Ok, tv is the little cousin to film, and I deplore top 10 lists. But this is not so much a Top 10 list, as much as me thinking over the parameters of sitcoms, and what made a sitcom great or not.
Recently, I was looking over the list of sitcoms from the start of American tv thru now, and in the 1940s and 1950s, only one sitcom stood out. Not Leave It To Beaver, not The Life Of Riley (Gleason nor Bendix versions), not Father Knows Best, and not even I Love Lucy.
Only one sitcom stands out, and that was The Honeymooners, originally part of The Jackie Gleason Show, but for a year its own show.
All the prior mentioned shows had moments, but none broke new ground. I Love Lucy was far and away the most popular of the bunch, but no one ever cared about Lucy Ricardo (Lucille Ball's character). Also, neither Desi Arnaz nor Vivian Vance were good enough straight men to form a great comedy team with Ball.
But Gleason and Art Carney (as Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton) were the first of three great comedy teams in television history. The Honeymooners tales could be set in any era. They are not bound by time. And Gleason, unlike Ball, imbued his character with pathos. And unlike Lucy, Ralph Kramden NEVER won. Some of the episode ends are total downers.
But, it was never what was going to happen to Ralph that mattered, but how it would happen, and how Gleason would make you care, even mist up, that made the show so special.
So, in the annals of great sitcoms, the 1940s and 1950s can submit only one immortal show, and Gleason bests Ball, finally!