Ah, the ‘90s. A decade that is not so old (I mean, what’s two decades at this point, really?), but brimming with nostalgia for how much of a mixed bag it was in terms of pop culture, especially on the small screen. In fact, I would call something of a golden age of television for shows like Seinfeld, Friends, The X-Files, or other programs that defined the era of a nearly endless variety. See for yourself with our nearly endless list of ‘90s TV shows that you can stream right now, starting with what could be the greatest sitcom of all time.
From creators Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, this Emmy-winning NBC series (which ran from 1989 to 1998) follows the increasingly bizarre misadventures of a comedian (Seinfeld), his ex-girlfriend (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), his eccentric next door neighbor (Michael Richards), and his neurotic childhood buddy (Jason Alexander), which often serve as inspiration for his stand-up material. With an expansive universe of supporting characters, a dictionary’s worth of quotable lines, and a groundbreaking sense of brutally honest wit, Seinfeld is much more than nine seasons of nothing.
Also boasting an expansive and ever-evolving cast (including George Clooney and many other future A-list guest stars) is the Emmy-winning ER, which covers the daily grind at Chicago’s County General Hospital and the personal lives of its staff. What keeps the long-running NBC hit which premiered in 1994 from creator Michael Crichton one of the most influential TV medical dramas of all time is its grounded sense of realism that never goes off life support for all 15 seasons.
Batman: The Animated Series (HBO Max)
One of most influential superhero TV shows (and animated programs in general) also boasts what many fans consider to be the finest portrayal of the iconic DC Comics character in any screen adaptation. Kevin Conroy voices the title role of Batman: The Animated Series (later rebranded as The New Batman Adventures in 1997), which also features the iconic performances of Mark Hamill as The Joker and Arleen Sorkin as Harley Quinn in her very first appearance in any medium.
Friends (HBO Max)
Could there be a more celebrated ‘90s comedy than Friends? Honestly, few sitcoms which debuted in the era have gone on to achieve as much lasting relevance in pop culture as co-creators David Crane and Marta Kauffman’s seminal, Emmy-winning NBC hit. The secret would have to be the glowing Friends cast (who recently reunited for an HBO Max special) and the enduring, genuine sense of sweetness and sentimentality brimming in all 235 episodes.
Living Single (Hulu)
Of course, we should also give credit where it is due to another series about six twenty-something New Yorkers struggling to navigate their personal and professional lives which first aired on Fox in 1993 - a year prior to the debut of Friends. While it only lasted five seasons, the snappy writing of creator Yvette Lee Bowser’s hit and the Living Single cast (including a pre-Oscar-nominated Queen Latifah) still made a grand impression on Hollywood.
NYPD Blue (Hulu)
New York was also the setting of one of the darkest, grittiest, and most captivating police procedurals of the decade, which co-creators Steven Bochco and David Milch brought to ABC in 1993. As the gruff, rebellious cop Andy Sipowicz, Dennis Franz led the constantly interchanging NYPD Blue cast for 12 seasons and to four-time Emmy-winning acclaim.
Saved By The Bell (Netflix, Peacock, Hulu)
Mark-Paul Gosselaar would join the cast of NYPD Blue in the later seasons after first rising to fame as Zach Morris, the fourth wall-breaking de facto leader of the Saved by the Bell cast, from 1989 to 1993. The zany misadventures of Bayside High School’s students became a big enough hit to inspire a few spin-offs - most recently on Peacock with most of the original cast coming back to reprise their iconic characters.
Dawson’s Creek (Netflix)
Of course, high school is not always so funny, which the Dawson’s Creek cast would be forced to come to grips with on a weekly basis. Created by Scream writer Kevin Williamson and debuting in 1998 when The CW was still called The WB, this primetime soap opera was one of the most captivating dramas about growing up at the time and launched the careers of James Van Der Beek, Katie Holmes, and Michelle Williams, to name a few.
Beverly Hills, 90210 (Hulu)
If you thought high school was hard, college is no picnic and adulthood is practically impossible as the original Beverly Hills, 90210 cast would be forced to come to grips with on a weekly basis. From Sex and the City creator Darren Starr and debuting on Fox in 1990, this primetime soap opera would launch several careers, with the original premise centering on twin teens who move to California and face many of the challenges of growing up, while also adapting to life in Beverly Hills.
One of the most unsurprisingly successful spin-offs of all time followed Kelsey Grammer reprising his role from the Cheers cast after he relocates to Seattle where he hosts a radio show, while also regularly facing his own relationship issues. I would actually hope that we could see a reunion of the Frasier cast one day, either as a way to relive the sitcom’s greatest memories or as a full-on revival to see what they have been up to since the 2004 finale.
Rugrats (Hulu, Paramount+)
A more fun and imaginative, yet still undeniably honest, take on the trials and tribulations of growing up was Nickelodeon’s Rugrats, which recently became one of the latest ‘90s properties to get a revival on Paramount+ in 2020. The backyard adventures of Tommy, Chucky, Phil, Lil, and Angelica would also inspired three big screen spin-offs - one of which would introduce Chucky’s step-sister Kimi onto the cast.
The Real World (Paramount+)
What could provide a more honest portrayal of America’s youth, however, than a reality show (when that term really meant something) that puts a diverse group of people living together in the spotlight? The groundbreaking docuseries The Real World, which has not quite ended after decades since its 1992 debut, was just what MTV needed to gain recognition as more than TV about music.
Walker, Texas Ranger (Pluto TV)
Justice is best served with a roundhouse kick to the face, as Chuck Norris’s titular, Lone Star State lawman would prove over and over again from 1993 to 2001. Essentially a B-movie of irresistible lunacy extended over 196 episodes, the power of Walker, Texas Ranger could never be replicated, even though The CW seems to have done pretty well with its reboot starring Jared Padalecki.
Ally McBeal (Hulu)
The TV legal drama genre would never be the same after the debut of Ally McBeal, which starred three-time Emmy-nominee Calista Flockhart as the title character who often gets lost in her own wild imagination while practicing at a law firm that also happens to the be the workplace of her ex-boyfriend. Created by David E. Kelly, the hit series is a profound time capsule of the dramatic changes at the end of the 20th Century and beginning of the next.
Touched By An Angel (Paramount+)
Some people, when they are at their lowest, tend look up to the sky for inspiration. However, the rotating guest stars of the long-running CBS drama Touched By An Angel were able to find it right in the backyards with the help of three spiritual entities sent from Heaven to provide whatever assistance necessary.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer (Hulu)
The spiritual entities and strange creatures that “Chosen One” Buffy Summers (Scream Queen Sarah Michelle Gellar) would encounter in Sunnydale from 1997 to 2003 were anything but helpful. In a way, you could argue that the old school fantasy elements of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer series served as an exciting and witty metaphor for the modern teen’s struggles to balance school with some very demanding extracurricular activities.
Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (Netflix)
Because Buffy had a penchant for being extremely dark and disturbing quite often, younger viewers in the 1990s had another fantastic (and deliciously campy) metaphor for the struggles of adolescence to turn to. Originally a Japanese show re-edited with footage of an American cast of teens when not in their colorful uniforms, Mighty Morphin Power Rangers was the start of an ongoing cultural phenomenon which perfectly captures every child’s dreams of saving the universe.
3rd Rock From The Sun (Tubi)
The ‘90s would also prove that the average and mundane can be just as scary, especially when seen through the eyes of extraterrestrials who have taken human form to observe our species. Such is the plot of the unique and thoroughly fun NBC sitcom 3rd Rock from the Sun, which sees John Lithgow at his zaniest and future A-lister Joseph Gordon-Levitt at his most reserved by comparison.
The X-Files (Hulu)
The 3rd Rock from the Sun cast would have been in a lot of trouble if they ever crossed paths with FBI agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson), who constantly found themselves on a journey to find “the truth” behind the strange cases they investigated. In addition to being easily one of the best sci-fi TV shows of its time, The X-Files has practically become synonymous with the genre itself since debuting in 1993.
The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air (HBO Max)
Thanks to roles in Independence Day and Bad Boys, Will Smith would eventually become synonymous with the world “blockbuster.” However, to get there, the rapper-turned-actor proved his chops and his hilarious charisma as the star of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air cast, playing a Philly native who moves in with his aunt, uncle, and cousins in Bel-Air after one little fight got his mom scared.
Everybody Loves Raymond (Peacock)
Little fights of the verbal variety would happen on a regular basis among the stars of the Everybody Love Raymond cast, whether it was between Ray Barone (Ray Ramano) and his wife, his brother, or his parents. We would not have had it any other way because this long-running sitcom likely helped any person who has ever butted heads with their own family realize it could be much worse in the most hilarious fashion.
My So-Called Life (Hulu)
Speaking of, My So-Called Life would provide some very profound examples of how things could be worse either in a cleverly funny or simply unapologetically bleak way, as seen through the eyes of Angela Chase (Claire Danes). Short-lived, but much-loved and groundbreaking for the ways it tackled social issue unlike series before, the ABC drama would earn Danes a Golden Globe and launched future Academy Award winner Jared Leto’s career.
Boy Meets World (Disney+)
While never particularly groundbreaking for the social issues it highlighted, the moral lessons offered in this classic coming-of-age sitcom (especially when coming from William Daniels’ Mr. Feeny) were undeniably valuable. It is always a joy to witness the Boy Meets World cast grow up while rewatching Cory Matthews evolve from a charming, underachieving pre-teen to a neurotic, married man-child, even if the overall narrative does not always add up.
Martin (HBO Max)
Nothing ever really had to make sense on Martin, which aired on Fox from 1992 to 1997. As long as star and co-creator Martin Lawrence kept the laughs coming (either as the titular radio and TV personality Martin Payne or any of his other characters), you were guaranteed a good time.
Twin Peaks (Hulu, Paramount+)
Now if you really want to talk about entertainment in lieu of things not always making much sense, look no further than Twin Peaks - the story of an eccentric FBI agent (Golden Globe winner Kyle MacLachlan) tasked with solving a murder that has shaken a small town in Washington. Co-created by the incomparable David Lynch, this is one bizarre, inventive mystery that will have you hooked until its shocking cliffhanger ending… that you can see “conclude” in the 2017 revival from Showtime.
You know, I was about to say that they don’t make television like they do in the ’90s anymore, until I remembered that many of these shows have been rebooted or revived in recent years. What I will say, however, is that none of these ‘90s shows could ever be done the same way, and thank God for it because the unique feeling you get from rewatching them on streaming is one-of-a-kind.
Jason has been writing since he was able to pick up a washable marker, with which he wrote his debut illustrated children's story, later transitioning to a short-lived comic book series and (very) amateur filmmaking before finally settling on pursuing a career in writing about movies in lieu of making them. Look for his name in just about any article related to Batman.
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