The X-Files

Weekend Roundtable: 1990s TV

With ‘Twin Peaks’ back on the air and a ‘Baywatch’ movie in theaters, 1990s TV shows are having a pretty big week. Excluding those two properties, what other television series did you spend the ’90s watching?

Shannon Nutt

As many of my Roundtable buddies already know, ‘Twin Peaks’ was my favorite series from the ’90s, or any other decade for that matter. Therefore, I have to go with a secondary pick, and once again I’m heading off the beaten path for a less-obvious answer and a series that only lasted one season and most have forgotten.

Debuting on the now-defunct UPN Network and starring Bruce Greenwood, ‘Nowhere Man‘ borrows from a number of TV series that proceeded it, most particularly the 1960s British cult classic ‘The Prisoner’. Greenwood stars as Thomas Veil, a photojournalist who comes home one night to discover that his wife (Megan Gallagher) doesn’t recognize him. His dog doesn’t either! In fact, no one in Thomas’s life seems to remember who he is. To make matters worse, a shadow conspiracy group is on his trail after the negatives of a photograph he took of four men being hanged in South America.

Despite lasting only one year, ‘Nowhere Man’ does end with somewhat of a conclusion (although not without a cliffhanger of sorts) that at least allows the audience to leave the series having a better idea of the mystery and who Thomas Veil really is. The show isn’t available on Blu-ray but was released on DVD. It’s highly recommended for anyone who hasn’t seen it – which, given the show’s ratings, is a lot of you!

Brian Hoss

While I’m tempted to again write about ‘Space: Above and Beyond’ – which even with the current glut of dramatic, high-budget TV series, remains without a successor – it was a short series.

For the 1990s, ‘The Simpsons‘ reigned. That’s really when the show was potent, funny, and nearly timeless. The last 15+ years have just been running on fumes. Going back to its heyday, say when Conan O’Brien was a writer and when Phil Hartman was alive, ‘The Simpsons’ was a phenomenon, and those seasons still hold up today.

M. Enois Duarte

My favorite TV show in the ’90s was ‘Seinfeld‘. To this day, it remains the best thing ever produced for television, in my humble opinion. Then again, ‘Game of Thrones’ is coming pretty close to dethroning it. Nevertheless, the show about nothing was brilliantly about everything, the little absurdities and non sequiturs of life that ironically make our existence in this meaningless universe interesting and surprisingly exciting. Best and most fascinating of all is how the characters represent different personalities in modern society responding to all the senselessness. The level-headed Jerry attempts to rationalize or understand the irrational, while the emotional George frustratingly tries to control an uncontrollable, chaotic world. The seemingly composed Elaine desires a balanced life against a disproportioned and unpredictable society, and the eccentric Kramer cruises through existence with shocking success while acting the philosophical doofus and naïve, inconsiderate altruist. It’s a fantastic show that I continue to watch and never see myself tiring of.

Luke Hickman

In the small desert town that I grew up in, Fox wasn’t broadcast. I recall many friends telling me how great ‘The X-Files‘ was, but I didn’t see an episode until it was several seasons in. Thanks to great friends who had my entertainment in mind, we started getting together on a weekly basis to view each new episode. Not only did the social experience suck me in, but the series did too! The best episodes and story arcs came out of the episodes that aired in the ’90s. The early 2000s episodes were just so-so. However, to this day, those old episodes hold up well and still possess the same entertainment value as they did back then.

Adam Tyner (DVDTalk)

I wholly understand that a TV series can’t endure multiple incarnations, brave several different networks, sustain a long-running home video line, and even claw its way into movie theaters with just an audience of one. I still feel as if ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000‘ was tailor-made expressly for me.

Prone to diving through VHS cutout bins and discount Laserdisc racks back in the day in search of whatever box art made me snicker, I share its fascination with schlock cinema. All these years later, it’s had no small influence on my preference for reviewing ridiculous movies over more highbrow fare. I can’t get enough of the show’s all-over-the-place sense of humor, and I always felt strangely proud whenever I’d get an obscure reference in a riff. Its homebrew production values endear it to me even more. I felt a sort of connection to ‘MST3K’ that I really couldn’t with shows boasting glossy photography, lavish special effects, or staffed with crews numbering 100+.

So many of the series I loved when I was younger are better off left as they were (the idea of a ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ revival makes me reflexively cringe), but I’m thrilled that ‘Mystery Science Theater 3000’ has been resurrected this year, doing a longtime favorite proud.

Josh Zyber

I came to ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer‘ a little late. For the first couple seasons, I only knew it as a show with a goofy title, based on a pretty bad movie, airing on a network I never watched, and having something to do with high school kids and vampires. Nothing about this appealed to me on the surface. I only started watching at the insistence of friends who assured me that it was much smarter than it looked. Indeed, they were right.

Admittedly, the first season and a half were uneven. The show’s concept was strong, the cast appealing, and the quippy dialogue pretty clever (though sometimes too clever by half), but a lot of the episode plots were too silly, like creator Joss Whedon struggled with the demands of stretching a simple premise to a weekly television series.

However, the show really kicked into gear in the middle of Season 2, with a major plot twist dropped in the two-parter of episodes ‘Surprise’ and ‘Innocence’. From that point forward, the genius of Whedon’s storytelling truly bloomed. His writing came into focus, and the narrative developed compelling long-form arcs. Most fans will agree that ‘Buffy’ reached its peak in Season 3, episodes airing from the fall of 1998 to summer of 1999. Almost every episode that season is a winner.

‘Buffy’ ran for seven seasons in all, and had its ups and downs. Season 4 took a dip in quality, but the show rebounded in Season 5. The last two years are divisive among fans. Some find them underrated while others can’t stand them. I tend to take them episode-by-episode, but I think Whedon ended things very strongly in the series finale.

In the years since the show went off the air, 20th Century Fox has threatened to reboot the property without any involvement from Joss Whedon. That sounds like a terrible idea to me and I hope it never happens.

From ‘Star Trek: The Next Generation’ to ‘Friends’, ‘Frasier’ or ‘ER’, what were your favorite TV shows of the 1990s?

The staff will take Monday off for the Memorial Day holiday. Have a great long weekend. We’ll see you back here on Tuesday.

23 comments

  1. Csm101

    Buffy is probably my all time favorite series as well, and I came into it toward the middle of season 2. It was so great to catch up afterward. To this day I still haven’t even seen the movie. I need to get on that. Just last summer my daughter asked me what my all time favorite show was and after I told her about it, she was immediately fascinated by the idea of it. I showed her my DVD copies of it, and she binge watched the rest on Netflix. She absolute loved it! I would kill for a properly restored bluray set of Buffy. Although it was very short lived, The Flash was also a big favorite. Married With Children comes in as a top 10. I’m not sure if that one started in the 80’s but I definitely watched it during the 90’s through it’s 90’s run episodes. I’m not sure if I’ve ever seen the first few seasons of MWC.

  2. MILLENIUM with Lance Henriksen. It’s still in my TV rotation.

    I’m watching BUFFY for the first time right now. I’m glad it gets better because season 1 is painful.

  3. I was hoping you’d write about Buffy, Josh!

    Joss oversaw seasons 8, 9, 10, and 11 in comic form, and…well, if you think a Buffy reboot without him would be dreadful, it’d be no small feat to be worse than those. (Or, well, up to the point I dropped the books, anyway. Somewhere in season 9, I think.)

  4. charles contreras

    For me it was Quantum Leap. Time travel is one of my favorite subjects, and it was always interesting to see who the Sam Beckett character was going to leap into at the end of the episode. My favorite episode was when he leaped into a movie stuntman during the mid seventies.

  5. Buffy as well. A friend kept on insisting that I watch, and I was hooked almost instantly. Count me as one who also thinks that Whedon ended the series in such a brilliant manner that in retrospect it made the entire season 7 “must watch” for any fan.

  6. EM

    Yes, Buffy was great…in the ’90s, anyway.

    Some other ’90s favorites:
    Star Trek: The Next Generation
    Star Trek: Deep Space Nine
    Star Trek: Voyager
    Babylon 5
    The Simpsons (for the first few years)
    Futurama (for that first season)
    The Tick (Saturday morning cartoon)
    Dr. Katz Professional Therapist

  7. Elizabeth

    It seems like a weird thing since I would have only been 16 when it started airing, but I absolutely loved Mad About You with Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt as Paul and Jamie Buchmann. Sofia Milos was in one episode where she almost had an affair with Paul. Years later when I saw her on CSI: Miami, I instantly hated her because her character in Mad About You had almost broken up Paul and Jamie.

    I was also a huge fan of Quantum Leap which someone already mentioned. It was a brilliant and touching move to end the series with Sam getting to fix the timeline so that his friend and only companion through all of the leaps, Al, got to be with the woman he loved. That series in general had some brilliant storytelling. And unlike most series, its last season was arguably its strongest.

  8. The 90’s sure saw some great TV. My favorites, Twin Peaks, Seinfeld, and The Simpsons already being mentioned I’d like to throw a bone to Frasier. Cheers was great and all, but Frazier can be, at times, transcendent. Particularly David Hyde Pierce’s work as Niles. Absolutely brilliant.
    Other good stuff: Malcolm In The Middle, Friends, Picket Fences, that SNL run with Carvey, Myers, Hartman, and Farley, Roseanne, and of course, Full House.

  9. photogdave

    The 90210/Po5 combo was a killer!!
    Anyone remember Party of Five Wicked Plot Summaries? Best website ever!

  10. Bolo

    ‘My So-Called Life’ was a short-lived teen drama that I found very relatable at the time. So many depictions of secondary school life that I see from Hollywood feel so absurdly exaggerated. But this one felt more down to earth.

    ‘Beavis & Butt-Head’ also needs a mention. This was a pop culture phenomenon that managed to be a huge hit with the group it was mocking (adolescent males). It spawned a movie that was arguably even better than the tv show. I was surprised a sequel didn’t get cranked out. Mike Judge has gone on to a hit-and-miss career, but “Huh-huh-huh” will be what’s written on his tombstone.

    • photogdave

      The Beavis & Butt-head shorts that were shown with Spike & Mike’s Sick & Twisted Animation Festival were hilarious. “FROG BASEBALL!!!” But I never liked the actual show.
      I hope Judge is remembered for Office Space and that other 90s animation classic, King of the Hill.

  11. Nagara

    Buffy is still my favorite show of all time. I disagree with it coming together at the mid point of season 2 tho. Buffy turned the corner at the end of the first season.
    Prophecy Girl was the first time the show had everything that made it worthwhile. It was funny, poignant, and meaningful all within one episode. From then till the end of the series it was just brilliant.

    Once they ditched the stand alone monster of the week that plagued season 1, it became something more. Even season 4 the black sheep, had one of the best episodes on tv in “hush”.

    Hush, once more with feeling, the body. All very powerful tv. This is the one show where everyone I have introduced them to it they love it………after the first season.

    I still watch the series once every couple of years and it holds up well. Not the effects. But the stories do.

    Long story short, I really love Buffy.

    • Josh Zyber
      Author

      The first half of Season 2 had several turkeys, such as Inca Mummy Girl, Reptile Boy, Bad Eggs, and Ted. The Ted episode is really, really bad.

  12. Scott David

    Batman: TAS was my favorite in the 90’s, though I didn’t like it when they changed the animation style in the fourth season if I remember properly. Superman: TAS was also great. I also loved the first few seasons of the Simpson’s, the X-Files were great until the later seasons when Robert Patrick joined the show. Seinfeld was great except for the series finale, same thing with friends.

  13. Tom Tuttle

    I thought I’d say Sledge Hammer! But when I checked, it turned out to be from the 1980s…
    So it then has to be Get a Life.

    • Tom Tuttle

      The two shows had a couple of things in common.
      The creators hated the laugh tracks that was still a stable at the time and were very surprised to have the show renewed for a second season.

      • Bolo

        I honestly can’t believe laugh tracks are still being used to this day. It felt outdated when I was a kid, like some relic from the 60s.

        • The laugh track is the reason why I just can’t watch ‘The Big Bang Theory’. I can’t stand it. I think the audience is smart enough to know when they need to laugh.

  14. takeiteasy

    “Class of 96” anyone?

    obviously i had many other series that i felt were ‘truly’ classics (several of which have already been mentioned above), i do also recall really enjoying the rather obscure “Class of 96” series for its one season run…

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