By Kimberly Witt
While our family media consumption also includes movies and dramatic TV shows, the fraught early days of COVID necessitated comedy, inspiring us to watch our way through several classic sitcoms. Now, thankfully, life feels a bit more normal. Still, on nights when we’re all home together, we watch an episode of mindless TV for belly laughs and harmless escapism.
Making it a bit of a challenge to find something we could all agree on, our family needs a delicate balance when it comes to cringe-worthy content. My husband has to leave the room when something too embarrassing happens on screen, leaving The Office off our list. My older son, on the other hand, thinks uncomfortable humor is the best kind: his favorite episode of The Amazing World of Gumball is aptly titled “The Cringe.”
Here are some of our favorite sitcom recommendations, with overall scores from 1 (lame) to 5 (best show ever) and cringe factors from 1 (no cringe at all) to 5 (the diversity episode of The Office).
Our Family Sitcom Ranking
Overall rating: 3.5
Cringe factor: 3
All the way back to ER, I’ve been a fan of medical shows, and Scrubs is a great addition to that genre with a balance of heart and sarcasm. As a mom, some of the sexy scenes with JD and Elliot were uncomfortable to watch with teens, but otherwise, this was a family favorite. We all enjoyed the blooming bromance between JD and Turk, and the ongoing conflicts between Dr. Cox and Dr. Kelso and JD and the janitor provided lots of laughs.
I do wish we had listened to advice to avoid the final season, so learn from our mistakes and stop with season 8.
Overall rating: 4.5
Cringe factor: 3
While the depiction of life at a community college might not have been realistic (see the giant blanket fort and pillow fight episode or the entire storyline involving Ben Chang), Community was still highly entertaining. Our family favorites included the friendship between Troy and Abed and the yearly paintball episodes. Like Scrubs, the ending of the show went downhill, but nearly every episode inspired audible laughter. That was certainly welcome during the early pandemic days. There was enough cringe to keep my older son happy but not enough to force my husband out of the room, making this a win-win.
Overall rating: 4
Cringe factor: 3.5
This ridiculous comedy featuring the ups and downs of the wealthy Bluth family had something for everybody in our family. With the uncomfortable antics of Tobias, the cousin attraction between George Michael and Maeby, and Lucille and Buster’s strange mother-son relationship, this show got a boost in the cringe category, forcing my husband to spend some extra time “making popcorn” during the most awkward scenes. The cast — including Will Arnett and Jason Bateman — was comedy gold, and the over-the-top family dynamics gave us plenty of laughs. We still make jokes about the Cornballer when we’re all helping in the kitchen, and my younger son thinks the super literal doctor scenes are some of the funniest from any show ever. If you’re ever feeling down, just cue up the chicken dance scenes.
Parks and Rec
Overall rating: 4
Cringe factor: 1
Leslie Knope is my sitcom superhero, and my husband aspires to be Ron Swanson, so I can’t leave Parks and Recreation off the list. While it wasn’t at the top of my sons’ lists, they still enjoyed many of the characters — especially Chris Pratt’s Andy Dwyer and Aziz Ansari’s Tom Haverford — and outrageous storylines. I loved this show for its wholesome entertainment, positive messages, and behind-the-scenes look at local government. Throw in unconditional love for waffles and the original Galentine’s Day and you have a recipe for some unforgettable entertainment from start to finish.
Overall rating: 5
Cringe factor: 2.5
This show was beloved by all, including our pup Rooney who loved to see our favorite Corgi, Cheddar, on screen. As my 17-year-old son appropriately stated, Brooklyn 99 “stayed consistent all the way through.” With a diverse, hilarious cast and laugh-out-loud quips and plotlines, this sitcom rarely disappointed. During the final season, the show tried to address the complexity of problematic policing, and while some of those episodes felt forced and unrealistic, our family was grateful they didn’t gloss over the hard conversations. I would’ve watched the show just for the scenes with Jake Peralta and Captain Holt, and the rest of the family loved the Halloween heist episodes and any scene with the Pontiac Bandit. We would all put this on a rewatch list, too.
Overall rating: 5
Cringe factor: 2
What’s not to love about the classic show about nothing? Except for my older son who was too busy working to watch this one, we would all rate it at the top of our lists. My younger son loved Jerry’s standup bits on each show. Plus, with such a classic, there’s a level of cultural relevancy that comes from being in on jokes about the soup Nazi, close talkers, and licking envelopes.
While parts of the show feel like rustic antiques now, there’s something comforting about Jerry listening to messages on his answering machine and the vintage cereal boxes on his shelf. The cringe factor isn’t zero mostly due to outdated and offensive scenes that definitely wouldn’t make it on a show made today. However, some of those scenes provided good conversation starters with our son about the positive ways the world around us has changed. And now we have a reason to celebrate Festivus!
Pandemic season or not, enjoying family time through mindless TV with our teenagers feels like a comforting cup of mulligatawny soup. So what should we watch next?