The '90s Sitcoms That Nobody Ever Talks About

It’s no secret that ’90s nostalgia is huge right now, from flannel shirts and Doc Martens to Lisa Frank and Clarissa Explains It All reruns. But what about the shows nobody seems to remember? The sitcoms that, once flourishing, now seem to have vanished into a pop culture black hole along with Hypercolor and Nosy Bears (anyone? Nosy Bears?). Here are a few that could use a little modern day love:

Phenom

Given my love of child stars and talented wunderkind everywhere, this show really appealed to me. Our main gal was a 15-year old tennis prodigy trying to find the balance between a normal childhood and the life of a sports star. Her mother, played by the inimitable Judith Light, had been left by her husband for a younger woman, and endeavored to raise her children (including Growing Pain‘s Ashley Johnson!) alone. With help from her daughter’s  obsessive tennis coach, of course. This show only lasted one season and nobody ever includes it in lists of the best shows of the 90s, but they’re just wrong.

Empty Nest

Famous for not just beginning as a spin-off (of Golden Girls) but also resulting in a spin-off (Nurses), Empty Nest was about a recently widowed pediatrician whose two adult daughters move back home in the wake of his wife’s death. There’s also a dog involved. And the girls still call their Dad “Daddy” (pet peeve alert, but whatever). It’s funny to me that I was so into this show given that when it first aired, I was only 4 years old, but hey, it worked. The oldest daughter was uptight and neurotic, the middle daughter was a tough-as-nails undercover police officer, and the neighbor was a sleazy, womanizing, cruise ship employee who regularly made sexist comments as only a 90s sitcom neighbor can. Also, the woman who played Daddy’s nurse at work was named Park Overall. That’s reason enough to watch.

Just the Ten of Us

This show was yet another spin-off – of Growing Pains – although I’m not sure I knew that at the time that it aired. Featuring stand-up comedian Bill Kirchenbauer as a father of eight (!), the show mostly chronicled the family’s money troubles and the ups and downs of being part of such a large and vibrant family. Eventually, the show focused more on the older daughters and their teenage trials and tribulations, which of course was just fine by me. Fun fact: both Matthew Perry and Matt LeBlanc appear on the show, but unfortunately in different episodes.

Parker Lewis Can’t Lose

Heavily influenced by Ferris Bueller’s Day Off (which also spawned a TV show, by the way), this teen-friendly show featured our title character, a high school student for whom coolness is the ultimate goal. Nothing is too tricky for him to weasel his way out of, and he has adventures and gets in and out of scrapes with the help of his friends and girlfriend. Parker also narrates the show, much like Ferris does the movie, breaking the 4th wall and addressing the audience directly. There are many surreal elements and an almost cartoon-ish quality to the world Parker and his friends occupy, making this show a cut above the average teen comedy of the 80s or 90s. Also, his wildly garish shirts are a time capsule in and of themselves.

My Two Dads

Featuring both a pre-Mad About You Paul Reiser and a pre-Step by Step Staci Keanan, My Two Dads was about a 12-year old girl whose mother dies, leaving her to the two men who have long competed for her (the mother’s) affection. Neither of them knows for sure which one is the father, so they raise the girl together, despite the fact that the two men can’t stand each other. Super realistic, right? I actually don’t remember if the show had a lot of awful gay jokes but it seems like it must have, although kudos to them for demonstrating ahead of their time that an unconventional family is still a family.

Maybe I’ve watched too many Full House reruns and as a result am starting to get sick of the Tanner girls (blasphemy, I know). Or maybe because nobody ever mentions these particular shows, they’ve taken on that forgotten-dream quality I’m always talking about. But whatever the reason, there’s something so comforting and nostalgic about this group of 90s sitcoms. So let’s petition for them to start airing Phenom three times an afternoon, okay?

Images via imremembering.com, wikipedia.com, legendsrevealed.com, timstvshowcase.com, fourthgradenothing.com

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=21500079 Molly Jay

    I loved Empty Nest (as all 6-year-olds at the time should have?) and I remember the very day my mind was blown, learning that the uptight older daughter, played by Dinah Manoff, WAS THE SAME PERSON who played flirty, Marine-crazed Marty in Grease. It was something my young brain could just not comprehend. Amazing column, per usual :)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=208101743 Emily Sposetta

      Yes! I was totally about to say this! My brother and I loved Empty Nest (they show reruns on the Hallmark channel every so often) and, as a huge fan of Grease, I had no idea Marty had moved on to her father’s house in Florida. Crazy!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1442607067 Tracey Quillen

    Third Rock From the Sun was great, My So-Called Life, the Drew Carey Show….think outside the box gals!!!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=46204777 Rebecca Lynn

      But 3rd Rock, My So-Called Life, and The Drew Carey Show all have semi-cult followings even today. They are still extremely talked about. This post is specifically pointed at overlooked shows. Since the topic here is 90s shows, she is already waaaaay out of the box because she didn’t talk about those.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=63804983 Lyndsay ‘Hunt’ Boettcher

    I LOVED Phenom. I swear it fueled my love of tennis that continues to this day. :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1082058453 Candida Norwood

    Just the Ten of Us was more impressive to me since Nancy from Nightmare on Elm St played Marie.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100800812 Sami Martin

    I loved ‘Empty Nest’ and was thrilled when I got to see the house next to the ‘Golden Girls’ in Florida. Of course, I loved the sassy Park Overall and the crossover episodes between the ‘Girls’ and ‘Nest.’

    I thought I was the only one who ever watched ‘The Ten of Us.’

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=71000018 Rachel Callihan

    Kudos for this! I thought maybe I was strange for remembering these shows seeing as I must have been like in first grade when I watched them. Perfect Strangers and Designing Women were also shows I watched as a child that was much too young to be watching grown-up TV

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1479027260 Carrie Cunningham

    I loved Empty Nest..It was just on a poor night for viewers I think. Loved loved loved…My 2 Dads…And Just the 10 of Us was okay the 1st season…Of course back in the 90’s we had fewer channels to choose from for programs…

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100001704736961 Courtney Massey

    Empty Nest was one of my favorites! :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=17124119 Maria Atkinson

    What about Life Goes On? With Corky the Downs kid and Kellie Martin who wore those Sally Jesse Raphael red glasses? Anyone, anyone?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000037738644 Cindy Tannen

      that was one of my favs, Life Goes On, Corky changed my life for the good!

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=60713484 Angelia Jones

      I thought I had made up Life Goes On…I just remembered the opening theme.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=90403328 Sandra Byles

    I really, really thought I`d made Phenom up, so thank you for this!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=648775434 James Walton

    I used to love Parker lewis, it was like a cross between ferris bueller and saved by the bell, but what about Boston Common or The Single Guy?

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1798068560 Heidi Navarro

    I had a google search going on about a month ago trying to remember the name of a show I liked from when I was in 5th grade and it was Parker Lewis Can’t Lose. I remember Empty Nest and My Two Dads. I had a fondness for Designing Women, the TGIF shows, My So Called Life etc.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1380021309 Christina Martinez

    I was going to say anyone remember From Rags to Riches but that was ’87-’88; and Living Dolls was ’89. My 90’s tv watching must have gone down substantially.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1588179135 Liz Ferguson

      I remember Rags to Riches! I just bought the DVD set last month!! :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=46204777 Rebecca Lynn

    I completely forgot My Two Dads existed! Way to be progressing, 90s!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=701388948 Jaime Ketchen

    No mention of Perfect Strangers??? Get out of the city!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=630127649 Danielle Bright

    I remember nosy bears and Empty Nest. Do you remember Yum Yums? http://www.retrojunk.com/content/article/9134/index/

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1123992423 Rachel Carter

    I watched every single one of these shows, they were awesome!!!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=880205360 Sharon Sleboda

    Thank you for recognizing Parker Lewis! Everyone I know thinks I’m crazy because they don’t remember it its also my first sighting of Abraham Benrubi as Kubiak!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100000928688077 Nikki Prowse

    the secret world of alex mack! way better than clarissa

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=30500711 Desiree Jacobs

    I loved all these shows- especially Just the 10 of us and my 2 dads! Whenever I try to talk about Just the 10 of us, people don’t seem to know what I’m talking about and I’m really glad to see you give it a shout out!

    http://www.bundtsofsteelblog.com

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