It’s time to get to the next decade in my series of articles to determine the best sitcom ensembles. I’ve handled the ‘60s, ‘70s, and ‘80s. Now it’s time for maybe the toughest one. It’s time for the ‘90s.
One show that definitely isn’t going to win? That would be Friends. Now, let me remind you, and myself, that this isn’t about overall show quality. It’s not about the writing or the plot. It’s about the quality of the acting from the ensemble. Even so, Friends is overrated. I don’t really like it as a show at all, and I don’t feel like the ensemble was all that great. I like Lisa Kudrow as a performer, but the rest of the gang on Friends is largely bland to me. Plus, you can’t entirely separate performance from writing and character, so in some way David Schwimmer probably gets a knock for the fact Ross is the worst.
Also, and this may seem heretical, but Seinfeld isn’t really in the running for me. Part of it is that the “ensemble” is mostly four people and Wayne Knight. Now, tertiary characters, like Frank and Estelle Costanza, count, but all the one-off characters aren’t really part of the ensemble. Sorry, Soup Nazi. Of that Big Four, Jason Alexander and Julia Louis-Dreyfus are obviously great on the show, though I think JLD has gotten even better as a comedic performer since then. Michael Richards is a problematic figure now, but man was he great as Kramer. However, the show is called Seinfeld, and like it or not, Jerry Seinfeld is a mediocre actor.
If we were just looking at the top of the call sheet, The Larry Sanders Show would probably win. Garry Shandling, Rip Torn, and Jeffrey Tambor are all at the top of their game on the show. Torn and Tambor should have won like every Emmy. The rest of the cast is kind of whatever, though. If you want an underrated ‘90s family sitcom ensemble, I tip my cap to 3rd Rock From The Sun. It’s a goofy, high-concept sitcom about aliens pretending to be humans, but what a cast! John Lithgow is great. So is Jane Curtin. French Stewart and Kristen Johnson both give the best performances of their careers. A young Joseph Gordon-Levitt is on the show. Let’s not forget Wayne Knight either. The man knew how to pick his sitcoms.
In the end, though, I have to go with Frasier. Kelsey Grammer is so fantastic as Frasier, one of the best TV characters ever. And yet, David Hyde Pierce is just as good as his brother Niles. John Mahoney gives a great counterbalance performance as their dad. Jane Leeves and Peri Gilpin are both delightful. The gang at the radio station is pretty fun, though I’m not a big Bulldog fan. Throw in some appearances from Bebe Neuwirth as Lilith and some other on-and-off romantic partners, and we have the best sitcom ensemble of the ‘90s. If you want to argue, well, unlike Frasier I’m not listening.