The ‘90s were a magical time. The clothes were blousy, computers screamed in an eldritch tongue when connecting to the internet, and cell phones could be used as blunt objects. Most importantly, music and television were reaching their zenith. No one tried to make a series based on tweets, and there was no such thing as a blogger. In remembrance of this golden age, here are the 7 most nostalgic ‘90s TV series.
My So-Called Life
Outcasts were lionized in the ‘90s, with the disenfranchised finally being given their day. Many people want to declare Freaks and Geeks as the ‘90s standout in this arena, but it was a pale, wispy imitation of MS-CL. The fashion of My So-Called Life alone transports us to the days of baggy overalls, Kool-Aid hair dyes, and eyeliner, eyeliner everywhere. This show so captured the dismal teen experience that it impacted star Claire Danes off screen. It’s Dazed and Confused with enough ‘90s angst and social discord to infect you with a whole second bout of painful adolescence.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Even after the civil rights boom of the late ‘60s, women in media were still often characterized as damsels to be rescued, ingénues, and sex objects. Buffy showed that there was nothing wrong with being just a girl, all pretty and petite, but that doe-eyed females could also be ass whuppin’ heroines. Combine the strong feminist message with pop culture writing that sizzled, and you have a pair of ‘90s earmarks that television could stand to repeat today. Plus, it was a time when vampires were vampires, but could also be love interests more compelling than Eddie Cullen.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
The government defines a Gen Xer as anyone able to finish the lyrics: “In west Philadelphia, born and raised…” Now that you have that song stuck in your head, it’s time to remember Sir William Smith before he was an action/adventure punchline machine. Back in the halcyon days of yore, he was just a Grammy-award winning punchline machine. More than Mr. Smith going to Bel-Air, though, this show takes us back to a time when discussions of race and class parity could be done in a frolicsome way. Complete with reinforcing to us all that some people can’t dance, either.
From the wellspring of ER came the modern medical drama. It humanized doctors in a way that hadn’t really been done before. Prior, caretakers on the front lines weren’t shown as fallible people, but demigods in white coats. Showing human frailty was a big part of the allure, and epitomized the grunge era, when pain was on display in every medium out there. The darkness of the show was enhanced by realistic medical procedures that would have the squeamish, and the not-so, averting their eyes at least once a week. Plus, everyone was just so purdy.
Ask Amy Sherman-Palladino where she got the inspiration for Stars Hollow, and she’ll probably say her imagination. In reality, it likely came from Cicely, Alaska. Northern Exposure might not have invented the quirky ensemble cast, nor did it quite create the dramedy genre, but it executed both with such grace as to be the bar few shows have managed to clear. Not only was every person some type of eccentric, but they were so grounded that you ached to know more about them. As the tapestry unfolded, each of these zany characters became fully realized until they were beloved as whole people, not just oddballs to fill space.
The ‘90s was the time when we all wondered aloud “why aren’t there ever any music videos on MTV?” Instead, MTV was paving the path for Adult Swim by airing such glorious fare as Beavis and Butt-Head, Aeon Flux, and Celebrity Deathmatch. While any of those shows might make our top eight list, only Daria has the pure nostalgia factor to reside here. Not only was Daria a cerebral exile, she also approached life with the ironic detachment that had become a coping mechanism of ‘90s teens raised by sitcoms. Dry and mocking, if you didn’t have a crush on her, you had one on her more earnest friend Jane.
Mr. Show with Bob and David
Self-awareness was a big theme throughout the ‘90s, and it was through that vector that the dark genius of Mr. Show invaded. Instead of being just another series of predictable sketches, it whipsawed between vignettes, effectively making a show within a show within a show. This Escherian tactic used the same basic formula employed by Sports Night, The Larry Sanders Show, and later 30 Rock, but did so without ever letting reality take hold. It didn’t break the 4th wall. It eroded it until you were entrenched so far through the looking glass that it was impossible to tell where the parody stopped.