90's sitcoms. Who doesn't feel the old twang of nostalgia for them? You know the stunts and cliches of a good 90's sitcom when you see one: The plotlines about simple, stupid misunderstandings. Flashback episodes and dream sequences. Bottle episodes. Baby delivery storylines. Clip shows. Wacky weddings, wacky neighbors, wacky parents. Yeah, sitcom-land was a lot different back in the 90's, but there were the good and bad ones all the same.
Enough about the decade's great cliches, though. You're here because this is a list, after all, and everybody loves a good list. You have fun reading them, and let's be honest, they're just a fucking joy to write when I want to download for a day or two. Here are the best sitcoms of the 90's.
I don't care that it was a spinoff starring a character who was basically the sideshow freak from Cheers; Frasier was also an extremely scarce animal. Sitcom land usually give us adults as well-off (or at least established) family men. If not that, then they're younger people who act juvenile. Or maybe representations of the old guard that time forgot.
Frasier was a sitcom starring real, modern adults. It revolved around a pair of wealthy, pompous snobs who made their way through the world clashing with everyone around them. Although miscommunication plots were common devices, Frasier managed to get the most of them through intelligent wordplay and an emphasis on more highbrow culture. It got its laughs mocking clashes of opinions and stereotypes and disposed largely of the typical Lesson format. Wry, farcical, and boiling over with irony and intelligence, Frasier always opted to take the high road.
Okay, it really says something that this acclaimed-but-barely-watched TV show came out brilliant despite the presence of Andy Dick. Dave Foley - fresh off The Kids in the Hall - starred as a somewhat naive, straight-arrow radio station manager who never quite found control over the eclectic band of goofballs in his employ.
NewsRadio made full use of a perfect ensemble cast which included Stephen Root, Phil Hartman, and Maura Tierney. The stories really MOVED, and the writing involved a lot a whip-smart quotable combined with physical and sight gags, satire on historical events and news stories, and culture references. Really, more than anything, NewsRadio was great at skewering the way the news media seems to operate these days, so it just gets funnier down the line. Unfortunately, two things did this should-be classic in early: The first is that no one watched it. The second was the tragic death of Phil Hartman, who played the egocentric and contentious news anchor Bill McNeal. They tried replacing him with a new character played by Jon Lovitz. I thought Lovitz did a very good job on the show, but that seems to be the minority opinion.
If someone were to take our accepted social norms to the furthest possible extreme, how would everyone else react? 3rd Rock from the Sun sought to answer this question by presenting the Solomon family, who in actuality were a group of aliens sent to Earth in order to research these weird creatures called "humans."
While 3rd Rock made its whole premise on pushing ordinary ideas to their very limits, it was the cast - especially the over-the-top delivery of John Lithgow as the zany High Commander - which really made this show shine. If they hadn't have been there to really make 3rd Rock hum, it would have just come off as a pointless Mork and Mindy wannabe. The zeal with which they dove into everything just gave their first experiences with Earth and the unexpected consequences of them a hilarious zing.
Take any sitcom from anywhere and tack it to a general premise: 3rd Rock up there: Aliens learn about humans. ALF: Alien moppet learns about humans. Mork and Mindy: Alien visits Earth and…. You know what, fuck it. You damn well get what I'm saying. If you don't, you're probably having this list read to you by someone smarter than you'll ever be.
Now try that with Seinfeld. Let's see…. Four friends in New York City…. Trying to make ends meet? Nah, they seem to be doing that just fine…. Finding romance? Doesn't work either. You can't do it, can you? That's why Seinfeld is the show about nothing. It's just four people without any real grand designs, to whom things just keep happening. The catch, though, was that it was very, very funny about doing nothing. Its regular cast was hilarious and its recurring characters were even more so. Seinfeld worked because the characters were funny, and the plots were always built around what would THEY do. It's impossible to describe just how revolutionary and influential Seinfeld was, and how memetic its cadre of catch phrases became. The only reason it isn't ranked higher is because it's possibly the most grossly dated show on this list.
Yes, this one is a bit of a cheat since The Simpsons hasn't quit. Mostly that's because Matt Groening just doesn't know when to shut the fuck up. Its aired more bad episodes than good ones at this point, and hell, it's gotten so bad that I haven't seen any episode of it at all in years.
The accusation against The Simpsons is the fact that it's coasting along on its first eight to ten seasons now. Well, remember just how extraordinary those years really were? Biting satires on, well, pretty much everything along with a rapid-fire delivery of the laughs made almost every episode an instant classic during The Simpsons's heyday. Less noticed, though, is the way the show managed to evolve in order to keep up with the times. Not the characters, but the SHOW. This was especially noticeable back at the beginning of the online age - The Simpsons was among the first to start weaving the internet into its world. That's actually one of the very, very few things it still has going for it.
Poor teenager from West Philadelphia moves in with his rich aunt and uncle. Fish out of water comedy! How can hilarity fail to ensue?
Yes, we all know the premise is based in a half-assed gimmick. Miraculously, though, hilarity DOES ensue. The writing played with the upper class/lower class clash a lot and frequently used breaks of the fourth wall, allusions to other roles played by the actors in the series, dark humor, and deadpan snark. This is another show which should be rated higher; the problem is, when people remember The Fresh Prince, they're usually recalling the last three years of its six-year run, when it was really something special. We often forget the first three years, when it was served by different producers and a contentious cast which made it little more than a funnier-than-average gimmick show.
Let's see…. Mother, father, wacky neighbor (the neighbor must always be wacky - it's the eleventh commandment), three children, suburban setting, cool best friend. Yeah, this is pretty standard family-style sitcom fare.
What Home Improvement had going for it was a saving grace which was exceptionally creative: The father was host of a TV cable DIY show called Tool Time. It was in the Tool Time universe that the main character, Tim Taylor, got to pull out some marvelous over-the-top gadget he had whipped up in his own time only to watch it backfire in his face. His DIY projects frequently extended to his home off the set, and although The Tool Man was a very competent tool man when he did things straight, he frequently chose the more interesting method. Watching the way Tim's latest invention or method worked - or more likely, blew up - was such a big part of Home Improvement that the fluff can be forgiven.
This show was the anti-family sitcom. It was about Al Bundy, the greatest high school football hero in Chicago (four touchdowns in that one game!) and his post-high school life: He more or less got stuck with the annoying girl he was dating in high school because he knocked her up.
Ed O'Neill (who, by the way, was actually signed by the Pittsburgh Steelers in 1969 but cut in training camp, lending a bit of authenticity to his washed-up football hero) plays a frustrated loser while Katey Sagal and Christina Applegate shine in their roles as the obnoxious wife and dim daughter. Applegate in particular creates a memorable character in the way she's able to convey a facial expression which makes you wonder if there are any lights in there AT ALL. The family bickers and fights endlessly amongst themselves, and none of them really want to be in their designated family sitcom roles. And yet, for all the insults and degradation, we get the impression that the Bundys really DO love each other, because they're always there for each other when it matters. The canned laughs, cheers, and oohs are supremely annoying, though.
The Drew Carey Show is appealing to those on the Rust Belt. He plays a fictional version of himself, a typical Cleveland man who runs a struggling little brewery out of his garage. Though he would love for his adult nectar to become his full-time job, he's still stuck working by day at a department store where his antagonistic co-worker might as well be a clown.
I'll admit it: I grew into The Drew Carey Show as it crawled into its little cartoon outland. The fun pranks and general non-sequiturs sort of softened the Dilbert scenario blow and allowed the cast to pull some very unique stunts, giving it the air of unexpectedness. Carey's everyman persona carried it, and folks from the Rust Belt can all see an avatar in him more than most other sitcom characters: Good guy, average, always tries to do the right thing, hangs out with friends whom he obviously loves but sometimes can't make heads or tails of.
What did you think of this list?