The 1990s was perhaps the best decade for sitcoms. Not only did some top sitcoms help influence social change (gay rights, etc), but they would influence television for the next 20 years. Let’s take a look at the five best sitcoms of the 1990s.
Roseanne aired from 1988 to 1997. This sitcom’s highest ratings took place in 1993 and 1994. The show made a megastar out of Roseanne Bar and introduced us to a lot of new talent as well.
Roseanne was able to take social issues, hit you in the face with them, and make you laugh. It was one of the first sitcoms to introduce a variety of gay characters and portray them in a positive light. Nancy Bartlett (played by Sandra Bernhard) came out as a lesbian in 1992.
Roseanne also dealt with such sensitive topics (at least for then) as masturbation, drug abuse, and adultery. Rolling Stone ranked the show at No. 70 in the list of their favorite sitcoms of all time.
In addition to scoring higher ratings than any other sitcom on this list, Seinfeld is often seen as the most influential comedy sitcom ever. In an article for Vulture, author Jesse David Fox notes how Seinfeld changed modern comedy.
“As the lead character on the most popular show on television, that comedian altered comedy by changing the relationship fans had with comedians, and what they expected from them.”
Seinfeld made huge stars out of Michael Richards, Jason Alexander, and Julia-Louis Dreyfus as well. Perhaps the most famous episode was “The Contest,” which aired in 1992. The taboo (in 1992) topic of masturbation was dealt with in a hysterical way that provided years of commentary. The word “masturbation” was never even mentioned in the episode, but it never had to be.
3. My So-Called Life
The 1990s sitcom My So-Called Life dealt with the reality of teenage life like no other show had ever done before. The show made household names out of Claire Danes, Wilson Cruz, and Jared Leto. The sitcom debuted in the fall of 1994 to great reviews, but not-so-great ratings. My So-Called Life was canceled after the first season but became a hit after MTV started airing episodes in early 1995.
My So-Called Life dealt with bullying, gun violence, alcoholism, and depression like no other show aimed at teenagers did before. Wired recently described this show’s appeal.
“If you were a teenager in the 1990s, My So-Called Life was a revelation. Its storylines were real, its dialogue was unaffected in a way teen dramas never got to be, and its cast looked like average people—or at least as average as Claire Danes and Jared Leto can look.”
Friends started in 1994 and ended on a very high note in 2003. It made household names out of Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, and — especially — Jennifer Aniston. Watching the trials and tribulations of six yuppies who move into the same apartment building in New York City became a weekly ritual in the 1990s.
Anne T. Donahue of the Guardian recently wrote an article that explained why, even 20 years after its debut, Friends is still the best show ever about twentysomethings. She notes that even though the show may lack smartphones and drug-fueled clubbing, it tells a familiar story of working hard, aiming for success, and trying to scrape enough together to eat dinner with people we actually care about.
1. The Simpsons
When The Simpson’s first debuted on December 17, 1989, practically nobody thought the show would become the longest-running sitcom in history as well as one that would change animated shows forever. The Simpson‘s changed the cartoon world in that cartoons were no longer just for kids. Bart, Homer, Marge and friends produced a lot of adult humor and attracted audience members of every age group.
The Simpsons would go on to influence shows such as Beavis & Butthead, Family Guy, South Park, and Futurama. Many say the show ran its course years ago, but nobody can deny the impact The Simpsons had on just about every aspect of pop culture.
[Featured Image by Stephen Shugerman/Getty Images]