The 5 Best Single-Season Sitcoms You Can Stream Right Now
Some shows endure for years and years, imprinting on generations and becoming part of the cultural fabric. Some don’t… But just because there’s less of them, that doesn’t mean we should love them any less. Here’s my list of the top five sitcoms that were taken from us too soon…
Shows like Pan Am lean on the glamor of air travel when it was still a new innovation. Movies like Flight hook you by reminding you of the potential peril involved. The starting point for LA to Vegas is: what kind of weirdos routinely show up on the titular short-haul trip? And to be clear, “weirdo” is also the appropriate descriptor for the crew members who work for Jackpot Airlines — like flight attendant Ronnie Messing (Kim Matula), who rage-quits her job in the (no pun intended) pilot when she finds out she didn’t get a more prestigious gig at Delta. To be fair to Ronnie, the flotsam she sees in a typical shift could push anyone over the edge — like professional gambler/bookie/dentist Artem (Peter Stormare); or Nichole (Olivia Macklin), an exotic dancer who finds plenty of work between the title’s two locales.
The true standout in the cast is Captain Dave, played with both gusto and a gorgeous mustache by Dylan McDermott; the joy he takes in this smarmy, self-important, yet somehow winning character makes you regret all the time he’s wasted acting in anything outside comedy. Inexplicably, Fox ordered three episodes beyond the original 12, then canceled it not long after the finale. Even more inexplicably, a sitcom from Adam McKay and Will Ferrell did not find another platform to take it after Fox made this error?! You can still purchase episodes to enjoy and treasure forever, and even if all you do is scrub through for Captain Dave scenes, those will more than justify the expense.
In the late aughts, Sarah Haskins amassed an army of fans by writing and starring in “Target: Women,” satirical takedowns of media intended for female consumers. From the very first attack on yogurt advertising, her genius is clear.
Many, if not most, of Haskins’ devotees probably didn’t know “Target: Women” was part of a weekly current events comedy show, InfoMania, on Current TV, because many, if not most, TV viewers probably didn’t know Current TV existed. But some of us kept an eye on her career and were extremely excited when (with Emily Halpern) she landed her first series co-creator credit with Trophy Wife, in which Kate (Malin Åkerman), a thirtysomething woman of minimal professional achievement, marries fiftysomething lawyer Pete (Bradley Whitford).
As one would expect in a relationship with this large of an age gap, Pete has already lived a life before Kate came into his — actually, two lives, and the two wives he previously married are still around, as are the kids that resulted. The contrast between first wife Diane (Marcia Gay Harden), an elegant doctor, and her successor Jackie (Michaela Watkins), a classic flake in the L.A. fashion, shows that Pete doesn’t have a type. Fun fact: Haskins is married to Geoffrey Edwards, a director 20 years her senior who was married twice before. Of course, that doesn’t mean Haskins mined her own experiences for story ideas, but one imagines she had a lot of episode concepts at the ready, and it’s a shame we didn’t get to see them.
There are lots of ways to make TV comedy out of policing. There’s the naturalistic take, like Barney Miller. You can go slightly screwball, like Brooklyn Nine-Nine. But David Zucker, Jim Abrahams and Jerry Zucker changed the game the most with Police Squad!, their six-episode follow-up to their successful movie spoofs, The Kentucky Fried Movie and Airplane!. Just a couple of minutes into the show’s first episode, “A Substantial Gift (The Broken Promise),” it’s clear what a perfect match the ZAZ comedy style is to the Dragnets of TV history. And I hope Leslie Nielsen — almost exclusively a drama star before this — was appropriately thankful to Abrahams and the Zuckers for giving him his career as a comedy star.
That three film sequels followed the show’s infamously short run proves that, in 1982, the world simply wasn’t ready for Police Squad!. More proof: Angie Tribeca, another fast-moving, gag-laden police spoof that ran for four seasons in the late 2010s.
Unfortunately, as of this writing Police Squad! is not available on any subscription streaming service, but clicking the link above will take you to the first episode on Dailymotion; click around and you’ll find the next five there too.
Maybe things are different for high school students now — it’s certainly none of my business — but most of the media that covered the material, starting when the term “teenager” was coined, is about what a minefield high school can be. Deciding what kind of person you want to be and figuring out how to get the rest of the world to accept that identity can be an all-consuming pursuit; any misstep can get you bounced out of desirable social circles forever. We see it in Square Pegs; we see it in My So-Called Life; and we see it in Freaks and Geeks.
Michigan siblings Lindsay (Linda Cardellini) and Sam (John Francis Daley) have always accepted their geek status. When, like Lindsay, you’re a mathlete, it’s hard to fight that rep. But it’s 1980, Lindsay’s midway through her high school career, and she’s curious about making a change and joining the “freaks.” She’s even started wearing her dad’s old army jacket to show her rejection of fashion trends. Lindsay soon learns that while her new freak friends may project apathy about practically everything, they do still have tender feelings; this is particularly true of Nick (Jason Segel), who develops a crush on Lindsay and expresses it in song.
Naturally, a show about this chaotic time of life is going to deal in earth-shattering emotional moments, but it’s hilarious too, as when Sam gets the chance to study with his crush; hears what sounds like a fart, which she blames on the chair; and gets suspicious when she leaves and he can’t recreate the noise with the same motions she used. On the freak side, virtually every line that comes out of Ken is a comedic hit; though the show wasn’t long-lived, there were other opportunities ahead for the actor who brought him to life: Seth Rogen.
The Hill brothers — Pete (Geoff Stults), Derrick (Chris Lowell) and Randy (Parker Young) — come from a tradition of military service; their father was killed in the line of duty. But their own time as enlisted men hasn’t been quite as heroic: though Pete was deployed to Afghanistan, he punched a superior officer, and has been returned to Fort McGee, in Florida. Preceding him there are Randy and Derrick, whose official assignment on rear detachment means their job is to do necessary but not especially thrilling maintenance tasks. For Pete to be put in charge of them — and the other unimpressive recruits in their company — isn’t necessarily what any of the Hill brothers would prefer.
Even now, this century’s conflicts in the Middle East have been largely invisible. Enlisted portrays military officers with respect without being overly reverent. A show like this has to be a workplace comedy where characters, necessarily, sometimes have to look foolish. At the center of the workplace comedy is a sweet, spiky, complex family story, about brothers learning how to relate to each other after some very tough years. Fortunately for us, a lot of that involves undermining each other, pulling pranks and breaking balls. All that and Keith David? Incredible but true.