16 Influential '90s TV Shows That Were Actually Way Ahead Of Their Time
Ah, the years 1990 through to 1999: What a time to be alive, my friends. Not only were those years blessed with some seriously sassy fashion statements and an assortment of bombastic new music, but they were also totally blessed in terms of television. Back in the '90s, of course, television could more than not feel fresh, new, and even completely shocking (which feels a little difficult to do these days thanks to the internet and spoilers). It was an era where networks, writers, and actors felt more free to experiment and take risks after the '70s and '80s, and as a result, some of the best '90s shows of all time were born of such a liberated attitude. Of course, it's easy to see now how and where '90s TV shows have influenced modern programming, with contemporary shows following in the footsteps of the experimental values and fresh ideas of the '90s. Those TV experiments allowed audiences to recognize what they wanted and also provided a clear guide to TV networks as to what sort of shows to deliver next. As a result, there were countless '90s TV shows which felt ahead of their time, and which have continued to lay their influence on TV shows to this day.
Many of these shows might seem tame when compared next to the standards of modern shows, or they might even seem quaint, boring or severely dated but they were all unique visions when they were first created. Setting standards of storytelling, genre, quality and concept, these '90s shows were way out ahead of the pack.
1. The Real World
This reality docu-series aired on MTV, and it was arguably the original, influential precursor for the swathes of reality TV shows which dominated the network schedules of the '00s. The original intro dialogue from The Real World could be taken as being the basic framework for countless other reality shows which would come to follow it: "The true story of seven strangers, picked to live in a house, work together and have their lives taped, to find out what happens when people stop being polite... and start getting real."
2. Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Along with portraying a strong selection of female characters who were smart, strong, and witty, the show was also one of the first to successfully (and effortlessly) portray horror in a way that was entertaining, intelligent, hilarious, and even deeply moving.
3. The Powerpuff Girls
Not only did The Powerpuff Girls provide the suggestion to young women that their femininity didn't make them weak, it also fearlessly and proudly portrayed girlhood. It was one of the first cartoon shows to show young females kicking butt within a universe where the color pink, sparkles, and cuteness overload reigned supreme.
4. Sex And The City
Though women across America were ready to finally see a show which respected their sexuality and understood the awesomeness of their female friendships, SATC was the first one to ever prove that these audiences definitely existed and seriously mattered.
5. Cop Rock
This musical cop show was the butt of everyone's jokes when it debuted in 1990 because, well, it was definitely a little odd. But it also came long before shows like Glee, Crazy Ex-Girlfriend and Empire were able to prove that the musical TV show genre is definitely a lucrative one.
6. Twin Peaks
Long before American Horror Story was mystifying and freaking out audiences across America, Twin Peaks was delivering puzzling and creepy (with a side of damn fine apple pie) every week. The mystery of who killed Laura Palmer has remained the influential benchmark of many a crime show ever since.
7. Ally McBeal
Ally McBeal was a weird show, but alongside dancing babies and hang-outs in the work toilets, the show could also get incredibly real about life. Female-oriented dramas such as Weeds and Orange Is The Black continue now where Ally McBeal left off, delivering powerful drama alongside great comedy and weird quirks.
8. My So-Called Life
One of the first shows to actually take the teenage experience seriously, My So-Called Life delivered storylines and characters which felt truly authentic — an influence teen shows like Skins definitely benefited from.
9. The X-Files
Combining horror and science fiction within a serial format, The X-Files took the addictive nature of serial shows and combined it with the intrigue of the supernatural. Both of those genres feel extremely commonplace these days.
10. Freaks And Geeks
Creating something of a bromance comedy brat pack in the process, Freaks And Geeks would help to create a culture where dudes could openly talk about their feelings in comedies and proved what we all already know: that women could be just as funny as their male counterparts.
11. Ren And Stimpy
Cartoons had rarely been as subversive, shocking, or controversial as Ren And Stimpy was when it first premiered. It was one of the first cartoons which appealed both to adults and kids alike (though I've never been sure if the latter should have really been allowed to watch it or not).
The HBO prison drama Oz was easily one of the first originators of the prestige drama that we know today. With complex character arcs, shocking violence, and jaw-dropping twists, Oz reinvented the humble serialized TV show and helped open the doors for later shows like Deadwood, The Wire, Breaking Bad and Game Of Thrones.
Featuring a strong, hilarious female character (Elaine) and the anti-hero antics of both Jerry Seinfeld and George Costanza (whom you love to hate), Seinfeld saw a deep dissatisfaction with how standard sitcoms were becoming and, in response, twisted them al on their head. You'd never have It's Always Sunny In Philadelphia without it.
14. Eerie, Indiana
Basically, this show was a kids version of The X-Files, full of absurdities, mysteries, and spookiness. What's more important, though, is that this show respected the intelligence of children enough to give them a legitimately smart, fun, and weird show of their own.
15. Clarissa Explains It All
Clarissa Darling was a coder, you guys. She loved computers, would create her own games, and could throw together complex (for their time) graphics in opposition of her little brother with ease. That's pretty ahead of its time.
16. Lois And Clark: The New Adventures Of Superman
A total soap opera warping of Superman it may have been, but the show opened up an entire culture of comic books TV shows (like Arrow, The Flash, Daredevil and Jessica Jones), where such stories are now highly respected, beloved, and all over TV.
The true proof of how advanced many of these '90s shows were for their time is the fact that shows like The X Files and Twin Peaks having been rebooted recently. Like the majority of these TV shows, they were ahead of their time but ultimately, they're also timeless, and they'll likely continue to be admired and respected for years to come.
Images: 20th Century Fox Television; Giphy (12)