Photo: Warner Bros. Animation
The ’90s reminds us of an exciting time before video streaming services dominated our entertainment-hungry attention spans. It saw the rise of reality TV, the birth of DVDs, and some memorable shows that had us tuning in at a specific time because DVRs didn’t exist and you lacked an extra VHS tape to record stuff.
Our viewing habits might have changed since the decade, but the ’90s produced some of the best programming in recent history. Shows like Seinfeld set the gold standard for sitcoms and gave us something — while ironically being a show about nothing — to look forward to every week. Other formats like In Living Color exposed us to comedians who could execute sketch comedy, revealing talent beyond the confines of Saturday Night Live. Then there were the cartoons. The Simpsons started in the ’80s but boomed in the ’90s and paved the way for others like South Park and Family Guy.
There were so many shows in the decade, we tend to forget some that brought us joy and hypnotized us for anywhere between 30 to 60 minutes at a time. Luckily we at Mandatory binged a ton of ’90s footage and rediscovered some of TV’s hidden gems the ’90s brought us. Get ready for nostalgia overload, y’all.
Are You Afraid Of The Dark?
Do you remember Are You Afraid Of The Dark? and “The Midnight Society” going into the woods for their secret meetings? Did the group’s stories scare the crap out of you? If they did, then this show was doing its job with its spooky tales. The show ran for seven seasons from 1992 to 1996, and again in 1999 to 2000. What you might not have know, however, is one episode featured a very young Ryan Gosling, as you can see above.
Gargoyles stands as a severely underrated cartoon that ran from 1994 to 1997. In it, creatures from medieval Scotland are cursed to remain in stone for centuries, only to awaken in mid-1990s New York City. Naturally, they’re really confused and wonder how the castle they protected ended up sitting on top of a large structure made of glass and steel. But like anyone who moves to New York, they assimilate and take pride in the city, becoming nighttime protectors like Batman but with real wings. If you can get past the awkward tension of a human-gargoyle relationship between Goliath and Elisa Maza, you can enjoy vigilante monsters who dress up for Halloween, fooling everyone into thinking they’re wearing costumes over costumes.
If you’re a gamer, then you should know your history beyond which games were on which systems. You should also know there were corny TV shows centered around video games and one of them was so bad it was good. Video Power was around for only two seasons in the early ’90s, going from one format in Season 1 to something completely different in Season 2. The show was hosted by “Johnny Arcade,” a guy who was a wiz at video games while at the same time the epitome the decade’s bright fashion trends. He gave tips on various games, and other segments consisted of cartoons with him leading “The Power Team.” But in Season 2, the whole concept changed to a game show and kids would compete with each other to win games by velcroing them to their vests. Truly a wonderful dumpster fire that I wish was on Netflix now so I could binge to my heart’s content.
While they tried to package Animaniacs as something for kids, all the adult innuendoes certify this as an undercover grown-up show. The series had a five-season run from 1993 to 1998 and centered on the Warner Brothers (and the Warner Sister), Yakko, Wakko and Dot, who lived in the water tower on the Warner Bros. lot in Burbank, Calif. There was a cast of other characters, too, including Pinky & The Brain, The Goodfeathers, and a bunch of animated misfits who dropped adult-themed jokes on a regular basis. You might not have caught them, but I did, and adult me would easily watch this again. Looks like I’ll get my chance since Hulu picked it up.
Who says sitcoms can’t have quality gimmicks? Dinosaurs did just that and ran from 1991 to 1994 for a total of four seasons. It was just like any other sitcom with a dad, mom, kids and a mother-in-law who hated her daughter’s husband. The only difference is they were dinosaurs and the show was set in a time period over 60,000,000 years ago. They dealt with much of what you would imagine a family would go through in a modern time — dad worked in construction, the mom raised her kids at home, and the baby never called the father “dad.” Instead, he was “not the momma.” Before it was given a green light, there was a lot of doubt about the show because of the dino gimmick. Luckily, because The Simpsons did so well, they gave it a chance. Also, the show was conceived by Jim Henson, the same man who brought us The Muppets.
Parker Lewis Can’t Lose
The early ’90s began as the cool-high-school-kid genre of the ’80s was coming to an end. This is where Parker Lewis Can’t Lose came into play. The show had a three-season run from 1990 to 1993 and focused on a teenager named Parker who did all he could to keep his social status at “cool.” This show represents a lame attempt to ride the coattails of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, a highly recommended film from the ’80s, by focusing on a witty kid with loud shirts who always schemes his way to come out on top of the social ladder. Oddly enough, as FOX pushed this borrowed plot for three years, NBC tried to compete with it by making a made-for-TV version of Ferris Bueller. That show, however, got canceled after just one season. One thing I can say about Parker Lewis is it gave us younger versions of Milla Jovovich and Brittnay Murphy doing their things before they became household names.
Talk about an underrated show. The Critic was comedy gold that got the shaft quicker than it deserved. The main character was Jay Sherman (voiced by Jon Lovitz), a New York film critic whose critiques were full of sarcasm that hit at the perfect spots. If the movie stinks, that’s exactly what he said about it in his review: “It stinks.” The show’s characters all had their quirks and the comedy was well executed. How this show’s ratings dipped and why it was canceled are beyond me because it was a well-done piece of prime-time animation that should have at least rivaled Family Guy. At least ol’ Jay got a crossover episode on The Simpsons out of it.
King of the Hill
You will not find a better way to market propane and propane accessories than through King Of The Hill. Hank Hill, an assistant manager at a propane store in Texas, is the main character in a show that started in 1997 and had a remarkable run for 13 years. While The Simpsons and Family Guy get all the acclaim as FOX’s best animated shows, King Of The Hill deserves to be in the conversation. Its popularity kept it going for a good long time and even has the show’s creator’s talking about a potential revival. Better they revive this than the other animated hit they created, Beavis and Butthead.
Batman: The Animated Series
OK, Batman isn’t exactly a hidden gem. He’s Batman, after all. But Batman: The Animated Series was a quality extension of Tim Burton’s films about the Caped Crusader. It signaled the beginning of what was a massive and successful effort to have Batman thrive on television, and the success continued with the character stemming out to a TV movie with Superman and a regular spot in the highly acclaimed Justice League series. It also paved the way for more versions of televised Batman, including Batman Beyond. A particularly cool aspect of Batman: TAS is the Joker. It took me years to realize that the voice actor wasn’t just some guy who was lucky enough to be the Clown Prince of Crime. When I found Mark Hamill, otherwise known as “Luke Skywalker” of Star Wars, was the man behind the clown, I flipped out and had a nerdgasm bigger than can be measured on any scale. Darth Vader is the Joker’s father. No wonder he’s evil.
This show is one of those that doesn’t get nearly enough love among sketch comedies. You know about Saturday Night Live, In Living Color and Mad TV, all of which have their places in the ’90s as titans in the genre. But Culture Clash is the one that celebrated Hispanic culture in a way that could be appreciated by every background. While the bits and characters were all solid, this show excelled in explaining Spanish so that everyone understood. Their “Spanish Word of the Day” segment was a hilarious way of defining Spanish words, both proper and slang, and they even enlisted Latin celebrities to explain the definitions. There’s almost nothing like Cypress Hill sitting on a stage and eloquently explaining to an audience the meaning behind the word “Cholo.” While I might have been a little too young to watch this as a kid, my Mexican mother ensured we’d all sit down in front of the TV as a family so we can soak up this epic show.