The appeal of ‘90s TV

Comfort, relatability and darkness from a decade we all wish we experienced


Rishika Iyer/Talon

Two of the most recognizable shows and films from the ’90s include Clueless and the Simpsons.

Slip dresses, Nirvana, flip phones, “Clueless,” Brad Pitt … It seems like everyone’s obsessed with the ‘90s. You probably know at least one girl (or 20) who went through a Doc Martens phase last year and walking into the Urban Outfitters accessory aisle is basically the same as entering 1999 (is there such a thing as too many butterfly clips?). Most of all, people are loving ‘90s TV – sitcoms, dramas and comedies. It doesn’t matter; lately, everyone is completely obsessed with the decade. 

You could argue that it’s for comfort. The ‘90s political climate was calmer, there were no phones blaring in our faces, and, of course, there was no pandemic. The shows’ uplifting qualities may be a large part of their appeal, but if that were true, everyone would be turning on the arguably more comforting shows of the 1980s.

I think the reason that we are all loving ‘90s TV so much is because the ‘90s was the first time period when the dark parts of American society were finally peeking through the cracks. Most shows had episodes about drug abuse, mental illness, race relations, and, albeit rarely, teen gun violence. ‘90s television is a palatable way to look at the now blaring, but then sidelined, issues of our present time period.

Many current teen shows shove the fact that the world is a very messed-up place down viewers’ throats. ‘90s entertainment had both the bad and the good, the lows of society and the highs. Another point towards the ‘90s is that the culture of the time seems to still be in its prime today; the movie stars are just as famous as they were 30 years ago, Hole is apparently about to go on a reunion tour and it seems like teenagers nowadays are even more invested in ‘90s fashions than they were in the actual time period.

Don’t get too nostalgic, though. I’ve fallen prey to the “wrong generation” trap more than most people, and I can tell you that it’s not fun for your friends to hear you whine about “not really being a part of Generation Z.”

Watch ‘90s television to help your mood and change your world to make it more like the shows you watch. Spend less time on your phone, call your friends instead of liking their photos, buy some Matrix sunglasses and fall in love with Jordan Catalano. All the opportunities of the ‘90s are still sprinkled here and there. You just have to try a little harder to make them a reality. 

Most of all, watch ‘90s TV to have fun. We all need it and if you’re sick of getting depressed every time you turn on cable, try a little escapism instead. I consider watching ‘90s TV a form of self-care. With that, here are my top five picks for the best ‘90s TV shows to watch right now!

  1. Beverly Hills 90210: Your mom probably loves this show, but don’t hold that against it. It’s got Luke Perry in parachute pants and Shannen Doherty with feathered bangs, all set against a wildly dramatic high school in Beverly Hills. It’s less contrived than Gossip Girl or Riverdale, but a lot more enjoyable than most modern “serious” teen shows.
  2. Twin Peaks: David Lynch’s masterpiece is now considered one of the best TV shows ever made. It’s got murder, mystery, romance, and a cast you’ll fall in love with. Don’t watch it if you’re afraid of things getting a little weird (and sometimes terrifying), but once you accept that one of the secondary characters keeps a log as a pet, you’ll love it!
  3. My So-Called Life: Young Claire Danes navigates high school as the sensitive, slightly neurotic and intuitive Angela Chase. Relatable, sometimes funny and sometimes heartbreaking, you’ll feel like you’re right back in school (if you want that). Bonus: teen Jared Leto.
  4. Friends: No explanation necessary. If you’ve been living under a rock, a bunch of New York City singles navigate their mid-20s and 30s. The cast is adorable, and you’ll finally be able to weigh in on the conversation when your friends have their weekly 30-minute talk about whether they’re Chandler or Phoebe.
  5. The Simpsons: Technically, it premiered in 1989 (and is still running today), but even if you’ve seen a few episodes, I highly recommend checking out some of the earlier seasons from the ‘90s. They’re funnier and have a little more heart. The animation is much more handmade-looking as well, and you’ll get to see the introduction episodes to some of the most iconic characters ever created such as Sideshow Bob and Selma and Patty.