10 ’90s TV Shows Worth a Second Look
In many ways, the ’90s can be seen as a sort of Golden Age of television, thanks in part to a large number of massively popular network hits (‘Seinfeld,’ ‘Friends’), the early rise of the serial drama (‘The X-Files,’ ‘Twin Peaks’), the beginning of modern reality TV (‘The Real World’) and a handful of cult classics that were somewhat overlooked, but have since gotten some respect (‘My So-Called Life’). The series on our list of the 10 ’90s TV Shows Worth a Second Look generally didn’t get the recognition they deserved the first time around. But look around — their influence is everywhere these days.
‘Quantum Leap’ is best remembered for its innovative plot, which focused on the time-traveling adventures of quantum physicist Dr. Sam Beckett (Scott Bakula), who became lost in time while taking part in Project Quantum Leap, a secret government-run experiment. Each episode featured Dr. Sam temporarily taking over another person’s body, giving him a chance to “put right what once went wrong” (or so said the opening narration), and often found him brushing up against historic figures (Buddy Holly, a young Michael Jackson, Marilyn Monroe, Lee Harvey Oswald) with a chance to alter the course of history.
This short-lived Fox drama never quite captured the eyeballs of TV viewers, but its theme song, ‘How Do You Talk to an Angel,’ certainly found its way to ears across America. Performed by a fictional band of struggling, middle-class musicians (also called the Heights) that was the focus of the show, the song reached the top of the Billboard Hot 100 in late 1992, knocking Boyz II Men’s long-reigning ‘End of the Road’ from No. 1 and eventually earning an Emmy nomination. Unfortunately, it was also the end of the road for ‘The Heights': A week after hitting No. 1, the show was canceled, just 12 episodes into its run.
Another great that was doomed to cancellation before finding the audience it so obviously deserved, ‘Eerie, Indiana’ was kind of like ‘The X-Files’ for young adults. The show started with an all-too-familiar plot line — Marshall Teller (Omri Katz) is the new kid in town, having moved from a crime-plagued big city to seemingly homey Eerie, Ind. (population 1,6661) — but twisted it just enough with supernatural subplots in each episode that proved teens could appreciate intelligent TV too. If only they would’ve watched …
‘The Adventures of Pete & Pete’
Kids shows really started to take a turn for the weird in the ’90s — and not just with bizarro sci-fi fare like ‘Eerie, Indiana.’ Nickelodeon’s ‘The Adventures of Pete & Pete’ brought surreal to the world of tween comedy, and in doing so produced a show both critically acclaimed and hipster-approved, thanks both to its creative casting (cameos from Michael Stipe, Iggy Pop, Janeane Garafalo, Steve Buscemi and others) and its cool musical stylings (most notably its theme song and score, provided by Miracle Legion frontman Mark Mulcahy’s side project Polaris).
‘The Ren & Stimpy Show’
Super-weird cartoons are all over TV these days, but back in the ’90s, ‘The Ren & Stimpy Show’ was a true revelation. The program followed an emotionally unstable chihuahua (Ren Hoek) and his best friend, a dimwitted, happy-go-lucky cat (Stimpson J. Cat), as they embarked on a series of misadventures with characters like the psychotic circus midgets, the elite force of Royal Canadian Kilted Yaksmen and, of course, the infamous Powdered Toast Man. Trippy!
‘Strangers With Candy’
Inspired by all those terrible after-school specials kids were forced to sit through in the ’70s and ’80s (and in particular a ‘Scared Straight!’–type public-service film called ‘The Trip Back’ from 1970), ‘Strangers With Candy’ took a look into the fictional life of Geraldine Antonia “Jerri” Blank (played by Amy Sedaris), a self-described “junkie whore” / runaway returning to high school as a freshman at age 46 to do things right the second time around. Unfortunately for Miss Blank, things were even more messed up in school than before, and often times the moral lesson taught at the end of each episode was very much warped.
‘Space Ghost Coast to Coast’
One of Cartoon Network’s first original productions, ‘Space Ghost Coast to Coast’ re-purposed an obscure ’60s Hanna-Barbera intergalactic superhero (the titular Space Ghost) by turning him into a talk-show host who had actual (though heavily edited) conversations with actual celebrities (like Wayne Coyne, Hulk Hogan, Timothy Leary and Beck), chopping the interviews up into awkward bits that satirized talk shows, superheroes and the notion of celebrity in one fell swoop. The show is very much a product of its time, but in an important way ‘Coast to Coast’ lives on: It set the tone for the type of humor still prevalent on the network’s Adult Swim block.
‘The Kids in the Hall’
The name ‘The Kids in the Hall’ referred to both the Canadian sketch comedy show, which aired on HBO and CBS from 1988 to 1995, and the Canadian comedy troupe, whose members starred on the show. Despite the show’s connection to ‘Saturday Night Live’ producer Lorne Michaels, ‘Kids’ had more in common with the British ‘Monty Python’s Flying Circus’ than with ‘SNL,’ thanks in part to its frequent monologues, the absence of celebrity impressions and the common use of men in drag to play female characters. Following the show’s run, a big-screen adaption, ‘Kids in the Hall: Brain Candy,’ found modest success and a cult following.
MTV had a slew of bizarre ’90s cartoons that seemed targeted at the stoner contingent — shows like ‘Liquid Television,’ ‘Cartoon Sushi’ and the legendary ‘Beavis and Butt-Head,’ to name three — but who would’ve thought a graphically violent animated sci-fi series would be popular with the weed-loving crowd? Perhaps it was because ‘Aeon Flux’ got its start on the anime variety show ‘Liquid Television’? Maybe it was because of the show’s hypnotic pacing and avant-garde sensibilities? Either way, ‘Aeon Flux’ and its dystopian future world setting was popular enough to evolve from a six-part miniseries of dialogue-free, minute-long shorts to a 10-episode series of half-hour shows — and eventually be turned into a 90-minute live-action feature that starred Charlize Theron and made for $60 million.
‘In Living Color’
Even if it hadn’t been a launching pad for future stars like Jim Carrey, Jamie Foxx and Jennifer Lopez, ‘In Loving Color’ would still be remembered for its off-color humor (including controversial jokes about thug life, prison sex and date rape) and its stellar musical guests (from Public Enemy and Arrested Development to Eazy-E and Tupac Shakur). That said, the early-’90s Fox sketch comedy was best known for its cast, which surrounded future Hollywood superstar Carrey with a colorfully ethnic cast that was in direct opposition to ‘Saturday Night Live’ and its heavily white brood.