Must-See '90s Shows That Were Ahead Of Their Time

by Jordana Lipsitz

I'm just going to come right out and say it: The '90s was the golden age of television. Sure, there's lots of interesting and varied television these days, but the '90s were when television really started pushing all of the envelopes. There are so many '90s television shows that were way ahead of their time. Where would we be without the early girl power vibes of Buffy The Vampire Slayer or the creepy surrealism of Twin Peaks? We wouldn't have the wonderful television of today. They had to exist so others could someday follow, and for, that I commend them.

Some of these shows were ahead of their time for their format, some of them were ahead of their time for the openness of their content, and some of them were ahead of their time because of the audience they were aiming for. Whatever the case, they each helped mold television into what it is today — and I would go so far as to say that TV was at its best back in the '90s because of this. (In fact, maybe the only thing that has gotten better since the '90s is the fact that I can watch television in a variety of ways.)

Need proof? Here are 16 '90s shows that were ahead of their time.

1. Who's The Boss

Sure, Who's The Boss started in the '80s, but this show really got groundbreaking in the '90s, when the main character Tony Micelli (Tony Danza) married his employer Angela Bower (Judith Light), but continued to stay home with the kids and be a stay-at-home dad.

2. Buffy The Vampire Slayer

A lot of this show did bleed into the '00s, but it still makes the cut because it premiered in 1998. And thankfully so — not only it did includes badass female characters (something that's still rare to see in a show), but it improved the standard monster-of-the-week plot format.

3. Twin Peaks

Twin Peaks was doing the creepy, ethereal visuals thing before American Horror Story was ever a thing. The show is still a cult favorite for David Lynch enthusiasts and fans of spooky, colorful things.

4. My So-Called Life

This show almost seemed to be designed for adults with its thought-provoking plot lines. But that's what makes it so great and true-to-life: It showcased problems that many teens go through in an authentic way.

5. Murphy Brown

People of the '90s lost their collective minds when Murphy Brown, the main character of the show by the same name, got pregnant out of wedlock, and the baby daddy (her ex-husband) decided he wasn't the daddy type. Brown chose to keep the baby and do the single mother thing, which made quite the splash — even in politics. During the 1992 presidential election, Vice President Dan Quayle made the point that the show was "mocking the importance of fathers by bearing a child alone." In the show, Brown was a TV anchor and investigative journalist for a news syndicate called FYI, so when the debate about this baby hit the actual news, the fictional TV news station in the show confronted the real news by using actual footage of his speech and organizing a special edition of the show focusing on different kinds of families. This show was not only ahead of its time for its focus on family diversity, but also the borders it crossed into reality.

6. Ren & Stimpy

Say what you will about this show, but the fast-paced nature and animation of Ren & Stimpy paved the way for other shows like it — Spongebob Squarepants for example.

7. The Ben Stiller Show

Before Ben Stiller was Zoolander, he had his own sketch show on MTV in which he made fun of everything from Tom Cruise to drug education to The Munsters. The show had a show-within-a-show format, which was unique for the time period. This show would make a killing as a web series these days.

8. Sports Night

Sports Night tapped into the audience's interest in what's going on behind the camera. This Aaron Sorkin comedy series went into the joys and stresses of running a sports news show. These days, it would rule the airwaves — or whatever gadgets content comes through these days.

9. American Gothic

Like Twin Peaks, this show did the scary television show thing before it was cool. There was romance drama, angels with serious warnings of dooms, and maybe an inhuman sheriff. The plot lines were too much for our feeble-minded '90s selves, but today, they'd be all the rage..

10. Seinfeld

At Vox, the writers came up with a list of the ways Seinfeld was ahead of its time in honor of the show's availability on Netflix. I think the most important points to take from it are: the presence of a strong female character like Elaine, a new fascination with the antihero character (the main character who's a jerk), and the notion of walking away from the multi-cam format. All hail Seinfeld.

11. Eerie, Indiana

Eerie, Indiana may have been the most interesting show in all of the '90s. The show centered around a paper boy called Marshall Teller who moved from New Jersey to the spooky town of Eerie, Indiana. The best part about this show was that a man who was probably Elvis lived in the town. It was like the X-Files for kids in a time where studios were just figuring out that kids have legitimate tastes in television too.

12. The Simpsons

This show, which started in 1989 and is still going, changed the game when it came to adult animated comedy TV — especially back in the '90s. There had been predecessors, like the '70s series Wait Til' Your Father Gets Home — but the success of The Simpsons really influenced the industry.

13. The Adventures of Pete & Pete

This show is about two brothers — both named Pete — who take stock of the crazy things around them and react in their own special ways. This show was ahead of it's time for the age group it was working with. Sure, kids thought it was funny for what it was, but it's the type of show that as one gets older, they begin to appreciate more. Some of those jokes are subtle.

14. Kindred: The Embraced

Back in the '90s, people weren't as into vampires as they are now. There was no True Blood, no Vampire Diaries, no Twilight. These days, a show that was about five warring vampire families would kill. It would be like if Game of Thrones and Buffy had a baby, and I would lose my mind.

15. The Flash

In today's world, the gritty superhero show is practically commonplace. In the '90s, though, it was still pretty new — and this show did it best.

16. The Adventures Of Brisco County Jr.

This steampunk show about a Harvard lawyer, Brisco County Jr., and his new career as a bounty hunter was canceled largely because it was too violent. In a post-Breaking Bad-world we're like "bring on the violence!" The steampunk vibe was ahead of its time, the colorful characters were fascinating, the snarky dialogue was also new.

Well guys, it's time to add all of these shows to your lists of shows you already need to Netflix marathon. Peace out pals, I'll see you in a few years when I finally catch up.

Images: Giphy (8), 20th Century Fox Television