Underrated '90s Sitcoms That Deserve A Rewatch
Vote up the ‘90s sitcoms worthy of an add to your queue.
The 1990s was undoubtedly something of a golden age for the sitcom. Series like Friends, Frasier, and numerous others started in the decade, becoming almost synonymous with the form, and stories abound about the people who starred in them. While many of the longest-running series of this decade managed to become definitive parts of the sitcom canon, others, for one reason or another, have largely been forgotten or remain underrated, having fallen into obscurity during their heyday.
There are many sitcoms to choose from for those looking for a heady dose of nostalgia, or for those seeking a more robust understanding of the strange time which was the 1990s.
- 1508 VOTESPhoto: ABC
Though he is best known for appearing in the Back to the Future films and Family Ties, Michael J. Fox showed his versatility when he appeared in the first several seasons of the sitcom Spin City. For its first four years, the series primarily focuses on Fox’s Mike Flaherty, the Deputy Mayor of New York City, who has to deal with the chaos of his office and ensure the right kind of spin is disseminated to the public.
There’s an undeniable chemistry among the various members of the cast and, like the best sitcoms, Spin City has a keen understanding of its central milieu. These were characters the audience wanted to spend time with every week, and it was thoroughly anchored by both strong performances - particularly from the ever-charming and likable Fox - and by sharp writing which exposed the ridiculousness of New York City politics.
- 2543 VOTES
In some ways, the central premise of 3rd Rock from the Sun - which focuses on a quarter of aliens who come to Earth and masquerade as humans - seems a bit out of place in the ‘90s. Nevertheless, the undeniable talents of its cast, which included John Lithgow, Kristen Johnston, French Stewart, and Joseph Gordon-Levitt, and its hilarious take on 1990s culture (and human foibles more generally) ensured it had a long run.
The series is worth revisiting for several reasons, not the least of which is the banter and romantic tension between Lithgow’s Dick Solomon and Jane Curtin’s Mary Albright. And, considering how far Gordon-Levitt has come in his career, it is also fascinating and fun to see him starring in a more traditional sitcom.
- 3405 VOTES
NewsRadio is truly one of the undersung (and, to an extent, almost wholly forgotten) sitcoms of the 1990s. It had an embarrassment of riches when it came to its cast, which included Dave Foley of The Kids in the Hall fame, as well as the comedy virtuoso Phil Hartman and the ever-present character actor Stephen Root.
Of particular note is the series’ veering into true absurdist territory late in its run, which features episodes in which the entire cast is in space and one in which they are even onboard the Titanic. In many ways, the sitcom paved the way for many other sitcoms to come, and its relentless energy ensures it holds up even in the crowded landscape of 21st-century television.
- 4431 VOTESPhoto: ABC
Though he is now most visible as the host of The Price is Right, for many who were TV watchers in the 1990s, Drew Carey was most famous for the show that bore his name. Running from 1995 to 2004, the series was remarkably long-lived, even though it has struggled to gain the same sort of canonical status afforded to other series that ran simultaneously, including such giants as Frasier and Friends.
However, it is still well worth a re-watch. It features a typical sitcom setup, with Carey playing a version of himself as a department store employee in Cleveland. Though the series might not be groundbreaking like so many other sitcoms of the era, it deserves credit for its staying power. What’s more, there is often an edge to the comedy - sometimes verging on the downright mean - which makes it an outlier in the crowded world of ‘90s nostalgia.
- 5391 VOTES
In some ways, Wings is the paradigmatic underrated ‘90s sitcom. It managed to run for no less than eight seasons, a feat even some of the era’s most beloved sitcoms can’t boast. Perhaps its lack of appreciation stems from its inoffensiveness. Like many other sitcoms of the period, it has a fairly standard setup, and most of the action is centered on the single-plane airport run by the Hackett brothers, Joe and Brian.
The series works because it doesn’t try to be something it isn’t. It’s the typical slice-of-life sitcom one would expect, and the characters are all enjoyable to spend time with, even as they all have their flaws and foibles. And, to give it just a little bit of extra enjoyment, the series also takes place in the same universe as Cheers and Frasier, and there are a few crossovers with those other shows.
- 6373 VOTESPhoto: Sony Pictures Television
The Critic is one of those series that is truly an example of being ahead of its time. It only ran for two seasons, but this was enough time for the audience to get to know – and even to grow fond of – Jay Sherman, the sharp-tongued movie critic who was famous for his lacerating criticisms of the banal movies of the mid-'90s (the series ran from 1994 to 1995).
Part of the series' undeniable appeal comes from Jon Lovitz’s inimitable vocal performance. He ably captures the subtleties of Jay’s personality, particularly his longing for love and acceptance and his genuine fondness for his son. He also has a knack for capturing Jay’s withering sarcasm. Though it was gone before its time, it would have an influence on adult animation. Among other things, its cutaway gags are similar to those utilized in Family Guy.