These days, the '90s are in peak revival. Chokers are in, grunge is on its way to a comeback, and nostalgic reboots have all but dominated the small screen. Perhaps no one is more ecstatic about the era's return than the children that grew up in it. It may be less than 20 years since the turn of the century, but now '90s babies can relive their childhoods in full glory. Still, there are a few staples that have yet to get the second look they truly deserve: namely, the most underrated kids' shows from the '90s.
Sure, Rugrats gave us toddler hero Tommy Pickles, and All That introduced our soon-to-be comedic idols, but there were plenty of lesser known gems that were equally formative — even if they never got their rightful time in the spotlight. I, for one, don’t remember a thing about Zoboomafoo, except that I’d eagerly rush downstairs to watch it every morning before school. And I nearly forgot about Recess, even though it was arguably one of my all-time favorite animated series. Because everyone should take the occasional trip down memory lane, I’ve rounded up 19 of the most under-appreciated ‘90s kids shows to ever grace television.
1'Aaahh!!! Real Monsters'
This Nicktoon followed three monsters in training attending school under an NYC city dump, where they learned how to scare humans with gross-out humor and sneaky shock value. Silly yet inventive, it shook up kids shows' animal-dominated lineup. It was conceived by Rugrats creator Gábor Csupó, but failed to draw in the same buzz as its sister show.
Nick's Angela Anaconda centered around the 8-year-old title character and her adventures in the fictional town of Tapwater Springs. It rarely makes best-of lists when it comes to '90s kids shows, but its whimsical cut-out style was original in its own right, and the series itself was wildly imaginative.
3'The Angry Beavers'
The Angry Beavers was an animated series about two young beaver brothers, Daggett and Norbert, who leave home to live on their own in Wayouttatown, Oregon. It hinged upon slapstick humor and sibling dynamics, often making light of the love-hate relationship between its two protagonists. It enjoyed a solid four-season run, but never quite got a big moment in the spotlight.
Recess riffed on schoolyard dynamics, following a group of elementary-aged kids as they navigated the playground monarchy — literally, they had their own government, laws, and class system complete with a sixth grade king named Bob. It was playful, smart, and surprisingly deep. If you didn't watch it when you were a kid, you'll likely still enjoy it now.
5'Cow & Chicken'
Sort of like the farmyard version of Catdog, Cow and Chicken traces the misadventures of Cow and her somehow biological brother Chicken. Many thought it paled in the shadow of chihuahua-cat duo Ren & Stimpy, but the show was independently delightful. Its surrealist, sarcastic humor made it appealing for kids and parents alike.
This Saturday morning gem flew way too under the radar, examining the highs and lows of adolescence. Not only did Pepper Ann portray strong, subversive female characters, it was the first animated Disney show created by a woman. That alone deserves a shoutout.
Animaniacs had an endless supply of characters, jokes, and catchphrases. Its sketch comedy format made each episode a fresh adventure, and executive producer Steven Spielberg ensured its production value was high-grade. Some of its best punch lines were too sophisticated for kids to grasp, but rewatching it now would likely unearth a wealth of nuanced references.
Billed with the tagline, "Where cartoons and comics collide," each episode of KaBlam! featured a different style of animation, becoming home to shorts like "Prometheus & Bob," "Life With Loopy," and "Action League Now!" It might never have been a mainstream hit, but it was consistently quirky, original, and inventive.
9'Pinky & The Brain'
A spin-off from Animaniacs, Pinky and the Brain followed Brain, a hyper-intelligent lab mouse hellbent on global domination, and Pinky, his feebleminded pal. Each episode, Brain would mount an increasingly elaborate scheme, which Pinky would then unintentionally thwart. They never did take over the world, but it sure was an entertaining — if under-appreciated — ride.
10'The Secret World Of Alex Mack'
Alex Mack traversed her teenage years with a trove of wacky powers, including telekinesis, electricity, and the ability to dissolve into a puddle of water. Who wouldn't want to face the awkwardness of adolescence with a superhuman boost? She may have been a bit more equipped to face them than the rest of us, but she made for a compelling, relatable character nonetheless. Plus, it's hard not to love her tomboy style and oddball obsession with hats.
Before live-action was all the rage, there was Wishbone, a PBS comedy that starred a real-life Jack Russell Terrier. That's right, its lead actor was an adorable little dog. And if that weren't enough to sell you, the show was based around stories from classic literature. Alas, it only aired for two seasons, but that puppy made education look pretty damn cool.
OK, so this technically only aired for one year of the '90s, but it left a big enough impression to make it count. Not only was its theme song the epitome of '90s pop jams, but each episode offered important lessons on the animal kingdom without losing its sense of fun. It's an impressive feat that never quite got the audience it deserved.
Adding a twist to another coming of age classic, Cousin Skeeter followed Bobby, a young boy who's life is thrown into disarray when his loudmouthed cousin Skeeter moves in with his family. The fact that Skeeter is actually a puppet is never acknowledged, and he spends the series getting Bobby tied up in his own mischief. It was a bizarre dynamic, but one that somehow worked.
14'Salute Your Shorts'
Wet Hot American Summer may have spawned a cult following in 2001, but Salute Your Shorts was the first to riff on summer camp. Though short-lived, the Nickelodeon series had silly names and fart jokes galore, making it the a favorite for pre-teen humor. Where's its reboot, Netflix?
Tia and Tamera weren't the only stars in the Mowry family. Tahj led his own sitcom on Smart Guy, the story of T.J. Henderson, a kid genius who gets moved up to high school at the age of 10. It was a clever approach to the common theme of teenagedom, tackling it with a fresh, fish-out-of-water perspective. It only ran for three seasons, but it was enough to solidify Tahj as a leading man.
Ghostwriter blended the best of children's television, adding paranormal intrigue to elements of mystery and education. The show focused on a team of kid detectives who solved neighborhood cases thanks to reading and writing clues from a friendly ghost. It was also praised for its racially diverse cast — a rarity for the era. But despite acclaim amongst critics circles, it was canceled after three seasons due to a lack of funding.
17'The Lion King’s Timon & Pumbaa'
Lion King lovers somehow overlooked this charming spin-off, which followed Simba's beloved jungle pals Timon and Pumbaa. The unlikely duo's absurdist adventures made for wonderfully amusing television. After all, we could all use a little more Hakuna Matata.
One of the few fully sci-fi entries on this list, this TeenNick standout was like the low-budget precursor to Disney's Zenon franchise. It focused on a band of teens who go to school in outer space. They accidentally end up stuck in alien territory, and have to navigate some tricky problem-solving to get back home. Despite financial constraints, celebrities like Star Trek's George Takei and Star Wars' Mark Hamill frequently appeared on the show. It ran for less than a year, but it's certainly worth a second look.
Gargoyles took a darker tone than many of its fellow kids shows, but it did so brilliantly. Its story arcs were impressively complex and its action well-executed. Even if it ultimately fell second to its more prominent counterpart, Batman, it still warrants more attention.