Top 10 Best 90s Sitcoms
Most people wouldn’t say that the 1990s were the epitome of television, but there certainly were a number of fantastic sitcoms. The fact is, there were some really solid television shows in the 1990s, and though most people today talk about the great shows from the 1980s, such as Cheers, The Golden Girls and The Cosby Show, as well as the gritty sitcoms of the 1970s, such as All in the Family, M*A*S*H, Happy Days and The Bob Newhart Show, all of these shows paved the way for 1990s television.
As the decade opened, the TV industry was mostly focused on cable, not so much network television. There were a number of new cable channels that premiered in 1990 including The Family Channel, which is now Freeform, HA!, which was the precursor to Comedy Central, and E!, which is still around.
On the public networks in 1990, soap operas were hot, and a number of sitcoms saw their final season including Alf, 227, My Two Dads, and Charles in Charge. With the turn of a decade, and sitcoms not exactly on the TV audience’s radars, the time was ripe for sitcom writers to come up with some great television shows, and come up with them…they did.
The sitcoms that came out of the 1990s not only changed the lives of many, they had an enormous impact on American culture, and several of these television shows still have an impact on our lives today. Here are the top 10 best 90s sitcoms.
10. Mad About You
Premiering in 1992 and airing until 1999, Mad About You, starred Helen Hunt and Paul Reiser as a newly married couple living in New York City. Reiser plays a goodie-two-shoes filmmaker, Paul Buchman, and Hunt plays his wife Jamie, who is the assertive and realistic half of the relationship. The couple also had a dog, Murray, who became well known in his own right, and he was voted the most popular dog on television by readers of TV Guide two times.
The sitcom had a constant flow of bickering and making up between the couple, and these minor arguments were often perpetuated by the presence of their families, friends, neighbors and in some cases, even bystanders they run into when out and about.
Mad About You ran for seven seasons, and within that time, the show was nominated for 89 different awards, and it won four Golden Globes. This show was so popular throughout the 1990s, in fact, that other sitcoms began referencing Mad About You in their episodes, including Married With Children and Seinfeld. There was also a connection with the television show, Friends, as the sister of Phoebe, a character on Friends, was a waitress on Mad About You.
The Buchman’s eventually had a daughter, Mabel, near the end of the show’s run, and the final episode of the series takes place 20 years in the future and featured a number of flashbacks to give the audience an idea of what happened in the lives of the Buchman family.
9. Family Matters
Though Mad About You was more of an adult sitcom, Family Matters was one for everyone. The sitcom premiered in 1989, and it ran through 1998, and had audiences of all ages. Family Matters was nominated for one Emmy during it’s run, though it was extremely popular due to its main character, Steve Urkel, who was played by Jaleel White.
This sitcom was a spin off of the 1980s series, Perfect Strangers, and it followed the lives of the middle-class Winslow family, who lived in Chicago. The show ran for a total of 9 seasons with the Steve Urkel character being the main one of the show for 8 of those years. This character was so popular, in fact, that there were products, candies, dolls and even t-shirts with his likeness.
The series followed Carl Winslow, a police officer, and his family including his wife, Harriette, son Eddie, and his daughters, Laura and Judy. His mother, Estelle, also lived in the home, as did Harriette’s sister, Rachel, and her baby son, Richie. Though their neighbor, Steve Urkel, was only meant to be in the series for one episode, he was the series mainstay for the remainder of its run.
What made Family Matters stand apart? It was first, the huge popularity of the Urkel character, and second, the fact that the sitcom is the second-longest running sitcom in the U.S. that featured an African American cast. The only other African-American-centric sitcom that ran longer than Family Matters was The Jeffersons, which ran for 11 seasons.
8. Everybody Loves Raymond
Its not common to be able to turn on the television decades after a show has made its run and watch it in its entirety, but even today, its possible to turn on the television and see Everybody Loves Raymond. Though the show aired throughout the late-1990s to the early-2000’s, there are many themes of the show that are still relevant to audiences today, especially when it comes to dealing with a parent, spouse or young child.
The series centers on the life of Raymond Barone, a sports newspaper writer, and his family including his wife Debra and their children, Ally, Michael and Geoffrey. Raymond’s parents, Frank and Marie, live across the street with Ray’s older brother, Robert. To the frustration of Debra and Ray, these three are common unwanted visitors, and much of the series is focused on these relationships. There is especially a focus on the relationship between Debra and her mother-in-law, Marie, who is controlling and insulting, yet loving. We also see a lot of conflict between Raymond and Robert, who are constant rivals.
Much of the content of Everybody Loves Raymond came from the real life of Ray Romano, who played Raymond Barone and wrote many of the episodes. For instance, Ray Romano’s brother is an NYPD police officer, and in the show, Robert, who is Raymond’s brother, is also an NYPD officer.
The show was widely popular, and it won several Emmy awards including Outstanding Comedy Series, and was nominated for many more. Several of the actors on the show also won Emmy’s for their work including Brad Garrett, Doris Roberts and Patricia Heaton.
7. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Shows that have plots surrounding the mixing of the rich with the poor have always been popular, and even today, shows such as Downton Abbey, show that this formula is going nowhere fast. In the 1990s, this same formula worked for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.
The premise of the show was a young Will Smith, who was played by the rapper Will Smith, a teenager who was growing up in a bad area of West Philadelphia. He is sent to Bel Air to live with his aunt and uncle, Phil and Vivian, by his mother after getting in a fight. Throughout the series, Will’s lifestyle often clashes with his relatives.
In addition to his Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv, Will also lives with his cousins. Carlton, his male cousin, is the foil to Will, and the characters are almost exact opposites of each other, yet they find themselves in situations where they must put their differences aside to work together. In addition to Carlton, Will has an older cousin, Hilary, who is a dumb, snooty character, as well as a younger cousin, Ashley, who is most like Will and looks up to her older cousin.
The show premiered in 1990 and ran for six seasons until 1996. During that time, the show and actors won several awards including Image Awards and ASCAP Awards, and they were nominated for Golden Globes in 1993 and 1994.
The popularity of the show was also apparent based on the overlapping with other shows of the 1990s including Blossom, which also aired on NBC.
6. Boy Meets World
If you were a kid in the 1990s, there is no doubt that you tuned into Boy Meets World. This is one of those “coming of age” sitcoms, which focuses on the life of Cory Matthews, a goofy school boy who, along with his best friend Shawn, live through the trials and tribulations of middle and high school, including dealing with their principal, Mr. Feeney, and facing bullies. The show continues for seven seasons, and the target audience grew up with the characters, which had such an impact on viewers, that there is a new show on The Disney Channel, called Girl Meets World, which follows an adult Cory, his high school sweetheart, now wife, Topanga, and their daughter.
Though the show was targeted to a middle school/high school audience, this became a popular family show, one that the entire family could enjoy. It aired on the widely popular Friday night line-up during ABC’s TGIF block, and is still in syndication on other channels, today.
Though the show was seen as a “safe” show for young kids, it was not without controversy. For instance, there was an interracial relationship on the show, which was quite uncommon at the time. The show also had themes of sexual harassment, underage drug and alcohol use and child abuse throughout its run.
Boy Meets World was never nominated for any of the major television awards, but it did bring in several other awards and nominations including Kids Choice Awards, Young Artist Awards and YoungStar Awards.
ABC’s wildly popular TGIF block on Friday nights not only featured shows such as Family Matters and Boy Meets World, it also featured one of the most popular family sitcoms of all time, Full House.
Full House followed the Tanner family, a widowed Danny along with his three young daughters, D.J., Stephanie and Michelle. Helping Danny raise his girls was his childhood friend, Joey, and his brother-in-law, Jesse. The show ran for 8 seasons, and was a staple for families in the first half of the decade.
As the show grew and developed, other characters were introduced, such as Rebecca, a co-worker of Danny’s, who ended up dating and marrying Jesse. They had twin boys, Nicky and Alex, who were brought in after the girls grew up and entered high school and middle school, to keep the young baby/child gaffs going strong. The Tanner’s neighbor, Kimmy Gibbler, who was D.J.’s best friend, was also a prominent character in the series.
The show was a wholesome one, and one that presented a problem to the audience near the beginning of the episode, and fully solved it by the end. This was a formula that worked well for the sitcom, and it was praised for showing that a non-traditional family could work well to raise children.
Full House was so popular, in fact, that there was merchandise available, such as games, dolls and even t-shirts made of the cast. The popularity of the show continues today, even, with the introduction of Fuller House, on Netflix, which features D.J., Stephanie and Kimmy raising D.J.’s kids after the death of her husband.
A spin-off of the wildly popular 1980s sitcom, Cheers, Frasier stars Kelsey Grammer as Dr. Frasier Crane, who returns to Seattle after living in Boston. His plans for a grand new life fall flat, however, when he must take in his disabled father, Martin, a retired police detective. Other characters in the show include Daphne, a live-in caretaker for Martin, Frasier’s brother, Niles, also a psychiatrist, and Martin’s dog, Eddie. Much of the show also focuses on Frasier’s radio program and the platonic relationship he has with his producer, Roz, who is almost the opposite of Frasier in most ways.
As with many of the sitcoms that were popular in these days, there is a clash between the blue and white collar characters, i.e. the police office father versus his highly-educated sons. There is also recurring themes including the breakdown of Niles’ marriage, his love for Daphne and the attempts of the brothers to gain admittance to the cultural elite of the city.
Frasier was widely popular, and it was one of the top shows during the 11 years it ran on television. The show was nominated for more than 250 awards, and it won several Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards and Emmys.
Since Frasier was a spin-off of Cheers, all of the major players from that show appeared on Frasier as a guest star, and it is known as one of the top spin-off shows of all time.
For as much as Frasier appealed to the white collar fans, Roseanne appealed to the blue collar crowd. Love it or hate it, Roseanne was a cultural phenomenon, and broke ground for many of the sitcoms that still air today.
The series starred Roseanne Barr and John Goodman and Roseanne and Dan Conner, a financially struggling couple in the suburbs of Chicago. They have three children, Becky, Darlene and D.J., who all have very different personalities and problems that pop up in their lives. Other prominent characters in the series include Roseanne’s sister, Jackie, her best friend Crystal, and various co-workers. Throughout the show’s 9 seasons, other characters were introduced including Becky’s boyfriend, and then husband, Mark, and Darlene’s boyfriend, and then husband, David, who are also brothers.
What made Roseanne so groundbreaking? First, viewers could relate to the struggling family and the events they faced, such as lay offs, and many understood raising kids, such as snarky teenage girls, which Roseanne and Dan also did throughout the series. The show also featured concepts such as homosexuality, which had not been shown on network television. In fact, ABC executives tried to cancel a 1994 episode where Roseanne kissed guest star Muriel Hemingway, which was only the third lesbian kiss on television. Other controversial topics were also seen throughout the series such as domestic violence, teenage sex and drug use.
Roseanne was in the Neilson Top 20 for 8 of its 9 seasons, and was in the Top 5 from it’s first through fifth season. The show won several Emmys and Golden Globes, and the final episode brought in 16 million viewers.
The quintessential “show about nothing,” Seinfeld is not only one of the best sitcoms of the 1990s, it is largely considered to be one of the best sitcoms of all time. Seinfeld premiered in 1989 and ran until 1998. Created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David, the show was based around a fictionalized version of Jerry. In the show, Jerry lived in an apartment on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, and features his neighbor, Cosmo Kramer, best friend, George Costanza, and his former girlfriend turned friend, Elaine Benes.
The show was such a cultural phenomenon, that many of the gaffs in the show are still part of our lives, such as the celebration of Festivus, a made-up holiday from Seinfeld, which occurs on December 23 each year.
Many of the series’ episodes are based on the real-life experiences of the writers, including those of Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld. Most of the series took place either in Jerry’s apartment or the diner.
The final episode attracted more than 76 million people, more than half of the television viewers in the county, though the episode is often referenced as one of the worst of all time.
Over the nine seasons of Seinfeld, the show was nominated for and won several Golden Globes, Screen Actors Guild Awards and Emmys. The show is highly syndicated, and reruns are still airing in most of the country, either on cable or local channels. To this day, there are many references to Seinfeld in our daily lives.
Thus far, all of the sitcoms on this list have been highly important to the culture of the 1990s, and many of them have had a huge influence on viewers that is still seen, today. No show, however, has had as much impact on our lives than Friends. Though some can argue that Seinfeld or Roseanne, for instance, had an influence, and they did, those shows were catered towards different audiences where Friends was catered to those 20 or 30-somethings who were charging into adulthood with the characters themselves.
Friends focuses on a group of six friends, Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Joey, Chandler and Ross, who live in the West Village. The episodes generally focus on the romantic and comedic lives of the group, and dating and relationships is a common storyline. The relationship between Ross and Rachel was highly popular, and the final episode of the show finally has them confessing their love for each other.
Throughout its run, Friends aired on Thursday nights on NBC during the network’s “Must See TV” block along with other popular sitcoms including Will & Grace, Frasier, Seinfeld and Just Shoot Me. Thursday night’s concluded with ER for most of the 1990s.
The cultural impact of Friends was huge. Women went to the salon to get their hair cut like Rachel, and men used the pick up line, “How you doin’?” just like Joey.
The show was nominated for and won a multitude of awards, too, including Golden Globes, Emmys and Screen Actors Guild Awards.
Television in the 1990s is difficult to beat, and even the sitcoms on the air today have not reached the popularity that these older sitcoms gained. There truly was something for everyone when it came to the sitcoms of the 1990s, and no matter who you were, from a 20-something to an older professional, there was a 1990s sitcom that you would be able to relate to.
Though the Golden Age of Television technically occurred between 1949 and 1960, there is no reason not to call the time between 1990 and 1999 the Golden Age of Sitcoms, as there were enough good sitcoms to fill up a list three times this size.
Fortunately, those who want a bit of nostalgia in their life are lucky, as streaming sites such as Netflix and Hulu currently have many of these sitcoms available. So, whether you want to relive the romance between Ross and Rachel, or re-familiarize yourself with the Tanner family before binge watching Fuller House, you will find these shows and more still available and watchable to feed your 1990s fix.