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The Best Workplace Sitcoms

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“The Office” sauntered into TV history last night, leaving longtime viewers wondering when another great workplace sitcom will come along. Actually, one is already going strong (I’m talking to you, “Parks and Recreation”) on the same network. Perhaps now is a good time to revisit the very best workplace sitcoms of all time.

30 ROCK

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The halls of NBC aren’t your typical workplace, but who cares? The office antics of Liz Lemon, Jack Donaghy and Tracy Jordan are as hilarious as anything TV has ever seen. Blerg.

BUFFALO BILL

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In one of the all-time best bits of casting, Dabney Coleman played the vain, sexist, sarcastic, needy host of a daytime TV show in upstate New York. “Buffalo Bill” was filled with razor-sharp writing and excellent performances by Joanna Cassidy, Geena Davis, John Fiedler and others. Can you imagine a scene between Coleman’s Bill Bittinger and Alec Baldwin’s Jack Donaghy?

M*A*S*H

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I almost left M*A*S*H off the List, since the workplace here is an Army hospital. Still, the 4077th’s ever-changing personnel and aura of difficult, noble work is a good fit. Great banter by people thrown together in a confined, insane situation.

NEWSRADIO

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“NewsRadio” had a classic workplace structure, masterfully executed. You had the endearingly odd Everyman (Dave Foley), the eccentric executive (Stephen Root), the egotistical talent (Phil Hartman), the nutjob (Andy Dick) and the dumb guy (Joe Rogan). There were no wasted moments on this show.

FAWLTY TOWERS

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Rarely has the small screen seen as brilliant a bumbler as Basil Fawlty, played by John Cleese. He presided over a wonderfully sketchy inn and restaurant in Britain, where pratfalls were common and visits by German tourists invariably led to inadvertent comments about Adolph Hitler.

THE OFFICE

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So many excellent characters populate the American version of “The Office,” including plucky Pam, dorky Dwight, ice queen Angela and always-joking Jim. But by far the most amazing thing about the show was Steve Carell’s carefully modulated performance as man-child boss Michael Scott. It didn’t happen all at once – the audience got to see Carell find exactly the right combination of stupidity and humanity during the first season. It remains a marvel.

THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW

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My fear is that with each passing year, this show becomes more of a museum piece. The pace, the look, the social themes, all seem antiquated now. Take my word for it, though, the crew at WJM pioneered the TV idea of an office being like a family.

THE LARRY SANDERS SHOW

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Where Mary Tyler Moore’s comedy flowed from sincerity, “Larry Sanders” emerged from a sublime sense of insincerity. Garry Shandling took his own observations about show business, mixed them with memories of Johnny Carson, and created one of the best shows ever. Plus, how could you go wrong with stellar support from Rip Torn and Jeffrey Tambor? Hey now!

BARNEY MILLER

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Each character in “Barney Miller” was a tiny gem of comedy craft. What a great ensemble, from Hal Linden and Ron Glass, to Jack Soo and Abe Vigoda. There was real affection in the writing and the acting, plus a healthy dose of absurdity.

MURPHY BROWN

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One thing tends to be forgotten when people recall the success of “Murphy Brown.” It was very funny. True, it had a progressive edge to it, with a galvanizing main performance by Candice Bergen. But it wouldn’t have lasted a full season without its sharp wit and genuine character development.

WKRP IN CINCINNATI

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Here’s a great example of a sitcom that started as a collection of stereotypes and gradually gelled into something special. The cast, playing employees at an Ohio radio station, beautifully blended and contrasted their many quirks. I particularly loved Howard Hesseman as Dr. Johnny Fever.

PARKS AND RECREATION

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Amy Poehler had a similar challenge in “Parks and Recreation” to what Steve Carell faced in “The Office.” How do you play a sitcom’s central character as an eccentric, rather than an Everywoman? But she’s done it, and done it very well. I’m going to go out on a limb here and say this is the best workplace comedy ever set in an Indiana municipal government building.

CHEERS

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“Cheers” is another great sitcom that you don’t automatically think of as a workplace sitcom. My argument would be that the best interplay on the show stemmed from Sam Malone’s intermingling of business, pleasure and friendship.

WINGS

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“Wings” was treated almost like a second-tier sitcom, but I defy anyone to watch a few episodes and not laugh. It was about a collection of odd characters working at a tiny airport on Cape Cod. Dynamite cast, too, including Tim Daly, Steven Weber, Crystal Bernard, Thomas Hayden Church and Tony Shalhoub.

TAXI

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There was an incredible creative spirit at work within the confines of the Sunshine Cab Co. Here were truly original characters (Louie DePalma, Latka Gravas, Rev. Jim Ignatowski, etc.) brought to life by expert actors, terrific writers and gifted director James Burrows. Beyond that, “Taxi” was soulful. It followed Alex Reiger and his fellow cabbies as they sorted out the territory that exists in-between our dreams and our actual daily lives. When you can laugh at that, you’re golden.

THE OFFICE (U.K. VERSION)

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Even though it yielded a great American remake, the British version of “The Office,” to my mind, was the best workplace sitcom ever filmed. Not only did it have a singularly brilliant central character (Ricky Gervais’ David Brent), it also NEVER pulled its punches. “The Office” is riotously funny, excruciatingly painful and deeply touching.

There you go, workers of the world. Be sure to add a few favorites of your own.

You Lookin’ at Me? Breaking the Fourth Wall

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There’s no better way to add some zing to a TV show or movie than to have a character suddenly turn and talk to the audience. Sure, it’s cheating. But if the character happens to have some charisma, it’s also fun. Here’s a toast to the best instances of breaking down that fourth wall.

IT’S GARRY SHANDLING’S SHOW

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In his innovative 1980s comedy series, Garry Shandling made breaking the fourth wall the centerpiece of the whole show. He’d ask the audience questions and solicit their advice. The other characters on the show also were in on the trick. Garry treated the sitcom as the artificial absurdity that it is, but always with his trademark light touch. Even his theme song, “This is the Theme to Garry’s Show,” acknowledged the audience.

HIGH FIDELITY

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This was one of John Cusack’s best roles, and it worked precisely because of his interaction with viewers. Every eye roll, aside and bit of rage revealed that this guy wasn’t just a sarcastic slacker. He had depth.

THE BERNIE MAC SHOW

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Bernie Mac didn’t just talk to his sitcom viewers, whom he simply called, “America.” He cajoled them. He persuaded them. It allowed him to be as gruff as he wanted to be in the rest of his scenes. We still knew he was a pushover.

GROUCHO MARX, IN EVERYTHING

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Quite possibly the most devastating comedian who ever lived. Groucho was a verbal master, slicing up his conversational victims with glee. He had so many great lines, there were always extras to be tossed right at the camera. Here’s one from “Animal Crackers”: “This would be a better world for children if the parents had to eat the spinach.”

FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF

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“Ferris Bueller” is a cultural touchstone of the 1980s – something it owes to both Matthew Broderick and the way he made his case directly to moviegoers. It was like having lunch at the cool kids’ table, all day long.

HOUSE OF CARDS

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The current king of this category is Kevin Spacey in “House of Cards,” hands-down. He absolutely commands the TV screen, spinning his intricate web of politics and power. When he turns to the camera, you know you’re about to hear something hideous AND hilarious.

ANNIE HALL

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In “Annie Hall,” you have Woody Allen at the top of his game. At various points, chosen very shrewdly, he tells the audience what he thinks about relationships, therapy and the work of Marshall McLuhan.

MOONLIGHTING

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“Moonlighting,” the popular TV romantic comedy of the 1980s, spent almost as much time beyond the fourth wall as it did in its own world. Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis were naturals at it. I loved when they took a few moments to answer their viewer mail.

30 ROCK

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Tina Fey and Co. broke the fourth wall a bunch of times, but one particular instance was sublime. It’s from the Season Four premiere, when the show aired just before Jay Leno’s ill-fated 10 p.m. variety show. Liz Lemon and Jack Donaghy are watching a crass promo for “Tennis Night in America,” when Donaghy says, “There’s nothing wrong with being fun and popular and just giving people what they want.” Then he stares into the camera and purrs, “Ladies and gentlemen, Jay Leno.”

SLEEPWALK WITH ME

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Mike Birbiglia perfectly blends his comic persona with the needs of a feature film by personally narrating key portions of “Sleepwalk With Me,” which is based on his own life. One of his best quips is, “I know! I’m in the future also!”

MALCOLM IN THE MIDDLE

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Young Malcolm, the genius child in a family of nutjobs, constantly sought comfort by talking with his TV fans. It was a way of saying, “Is it just me, or are these people crazy?”

JFK

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This example is brief, but powerful. It comes at the end of the film, as Kevin Costner’s prosecutor character tries to make a jury believe there was a hidden conspiracy at work in the Kennedy assassination. With one final move of the camera, the audience suddenly becomes Costner’s jury.

THE TWILIGHT ZONE

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Perhaps this isn’t appropriate, since I’m not including other TV hosts on the List. Oh, hell. I simply have to mention the great Rod Serling. He wasn’t just a host – he was our guide, giving us fair warning about the weird stuff heading our way.

ALFIE

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For me, there’s never been a better fourth wall breakdown than Michael Caine in “Alfie.” With his cold stare and heavy eyelids, Caine is a predator in search of sexual conquest. His confessions to the camera show us his cruelty, his self-delusions and his failure as a human being. It’s brilliant.

Of course, this is a mere sampling of great examples. You also have “Airplane,” “Animal House” and so many others. What are your favorites?

Bad Date Scenes

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Valentine’s Day is drawing near, and that means an awful lot of people are feeling the pressure to put together a magical, romantic date night that will fan the flames of love. Or at least get them to second base. But not to worry. No matter what happens, it’s not likely to be anywhere near as painful as these classic movie scenes of dates gone awry.

HANNAH AND HER SISTERS (1986)

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Woody Allen and Dianne Wiest have a hilarious train wreck of a first date in “Hannah and Her Sisters,” one of Allen’s best films. She’s interested in punk rock and drugs, while he’s all about jazz piano and The Great American Songbook. He ends the date by telling her: “I had a great evening. It was like the Nuremberg trials.”

THE GRADUATE (1967)

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This one is a tragically bad date – because Dustin Hoffman is intentionally trying to show Katharine Ross a horrible time, at the request of her mother. He ignores her, belittles her and finally takes her to a strip club, forcing her to sit near the stage. The thing is, he really likes her, and that fact makes her slow transition from excitement to humiliation all the more heartbreaking.

BLIND DATE (1987)

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You’d think a blind date with Kim Basinger would be a good thing, right? Well, not when you have an ex-boyfriend stalking you and you discover your demure date becomes a wild woman after a few drinks. Poor Bruce Willis.

BABY MAMA (2008)

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The great Tina Fey nails it in her bad date scene in “Baby Mama.” Here she is at a nice restaurant with a guy, and rather than ease her way into getting to know him better, she jumps right to the heart of the matter. Marriage may or may not happen some day, she says, but “I’m 37. I want a baby NOW.” The guy’s reaction – excusing himself so he can hail a cab – is perfect.

WHEN HARRY MET SALLY (1989)

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Before Harry and Sally (Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan) get together, they try to set each other up with their best friends (Bruno Kirby and Carrie Fisher). Naturally, it doesn’t go as planned. My favorite part is when the only conversation Crystal and Fisher can muster has to do with the fact they both grew up in New Jersey.

AS GOOD AS IT GETS (1997)

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Although Jack Nicholson and Helen Hunt are an incredibly unlikely couple in this film, their attempt at a traditional date is highly entertaining. Despite all odds (and a clothing emergency), things are going pretty well until Jack reveals something that he should have kept to himself. Check, please!

LITTLE CHILDREN (2006)

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Similarly, the first date between Jane Adams and Jackie Earle Haley is doomed in the drama “Little Children.” This one is not for the squeamish. Haley’s character is recently out of prison for exposing himself to a minor, and Adams is a lonely woman looking for a shred of kindness and companionship. It doesn’t go well.

BYE BYE LOVE (1995)

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This one is my favorite. It’s by far the best thing in a truly mediocre movie about divorce and parenting, starring Paul Reiser. About midway through the movie, single dad Randy Quaid finds himself on a date from hell with Janeane Garofalo, who has some … issues. The two are great together, especially Garofalo, as they launch barbs at each other at an Italian restaurant. I’d almost forgotten how good Quaid was before he went nutjob.

But here I am again, monopolizing the conversation. What are YOUR favorite bad date scenes?

13 Unforgettable TV & Movie Teachers

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The new school year has The Jimbo List thinking back to classic film and television teachers of all time. Some of them are inspiring and some of them are vile – just like in real life.

EDWARD JAMES OLMOS IN “STAND AND DELIVER”

Not only does Olmos convey the quiet passion good teachers embody, he also rocks one of the worst comb-overs in cinematic history. Here, he’s introducing students to “cal-culus.”

JOHN HOUSEMAN IN “THE PAPER CHASE”

Born to play this role? I think so. Houseman’s forbidding law professor, Kingsfield, was a career-defining role.

TINA FEY IN “MEAN GIRLS”

Fey, as math teacher Ms. Norbury, is just brilliant. Without detracting from the main characters or plot, she manages to present a teacher who is smart, vulnerable, absurd and compassionate.

MORGAN FREEMAN IN “LEAN ON ME”

His methods were highly debatable, but there’s no getting around the fact that Principal Joe Clark made a lasting impression. Freeman and his bullhorn saw to that.

MICHAEL GAMBON IN THE HARRY POTTER MOVIES

Gambon’s Dumbledore, the head honcho at Hogwarts, was everything we need teachers to be: a mentor, a protector and a champion of our individual potential.

JANE LYNCH IN “GLEE”

She’s conniving, she’s malicious and she’s a wrecking ball of sarcasm. That’s why we can’t get enough of Lynch’s psychotic cheerleading coach, Sue Sylvester.

ROBERT DONAT IN “GOODBYE MR. CHIPS”

This film and performance are about as far removed from today’s styles as possible. Yet the eternal struggle to gain control of a classroom remains relevant.

BEN STEIN IN “FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF”

This is always funny because we all relate to it. For a little bit more teaching energy, we give you …

DEBBIE ALLEN, ET AL, IN “FAME”

As teachers at a performing arts high school in New York City, Allen & Company hammered home the need for discipline, diligence and desire in finding success.

LLOYD HAYNES IN “ROOM 222”

Another TV ensemble, this time from the early 1970s. Haynes was inspiring as a teacher at a Los Angeles high school.

DONALD PLEASENCE IN “THE TWILIGHT ZONE”

The episode here, called “Changing of the Guard,” is admittedly hokey. It’s about an old teacher whose former students “come back” to show him the difference he made in their lives.

RICHARD DREYFUSS IN “MR. HOLLAND’S OPUS”

I’ve got to think this is every teacher’s dream: To end a lengthy career with a send-off that brings together students of several eras in appreciation. Dreyfuss plays a feisty music teacher who grudgingly takes a teaching gig in the 1960s and eventually makes it his life’s work.

SIDNEY POITIER IN “TO SIR WITH LOVE”

Mr. P. did smoldering intensity better than anyone. Perfect casting.

Class dismissed. But feel free to add to the List!