So this is it, I’ve made it through to the end of my look back at 90’s culture, I’ve looked the the films and the music that made the decade now I’m turning my attention to the television shows that did the same.
The 80’s and 90’s signaled a boom in both Sky and cable services in the UK and now we had more choice than ever when it came to sitting down in front of TV, but what was actually worth watching? Well there was,
The 90’s were the decade that gave us two juggernaut comedies that laid the foundations for all comedy shows in the future; massive ratings winners – check, massive pay days for their stars – check, phrases that will forever enter the cultural lexicon – check, of course I’m talking about Friends and Seinfeld. Two shows about a group of friends that couldn’t be more different from each other if they tried, yet both were so hugely popular you couldn’t move without bumping into a fan, a piece of merchandise or a puffy shirt. They were also both really fantastic, funny, well written and well acted shows and both ended while they were still wildly popular (something some other shows could take heed from). Today you can find both shows constantly being re-run, keeping old fans happy and finding a whole new generation to appeal to.
It wasn’t just our friends that were keeping us laughing though, family life also raised a chuckle or two with one lady in particular owning the airwaves. Roseanne began in the 1980’s but the show’ popularity peaked in the 90’s, making a household name and superstar of its namesake. It also broke down the barriers of class and sexuality, representing the working class families of America as well as being one of the first prime time shows to screen a same sex kiss and have a character who was out and proud, a feat only topped a few years later by Ellen Degeneres when she came out not only as her autobiographical character on the show but in real life.
By the late 90’s a new breed of comedy was beginning to emerge. HBO had laid successful ground in being the independent voice in a sea of network television in the US market, but it was the launch of Sex and the City, a comedy/drama that was aimed squarely at a female audience that really got people talking. Funny and racey the show raised questions about relationships, love and sex that any other network would have run a mile from.
Best Comedy Shows of the 90’s
Sex and the City
Mad About You
Will & Grace
3rd Rock from the Sun
Step by Step
Caroline in the City
While the 90’s will be remembered from the main network comedies, teen comedy was doing a roaring trade in the background. The granddaddy of them all was Saved by the Bell, the format of which was copied over and over again by NBC with varying success – California Dreams = good, Hang Time/USA High = not so much.
We were also introduced to The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air a little known rapper called Will Smith who would soon become one of the biggest stars in the world. Rumor has it he only signed on as he had a big tax bill to pay, possibly the only time the US Tax Dept. has ever given anything useful back to the public. Then much like his big brother before him, Ben Savage grew up in front of our eyes in Boy Meets World, which was and still is one of my all time favourite shows. It was doofy, funny but heartfelt and somewhat honest in its portrayal of growing up and the fact that many years later it has spawned a successful spin off show, Girl Meets World, proves that it must have got something right in the first place.
The final year of the decade also gave us one of the finest shows to grace our screens, Freaks and Geeks, which not only was a launching pad for stars such as Seth Rogen, James Franco and Jason Segel but was also a truly funny and honest look at being the outsider in High School. While in it’s lead, Lindsey Weir, the voice of a million teenage girls was finally represented.
Best Teen Comedy Shows of the 90’s
Boy Meets World
Saved By The Bell
Freaks and Geeks
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Sabrina The Teenage Witch
Supernatural/Sci-Fi Drama & Comedy
If there was anything to be thankful to the decade for, it was the introduction of Supernatural/Sci-Fi Drama to the small screen. There had always been the likes of Star Trek to entertain the masses, and the popularity of Star Trek: The Next Generation was probably a great help in getting some of these shows developed and produced. From Sam Beckett leaping through time in Quantum Leap to the Crypt Keeper telling scary stories or the guys over at Mystery Science Theater 3000 making fun of it all, there was plenty for every one to enjoy.
Twin Peaks took a look at the darker side of it all. Starting off as a murder mystery, we were all soon to discover that the small Washington town was home to more than just a run of the mill murder. As cult TV shows go you will probably not find any better than this peak into the mind of David Lynch.
The biggest supernatural show of the decade had to be however The X-Files. Following agents Mulder and Scully as they made their way through weird and wonderful cases, the believer and the skeptic had one of the greatest will they/won’t they relationships on television.
Then there was Buffy the Vampire Slayer, a hugely successful show that was a spin-off of a not so successful movie. Vampires, high school drama, monsters, witches, kick-ass ladies, it had it all and then some, a huge hit for the fledgling WB network, it would lay the ground work for future supernatural TV series well into the new millennium.
Best Supernatural/Sci-Fi Drama & Comedy Shows of the 90’s
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
The Outer Limits
The New Adventures of Superman
Tales from the Crypt
Mystery Science Theater 3000
This past week I have written quite a bit about Teen Drama for Den of Geek and you can find that right here.
The 90’s was when Teen Drama was really created as a genre, starting with the glitzy Beverly Hills 90210 and moving into the more realistic with the superb My So-Called Life. By the Mid-90’s it had taken off so much that The WB was created just to cater for the growing market with its flagship show, Dawson’s Creek becoming the poster child for the genre.
Best Teen Drama Shows of the 90’s
Beverly Hills 90210
My So-Called Life
Party of Five
Doogie Howser M.D.
If there was one television network that had its glory days in the 90’s it was sure to have been Nickelodeon. Not only did cater for kids with shows that spoke their language and didn’t condescend, it also made really great programmes that appealed to the wider audience to boot.
They made off the wall comedy shows, scary shows, kid friendly but slightly subversive animation and made the act of sliming major Hollywood stars the norm. Their output was proof that kid’s can be some of the most savvy consumers out there, each show had strong, relatable characters, strong story lines which were well written and well acted. They didn’t skimp on their budgets and left a legacy of work that most working in the industry now would be enviable of. I think it is sad that kids TV today doesn’t take half as many risks as it did back in the 90’s, but thankfully due to the majority of shows getting DVD release, we can at least look back to the glory days with fondness.
Best Nickelodeon Shows of the 90’s
Are You Afraid of the Dark?
The Adventures of Pete & Pete
Clarissa Explain’s It All
The Secret World of Alex Mack
Kenan & Kel
Rocko’s Modern Life
The Ren & Stimpy Show
Best of the Rest
The 90’s was also the decade that gave us the beginning of the ‘harder’ cop dramas like Homicide: Life on the Street, the heart in your mouth medical drama’s like ER, cruder, boundary pushing animation like South Park and the advent of what was to become the reality TV revolution. As we moved into the new decade a show would start that would mark the resurgence of the well written, well acted drama and who would have thought it would have started with a mob boss with physiological issues.
Best of the Rest 90’s Shows
Once and Again
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles
Homicide: Life on the Street
Life Goes On
Beavis and Butthead