10 classic 90s tv shows to rediscover

A playlist of forgotten favorites to see you into 2017, featuring a teenage Johnny Depp and baby Brandy.

by André-Naquian Wheeler
19 December 2016, 10:10pm

With the future looking as uncertain as it does right now, finding comfort in the past can feel like a form of therapy. And thanks to Netflix and Hulu, it's easier than ever to seamlessly return to "better" times. Times when laugh tracks filled the air, and when there was always a lesson to be learned at the end of a difficult episode.

We know what you're thinking: that you've watched every "blast from the past" possible. But we've dug up 10 oft-forgotten classics to keep you blissfully occupied through the first quarter of Trump's presidency, at the very least. Yes, there's Freaks and Geeks and My So-Called Life, but have you watched Blossom? Or revisited Clarissa Explains It All? And what about Moesha, a visual buffet for the at-home fashion anthropologist starring a teenage Brandy? Check out these under-appreciated shows from decades past to help you forget, briefly, about our crazy now.

Ally McBeal (1997-2002)
This hour-long "dramedy" explored the ups and downs of successful lawyer Ally McBeal — a woman who just could not get her love life together. During its five-year run, the series won two Golden Globes and an Emmy for Outstanding Comedy Series. Yet since its cancellation the show has fallen off the radar. Why? Ally did have an obsession with finding "Mr. Right" that produced many scenes that fail the Bechdel Test. But the show also had one important redeeming quality. Even with all its boy craziness, Ally McBeal was one of the first multi-dimensional representations of being an in-charge career woman — paving the way for shows like Scandal and How to Get Away With Murder

Cousin Skeeter (1998-2001)
How did this show make it to air? Much less run for three successful seasons? Watching Cousin Skeeter as an adult is hilarious. The show continually dances around the elephant in the room, namely that Skeeter is an orange puppet and not a real human. And there are some pretty naughty jokes that you probably missed as a kid. This was also the pinnacle of 90s Nickelodeon. Shaq, MC Lyte, and Michael Jordan all have cameos, and 90s girl group 702 provides the R&B opening theme.

Felicity (1998-2002)
Felicity is the darker, more serious cousin of My So-Called Life. Created by J.J. Abrams (talk about a genre shift!), the hour-long WB drama is set at a fictional NYU-esque Manhattan college, allowing it to tackle heavyweight issues like campus rape, homelessness, and alcoholism. The episodes move at caterpillar pace, especially when compared to today's flashier, more dramatic teen shows. But they also feel satisfyingly fleshed out. By the end of the show, you'll be yearning for the comeback of oversized sweaters and tape recorders.

Clarissa Explains It All (1991-1994)
One of Nickelodeon's first shows, Clarissa headlined the now iconic SNICK lineup. Starring a fetus Melissa Joan Hart, it is the best show to watch when you want pimples and trainer bras to feel like the biggest problems in the world — and not nuclear codes and making rent this month.

21 Jump Street (1987-1991)
21 Jump Street is the perfect 80s show: The soundtrack is full of heavy synths. It's filled with long, overly dramatic fight scenes that are so quintessentially 80s television. And it has a young, starry-eyed Johnny Depp in it. What more do you need?

Moesha (1996-2001)
Starring R&B singer Brandy as a teenager, Moesha is one of only a few Black sitcoms to air on primetime television. It also coincided with the apex of 90s urbanwear. It's delightful to sit back and watch colorful puffer jackets, Timberland boots, and baggy jeans be worn without the slightest trace of irony or self-awareness. At the very least, revisit the show's banging theme song (sung by Brandy, of course).

Party of Five (1994-2000)
This hour-long family drama was heavy on the tears. Out of all the primetime shows on this list, it tackled the darkest, most boundary-pushing issues: abortion, cancer, domestic violence. The basic premise? Five siblings are orphaned when their parents are killed in a car accident by a drunk driver. Despite its powerful acting and emotional storylines, Party of Five was never an out-of-the-park hit. But the low-rating Fox drama was such a critical darling that it won the Golden Globe for Best Drama in 1996, and it's still very much worth checking out today.

Dark Angel (2000-2002)
This short-lived James Cameron "cyberpunk" series, starring a kickass Jessica Alba, is probably the most Y2K show ever made — embodying all the millennial anxieties of the very late 90s. It runs rampant with "technology will take over the world" plotlines, revolving around a group of genetically mutated children who escape from a lab and fight villains in a post-apocalyptic world. All-leather outfits and midriff tops abound.

Blossom (1990-1995)
Blossom was a left-field sitcom, tackling issues that broadcast TV still rarely addresses to this day. Floppy-hat-loving teen protagonist Blossom lived with her divorced father, and her brother was a recovering substance abuse user — two plotlines that, even after Modern Family and Fresh off the Boat, would still be remarkable in a primetime sitcom. The show had a host of special episodes on gun safety, interracial dating, and death. One standout is "Blue Blossom." The plot centers on Blossom's visiting cousin, who becomes angry when she learns that Blossom's brother has married a black woman. What follows is a powerful discussion about racism that is as relevant today as it was back then.

Undeclared (2001-2003)
Just like Freak and Geeks, this Judd Apatow show only lasted one season. But, despite its short run, the college-based comedy has sustained a small, cult following ever since its original air date (which, yes, was in the 2000s, but the costumes are a bad hangover from the late 90s). A young Seth Rogen stars as the protagonist's awkward Canadian roommate.


Text André-Naquian Wheeler
Still from Felicity via YouTube

21 Jump Street
Ally McBeal