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It’s a dirty job but somebody had to do it. Actually it’s not, and nobody asked me, but compiling this list was a bit like if you disagree with it: tough.
If you’re wondering why an episode from your favourite sitcom hasn’t made the cut, it could be down to the fact that a decent balance across the decades was trying to be achieved, or – more likely – it’s probably not as good as you think it is (fans of Friends and The Office, take note). However, this could well be the most controversial listicle in Roobla history, if not the world; so in chronological order, here they are.
Steptoe and Son: The Desperate Hours (1972)
When the most famous rag-and-bone men were doing the rounds, there wasn't a great deal else. Sure, Monty Python and The Goodies were blazing trails, but they were of course both sketch shows. Steptoe and Son was the Daddy for many years, not least because of the acting ability of its two leads, Wilfred Bramble and Harry H. Corbett. In this memorable episode, you also get Leonard Rossiter, arguably the greatest comic actor of his generation, plus Harold's desperation to escape the clutches of his father were never more acute (even if it did mean going on the run!).
Fawlty Towers: The Hotel Inspectors (1978)
It still amazes people to learn that this giant of the genre only clocked up 12 episodes over two series, although it still seems inexplicable that plans are afoot to add to those over forty years later. That said, it still doesn't make the job of picking a winner a simple task, but a winner we have in this, the very first instalment of the John Cleese classic - gin and orange, anyone?
Only Fools and Horses: Go West Young Man (1981)
The polar opposite of Fawlty Towers in terms of quantity, so how to pick the.... well, pick? For starters, we can discount all the feature-length episodes, which seems only fair anyway, so with To Hull and Back, the 1996 Christmas Trilogy, etc, all out the running, does that make things easier? Hell no! In the end, the honours go to this classic from series one, with a night out to remember, mostly for all the wrong reasons.
Blackadder the Third: Ink and Incapability (1987)
Many people have been asked many times in which order they'd rank the four series of this alternative take on British history. Personally I go 3-4-1-2, which narrows down the competition for a place in this listicle to a mere six episodes. Blackadder the Third was probably the most sharply written, with the Ben Elton and Richard Curtis partnership in full flow. This episode, centered around the very first dictionary, introduced us to some wonderful words which scandalously have yet to make the Oxford English.
Father Ted: A Song for Europe (1996)
Most people, certainly this side of the Irish Sea, had no idea at the time how on the money this cracker from the Craggy Island saga really was. A fourth Eurovision victory of the 1990s had recently left the Emerald Isle glowing again, only it was becoming a little bit expensive. Writers Graham Linehan and Arthur Matthews created this gem on the back of that conundrum, whilst unleashing the unforgettable My Lovely Horse into the annals of pop music into the bargain.
Frasier: The Dinner Party (1999)
The first of two US sitcoms to get a mention, and surely the best, Frasier's hit the headlines recently with a shock comeback in the offing. Whether you agree with that or not, there's no doubt that the Cheers spin-off was at its best when the Crane brothers were doing what they do best: bickering with each other. It was even better when their blatant snobbery backfired, and never more brilliantly than over the seemingly simple task of dinner party invites.
The King of Queens: Catching Hell (2005)
Our second entry from across the pond (sorry again, Friends fans) is from a sitcom that ran for nine years, and like many long-runners, it got better and better as it went along. However, this episode from season seven shows that you can have separate storylines run perfectly well together in one episode, without having to intertwine them at the end - two for the price of one, if you will. As usual, the late Jerry Stiller, as Arthur, steals the show.
The IT Crowd: Are We Not Men? (2008)
Something of a testament to Graham Linehan's scripts that he's the only writer responsible for two entries on this list. The classic fish-out-of-water routine is a staple of sitcomland, but it's probably never been done so well as this. Yet again, Linehan managed to capture the moment, cultural hot buttons and the whole zeitgeist to a tee, with this episode using Premier League football and a cheeky reference to Arsene Wenger's Arsenal as its backdrop.
The Inbetweeners: Work Experience (2009)
Even though its popularity was off the scale for several years, the semi-autobiographical schoolyard shenanigans got a little too gross-out for their own good; certainly by series three at any rate. Still, if there's one instalment that manages to make your toes curl in sympathy (or should that be empathy?) with any of the four title characters, it's the second offering from series one... and surely we all know someone who's fallen for the old tartan paint routine.
Miranda: Holiday (2009)
While it may have appeared at first glance to be a little bit Mrs Brown's Boys, due to its pantomime-like stage set-up and fondness for breaking the fourth wall, in its heyday this was as sharp as a tack thanks to a host of memorable catchphrases and a brilliant supporting cast. This particular offering is essential viewing for anyone who doesn't share the same enthusiasm for other people's kids as the parents, as well as an abject lesson as to why it's best to quit while you're ahead.
All that remains now is to give an honourable mention to Seinfeld: The Pony Remark. We know there's no end of you shaking your heads at what could be considered a heretic sitcom top ten. If that's you, vent your spleen in the comments section. If not, please feel free to sing this feature's praises - I thank you!