It’s official: over the past few years, nostalgia for the ’90s has made its way from the streets of Williamsburg to TV-network boardrooms. Last week, we previewed five minutes of MTV’s Beavis and Butt-Head reboot, and its cult-favorite indie music show 120 Minutes returns Saturday night on MTV2. Meanwhile, TeenNick’s widely publicized, late-night The ’90s Are All That programming block debuted Monday to big ratings. From Seinfeld to Roseanne, there was no shortage of great TV in that decade. But, with the rise of great original programming on cable and premium networks, along with smart comedies like the ones that fill NBC’s Thursday-night line-up, we’re pretty sure that television is actually better now. Don’t believe us? With the help of our Flavorpill colleagues, we’ve put together a list of ten shows that were popular in the ’90s but were actually terrible. Add your suggestions in the comments.
Mad About You
Seinfeld was supposed to be the “show about nothing,” but somehow its Must See TV neighbor managed to be about even less. The show followed the lives of ultimate ’90s yuppie couple Jamie and Paul Buchman, played by Helen Hunt (aka the poor man’s Jodie Foster) and Paul Reiser (aka the man who coined the term “couplehood”). As far as we can remember, they didn’t do much besides hang out in bed, roll their eyes over their crazy family members, and look on helplessly as their stupid dog, Murray, constantly ran into the wall. Mad About You ran for seven seasons, with Hunt and Reiser each making $1 million per episode by the final season.
We can get on board with the revival of many classic Nickelodeon shows. Clarissa Explains It All? Groundbreaking. Salute Your Shorts? Hilarious. The Adventures of Pete & Pete? Visionary. But Hey Dude was one of those shows where everyone is a stereotype (bad-boy Ted, rich-girl Brad, sensitive Native American Danny) and all the drama arises from the kids trying to have fun while avoiding the half-hearted wrath of dude ranch proprietor Mr. Ernst. Considering that the cast and crew cranked out five seasons between 1989 and 1991, it’s not surprising the quality wasn’t so hot. But that hasn’t prevented nostalgia for the show — the first season just came out on DVD.
We knew Home Improvement was terrible while it was airing, but we kept watching it anyway. Why? Three letters: JTT. By dangling a tween dreamboat in front of impressionable elementary-school girls, ABC managed to distract us from the fact that the entire show amounted to little more than one of those “Men are like this, women are like that jokes” that don’t flatter either gender. Still, Home Improvement was wildly popular during its run, landing in the top ten for the first six of its eight seasons and attracting nearly 20 million viewers a week at its height.
Created by some of the folks who brought us Cheers, Wings was another ensemble comedy about the lives and loves of adult characters. Unfortunately, it only ended up proving that watching a TV show about an airport is even more boring than actually have to navigate one in real life. Somehow, the NBC series ran for eight seasons.
As one of our co-workers noted, Dave’s World, which ran for four seasons between 1993 and 1997, was basically Everybody Loves Raymond version 1.0. Based on Dave Barry’s insufferably folksy, never funny syndicated humor column for the Miami Herald, it starred Harry Anderson as a newspaper writer and family man. His skirt-chasing editor, Kenny, is supposed to serve as comic relief — but the only thing that continues to make us laugh about the show are the terrible hairstyles. Weren’t mullets over by the mid-’90s?
It may have been about a tough-minded football coach, but this ABC series was no Friday Night Lights. The big joke for much of the show’s run was that titular Coach Hayden Fox (Craig T. Nelson) couldn’t deal with the burgeoning romantic life of his daughter, Kelly, a student at the college where he worked. Another gag that got old quickly but persisted throughout Coach‘s nine-season run: the endless goofiness of Bill Fagerbakke’s Dauber Dybinski. Incredibly, Nelson won an Emmy in 1992 for his performance. These days, he’s keeping busy by appearing on Glenn Beck’s Fox News show to rant about how he isn’t paying taxes anymore. Watch a clip of the show in its heyday here.
Dharma and Greg
The limitations of this show were pretty clear from the get-go: Dharma (Jenna Elfman) and Greg (Thomas Gibson) get married on their first date. Of course, it turns out that they’re polar opposites — she’s a ditzy hippie with no inhibitions, while he’s an uptight lawyer with unlimited potential for embarrassment. For five seasons, four of which saw the show attracting over 12 million viewers (to put that in perspective, 30 Rock is lucky to get half that), the plot was pretty much one variation on that theme after another. Meanwhile, Elfman racked up three Emmy nominations for her performance as TV’s ultimate Manic Pixie Dream Wife.
This is not about Clueless the movie, which was wonderful. It’s about the film’s writer/director, Amy Heckerling, having the nerve to make a TV spin-off that didn’t star Alicia Silverstone. Poor Rachel Blanchard tried her best, but there was never a chance that she’d match up to the girl who made Cher Horowitz a household name. It’s true that the supporting cast was largely the same as it had been in the film, but they were also so old by the time the TV series went off the air that they were pretty unbelievable as high schoolers — Stacey Dash, who played Dionne, was 33.
Kenan and Kel
Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell were the breakout stars of All That, Nickelodeon’s tween version of Saturday Night Live. They were great improv comics (Thompson has since gone on to SNL), especially for such young actors, creating memorable characters like the Good Burger guys (who got their own disappointing movie in 1997) and Thompson’s Ishboo. Unfortunately, their talents weren’t best suited to the sitcom format; Kenan and Kel cast the guys as scheming high-school friends, eliminating the possibility for wackier characters and the kinds of over-the-top humor they both excelled at. Still, it ran for four seasons from 1996-2000, lived on in re-runs for years, and is now back on TeenNick as part of The ’90s Are All That.
We’ve said it before, and we’ll say it again: Friends was not a good show — or, at the very least, it had no business running for ten seasons. It all seemed harmless and zeitgeisty enough at first. Who didn’t want to root for six young adults seeking love and success in the big city? Who didn’t feel like it captured something about the way our best buddies become our surrogate family in those fun, crazy, often frustrating few years after college? But then it went on for too long, exhausting its one-note characters with repetitive plot lines. Case in point: All but one season ended with a Ross-and-Rachel cliffhanger. Regardless, Friends was among the top five shows on TV for all but its first season, and the actors were each taking in a million dollars an episode by the time it wrapped. (If you still aren’t convinced that Friends nostalgia is a bad idea, it may be time to revisit “Smelly Cat.”)