Oh, the '90s! The decade marked a time of great music, great fashion and even better television. In honor of the 30th anniversary of the premiere of "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" on Sept. 10, 2020, Wonderwall.com is taking a look at the best '90s TV shows to stream… starting with the show that made Will Smith a household name! "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" was more than just a television show. The series taught audiences about race relations in ways no sitcom had explored before. By tackling police brutality, racial profiling, racial biases in the workplace and interracial dating, it revolutionized the way black characters were represented in film and on TV. If you strip away all the comedy and charisma, Will's show was one that celebrated your past as being integral to your present. Regardless of where you come from or who did or didn't raise you, all that really matters is who you're willing to become. "Fresh Prince" is available to stream on Amazon Prime Video. Keep reading for more…
"Boy Meets World" on Disney+
"Boy Meets World" was a staple on every '90s kid's watchlist. Over its seven-season run, these Philadelphia children-turned-teens-turned-adults got into all sorts of shenanigans, and we were lucky enough to wander down this road called life with them. The series effortlessly balanced comedy with more emotional, serious beats — while most episodes were rooted in lighthearted, (romantic) comedic relief, some were focused on tackling real-life issues (like when Shawn joined a cult). "Boy Meets World" also gave us two of the best relationships of the decade: Cory and Topanga and Cory and Shawn. No other romance or bromance stood a chance! The beloved series is available to stream on Disney+.
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"Buffy the Vampire Slayer" on Hulu
It's hard to pinpoint exactly what we love most about "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" — the thoughtful writing, the creation of "Slayer Speak" (the personable, unique way characters in the series talk), the love triangles, the friendships, the twists, the emotional beats… the list goes on and on. Praised by Rolling Stone as "[Joss] Whedon's grand, glorious pop culture touchstone," "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" was more than just a peculiarly named high school soap with scary monsters — it had depth and dimension. Even now, more than two decades after the show's debut debut, Buffy Summers remains a powerful, undaunted pillar of strength — she fights, persists and prevails against even the most insurmountable Big Bad.
"My So-Called Life" on Amazon Prime Video & ABC.com
Not only is this one of the best TV shows of the '90s — it's one of the best TV shows period. There were so many things that "My So-Called Life" got right, but one of the most notable is how authentically it conveyed the adolescent experience. Its characters sounded like actual teenagers — their words weren't always profound, and their attitudes toward situations weren't always honorable. In viewing the world through 15-year-old Angela Chase's angst-ridden perspective, audiences were given a deeper, greater understanding of the perils of coming of age. There's something really liberating in a teenage girl being able to view teenage problems as the end of the world — we often forget that when growing up, so many things feel like life or death, and to see a show acknowledge that intensity of emotion is a rarity. In many ways, "My So-Called Life" was years ahead of its time: In addition to giving voice to millions of teens, it was the first TV series to include an openly gay Latino character as part of the main cast. It revolutionized the teen drama landscape, and it's a cult classic for a reason.
"Felicity" on Amazon Prime Video and ABC.com
It's hard to believe that it's been nearly 18 years since we first listened to one of Felicity Porter's tapes. In addition to introducing us to one of the best love triangles in television history, "Felicity" launched Keri Russell's career. It was different from your typical teen drama in that it followed these characters during their college years. Given that the '90s was rampant with high school dramas, there was something refreshing about watching these characters deal with a new city, a new set of friends and a new set of circumstances in a generally under-depicted phase of coming of age. The show was a trailblazer in the teen drama landscape — Felicity was a strong but flawed heroine. There was this quiet introspection to her, a level of self-awareness that was often lacking in other lead characters during this decade.
"Friends" on HBO Max
Viewers around the world became invested in the lives of a certain group of friends residing in New York City's Greenwich Village in the '90s. Since its debut in 1994, "Friends" has been an absolute hit — during the course of its 10-season run, we rooted for Phoebe, Chandler, Rachel, Ross, Monica and Joey, we were disappointed them and, ultimately, we wanted the best for them. From "The One with the Prom Video" to "The One Where No One's Ready" and everything in between, "Friends" left quite the lasting impact on the television landscape. P.S. They totally were not on a break.
"Living Single" on Hulu & Amazon Prime Video
Before there was "Friends" there was "Living Single." The show, which premiered on FOX in 1993, chronicled the experiences of six 20-something friends (played to perfection by Queen Latifah, Kim Coles, Erika Alexander, John Henton, Kim Fields and T.C. Carson) who reside in a Brooklyn brownstone. While the show failed to achieve high ratings, it was beloved by audiences for its positive and inspiring portrayal of Black people in the mainstream media. In 2018, the show's creator, Yvette Lee Bowser, spoke to The Undefeated about the importance of elevating Black voices, saying, "A lot of us — in our art, our voices — were used to build networks and then [were] disposed of. Looking back, that's a hard reality to face, but I'm really happy to be part of what is presently an amazing Black renaissance. I'm glad I didn't give up." The series that paved the way for the pop culture phenomenon that was "Friends" ran for five seasons until its cancellation in January 1998.
"Ally McBeal" on Hulu & Amazon Prime Video
Juicy, dramatic and hilarious — what's not to love about this David E. Kelley series? "Ally McBeal," which premiered on FOX in 1997 and ran until 2002, was a legal dramedy that starred Calista Flockhart as the titular character, a young lawyer who lands a job at a prestigious Boston law firm, and chronicled the personal and professional lives of the lawyers at the firm. For its earlier seasons in particular, "Ally McBeal" received critical acclaim, earning a Golden Globe for best musical or comedy TV series in both 1997 and 1998 and an Emmy for outstanding comedy series in 1999. Calista was also nominated for best actress for all five seasons (she won in 1998) and also earned three Emmy nominations for her performance on the show.
"Rugrats" on Hulu
There are some shows you watch while growing up that really stay with you, and this is one of them. Premiering in 1991, "Rugrats" was the kind of children's show that shaped viewers. Seen through the eyes of babies Tommy Pickles, Chuckie, Phil and Lil, "Rugrats" imagined ordinary, day-to-day life moments as bigger, more surprising adventures. Upon rewatch, the show instantly hits you with a dose of nostalgia — you can't help but remember bits of your own childhood while seeing Tommy and the babies live out theirs.
"Xena: Warrior Princess" on Amazon Prime Video
Whether you're in the mood for some nostalgia or you feel like watching a series about a warrior princess seeking retribution for her dark past, "Xena: Warrior Princess" should be added to your watchlist. The show packs a powerful, female-driven punch and is often recognized as pioneering a generation of female heroines. Its depiction of a strong, feminist and likely lesbian protagonist was groundbreaking during the time. Xena was a woman who didn't need saving; she was the hero of her own story.
"Sailor Moon" on Amazon Prime Video
As far as the '90s go, "Sailor Moon" was incredibly progressive anime. With boundary-breaking relationships, authentic characters (we all had our favorite Sailor Scout!) and intricately written backstories, the Japanese young adult series was one that didn't feel kiddish. And while other anime series like "Digimon," "Dragon Ball Z" and "Pokémon" also found success in international markets, there was none as influential as "Sailor Moon." Sailor Moon is another female heroine who isn't without her flaws, but as the series progressed, so did she — in many respects, there's a certain Buffy Summers quality to her. She starts off as a reluctant hero concerned with boys and spending time with her friends and eventually comes to realize that her responsibilities precede her personal desires. Sailor Moon, along with her fellow Sailor Scouts, are the group of feminist heroes we didn't know we needed.
"Sabrina the Teenage Witch" on Hulu
"Sabrina the Teenage Witch" is like the gentle, more cheery younger sister of "Buffy the Vampire Slayer." After discovering she's one of a long line of witches in her family, Sabrina Spellman learns how to use her newfound powers with the help of her zany aunts, Hilda and Zelda. The series taught teens and tweens everywhere to celebrate their differences and served as a reminder that fitting in isn't nearly as important as being true to who you are. Female-led, LGBTQ-friendly and appropriately romantic, "Sabrina the Teenage Witch" is a teen sitcom that still leaves us spellbound.
"Twin Peaks" on Hulu, CBS & Amazon Prime Video
There are few television shows quite as influential as this one. Created by Mark Frost and David Lynch, "Twin Peaks" starred Kyle MacLachlan as an FBI agent investigating the mysterious murder of troubled homecoming queen Laura Palmer (Sheryl Lee). Distinguished by its eccentric, often melodramatic characters inspired by soap opera tropes, notable surrealism and idiosyncratic cinematography, "Twin Peaks" has long been regarded as one of the greatest television series of all time.
"Recess" on Disney+
We have such vivid memories of watching this series growing up. "Recess" was more than just a cartoon — it wasn't afraid to get real or emotional. Its ragtag team of friends — TJ, Vince, Ashley, Gretchen, Mikey and Gus — was well-rounded and developed; the show made a conscious effort to build a world for its characters to thrive in. Satirical, thoughtful and funny, "Recess" is one series that continues to impact audiences of all ages.
"Saved by the Bell" on Hulu
Similar to other coming-of-age series during this decade, "Saved by the Bell" was another one that blended lighthearted comedy with more serious issues faced by young adults during the time, touching on themes like drug abuse and driving under the influence in ways that felt thoughtful and relatable for the teen audience. From Zack Morris's charming personality and dashing good looks to Kelly Kapowski's popular, girl-next-door allure, the ensemble cast was also one of Hollywood's most iconic.
"The Simpsons" on Hulu & Disney+
Widely considered the most successful prime time television series ever created, "The Simpsons" has certainly earned its spot on our list. While the series debuted in 1989, it arguably wasn't until its third season, which aired from 1991 to 1992, when it hit its stride. Among the series' most notable components is its heavy reliance on hyper-referential humor. "Matt Groening's iconic animated series turned hyper-referentiality into an art form, regularly packing in throwaway references to high and low culture right from the start," wrote Entertainment Weekly's Darren French in 2011. That, along with its dimensional characters and quick-witted writing, are what make "The Simpsons" such a revolutionary (and long-lasting) television show.
"Full House" on Hulu
Another '90s television series that left a lasting impression on pop culture? "Full House." Among the most influential aspects of the series, which ran for eight seasons from 1987 to 1995, was how it challenged the notion of a nuclear family. In the show's first episode, we learned that Danny Tanner's wife has passed away, leaving him to raise his three daughters with the help of his two closest friends. By having Joey and Jesse serve as co-parents in DJ, Steph and Michelle's lives, the show challenged the prototypical family structure. For the Tanners, family is everyone they choose to surround themselves with — without their matriarch, they reinvent what that word means for them.
"Hey Arnold!" on Hulu
Despite being a children's show, there was something refreshingly honest about "Hey Arnold!" The series focused on fourth grader Arnold's experiences navigating childhood and growing up with his grandparents in an inner-city complex in the fictional city of Hillwood. Inspired by people that creator Craig Bartlett knew growing up, Arnold, Gerald and Helga were dynamic, fully realized characters. While it might have been lost on us as children, looking back, "Hey Arnold!" was one of those shows that didn't shy away from tackling real and even dark issues. Hilarious, honest and quietly sophisticated, "Hey Arnold!" is a children's show worth revisiting.
"Charmed" on Netflix & Amazon Prime Video
Talk about a classic. Starring Shannen Doherty, Holly Marie Combs and Alyssa Milano, "Charmed" chronicled the lives of The Charmed Ones, three sisters who also happen to be powerful witches, as they protected those around them from the forces of evil. When it premiered on the now-defunct WB network in 1998, 7.7 million viewers tuned in — making it the network's highest rated debut. The cult-classic series, which ran for eight seasons until 2006, received critical praise for its depiction of strong female leads, intricate use of mythology and ability to consistently tell grounded stories.
"Daria" on Hulu & MTV
There's something really cathartic about watching an angsty, misanthropic teen in suburbia judge her surroundings. "Daria" left a lasting impact on animated television as it viewed the world through the eyes of a cynical, thoughtful and unapologetically opinionated teen Daria Morgendorffer and best friend Jane Lane. Daria's commentary on the world around her was blunt, nonsensical and a definite breath of fresh air.
"Seinfeld" on Hulu
"Seinfeld" is indisputably one of the most successful shows ever made and another series that changed television. Prior to its debut, the sitcom landscape concerned itself with big issues and traditional ways of storytelling, but "Seinfeld" went against the grain — it was a show that celebrated the trivial aspects of life. There didn't have to be some groundbreaking moment or revelation: The enjoyment was in the minutiae of everyday life. "Seinfeld" sparked an age of antiheroes — suddenly, the types of characters that we'd previously been taught to loath were now at the forefront of television.
"Beverly Hills, 90210" on Hulu & CBS All Access
Before there was "Gossip Girl," there was "Beverly Hills, 90210." The show was a definite guilty pleasure — from its ridiculously attractive cast living in one of the world's most elite area codes to the over-the-top, melodramatic storylines, it was rooted more in fantasy than reality. Still, the series, which included '90s darlings Jason Priestley, Shannen Doherty, Jennie Garth, Luke Perry Tori Spelling and Brian Austin Green, was the ultimate teenage drama. While a myriad of television shows similar to it have since debuted, few can claim to be as influential as "Beverly Hills 90210."