This list of the ten best TV shows of the ‘90s proves it was a great decade for television.
- “Seinfeld.” You probably would have been surprised not to see “Seinfeld” at the top of this list, right? This “show about nothing” was the iconic show of the ‘90s. Not only was it arguably the funniest show of all time, it also tapped into the undercurrent of social ennui that permeated the decade.
- “The Simpsons.” Now that the Simpsons have been around for over 20 years, it may not be easy to remember when the show was fresh and consistently funny. “The Simpsons” nailed just about every aspect of comedy, though, from sight gags to character humor to pop culture references both obscure and contemporary. The jokes flew by so fast it was almost impossible to catch them all on the first viewing. All these years later the jokes come a bit slower and don’t hit the mark quite as often, but there is still a special place in our hearts for the yellow, dysfunctional family.
- “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” Speaking of fast-paced jokes, “Mystery Science Theater 3000” (“MST3K” among the faithful) was another show that almost demanded multiple viewings. The central conceit of a guy and two robots stuck in space watching bad movies was perfectly suited for the “Decade of Irony.” These days, those involved with the show can be found doing similar projects: Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic.
- “The X-Files.” The truth is out there. After nine seasons on their air, though, it still wasn’t clear what the truth actually was. The show declined sharply in its last few seasons, especially during David Duchovny’s absence, but until then the exploits of agents Scully and Mulder offered some of the most exciting moments on television.
- “Freaks and Geeks.” Still beloved among the many fans who lament its untimely demise, “Freaks and Geeks” was an uncommonly smart show that followed a group of stoners and nerds in a fictional Michigan high school during the early 80s. It barely qualifies as a ‘90s TV series; it lasted from 1999 through 2000, so it belongs equally to both decades. Still, it deserves recognition for its excellent writing, and for launching the careers of Judd Apatow, Seth Rogan, and James Franco among others.
- “Twin Peaks.” Few network television shows have been stranger than “Twin Peaks.” In fact, it’s safe to say that no network television shows have been stranger than “Twin Peaks.” This series by director David Lynch still managed to find its niche among fans of the bizarre. At least, it did before its premature cancellation and subsequent tepid follow-up movie.
- “Mr. Show.” This genius sketch comedy show starring David Cross and Bob Odenkirk was treated like a red-headed stepchild by HBO, who shuffled it around between various undesirable time slots before finally canceling it. It still managed to last four seasons, though, and they were four seasons of the some of the most inspired sketch comedy since Monty Python.
- “Oz.” The precursor to hard-hitting premium cable dramas such as “The Sopranos” and “The Wire,” “Oz” was the often disturbing story of an experimental maximum security prison that held some of the worst degenerates to ever grace television. It was sort of like a soap opera, but with white supremacists and prison rape.
- “The Critic.” This short-lived animated series hopped from ABC to Fox before being unceremoniously cancelled. Noticing a trend here? The networks don’t seem to know a good thing when they have it. Created by some of the writers responsible for “The Simpsons,” “The Critic” shared that series’ intelligent humor while at the same time adding a bit more absurdism and skewering Hollywood with film trailer parodies.
- “Get a Life.” Yet another series cancelled early on, this show lasted a mere 35 episodes before getting the axe. In it, Chris Elliott played a remarkably dimwitted 30 year-old paperboy named Chris Peterson who was still living with his parents. The plots to the episodes were bizarre and would often lead to Peterson dying (this happened twelve times, actually). It’s no surprise that a show this surreal failed to catch on, but it was one of the best TV shows of the ‘90s.