Buzzfeed, Tumblr, and your Facebook friends won’t let you forget it, and neither will we: 90s kids are adults now, and we’re all still really, really passionate about the 90s. Can you blame us? The 90s were a great time for kids’ culture. With so many Baby Boomers having children from the late 70s to the mid-90s, there were a lot of us growing up then. The economy hadn’t tanked yet, and 911 was still just an emergency phone number. Nickelodeon was at the forefront of it all, promoting a “pro-kid” culture and presenting kids as cooler and smarter than adults. If people want to blame Millenials for forming a mass internet-culture that older folks can’t penetrate, it all started with Nickelodeon and its ‘us against them’ attitudes.
Today’s TV networks aren’t stupid. They know what Millenials want. That’s why, for every beloved Nickelodeon show from our youth, there is an adult equivalent on the air right now:
Are You Afraid Of The Dark: From the second you heard those creaky swings and eerie theme music, you knew you were in for a scare. The midnight society gathered every week to tell stories and throw some sort of weird sand into a camp fire, and we were right there with them. I watched every week as a five-year-old, even turning off the lights for an extra scare. We liked this show because it didn’t underestimate kids. There were real ghosts, vampires, and murders in Are You Afraid of the Dark – it wasn’t that weak-sauce kid stuff where the creaking in the attic was just a leaky pipe, or the ‘ghost’ was just a beekeeper in a bonnet (I’m looking at you, The Adventures Of Mary Kate And Ashley). If you didn’t love the story one week, you’d just wait until the next Saturday when you’d get a whole new plotline to scare the pants off of you and make you ask your mom if she will let you sleep with the hall light on. That’s right – a children’s horror anthology series. Can you really blame us for missing the 90s?
American Horror Story: Like Are You Afraid Of The Dark, American Horror Story is a spooky anthology. However, to account for adult attention spans, each season tells a different story, instead of each episode. This show touches on all aspects of the horror film genre – psycho killers, ghosts, aliens, nuns, evil doctors, Anne Frank, witches, a pinhead, The Black Dahlia … it’s like a winning hand of Apples To Apples.
An aside: I just finished watching Season 2 of AHS. Somebody told me to start with that one because Coven isn’t on Netflix yet, and Season 1 would scare me more. Now that I’m done, I have to wonder – if Asylum was this freaky, what the hell could possibly happen in Murder House? Don’t worry, I’m starting it this week, because I’m an adult now and I’m in charge of my own hall light.
Clarissa Explains It All:A young woman with ambitions of being a journalist lives in a cooler bedroom than you can imagine having. She is supported by her academic parents. She has constant fallings-out with her brother Ferguson, and the undying support of her buddy Sam. She dresses like a cool hobo. Lots of tights. Clarissa has a creative solution to every problem and gets into a lot of scrapes because she sort of doesn’t think everything through.
Girls: A young woman with ambitions of being a writer lives in a cooler apartment than you can imagine having. She is supported by her academic parents. She has constant fallings out with her friends, yet somehow retains their constant support. She dresses like a cool hobo.
The New Girl: It’s almost like Jess Day and Hannah Horvath are two different versions of how Clarissa could have turned out. Jess and Clarissa have a lot in common. The first word you’d use to describe them is “quirky.” They have wacky clothes. They have a cool home. And – unlike Hannah Horvath – they both have fun, sunny attitudes toward life. So, if Clarissa went to college, became an el-ed major, and held onto her obsession with tights, you have Jess. If Clarissa decided to become a hipster in college, started writing for the school literary mag and reading a lot of McSweeney’s, and went to slightly seedier college parties, she graduated and became Hannah.
Salute Your Shorts = Community
Salute Your Shorts: A group of teens are thrown together for summer camp, and form all of the bonds and rivalries that you’d expect in that kind of close situation. They work both with and against the camp’s administration (counselor Ugg) and truly become a community of their own. There are even themed genre episodes – Zeke The Plumber, everyone? The characters are surprisingly well-developed for a kids’ show, with the jock, nerd, and popular girl presented as being complex people instead of just stereotypes.
Community: A group of adults are thrown together in community college, and through forming a study group, they become a… well, community of their own as well. Like in Salute Your Shorts, there is a love for Greendale Community College, but just like the kids at Camp Anawanna, they also have to work against it sometimes. I don’t think I even need to tell you about the genre episodes. Character development is a big deal on this show, too, and the former athlete and the brainy liberal arts girl aren’t just two-dimensional.
Hey Dude: Somehow, a bunch of teenagers are working at a Dude Ranch, because… why not, I suppose? It filled pretty much the exact same niche as Salute Your Shorts, except these kids had JOBS and RESPONSIBILITIES and HORSES. Never underestimate the pull of horses for tween girl viewers.
Brooklyn Nine Nine: This is one sitcom you should be watching if you aren’t already. Equal parts buddy cop (with multiple pairs of cop-buddies), workplace comedy, police procedural (er… kind of) – but with really clever writing an an awesome cast. Like Hey Dude, this is a funny ensemble show that actually shows people doing their jobs. Every kid who grew up watching Salute Your Shorts thinking “ugh, somebody get those irresponsible kids some stalls to muck or cows to lasso” should watch Brooklyn Nine Nine, a workplace show where people actually work.
The Adventures Of Pete And Pete: This show is probably the reason our generation has been into quirky indie comedies since we were in high school. This small-town sitcom is a bit absurd, and centers around two brothers named – you guessed it – Pete and Pete. The show was so matter-of-fact about the weird goings-on of the town that the place became a character unto itself, and the audience accepted all of its weird quirks at face value.
Fun Fact: The Wellsville of Pete and Pete is apparently supposed to be Wellsville, NY. I live about 100 miles from there and have passed through on plenty of trips, and honestly, apart from an annual Balloon Rally it’s not that interesting.
Parks and Recreation: If you grew up loving slightly offbeat comedies about life in a more-than-slightly-offbeat town, you may as well watch Parks as an adult. It’s no secret that we’re big fans of this show around here, but we’ve never stopped to consider that our childhood watching Pete and Pete primed us for this small-town comedy about a group of unusual personalities. Like our favorite redheaded brothers, the folks in Pawnee face situations that are a touch more surreal than you’d see in real life, but the show somehow manages to be more true-to-life than a lot of more ‘realistic’ comedies.
The Secret World Of Alex Mack:How good was this show? So good, right? Alex Mack was a junior high student who was hit with a truck from a chemical plant, and she developed special powers like being able into morph into a puddle of what looked like mercury, moving objects with her mind, and conducting some sort of electrical charge. Alex, with the (sometimes grudging) help of her brainy sister Annie, had to keep her powers on the down low so the folks at the chemical plant wouldn’t find out about her and … well, I’m not sure if we knew what they would do. Experiments, probably.
Orphan Black: Here’s another show about a young ladies who are scientific freaks because of circumstances beyond their control (they’re clones). Once again, they have to escape the clutches of the sketchy Dyad Institute, and creepy Dr. Leekie, who are already collecting samples and monitoring the clones against their will. Like Alex Mack, Orphan Black deals with the ethics of scientific progress. No, really – a major issue ahead is going to be the copyright of human DNA.
Space Cases: It’s hard, guys. It’s hard walking around under the burden of being the only person alive who remembers the show Space Cases. It was a short-lived children’s sci-fi show set in space. I think this one is due for a re-watch, if only to revel in the low-budget 90s-ness of it all. Some of the props were evidently things like CDs glued together, and the game Lights Out pasted to the wall. See, things like this are why the Montreal TV industry – and children’s cable sci fi shows – never really took off.
Battlestar Gallactica – I’m positive that this is a sci-fi show with space ships, the future, and I’m pretty sure aliens. Okay, you caught me. I’ve never seen it. But there haven’t been too many outer space-based sci fi shows in recent years, and this is the closest one I could find in the near past. I suppose Stargate Atlantis is another option.
Noozles: According to Wikipedia, this show is 1000% more confusing and screwed-up than I remember it being. But basically, it’s like this: Noozles were adorable koala bears, but only certain people could know that they were actually aliens!
Doctor Who: Doctor Who is an adorable British man, but only certain people can know that he’s actually an alien!
The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo: Shelby Woo was a ridiculously talented teen who, with the help of a mid-90s PC and her crew of friends, solved mysteries and fought crime. As a mere teenager, Shelby wasn’t officially part of the police department, but we all know that Shelby Woo was the law.
Scandal: Children who grew up without questioning how it was possible to solve mysteries in a short span of time with the help of just an internet connection and a rag-tag crack team of experts – without wondering why the proper law enforcement didn’t just deal with crime itself instead of allowing a non-officer to take the reins — well, those children probably grew up to watch Scandal. Like Shelby Woo, Olivia Pope is able to fix anything – even stuff that technically, we’re pretty sure somebody else should be handling.
Nick News With Linda Ellerbee = 20/20
Nick News: This was a kids’ news magazine which tried to deliver the “who, what, where, when, why and how” of the age to kids whose other main source of news was that Scholastic Weekly Reader that you’d get on Friday afternoons when your teacher had basically given up for the week. To be quite honest, Nick News did an admirable job of it, breaking down issues like presidential elections, the Gulf War, racism, and global warming down to a nine-year-old’s level without condescending. In fact, you can probably thank Nick News, in part, for the environmental “go green” push that’s sweeping the nation. Older adults were just getting into these issues after that Al Gore powerpoint, but us 90s kids grew up hearing about pollution and climate change from one Ms. Linda Ellerbee.
20/20: Well, this one also is able to break news and information down to a nine-year-old’s level. We may have mentioned this before, but both of us watched way more than a normal amount of 20/20 as kids. As a fourth-grader, I stayed up until 11 on Fridays because 20/20 was on at 10. At least these days, 20/20 is light on the news, heavy on the magazine, with a bunch of tiny segments simplifying stories as much as possible. Actually, maybe Nick News was better – at least they didn’t do monthly stories about “places you won’t believe our crew found a lot of germs!”
Okay, this isn’t quite fair. All That was almost certainly intended to be a kids’ version of SNL, so there shouldn’t be any surprise here. But when you consider that today’s 20-somethings grew up watching Kenan Thompson on All That, it is sort of remarkable that we’re watching the same guy on the grown-up version of the show.
I may have been under-supervised as a kid, but I watched a lot of real SNL in the 90s (especially the older stuff), and was struck by how very not funny All That was in comparison. That Lori Beth Denberg sure could deliver the fake news, though.