Films & TV

Published on September 12th, 2014 | by Kevin Lawson

90s TV shows that have aged well

One of the side effects of being self (un)-employed is that you often spend a bit more time in front of the telly than you probably should. Whereas the lucky swines with all that disposable income can afford to do exciting stuff most weekends; nights out at Nandos (seriously who has their date night in there?), to trendy ale pubs, shopping, etc are a bit of a luxury for me at the moment.

The result of my max leisure time/ low money equation is that I end up watching too much TV, which isn’t a very intellectual (or useful) thing to do. Trouble is, Educating the East End, Made In Chelsea and America’s Next Top Model are only on once a week meaning their is a gap in my entertainment-in-lieu-of-a-social-life needs. However when I just can’t take anymore Big Bang Theory (seriously that show is cussing awful) or have re-watched Bob’s Burgers to death I whole heartily recommend a bit of on-demand archive diving to fill the gap.

The results can be a little hit and miss – as some older TV shows age better than others – but with a bit of backtracking, you can find some absolute gems that were precursors for actors/writers/producers that went onto find mainstream success. Being a child of the 90s (by which I mean I was in my teens throughout the decade) here are a few forgotten shows (so not Seinfeld Or Friends) that I think still hit the mark today:

The Young Person’s Guide to becoming a Rock Star – 4OD

Following the life of a young Scottish band called Jock’s Wa Hey, this Channel 4 TV comedy is a satirical look at how to make it in the indie music industry circa 1998. Written by Bryan Elsley the series has all the hallmarks of his later, more successful, show Skins with some startling similarities in the characters – Jez is Tony, Psycho is Sid – and the opening scene in which the main character is being perved at from across the street. Any fan of Skins/music should give it a watch on 4OD and for me it’s one of those ideas ripe for a remake in the post-Internet world.

This Life – I can’t find it to stream anywhere

Having launched the credible – and subsequently incredibly successful – careers of Andrew Lincoln (Walking Dead) and Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean), This Life was a BBC Two drama about a group of twenty something lawyers who caught in London’s mid 90s wave of ‘Cool Britainia’. Lasting for two nigh on flawless series, the show’s hand held filming style influenced the methods used on The Office and other such mockumentaries and had an equally forward thinking take on how it played out the friendships of it’s characters. With strong, sexually independent female leads, realistically written gay relationships and believable passages in which characters outgrew each other, it remains a marvel and if there is a cannon of British TV, this should be in it’s upper echelons.

Freaks & Geeks – Netflix (I think…)

Yeah I know this show is hipster as hell – and has the Tumblr posts to prove it – it has developed a cult following with good reason. Set just at the turn from the 70s to the 80s, F&G is still the most deftly written and acted high school teen drama/comedy to come out of the states. Produced by Judd Apatow (Anchorman, 40 Year-Old Virgin, Superbad, et al.) and featuring a cast that includes Seth Rogan, James Franco, Linda Cardellini (ER) amongst many others, F&G was the perfect storm of talent that eventually found it’s audience. Cancelled after just one series because of terrible scheduling, each of the shows 44 minutes episodes are brilliant. My own personal favourite – mainly because of how readily I related to Sam, Bills and Neal’s friendship – is the one where they watch porn, it’s as outstanding now as it was then.

Northern Exposure – Dodgy streaming sites, by DVD (or any other means)

Whilst the Soprano’s is rightly hailed as the show that ushered TV into a new era of quality, production and audience expectation; for me the title of best TV show in the 90s has to go to Northern Exposure. The premise from the show started out with ‘a fish out of water’ theme in which Joel Fleischman – a newly qualified doctor trained in New York City – moves to a small community in Alaska to repay the state for funding his training. The resulting 110 award winning episodes explore the philosophy of Carl Jung, American anthropologist/mythologist Joseph Campbell and the ‘spiritual’ way of living of the Esalen Institute. It’s dark, comedic, thought provoking and it’s unbelievable that not one of the cussing digital TV channels has it on repeat.

Queer as Folk – 4OD

It’s been over 20 years since Channel 4 tested the same sex kiss on Brookside with Anna Friel but in hindsight they were only wiggling their toe in the water. Just five years later (1999) C4 cannonballed into the deep end with Queer as Folk and changed British (and American) TV for good. Taking a more fantasised and over the top approach than the gay characters portrayed in This Life, the show launched the careers of Aiden Gillen (Lord Petyr in Game of Thrones) and Charlie Hunnam (Pacific Rim). By using typical alpha male archetypes, the show debunked much of what audiences expected from lead male characters and in a run that lasted just 10 episodes created a paradigm shift in the portrayal of gay men on TV and baited the Daily Fail in hate mongering. Cussing brilliant!

Party of Five – Amazon Prime

Cuss Dawson’s Creek! Ask any of the (not) cool kids from the 90s and they’ll tell you that Party of Five was ‘the one’ when it came to ‘totes emosh’ teen shows. This is my guilty pleasure on the list as it’s not that great really, it was just full of beautiful people (Neve Campbell, Mathew Fox and Jennifer Love Hewitt).

PS. Sorry to Ben Marwood for not including Dark Skies on this list (I just never watched it).

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