5. The Facts of Life
Okay, this is mostly a sentimental choice. I watched this show all the time when I was a kid. I can even remember catching up on what would have been older episodes at the time when they were in reruns, part of a syndication block on my local station that I wanna say included, um, Gimme a Break, Mr. Belvedere and Silver Spoons? That sounds right. Anyway, I loved the show. Jo was my favorite character. I think I had pretty good judgement there, because Jo was obviously the coolest member of that crew. Oh, and it’s maybe possible that I sometimes still get this theme song stuck in my head and sing it while, say, folding laundry. That maybe happens.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer is such a classic that it had to have been a tough act to follow. And when Angel started it was…pretty good. Then it got awesome in its own right. When the show began it basically had a case-of-the-week format, with moody vampire Angel as a private detective in Los Angles. It eventually goes into full serialized mythology mode, and it’s then that it becomes super addictive. The characters of Cordelia, Wesley and Gunn are arguably even more interesting than the main guy himself. They have the best character arcs, anyway, I think. Oh, and it also has a really good finale. If you’ve never seen Buffy, for God’s sake, cancel everything in your life and watch it. And then cancel some more stuff and watch Angel. Oh, but, uh, Pete Campbell shows up at some point.
3. Better Call Saul
Breaking Bad was one of the best character studies I’ve seen on TV. This show is maybe even more subtle and, possibly, even better. I mostly knew Bob Odenkirk from stuff like Mr. Show and The Ben Stiller Show, so I didn’t know he could pull off drama so well. He was really good in Breaking Bad and he’s downright great here. And the stuff that goes on between him and his brother, played by another comedy guy, Michael McKean, is beyond well done. Really, every character on the show is just really deep and well-written. It isn’t even “Saul” who gets possibly the best episode of season 2, in my opinion. (That would be Kim Wexler, who has a bunch of great moments in the series.)
2. The Simpsons
Is it cheating to call this show a spin-off? I mean, it’s been on the air for longer than a lot of its fans have been alive, so people really don’t think of it that way. But I remember when the Simpsons were stars of animated shorts on The Tracey Ullman Show, and being kinda excited that they were actually getting their own show. And the rest is comedy history. And I wish I still had my “Don’t Have a Cow, Man” t-shirt. I mean, for a good run in the 90s, The Simpsons was maybe the smartest, funniest, best show on TV. (I say “maybe” because Roseanne and Murphy Brown also existed then.) I loved it because it was funny and satirical in a way that I’d never seen TV be before. Its influence has been so absorbed since then that I guess looking back on those classic episodes, they may not seem as brilliant or groundbreaking. And some of it is just that the references have dated and time has worn off some of the edge. But, trust me. As any other annoying member of my generation will be happy to tell you, they were great. It’s sort of impossible for me to pick a favorite moment. This little scene featuring bully Nelson and his love for old singer Andy Williams made be laugh like an idiot when I first saw it and it still kinda does.
This show is not only my favorite spin-off, considering the number of times I’ve watched the episodes, I guess it might as well be my favorite sitcom. This to me is the most comforting show ever created. It’s just so warm and funny. Not “warm” in the sense that they’re all nice to each other. A lot of times they’re jerks in that sitcom way that would get you punched in real life. But, you know, they really love each other and the world they live in is just really comfy. Basically, if there is a heaven, for me it will be lounging around in Frasier’s awesomely 90s, oh-so tastefully decorated (except for Martin’s chair, which I’m keeping) apartment, sipping his fancy booze, admiring that view of Seattle, and waiting for Niles to arrive to tell me what just happened with Maris so that this day’s crazy adventure can get started. Oh, and a couple of moments in particular have made me laugh as hard or harder than any show ever. Like in maybe my favorite episode where Frasier and Niles buy a restaurant. Things go crazy in the kitchen, and Daphne kills an eel.
And the episode where Frasier mangles the song “Buttons and Bows.”