cath! Comedy doesn’t come much darker than Julia Davis’s macabre two-series triumph about suburban sociopath Jill Tyrell. When this indelible creation learns that her husband Terry has cancer, Jill makes it all about her. Embracing the role of merry widow, she embarks on a manipulative rampage in pursuit of sex, money, Twixes, cappuccinos and more sex. Even though Terry’s not dead… yet. Mark Gatiss, Ruth Jones, Angus Deayton and Rebecca Front could only support and try to keep a straight face. Cruel, tasteless, outrageously funny.

Watch it on: BBC iPlayer

The 50 best TV comedies of all time – ranked (8)

28. Phoenix Nights (2001-2002)

When he made a one-off mockumentary about a struggling Bolton working men’s club, Peter Kay spotted potential for a full sitcom. This two-series gem was born. Wheelchair-bound impresario Brian Potter was hellbent on running the most successful social club in town. He was both helped and hindered by his staff, led by compere Jerry St Clair, DJ Ray Von, handymen The Two Kennys, and bouncers Max and Paddy. Episodes closed with Potter auditioning cabaret acts and telling them where to go, like Britain’s Got Talent with the gloves off. A third run remains a tantalising possibility.

Watch it on: DVD

27. The Good Life (1975-1978)

There have been many suburban sitcoms – indeed, Richard Briers made another gem in Ever Decreasing Circles – but few have endured as well as this midlife crisis classic. Its strength lay in its superlative central foursome: Tom and Barbara Good (Felicity Kendal), who quit the rat race to pursue their self-sufficiency dream, and their horrified neighbours, Margo and Jerry Leadbetter (Penelope Keith and Paul Eddington).The quartet’s chemistry crackled, not least when it became clear they were secretly attracted to one another. Pass the peapod burgundy.

Watch it on: Now, Gold or Amazon Prime Video

26. The Thick of It (2005-2012)

Armando Iannucci’s savage political satire was a 21st-century update of Yes Minister. Fly-on-the-wall cameras prowled the corridors of power, mercilessly mocking the Westminster bubble and ministerial incompetence. Its not-so-secret weapon was splenetic spin doctor Malcolm Tucker (Peter Capaldi), an uncivil servant who schemed, swore in baroque style, and may or not have been inspired by Alastair Campbell. It was eerily prescient, with government gaffes still regularly described as “like something from The Thick of It”. Iannucci exported the template to Washington for HBO’s Veep.

Watch it on: BBC iPlayer

The 50 best TV comedies of all time – ranked (9)

25. Hanco*ck’s Half Hour (1956-1961)

Our first great home-grown sitcom, masterfully performed by mordant genius Tony Hanco*ck as our hangdog, down-at-heel anti-hero. The post-war miserablism at 23 Railway Cuttings, East Cheam, was offset by Ray Galton and Alan Simpson’s exquisite scripts and chortling sidekick Sid James. It wasn’t just hilarious, it was hugely influential. The perpetually frustrated Anthony Aloysius St John Hanco*ck pretty much invented the modern sitcom archetype of a plucky loser with delusions of grandeur. Altogether now: “A pint? That’s very nearly an armful!”

Watch it on: BBC iPlayer

24. Peep Show (2003-2015)

Fifteen years before all-conquering US drama Succession, writer Jesse Armstrong made his name with this cult favourite which a generation can quote by heart. Co-written with Sam Bain, it starred David Mitchell and Robert Webb – no comic slouches themselves – as flat-sharing man-babies. Nerdy Mark and f*ckless Jez spent nine series essentially going around in circles with hysterical results. The unconventional format, with point-of-view filming and audible thoughts, lent eye-watering intimacy to its witheringly honest portrayal of male friendship. It also provided a breakthrough role for Olivia Colman. Wonder what happened to her?

Watch it on: Channel4.com or Netflix

23. Yes, Minister (1980-1988)

It’s impressive that in a world as fast-moving as politics, Margaret Thatcher’s favourite programme has barely dated. That’s testament to Jonathan Lynn and Peter Jay’s sublime writing and unerring ear for satirising Whitehall speech. Well-meaning MP Jim Hacker (Paul Eddington) might have been told “yes” but Civil Service mandarin Sir Humphrey Appleby (Nigel Hawthorne) foiled change at every turn, in the process becoming one of the all-time great sitcom characters. When Hacker failed upwards, we got two series of sequel Yes, Prime Minister. Roll those Gerald Scarfe-drawn opening titles…

Watch it on: ITVX

The 50 best TV comedies of all time – ranked (10)

22. The Mary Tyler Moore Show (1970-1977)

Second-wave feminism got its TV heroine. The pioneering CBS series, America’s first show with a single, working woman as its protagonist, followed an associate producer in a Minneapolis TV newsroom – battling chauvinism, having casual sex and paving the way for workplace sitcoms ever since. In an era of broad comedy, it was notable for its complex characters and sophisticated modern sensibility. Funny but full of heart and winning a record 29 Emmys, it was so well-loved that it launched not one but three spin-offs. The Friends team took inspiration from its finale, calling it “the gold standard”.

Watch it on: Amazon Prime Video

21. Spaced (1999-2001)

Before director Edgar Wright and actor Simon Pegg went to Hollywood, they created this Channel 4 cracker with Pegg’s co-star Jessica Stevenson (now Hynes). Screwball met surrealism as two twentysomething losers faked a relationship so they could rent a “couples only” flat. Nick Frost and Mark Heap stole scenes as their eccentric friend and neighbour respectively. Spaced was distinctive for its innovative postmodern style, weaving in fantasy sequences, pop culture references and film parodies in a way that Britcoms didn’t usually attempt. Flashy, geek-friendly and it rewards repeat viewing to savour all the in-jokes.

Watch it on: Channel4.com

20. Peter Kay’s Car Share (2015-2018)

The second Peter Kay vehicle on our list and definitely the sweetest, all set within the cosy confines of a Fiat 500L. Romance blossomed between supermarket colleagues John (Kay) and Kayleigh (Sian Gibson) as they participated in a company ride-sharing scheme. Beautifully observed and warm-hearted, it became a huge hit as viewers became invested in the commuting couple’s will-they-won’t-they relationship. Further laughs came from incidental characters (see Reece Shearsmith’s smelly fishmonger), visual gags on roadside signage and the soundtrack provided by realistically cheesy local radio station Forever FM (“Timeless hits, now and forever”). (Read our Car Share review)

Watch it on: Amazon Prime Video

The 50 best TV comedies of all time – ranked (11)

19. Fleabag (2016-2019)

When Phoebe Waller-Bridge adapted her blackly comic Edinburgh Fringe play for the screen, few suspected it would become such a phenomenon. This wild, witty series took an unflinching look at sex, grief, family and friendship without ever stinting on the snorting, spluttering laughs. It revived the fourth wall-break, Andrew Scott’s Hot Priest went viral, Sian Clifford found fame as the nameless heroine’s sister and Olivia Colman was memorably monstrous as the stepmother from hell. The most talked-about British comedy of the 21st century became the most influential, spawning a generation of “sadcoms” with messy female protagonists. (Read our Fleabag review)

Watch it on: BBC iPlayer

18. The Day Today (1994)

“Peter, you’ve lost the news!” Armando Iannucci and Chris Morris’s precision-tooled parody blew apart how we view current affairs programmes. The bombastic bulletin was half-spoof, half-sketch show, with a remarkably high hit rate. Ludicrous news reports alternated with clips of fictitious BBC stablemates, over-the-top graphics and vox pop segment Speak Your Brains. Morris spoofed Jeremy Paxman as the aggressive anchorman. It also introduced a certain sports reporter called Alan Partridge to TV audiences. Fresh, funny, ferociously clever. The fact that it only ran to six episodes has only enhanced its reputation. Honourable mention too for Morris’s surreal current-affairs satire Brass Eye, which followed in 1997.

Watch it on: DVD

17. dinnerladies (1998-2000)

A work of art wearing a tabard. Victoria Wood was a comedy perfectionist and when she finally turned her hand to sitcom, 24 years after her TV debut, that attention to detail showed. Every line in dinnerladies zinged with humour and heart. Following staff at a Manchester factory canteen, it was refreshing for featuring a cast of mainly mature women. Anne Reid was a spiky delight. The slow-burning romance between sarky manager Tony (Andrew Dunn) and Wood’s shy, kind Bren lent emotion, while the agent of chaos who was Bren’s mum (Julie Walters) was an injection of bonkers hilarity.

Watch it on: ITVX

The 50 best TV comedies of all time – ranked (12)

16. The Fast Show (1994-2014)

Scorchio! A game-changer for sketch comedy, this rapid-fire miscellany raced through a skit per minute, with recurring characters and copious catchphrases. Led by Paul Whitehouse and Charlie Higson, who starred in the lovelorn Ted and Ralph segment, it minted such classics as Swiss Toni, Ron Manager, Rowley Birkin QC, Jazz Club and the “Suits you!” tailors. If one sketch didn’t make you guffaw, the next came along immediately and would likely do the job. So adored, it’s still selling out live shows 30 years after it first aired. Anyone fancy a pint? I’ll get my coat.

Watch it on: BBC iPlayer

15. Friends (1994-2004)

The ubiquitous NBC mega-hit has now been in near-constant rotation for 30 years. What was originally a zeitgeisty urban comedy about friends being the new family has become multi-generational comfort-viewing. It’s testament to its Rolls Royce writing: brilliantly defined characters, storylines that were just soapy enough and an unbeatable ensemble. The Central Perk six grew into their roles to such an extent that they struggled to shake them off. It broke ratings records, popularised hairstyles, spawned catchphrases, fuelled latté sales and reinvigorated the entire network sitcom genre. Slick, quip-slinging US comedy at its most crowd-pleasing.

Watch it on: Netflix

14. I’m Alan Partridge (1997-2002)

A-ha! Sports-casual poster boy Alan Gordon Partridge started out in spoofs The Day Today and Knowing Me Knowing You before transferring to sitcom for two highly quotable series. He remains Steve Coogan’s masterwork – a knitwear-clad, car-fixated, metaphor-mangling Middle Englander who loves the sound of his own burbling voice but can’t help putting his tasselled loafers in his mouth. More than three decades since his Radio 4 debut, North Norfolk’s premier broadcaster is still going strong in films, podcasts, books, tours and travelogues. Never has an actor so completely inhabited a comic character. This walking, midlife crisis is consummately fleshed out, from his foppish fringe to his mesh-backed leather driving gloves. Back of the net.

Watch it on: ITVX or Now

13. Cheers (1982-1993)

The long-running Eighties hit that opened the saloon door for Nineties US favourites Friends, Frasier and Seinfeld. It evolved from a relationship comedy about the chequered love-life of Ted Danson’s Sam – a washed-up baseball pitcher turned Boston bar-owner – into a textbook ensemble piece, populated by loveable regulars like Carla, Coach, Diane, Cliff, Norm, Rebecca, Woody, Lilith and Frasier (more of whom in a moment). It wasn’t just hilarious but soapily addictive and irresistibly warm, like checking in with familiar faces for a catch-up. It made millions worldwide long for somewhere everybody knows your name – even if it was a Boston dive bar full of sad sacks and sardonic staff.

Watch it on: Amazon Prime Video or Paramount+

12. The Royle Family (1998-2012)

Along with The Office, the most influential British sitcom of its generation. The idea of watching a clan of couch potatoes slumped in front of the telly wasn’t the most tantalising premise. That reckoned without the magical glow of Caroline Aherne and Craig Cash’s writing, let alone the alchemy of the cast. The Royles smoked, snacked, bickered and bonded but what shone through was love. The naturalistic gem was able to veer from ribald innuendo (courtesy of Ricky Tomlinson’s flatulent patriarch Jim) to kitchen sink tragedy (see the poignant death of Liz Smith’s Nanna). It even inspired reality favourite Gogglebox. A low-key tour de force.

Watch it on: BBC iPlayer

11. The Office (2001-2003)

David Brent: a friend first, a boss second. Probably an entertainer third. Definitely a classic comedy-creation fourth. Ricky Gervais and Stephen Merchant’s lovingly crafted mockumentary about a Slough paper merchants (where “life is stationery”) was a near-perfect creation. With its acutely observed office drones and everyday awkwardness, it struck a delicate balance between cynicism and sentimentality. The first-ever British sitcom to win a Golden Globe has rightly become seminal, spawning many imitators. Cringe-inducing and infectiously funny, while Tim and Dawn’s longing looks were the stuff of heart-tugging romcom. Worth revisiting to appreciate its joy and genius anew.

Watch it on: BBC iPlayer

The 50 best TV comedies of all time – ranked (13)

10. Blackadder (1983-1989)

The Blackadder dynasty has slithered through English history with forked tongue, becoming the definitive period sitcom. The uneven debut series was an alt-history set in the Middle Ages. It hit its stride during the Elizabethan follow-up, when Ben Elton joined Richard Curtis at the creative helm. The third run was a magnificent Regency romp. The fourth found humour in the horrors of the First World War trenches, ending on the most devastating scene in sitcom history. The recurring cast of Rowan Atkinson, Tony Robinson, Tim McInnerny, Hugh Laurie and Stephen Fry delivered wordplay-packed scripts with relish, supplemented by dazzling turns from Miranda Richardson and Rik Myall. Comedy with a cunning plan.

Watch it on: Now or Amazon Prime Video

9. Seinfeld (1989-1998)

A “show about nothing” with the motto “no hugging, no learning” became a Nineties sensation, its finale attracting 78m viewers in the US alone. New York club circuit stand-up Jerry, his embittered best friend George, ex-girlfriend Elaine and neighbour Kramer were selfish, misanthropic New Yorkers who viewers somehow grew to love over the course of nine zinger-packed seasons. Masterminded by the deadly duo of Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, very little happened week-to-week but did so in a way that was just incredibly funny. Inter-weaving plotlines skilfully tied together the quartet’s dating lives, everyday annoyances and petty feuds, while it created its own vocabulary of Soup Nazis, puffy shirts, close talkers, double-dippers and regifters. Yada, yada, yada.

Watch it on: Netflix

8. Father Ted (1995-1998)

“I hear you’re a racist now, Father?” The top Irish entry on our list definitely isn’t Mrs Brown’s Boys. Sorry, mammy. It’s Graham Linehan and Arthur Mathews’ peerless priest comedy. For three supremely silly series, we followed house-sharing trio Ted Crilly, Dougal McGuire and Jack Hackett, banished to the backwater Craggy Island. Together with tea-peddling housekeeper Mrs Doyle, these disgraced men of the cloth got into surreally farcical scrapes, with a Beckettian undertow of existential angst. Even today, every protest march features a placard saying “Down With This Sort of Thing”. Now tell me one time. Are these cows small or far away? Ah, go on, go on.

Watch it on: Channel4.com

The 50 best TV comedies of all time – ranked (14)

7. Porridge (1974-1977)

Does anyone have a finer TV comedy CV than Ronnie Barker? He was already a beloved primetime star for The Two Ronnies when he made a double whammy of classic sitcoms, with Porridge followed by Open All Hours. Barker was outstanding as “habitual criminal” Norman Stanley Fletcher, who divided his time in HMP Slade between winding up bristling warder Mr Mackay (Fulton Mackay) and mentoring naïve cellmate Lennie Godber (Richard Beckinsale) in the ways of everyday defiance. All great sitcoms are essentially about being trapped and this took it more literally than most. Dick Clement and Ian La Frenais’ scripts sparkled with gallows humour in grim circ*mstances. No wonder it was a firm favourite of real-life lags.

Watch it on: BBC iPlayer

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

Six maverick talents came together to create comic alchemy and the most influential sketch show of all time. Mixing risqué humour with sight gags and absurdism, the groundbreaking series broke from tradition by segueing sketches together, often without punchlines, with live action broken up by Terry Gilliam’s steampunk animations. Idiosyncratically British and pointedly intellectual, it was so uncategorisable, it spawned its own adjective: “Pythonesque”. Thanks to feature films, stage shows and solo projects, the Pythons have exerted a grip over British comedy for the past half century. Their surreal silliness has entered our language, with everything from dead parrots to the Spanish Inquisition, from Spam to silly walks, remaining common currency.

Watch it on: Netflix

5. The Simpsons (1989-present)

When it began life as a short segment on Tracey Ullman’s sketch show, nobody predicted The Simpsons would become a globe-conquering, decades-long phenomenon. Creator Matt Groening and his top-tier writing team pack an astonishing amount of gags into this satirical depiction of American life, as epitomised by the dysfunctional Simpson family in the everytown of Springfield. Sure, it’s a cartoon but really it’s a supreme sitcom. Groening and co conjured up an entire population of characters. Everyone has their favourite, be it gruff bartender Moe or evil mogul Mr Burns, murderous Sideshow Bob or bumbling Chief Wiggum. It’s lazily received wisdom that The Simpsons is past its best but tune in anytime and you’re guaranteed to laugh in an undignified manner. A mighty artistic achievement.

Watch it on: Now or Disney+

The 50 best TV comedies of all time – ranked (15)

4. Frasier (1993–present)

The best-ever TV spin-off. Dr Frasier Crane was Diane’s love interest in Cheers. Few expected greatness when the uptight psychiatrist returned to his hometown and became a radio host in this NBC offshoot. Sure, there were love interests, work colleagues and ex-cop fathers but this deliriously witty saga was all about the simmering rivalry between snobbish brothers Frasier and Niles. Stars Kelsey Grammer and David Hyde Pierce could make anything funny and had high-spec material to work with. Most US sitcoms depict blue-collar suburban families but Frasier was unabashedly upmarket. However, a mass audience adored it and so did awards judges, hence a record 37 Emmys. Smart, cerebral and splendid. Last year’s sequel worked as comfort-viewing but couldn’t hold a candle to it. (Read our Frasier review)

Watch it on: Channel4.com

3. Only Fools and Horses (1981-2003)

Stick a pony in my pocket. I’ll fetch the suitcase from the van. Following the schemes and dreams of two Peckham wideboys to get rich, writer John Sullivan’s earthy co*ckney creation captured the entrepreneurial spirit of the Eighties, when it was watched by a third of Britons. After the death of their sainted mother, Peckham market trader Del Boy Trotter (David Jason) raised gullible younger brother Rodney. The camel-coated wheeler-dealer and the lovable plonker proceeded to make and lose money, fall through bars and smash chandeliers. The cast of supporting characters – Grandad, Uncle Albert, Boycie, Marlene, Trigger, Denzil, Mickey, long-suffering wives Raquel and Cassandra – were vivid and vital. Quality dipped during its later festive specials but it was never less than loveable, like revisiting old friends. Lovely jubbly.

Watch it on: ITVX or Now

2. Dad’s Army (1968-1977)

Jimmy Perry and David Croft’s cosily nostalgic sitcom about the Home Guard during the Second World War is the ultimate ensemble comedy. Every member of the Walmington-on-Sea platoon – led by Arthur Lowe’s puffed-up Captain Mainwaring – punched their comedic weight, from diffident Sergeant Wilson to old campaigner Lance Corporal Jones. The war never quite made it to their door but that was just fine because they were too busy fighting incompetence, pomposity and each other. It gave us a set of catchphrases which still warm the co*ckles: “We’re doomed”, “They don’t like it up ‘em”, “Don’t tell him, Pike”, “You stupid boy”. More about social class than military matters, its remains treasured and timeless. Half a century later, chancing across an episode is still a blissful treat.

Watch it on: ITVX or Now

The 50 best TV comedies of all time – ranked (16)

1. Fawlty Towers (1975-1979)

You’d never want to stay at the titular Torquay hotel but there’s nothing funnier than watching others try. John Cleese and Connie Booth created a protagonist for the ages in the world’s least hospitable hotelier. Basil Fawlty was frazzled and infuriated by being stuck in the middle of demanding guests, incompetent staff (the waiter’s from Barcelona, you know) and his fearsome wife Sybil (Prunella Scales). He’s rude, bigoted, money-grubbing and social-climbing but somehow we ended up rooting for him. Whether he’s thrashing his own car with a tree branch, chasing rats or hiding corpses, the breathless brilliance builds to a giddy crescendo. Despite running for only 12 episodes, it remains evergreen. From the anagrammatic signs to the endless misunderstandings, from Sybil’s phone calls to that troublesome moose’s head, our top-ranked programme is sheer comedy perfection. Just don’t mention you-know-what.

Watch it on: Gold or Amazon Prime Video

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The 50 best TV comedies of all time – ranked (2024)

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