CBS, FOX, ABC
CBS, FOX, ABC
Fashion from the '90s is so iconic that it's always immediately clear when you're watching something from the decade. But considering that television has evolved so much in the past 20 years, there are plenty of other reminders that what you're watching is from another era.
Sure, today we might have subtle character drama and antiheroes galore, but in the '90s, we had weekly lessons and frequent crossovers between completely unrelated shows. Or how about clip shows, remember those? When's the last time your favorite sitcom took a week off to play scenes that have already aired?
In honor of those familiar storylines—and our '90s Nostalgia Week—we've compiled a list of the plots you'll only see on '90s TV shows.
1. The "Very Special Episode"
TV has taken a turn for the dark and self-serious lately—and tastes have evolved, meaning that the kind of moralizing that happened on a weekly basis is much less obvious, and these days is relegated to children's shows instead of your favorite sitcom.
But in the '90s, there were Very Special Episodes on a weekly basis—and there were quite a few different varieties of lessons to be learned. There were the weekly teaching moments, a la Full House or Home Improvement. There were the hot takes on current social issues, like the time when it seemed every show had a character that couldn't read (one of Jordan Catalano's few flaws on My So-Called Life).
Then there were the "just say no" episodes at the height of D.A.R.E.'s popularity—a la that episode of Hang Time where Anthony Anderson's character took up smoking, or the most epic example of all, Jessie Spano's caffeine pill freakout on Saved By the Bell.
2. The Barely Tolerated Annoying Neighbor or Friend
There are quite a few iconic examples of this archetype: Kimmy Gibbler on Full House. Screech on Saved By the Bell. Newman on Seinfeld. David Silver on Beverly Hills, 90210 (before he evolved into a mega-babe). And, of course, the most famous annoying neighbor of all: Steve Urkel on Family Matters.
3. The Clone/Twin Tactic
Clones and doppelgangers are still around on TV—only in 2016, they're used to masterful effect in complicated sci-fi and supernatural shows like Orphan Black and The Vampire Diaries. But in the '90s, we had identical Olsen twin cousins on Full House and nerdy Urkel's suave counterpart Stefan Urquelle on Family Matters.
Nothing prepares you for parenthood like an assignment to pretend that an egg (or, alternately, a bag of flour) is a baby. See: Frasier, Buffy the Vampire Slayer (though those eggs happened to be inhabited by demons), and even an episode of Cheers.
5. Inexplicable Run-In With a Celebrity Guest Star
Stunt-casting is alive and well today, but in the '90s it seemed like nearly every celebrity encounter on TV was awkwardly shoehorned in. Like the time Color Me Badd came to the Peach Pit on Beverly Hills, 90210, or when 98 Degrees were on City Guys, or every single show where Britney Spears popped up in the last two years of the decade (Sabrina the Teenage Witch, The Famous Jett Jackson, Kenan & Kel).
6. The Clip Show
Be honest: other than that one episode of Community that skewered the genre and the occasional special to update people on what happened on a show previously, when's the last time you saw an honest-to-goodness TV clip show? The answer is the '90s—or in one of your many recent Friends binges, because there were like 25 Friends clip shows.
7. Going Back to High School
This could also be considered another variation on the Very Special Episode, but have you noticed how many '90s TV characters revealed that they were, like, one class short of actually graduating from high school? See: Uncle Jesse on Full House, Phoebe on Friends, Rose on Golden Girls, Peg on Married…With Children.
Yes, crossovers are very much alive and well—take, say, any given episode of NBC's One Chicago shows or The CW's DCTV universe. Or, more recently, New Girl and Brooklyn Nine-Nine. But in the '90s, crossovers between previously unrelated series happened much more frequently (ABC's TGIF lineup, NBC's Must-See TV, and when The Practice crossed over with Ally McBeal, Boston Public and Gideon's Crossing).
9. Alternate Universes
Sure, The Flash visited Earth-2, but that's a comic book show—and the idea of an alternate universe is built into the premise. The same cannot be said for all the bizarro-world or dream episodes in the '90s, like that one episode of Family Matters where Laura and Steve switch places, or the episode of Xena: Warrior Princess when Xena wasn't a warlord, or the episode of Mad About You where Paul and Jamie never meet.
10. The Disappearing Child
We're just assuming there's a world in which Judy from Family Matters, Randy from Home Improvement and Brendan from Step By Step are hanging out together.