In the '90s, television was a must-see event. There was no DVR or streaming, so unless you bribed a friend or parental unit to record your show on a videotape, you were out of luck. But thanks to the Internet, you can re-watch all your shows, like, right now. Of course, in doing so, you may find that there are some '90s TV shows you look at differently as an adult. You might find yourself fondly reminiscing as you Netflix and chill, but you'll also do some soul searching as you ask yourself, "Was I really that naive to buy that storyline? And what does that say about me?"
Don't let the laugh track throw you off. Do get inspired by the '90s fashion that's having a revival. But even more so, get inspired by the women in these '90s shows who've paved the way for roles like Annalise Keating on How To Get Away With Murder and other complex female characters on TV today. In fact, some of these actors and actresses are still entertaining the masses on screen (or Twitter), and it's always fun to see a celebrated Hollywood icon's humble TV beginnings. Oh, and now that you're an adult, you'll finally get all The Simpsons jokes.
Every girl dreamed of having her first apartment look like Monica Geller's rent-controlled sprawl: decorated to perfection, smack in the middle of the West Village, and always stocked with snacks for friends. Um, yeah. A girl can dream.
Twin Peaks only gets weirder as you age. And more brilliant. But I still can't buy Sherilyn Fenn as Audrey Horne and Lara Flynn Boyle as Donna Hayward as high schoolers. My makeup game still isn't this tight.
After reading an essay by Roseanne Barr in New York, I was stunned Barr's pioneering work as a female television producer. I always knew the show was cool for depicting a real life family who farted, ate real food, and was flat broke. Knowing that Barr fought for—and finally won—creative control of the show that was, after all, based on her act as a stand-up comedian, gave me new appreciation for this fabulous family.
4'Buffy The Vampire Slayer'
The CGI on this show is terribly dated, but Buffy Summers is a badass feminist if I ever saw one. I don't think I picked up on the feminist message as a teen, I was too busy watching Buffy kick some serious ghoulish butt.
If you call people out for being a "double-dipper" or "close-talker" or utter the phrase "yada yada yada" when you want to beat around the bush, then you'd be a welcome addition to the Seinfeld crew now that you're all grown up.
6'Beverly Hills 90210'
Props to Beverly Hills 90210 for handling some substantive issues like eating disorders, drug use, safe sex, divorce, and classism along with teenage love triangles, BMW's, beach parties, and the Peach Pitt. Maybe this criticism comes from watching too much "reality TV," but the tidy-endings of these episodes feel not only dated, but awkward to watch as an adult. And I'm not even talking about the episodes when the show tries to tackle racism. But the guys are still cute AF.
The Simpsons was never intended for kids, but even as a teenager I didn't get all the jokes. Let's just say the writing is the bomb. One of my favorite '90s episodes, "Itchy & Scratchy Land" (1994) is powerful indictment on capitalism consumerism, with some pretty snarky digs at Sony... I mean Disney.
8'Law & Order SVU'
I'm not afraid to say how obsessed I am with Law & Order SVU, even though it's a show about sex crimes against women and children. The '90s episodes tackle BDSM, drug use by models in the fashion world, and on-campus rape. Not only are these topics still relevant, re-watching episodes as an adult is cheaper than law school. As an adult, I'm banking on a Benson-Stabler reunion. Come on, Chris Meloni, do it for the fans.
9'Sex And The City'
Remember when these gals were aspirational? Now that you've been dumped via a Post-It, dated a "We William," and had your back thrown out by jackhammer sex, they're more relatable. But, come on, even before the millennium, there's no way Carrie Bradshaw could have afforded her wardrobe writing just one column a week.
10'Saved By The Bell'
This is a niche show if I ever knew one. The dialogue isn't particularly engaging, the characters don't really break any stereotypes, and I'd say it was more for tweens than teens of the '90s. But I can't not love this show, even as an adult. It's not intended to change the world, just help you zone out, relax and remind you of the perils of too much caffeine.
As a teen, I wrote Dawson's Creek off as a goodie-goodie show and couldn't be bothered. But the show's third season finale was pretty cutting edge. In fact, it was the first primetime show to feature two guys kissing. Recently, I watched that episode, "True Love," and have to give it up to show runners for making history in a sensitive manner.
12'Sabrina The Teenage Witch'
I was, and still am, a huge Melissa Joan Hart fan. How badass was she as Sabrina Spellman? Like Buffy, Sabrina is an independent high school girl with superpowers. Re-watching, I'm impressed at how the show emphasizes things like beauty and fashion as normal teenage girl preoccupations, alongside a matriarchal household run by, well witches. Because feminism celebrates all of those aspects of being a woman.
13'Party Of Five'
This is a tough one. There isn't a lot of mainstream media that tackles people living with grief. And for that fact alone, Party Of Five was unlike any other show on the airwaves until Six Feet Under. But re-watching the series as an adult is a little awkward. Though the show's cast is superb and most went onto have successful careers after Party Of Five, there's something saccharine about the resolution in each episode that makes it ring false, bordering on melodrama. Or, maybe, I've just grown cynical in my old age.
14'The Wonder Years'
I remember when I looked to these guys as my contemporaries. Um, is it just me or does this crew look super young? See above.
Show creator Diane English told USA Today that Murphy Brown was a badass. And she was. "This was a woman living in a man's world as a man lived, breaking through the glass ceiling," English said. Re-watching this show as an adult, I'm kinda freaked out at how many of its themes — the struggles and joy of single motherhood, scary Republicans, and awesome blondes in pantsuits —are relevant. You know Megyn Kelly and Rachel Maddow had to watch back in the day.
16'The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air'
Re-watching this show as an adult, I have to say, there's a lot more going on here than meets the eye. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was the first show to portray an over-the-top wealthy African American family. And, yes, there's a plot wrap-up in each episode that feels contrived, but the way she show handled racism in America from a black perspective remains truly authentic.
Evil government conspiracies involving extraterrestrials and other strange phenomena was creepy back in the '90s. What's creepy about watching reruns of The X-Files is between 9/11, the "War On Terror," and surveillance culture, the premises of the show seems totally plausible today. Let's just say I still believe.