The ’90s were a great decade for NBC, and my favorite era in the network’s history. It had a nice batch of sitcoms, most of which made up the “Must See TV” Thursday-night lineup (a lineup that was, overall, superior to the current “Comedy Night Done Right” block). The sitcoms were an eclectic mix, but they all had one thing in common: excellent holiday-themed episodes. Thanksgiving and Christmas are always popular in the sitcom world, but Valentine’s Day is the one that provides the best material for a fun half-hour of television. Here are the ten best Valentine’s Day episodes from that decade, perfect for revisiting whether you love or hate the holiday.
Cheers: “Sam Time Next Year” (1991)
Arguably the best sitcom that has ever aired on NBC, Cheers ran for 11 seasons — most of which were practically flawless. Even the mediocre seasons featured classic episodes, such as Season 9’s “Sam Time Next Year.” Sam Malone gears up for his once-a-year Valentine’s Day date but slips on the ice outside of the bar. Even though he throws his back out, Sam is determined to make the date (after all, it’s been a year since he has last seen her). The episode ends on a sweet note, as he learns that growing old isn’t a bad thing.
A Different World: “Love, Hillman-Style” (1991)
A Different World, the college-centric spin-off of The Cosby Show, was wildly popular and ranked within TV’s top five shows for the first few seasons of its run. “Love, Hillman-Style” aired during the fourth season (the year the series first outranked The Cosby Show) and features a classic sitcom trope: When Ron accidentally overbooks himself on Valentine’s Day, he has to juggle three different dates without any of them finding out. As a bonus? Halle Berry, in one of her earliest roles, plays Ron’s favorite date.
Wings: “Looking For Love in All the Wrong Places” (1991)
Although Wings ran for an impressive eight seasons, it’s one of NBC’s most oft-forgotten shows. Wings was created by a trio of Cheers writers (David Angell, Peter Casey, and David Lee) who would later go on to create Frasier (all three take place within the same universe). Yet Wings never achieved the success of either of those series. Still, I revisit Wings every few months because it was a charming program, as evidenced by “Looking For Love in All the Wrong Places.” On again/off again couple and childhood friends Joe and Helen are dating on Valentine’s Day and agree to meet at their “special place” for dinner. From there, Wings follows the classic mix-up formula and sends the two lovers to opposite ends of Nantucket.
Saved by the Bell: “Isn’t It Romantic?” (1992)
I often forget that Saved by the Bell was originally an NBC sitcom because, like many people, I’ve only watched the show in syndication. But it did extremely well during its first run, and even became the highest-rated show aired on Saturday mornings. “Isn’t It Romantic?” is from the fourth and last season. On Valentine’s Day, the friends are just a few months away from graduating high school and reminisce about their past relationships with each other. “Isn’t It Romantic?” is one of the rare clip shows that actually works because it’s a cute way to remind the viewers of all the silly and romantic relationships that blossomed in the halls of Bayside High.
Mad About You: “Love Among The Tiles” (1993)
Mad About You‘s Paul and Jamie are perhaps the most memorable couple to ever grace the NBC Thursday-night lineup (or they’re at least tied with Ross/Rachel and maybe Leslie/Ben), so of course Mad About You would have a wonderful Valentine’s Day episode. In keeping with the theme of the series, which explores the quieter and less flashy side of romance, the Buchmans find themselves trapped in their bathroom on Valentine’s Day. It’s a lovely episode, and it showcases the writers’ skills at crafting realistic dialogue. A word of warning, though: “Love Among The Tiles” might make you jealous of the Buchmans’ unbelievably spacious New York City bathroom.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air: “Stop Will! In The Name Of Love” (1994)
The Fresh Price of Bel-Air is one of the most beloved sitcoms in all of television, and a show that will hopefully remain in syndication until the end of time. “Stop Will! In The Name Of Love” was a Valentine’s Day episode that wasn’t really about Will’s valentine, but instead about the familial relationship between Will and Ashley. Will chaperones Ashley’s date, essentially ruining it (and his own outing) by being overprotective. The family continues to treat Ashley like a child, but she shuts them up by singing “Respect.” Fun fact: “Stop Will!” was co-written by Weeds‘ Jenji Kohan.
Friends: “The One With The Candy Hearts” (1995)
It is possible to write about ’90s NBC sitcoms without mentioning Friends? Friends was a cultural phenomenon and quickly became known for its yearly Thanksgiving episodes, but early in the first season, it had a clever take on Valentine’s Day, too. “The One With The Candy Hearts,” written by Scrubs and Clone High creator Bill Lawrence, is successful because it has fun splitting up the friends: Monica, Phoebe, and Rachel stay home to burn their ex-boyfriends’ possessions while Joey, Chandler, and Ross go on dates with mixed results.
California Dreams: “My Valentine” (1995)
Saved by the Bell might be Peter Engel’s best-known ’90s teen sitcom, but California Dreams was pretty great, too. California Dreams was also about a group of teenagers (with a heavy emphasis on their band), although it had more of an issue-of-the-week format than Saved by the Bell. In “My Valentine,” the show tackles that strange television trend of high schoolers getting married. Valentine’s Day makes Tony panic about how his girlfriend, Sam, has to move back to Hong Kong at the end of the school year. After a public declaration of love — he has his band perform a song for her, of course — he proposes and she immediately accepts. The newly engaged couple has no time to celebrate before their shocked friends tell them that they’re making a mistake. It’s a typical high school day: marriage proposal, dream sequences, breakup, and, finally, rekindling the romance.
Mad About You: “Valentine’s Day” (1999)
Is it any surprise that Mad About You made this list twice? “Valentine’s Day” aired during the last season, when the show was gearing up to end its seven-year run. Paul and Jamie temporarily leave the city and spend a night in a suburban Westchester house that Paul has bought without consulting Jamie. The episode mines laughs out of the Buchmans adjusting to suburban life (there is a laundry room in the house… but there are also the creepy old house noises that keep the Buchmans awake), and by the end, they have to decide whether to keep the house or remain in the city — though it’s obvious this couple could survive anywhere.
Frasier: “Three Valentines” (1999)
This spin-off of Cheers was centered on Dr. Frasier Crane, a character who existed on television for a record-breaking 20 years. “Three Valentines” is a Season 6 episode that consists of three different Valentine’s Day stories: Niles’ disastrous attempt to prepare for a date, Frasier trying to figure out whether his meeting is for business or pleasure, and dateless Martin and Daphne enjoying a dinner together. The slapstick-filled first act is often considered one of David Hyde Pierce’s finest moments on Frasier.