16 '90s Shows That Were More Groundbreaking Than You Realized


If you were a kid during the '90s, odds are you're already aware of how incredibly cool the era was. In terms of music, movies, and TV shows, it was full of fresh and progressive ideas that were pushed gleefully from the sidelines into the mainstream. As a result, there are plenty of '90s shows that were more groundbreaking than you may have ever realized. Seriously. You probably watched most of these shows and loved them, without realizing just how much of an impact they had on the future of TV programming. These are '90s shows that were ahead of their time. And not just in terms of stories or characters, but in social and political ways too.

Some of these series may have shown new ways to tell stories or reinvented tired genres, while others proudly introduced some much needed diversity to television. These shows were all so powerful and influential in their own ways and you can continue seeing their impact in some of the most popular TV shows today. So much so, that it's really easy to take some of the things that these TV shows introduced for granted. A healthy reminder, then? OK, let's dive right in.

1. 'Buffy The Vampire Slayer'


In addition to being one of the first shows on TV to feature a lesbian couple as lead characters (and they were the best couple, you guys), Buffy also broke new ground in proving that horror, feminism, and comedy went together like dead vampires and dust.

2. 'Ellen'

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When Ellen DeGeneres came out on the front cover on TIME magazine in April 1997, it had a direct and tremendous impact on her sitcom, Ellen. Shortly after the publication was released, her character Ellen Morgan also came out on the show, making it the first gay story arc of its kind for a lead character.

3. 'Seinfeld'


It's a show about nothing, featuring characters who are actually pretty bad people when it comes down to it. Seinfeld was the first comedy of its kind when it was released, and it remains a huge influence on modern comedy shows.

4. 'My So-Called Life'


While many other teen TV shows were talking down to their audiences, My So-Called Life talked directly to them, and it was one of the first shows to ever do so. It treated the worries, problems, and signature angst of teenagers as seriously as they deserved, and it made for powerful and emboldening viewing.

5. 'Star Trek: The Next Generation'


Whether it was an episode which provided some emotional insight into the life of one of the once expendable "red shirts," or simply killing off a main character in a sudden and inexplicable manner, Star Trek: The Next Generation was ahead of the curve. The show boldly went where other genres hadn't bothered to before, and set the precedent for the sort of complex genre storytelling we see today.

6. 'Sex And The City'


The frankness of Sex And The City is so commonplace now that it's hard to imagine a time when we weren't all sharing our sexual experiences over brunch or recommending vibrators to each other in the gym. But my goodness, that time existed. Sex And The City was revolutionary, so much so that it caused a regular commotion every time an episode aired.

7. 'Twin Peaks'


Without Twin Peaks, we wouldn't be enjoying the sort of high caliber, prestige TV mysteries like True Detective and Big Little Lies today. The show brought Hollywood quality to the small screen and proved that weirdness could be mainstream. Not only that, but it was something that audiences were definitely interested in.

8. 'Roseanne'


Sadly, it's 2017 and it's still something of a rarity to see a working class woman as the focus of a TV show. Roseanne was exactly this, and it was also incredibly successful — proving that yes, there's a market for this sort of thing. And yes, more shows like it should be made.

9. 'In Living Color'


As the first comedy sketch show made by and starring African Americans, In Living Color was beyond groundbreaking. Made by the endless comedy talents of the Wayans Family, In Living Color managed to deliver incredible comedy that was socially and culturally powerful.

10. 'ER'


Taking soap operas to the next level, ER was soapy, but with absolute gravitas. It delivered shocking twists, swoon-worthy romances, horrifying tragedy, and well, lots of beautiful and fascinating characters who kept audiences captivated. It redefined the capabilities and quality of mainstream programming.

11. 'The Golden Girls'


As Grace And Frankie is currently reminding contemporary audiences, The Golden Girls proved that a woman's story and her immense worth do not diminish past a certain age. (Yes, the series started in the '80s, but continued into the '90s.)

12. 'The X-Files'


Listen: This show, right here? It helped make nerds mainstream and created a whole new form of online fandom in the process. And from the success of The X-Files (and Star Trek: The Next Generation, too) came a whole set of programming developed around what is still considered to be "geek culture."

13. 'Felicity'


On the surface, Felicity was just another college campus show. But deep down, it was something so much bigger. As well as providing complex and diverse storytelling full of heart, Felicity also wasn't afraid to tackle major issues in a frank and constructive manner. This included a sexual assault plot line, which honestly remains one of the most searingly honest portrayals or rape that I've ever seen.

14. 'Xena: Warrior Princess'


Combining campy, slapstick fun with pioneering queer and feminist subtexts, Xena: Warrior Princess changed television as we know it. While the relationship between Xena and Gabrielle was never explicitly outlined as a legitimate lesbian romance, fans all knew that it was. And that was worth everything.

15. 'The Real World'

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The Real World basically invented every reality TV show you watch in private on a Friday night. (It's alright, guys! I do it, too.)

16. 'Oz'


Full of major twists, violence, and even nudity, this phenomenally influential HBO drama set the precedent for future must-see TV shows like The Wire, The Sopranos, Deadwood, and Breaking Bad. If you've never seen it, then it's definitely time to start marathoning it right now.

I think there's no better time to revisit any one of these shows. And if you do, then you may notice the beginnings of your current favorites within them.