You could build an entire channel around only sitcoms that have aired on NBC Thursday nights. The lineup is staggering: Cheers, Seinfeld, The Cosby Show, Taxi, Night Court, Frasier, Friends, My Name Is Earl, The Office, 30 Rock, Community, Parks and Recreation — not even the scar that is The Paul Reiser Show can ruin the beauty of Must See TV. But for all intents and purposes, NBC is finished with their greatest achievement: this fall, The Biggest Loser will lead off the night, followed by new comedies Bad Judge and A to Z (The Blacklist will join the, uh, fun in February).
That’s a damn shame for anyone who associates “NBC” with “good Thursday night comedies,” so today, let’s have a look back at some of the network’s greatest sitcom achievements. Here are eight episodes from eight classic shows that every TV fan should see.
8. Taxi — “A Grand Gesture”
Taxi doesn’t get as much love on the Internet as it should (probably it’s NEVER ON TV ANYMORE). Had it aired today, it would be slobbered over by the same people who love Community and Parks and Recreation. It was funny, daring, and edgy, with a well-rounded ensemble, including Danny DeVito’s cranky Louie De Palma to Christopher Lloyd’s Reverend Jim, one of the all-time great TV stoners. If you’re looking for an entry point, well, start with the pilot and make your way to “A Grand Gesture.” It’s the penultimate episode in the show’s occasionally spotty final season, after it pulled a reverse Scrubs and went from ABC to NBC, but the premise (Reverend Jim hands his friends $1,000 to give away) allows for some of the wittiest and most touching Must-See moments.
7. 30 Rock — “Live from Studio 6H”
I’m not sure “Live from Studio 6H” is the best episode of 30 Rock (I’m not sure there is such a thing as a best episode of 30 Rock; they’re all unique snowflakes, albeit snowflakes coated in Sabor de Soledad dust), but like “Live Show,” it’s a wonderful experiment and a compelling perspective on classic television. NBC has always seemed like the network most proud of its past — CBS would never agree to a sitcom called 51 Ave. — but 30 Rock was far too clever than to look back at Amos ‘n’ Andy with a sepia tone fondness. Instead, it spoofs the living hell out of the show’s abhorrent racism. Banjo!
6. The Cosby Show — “Theo’s Holiday”
In which an entire generation of kids learned that leaving your parents and making it on your own isn’t nearly as appetizing as it sounds, all thanks to that little sh*t, Theo.
5. Parks and Recreation — “Andy and April’s Fancy Party”
“Flu Season” is probably the popular choice here, and while I love that episode (“STOP. POOPING.”), I slightly prefer “Andy and April’s Fancy Party.” One of the greatest tricks Parks ever pulled was turning Andy and April into not only a believable couple, but one of the best pairings on TV. At first glance, they couldn’t be more different — he’s a child who looks like an adult; she’s a young adult who acts like an old witch — but “Fancy Party” shows what they have in common: when they love, they LOVE. He brightens her otherwise gloomy days, while she anchors his otherwise unstable life, and they both race into things without giving them a second thought. If they want to get married, they’re going to get married, dammit. Three years later, they’re still happily in love.
4. Community — “Remedial Chaos Theory”
“Remedial Chaos Theory” is the most impressive episode of Community, AND it contains inarguably the show’s single funniest scene. No wonder Troy wanted to leave.
3. The Office — “Dinner Party”
The closest the American Office ever came to matching the cringe-comedy of its British predecessor was in season four’s “Dinner Party,” an impossibly uncomfortable episode that has Jan playing the alpha dog to Michael’s neutered pup. When he’s not proudly displaying his tiny plasma TV, the cops are being called for an apparent domestic dispute. That one night, everything did not go alright for Michael, but it did for Office fans.
2. Seinfeld — “The Bubble Boy”
Or “The Contest,” or “The Merv Griffin Show,” or “The Betrayal,” or “The Serenity Now,” or “The Hamptons,” or “The Junior Mint,” or about three dozen more (I had Bubble Boy on the brain). There’s really no wrong choice here, except for season one. Stay away from season one.
1. Cheers — “Showdown, Part 2”
“Showdown, Pt. 1″ is great. “Showdown, Pt. 2″ changed television. Over its 11-season run, Cheers won about nine million awards and was consistently one of the most popular shows on television, never dropping out of the top-10 after season three. But during its freshman year, NO ONE watched it — it finished in 74th place out of 99 regularly scheduled shows. But everything changed after the two-part finale, in which Sam and Diane’s season-long will they/won’t they relationship culminates with a passionate (and tremendously funny) kiss. That single embrace turned Cheers into a sensation, and gave NBC the Must See building block they desperately needed.