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:
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.
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?