Television in the 1990s was dominated by comedies that prided themselves on being filmed “before a live studio audience” and cheesy, earworm-friendly opening themes. Sitcoms about all kinds of families ruled living rooms across the country and were filled with stars both old and new.
There were those “very special” episodes dedicated to subjects such as drugs, alcohol, dating, abuse and even death. The ’90s are often seen as a time of ill-fitting fashions and outrageous hair styles — but in my opinion, sitcoms were never better.
Shows like Boy Meets World and Full House (the newer version of which you can find on none other than Netflix) have been rejuvenated for new audiences, convincing viewers and television executives alike of the unstoppable allure of nostalgia. Others have been left to live on solely in reruns (if at all). These are the shows you knew and loved or should have loved. They may not yet be “re-imagined for a new generation,” but these are still the sitcoms I am nostalgic for.
Family Matters (1989-1998)
Few characters have gone from guest star to focus of the series, but Steve Urkel did just that when he first appeared during the long-running sitcom’s inaugural season. Steve Urkel is the quintessential geek — a suspender-wearing, clumsy, brilliant teenager with a high-pitched, nasally voice, in love with his neighbor and sometimes-friend Laura. Laura is the middle child of a family run by a police officer father and no-nonsense mother.
There was also Eddie, her mischievous under-achieving brother and her adorable younger sister. The Winslows also opened up their home to Harriette’s widowed sister Rachel and her young son and Carl’s (father of Eddie, Laura and Judy) feisty mother. Somehow Steve’s obnoxious snort of a laugh and catch phrase “did I do that?” (when his lack of coordination causes some sort of catastrophe) won the hearts of America (and eventually the Winslow family and even Laura).
Why millennials miss Family Matters: This was one of the first television programs featuring an almost entirely African American cast that I watched. It was fun seeing Carl’s blood boil when one of his children made a stupid mistake or when Steve, desperate for his attention tried to assist him…but only succeeded in making things much worse.
There were also serious episodes including one memorable storyline that involved a friend of Laura’s getting shot when she refuses to give up her shoes. A television sitcom that could bring such laughter and talk about social issues of the time deserves to be remembered.
Step By Step (1991-1998)
As much as I loved watching Brady Bunch repeats on Nick at Nite, Step By Step brought the blended family into the ’90s. Here’s the story of a lovely lady (played by Suzanne Somers) and a man named Lambert (Patrick Duffy) who fall in love while vacationing in Jamaica and surprise their respective children with the news that they have gotten married and will move in together.
Perhaps the best part of this television show is the varied characters that make up the “children” in the series. All six — three of Carol and three of Frank’s children –provide wonderful contrast for each other both in their natural families and in the new bunch living in the same crowded house.
Dana is a good student who takes pride in her feminist ideals. Karen is beautiful but often seen as dim-witted while Mark bright but is frequently made fun of for his “geeky” hobbies. J.T. is unmotivated and drools over most girls he comes into contact with, while his sister Al is tom-boyish and outspoken. Brandon is shy and reserved and does not like to get involved in the many conflicts that erupt between the step-siblings.
Why millennials miss Step by Step: With so many young characters to identify with and countless inside jokes regarding the adult actors’ past gigs (Suzanne Somers was in Three’s Company while Patrick Duffy played a popular — and sort-of-dead — character on Dallas), this sitcom relied on nostalgia and relatable characters to make their audience laugh for nearly a decade. I mean, we’re still laughing.
Home Improvement (1991-1997)
The show was originally based on the stand-up routine of blunt and sarcastic (and very funny) Tim Allen. Tim Taylor must balance family life with his (debatably) successful live home improvement show “Tool Time.” With his obsession with all things motorized threatening his health and safety on a daily basis, it is up to his wife Jill to put him in his place and keep her household running.
Thankfully, Tim also has three boys to put all his hopes and dreams into — Brad, an all-American kid who enjoys some of the same pastimes as his father; Randy, a boy who inherited his father’s quick wit but not his love of tools; and Mark, who is caught somewhere in the middle. Providing the family and audiences with much-needed wisdom is the Taylors’ mysterious neighbor Wilson, who we only ever see behind his fence.
Why millennals miss Home Improvement: This TV series combined snappy dialogue with great physical comedy that is sorely missing from television today. It also provided ’90s girls with one of their first crushes — JTT (Jonathan Taylor Thomas) himself played middle brother Randy on the sitcom.
The debates within the show often centered around men and women’s roles in the average family or in the workplace and balancing parenting with personal success. If you want comedy with a dash of social commentary as well as some iconic ’90s fashions for both women and teenage boys, you’ve found your new favorite show. Who knows, you might just learn what not to do when trying to improve your own home.