Today’s RLW comes by request from a reader named Clay who tasked me with compiling my Top 10 Favorite 90s Sitcoms. While this may seem like an easy task, if you grew up in the 90s, I’m betting that you can come up with a solid fifteen sitcoms off the top of your head that could be contenders. It was a unparalleled time in TV programming for kids, pre-teens and families. So, after much internal debate, here is my list (that is subject to change because I’ve already re-arranged it three times since I started writing this).
Favorite associated memory: the Alf puppet that I got at some fast food chain (I think). He wore a apron that read “Kiss the cook” and a chef’s hat.
Show grade as an adult: C-
Alf is an often forgotten show about an Alien Life Form (whose real name is Gordon Shumway) and the Tanner family (no relation to the Danny Tanner’s. Fact: Alf actually began airing a year before Full House). With all the competitors in this list, our Melmacian friend may seem like a sleeper pick, but it was a weekly must watch for me. He was sarcastic and inappropriate, but sweet when he wasn’t trying to eat cats. Plus his little legs when he runs during the opening credits really cracked me up. Okay, they still do.
9. The Wonder Years
Favorite associated memory: watching it in the spare room at Grandma Peel’s house.
Show grade as an adult: A-
The Wonder Years was a show that I watched as a kid without fully comprehending what was happening. It originally aired from 1988 – 1993, meaning that during it’s final season I was a mere 10 years old. It felt real and somehow nostalgic to me. Like most sitcoms targeted toward a younger audience, The Wonder Years set out to teach kids about life, from puberty to love and heartbreak to death, but it did so in a non-cheesy way… so much so that I debated about whether or not it really qualifies as a sitcom.
8. Full House
Favorite associated memory: my Dad’s absolute, unequivocal hatred for Bob Saget and my insistence on watching episodes over and over that I had recorded on a VHS tape.
Show grade as an adult: F
Full House is bad. Like, really bad. Matter of fact, it was just on in the background as I was typing and I caught the line, “Babies don’t care about gold records…” It was spoken to Uncle Jesse by an Elvis impersonator. Wow. The thing about Full House though, is that although it’s absolutely terrible, we 90s kids still watch it. I’m not sure what the original draw was – perhaps Joey’s impressions or Jesse’s hair and leather… maybe it was something as simple as it’s primetime time slot. Whatever it was, Full House was a black hole for youngsters and we all got sucked in. Now we watch it because it reminds us of a simpler time… and maybe a little to revel in how well John Stamos has aged.
7. Saved by the Bell
Favorite associated memory: my cousins and I pretending to be characters from the show while we played in the pool. Sarah always got to be Kelly.
Show grade as an adult: D
I’ll cut our Bayside High gang a break and say that the show isn’t as bad as Full House, although it certainly isn’t good. In fairness, I can see why it became the hit that it was. We all enjoy shows with characters we can connect with and SBTB had all the stereotypes covered along with the bonus of hunky Zack Morris (or AC Slater, if you’re into that kind of thing). It’s cheesy, totally predictable and mostly poorly acted, but even as an adult, it’s kinda fun. In addition, it gave us this.
6. Married… with Children
Favorite associated memory: sneaking behind my Dad’s recliner to watch the show so he wouldn’t notice I was there. As soon as he did, he always flipped the channel.
Show grade as an adult: A
Because of my associated memory with the Bundy clan, I still feel like I’m doing something a little risque when I turn on Married… With Children reruns at 3:00AM. Despite it’s raunchy humor (or probably because of it), the show did well with audiences and racked up a number of Emmy and Golden Globe nominations. The humor still holds up today. Of course, it was mostly filled with sex and lousy marriage jokes which are timeless. Watching it 20 years later, it’s interesting to see how the censors have tightened up on network shows. If you’ve somehow missed seeing, it’s worth staying up a little late to catch.
Favorite associated memory: watching it with Caleb as he did his laundry while I was pet sitting for a friend.
Show grade as an adult: B+
I have a really hard time determining my feelings about Seinfeld. I super loved it right up until the final episode when they pointed out what I as a viewer should’ve realized years ago – these people are terrible. While I understand the purpose behind the “reveal,” it has completely changed how I watch the show. Now every time they do something despicable (which is a minimum of once per episode), I just find myself wondering why I liked them in the first place. I wish I could go back and watch the series with the mindset I had on my first viewing. Back then it would’ve easily made my top 10 shows of all-time. Despite it’s mood killing finale, the comedy is solid and I still recommend everyone watch it if for no other reason than life will be easier if you can pull out Seinfeld quotes as needed. Examples include, “The jerk store called, they’re running out of you!” “Can you spare a square?” and “SERENITY NOW!“
4. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Favorite associated memory: singing the theme on the elementary school playground.
Show grade as an adult: B
Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is an interesting concoction of cheesy and witty humor executed rather impressively by a talented cast. The scripts were clever – the simple humor kept my attention as a kid, but as an adult I’ve discovered there is an entirely different level of adult humor woven in as well. It’s almost like watching two different shows, and both of those shows are good. They also succeeded at conveying deeply emotional moments effectively as well. I still get choked up watching the “How come he don’t want me, man?” scene.
Favorite associated memory: late night talks at Jessi’s. You can’t have a deep conversation without Friends on in the background to break up the emotional moments.
Show grade as an adult: A
What makes Friends so successful is everything it managed to do right. It avoided the fatal errors of having characters act out of character and never turned too dark or serious. The humor was smart and remained fairly consistent throughout the the gang’s ten year run, only slightly wavering in the later seasons. It combined the elements of relatable stereo typical characters, but kept them lovable. Because of this, Friends is universally liked and will rightfully have an infinite life in reruns. P.S. I love Joey.
Favorite associated memory: staying up far too late watching reruns with Jessica and relating them to her relationship with her now husband, Sean.
Show grade as an adult: A
I’ve probably seen every episode of the first six seasons (because I choose to forget that seasons 7 – 9 exist) at least 20 times each and I still get excited when I see it in syndication. I even laugh audibly at some of the jokes even after all these years. The Conners were a flawed, foul mouthed low-income family that loved one another despite their short comings – I always thought there was something uniquely genuine about that. While Roseanne could occasionally grate on my nerves, Dan was the heart of the show. He often reminded me of my own father – protective, smart and funny. I always related to Darlene and her opposition to anything feminine… to this day I’m still searching for a guy like David. For me, the relationships and comedy of Roseanne will forever remain among the sitcom elite.
1. Boy Meets World
Favorite associated memory: Beth and I watching it constantly… and Jessica (and likely everyone else) being annoyed about it.
Show grade as an adult: C
The C grade above is probably the worst thing I’ve ever said about Boy Meets World and I feel dirty I gave it anything except an A+. I’m trying to be fair to those of you who didn’t grow up watching Cory and Shawn, but my love for the show is so deep that it’s nearly impossible for me to be unbiased. My best friend Beth and I watched this show religiously. For the better portion of our childhood, we were consumed with the Boy Meets World world. She was Cory, I was Shawn. We learned their handshake. Our conversations became one long stream of quotes. We even made plans to eat cake in Peramus, NJ. (“That’s ours!”) A few months ago I watched the series in it’s entirety over the course of two weeks. Every time Beth and I are together, you can bet that there will be at least one quote worked into the conversation. So what makes Boy Meets World worthy of such an obsession? The relationships. Through Cory and Shawn and the magical period of my life when the sitcom aired on TGIF, no show will ever hold a closer place in my heart than this one.