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.
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.
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:
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.
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.
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. ☺