Revisiting the golden age of sitcoms—the 1990s—Jenna Guillaume asks: which of the decade’s hit shows still hold up today? And are not, you know, completely offensive? Here are 11.
The ‘90s was the golden age of sitcoms. The nightly viewing habits of the nation were dominated by them—especially the American variety. And while the king of them all, Friends, has enjoyed a resurgence in popularity in recent years thanks to streaming services, there are many other sitcoms that are ripe for the nostalgic picking.
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The danger, of course, with revisiting these old comedies is that the ‘90s were a very different time and the shows are full of jokes that make the modern viewer uncomfortable at best. There’s nothing worse than putting on something you used to love only to find it’s actually quite hurtful and unfunny now.
But there are some sitcoms that seem to have fared better than others. Here are those that are still worth checking out.
You know how it goes. She was working in a bridal shop in Flushing, Queens, til her boyfriend kicked her out in one of those crushing scenes… The Nanny remains as delightful as ever, thanks in large part to Fran Drescher’s incredible comedic timing and the chemistry between her and fellow cast-members—particularly Daniel Davis’ sharp-tongued Niles. While The Nanny does make the occasional un-PC joke, for the most part it’s rather a safe and soothing watch. The first season is the strongest, but the bright colours, wild costumes and one-liners are enough to sustain you through the whole show.
This British sci-fi sitcom actually premiered in the late ‘80s and continues to this day (a new movie-length special, The Promised Land, aired in the UK on April 9 this year), but its peak was definitely in the ‘90s. While series I-III aired in endless reruns on the ABC, series IV-VIII were released throughout the decade. With the humour mostly deriving from the interactions of the core four characters and the ridiculous situations they found themselves in in deep space, it’s aged pretty well and is still as funny as ever.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
This show was built around Will Smith and his charisma, and it’s a good reminder of why he became a star in the first place. His fish-out-of-water schtick is very funny, but what’s really lovely about this show is the way it allows for real, human moments amidst the broad humour. It’s a sitcom that isn’t afraid to have layered characters and heart-wrenching moments.
The Golden Girls
The Golden Girls started in the ‘80s and lasted until 1992, so it just scrapes into the ‘90s category. It’s amazing how well the show has aged. There are very occasional uncomfortable jokes, but far fewer than other sitcoms of the era. The dialogue is smart, the characters are loveable, and the chemistry between the actors is absolutely irresistible. It doesn’t get much better than this.
The show Frasier spun-off from, Cheers, remains an icon, but unfortunately it isn’t on any streaming services in Australia. Frasier, on the other hand, is available to binge in full. While the humour is quite different to Cheers, it’s still a lot of fun. What has helped Frasier last the distance is that the jokes are frequently at the expense of Frasier himself—and frankly, middle-aged white men should be laughed at as much as possible.
If you’ve always been a hardcore Seinfeld fan, you’ll probably never have stopped watching it. But if you’re revisiting it for the first time in awhile—or watching it fresh—you might be surprised to find just how funny it still is. There are certainly some jokes and episodes that are extremely awkward to the modern viewer, but overall the show about nothing is still very much worth your time.
It doesn’t get much more divine than Jennifer Saunders as Edina and Joanna Lumley as Patsy, with Julia Sawalha as the long-suffering Saffron. Absolutely Fabulous still works in large part because Edina and Patsy are meant to be pretty awful and edging towards offensive, so some of the more outrageous things they say are very much within the context of their characters. The humour is at their expense, and generally not them punching down on others.
This glorious parody of current affairs shows has perhaps aged a little too well. There are aspects of its depiction of the media that no longer work, of course, but other parts that highlight how far we haven’t come in a lot of ways. The cast is full of some of Australian’s finest, and if you’re not too scarred from having to study it in Year 12, it’s a great nostalgia watch.
The Vicar of Dibley
Nothing like a cozy comforting British comedy produced by Richard Curtis and starring the brilliant Dawn French to really take you away from your worries. It unfortunately doesn’t escape the fat joke trap so many ‘90s sitcoms fall into, but the overall narrative treats the main character, Geraldine, with respect, and even gives her a very happy (and hot) happy ending.
Boy Meets World
Is it cheesy? Yes. But as far as kid-friendly sitcoms go, it holds up pretty well. You can’t help but love the characters, with Topanga in particular a stand-out. Corey and Topanga’s coming-of-age love story is the kind of wholesome content that provides some much-needed relief from *gestures vaguely at the world*.
Not every episode or joke on The Simpsons is a hit—but for most of the ‘90s, there were far more hits than misses. There’s a reason why it’s such a cultural icon, and watching it is almost like visiting your own family—or a part of your childhood, at the very least. While some aspects of the animated sitcom are definitely best left in the past, you’ll find you’ll appreciate other elements much more as an adult than you ever did as a child.