Slap bracelets, crimped hair, Ring Pops, Bill Clinton playing the saxophone, Nintendo64, and MTV; the 90s were tumultuous. We didn’t realize just how exceptional the decade was until we were halfway through the aughts, battered and desperately nostalgic. There’s a simple way to escape the horrors of this new decade, binge-watching television from way back when. The 90s were a treasure trove of genre-defining television. We’re highlight 12 of the best 90s TV shows from the decade that you might even be able to watch on lockdown this winter.
The fact Twin Peaks aired during network prime time will never cease to be a source of confusion and amazement, even for its diehard fans. The show’s filled with beloved characters, a haunting musical soundtrack, and all kinds of David Lynch weirdness. It’s not easy to watch, but at least now you have an internet full of explanations about wtf is happening in the show.
Hangin with Mr. Cooper
Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper is one of the most wholesome shows to come out of the entire decade. Mr. Cooper is a high school PE teacher and basketball coach dealing with his romantic feelings for one of his roommates. This 90s TV show is as good today as thirty years ago, even if it inaccurately represented the roommate experience.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Sarah Michelle Gellar, making dry quips and fighting vampires in chunky heels is forever a big mood. It’s hard to define all the ways Buffy transformed prime time television, but the lasting impact on seasonal storytelling is still apparent today. It’s hard to go wrong with supernatural teen drama in terms of binge-ability.
We’re not necessarily recommending going back to Dawson’s Creek overwrought teen drama after 30 years of networks and streaming services fine-tuning the genre. But we have to thank the granddaddy of them all. It’s easy to see the heritage in contemporary favorites like Gossip Girl, Pretty Little Liars, Riverdale, and Gilmore Girls.
Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
The start of a love affair with Will Smith that just won’t stop. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air perfectly balanced comedy with family realness and gave us a theme song that has somehow become part of our DNA. There’s a 30th reunion special coming to HBO at the end of this month, so treat yourself to a few episodes of this 90s TV show before then.
Science fiction doesn’t do big numbers in prime time, so the X-Files staying power is remarkable. The will they/won’t they of Scully and Mulder kept us coming back for nine original seasons and two more post-aughts. The X-Files cleared the path for other excellent network sci-fi shows like Lost, Heroes, and Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.
Moesha wasn’t afraid to tackle some very real issues during its afternoon time slot. Brandy played the starring role of an upper-middle-class teen from the suburbs. It’s got all the best features from 90s family sitcoms, including limited sets and a laugh track. There’s talk of a reboot, so it’s the perfect time to binge the first five seasons.
Freaks and Geeks
Watching this show is basically seeing behind the scenes on how Judd Apatow came to be. It’s baby James Franco, Jason Segel, and Seth Rogen living out your high school flashbacks. Also, peep Becky Ann Baker in a pre-Girls iteration of her mom role. If you’re looking for the best 90s TV shows created by Paul Feig, we reommend watching Freaks and Geeks. Paul Feig is also known for other types of shows such as Parks & Rec, The Office, and Arrested Development.
Sports Night had a few misses during the first season. They filmed in front of a live audience, used a laugh track, and relied too heavily on the infamous walk-and-talk. But there’s something great about seeing the infamous Sorkin voice in its infancy. It has a stellar cast, including Felicity Huffman, Robert Guillaume, and Joshua Malina.
Saying Sister, Sister is Tia, and Tamera Mowry playing themselves doesn’t do the show justice, but it’s accurate. The show is effervescent fun-filled with quintessential 90s hijinks and storylines. When you’re looking for escapism from a purer time, it’s streaming on Netflix. The laugh track can grate on you during a binge, so we recommend watching it as it was originally broadcast in single-episode doses.
Daria showed an entire generation how to live their best angsty lives. Her monotone attitude became synonymous with disillusionment. It was Daria’s quiet desperation for more that kept us coming back season after season. She didn’t expect much from the world, but she still hoped things would turn out better. There is no other 90s TV show that better captured the millennial zeitgeist.
Living Single brought Queen Latifah to television, for which we owe it a deep debt of gratitude. The show followed four Black women living in a brownstone apartment in Brooklyn. Their misadventures featured the two guys, played by John Henton and T.C. Carson, living in the building’s other apartment. Living Single is the original ensemble-comedy-living-in-New-York.
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