Compared to the world of prestige television, which was ushered in by The Sopranos and continues apace with the likes of Better Call Saul and The Crown, the humble sitcom isn’t typically considered high art. And yet for all the laughter they inspire, shows like Cheers and The Office wouldn’t be nearly as beloved if they weren’t occasionally as profound as they are funny. As you look for your next series to binge-watch, here are eight sitcom lines that go beyond laughter and offer something deeper.
We were on a break!
Nearly 20 years since it went off the air, Friends is still inspiring debate among ardent fans as to whether Ross and Rachel were, in fact, on a break. Wherever you fall on that particular topic, there’s no denying the oft-quoted line’s staying power — or that of the show in general. More than 52 million viewers tuned in for the series finale, making it the most-watched episode of the 2000s and the fifth-most-watched finale in television history. And though neither Ross (David Schwimmer) nor Rachel (Jennifer Aniston) spoke that line explicitly in the finale, it did play into the series’ most intriguing loose thread heading into its last hurrah: whether or not the on-again, off-again couple would end up together for good.
You mean to tell us that we have equal rights, but you certainly don’t give us a chance to act like it.
– "I Love Lucy"
Both in front of and behind the camera, I Love Lucy was ahead of its time. Take this line from Ethel, who’s always clever but rarely outspoken on a subject as important as gender equality — not that many women had the luxury of making their voices truly heard in 1953, when the “Equal Rights” episode originally aired. Hijinks naturally ensue in the episode — Lucy (Lucille Ball) and Ethel (Vivian Vance) have to wash dishes to pay for their meal at a restaurant after realizing they don’t have any money on them — but even these shenanigans come from a more serious place than most.
I wish there was a way to know you're in the good old days before you've actually left them.
– "The Office"
The Office: Come for the comedy, stay for the sweetness. For while there are many shows that make us laugh as much as the classic workplace comedy, and some tug at our heartstrings just as often, few sitcoms have ever been able to do both in the span of one episode like The Office. That this particular line comes from the finale and is delivered by Andy Bernard makes it especially significant: Andy (Ed Helms) is nothing if not a goofball, and his nostalgic rumination is one of the last offered by the show. It’s an important reminder to pause and appreciate the good times before they become a memory.
Live every week like it’s Shark Week.
– "30 Rock"
If carpe diem is too antiquated for your tastes and YOLO too unrefined, Tracy Jordan’s take on the “seize the day” ethos could be just right for you. 30 Rock may be more memorable for its zingers (“factories provide three things this country desperately needs: jobs, pride, and material for Bruce Springsteen songs”) than it is for its deeper musings, but Tina Fey’s uproarious sitcom also had a big heart. No one exemplified that quite like Tracy (Tracy Morgan), who was the most over-the-top character while also being one of the most warmhearted in his own way.
In the end, what we regret most are the chances we never took.
As a psychologist, Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) offers pearls of wisdom and bon mots in equal measure on the show that bears his name; while most of these are merely humorous, some should be taken to heart — especially this one, which the good doctor says during his final broadcast on the beloved sitcom’s series finale. It’s better to regret something you did than something you didn’t do, after all. If you try something and it doesn’t work out, you can at least take comfort in the fact that you made an attempt; if you let an opportunity pass you by, you’ll be left wondering “what if”?
One must champion oneself and say, I am ready for this!
– "Schitt’s Creek"
With her unplaceable accent and delusions of grandeur, Moira Rose may just be the funniest character on Schitt’s Creek — no small feat, as the fictional town of the title abounds in oddballs and jokesters. Every once in a while, she’s also the most inspiring. One case in point: this line, delivered to local waitress Twyla, to whom Moira (Catherine O’Hara) becomes a kind of mother figure throughout the series. As it takes her some time to be comfortable encouraging her own children to live their best lives, the fact that she’s able to offer this kind of support to someone else is doubly meaningful.
Schitt’s Creek didn’t find the wide audience it deserved until later in its run, when the Pop TV series began streaming on Netflix, but it was eventually rewarded for its consistent hilarity: In 2020, it became the first comedy in Emmys history to sweep every major category. With heartfelt moments like this one mixed in with the laugh-a-minute comedy, its legacy will likely only grow as time goes on.
Treat yo self.
– "Parks and Recreation"
Lots of sitcom characters have catchphrases, but only a small handful have inspired genuine movements. In addition to being the subject of compilation videos and Etsy stores, “treat yo self” is now a full-blown holiday observed on October 13. Conceived by writer Alan Yang and celebrated by characters Donna Meagle (Retta) and Tom Haverford (Aziz Ansari), it’s as simple — and, in its own way, wonderful — as it sounds. Been eyeing a chic pair of pants from your favorite boutique? Treat yo self. Thinking about getting an ice cream cone? Treat yo self. Best of all, there’s no reason to limit it to one day a year.
How come he don’t want me, man?
– "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air"
Will Smith has never been cooler than he was playing a version of himself as the eponymous Fresh Prince of Bel Air, which is saying a lot of a two-time Oscar nominee who’s starred in everything from Men in Black and Bad Boys to Independence Day and Ali. Beneath that hip exterior, though, even a teenager born and raised in West Philadelphia has lingering doubts about himself. Chief among them is why his father has never played a significant role in his life, an inner conflict that comes to a head in what might be the show’s most emotional moment — especially because it leads to a rare overt display affection from the beloved Uncle Phil, who in all the ways that matter has always been Will’s real father. Like a lot of the best sitcoms, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air proves that family comes in many different forms.
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