By Thomas Sellers Jr.
Sept. 26 is National Family Day.
Often said is, “We can choose our friends. But we cannot choose our family.” Family is quickly defined as blood relatives. Over time I’ve realized family expands that limited definition.
As of today I have a work family, gym family, church family, school family and extended family. Marriage gives you an extended family with the words “I do.” Then as you live and experience things, you develop a special bond with those around you.
The average U.S. American spends more time at work than home. Those people become close to you and see another side of your personality.
Then when you attend religious services, get a membership at a gym and achieve an education, those folks in your circle help shape your everyday life.
Life almost becomes a sitcom. Situation comedies are really our blueprint on how to deal with our direct relatives, friends and those we accept as family. The standard of television families were the Cleavers on “Leave it to Beaver.” That surname brought Ward, June and sons Wally and Theodore (aka the Beaver) in American homes for several decades. Then the Bunkers on “All in the Family” exposed another type of American family. The nuclear family was on display with the Cleavers. The Bunkers shone a light on in-laws, neighbors and how one family interacts with society.
The canvas of American families have been a part of our entertainment for the past 60 years through the medium of TV. This week I want to rank the best sitcom families of all time. No dramas, no reality-TV or documentaries on his countdown. This Best Sellers’ List is focusing on 30-minute family situation comedies.
Here are my honorable mentions: the Simpsons – “The Simpsons,” the Bluths – “Arrested Development,” the Bunkers – “All in the Family,” the Murphys – “F is for Family,” the Taylors – “Home Improvement,” the Keatons – “Family Ties,” the Winslows – “Family Matters,” the Johnsons – “Black-ish,” the Macs – “The Bernie Mac Show,” the Kyles – “My Wife and Kids,” the Drummonds – “Diff’rent Strokes,” the Cleavers – “Leave It to Beaver,” the Addams – “The Addams Family,” the Cunninghams – “Happy Days” and the Munsters – “The Munsters.”
10. The Clampetts- “The Beverly Hillbillies”
Aired: September 26, 1962 to March 23, 1971
One of the best theme songs ever to explain the premise of a show, we know we’re about to follow the life of a man named Jeb. And J.D. “Jed” Clampett was the widower patriarch of a family who just struck it rich by discovering oil on his property.
Jeb packed up his nontraditional family and moved to a mansion in Beverly Hills, Calif. No longer were the Clampetts in the Ozarks. They were fish out of water, bringing their “country” ways to the posh society of Beverly Hills.
Joining Jeb was his mother-in-law, Daisy “Granny” May Moses. His daughter, Elly May Clampett, was a gorgeous tomboy, and Jeb’s cousin, Jethro Bodine, provided some goofy muscle for the show.
Generations of viewers love watching the dynamic of an everyday family adjusting to high society and interacting with Mr. Drysdale, Ms. Hathaway and others.
While Jeb was the straight man of the family, Elly May provided comedy relief with a sweet, innocent approach. Jethro did a great job of being the half-witted physical comedian. And the best part of the show by far was Granny.
Her delivery was perfect for her one-liners, silly antics and being a matriarch in the home.
9. The Lopezes- “The George Lopez Show”
Aired: March 27, 2002 to May 8, 2007
Not since “I Love Lucy” have we gotten a chance to look into the home led by a Hispanic man. When 2002 rolled around, comedian George Lopez was given that platform by ABC with “The George Lopez Show” with wife Angie, son Max, daughter Carmen and his zany mother Benita “Benny” Lopez.
George was an assembly-line worker for an airplane parts factory in Los Angeles. George was a devoted father and husband. He was a great friend to Ernesto “Ernie” Cardenas. But a pair of antagonists in George’s life were his father-in-law, Dr. Victor Garcia Lantigua Palmero, and his very own mother, Benny. The dynamic of George consistently trying to impress his mother was some of the best scenes of the show. Benny was such a mean-spirited woman that she kept tearing down her son. But time revealed she kept pulling away from George so he could keep reaching his full potential. And part of her enjoyed being so mean to him.
I really appreciated the inside look into a Hispanic household. Lopez drew much of the material for the show from his own life experiences growing up in San Fernando Valley. Lopez became one of the few Latinos to star in a television comedy series, following in the footsteps of Desi Arnaz, Freddie Prinze and John Leguizamo.
8. The Evanses- “Good Times”
Aired: February 8, 1974 to January 30, 1980
When this show was coming to fruition as a spin-off from “Maude,” lead actress Esther Rolle wanted to make sure the family has a father.
Even in 1974, Rolle knew the importance of male figures in the home for African-Americans. Fast forward to 2019, a lot of the issues plaguing blacks today can be directly related to the lack of fathers in the home.
“Good Times” had a mother in Florida and a father in James. James Evans was the clear leader of his home in Chicago. The sitcom highlighted the struggles of a family in the ghetto with the charismatic artist son James “JJ” Evans Jr., voice-of-reason daughter Thelma and politically active son Michael.
Toss in side characters like Willona Woods and Nathan “Buffalo Butt” Bookman, there were plenty of laughs.
But things got series midway through the show’s run when James died off screen. All of sudden, the Evans home was a single-mother home. JJ had to step up his role in the household and be the leader. It did bond the family stronger but shone a light on why a two-parent structure is so important. But the Evans kids had enough knowledge of their father to carry on and validate his legacy.
7. The Bundys- “Married … with Children”
Aired: April 5, 1987 to June 9, 1997
The Fox network owes a lot to “Married … With Children.” It was the face of a young network and gave it millions of viewers each week. Just a couple of channels away on NBC at the time was “The Cosby Show.”
The Bundys became the antithesis of the characters on “The Cosby Show.” “Married … With Children” took me back to Chicago to the middle-class part of the city to peak in on the Bundys.
Before “Married … With Children,” white families were depicted as wholesome and loving for the most part. This show blew that approach up with the crazy antics of patriarch Al. He was described as a misogynistic shoe salesman who battled with his wife Peggy on a regular basis. But, to make it clear, Al loved his wife and children. He was the only one who could insult them and challenge them.
His daughter Kelly was the standard of hotness during that era but she wasn’t the smartest. Bud matured into the typical teenage boy chasing money in order to impress girls.
I love the interaction of the family and how they threw one-liners at each other. It reminded me of my family growing up. I had a big sister I was smarter than. But she was cooler and would often insult me for being lame.
This historic sitcom was great because it was a true representation of most U.S. American homes. No ideal housewife could be found in Peggy. Al would voice his frustration to his family and anyone else within earshot.
6. The Bradys- “The Brady Bunch”
Aired: September 26, 1969 to March 8, 1974
Just like “The Beverly Hillbillies,” just play the theme song and you will know the foundation of this classic. Here’s the story … of a man named Brady. Mike Brady was looking for a second chance at love after the death of his wife. The architect with three sons — oldest Greg, middle son Peter and youngest Bobby — met Carol. She was looking for another shot at marriage with her three blond-haired daughters: oldest Marcia, middle girl Jan and baby Cindy. Add in the obvious comedy relief of maid Alice, the Brady Bunch set the benchmark for a nontraditional family sitcom.
The show had a foundation of blending two families and discovering similarities. “The Brady Bunch” became beloved after cancellation and thanks to a pair of movies in the 1990s.
Fans tuned in to see the signature staircase, football hitting Marcia’s nose and the children forming a band.
5. The Griffins- “Family Guy”
Aired: January 31, 1999-
If your family is like the Griffins of Quahog, R.I., I have one word for you … RUN! The leader of this clan is Peter. He can be described simply as an idiot. Then his wife Lois has plenty of selfish moments. Oldest child Meg is a social outcast hated by her own family. Middle child Chris is a loser. And child genius Stewie is evil to his core. The voice of reason if the family dog Brian. And he is focused on his own agenda and comes across as a hypocrite.
The reason why the Griffins rank so high on my list is because of the laughs they deliver. This show is pure comedy gold while addressing popular topics of today. Satire is down to near-perfection with “Family Guy.” Does it get too risqué? Very much so. But this illustration of a dysfunctional family is very entertaining and serves as a warning that there are people out in society like the Griffins.
4. The Tanners- “Full House”
Aired: September 22, 1987 to May 23, 1995
I’m detecting a theme here. Another widower pops up in this countdown with Danny Tanner. The San Francisco sportscaster’s wife died, and he was left to raise his three daughters. In a need of some help with his young girls, Danny employs his brother-in-law Jesse and best friend Joey to even up the odds.
Every week it was a battle of DJ, Stephanie and Michelle vs. Danny, Jesse and Joey. The house was definitely full at the beginning.
Over the years the occupants of the house increased with Jesse’s marriage to Becky. They produced twins. The family dog, Comet, was a nice addition that kept the pace flowing.
While very entertaining, it was great to see three male leads run a household and raise girls. The trio was smart enough to rely on Aunt Becky at times to help the girls navigate maturing into womanhood. Once DJ grew up, she was there to advise her younger sisters, Stephanie and Michelle.
The men of the house were also growing up during the process. Their careers improved. The trio grew more sensitive in handling matters. And when they encountered new relationships, the men were smart enough to get the girls’ approval.
“Full House” tackled a full plate of topics and issues from adulthood to dating as a single parent. Like any another sitcom with children, we watched the girls deal with issues from bullying and drugs to learning how to drive.
3. The Huxtables- “The Cosby Show”
Aired: September 20, 1984 to April 30, 1992
If you focus on the show and its importance to television history, you can still appreciate the impact it had on thousands of lives. As a black boy growing up at the time, “The Cosby Show” made it look normal to see successful African-Americans. “The Cosby Show” centered on the lives of the Huxtables. The head of the house was Dr. Heathcliff Huxtable, an obstetrician. His lovely wife, Claire, was a lawyer.
Although the family was the picture of American achievement on the outside, inside their New York home were typical issues that affected a normal family.
The Huxtables and their extended family endured serious topics from learning disabilities to teen pregnancy. One daughter dropped out of college. Another married a man who was a work in progress overcoming misogynistic ways. Theo had his share of issues enough for four boys.
The reason why I hold such a special place in my heart for “The Cosby Show,” is its realistic depiction of a loving black family. No household is perfect, and there will be problems. But a family holds each other accountable to make each other better and will also rally around each other in times of needs. “The Cosby Show” even shone a light on how important heritage is in the African-American family.
All fans of the shows remember when the family took to the staircase to celebrate Cliff’s parents. Generations of love were on display in that scene.
2. The Bankses- “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”
Aired: September 10, 1990 to May 20, 1996
The best ’90s version of a theme song explaining the show came from the lyrics of Will “Fresh Prince” Smith. A teenager was leaving a dangerous situation and a single-mother house to live in a place with more structure.
Will was going to live with Aunt Vivian and her husband, Phillip Banks. Uncle Phil did well in life, becoming a judge. The Bankses lived in a mansion in Bel-Air, Calif.
After an adjustment period for Will and the family, the hijinks began week to week. His cousins Hilary, Carlton and Ashley.
The serious moments of this show were iconic from Carlton using speed he got from Will’s locker to Will’s father abandoning him again.
Will didn’t need his biological father at that point because Uncle Phil was fulfilling that role. We witnessed the Fresh Prince transform into a King, becoming a part of the Banks fabric.
Will became the son of Aunt Viv, and Uncle Phil Carlton was his brother. Hilary was the big sister influence on Will. And Will was the ideal big brother figure for Ashley.
1. The Wilkersons- “Malcolm in the Middle”
Aired: January 9, 2000 to May 14, 2006
The one television family that exemplifies my household the most is “Malcolm in the Middle.” The beautifully dysfunctional group is not the Cleavers. The controlling mother Lois reminded me of my mom Alma. Both women are strong and will protect their children at any cost. They can both lay down the law on those children, too.
Hal put me in mind of my dad, Thomas Sr., because he can go with the flow of things. He’s not a pushover, but rules can be bent sometimes.
I had an older sibling similar to Malcolm’s Francis. My sister Shay was the rebel and challenged authority from time to time. A lot of crazy stuff she tried made me cautious in my decisions.
My brothers, Carlos and Cordarous, would give Reese and Dewey a challenge on hijinks any day. The family’s hope rested on the shoulders of Malcolm. I am kind of the “good one” in my family. I can so relate to Malcolm on his outlook of the world.
This show had great character development and blended so many personalities into an entertaining sitcom. This is the greatest example of a family ever to grace a TV.
THOMAS SELLERS JR. is the editor of The Millington Star and both the sports editor and a weekly personal columnist for West 10 Media/Magic Valley Publishing. Contact him by phone at (901) 433-9138, by fax to (901) 529-7687 and by email to email@example.com.