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Monday, November 28, 2011

WEEKEND REWIND: Top 10 Shows of the 1990s

Well it appears that the 60s and the 90s are my favorite decades since I could come up with a top 10 and 5 close calls for both those decades and couldn't think of 10 worthy shows from the 70s and 80s. Anyway, here we go. If you want to see the 60s list, click here. Also check out the 70s list and 80s list.

Close Calls: Murphy Brown (1988-1998), Newsradio (1995-1999), Just Shoot Me! (1997-2003), NYPD Blue (1993-2004), Evening Shade (1990-1994)

10. Doug (1991-1994, 1996-1999)
I couldn't make a 1990s list without looking back to my childhood with the best Nicktoon of them all. Yes it was for children, but the greatness about cartoons from this era was that they didn't treat children like idiots. They gave us well-developed characters and situations with clever humor. It was better than the other great Nicktoons of the era and it stomps all over today's cartoons.
Episodes you should see: #1 "Doug Bags a Neematoad" (8/18/91), #52 "Doug's Christmas Story" (12/12/93)

9. Home Improvement (1991-1999)
Tim Allen's first ABC sitcom was one of the biggest hits of the 1990s. It was never a huge critical success but it was good. This was a feel-good sitcom from the era that was safe and comfortable. As I've said with other shows in other decades (Who's the Boss?, I Dream of Jeannie, etc), shows don't have to reinvent the wheel or be sharply written to be enjoyable and Home Improvement is the 1990s example of that.
Episodes you should see: #13 "Up Your Alley" (1/7/92), #86 "Twas the Night Before Chaos" (12/13/94), #93 "The Naked Truth" (2/28/95), #106 "Let Them Eat Cake" (10/31/95), #151 "The Kiss and the Kiss Off" (5/20/97)

8. Wings (1990-1997)
Wings was essentially Cheers in an airport. All the elements were there but it never came close to the level of Cheers. It was still a good ensemble comedy done in a style that we don't see anymore. The fun character dynamics in this show elevated what was sometimes cookie-cutter writing. It seems like today's sitcoms are either extremely sharp or extremely terrible. There aren't as many average yet enjoyable sitcoms, like Wings. Thomas Haden Church is a standout on this series as the dim-witted Lowell.
Episodes you should see: #2 "Around the World in 80 Years" (4/26/90), #9 "The Story of Joe" (10/5/90), #37 "Ladies Who Lunch" (11/21/91), #107 "Insanity Claus" (12/13/94), #122 "Here it Is: The Big Wedding" (5/23/95)


7. Seinfeld (1989-1998)
I'll be honest, I think Seinfeld is overrated. Many would have this show as the best of the 1990s if not the best of all time. It's good but I don't think it's that good. Sure, the characters are iconic, it created many pop culture expressions, and the funny observational writing allowed entire episodes to be based on the most minute topic. But to me, it was hit and miss. There were times it was hilariously funny and other times that it fell flat. I don't need my sitcoms to be about too much, but I like them to be about more than nothing. I'm not questioning its iconic status as an all time classic, but it's just not for me all the time.
Episodes you should see: #16 "The Chinese Restaurant" (5/23/91), #30 "The Subway" (1/8/92), #51 "The Contest" (11/18/92), #116 "The Soup Nazi" (11/2/95), #134 "The Invitations" (5/16/96)

6. Roseanne (1988-1997)
Roseanne has a bad rap from classic TV fans for its bizarre final couple of seasons. But you must remember how great it was in its early years. Before it went into the Twilight Zone, it was the most realistic blue collar sitcom in the history of TV. While other TV families were wealthy or at least upper middle class, Roseanne and Dan Connor dealt with problems that Middle America dealt with. The show was refreshingly brash and didn't shy away from serious topics while managing to avoid the "very special episode" problems other sitcoms had in the 80s and 90s. The chemistry between Roseanne and John Goodman in the first several years gave us a portrayal of a very realistic yet very funny marriage. So remember the good times, not the weird fantasy sequences and plot turns of the final seasons.
Episodes you should see: #12 "The Monday Through Friday Show" (1/24/89), #30 "Boo!" (10/31/89), #53 "Becky, Beds, and Boys" (10/23/90), #71 "Scenes from a Barbecue" (5/7/91), #73 "A Bitter Pill to Swallow" (9/17/91)

5. Spin City (1996-2002)
Michael J. Fox's return to TV was even better than his first one with a unique setting - the NYC Mayor's Office. Spin City was never a huge hit but it was a sophisticated sitcom with strong writing and a strong ensemble. Fox's exasperation with a wacky cast of characters delivered some of the best workplace humor since The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Unfortunately the show had an early demise due to Michael J. Fox's departure after four years because of his battle with Parkinsons disease. Though the show soldiered on with Charlie Sheen and Heather Locklear for two more years, it was not the same.
Episodes you should see: #9 "Meet Tommy Dugan" (11/19/96), #31 "The Thirty Year Itch" (11/5/97), #36 "Miracle Near 34th Street" (12/17/97), #75 "Catcher in the Bronx" (9/21/99), #99/100 "Goodbye" (5/24/00)

4. Coach (1989-1997)
Coach was an underrated show of the 1990s. Most people credited its success to its lead-ins (often Home Improvement or Roseanne). That may be true but it was still a great show. Craig T. Nelson was hilarious as the blowhard football coach Hayden Fox and his interactions with everyone - from his understanding girlfriend Christine to his dramatic daughter and son-in-law (Kelly and Stuart) to his oddball assistant Dauber. But the best relationship was between Nelson and Jerry Van Dyke, who finally found a vehicle that gave him success. As the dim-witted Luther, he was a memorably lovable character from the era. Coach is an underrated classic from the 90s.
Episodes you should see: #17 "If a Coach Falls in the Woods" (12/19/89), #25 "Coaches Conference" (2/13/90), #30 "Sunshine on My Shoulder Makes Me Happy - A Show About Bird Ransom" (3/20/90), #88 "My True Love Gave to Me" (12/15/92), #186 "Wings Over Buffalo" (12/20/96)

3. Frasier (1993-2004)
The ultimate high-brow series of the decade if not in sitcom history, the most successful spinoff of all time was a place for sitcom fans who hated the idiocy of the many cookie-cutter sitcoms of the 1990s. Frasier was sophisticated in its writing as it was about snooty psychologist Frasier Crane and his snooty brother Niles. On paper, this sounds like a niche show for the kind of audience that watches niche cable sitcoms these days. But it was a massive hit. Why? Because of the performances. Kelsey Grammar, David Hyde Pierce, John Mahoney, Peri Gilpin, and Jane Leeves made a tight ensemble that made high brow humor accessible for a mass audience. The absolute scene stealer though was Pierce's Niles who made Frasier look like a good old boy.
Episodes you should see: #12 "Miracle on Third or Fourth Street" (12/16/93), #37 "Retirement is Murder" (1/10/95), #133 "The Show Where Woody Shows Up" (2/4/99), #134 "Three Valentines" (2/11/99), #179 "Motor Skills" (1/30/01)

2. Mad About You (1992-1999)
The 1990s were all about sitcoms set in New York City but no show captured the city better than this one, about a young, neurotic married couple. This show had good writing and plot lines, but everything about this show can really be chalked up to Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt who had amazing comedic timing and comedic chemistry. Between Hunt's nervous energy and Reiser's wishy-washy observational humor, it was a match made in TV heaven. Unlike Seinfeld, the show combined observational humor about minute details with real situations that were done with great care, particularly a marriage rift story arc that ended season 4. It could do both exceedingly well.
Episodes you should see: #22 "Happy Anniversary" (5/22/93), #29 "Natural History" (11/4/93), #43 "Disorientation" (4/28/94), #55 "Giblets for Murray" (11/17/94), #95/96/97 "The Finale" (5/5 & 5/19/96)

1. Friends (1994-2004)
The best sitcom of the decade though was Mad About You for singles. Of the many singles sitcoms of the 1990s, none was as good as Friends and no show ever managed an ensemble with six equal leads so well. Each character was so memorable in their own way and it's impossible to imagine the show without any of them. It was never just about Ross and Rachel or Monica and Chandler, it was about all of them and they grew up in front of us going from 20-something yuppies to marriage/parenthood/successful careers. They felt like our friends and when it isn't our day, week, month or even our year, they'll be there for us.
Episodes you should see: #31 "The One Where Ross Finds Out" (11/9/95), #50 "The One Where No One's Ready" (9/26/96), #57 "The One with the Football" (11/21/96), #96/97 "The One with Ross's Wedding" (5/7/98), #111 "The One Where Everybody Finds Out" (2/11/99)

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