Think about your favorite '90s show. Got it in your head? Good. Now imagine showing it to someone who did not live through the '90s. There is a good chance your favorite would be totally baffling to anyone born after, say, 1998. The technology, the fashion, the social themes — so many '90s shows would make no sense today. That doesn't make them any less awesome, but it does make them artifacts from a bygone era of landlines and oversized sweaters.
From Clarissa's amazing style to Mulder's very specific '90s conspiracy theories, the decade is full of shows that were very much a product of their times. This is an era of television that produced an entire successful series about a man with a local access home improvement show. Do local access shows even exist anymore? And if they do, does anyone besides your great uncle watch them?
In a world of digital everything, smartphones, and prestige TV, the '90s shows of yore cannot help but seem as if they came from another planet sometimes. While the classic shows of the '90s defined a generation, they still look weird through modern eyes. Here are 13 '90s shows that just would not make any sense today.
1. Home Improvement (1991-1999)
Home Improvement is remembered fondly for introducing the world to teen heartthrob Jonathan Taylor Thomas. But, if you tune in now, you will be treated to a show that celebrates stereotypical masculinity in a way that is completely foreign today. Tim "The Tool Man" Taylor was a macho chauvinist who loved cars, sports, tools, grunting, and injuring himself by adding "more power" to everything. Add in the part where Tim was the host of a popular public access TV show aimed at satirizing PBS' This Old House and you have the perfect recipe for a show that is super confusing by today's standards.
2. Captain Planet And The Planeteers (1990-1996)
I'm not saying no one worries about the environment anymore, but I am fairly certain anxiety levels over pollution were never higher than they were in the '90s. Enter Captain Planet, an environmental superhero, and his squad of kid helpers, who saved the world from litter and oil spills. Somehow, I can't imagine kids today being quite so enthralled by Captain Planet's deep environmental concerns.
3. Clarissa Explains It All (1991-1994)
Clarissa Darling will forever be my life hero, but all it takes is a look at a single frame from the show to understand why, despite her timeless wit and wisdom, Clarissa would instantly baffle modern society. What is up with her clothes? Look at the massive computer. Why do her parents let a boy just enter her room via ladder whenever he wants? The questions would be endless.
4. The X-Files (1993-2002)
I know The X-Files was revived in 2016, but the revival felt like a show displaced in time. While people will always distrust the government, the '90s paranoia was very specific to a decade on the brink of a new millennium. Before the internet became a fact of modern life, the idea that the government could be guarding one massive secret instead of lots of tiny ones that could be released by skilled hackers seemed eerily plausible.
Also, everyone was obsessed with aliens. The world is a very different place, and, while The X-Files will always be one of the greats, it now has the ability to confuse youngsters who find it on Netflix.
5. Wishbone (1995-2001)
Imagine explaining Wishbone to someone who had never seen it. "So, it's this show about a highly literate Jack Russell terrier who imagines himself as the lead in classic novels. And it was for children, who actually enjoyed watching a show about a dog who moonlighted as Silas Marner and Don Quixote." Sounds crazy, right?
6. Frasier (1993-2004)
A successful psychiatrist with a radio show who can afford a swanky Seattle apartment? Yeah, Frasier would maybe have a semi-popular podcast and live with six roommates today.
7. TRL (1998-2008)
A show that caused people to rush home every day to call in and request music videos is completely nonsensical in the instant access YouTube age. Also, what is a Carson Daly?
8. The Ren & Stimpy Show (1991-1995)
Ren & Stimpy was one of the first three original Nickelodeon cartoons, and it was 100% intended for an audience of children. However, it is so chocked full of grotesque gags and sexual innuendo that it would make parents today faint on the spot.
9. Sister, Sister (1994-1999)
Tia and Tamara would have found each other on the internet by the time they were 9 years old if Sister, Sister was a modern show. And why make your always-arguing parents live together when Skype is a thing?
10. Family Matters (1989-1997)
Steve's behavior may have seemed cute in the '90s, but, watching the show today, his antics — which often endangered the Winslows — are totally creepy. It makes zero sense that now the family didn't file a restraining order to keep Steve out of their house.
11. Baywatch (1989-2001)
The show is famous because men enjoyed watching the female characters run down the beach. Seriously, almost every '90s sitcom references this phenomena at some point. This is one show the progressive television fans of today would be completely startled by because there is no real plot to speak of.
12. Are You Afraid Of The Dark? (1991-2000)
TV today is so aggressively serialized that it would be hard for anyone to just roll with the idea that these young teens somehow left their houses and went into the woods to tell scary stories once a week without any of their parents noticing. Also, what about backstories? How did they meet? Modern curiosity makes the wonderfully creepy Are You Afraid of the Dark? a hard sell — especially since the Midnight Society could just meet up online and have members spanning the globe.
13. The Secret World of Alex Mack (1994-1998)
Watching Alex now, the whole secret part seems impossible. In the internet age, her abilities would have been discovered immediately, and the big evil corporation's practices would have been exposed by a hacker in no time flat.
These are just a few of the '90s shows that just wouldn't make much sense today. However, most of them are still totally amazing TV as long as you forget texting and the internet are things that exist.
Images: Nickelodeon; Giphy (13)