Illustration: Tiffany Adams

Previously on The Best Sitcom Episodes Of The Last 25 Years: Leslie Knope voted for love, Robin Sparkles went to the mall, everybody hated food stamps, and a number of merry mix-ups were avoided and/or exploited for comedic potential. Today: The best of the best, the 10 finest sitcom episodes to air since 1990.

10. Friends, “The One With The Embryos” (1998)

For all but the most enthusiastic Friends fans, it’s hard to remember which episode “The One With The Embryos” is, or what makes it the show’s best. Blame the misleading title, which refers to Phoebe’s efforts to get impregnated with her brother’s baby. (It’s not like that, though Giovanni Ribisi gives a great line reading that makes it sound so.) The real action is back at Monica and Rachel’s apartment—or rather, Monica and Rachel’s soon-to-be former apartment, an outcome they don’t anticipate when they challenge Chandler and Joey to a personal trivia contest with the fate of their living arrangements (and that of two farm birds) hanging in the balance. Monica’s fiercely competitive streak is the engine in some of Friends’ finest moments (“The One With The Ball” also comes to mind), but never more than in “Embryos.” The only thing funnier than the fast-paced trivia questions—“He’s a transponster!”—is Monica’s banshee wail when she realizes they lost. [Joshua Alston]

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9. Party Down, “Steve Guttenberg’s Birthday” (2010)

A classic workplace comedy, Party Down’s Hollywood setting heightens the universal desire to be doing anything but your job, since everyone toiling at Party Down Catering would rather be in showbiz. So when the gang shows up at the mansion of former big star Steve Guttenberg to learn he’s forgotten he booked them, his amiable enthusiasm to have them (and their plus-ones) hang out and party brings everyone’s simmering career desires to a hilarious boil, culminating in a staged reading of an awful “hard sci-fi” screenplay by the crew’s resident tortured writer, Roman (Martin Starr). Guttenberg’s relentless, slightly clueless positivity throughout is thoroughly delightful, and the setup gives everyone a chance to shine, like when Ken Marino’s Ron takes typically disastrous steps to try and fix The Gute’s priceless iceberg water art. When Henry and Casey channel their romantic tension through their parts in Roman’s script, it’s a revelation, with Adam Scott and Lizzy Caplan both revealing why their characters’ Hollywood dreams aren’t so far-fetched after all. Henry wins by a nose, if only because he’s able to lend gravitas to the line, “Now get back in that surgi-tube!” [Dennis Perkins]

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8. 30 Rock, “Rosemary’s Baby” (2007)

There should be too much going on in “Rosemary’s Baby.” At its core, it’s about Liz’s idol Rosemary Howard (Carrie Fisher) crashing the TGS writers’ room and upending Liz’s relationship with network notes, but its B- and C-stories spiral deeper into absurdity as Jack pushes Tracy into therapy and Jenna travels into the depths of 30 Rock to help Kenneth navigate the politics of the pages. And yet the episode stands out because it indulges the series’ love for big comedic swings—specifically Jack’s role-play during therapy, which garnered Alec Baldwin his first Emmy for the show—while nonetheless grounding all of its stories in 30 Rock’s workplace setting. The relationships at its core—Liz as Jack’s “followship” award-winner, Kenneth as Jenna’s errand boy, Jack as Tracy’s mentor—are derived from the behind-the-scenes sketch-comedy premise of the series, but by this point in the series’ run they had taken on specific character dimensions crucial to the series’ growth. For as much as “Rosemary’s Baby” stands as a sharp satire of how network influence shapes the work of television writers, it also stands as an exemplary character piece for 30 Rock’s ensemble, a combination that all sitcoms strive for. [Myles McNutt]

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7. The Office (U.K.), “Training” (2001)

Bleaker than its U.S. successor, the U.K. version of The Office mined massive amounts of comedy from the beige banality of corporate life. Ricky Gervais’ brilliance as Slough paper merchant David Brent set the humorous standard for the self-absorbed, attention-starved persona unaware of how onerous he is to everyone else. The Office hit a major milestone as early as its fourth episode, when Brent hijacks an employee learning session (kicked off by a fantastic faux-’80s training video) from the hapless group leader. Somehow Brent works into the proceedings that he was once in a band, pulls out his guitar (“he went home to get it”), and entertains his employees with anti-classics like “Free Love Freeway.” Although the songs are nothing short of brilliant, the episode’s real hero is Martin Freeman as Tim, the disheartened lackey who eventually gets so exasperated by the frivolity of the training session that he stands up and quits his dead-end job. Inspired, he then asks out his office crush Dawn, who unfortunately has just reconciled with her boyfriend. Brent’s response: “Get the guitar.” Tim’s defiance and similar Office moments showed that even when surrounded by copy machines and folding chairs, we can still strive for greatness (although he did eventually return to the job). [Gwen Ihnat]

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6. NewsRadio, “Complaint Box” (1997)

Here’s how in the zone NewsRadio was in its third season: In “Complaint Box,” the writers take a simple, silly idea—“What if WNYX had a complaint box?”—and spin it into sublime farce, by having the employees harass news director Dave Nelson (Dave Foley) by stuffing the box with fake complaints, with each bogus claim setting off a little offscreen buzzer. It all culminates in one of the most memorable NewsRadio scenes, in which Dave gathers the staff and reads aloud all of their joke cards—along with one real one from Milos, the janitor. (“I try to be good hard worker man, but refrigemator so messy, so so messy.”) And yet the complaint box isn’t even the funniest part of this episode, which also sees station owner Jimmy James (Stephen Root) telecommuting, with his disembodied voice coming out of an adorable little portable speaker. The 1990s were awash in workplace sitcoms, but NewsRadio was one of the few to embrace the inherent absurdity of the entire genre, and was the absolute best at using the limited space of the TV screen, often by stripping elements away and finding the humor in their absence. [Noel Murray]

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5. Arrested Development, “Pier Pressure” (2004)

The complicated network of foreshadowing, callbacks, and inside jokes within Arrested Development was (or is, depending on which way the wind is blowing down at Netflix HQ) so complicated, it’s easy to lose sight of where any individual gag originates from. And that’s a large part of the joy of revisiting “Pier Pressure”: This first-season episode marks the debut of one-armed “scare toy” J. Walter Weatherman as well as the series’ first hit off the “Big Yellow Joint.” But Arrested Development builds half-hour puzzles, too, and “Pier Pressure” is one of the most intricate, a wild farce involving drugs, deceit, and the words that should be on the Bluth family crest: “I need a favor.” By continually shirking responsibility and passing the buck, the members of Orange County’s most despicable-yet-lovable clan create a maelstrom of dubious purchases and even more dubious law-enforcement officers, which is all fun and games until someone loses an arm. And though the final lesson of the episode is “don’t teach lessons,” at least “Pier Pressure” imparts some valuable words about always leaving a note. [Erik Adams]

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4. Community, “Remedial Chaos Theory” (2011)

“Remedial Chaos Theory” is so representative of Community, it makes an equally compelling case for its comic ingenuity and its gimmicky preciousness. A simple trip to the lobby of Troy and Abed’s building to fetch some pizzas turns into a giddy exploration of quantum mechanics, and an opportunity for Community to show off the conceptual derring-do for which it became best known. Chris McKenna’s script turns each member of the Greendale gang into a cog in an elaborate Rube Goldberg device, but it has a strong sense of who the characters are and never allows them to come across like moving parts. The show’s biggest strength is injecting genuine sweetness into high-wire ideas that could easily come across as formalist exercises. “Remedial Chaos Theory” is no exception, with the ragtag clique concluding the darkest timeline is the one in which Greendale never brings them together. [Joshua Alston]

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3. The Office (U.S.), “Dinner Party” (2008)

Cringe comedy, the foundation of The Office, is an easily missed target. If it isn’t calibrated correctly, the mortification overpowers the comedy, as anyone who watched “Scott’s Tots” can attest. “Dinner Party” is perfectly pitched, in part because its snowballing tragedy is actually a blessing in disguise. “Dinner Party” becomes the mockumentary version of Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf?, with Michael (Steve Carell) and Jan (Melora Hardin) trading barbs over her unemployment, his excessive enthusiasm, her funky scented candles, and his tendency to run into glass doors. Their dinner guests watch the relationship collapse in stunned silence, but they know the fuse on this powder keg has been burning for a long time, and there’s some relief in seeing it finally blow. The demise of Michael and Jan was expected. The show turning out its finest half-hour with almost no time spent at Dunder Mifflin was not. [Joshua Alston]

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2. The Simpsons, “Marge Vs. The Monorail” (1993)

Episodes of The Simpsons could populate this entire list—so what makes “Marge Vs. The Monorail” so special? For one thing, there’s Phil Hartman’s portrayal of grinning shyster Lyle Lanley, who dupes the citizens of Springfield into constructing a costly, unnecessary mass-transit system with a toe-tapping song and appeals to the basest of instincts. (“Aw, it’s not for you. It’s more a Shelbyville idea.”) For another, there are the wall-to-wall jokes of Conan O’Brien’s script and Rich Moore’s delirious direction, which play to The Simpsons’ animated nature like few episodes before or after. (The episode begins by ramming a car into a tree—and not just any tree, but a chestnut tree, because comedy is all about specificity—and never takes its foot off the gas.) But more than all that, “Marge Vs. The Monorail” represents The Simpsons at its best because it’s the story of a town, a town representing a raging American id that’s too stupendously stupid to recognize Lanley’s Music Man schtick. When the scheme finally collapses and everything begins returning to normal in Springfield, Marge Simpson’s voice-over assures viewers that she and her peers would never again champion any civic project as reckless as the monorail. The jokes within that voice-over (and more than 22 additional seasons of The Simpsons) contradict Marge, but in a way, she’s right: The Simpsons has yet to repeat the type of top-tier lunacy seen in “Marge Vs. The Monorail.” [Erik Adams]

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1. Seinfeld, “The Chinese Restaurant” (1991)

“The Chinese Restaurant” isn’t a typical Seinfeld installment—for one thing, Michael Richards’ Kramer is nowhere to be seen—but it did set the standard by which all subsequent episodes of the show would be judged. Within the real-time playlet that strands the increasingly desperate Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld), Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and George (Jason Alexander) in a crowded dim sum waiting area, Seinfeld and Larry David’s “show about nothing” suddenly snaps into place. The episode was a notorious headache for NBC executives, who balked at the plotless script and pushed “The Chinese Restaurant” deep into Seinfeld’s season-two broadcast order. Subtle tweaks provided personal stakes for the central trio—George is waiting on an important phone call, Jerry’s anxious to get to a screening of Plan 9 From Outer Space, Elaine is just ravenously hungry—but the audacity of the original concept shines through, elevating mundane annoyances and indignities to theater of the absurd. (Alexander takes the episode to peak Waiting For Godot with an exclamation that sums up both his character and David’s comic outlook: “You know we’re living in a society. We’re supposed to act in a civilized way!”) Debuting at a time when the show was still a struggling fill-in, maintaining the Cheers audience but not yet building one of its own, “The Chinese Restaurant” gave Seinfeld an identity—and helped define the sitcom for the next 25 years. [Erik Adams]

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Elsewhere: The A.V. Club discusses our favorite episodes that didn’t make the big list.