Our selection of the top TV shows of the decade.
The 1990s were the time when television was about to enter its zenith days. There were plenty of sitcoms (the likes of Friends, Fresh Prince Of Bel Air, Will & Grace and Phua Chu Kang to name a few), as well as innovative shows like The X-Files, Beavis And Butt-Head, The Sopranos, Law & Order, Ally McBeal and Sex And The City in which characters were painted with more colours than the usual black and white.
We pick nine TV shows that we consider the cream of the crop from this decade.
Twin Peaks (1990)
Created by David Lynch and Mark Frost, the series ran for just two seasons. To describe it simply would be to say it is a whodunit drama. However, there is nothing simple about the show, which meshed murder mystery, comedy and drama while paying homage to the soap opera genre (well, by making fun of it) and classic movies. There were many head-scratching elements in the show, but that’s exactly why “Who killed Laura Palmer?” became the password to the start of endless discussions about the show. Don’t just take our word for it, read Fan Phenomena: Twin Peaks, a book that explores how the show’s cult status continues to thrive even today.
Mr Bean (1990)
Everybody knows Mr Bean ... the man with no words, but someone who got everybody laughing just the same. There were only 14 episodes in the entire series (not counting the two Mr Bean movies and the animated series), but it felt like there were more because the episodes kept getting repeated over and over and over again (you get the idea). Amazingly, they were still funny even after watching them
for the umpteenth time.
Beverly Hills, 90210 (1990)
Besides being a great show to get fashion and style inspirations from back then (lest we forget those sideburns rocked by Luke Perry), Beverly Hills, 90210 resonated with viewers because it took youths and the issues faced by them seriously. From drug and alcohol addiction to issues like date rape, sexuality and learning disabilities, the teen drama broke boundaries, as it was not afraid to address what mattered to adolescents growing up in the 1990s.
The X-Files (1993)
More than 20 years have passed since the series about two FBI agents looking into the strange and unexplained cases made its debut. Yet its influences are still trickling down onto today’s television landscape. Its formula is often copied – The X-Files challenged the typical episodic-storytelling format by creating a story arc that stayed relevant in all its nine seasons (the conspiracy being the main one). It not only made stars out of David Duchovy and Gillian Anderson, it was also the starting point to many of today’s successful writers and show creators.
Friends worked so well simply because the gang felt like an extension of our own personal circle of friends. They were relatable, honest, good-looking (but not too good-looking), and most importantly, very funny. So when we had to say goodbye to our “friends” during the series finale in 2004, 52.5 million of us showed up, making it the most watched TV episode of the decade. Time magazine said it best: “The well-hidden secret of this show was that it called itself Friends, and was really about family.”
Buffy The Vampire Slayer (1997)
This was Joss Whedon’s first TV show, and it provided him with a platform to truly showcase his knowledge of pop culture and his knack for creating unforgettable characters caught in relatable situations, despite the supernatural setting. Spinning the Hollywood blueprint of a helpless blonde girl getting killed first in a horror film on its own axis by making her the very person to stop everything evil, Whedon gave voice to a strong female character. And what strength – Buffy still lives on in an ongoing comic book series.
Phua Chu Kang
Pte Ltd (1997)
This Singaporean series won Best Comedy Programme for six consecutive years at the Asian Television Awards but its ultimate success was in creating a fictional character so distinct and lovable, it’s become a lasting Singaporean and Malaysian pop culture figure. Even after the series ended in 2007 (it subsequently spawned a Malaysian spin-off, Phua Chu Kang Sdn Bhd, in 2009), the thought of the contractor with his large facial mole, yellow boots and Singlish accent still makes us smile after all these years.
Nabbing the runner-up position for Best Sitcom at the 1998 Asian Television Awards, one of the main reasons for this homegrown series’ success is that it fully embraced what being a Malaysian meant. Malaysians from all walks of life were welcomed into Marie’s kopitiam, whether it was the hoity-toity lawyer Susan, aspiring actor Joe, flamboyant hairdresser Steven or retirees Uncle Chan and Uncle Kong. Best of all, it showed us that speaking in Manglish wasn’t something we needed to be ashamed of.
Sex And The City (1998)
A show where single ladies (in their 30s, gasp!) lament about being single and talk about sex? Sex And The City was a bold show for the 1990s but you don’t expect anything less from HBO, do you? Featuring fabulous (designer) outfits, witty (and at times, kinky) one-liners, and clever storylines (from touchy subjects like abortion to scandalous ones like fetishes), the show made stars out of the four actresses, whose careers had been waning. The show became so popular that tourists flocked to New York City to sip Cosmopolitons where the girls dined, or to sample cupcakes from Magnolia Bakery. Now, that’s good Sex.