Continuing the top shows of each decade, I'm not going to do a top 10 if there's not 10 that I feel deserve to be on the list. So I have a Top 7 from the 80s. To see the 60s list, click here. To see the 70s list, click here.
This was a quintessential 1980s sitcom and yet, it was the best of the many ho-hum cookie-cutter sitcoms that came out during the decade. The acting wasn't always the best but the stories were comfortable and enjoyable. Every era of TV has shows that don't need to be groundbreaking to be good and this was the example from this decade. After all, this show did contrived plots and standard sitcom fare a whole lot better than many shows have done since. Plus, a young Alyssa Milano is a standout.
Episodes you should see: #23/24 "It Happened One Summer" (9/24 & 10/1/85), #35 "Junior Executive" (1/7/86), #59 "The Christmas Card" (12/16/86), #79 "A Farewell to Nick" (11/10/87), #125 "Sam's Novel Romance" (10/10/89)
Bob Newhart's second long-running sitcom wasn't as good as his first but it's still a classic and not only for its brilliant series finale. Rather than playing straight man to psychology patients, Bob played straight man to the wacky inhabitants of a small Vermont town. The show was fairly realistic but always a little bit absurd and that's what made the series finale work. When it turned out that the entire series of Newhart was just a dream of Newhart's character from The Bob Newhart Show, fans were delighted at the creativity because these characters could be from a psychologist's dream. Do the same thing for The Mary Tyler Moore Show and fans would be devastated because the characters were too real. The slightly out of whack tone throughout this series allowed the series finale to be the best of all time.
Episodes you should see: #2 "Mrs. Newton's Body Lies A'Mould'ring in the Grave" (10/25/82), #60 "Look Homeward Stephanie" (2/25/85), #67 "Pirate Pete" (9/30/85), #102 "Saturday in New York with George" (12/22/86), #184 "The Last Newhart' (5/21/90)
Taxi had a few more episodes in the 1980s than in the 1970s so that's how it ends up on this list even though many might consider it a 70s show. On the heels of the smart MTM sitcoms that changed the genre in the 1970s but before Cheers, Taxi was the smart, well-written show of its era. With a grungy look and not much splashiness, the show focused on character development rather than jokes, much like Mary Tyler Moore. It was never at that quality but it was still a very good show and it created one of the best characters of all time - Danny DeVito's vile Louie DiPalma.
Episodes you should see: #25 "Reverend Jim: A Space Odyssey" (9/25/79), #54 "Latka's Cookies" (2/5/81), #69 "Mr. Personalities" (10/22/81), #84 "The Unkindest Cut" (2/25/82), #91 "The Schloogal Show" (9/30/82)
One of the most successful series of all time, The Cosby Show was groundbreaking by not being groundbreaking. It centered on a well-off family with five children. The mom was a lawyer and the dad was a doctor. The catch was that they were black and all of the sudden, the family comedy became integrated (and not in a Good Times way). The great chemistry of Bill Cosby and Phylicia Rashad and excellent casting of the naturally talented children made this show what it was. Few family sitcoms before or since have ever been able to have the class and grace of The Cosby Show.
Episodes you should see: #1 "Pilot" (9/20/84), #27 "Happy Anniversary" (10/10/85), #36 "Mrs. Westlake" (1/2/86), #104/105 "The Birth" (11/10/88), #144 "Isn't It Romantic?" (2/22/90)
The cop drama genre and really the drama genre as a whole was forever changed by Hill Street Blues. This show rewrote all the rules of what was acceptable for a prime time drama and its gripping pilot was one of the best of all time. No show has ever captured the grittiness and realism of a crime-filled city (which was never named) and the many intertwining plots in each episode was a model that dramas follow to this day. This show had it all - compelling plots, great writing, and a dynamic cast. I have only seen the first two seasons so I can only talk about those but every time I watch, I feel like I am thrown into the trenches of the city in the early 1980s. It's that engrossing.
Episodes you should see: #1 "Hill Street Station" (1/15/81), #7 "Choice Cut" (2/12/81), #16/17 "Jungle Madness" (5/26/81), #24 "Chipped Beef" (12/17/81), #35 "Invasion of the Third World Body Snatchers" (5/13/82)
I'm breaking my rule of the majority of episodes having to air in the decade because all my favorite episodes from The Wonder Years are from the early years. The Wonder Years evoked nostalgia in a way that no other show can. From the beautifully written stories of adolescence to the amazing soundtrack, this show was very unique in many ways and nothing like it has really been tried since. You don't have to be a preteen/teenager or from the late 60s/early 70s to appreciate this show and identify with it. It's about growing up and all that comes with that. Each episode has comedy while it tugs at your heart strings. Now let's get this show on DVD!!
Episodes you should see: #1 "The Wonder Years" (1/31/88), #6 "Dance with Me" (4/19/88), #9 "Christmas" (12/14/88), #27 "Mom Wars" (10/31/89), #34 "Don't You Know Anything About Women?" (1/16/90)
This show could be number one for its theme song alone. But it's so much more than that. Much like Mary Tyler Moore and Taxi before it, Cheers was all about character development. It never looked for the easy laugh or punchline. Instead, it helped us get to know some irreplaceable characters. A hallmark of what made Cheers so good was that it rarely left the bar. Most scenes in the show took place in the same set yet they never ran out of stories to tell. That's a testament to the writing and acting. Another hallmark was its ability to adjust and change. When Nicholas Colasanto passed away, the show lost its heart in the character of Coach. Yet they replaced him with a completely different character in Woody Harrelson's Woody who fulfilled the same purpose. When Shelley Long left the show after five seasons, it seemed like the show couldn't go on without the sexual tension of Sam and Diane at the center. Yet Kirstie Alley came aboard and gave the show a whole new dimension. Few shows can transition so seamlessly but Cheers could. Plus, who wouldn't want to go where everybody knows your name?
Episodes you should see: #30 "Manager Coach" (11/24/83), #48 "Fairy Tales Can Come True" (10/25/84), #80 "Don Juan is Hell" (12/12/85), #104 "Thanksgiving Orphans" (11/27/86), #121 "I Do and Adieu" (5/7/87)