10 Classic Sitcoms That Were Surprisingly Progressive

The sitcom is one of the genres that has survived throughout television history. This is because many sitcoms remain relatable and hilarious even though the times change deeply. Even though many of them don’t stand the test of time, some sitcoms truly deliver, even if they’re fifty years old.

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Shows like The Nanny, Seinfeld, and Will & Grace are as funny today as they were thirty years ago. While there’s no doubt that there are aspects of classic sitcoms that aged poorly, some of these series were incredibly progressive for their time, and paved the way for the sitcoms we have today.

10 The Nanny Challenges Social Norms In Its Own Way

Fran Fine from The Nanny

The Nanny follows Fran Fine as she takes a job as the nanny of three children who just lost her mother in a very wealthy household. The show’s humor comes from the fact Fran doesn’t understand or care about proper social etiquette, which makes her the most compelling and genuine character in the show.

The show is incredibly progressive, one of the best sitcoms from the 90s. It constantly challenges social norms and the status quo. On top of that, the show’s aesthetic is ahead of its time, with Fran always proposing fascinating fashion statements that remain just as attractive to today’s audience.

9 Parks & Recreation Was Slightly Ahead Of Its Time

The main cast of Parks and Recreation

Parks & Recreation centers around the lives of the workers of the governmental department in charge of Parks & Recreation in the small town of Pawnee, Indiana. From very idealistic and optimist workers such as Leslie to more cynical and lazy ones, the show humorously reveals the intricacies of working for the government.

Since the 2010s were a decade that saw many progressive ideas become the new normal, Parks & Recreation was slightly ahead of its time. It was one of the mainstream sitcoms to discuss polyamory relationships, way before terms like this were commonly known.

8 All In The Family Discussed Previously Considered Taboo Subjects In Television

The Bunkers

All in the Family follows a middle-class family living in New York: Archie, the patriarch of the family, his sweet wife, Edith, and their daughter and son-in-law, Gloria and Michael. The show mainly focused on Archie and his bigotry, and it used this character as an excuse to discuss many taboo topics at the time.

The series is known for having one of the most controversial characters on television, Archie Bunker. However, even though Archie, an older man from the ’70s, is very conservative, the show makes fun of his outdated ideas, primarily through Mike’s character.

7 Seinfeld Wasn’t Afraid To Include Many Controversial Topics In The ’90s

Jerry Seinfeld, George Costanza, Elaine Benes, and Cosmo Kramer watching TV in Seinfeld

Although Seinfeld has aged poorly in many areas, especially some controversial jokes, it’s undeniable that it’s also one of the most progressive sitcoms from the ’90s. The series centers around comedian Jerry Seinfeld and his friends Elaine, George, and Kramer.

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First, Seinfeld revolutionized the industry by creating a show about nothing. These characters go through quotidian days and relatable situations, which later created the path for shows like Friends. On top of that, the show includes a main character who is a feminist, Elaine, which leads to many controversial discussions at the time.

Lucy Ricardo Ethel Mertz

I Love Lucy is one of the shows that changed television forever. One of the most famous sitcoms in history, and the most renowned one from the ’50s, the show follows Lucy and Ricky Ricardo as they try to make it in show business, despite Lucy’s lack of musical talent.

Not only did I Love Lucyinclude a Latinx actor in their show to play the Cuban character Ricky Ricardo, but it also changed the industry by creating the three-camera sitcom. Even though the show has many things that wouldn’t fly in 2023, it certainly was progressive in the 1950s.

5 Malcolm In The Middle Had A Very Interesting Sense Of Humor

Malcolm in the Middle late-series cast photo featuring Bryan Cranston, Frankie Muniz, et al.

Malcolm in the Middle followed Malcolm, a boy with a genius-level IQ who lives with his parents and four brothers in a very dysfunctional family dynamic. While it’s a family sitcom, Malcolm in the Middle created innovative characters that remain relatable nowadays.

Instead of the typical family from this time, the characters of this sitcom all have engaging and unpredictable personalities. The show’s humor also went from the absurd to the wholesome in seconds, creating ridiculous and hilarious situations that Community would envy.

4 Will & Grace Has One Of The Best LGBTQ+ Characters In TV In The 2000s

Will And Grace cast together

One of the best sitcoms from the 2000s, Will & Grace, follows Will, a gay character, and his best friend, Grace, as they struggle with their romantic, social, and professional life. Enough said that for the 2000s, a gay character as a lead was pretty innovative.

Will & Grace has a lot of aspects that have aged poorly, particularly Karen Walker’s character, but it opened the way for LGTBQ+ characters in television. For that, the audience is very grateful. On top of that, Will is one of the best gay characters on TV, and it would have been really in this period to make him a caricature.

Community: Joel McHale's Jeff Winger in a huddle with members of the cast.

Community isn’t that old, but it’s already considered a modern classic. It revolves around the lives of the Spanish study group at a community college. For a show that started airing in 2009, Community is very progressive, as it constantly plays with the sitcom genre.

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This sitcom isn’t afraid of mixing comedy with science fiction, action sequences, fantasy, and even including animation in the show. This has earned the show the respect of many viewers, who think Community is a show that was definitely ahead of this time.

2 The Simpsons Opened The Door For Many Adult Animated Shows


One of the shows with the highest number of seasons (and counting), The Simpsons, has been around since the late ’80s. It follows the ups and downs of the Simpsons family, but it also includes many absurd situations mixed with very current political humor.

While shows like The Simpsons are now very common, it was one of the first animated adult shows with this kind of humor before sitcoms like American Dad and Family Guy. Thanks to this show, this sort of sitcom exists, which also led to more current shows like BoJack Horseman and Big Mouth.

1 The Golden Girls Was Hundreds Of Years Ahead Of Its Time

The Golden Girls Hugging

Undoubtedly one of the most hilarious and controversial sitcoms out there, The Golden Girls, revolves around four elderly women living together. However, the series challenges all the expectations that the audience would have about four women around this age in the ’80s.

The Golden Girls not only defied the genre by centering on the lives of older women, but also broached many controversial topics at the time, such as homophobia, alcoholism, and sex. This show was much ahead of its time that’s equally enjoyable today as it was when it first aired.

NEXT: 8 Sitcoms That Aged Poorly

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