There are very few television shows that accurately -- or even adequately -- depict the realities of running a restaurant, a bar, a catering company, even a grocery store. If you were to take It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia as your only example of bar management, you'd be knee-deep in sewage-covered bills that are three months overdue and smoking even more crack cocaine after the bank takes Paddy's and leaves you on welfare, for real this time.
But that doesn't mean we don't love these shows, regardless of how unrealistic their depiction of a pizza parlor or a diner. We love them because they take the more dumbfounding aspects of these jobs and turn them in for laughs, and the best laughs are often had at our own past experiences. We love them because so many of us have suffered the indignities of having to wear a bright pink bowtie to work or begging vendors for extensions during tough times.
Speaking of which...
This show about the often depressing nature of being a low-level catering company employee, serving high-powered people in an industry you're desperate to be a part of someday, was the highlight of Jane Lynch's career. Not Glee. And the only reason it's not higher on this list is the even more depressing fact that it was cancelled after two seasons. Damn you, Adam Scott.
Perhaps the most unrealistic show on this list (leaving aside, of course, the absurdist humor of Sunny), this show's only saving grace was that it gave us Ryan Reynolds. And for that, I'll endure a dozen characters named "Berg" and lines like, "Who poured you a double mocha grumpy this morning?"
Remember this show? No? It launched Ann Jillian's career! Wait, you don't remember Ann Jillian either? No matter. This show was a poor man's Alice anyway, except set in the swanky Bonaventure Hotel in Los Angeles instead of a diner.
This quirky comedy was smarter and funnier than most that TBS delivers, exploring modern workplace inanities -- everything from health insurance to sexual harassment -- and the struggles of keeping a small business afloat amidst pressure from larger competitors. Then again, would you have shopped at Greens & Grains?
It's tough to call Frank's Place a comedy, although it was pitched as such. Watch a few old episodes on YouTube and you'll see that this "comedy" about a man who relocates from New England to New Orleans to run a restaurant he's inherited is, in fact, quite dark at times. Long before Treme was exploring a post-Katrina landscape, Frank's Place was asking similarly tough questions about black culture and the stark differences between North and South.
The charm of this show isn't in the animation, but in the sharply witty dialogue and the terrific voice acting from vets like H. Jon Benjamin (Coach McGuirk from Home Movies) and standup comics like Eugene Mirman. It's also one of the only shows where the "kids" steal the scenes from the "adults" not because they're cute, but because they're dark and often completely creepy -- the perfect juxtaposition against the bumbling, jovial Bob and his cheerful burger place.
Imagine attempting to run a classy bed and breakfast with the completely inept, condescending social climber Basil Fawlty as your husband. It's a miracle that Fawlty Towers didn't descend into a gritty British prison drama after Sybil Fawlty and Manuel killed him, ran away to Bolivia together and were ultimately captured and extradited back to the U.K. to face their crime.
We have Alice to thank for catchphrases like "Kiss my grits!" and "Stow it!", both of which have become cemented in our pop culture subconscious thanks to the massive popularity of a show which somehow made working in a dingy diner outside Phoenix seem even less glamorous than it really is. Now that's reality TV.
The Seinfeld for my generation, Sunny's sublimely bizarre humor has four mostly wretched individuals -- who somehow manage to keep Paddy's afloat despite one-quarter of them being functionally illiterate and none of them ever being there except to drink -- failing spectacularly in everything they attempt to do. Which is for the best, really, as almost all of their plans involve somehow harming other people or selling infants on the black market.
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Because, c'mon. It's Cheers, cheesy laugh track and all.