Everyone loves to laugh, and nothing can bring out hearty laughter like an excellent sitcom can. There have been many classic examples over the years, from The Cosby Show to Cheers. But it’s easy to list the sitcoms we all love and remember, so what about the less-than-stellar shows? As bad as they were, they still leave a lasting impression in our minds. There are a number of reasons for this phenomenon, ranging from them having a once-in-a-lifetime character to a real “OMG!” moment.
The 90s were filled with hundreds of successful and underperforming sitcoms that still resonate with fans to this day. Off the top of my head, I can think of about 10 different comedians that launched a sitcom with their name in the title. We could spend our time pointing out all the sitcoms that won awards and made “Best Of” lists, but where’s the fun in that?! What about the sitcoms that left a lasting impression on us, but were secretly bad? These shows deserve some attention and praise where appropriate, along with breaking down what made them problematic to begin with. Here are 15 bad sitcoms from the 1990s that we all loved anyway.
15. The John Larroquette Show
John Larroquette came to prominence after starring in the hit show Night Court, where he won numerous Emmy awards as the womanizing Dan Fielding. Fans loved the character so much that there was even talk of spinning Fielding off into his own series. Larroquette nixed that idea but came up with an even better one – a sitcom loosely based on his life and battle with alcoholism. While Larroquette used his unique brand of comedy to overshadow a heavy subject like alcoholism, one has to remember this is a very serious subject that many people across the world suffer from. Some may laugh to hide the pain, while others may not see it as something to joke about. It’s opening theme even included many references to Larroquette kicking back drinks and attending Alcoholics Anonymous meetings. The John Larroquette Show lasted for a total of three seasons from 1993 to 1996 where it gained a cult following, but was never a juggernaut in the ratings.
If you want to reminisce on a time when radio ruled the airways, then look no further than to NewsRadio. It aired on the NBC network from 1995 to 1999 and dealt with the staff of an AM news radio station. It showed the ins and outs of working in the radio industry, often twisting news stories to make them more entertaining to a mass audience. The ensemble cast worked well together, with names you may recognize like Andy Dick and the late Phil Hartman gracing television sets.
As we said before, it was truly a product of the times since radio isn’t what it used to be. Radio is right up there with newspapers struggling to retain customers. One thing NewsRadio did have going for it is being able to take anything straight from the headlines and adapt it. The producers even got creative and took the show off-planet into space. One would think that sound doesn’t carry in space, but apparently NewsRadio proved that theory wrong.
13. Suddenly Susan
Television series that deal with the rich and wealthy tend to do better than those focused on the poor and disenfranchised. The thinking behind this is viewers don’t want to follow a character that’s down on their luck, at least for an extended period of time. Part of watching television is escapism and getting to daydream about a better life. Suddenly Susan starring Brooke Shields utilizes this by having her character, Susan Keane, dump her fiancé at the altar before their wedding. She comes to the realization that there is more to life than wealth and money, and now finds herself working at a San Francisco magazine.
Suddenly Susan managed to last on the air for four seasons and looking back at it, one has to wonder how it made it that long with Shields as the leading actor. Normally child actors don’t go on to be successful when they reach adulthood. Shields conquered that stereotype by pulling Suddenly Susan to as many seasons as it had, on the back of her success in The Blue Lagoon, and being married to tennis star Andre Agassi.
12. The Drew Carey Show
Before Seinfeld there was The Drew Carey Show, starring Drew Carey playing a version of himself and having quirky adventures with his friends. Sound familiar? Carey described himself as an “everyman” who people could relate to. The sitcom was based out of Carey’s hometown of Cleveland, OH, which is featured in the opening theme song. Sports fans will know that the city of Cleveland is believed to be cursed since their football and baseball teams haven’t won a championship in decades. Especially back in the 90s, Cleveland wasn’t known for being a home of winners.
Carey defied the odds by getting nine seasons out of The Drew Carey Show. It is the rare case of a show doing slightly better season after season. After the first season barely made it into the Top 50, seasons three through six saw improvement but it ultimately got put on hiatus after season eight.
Network television wasn’t the end of The Drew Carey Show, however, as it found a new audience through syndication. There was a point where anytime you turned on your television between the hours of 9am to 8pm you were bound to catch a rerun of The Drew Carey Show.
11. That ’70s Show
Nostalgia was the name of the game for That ‘70s Show. Hollywood is in a trend of remaking and rebooting beloved franchises into new television and movie franchises, and that line of thinking was used to tap into the era of disco by placing That ‘70s Show in the past. Looking back on the sitcom shows that the cast is a “who’s who” of up-and-coming superstars such as Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, Topher Grace and Wilmer Valderrama. This is probably what helped it last eight seasons on Fox, who is notorious for canceling shows prematurely.
Just like with The John Larroquette Show, That ‘70s Show took on serious topics like sex, drugs, the economy, and recession. If you are able to pull off serious topics while being funny, then points to you. As much as we all love the 70s, was it that great a period that it needed to be revisited? And for all of the people to be the breakout star, who would have guessed it would be Ashton Kutcher?
10. My Two Dads
Try and imagine a television sitcom starring two men living together and raising a teenage daughter in today’s culture. There would be boycotts and riots in the streets! If the series did air, it would have to be on a network like Showtime or Starz. My Two Dads made groundbreaking television happen on NBC and barely made it onto our list by airing its final season in 1990. What makes My Two Dads even more unbelievable is the premise – a mother dies and the court awards custody over to the two men who used to vie for her affection. What kind of judge would make that ruling in the year 2017?! Also, why would the two Dads even agree to this without putting up any kind of fight? Nicole, the daughter, has a living biological father. He should be awarded full custody. Not only do the Dads go along with this ruling, but they agree to live together as one unique family
9. Dharma & Greg
Speaking of unbelievable circumstances, that takes us to ABC’s Dharma & Greg. Two totally different individuals, Dharma and Greg Montgomery, decide to elope and get married after one date. You heard that right, ONE DATE. You normally only hear stories like this happening in Las Vegas, but Dharma & Greg took place in San Francisco. One can see where this arrangement is prime for comedic shenanigans, especially when you add in differing parents. The question is how long can you milk a premise where the odd couple slowly but surely isn’t as odd as they used to be? ABC was able to milk five seasons out of Dharma & Greg which is about where I’d wager on the appeal wearing off. The magic of Dharma & Greg was the charm between Jenna Elfman and Thomas Gibson. Elfman was perfectly cast as the aloof Dharma along with Gibson as the uptight Greg.
8. The Parent ‘Hood
Comedian and actor Robert Townsend was the driving force behind The Parent ‘Hood, which was one of the four shows that helped launch the network previously known as The WB. Another of The WB’s initial sitcoms will be found later on our list. As for The Parent ‘Hood, it tried to recreate the magic of The Cosby Show of the late 80s. A one-for-one comparison can almost be made between the two sitcoms. Both star black families whose parents have successful careers and include multiple children.
There was a point in the existence of The Parent ‘Hood where every episode felt like an after-school special. Lessons needed to be learned and Townsend would get to practice his serious voice as he revealed the what that episode’s takeaway was. Having something like this happen a time or two is alright, but once it gets to the fifth occurrence it can be seen as overkill.
7. Everybody Loves Raymond
I have to ask the question, “Does everybody love Raymond?” Ray Romano burst onto the scene in 1996 as Raymond Barone in the hit CBS comedy Everybody Loves Raymond. The series utilized some trademarks of successful sitcoms, like the lead character trying to stay out of family squabbles and extended family butting in where they aren’t wanted. Instead of the noisy neighbor that comes over to get involved in the main storyline, Ray had his parents and brother living across the street.
Looking back at the show’s history, there isn’t one episode that really stands out as being a must-see. Also, even though Romano was the headliner, the case can be made that supporting character Brad Garrett was the breakout star and left the larger impression with the audience. As forgettable as the sitcom was, it managed to land Primetime Emmy and Screen Actors Guild awards throughout its nine seasons.
6. Boy Meets World
Ben Savage, the younger brother of actor Fred Savage, struck out on his own in the comedy series Boy Meets World in 1993 and lasted on air until 2000. It followed Cory Matthews (Savage) as he navigated life and school with his family and friends along for the ride. Boy Meets World was a fixture of ABC’s TGIF lineup and lasted long enough to see the main cast transition from middle school, high school, and college. This allowed them to tackle the type of coming-of-age stories one would expect growing children to experience.
Boy Meets World is definitely worthy of praise, but small nitpicking can be made as we analyze some of the story selections. For example, how many teachers follow their students from middle to high school like Mr. Feeny and then go on to become best friends along the way? Teachers and students often go on to have a mentor-mentee relationship, but Mr. Feeny was deeply invested in the lives of Cory, Shawn Hunter, and Topanga.
5. The Nanny
Oh, Fran Drescher. All a person has to do is mention that name and her signature shrill of a voice is the first thing that will come to mind. The Nanny ran on CBS from 1993 to 1999. Drescher possessed the type of personality that immediately captivated audiences. A lot of sitcoms regurgitate the same plots over and over again. The Nanny borrowed the “house servant” phenomenon that could be found on previous sitcoms like Mr. Belvedere and The Jeffersons. Implant a maid or butler into a high society family and you have a recipe for success. The contrast in dynamics is enough to attract ratings and keep a show afloat for several seasons.
Besides starring in The Nanny, can you say you’ve seen Drescher appear in any other form of entertainment? Drescher popped up out of nowhere and took over our lives and wasn’t heard from since. Much of the sitcom’s success can be found in the running gags and character quirks.
4. The Wayans Bros.
“We’re brothers… we’re happy and we’re singing and we’re colored. Give me a high five!” This was the opening to The Wayans Bros. starring Shawn Wayans and Marlon Wayans. If you are a fan of the more goofier comedy, then The Wayans Bros. is right up your alley. Shawn and Marlon come from the highly successful Wayans family which consists of Keenan Ivory Wayans, Damon Wayans Sr. and Jr., and Kim Wayans among others. It was a part of the previously-mentioned WB network official launch.
As funny as Shawn and Marlon were, John Witherspoon was a true highlight of its four-year run. Pop (Witherspoon) would keep the two brothers in line while getting into his own mischief as well. The case can be made that when people look back at The WB network, The Wayans Bros. will be the first show that comes to mind. Shawn played the more strait-laced brother compared to Marlon’s more wackier character.
3. Sabrina, the Teenage Witch
Sabrina, the Teenage Witch got its start from the Archie comic book series and starred Melissa Joan Hart as the titular Sabrina. Right from the start one must suspend disbelief and assume that magic and witches are real. Oh, and don’t forget about the talking cat Salem. Sabrina, the Teenage Witch split time between ABC and The WB between 1996 and 2003. A young Sabrina realizes she has magical powers after her 16th birthday. New to the witching game, she has some ups and downs as she tries to master her new abilities.
The series used magic as a plot device to introduce all sorts of precarious situations. It’s a simple technique to push agendas along and devise themes for a single episode. Sabrina, the Teenage Witch managed to keep things light and fun, which is why it had such a large fanbase. Imagine what the series could have been if the witches were hunted or treated as outcasts.
2. Doogie Howser, M.D.
Doogie Howser, M.D. might be the most illogical sitcom on our list. Imagine a teenage doctor in this day and age being allowed to operate on patients. Neil Patrick Harris was truly the first of his kind as the young medical prodigy Doogie Howser. One has to wonder if the series make the adults watching feel inadequate. Think about it… the majority of the viewing audience wasn’t gifted with the type of intellect Doogie possessed. While viewers slaved away at their office jobs or worked their way through college, Doogie was living at home with his parents and doing a job that many could only dream of.
After considering all this, Doogie Howser, M.D. can be considered a revolutionary series. Instead of being intimidated by Doogie, perhaps young people growing up were inspired to go into medical study. In that sense, Doogie Howser, M.D. stands out from a crowded field of run-of-the-mill comedies.
1. Saved By The Bell
No other sitcom dominated its targeted demographic quite like NBC’s Saved By The Bell. In a long line of comedies centered around a group of teenagers in high school, Saved By The Bell had the advantage of having a cast that included Mark-Paul Gosselaar, Tiffani-Amber Thiessen, Mario Lopez, Lark Voorhies, Elizabeth Berkley and Dustin Diamond that showed real on-screen chemistry. The six actors grew up before the viewers’ eyes and dealt with tough issues like drug use, relationship breakups, death, and equal rights for women. Gosselaar led the pack as Zack Morris, who would often freeze time to talk to the audience.
Ask any longtime dedicated fan an episode that stood out to them and they will run down a list that includes Zack and Kelly (Thiessen) breaking up, Jessie (Berkley) getting addicted to caffeine pills and screaming “I’M SO EXCITED, AND I JUST CAN’T HIDE IT,” and best friends Zack and Slater (Lopez) duking it out in the middle of the school hallway as their friends pleaded with them to stop. So while as silly as Saved By The Bell could be at times, it still remains one of the all-time classics of the 90s.