There were a lot of these, right?
The 90s was a long ten years. It was the period I grew up, and started to read things like TV Guide and learn about how shows got made. Growing up, there were five channels; two were non-commercial stations, ABC for local (read: Australian and British) media and SBS for multicultural (read: not-white) media, which puts them outside of it (though…) and that meant that the remaining three channels were the places you were going to see the bulk of American sitcoms. This is because they were the absolutely perfect kind of content sludge — and until the growth of the Lifestyle Show that eventually overtook these channels, you were only ever within seven minutes of a freeze-frame-to-ad-break moment.
And the thing is, if I say ’90s sitcoms’ you may be thinking of ‘the good ones.’ Like obviously, there’s FRIENDS, a dire series that makes me want to punch people and Seinfeld, which is way more fun to see modernised and recontextualised in funny tumblr fanfics. There’s the animated ones, in the spectrum between The Simpsons and South Park, and there are weird ones, like Dr Katz and Duckman, and the opposite of the weird one, with Family Guy. This is a decade that had Full House and The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air and ALF and … well, yeah, The Cosby Show was there, okay, so we’re just moving around that, the oddball science fiction of 3rd Rock From The Sun, and the twofold stretch of Cheers through to Frasier. We also had Roseanne, the show that I’m told is very important and good despite it mostly making me feel upset and angry. Oh, there’s also the stunt prop ones with non-human characters in them, with Dinosaurs, a muppet show, or ALF, which was, that, but… uh… worse. The timeline of this period reached from Murphy Brown all the way through to Two Guys and a Girl And A Pizza Place, or Futurama if you don’t remember that.
It was a period where we had Married… With Children making the closest thing to a trans-positive statement where a trans woman character was played by a woman and not a Dude In A Dress, where Ellen made jokes about coming out of the closet and then Will & Grace blew the doors off that by making a particular affect ‘the way you could pick them.’
There was a rise of The Black Sitcom, which, you might be surprised to learn didn’t really show up here.
I wonder why.
I was thinking about this, about how weird it was that there were so many sitcoms because, in my mind, the math of it alone was kinda boggling. There were three channels that ran media from 7:30 to 8:30 (movies started at 8:30), and over ten years, but the thing is, I’m not talking about these big names. These ‘good’ ones. And yes, I did list Duckman in that list, I’m trying to make a wide net here.
(Don’t worry, I dislike almost all of those series, it’s not special, Duckman).
Anyway, seven days a week, three channels, two half hour blocks for ten years, with a bunch of these shows getting 40-50 episodes each.
What’s weird to me is thinking about just how many these things existed, how some of them appeared on some really thin premises and then… burst into flames. And that’s when I trawl my memory and try to come up with just, like…
Why did this get made?
I’m just dredging my memory here; this isn’t a long-form explainer on the genre, and I’m not touching on things I don’t remember watching some of. It’s just that this genre creates a kind of weird fever dream where they’d serve you up a show and go ‘hey, do you like this? How about this?’
There was Almost Perfect, a show that seemingly was just about a woman who had a lot of things in her life. Nothing specific. Caroline in the City had… I want to say Andy Dick being a random weirdo and the protagonist was a cartoonist so the bumpers were cartoons. Veronica’s Closet seemed to be about a Modestly Not AS Skinny As Before Kirstie Alley running a lingerie brand and I know she wasn’t as skinny as she was before despite having no idea what she was from before because she kept complaining about having giant thighs. That was different to Suddenly Susan, which was about a lady named Susan … who was… famous for some reason… and almost every memorable joke from this series I remember is either about a racist accent saying the word ‘babaganoush’ and an angry boss I later on saw was in The Breakfast Club and it turns out, was Hot Rod, who sucks. It was built around a star who I could not remember worth spit, where there was seemingly some inherent comedy to Susan being there, but I don’t even remember her name.
Dharma & Greg, I wasn’t allowed to watch because she mentioned yoga, but you know the character would be antivax so hell with her. The Good Life was about the fantasy of a twee British couple becoming self-sufficient and growing their own food in their backyard, which is just uh, a thing you can do, if you already own a house, which is a hell of a thing to learn about now. Just Shoot Me was about a relative normie raised by a complete sleaze weirdo who was now married to her high school best friend and Ha Ha Ha that’s the first episode. This one had Eda from The Owl Hous in it.
There was a show called Hangin With Mr Cooper about which I know nothing because, again, weirdly, we never watched it.
There were a bunch of shows about weirdo mangled-together families of a bunch of young talent who went nowhere, like I remember there was Step By Step and My Two Dads and Growing Pains and its spinoff Kirk which is only notable because it had Kirk Cameron in it, a man who just overwhelmingly sucks. It was the same kind of Mild Family Engagement with Modest Comedy Laughs which is why we had Mad About You (and that had Gomez Addams in an episode). Oh oh, Ned and Stacey! Get this: It’s two people faking being married, but they hate each other. And uhhh… that’s the series! That’s it! But what about ‘a family, but,’ like Major Dad (A family but the dad is in the Army, and yes, I said that to annoy the one person reading this who cares about him being in the Marines), Who’s The Boss (a family, but the dad is Tony Danza, not officially the dad yet), and The Nanny (a family, but Fran Fine Is There And This Show Rules), and … and…
Like… why are so many of these things memorable? They’re not even properly memorable. I wasn’t getting most of them, I just have this… plague of half-remembered ad moments in my head from TV series that in many cases I never even properly watched, and which do not hold up when you go back and look at it again. There’s nothing here, I missed all the ‘classics’ that people talk about. I didn’t get to see Night Court. Never seen Newsradio. I think I remember ads for Spin City.
I guess what I’m saying is the reason I watch so much Youtube is because my childhood geared me to expected a constant percolating background of kinda huh-huh laughing unimportant media with inoffensively soft voices bubbling along explaining something that resembled a narrative on the way.
By the way, one of my favourite ‘what the hell’ shows to mention in this kind of litany is Small Wonder, a sitcom about a nuclear family where the daughter is an actual literal robot with badly-edited superpowers. Except to my shock… we only got that on the reruns, and that was from the 80s.
I feel like this is the step below a listicle. But damnit, I have these brain worms, so I guess you get to see them now.