10 Forgotten ‘90s Sitcoms That Still Work Today

But like, really forgotten
10 Forgotten ‘90s Sitcoms That Still Work Today

FriendsSouth ParkFrasierFamily Guy. Some of TV’s longest-running sitcoms premiered in the 1990s, and remain relevant and beloved if not still producing new episodes today. But a decade is a long time, executives try a lot of ideas to fill their schedules, and since broadcast TV programming is kind of a zero-sum game, far more sitcoms premiered than ever found an audience. The question is: which ones deserved better?

A word on methodology here: I took the term “forgotten” very literally. That means I didn’t consider any ‘90s sitcom that’s streaming on a legitimate pay or subscription platform; any ‘90s sitcom that lasted more than one season; and any of which only the pilot is available to watch — illegitimately, since pilots have to jam in so much exposition that judging a show’s quality by that episode alone doesn’t offer an accurate picture of where it aspires to go.

All that said, here, in alphabetical order, are the 10 forgotten ‘90s sitcoms I feel confident recommending, winnowed down from a long list of more than 50 that I sampled and mostly judged to have been justly forgotten. 

Aliens in the Family, stay in hell where you belong.

Alright Already

Premise: Carol (Carol Leifer) partners with her best friend Renee (Amy Yasbeck) on a Miami optical shop, with frequent interruptions by her fractious family.

Aired: September 7, 1997 to May 4, 1998

Then-Famous Star: Leifer, a prolific stand-up comic who was a frequent fixture on late-night shows.

Now-Famous Star: Jerry Adler (who plays Carol’s father Al) had already enjoyed a long-running recurring guest role as building super Mr. Wicker on Mad About You; his roles as Hesh in The Sopranos and Howard Lyman on The Good Wife and The Good Fight were still ahead of him. (Fun fact: Legendary acting teacher Stella Adler was his cousin!)

Noteworthy Off-Screen Talent: Leifer co-created the show with Rob Schiller, who would go on to direct 169 episodes of The King of Queens. Leifer’s fellow comic Judy Toll is also credited with writing two episodes. 

Why It Still Works: By this time, Leifer had written on Seinfeld, and the sensibility she brought to that show and shared with Jerry Seinfeld is evident in Episode Eight, “Again With the Jessica’s Boyfriend.” Neither of the episode’s main plotlines would be out of place on Seinfeld: Carol’s sister Jessica (Stacy Galina) is used to dating the much older men who live in her parents’ seniors’ community, so when she starts seeing a hipster peer named Jason (Rob Benedict), she unintentionally remakes him in the image of her elderly exes. Meanwhile, Renee convinces Carol not to reject her new boyfriend, aspiring actor Hank (Michael Halpin), for a superficial reason, as she normally does, and Carol agrees — until she sees that he wears a necklace with an enormous gold pendant of comedy/tragedy masks. 


Premise: Bonnie (Bonnie Hunt) moves from Wisconsin to Chicago for a job reporting human interest stories on a local news broadcast.

Aired: September 22, 1995 to April 7, 1996

Then-Famous Star: Hunt and David Alan Grier.

Now-Famous Star: Mark Derwin isn’t famous, per se, but he was later a series regular on The Secret Life of the American Teenager.

Noteworthy Off-Screen Talent: Hunt co-created the show with longtime David Letterman writer Rob Burnett; Letterman produced the show through his Worldwide Pants Incorporated.

Why It Still Works: This wasn’t the first time Hunt and Letterman had worked together on a sitcom vehicle for her — scroll very slightly down — and it’s clear why he was so determined to try to make a TV star out of her: she’s so natural and winning, and casting the show with so many former Second City performers gives the show a pleasant, improvisatory looseness. 

The A plot of “Here’s A Little Halloween Twist” humorously addresses the kind of dimwitted aesthetic critiques women in media still have to endure to this day. And in the middle of the episode, we get a full, improvised segment from Bonnie in the field, interviewing a local doctor about his extensive horror collection; it could not be more charming.

The Building

Premise: After breaking up with her fiancé, commercial actress Bonnie (Bonnie Hunt) moves back to Chicago; the show revolves around her friendships with the neighbors in her small apartment building.

Aired: August 20, 1993 to September 17, 1993

Then-Famous Star: Hunt, who at the time was best known as the matriarch of the Beethoven movies.

Now-Famous Star: None, which may be why each of the five aired episodes featured a well-known guest star — the list includes George Clooney and George Wendt.

Noteworthy Off-Screen Talent: See above: Hunt created the show; David Letterman’s Worldwide Pants produced it.

Why It Still Works: Watching both back-to-back, the ways Bonnie feels like a reaction to the swift cancellation of The Building seem clear: Bonnie has a more traditional workplace setting and ensemble, even if most of the cast is the same, and the news segment adds a mixed-media element that was becoming more common at the time in movies like Reality Bites and shows like The Real World. But while both are very good, The Building is the more satisfying because it’s so far ahead of its time: “The Waiting Game” includes several takes where dialogue flubs are left in for verisimilitude, and Bonnie’s flirtation with neighbor Stan (Tom Virtue) is wistful and delicate. If this wasn’t a multi-cam show, it could be Somebody Somewhere — and not just because both co-star the late Mike Hagerty.

New Attitude

Premise: Sisters Yvonne (Phyllis Yvonne Stickney) and Vicki (Sheryl Lee Ralph) run a busy beauty salon together; based on Shelly Garrett’s stage play, Beauty Shop.

Aired: August 8, 1990 to September 7, 1990 (with two episodes left unaired)

Then-Famous Star: Ralph, who’d already earned a Tony nomination for her performance in the original Broadway cast of Dreamgirls a decade earlier. The show also co-stars Morris Day, lead singer of The Time, as narcissistic hairstylist Lamarr.

Now-Famous Star: Ralph is, of course, much more famous now as an Emmy-winning star of Abbott Elementary than she was in 1990, but she’s also joined here by Larenz Tate, just a few years ahead of his breakout role in Menace II Society.

Noteworthy Off-Screen Talent: Oz Scott, a prolific TV director who’s still active today.

Why It Still Works: Cast chemistry is crucial for a sitcom, and while one can imagine Ralph jelling with a pile of firewood, she and Stickney are as credible as sisters as Estelle Getty and Bea Arthur were as mother and daughter in The Golden Girls. “Not Your Average Date” finds Lamarr pursuing a rumor that his last conquest is a literal witch who put a hex on him, and each network-approved euphemism for impotence is funnier than the last (including Lamarr trying to soothe a client by putting a tape on his portable stereo, only for the batteries to peter out along with the track). A beauty salon offers as much potential for weirdos to pass through as a bar; maybe if this hadn’t been a summer burn-off, it could have been another Cheers

Normal Life

Premise: Jake and Tess Harlow (Dweezil and Moon Unit Zappa) figure out their twentysomething lives in the ‘90s; their father Max (Max Gail) and his reputation as a writer, casts a long shadow.

Aired: March 21, 1990 to July 18, 1990

Then-Famous Star: Gail, who’d played Wojo on Barney Miller; and Laverne & Shirley veteran Cindy Williams, who plays mother Anne. 

Now-Famous Star: The Zappa kids got a little more famous later on for reasons that don’t involve their famous father Frank and the unusual names he gave them, but that’s about it.

Noteworthy Off-Screen Talent: Ian Gurvitz, who would go on to create the even-shorter-lived Charlie Hoover.

Why It Still Works: Unsurprisingly, Moon Unit and Dweezil convincingly play siblings; while the household also includes a significantly younger brother, Josh Williams’ Simon, he’s deep in the background in “Prom?,” the episode I sampled. (I can’t tell you how many potential inclusions on this list I ditched before the credits due to “adorable” kid hijinks, which in my opinion have no place in sitcoms for adults.) Moon Unit is particularly likable as a socially aware ‘90s-era Angeleno — in contrast to her image-obsessed best friend Prima (Bess Meyer) — and while the show doesn’t have a particularly elaborate concept, it’s all the more comfortable to watch as a hang-out show that’s also a family show. What are the Zappa kids doing now? Let’s see what the Harlows are up to 34 years later!  

The Office

Premise: Not to be confused with the British paper-company mockumentary or its American remake, this one is about the goings-on at a Chicago-based packaging company.

Aired: March 11, 1995 to April 22, 1995

Then-Famous Star: Valerie Harper as secretary Rita.

Now-Famous Star: Debra Jo Rupp, who plays personal assistant Beth, was just a few years away from her breakout role as mom Kitty on That ’70s Show; not long after that, Gary Dourdan (graphic artist Bobby) would début in the original cast of C.S.I.

Noteworthy Off-Screen Talent: Co-creator Barbara Corday previously co-created Cagney & Lacey.

Why It Still Works: There’s a reason the office sitcom is such a durable format: lots of us work in offices (including virtual ones, these days) and understand the social dynamics and petty irritants that come with it. “Judgement Day,” for example, revolves around a mandate from the New York-based parent company that has recently acquired Package Inc. that everyone undergo evaluations, by which their merit-based raises will be determined. Beth, as a single mother, is frustrated that the realities of her life can’t be contained in a form — like how she’s had to shorten her list of rules for her kids to “underwear on the inside” and “no cats in the dryer.” Harper and Rupp have nice energy as a reluctant mentor and the protégée who really needs it.

Oh, Grow Up

Premise: Ford (John Ducey) comes out as gay, leaves his wife and moves in with his old college roommates Hunter (Stephen Dunham) and Norris (David Alan Basche) in their Brooklyn brownstone.

Aired: September 22, 1999 to December 28, 1999

Then-Famous Star: Fresh off Melrose Place, Rena Sofer plays Suzanne, Ford’s ex-wife.

Now-Famous Star: Future Ed star Tom Cavanagh guests in Episode Three, “Love Stinks.”

Noteworthy Off-Screen Talent: Must have been a weird fall for series creator Alan Ball: American Beauty, based on his screenplay, premiered precisely one week before Oh, Grow Up.

Why It Still Works: At first glance, it’s a typical multi-cam sitcom, mostly taking place in an improbably capacious New York residence. But just a year after Will & Grace made sitcoms safe for gay men (who kept their sex lives safely off-screen), Oh, Grow Up gets at some real emotional truths: the wildly horny Ford is eager to get his same-sex sex life started, but he’s (a) not sure how, and (b) considerate of Suzanne’s feelings and their currently friendly relationship, which he fears will be affected if she finds out he’s dating. 

“Love Stinks” finds him explaining to Hunter and Norris that they can’t just set up the two gay guys they know and hope it will work even if they have nothing else in common. We also see Suzanne displacing her need to love something onto the mouse that just got caught in her glue trap at her apartment, but which used to be a pet of sorts when she and Ford both lived there. Oh, Grow Up is mostly pretty broad, but amid the slapstick, there’s more psychological realism than you might expect.

On the Air

Premise: In 1957, the Zoblotnick Broadcasting Company is home to The Lester Guy Show, a live variety show on the relatively new medium of television.

Aired: June 20, 1992 to July 4, 1992 (four episodes of the seven made never aired in the U.S.)

Then-Famous Star: Ian Buchanan was probably better known by sight, from General Hospital, than by name; also Miguel Ferrer and Laverne & Shirley’s David Lander.

Now-Famous Star: You might recognize Tracey Walter as the Erin Brockovich whistleblower who blows the case wide open, but he’s not quite famous either.

Noteworthy Off-Screen Talent: Mark Frost and David Lynch, who’d recently co-created Twin Peaks.

Why It Still Works: I can’t say for sure that On the Air would work better if it premiered today; I can say that it might have fared better in our era of thinkpieces, and that all the sickos who put Twin Peaks: The Return on their lists of 2017’s best shows would be yelling about it to anyone who’d listen. On the Air is a high-concept, high-camp experiment that I can’t believe ever aired even a little on a major broadcast network — ABC, where the initial run of Twin Peaks got tons of buzz but negligible ratings — so for any David Lynch completists who’ve never seen it, it’s definitely worth hunting down as a curiosity.

Party Girl

Premise: New York scenester Mary (Christine Taylor) tries to reinvent herself by pursuing a career in the library sciences; a series adaptation of the 1995 feature film of the same name, starring Parker Posey. 

Aired: September 9, 1996 to October 13, 1996 (with two episodes left unaired)

Then-Famous Star: Taylor, who’d just starred as Marcia in The Brady Bunch Movie; also Swoosie Kurtz, who plays Mary’s librarian godmother Judy.

Now-Famous Star: John Cameron Mitchell — two years away from the Off Broadway premiere of his musical Hedwig and the Angry Inch — plays Mary’s friend Derrick.

Noteworthy Off-Screen Talent: Creator Efrem Seeger had nothing to do with the Party Girl movie, which might have partly doomed it, though the movie’s screenwriter Harry Birckmayer and director Daisy von Scherler Mayer did collaborate with him on the pilot script.

Why It Still Works: As a fan of the movie, I was dubious that a blonde actor could embody Mary’s spirit, which feels energetically brunette to me. But in “Just Say No,” Taylor won me over in a Pee-wee’s Big Adventure-ish cold open in which she wakes up when her alarm and the street noise stop, then magically gets herself ready for the day in a moment and without removing her eye mask. Her best scenes are with Mitchell, as when Derrick repeatedly urges her to “touch it,” and we eventually see he’s introducing the chronically over-scheduled Mary to her first date book. But she also gets to tell the middle-schooler who talks her into being his date for a school dance that while she is meeting a guy later, Derrick is a different kind of guy: “Talk to your music teacher about it.” Another one ahead of its time, and that never should have been a multi-cam.


Premise: High school pals who are now in their twenties work together as restaurant servers and dream of getting out of Gloucester, Massachusetts. 

Aired: September 18, 1996 to December 4, 1996 (leaving five unaired)

Then-Famous Star: Molly Ringwald, who plays Carrie.

Now-Famous Star: Basically everyone else? Her two best friends, Shannon and Denise, are played by Jenna Elfman and Lauren Graham. Ron Livingston plays Kurt, who’s had an unrequited crush on Carrie since high school. Denise’s husband Ryan is played by “Billy Burr,” whom we know today as Bill.

Noteworthy Off-Screen Talent: The writing staff includes Linwood Boomer, who’d go on to co-create Malcolm In The Middle a few years after this.

Why It Still Works: Admittedly, I’m a sucker for a working-class sitcom, but this one seamlessly weaves in a lot of charm and makes us believe the principals have all known each other their whole lives — as in “Things to Do in Gloucester When You Are Dead,” when Carrie and Kurt slip off to the side at an art gallery opening to play “What’s Their Story,” inventing histories for various strangers. (At the same event, a security guard catches Denise dumping a tray of hors d’oeuvres into her bag, whereupon she points out that she’s just stealing food while he’s guarding a weird sculpture for $4.25 an hour — which of them is really more embarrassed?) 

Journeyman guest star Matt Letscher pops up as a Boston wealth manager who shows Carrie the high life, and the ways Kurt tries to get back at her with a new girlfriend whose name he can’t remember are funnier than they deserve to be, as when he aggressively kisses Janice/Janine/JANIE to prove how over Carrie he is, and then has to apologize: “I didn’t know you were eating.” One well-known star surrounded by charismatic actors on the come-up worked for Friends; it should have worked here too.


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