We think it’s safe to say that the ’90s were the golden age of television. Now, some twenty years later, ’90s nostalgia is a major selling point and there’s no denying how bad everyone wants to go back to the days when TRL was in its prime, Clarissa knew it all, and Buffy was the only vampire slayer in town.
Of course, looking back on these TV gems makes us realize just how ahead of their time some of them actually were — especially during a period when television really started to push the envelope. Let’s take a look back!
The Real World Paved the Way for the Future of Reality Television
Some may blame The Real World for the lack of music videos that once made up the majority of MTV back in the day, but there’s no denying its influence — not only on the network but the entire reality TV world.
Each season, the reality docu-series followed seven strangers picked to live in a house and “have their lives changed” (according to the riveting intro). Sound like Big Brother? Not quite. But it may have influenced it. We’re not totally sure if any of the show was scripted as MTV favorite The Hills was rumored to be, but it definitely paved the way for future reality show ideas.
Buffy Was the OG Vampire Slayer
Before the days of Twilight, The Vampire Diaries, and The Originals, Buffy was the original vampire slayer in town, and she was F-I-E-R-C-E. Including powerhouse female characters, Buffy The Vampire Slayer remained a favorite well into the ’00s and still remains a classic favorite today.
Without going into too much gory detail, the show was able to portray horror in a way that was entertaining, intelligent, hilarious, and even deeply moving, becoming an epic pop culture movement. Not to mention it was pretty successful at breaking boundaries in terms of relationships on TV at the time.
My So-Called Life Perfectly Captured the Life of a Teen
What woman on this planet has not related to Angela Chase at some point in their lives? My So-Called Life was unjustly canceled after just one season (one epic season beyond proportions in our opinion) but it still remains a cult classic to this day. We’re still not sure why it never got the ratings or attention it deserved, but boy, did it speak to people.
Many believe no other show has captured the essence of high school life and the teenage experience as well as My So-Called Life did, and justifiably so. Go ahead and watch one episode & tell us you didn’t feel a thing…we dare you! Oh and also, hi Jared Leto.
Murphy Brown Focused On Family Diversity
In the ’90s, who didn’t want Murphy Brown to be president? People lost their minds when Brown got pregnant out of wedlock, and once her ex-husband decided fatherhood just wasn’t for him, she chose to raise the baby herself and do the single mother thing.
In the show, Brown was a TV anchor and investigative journalist for a news syndicate called FYI, and with all that’s been going on with the #MeToo movement, we have no doubt she would have championed it. It was not only ahead of its time for its focus on family diversity, but also the borders it crossed into reality. A revival recently premiered on CBS.
Clarissa Explains It All Felt Like You Were Talking to Your BFF
If you were a kid or pre-teen in the ’90s, you looked to Clarissa Darling for all the answers. In fact, we’re pretty sure Nickelodeon was the place everything kid-friendly was happening. Clarissa Explains It All addressed the audience directly as she made things more personal; like you were interacting with your best friend.
Clarissa described her experiences in comical detail — like boy problems, school stuff, her annoying little brother Ferguson, wearing her first training bra, and teenage rite of passage: zits! The show was way ahead of the curve for its ability to bring watchers up close and personal with teen issues.
Seinfeld Changed TV Comedies Forever
There were many successful and beloved comedies of the ’90s, but Seinfeld is by far one of the most celebrated. The show follows four single friends — comic Jerry Seinfeld, bungling George Costanza, frustrated working gal Elaine Benes, and eccentric neighbor Cosmo Kramer — as they deal with the absurdities of everyday life in New York City. And if you’re still in NYC 20 years later, its just as frustrating, if not more!
The famous “show about nothing,” Seinfeld ultimately changed the way TV comedies were written while heralding the death of the multi-camera sitcom. Not to mention having a powerful female character like Elaine to narrow it all out!
Hey Arnold! Explored Real Issues
As a kid, you may remember Hey Arnold! as just another animated series on Nickelodeon, but as an adult you realize it was much more than that. Addressing much deeper messages than one might expect from a kid’s show, Hey Arnold! depicted the lives of very real, working-class people living within their means in the inner city.
Issues such as race and immigration were explored, and Arnold himself came from a very unique family unit as he lived with his grandparents in a boarding house that they ran. The famous fourth grader with a football-shaped head took on adventures to help solve classmates’ problems or come up with solutions to his own predicaments.
TRL Captured a Changing Social Climate
MTV’s music video countdown show, Total Request Live, or TRL for short, was by far the network’s most influential program to date. The show functioned as a promotional tool used by musicians, actors, and other celebrities to promote their newest works to the show’s target teen demographic, which has now been taken over by social media.
TRL was ahead of its time for its immersion in technology and how we communicated at the time. It was one of the only shows to display real-time comments from viewers at home at the bottom of the screen. It captured a changing social climate way before the social media frenzy even happened.
Powerpuff Girls Had StrongFemale Leads
Who else remembers the frenzy of the Powerpuff Girls era? Everyone had their favorite and we all wore our Powerpuff gear with pride. The animated series not only delighted children and adults alike, but it opened a new narrative about women that we are finally seeing more of today, showing young women that their femininity didn’t make them weak.
The show also fearlessly and proudly portrayed girlhood as something to be proud of. It was one of the first cartoon shows to show young females kicking butt within a universe where pink, sparkles, and cuteness reigned supreme…just don’t mess with them.
Party Of Five Explored Several Mature Themes
Party Of Five brought the notion of different families into the spotlight. After their parents die in a car accident, the five Salinger siblings are forced to live on their own, with oldest son Charlie appointed the guardian of his brothers and sisters. Their new situation means putting aside personal goals to help make ends meet and keep the family together.
While categorized as a series aimed at teenagers and young adults, Party of Five explored several mature themes, including substance and domestic abuse, cancer, and the long-term effects of parental loss to the forefront of evening TV.
Daria Made Her Way Through High School, One Sarcastic Joke at a Time
Everyone’s favorite cartoon cynic, Daria was one of MTV’s hottest animated series dedicated to deep thinkers, awkward teens, and the rebels of the world.
Daria gave a voice to those who felt invisible. When the cheerleaders, jocks, and the ‘in-crowd’ often made headlines, Daria and her best friend Jane got through the hell of high school together, one sarcastic joke at a time. There have even been a few rumors of MTV bringing the beloved sardonic gem back into our world sometime in the near future. We have a feeling it will do very well in this day and age.
Will & Grace Debuted at a Time When Gay Characters Were Barely Represented on TV
Aside from Seinfeld, the ’90s graced us with another favorite TV foursome that we still cannot resist to this day, especially since it has recently been brought back from the dead. Will & Grace dazzled is during its premiere in the late ’90s and continues to delight watchers today.
During its original run Will & Grace was one of the most successful television series with gay principal characters. It continues to push the bar by displaying the dynamic between different walks of life and how each character delivers for one another despite their so-called differences and social pressures.
Blossom Followed the Trials and Tribulations of Being a Teen
Who didn’t fall in love with the character of Blossom Russo back in the day? Not to mention her adorably clueless brother, Joey? Whoa!
Blossom followed the story of a teenage girl living with her single father and two older brothers. Along with her best friend Six, the series followed the cast through the trials and tribulations of being a teen: boys, love, sex, relationships. Similar to the likes of Clarissa Explains It All, Blossom featured a video diary sequence that foreshadowed the YouTube days of putting your life out there for the world to see.
Ally McBeal Was Smart, Funny, and Quirky
While Ally McBeal may have been a rather strange show, it sure foreshadowed the age of what was to come without ever really knowing it. Delivering great comedy and weird quirks, the show went beyond dancing babies and workplace shenanigans as it gave light to rather questionable environments.
Featuring McBeal, a young attorney who joins a prestigious law firm whose staff includes Ally’s ex-boyfriend, the series contains fantasy sequences, flashbacks and voiceovers to reveal what Ally is really thinking…something women have been obsessing over since the show’s premiere in 1997.
Twin Peaks Is a Cult Classic
Twin Peaks has become a ’90s cult classic and for good reason. Long before American Horror Story and Stranger Things were freaking out audiences across America, Twin Peaks was delivering enough creepy drama to last for another 20 years.
The mystery of who killed Laura Palmer has remained the influential benchmark of the allure of this crime drama. With healthy doses of the surreal, Twin Peaks was ahead of its time for its unknowing binge-factor and how you just had to know every detail while discussing the show with fellow fans and friends. Remind you of something?
Freaks and Geeks Captured How Funny and Unfair Teen Life Can Be
Another beloved cult classic, Freaks and Geeks followed gifted high schooler Lindsay Weir, who befriends a gang of slacker "freaks" along with her younger brother Sam, as he and his geek friends navigate high school. Launching the careers of Seth Rogan, James Franco, and Jason Segel, the show created something of a sweet bromance that audiences have grown to love to this day.
Creating a culture where dudes could openly talk about their feelings in comedies without getting crap for it, the show also shined a light on women with the notion that they can be just as funny as their male counterparts.
The Adventures of Pete & Pete
Originally a series of minute-long shorts that aired between programs on Nickelodeon, The Adventures of Pete and Pete featured two brothers, both named Pete but referred to as Big Pete and Little Pete, who take a skewed point of view of the often surreal events going on in their hometown.
The creators of the series wanted a show that was “funny, sad, strange and beautiful,” and they succeeded. Looking back, the cult classic plays a major part in the indie world, especially for the show’s taste in music selections. We’re still not sure why two brothers would have the same exact name, but their demeanor brought hope and smiles to viewers everywhere.