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Where my Blossom fans at?
ByKatherine J Igoe and Mehera Bonner
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Has TV ever been as good as it was in the 1990s (or the guys as cute as '90s boys were)? Nope, definitely not—from Clarissa Explains It All to Goosebumps (hello, my childhood), to shows we were too young for (Seinfeld and Friends, I watched you in secret!), it was a great time to turn on the television. We were getting shows that pushed the boundaries of what was considered "normal"—like Twin Peaks and even Will and Grace—and a new focus on the ~actually~ compelling inner lives of teens, like My So-Called Life and Freaks and Geeks.
Because there was no such thing as streaming, you had to either record your fave programs on a VCR or watch it live—yes, I am old, why do you ask? TV was such a communal experience because you all knew exactly what you'd be watching and at what time. Also, pre-Internet: Spoilers what?? Imagine watching a show and having zero clue what was about to happen. It was magical.
Anyways (*comes out of ancient-person reverie*)...The point is, tons of these shows are available if you're dying to relive your questionable fashion (look up "old Delia's catalog" and you'll find a picture of me), cinematic '90s beauty choices (oh my god, blue eyeshadow), some incredible '90s music, or important teenagery drama that now feels delightfully silly. The same goes for if you're just discovering these shows for the first time: I've collated the best picks so you can skip the mediocre stuff and go straight to the gold. These are the shows that earned their status as classics, and there are some on here that deserved even more attention than they got. With a few reboots and sequels in the works—lookin' at you, Fresh Prince reboot—maybe streaming services can bring all these back, too? Fingers crossed.
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You know, just one of the most-quoted and referenced shows of all time. NBD. Special shout-out to Julia Louis-Dreyfus for being Seinfeld's secret weapon and my curly-haired icon. If you've got that friend who quotes it all the time, watch it without telling them then surprise them with all your knowledge.
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The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
🎵 This is the story all about how Will Smith’s life got flipped turned upside down 🎵...and then he morphed into a massive movie star. God bless the ’90s. Also, the perfect way to watch the gritty reboot is by knowing the important (and tonally different) source material.
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Will and Grace
At the time, it was totally daring to depict gay culture so honestly while also being f*cking hilarious. (The revival is fine, but the original is time capsule silliness at its finest.) Also, another curly haired hero: Debra Messing, lookin' at ya.
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Known for its epic catchphrase and sky-high suspenders, the show's about way more than just Steve Urkel. Its depiction of family was so so loving, including one of the best TV dads of all time. Also, the Stefan transformation is truly...one you have to watch.
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You can't have a '90s TV list without Friends. Cast your mind back to the years that everyone had "The Rachel" haircut, and you'll have like a tiny idea how much this show meant to people. The Ross and Rachel will-they-won't-they dynamic captivated an entire nation, people.
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Freaks and Geeks
With a cast that included actors who would go on to become massive stars, including Linda Cardellini, Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, and Busy Phillips, it's hard to understand how this show only got one season. Its influence has been...intense, tbh.
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Hangin' With Mr. Cooper
ABC's TGIF lineup was strong, y'all. If you're unfamiliar, Mark Curry plays a former NBA player who becomes a teacher, (spoiler alert) starts dating his gorge roommate, and coaches basketball. You'll recognize some familiar faces here, too—hey Raven!!
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Sex and the City
Before And Just Like That...there was the OG SATC in all its glory. It might seem tame now, but this show was considered to be Just. So. Sexy. when it debuted in 1998. Women talking openly about their sex lives and not feeling guilty about it—imagine the concept!! Watching the HBO reboot will make you nostalgic for the original thing.
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If you only know Bob Saget because of his v raunchy comedy, watch this show to basically witness him do the exact opposite. If you grew up with this show, I will have a crush on Uncle Jesse('s hair) until the day I die. Bonus: the ~very special~ themed episodes.
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This was basically my intro to therapy, and it's...not terrible? Yes, Frasier is kind of a baby, but his voice is just so soothing I could just (falls asleep). People loved this show so it's not surprising we're getting a reboot (which is in development).
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Kenan & Kel
Kenan & Kel helped make SNL’s Kenan Thompson a household name, and it was honestly just the best (if you like his work now, literally go back and see how good he's always been). Fun fact: It had tons of notable guest stars, including the living legend known as Britney Spears.
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K, but tell me you didn't want to be one of the Halliwell sisters, with their superpowers and achingly '90s fashion. Also there has never been a stronger argument for getting a brunette bob and/or bangs.
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One of the weirder shows to ever grace our TVs, I still can't believe it debuted on ABC. It's about the murder about HS student Laura Palmer, but two seasons, a movie, and a third season in 2017, the mysteries are still just as weird as ever.
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Beverly Hills: 90210
Tag yourself: I'm the terrible jeans! Yes, this show had a lot of bad acting and truly strange plot points, but it also gave us some of the most OTT television moments and Luke Perry. So call it a win.
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The West Wing
This one juuuust snuck into the '90s with a September 1999 debut, but the first season is a work of art. Totally counts. You can't convince me otherwise. Love you forever, Josh Lyman!
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Watching Taj Mowry's character, TJ, try to assimilate to high school as a literal former fourth grader was just too good. Before Young Sheldon, there was this absolute gem.
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Suddenly Susan starred Brooke Shields as a magazine writer who starts her own column about being single after she decides against marrying her rich fiancé (which, I get it, but also, maybe she coulda stuck it out?).
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3rd Rock From the Sun
If you didn’t have a crush on Joseph Gordon-Levitt as hot humanoid alien Tommy Solomon, were you even living? 3rd Rock From the Sun blessed us with its unearthly presence for six seasons, and its ending definitely left room for a revival. You listening, Netflix?
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Kids from the ’90s will remember coming home and feeling extremely cool while watching All That, Nickelodeon’s “sketch comedy” show for kids. Like, sorry, Lorne Michaels, but SNL who?
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If any single image could sum up the ’90s, it’d be this picture of Mayim Bialik as Blossom in her delightfully insane flower hat, high-waisted pants, and curled-under bob. But all that really matters is remembering how dreamy Blossom’s brother (played by Joey Lawrence) was. Le sigh.
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Boy Meets World
Between Shawn’s middle-part hair flop, Cory’s love for unbuttoned button-downs, and Topanga’s insane bangs, no show defines ’90s TV more than Boy Meets World. Hands up if Mr. Feeny is still your imaginary mentor.
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Buffy the Vampire Slayer
Sometimes in life, you have to make tough choices. And for us ’90s and early aughts kids, it all came down to this: Buffy or Charmed?! Buffy was significantly more ’90s and is often considered one of the Greatest Shows of All Time (nothing but the truth!).
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Clarissa Explains It All
Guys! Clarissa really did explain it all. Like how to sneak into your best friend’s window with a secret ladder. And how to deal with your annoying little brother. And how to buy your first training bra. The list goes on.
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Probably the best show MTV has ever made, Daria followed a sarcastic loner high school student who is the most relatable person (er, cartoon) ever. Good news: The show is being revived with a spin-off called Jodie.
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This iconic ’90s show was on for six seasons, but it was actually canceled by ABC midway through its run, only to be picked up by The WB, which clearly thought ABC was being insane, which it was. Tragically, the revival (announced last year) doesn’t seem to be coming out anytime soon.
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Speaking of animated ships, who else tuned in to Hey Arnold! every day after school to see if Arnold would finally return Helga’s unrequited love? Same again. I stan a football head!
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Watching Felicity basically involved (a) marveling over her gorgeous hair and (b) stressing out over her onscreen love life. Speaking of Felicity’s hair, her infamous cut is allegedly one of the reasons the ratings tanked and the show was canceled.
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Sure, it was just a hokey ’90s kids show. But Goosebumps introduced us to Slappy, the evil ventriloquist dummy, and nothing has been the same since. Thanks, R. L. Stine!
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Katherine J IgoeContributing EditorKatherine J Igoe (she/her) is a contributing editor for Cosmopolitan, covering style, lifestyle, culture, and beauty (she's obsessed with gift guides, best-of movie lists, and beauty products).
Mehera BonnerContributorMehera Bonner is a celebrity and entertainment news writer who enjoys Bravo and Antiques Roadshow with equal enthusiasm, She was previously entertainment editor at Marie Claire and has covered pop culture for over a decade.