The term “Millennial” is a bit subjective as the age range for this generation doesn’t seem to have a specific start or end date. Millennials oddly range throughout the span of about 25 years. Most scientists seem to end the era in the early 90s, young adults and teenagers today are still classified as Millennials even as their birth dates range up to the year 2000. As a late 80s baby myself, I am classified into the Millennial / Generation Y group. I graduated high school in 2007, didn’t have a cell phone until I was 18, and made it through high school without the standard text messaging, Snapchat, Facebook statuses, Instagram pictures, and vape pens that teens and young adults today have as a part of every day living. In other words, even in a matter of just a few years, life was very different for me growing up in comparison to today.
As the Millennium has progressed since Y2K hit in 2000, the role of television and film has also tried to keep up. A lot of movies and TV shows have integrated and matured their characters into being social media wizards or struggling with a barrage of modern issues, such as homosexuality, sexual identity, and bullying; the concept being the more relatable you make things, the more viewers you’ll get. Even with that, a lot of teens and young adults admittedly don’t watch much television. In a culture that promotes streaming services, torrents, and social media distraction, the film industry has had a struggle adapting along with the changes in culture and technology. A lot of shows are canceled quickly or face drastic changes within the first season or two to try and reinvent the series before it’s finally axed for good. In my opinion, this is a shift that has caused storylines and characters to become stale, predictable, and dull.
What has gotten lost is the classic element of simplicity. I understand that changes do have to be made regarding how modern culture is perceived, but there are some great examples of nostalgic, “retro” television shows that are still fun and relevant to this day. Granted people didn’t have cell phones, Fitbit watches, or iPads, but the comedy and issues were just as relevant then as they are now. The stories and characters promoted a quality of life full of enjoyment and meaning that a lot of shows these days just don’t have. We aren’t taught to learn, experience and grow. We are merely just taught to make it day by day and survive.
For this list, we’ll focus on ten 90s shows that every Millennial on the latter half of the spectrum should watch at least once. While some of these did start in the late 80s, their initial runs did extend into the 90s so they are fully qualified. The opposite is also true for shows that began in the 90s and ended in the 2000s. I highly recommend checking out all of these shows because even though the wardrobe, outdated technology, and odd color choices might be amusing to the teens and young adults of today, you might find that you understand them more than you might have initially thought.
Disclaimer: All streaming statuses via Hulu Plus, Amazon Prime, and Netflix are accurate as of May 2016
10. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air
Original Air Date: September 1990 – May 1996 Streaming? Unfortunately, no.
Who doesn’t love the Fresh Prince? Kicking off the list is this early 90s staple starring an up and coming Will Smith as a street-smart Philadelphia teen who runs into trouble and is shipped off to live with his wealthy uncle in the Bel Air neighborhood of Los Angeles, California. While a lot of modern teens have seen this show, there are still a decent number of those who haven’t, so give it a try if you’ve never sat down and actually watched it. You’ll be doing the Carlton with the rest of us before you know it.
9. Boy Meets World
Original Air Date: September 1993 – May 2000 Streaming? Unfortunately, no
Forget the Disney Channel continuation, Girl Meets World, for a second and let’s talk about how special the original really was. Boy Meets World is a rare show in the sense that it managed to successfully evolve and stay relevant as their actors and characters grew up. Starting when Cory Matthews was in sixth grade and ending with him becoming a married college student was something not many shows had ever done before. The evolution of the characters gave viewers a glimpse into the way friendships and relationships change as you mature and take the next steps in life. For a lot of us, we were growing up right along with Cory and his friends
8. The X-Files
Original Air Date: September 1993 – May 2002 Streaming? Yes! You can watch on Amazon Prime
The X-Files just had somewhat of a resurgence with the brand new, 6-episode special that aired this past January, but there is a long history of X-Files cases that many young people today know nothing about. Agents Mulder and Scully started back in 1993 and for nine seasons, and two movies, they were exploring paranormal and extraterrestrial mysteries. If nothing else, it’s a great way to spend a couple weeks if you’re a fan of sci-fi, mysteries, or horror.
7. Twin Peaks
Original Air Date: April 1990 – June 1991 Streaming? Yes! You can watch on Hulu Plus
Speaking of mysteries, if you’re a fan of crime mystery and thrillers, you should check out Twin Peaks. When a small town homecoming queen is murdered, an FBI Agent comes into town and quickly learns how twisted and macabre the underbelly of small town politics and behavior can be. Twin Peaks didn’t last very long, but it definitely left its impact on 90s culture and still has a cult following to this day. It’s even been confirmed to be returning with a new season on Showtime in 2017. After all, don’t you want to know who killed Laura Palmer?
6. The Simpsons
Original Air Date: December 1989 – present Streaming? Sort of. You can watch all seasons via if you have a cable subscription
Now, I know you might think this is a strange choice because The Simpsons is still on the air. While that may be the case, the fact of the matter is this show hasn’t been what it used to be for well over a decade. I always advise anyone who either started watching The Simpsons in the mid to late 2000s, or has never seen an episode, to start at the beginning. The first ten seasons contain by far the best episodes Matt Groening ever produced and they actually sought out to connect with real-life issues. They weren’t just comedic, animated gaffes every week. There were also a lot of classic characters that unfortunately haven’t existed for many seasons.
Original Air Date: September 1999 – May 2001 Streaming? Unfortunately, no
Ever wonder what American Horror Story co-creator Ryan Murphy was up to in the late 90s? Well, he was busy collaborating on this comedy-drama about two girls on opposite ends of the popularity spectrum. Like most great teen shows, Popular was short lived and only lasted for two seasons. However, what this show did regarding comedy was something that served as a precursor for many longstanding teen comedies of the 2000s, such as Mean Girls, with strong elements of sarcasm and non sequitur humor. It was quirky, funny, and attacked the ridiculousness of teen popularity in a real way.
Original Air Date: July 1989 – May 1998 Streaming? Yes! You can watch on Hulu Plus
Seinfeld is one of those shows that you either love or hate. In my experience, there really is no in between on that. Whether we like it or not, the show was a platform for a lot of sitcoms that came in the 2000s and set a humor standard still used by shows today, such as Big Bang Theory, Archer, and Parks and Recreation. Seinfeld is still known today to be a show about nothing and that is essentially true. Comedian Jerry Seinfeld played a fictitious version of himself and the random experiences shared with his three best friends managed to make audiences laugh for nine years. It’s also given us catchphrases that are appropriate at any given moment. Now that is something the Jimmy likes.
3. Degrassi Junior High / Degrassi High
Original Air Date: January 1987 – January 1991 Streaming? Yes! You can watch on Amazon Prime
If you ever had cable, you no doubt used to watch Degrassi: The Next Generation on The-N. However, we weren’t around to see the first hand experiences of the first round of Degrassi students with Degrassi Junior High and Degrassi High. One thing these Canadian teen shows did right was portray realistic issues and events in a way that was easy to relate to. Subjects like peer pressure, sexuality, relationships, and friendships were common themes, but they were touched in a way that other shows of the time weren’t doing. The show even won an International Emmy in 1987 for its portrayal of teen pregnancy.
2. My So-Called Life
Original Air Date: August 1994 – January 1995 Streaming? Yes! You can watch on Hulu Plus
This Golden Globe award winning show unfortunately only lasted one season and it still boggles the mind as to why it wasn’t a bigger hit with audiences. My So-Called Life followed a fifteen year old high school sophomore as she encountered topics such as substance abuse, peer pressure, sex, relationships, sexual identity, academic pressure, and betrayal. The topics sound like they’d still be a hit today, huh? For me personally, this show is one of the most realistic portrayals of teenage life ever captured on film and it’s as real now as it was back in the 90s. Plus, you get to spend 17 episodes staring at how perfectly Jared Leto leans.
1. Freaks and Geeks
Original Air Date: September 1999 – July 2000 Streaming? Yes! You can watch on Netflix
Freaks and Geeks is another teen television gem that only lasted one season. Similar to My So-Called Life, it is a very realistic show that had its share of drama and touched on a lot of very similar topics. There’s no real explanation for why it was canceled so abruptly, but it has since developed somewhat of a cult following. It’s funny, it’s raw, and it almost makes you feel like you’re actually in high school again. You just have the luxury of looking in from the outside this time around. Plus, you can see very young versions of actors such as John Francis Daley, James Franco, Seth Rogen, Martin Starr, Busy Phillips, and Jason Segel.
Are You Afraid of the Dark? (1990 – 2000), The State (1993 – 1995), Family Matters (1989 – 1997), Full House (1987 – 1995), Saved by the Bell (1987 – 1993), Roseanne (1988 – 1997), Clarissa Explains It All (1991 – 1994), Dawson’s Creek (1998 – 2003)
What is your favorite 90s television show? Let us know in the comments!