Here are 11 of the best '90s TV shows, ranked
Whether through finding new life on a streaming platform, or getting caught up in Hollywood’s recent wave of reboots, ’90s TV shows are more popular than ever. As the likes of Netflix and Hulu start picking up shows once only available on Friday nights or in VHS box sets, our faves from childhood are now living on the internet, ready for our nostalgic hearts to binge at any time.
Streaming has not only digitized our favorite old shows, it’s introduced a whole new generation to the iconic shows of our youth, with many series experiencing a newfound popularity not seen since they went off the air more than a decade ago. As the era of reboots continues, we’ve seen a number of iconic ’90s shows make a grand return airing new seasons, spinoffs, or all-out reboots. But as we catch up with the newest extraterrestrial cases of Mulder and Scully, or try to figure what is going on in Twin Peaks: The Return, we also love revisiting the shows that defined a generation — and sparked the reboot frenzy.
So, in honor of the past being present, we’ve round-up some of the best of ’90s television:
It’s not another show about a group of friends living in New York City, it’s the show about a group of friends living in New York City. Watched by tens of millions when it was on, and even more in the two decades-plus since it premiered, you’d be hard-pressed to find someone who hasn’t seen at least one episode of the series. Despite ending in 2004, the series has never lost steam after coming to an end thanks to endless reruns on TV and becoming a Netflix sensation from the moment it hit the streaming site.
2Twin Peaks (1990-1991, 2017)
On its surface, this series is about an FBI Agent investigating a murder in small town in Washington state. But as one of the weirdest shows ever to grace television, Twin Peaks was about so much more than that, lending itself to a conversation about good, evil, and everything in-between. The series lost steam about halfway through the second season, as the central murder was finally solved, and it was ultimately canceled after the second season. But a follow-up prequel film, Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me, was released in 1992.
The David Lynch and Mark Frost-created series, which was truly a melting pot of genres — surrealist, absurdist, horror, melodrama, supernatural, and a whole lot of camp — the series has gone on to define a genre of its own. Having found new life as a cult classic, Twin Peaks returned for a massively successful limited run on Showtime in 2017 – bringing most of its original cast back for *likely* the final time.
It’s the sitcom famous for being “about nothing.” The series was about the titular NYC-based stand-up comic and his very, very eclectic circle of friends, just living their best (and definitely worst) lives. A pop culture juggernaut, Seinfeld continues to be one of the post prolific and quotes shows to come out of the ’90s, inspiring dozens of other series about people just living their lives.
4Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (1990-1996)
Marking Will Smith’s formal turn from rapper to actor, the series followed a fictional teenaged Will as he’s sent to live with his wealthy relatives in Bel Air, California. Another cultural staple, the series gave us The Carlton, a dance that continues to endure; one of the best TV dads in the form of Uncle Phil (James Avery); and a theme song that’ll likely be iconic until the sun explodes. To this day, it would be considered a rare feat to find someone between the ages of 18 and 40 who doesn’t know the lyrics to the show’s iconic theme song.
5Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1996-2003)
Sure, it was a movie first, but Buffy the TV series is forever the more iconic of the two. The coming-of-age supernatural drama followed the titular teen vampire slayer (played by Sarah Michelle Gellar) and her group of friends (known as the Scooby Gang), as they juggled school, teen drama, and saving the world from actual demons. In the decade-plus since the series ended, Buffy’s legacy as one of the most badass teens to ever grace television has been cemented, as has the show’s legacy as a true pop culture phenomenon. The wildly successful series also had a spinoff, Angel, following the exploits of Buffy’s first love, a brooding vampire named Angel (David Boreanaz).
It was recently announced that Buffy would be getting the reboot treatment. Written by Monica Owusu-Breen and produced by Buffy creator Joss Whedon, the series will reportedly take a more diverse approach to the iconic slayer.
It was the ultimate primetime medical drama that equally divided its time between life-saving medical procedures and the personal lives of the nurses and doctors who performed them. Without ER‘s success, we probably wouldn’t have Grey’s Anatomy or the countless other medical dramas that have popped up in the two decades-plus since it began. Like Law and Order, the series had a revolving door of doctors and nurses setting up residence throughout its fifteen-season run and starred a number of famous faces, including Anthony Edwards, Julianna Margulies, Noah Wyle, Eriq La Salle, Maura Tierney, Laura Innes, Linda Cardellini, and some guy named George Clooney.
7Spin City (1996-2002)
The political comedy followed the dysfunctional central staff of a hilariously inept New York City mayor played by Michael J. Fox. The series also starred Connie Britton (!!) in one of her earliest TV roles, Ferris Bueller’s Alan Ruck, Michael Boatman, Richard Kind, and Barry Bostwick as Mayor Winston. Fox left the series after Season 4 due to worsening Parkinson’s symptoms and was replaced by Charlie Sheen, but having really lost steam, the series was canceled after Season 6.
8Boy Meets World (1993-2000)
Sure, we had some great educators in school, but Mr. Feeny is arguably the most iconic teacher in TV history. The series followed the middle school, high school, and college exploits of the high-strung Corey Matthews (Ben Savage) and his friends and family. It introduced us to one of the all-time best bromances, TGIF’s ultimate OTP, and of course, Mr. Feeny.
More than a decade after the show ended, Disney Channel aired a spinoff series following Cory and Topanga’s (Danielle Fishel) tween daughter. Called Girl Meets World, the series aired for three seasons and saw nearly every major Boy Meets World character return for *at least* one appearance.
9The X-Files (1993-2002, 2016-2018)
The truth is out there! Any conversation about science fiction TV will always inevitably find its way back to The X-Files, which followed a pair of FBI agents who investigate paranormal and extraterrestrial cases. Mulder (David Duchovny) is very much a true believer, while Scully (Gillian Anderson) is a medical doctor and a true skeptic, and together they become embroiled in a whole lot of drama in their quest to find the “truth” about alien life. The pandemonium surrounding this show was, and continues to be, absolutely wild.
After a 14-year TV hiatus — a standalone feature film was released in 2008 — Duchovny and Anderson returned for two shortened seasons in what will likely be their last foray into The X-Files.
10My So-Called Life (1994-1995)
The series, which starred Claire Danes as teenager Angela Chase, ran for one season, but boy was it groundbreaking. The show, which follows Angela and her friends, didn’t shy away from handling serious topics, nor did it package them into “special episodes” as so many of its contemporaries did. Instead, it tackled issues like underage drinking and drug usage, homophobia, and sex head-on, marking a major turn for how teen series depict more serious topics. The series also introduced an entire generation of teen girls to the very dreamy Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto), whose face lined the walls of most ’90s girls’ bedrooms.
11Law and Order (1990-2010)
It’s the OG police and legal procedural that sparked a revolution — okay fine, an entire franchise following the police and ADAs in New York City. Throughout its 20-season run, the series starred so many famous people, most notably Jerry Orbach, Sam Waterston, Jesse L. Martin, Chris Noth, Dann Florek, Dianne Wiest, and S. Epatha Merkerson. Even more impressive, it turned two simple notes into a cultural phenomenon. You can’t even read “dun, dun” without the legendary opening title sequence popping into your head.