Is The First Season of a Sitcom Ever Good?

I’ll be honest: I barely rewatch any sitcom’s first season by choice. Sure, I have watched many of my favorites shows more than once (i.e. Bewitched, Frasier, and Everybody Loves Raymond—just to name a few), but I tend to cheat a bit; I usually start with the second or third season.
Why do I do this, particularly with shows I enjoy? Honestly, sometimes I just want to dive into a particular storyline (or skip an introductory one), while sometimes I want to avoid watching episodes centered on an earlier character I dislike, especially if he or she is going to disappear not long after (Chuck Cunningham, we hardly knew ye). Overall though, I think it’s simply because I have seen (most of) my favorite sitcoms so many times that I feel I have the luxury to just restart again and again at whichever point I want.
As I have written before, there’s something particularly comforting about watching sitcoms. Since I’ve watched many of the shows I choose to write about here since I was a young girl, many episodes inspire childhood memories. In my adult life, I often watch them when I’m stressed or in need of a good laugh. Many times, sitcoms have also served as the background for both pivotal and every day moments in my life. For instance, I not so jokingly refer to Everybody Loves Raymond as my “packing entertainment of choice”.

To me, a good sitcom is like an old friend: reliable, fun even if you already know what to expect, and easy to “pick up” from where you were from the previous “visit.” With this mentality in mind, do I then really need to watch Frasier Crane readjusting to life in Seattle in the show’s pilot if I’d rather go straight to Lilith’s first episode or even to the post-divorce Niles era? Probably not.

Of course, the fact that I often skip a sitcom’s first season does not necessarily make it “bad.” For me, a good first season has to answer a few questions with a resounding “yes”, such as:
1. If I were recommending show X to a friend who’s never seen it, would I feel that season one really showcases why it’s worth seeing in the first place? If I feel tempted to say “skip the first few” or even “skip it entirely”, the answer is probably a no.
2. Are the characters in the first season fully developed? Furthermore, are the relationships between the characters firmly established or it apparent that the writers are still figuring it out?

Before I delve into a few freshman seasons I do watch again and again, here are some of the ones I almost always choose to skip* (aka Least Favorite First Seasons):
1) The Office (U.S.)
While The Office’s first season only consists of six episodes (so not exactly a time-consuming rewatch), the fact that the series had still not figured out the Michael Scott (Steve Carell) character and how it wanted to distinguish itself from the original British version is so apparent that even one of the series’ writers has commented on it. By the second season, The Office firmly establishes its identity in large part by making Michael more sympathetic and likable than his British counterpart—and, in turn, making the first season skippable.
2) Friends
If you know me personally, I can almost hear you audibly gasping over seeing this show here, but now you know: one of my most guarded secrets as a sitcom fan is that I’m not a big fan of Friends’ first season. The characters are not fully fleshed out, some of the writing and jokes fall flat, a few of the storylines are bizarre (don’t even get me started on Ross and Marcel the monkey), and Monica is arguably the show’s lead for at least the first half.

As much as I love Monica, the element which most distinguishes Friends as such an iconic show is the fact that it’s an ensemble piece where all six have palpable chemistry with each other (including the less common “pairings” such as Chandler/Rachel and Ross/Phoebe) and are essentially on equal footing as leads. Without that, Friends would have been a completely different show—and wouldn’t have had quite the same magic.
3) Seinfeld
While Seinfeld is usually considered one of the best television shows of all time, its first season (albeit brief, much like The Office) is mostly forgettable and easy to skip; the tone is off, the pacing is often slow, and the banter is awkward in a way it won’t be as the series progresses. Still, it is during a season one episode that the audience meets George’s alter ego Art Vandelay (so I suppose it’s not all bad).
Now, on the flip side, here are a few of my Favorite First Seasons:
1) Cheers
Sam Malone (to Diane Chambers): “It’s simple, really. You can’t go back to the professor for work. I need a waitress – you need a job. You like the people here. You think that they like you. And the phrase “magnificent pagan beast” has never left your mind.”

I think the above quote (from Cheers’ pilot) pretty much says it all in establishing why Cheers’ first season is such a gem. It’s clever, witty, and immediately establishes the distinct personalities of its leads, Sam and Diane. Moreover, it establishes Cheers’ central theme (at least for the first five seasons) of the love/hate relationship between its leading pair. If you’ve read this blog before, you already know how much I love the Sam/Diane relationship, and the reasons why I do are clear even from this first episode (up to, and including, its iconic season one finale and beyond). Right from the start, it’s apparent that these two characters have undeniable chemistry, yet are often going to butt heads because they so completely get each other (flaws and all), and thus this is precisely why they can so expertly get to one another.
2) Bewitched
The sitcom that started my love and appreciation for the genre itself more than deserves a place on this list. Bewitched begins its series run strong thanks to excellent writing, fleshed out characters, a clearly defined conflict, and a stellar cast (i.e. Elizabeth “Most Charming Sitcom Lead Ever” Montgomery, Dick “The Only Darrin Who Matters” York, Agnes “Makes Everything Classy” Moorehead, David “Son of a Gun” White, and Alice “The Superior Gladys Kravitz” Pearce).
Bewitched’s straightforward premiere (a witch falls in love with and marries a mortal man) also encompasses its deeper themes. It’s about a young woman who defies her family’s expectations and follows her heart, carving out her own path. It’s about a couple from incredibly different backgrounds, whose love and acceptance of one another must consistently overcome one family’s prejudice that mortals are inferior to supernatural beings and thus that one is unworthy to marry a witch. This first season (and the series itself) is essential viewing.
3) The Good Place
Currently on its second season, The Good Place’s inclusion on this list might seem a bit premature, but that’s precisely why I am including it. As detailed above, a great deal of my television watching revolves around watching my favorite sitcoms again and again, so for me to pause a rewatch to check out a new sitcom it really has to be something special. Starring Ted Danson (definitely a key reason as to why I watched this in the first place) and Kristen Bell, The Good Place is inventive, funny, and something that is not usually expected of a sitcom: unpredictable. While this largely stems from the season one finale’s twist (which I would not dare spoil), just know that this comedy excels both at keeping the audience guessing what’s next as well as delivering metaphorical comfort food via its delightful cast of characters.
4) Frasier
Yes, I know what I wrote earlier, but this still needs to be on the list. While my most-watched seasons are probably Seasons 3, 5, or 6 (i.e. “Moon Dance”, “Ski Lodge”, “Dinner Party”, etc), the Season 1 finale titled “My Coffee with Niles”, which I’ve previously analyzed here, remains one of the best half hours of television.

Which sitcoms do you think have the best (and worst) first seasons? Let me know in the comments!

*= As a note, just because a show didn’t make it to either list, it doesn’t mean I necessarily dislike its first season (or like it). For the purpose of this article, I wanted to highlight just a few examples of each.

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Female Sitcom Characters Who Changed My Life

In honor of Women’s History Month (and because a new post is definitely overdue), I’ve comprised a carefully considered list of the female sitcom characters I have cared about most over the years. Listed in no particular order, these characters have resonated with me more than others; I’ve come to personally identify with some, while others inspire me, and others still are just hilarious and well-written (or all of the above). My main rules in deciding the list: I could not choose more than one female character from the same series and I had to limit the list to three or four key characters. Now, onto the list!

  1. Monica Geller (Courteney Cox on Friends)

Memorable Lines: “Fine! Judge all you want to but, married a lesbian, left a man at the altar, fell in love with a gay ice dancer, threw a girl’s wooden leg in a fire, livin’ in a box!!! and, of course, “SEVEN!”

As far as the Friends universe is concerned, I’m definitely a Monica-type. In addition to having this listed on pretty much all of my social media accounts (plus the About Me page of this very blog), Monica is my go-to “Starbucks name” (mainly because I know from experience that they won’t spell my real first name correctly anyway). While I’m not a “neat freak” to the level that Monica is (but I’m not sure if anyone really could be), I consider myself very ambitious, competitive, and organized; I’ve also been called either “the planner” or the “mom friend” by myself and others too many times to count.

For these personal reasons, Monica clearly holds a special place in my heart, but that’s not the only reason she matters to me. She’s also incredibly inspiring, arguably the most inspiring of the six Friends. Sure, it’s admirable how Rachel evolves from the stereotypical “spoiled rich girl” and Phoebe is undeniably a strong woman who has overcome a great deal, but let’s not ignore the amazing journey Monica undergoes.

The product of an emotionally abusive household where she struggled with her weight and had a mother who constantly criticized her, Monica nonetheless overcomes this to become a strong, confident woman who goes after what she wants and never settles. In Season Two, she memorably dates the older and sophisticated Dr. Richard Burke. Even though she comes to love him deeply and, at the time, sees him as the probable love of her life, she musters the strength to let him go when she realizes a key difference between them: unlike her, he doesn’t want children (well, in his case, he doesn’t want children again).

Her personality was also never confined by any gender stereotypes. She excelled at football and was repeatedly proven to be one of the physically strongest Friends, but also relished in planning her wedding and took pride in cleaning. She was the glue that held the Friends group together and made them feel more like a family (and was probably the funniest drunk out of the six).

  1. Samantha Stephens (Elizabeth Montgomery on Bewitched)

A Couple Memorable Lines: “I am a witch. A real broom riding, house haunting, cauldron stirring witch!” and “Oh my stars!”

In an earlier blog post, I credited Bewitched as the first sitcom I ever cared about enough to watch religiously (not to mention it was the first one I enjoyed analyzing closely). Even in my college thesis (which dealt with sitcom relationships), Sam and Darrin were the first couple I chose to analyze. Basically, there was never any doubt in my mind of whether or not Sam would make this list.

As I briefly mentioned in my aforementioned post, I’ve always stood firm in my belief that Bewitched is, indeed, a feminist show. Samantha, expected to live a supernatural life of wonder among the clouds, defies her family by marrying a mortal man and choosing to live (mostly) without witchcraft. Sure, Sam’s choice may seem a bit bizarre, but what matters is that it is her choice and it is one she proudly defends, whether she’s going up against the Queen of the Witches or her own mother. Played by the incredibly talented Elizabeth Montgomery, Sam was intelligent, unwaveringly kind, strong, and funny. She could have anything she wanted with a twitch of her nose, but instead used her powers for good and only as a last resort, always choosing to solve any problem first and foremost with her mind and heart.

  1. Roz Doyle (Peri Gilpin on Frasier)

Memorable Lines: “I’m smarter than he is, more confident, more articulate, but the stupid little wusses think I’m a hothead!”and “When I die, I want it to be on my hundredth birthday, in my beach house on Maui. And I want my husband to be so upset he has to drop out of college.”

            On countless sitcoms, female characters are generally depicted as “incomplete” until they find “the one”, settle down, and marry. And then there’s Roz Doyle: snarky, career-driven, and unapologetically sexual. She takes pride in her work as a producer and, despite many a verbal jab from Niles and Frasier, she enjoys living an active single life (and can out sass the Crane brothers any day of the week).

Roz’s tough exterior masks a warm, sensitive heart; the times she allows herself to be vulnerable are few but beautiful to watch. She’s been let down and had her heart broken more times than she’d like to admit, but she never gives up on herself. Despite her initial fears when faced with the reality of becoming a single mother, she overcomes these hesitations and successfully balances her career with the demands of motherhood.

More than being unapologetically sexual, Roz was always unapologetically herself. She’s proof that a woman’s happiness does not have to be anchored by one person, but instead can come from within as a result of self-confidence, inner strength, and determination. Frankly, TV is still very much in need of more female characters like her.

  1. Diane Chambers (Shelley Long on Cheers)

Memorable Lines: (in response to Sam noting she’s drunk) “Wow, you’re stupid. I’ll be sober in the morning!” and “Diane has the bar.”

I’m aware that Diane gets a lot of flak for being pretentious and loquacious, but I absolutely love her. One half of my favorite will they/won’t they TV couple of all time, Diane elevates every scene she’s in on Cheers (and later as a guest on Frasier) to new heights (and Sam Malone’s character suffers deeply when she’s no longer around to simultaneously challenge and ground him).

If Roz Doyle guards her vulnerabilities with a mask of snark, Diane Chambers guards hers with one made of steel. Diane is bookish, quick-witted, moralistic, and not so secretly believes she deserves only the finest things in life. For all her book smarts, she often struggles to fit in with the “average Joe’s” at Cheers and, in her most vulnerable moments, it’s evident that she longs to be accepted. Diane is frequently mocked by the other characters who don’t take her seriously, while she in turn often takes herself far too seriously. She can become giddy over simple things (such as when she’s given brief control of the bar) and has a treasured stuffed animal collection—proving she’s not as haughty as she’d like to appear. Beneath her pseudo intellectualism, Diane is very much simply a woman in search of her place in life—and she should absolutely be taken seriously (even if Shelley’s performance leaves you in stitches).

Bewitched, Beguiled and Beloved

I owe a great deal to Bewitched. The first sitcom I ever cared about and watched religiously (via the magic of frequent reruns and DVDs), it is no exaggeration to say that my passion for sitcoms and television in general may not be where it is today without the iconic witch with a twitch.

I remember sitting at home with my mom well over a decade ago as she flipped through the channels and stopped on Bewitched. She explained its basic premise and how it had been a favorite of hers years ago; I was instantly intrigued.

“So, Samantha and Endora are both witches?” I asked. My mom nodded.

“What about him?” I inquired, indicating Dick York’s Darrin (by the way, if there is anyone who prefers Dick Sargent’s Darrin let me know as I have never encountered such a person).

“Nope, he’s a mortal, but Endora and Samantha sort of help him out sometimes,” mom said.

The more I watched Bewitched, the more I loved it. What’s not to love? The writing is funny and clever; the cast is wonderful (i.e. Darrin and Larry as the advertising dream team decades before Mad Men’s Don and Roger existed) and features some of the funniest and most memorable supporting characters of any series (i.e. nosy neighbor Gladys Kravitz, incorrigible prankster Uncle Arthur and bumbling Aunt Clara).

Then there’s also the fact that Bewitched really was ahead of its time in that it had such a strong, independent female protagonist––something that quite a few people seem skeptical about when I bring it up to them. They wonder: Isn’t Samantha a witch who becomes a housewife upon marriage and promises to give up witchcraft to please her husband, Darrin? To which, I say: Yes…but not quite.

Yes, it’s no secret that Samantha promises Darrin she won’t use witchcraft (a promise she rarely keeps, otherwise there would be no show), but this isn’t him controlling her. It’s her choosing to have this life. The mere fact that Samantha, a witch who could zap up any dream man with a twitch of her nose, chooses to marry an ordinary mortal deemed extraordinary by her because she falls in love with him is in and of itself a sign of independence; she is choosing the life she wants, damning the consequences. If it’s considered rebellious to sneak out of the house as a teenager and risk punishment, imagine how much of a rebel Samantha was by defying her entire supernatural family’s wishes and living as a mortal.

 

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Sitcom Study: Bewitched’s “A is for Aardvark” (1×17)

Relevant Episode Information: After Darrin finds himself bedridden due to a sprained ankle, Samantha casts a spell that causes their house to respond to his desires. But will he become too carried away with his newfound witchcraft?

In what producer William Asher considered to be the definitive Bewitched episode, “A is for Aardvark” reiterates just how much Samantha loves and values her life with Darrin. The episode has several humorous moments as Darrin grapples with and ultimately enjoys his newfound magical prowess, but what really makes it so pivotal is its emotional ending. Fully embracing the magical life, Darrin retracts his objections to witchcraft and now fully supports living a more supernatural life. He goes as far as quitting his job and proposing that he and Samantha partake on an extensive trip around the world. This breaks Samantha’s heart; she doesn’t want such extravagance, she is happy with the life they have built and earned together.

Finally, Darrin comes around as he presents Samantha with a bouquet of flowers and a watch (“I love you every second” as the inscription):

Sam: “Oh Darrin, I love you… please believe me, this watch and these flowers are the most important things I’ve ever had in my whole life…but I want you to understand.”

Darrin: “I do understand, no one’s gonna take them away from you…I don’t know if I’m too crazy about the idea of never having to worry about anything anymore. “

Sam: “Oh! You do understand!”

The scene is particularly poignant not only because it highlights the sincerity of the couple’s love and Samantha’s commitment to living as normal of a life as possible, but it also reveals just how human Samantha truly is as a character. She does not want anything handed to her, she wants to make her own happiness. The tears she cries here are tears of joy; she is relieved that the man she fell in love with is not lost. She is relieved to work for what she wants and enjoy what she has. What could be more human for a witch to feel than that?