Friday, May 11, 2018

My Top Ten '90s Shows I Can't Make Top Ten Lists For

I've hit a definite stopping point in my series of Top Ten lists for the '90s television shows that I watched in my youth.  Nearly every list I've tried writing over the past few months has come up has come out incomplete due to my muddled memory or the fact that I simply didn't watch as much of the shows as I thought I did.  So, because I've already sunk a lot of time into the various lists and I might as well retire this feature with a bang, here are the ten shows I most regret not being able to put together Top Ten episode lists for.

Xena: Warrior Princess - There was a time when I loved "Xena."  I watched it along with "Hercules: The Legendary Journeys" every weekend for years.  It was a fantasy action series! With a strong female lead! It honestly didn't happen that much back then.  Alas, going through the episode lists, it became clear in a hurry that I only watched the first couple of seasons with much enthusiasm.  I also heavily, heavily favored the comedic, meta, and gimmick episodes. I'm all for the cheese and the schlock, but the more melodramatic ones really got tedious over time.

Frasier - There are episodes of this show I adore.  My favorite is the one where Niles duels Maris's German fencing instructor with Frasier and the maid serving as translators.  The truth is, however, that I never watched "Frasier" regularly and mostly just caught the occasional syndicated episode. When I tried to put together a list, I wound up listing pretty much every episode that I remember seeing from start to finish, and that still wasn't enough to fill out the whole list.  I guess I shouldn't be surprised since the exact same thing happened to my attempted "Cheers" list.

NewsRadio - There were a lot of wacky workplace sitcoms like "Just Shoot Me" and "Spin City" that I watched a lot of, and "NewsRadio" was definitely the best of them.  The writing was a little sharper than anything else on network TV at the time. I just can't seem to remember individual episodes. I remember gags and one-liners and occasional subplots, but full episodes and storylines elude me completely.  So, here's to the one with the horrible sandwiches, and the one with the Boba Fett action figure, and the time they finally got Dave Foley back in drag. Good times, good times.

That 70s Show - I was in denial for ages about this one, because I remember watching the reruns constantly in college.  Well, it turns out that I was mostly just rewatching the first two seasons. Also, when making my list of favorites, I kept topping out at seven or eight that I felt I could write anything coherent about.  Most episodes had extremely repetitive plots, and the show was heavily dependent on repeating gags and formulaic humor. I still love the characters and their dynamic though, especially Red and Hyde. And it makes me happy that Kelso and Jackie wound up together in real life.  

King of the Hill - I really wanted to do right by this show because I wasn't a fan of it at first, and it won me over after a couple of years of watching random episodes here and there.  It was a bit of a shock when the show ended, because it had been on for so long and had become something of a constant in the TV landscape. I never watched it regularly because it was never on at the right time, but I don't think there was a single episode that I saw that I didn't appreciate.  However, when I tried to make up a list of episodes, I only came up with six that I knew I'd seen the whole way through.

The Golden Girls - I have wonderful memories of watching this every Saturday with my mother throughout the late '80s and early '90s.  I even managed to watch episodes of all three spinoffs. Unfortunately, the series is way too far back in time for me, and I can't recall the specifics of more than three or four episodes now.  So while I remember Shady Pines, and the cheesecakes, and Rose's stories about St. Olaf, and Blanche's stories about Big Daddy, they all exist in a lovely sort of shapeless melange of multiple episodes.  For the record, Dorothy was my favorite but I loved them all.

Home Improvement - Lack of enthusiasm is what sank the list for this one.  I can perfectly remember plenty of episodes, but I only got up to about six or seven episodes that I could really say I enjoyed watching.  Even then, it was mostly for one good gag or sequence, like the crazy Tool Time stunts. I appreciate the show being a very solid relationship and family show at its core, and it's no wonder it was such a ratings juggernaut at its height.  I associate "Home Improvement" with the '90s more than any other show on this list, but I have to admit it was never really one of my favorites.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air - How could I not write up a list for such an obvious cultural touchstone?  Well I tried more than once, and kept coming up short of episodes. Frankly, after the pool hall grift episode and the one with Ben Vereen, this is another show that exists in my mind as a lot of great clips and one-liners unattached to any actual plots.  I love Carlton dancing to Tom Jones, for instance, but couldn't say what else happened in any episode where he does it. And I feel bad about having such a spotty memory, because the show was so ubiquitous and remains so beloved to this day.

Law & Order: Special Victims Unit -  "Law & Order" has gotten worse and worse over time.  I haven't watched the show in ages, roughly since Chris Meloni called it quits.  Still, I figured I could get a list out of the better episodes from those first couple of seasons I used to enjoy, right?  Well, it turns out that crime procedurals have a tendency to all run together in my mind. Unless there was a notable guest star or a particularly outlandish premise involved, I couldn't remember any of the individual episodes from seasons I know I'd seen and enjoyed.  And the outrageous episodes weren't usually the good ones.

Malcolm in the Middle - And finally, a bit of a cheat.  "Malcolm" isn't a '90s show, but I remember it fondly as the last real family sitcom I watched regularly in its early seasons.  Sadly, I only watched the majority of the episodes once, which wasn't enough for them to stick in my memory very well. My viewing patterns were already changing, you see, and I was no longer watching shows over and over again in syndication.  I managed to work up a list of six episodes I loved, including the one with Hal on roller-skates, but the rest is just a blur.

Honorable Mentions: Murphy Brown, Perfect Strangers, Out of This World, The Drew Carey Show, Dinosaurs, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and The Nanny.


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