4 Brilliant '90s Shows You Didn't Know Are Still Being Made
Warning: Incoming '90s nostalgia! In a good way.
In the early 1990s, there was a comedy explosion, due in large part to the formation of what is now known as Comedy Central. Standup comedians blew up like rock stars, many of the biggest names nabbing their own sitcoms, selling out entire stadiums, and overdosing on whatever drug happened to be lying in the cracks of their nightly groupies. The downside to that uprising (besides that whole death thing) was that it saturated everything, making the good shows harder to find. You had to dig through a sea of Larry the Cable Guys and Carrot Tops to find the Patton Oswalts and Bob Odenkirks.
If you were persistent enough, you found and cherished some genuinely genius work like The Kids in the Hall, The State, and In Living Color. I'm not going to try to act all cool and mask my nostalgia for those shows. I wish many of them were still around, producing new material. And if you're anything like me, you'll be ecstatic to know that some of them totally are. Online ...
Mystery Science Theater 3000
If you count its pre-Comedy Central days, MST3K ran for 11 years. Created by Joel Hodgson, it did what many of us were already drunkenly doing in our own homes on a random boring Tuesday night: riffing on crappy movies because nothing else was on and we were too bombed to find the remote. Only they did it much, much better than any of us ever could because I'm convinced they were all demons. Comedy demons.
Starting on a small UHF station in Minneapolis, Minnesota, they were eventually signed as one of the first two shows on the newly formed Comedy Channel, and quickly became a staple. On Thanksgiving, they would run 30-hour marathons of the show, and until it was finished, I refused to change the channel ... and that's how I found out who my true friends were. The ones who said "I wish they'd quit talking over the movie" were immediately kicked out of my house and then set on fire with punch friction.
Or at least had the cast give them the group shame stare.
Halfway through Season 5, Joel left and was replaced by Michael J. Nelson (who has written articles for Cracked), and he instantly became one of my favorite comedians of all time. Eventually, Comedy Central canceled MST3K, and it was picked up by Sci-Fi for its final three seasons. And that's the last anyone ever heard of them. Because they were all murdered.
But Wait, They're Still Around!
OK, maybe they weren't murdered. Mike started RiffTrax sometime around 2006, and the whole idea is fairly genius. See, when they did the original TV show, they had to be careful about what movies they used because MST3K didn't have a huge, sprawling budget. That's why many of the films were heaping bowls of shit -- those didn't have copyright restrictions, or the licensing was so cheap, they were considered the ramen noodles of the movie industry.
I couldn't imagine Truck Farmer demanding much more than a hot meal and a cigarette.
The beauty of RiffTrax is that they're only selling you the audio track of them riffing. You supply the movie. In doing that, they're finally able to take on huge titles like Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace and The Lord of the Rings.
But even better, one of my favorite things about MST3K was the episodes where they'd riff on old educational videos from the 1940s and '50s. As it turns out, most of those are in the public domain because their copyrights have expired (or they never had one in the first place). That means RiffTrax can sell you the movie and the audio, prepackaged.
And the kicker? Mike doesn't just do this by himself. He's got Kevin Murphy (Tom Servo) and Bill Corbett (Crow T. Robot) helping him out. So get your ass over there and support some true comedy genius.
Otherwise, Mike gets angry. And you wouldn't want to see him when h- actually, he's not very threatening either way.
No, wait! Read the rest of the article first ...
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The Sifl and Olly Show
The Sifl and Olly Show was the '90s for me. MTV ran the series from 1997 to 1999, which is actually saying quite a bit, considering that the whole premise was two guys using sock puppets to just act stupid for our entertainment. That's not me being insulting -- Sifl and Olly was stupid for the sake of being stupid. We wore that shit like a badge back then, and Liam Lynch and Matt Crocco were goddamn masters of it. For instance, here's them talking to regular character Chester, who can't get through the interview because he thinks the word "pegasus" is funny.
The show was always like that. Just random, goofy, off-the-cuff exchanges, followed by completely made up "rock facts" and ridiculous songs like the awesomely stupid "United States of Whatever."
Unfortunately, it didn't even make the millennium. MTV, being notorious for only airing shows that are accidentally dumb, canceled it and then promptly set fire to an animal shelter.
But Wait, They're Still Around!
Liam and Matt still make Sifl & Olly episodes. Or at least they did until April of this year.
For a while, they were hosted by Machinima, but then moved over to Nerdist because ... honestly, I don't care why. All I care about is the awesome funny that Liam and Matt vomit out of their comedy holes. And if you need more than that, Liam also has a whole shitload of podcast episodes called Lynchland featuring the characters.
Unfortunately, I haven't heard anything new about them since April, but that's because Liam and Matt either have something in the works or both died of sleep deprivation. Regardless, I'll be waiting patiently for them to release some new material, getting amped on Dunkin' Donuts coffee with my Chester mug until they return.
The Tom Green Show
Where viewers were concerned, there was no gray area in The Tom Green Show. They either loved it or they hated it. TV Guide placed it as the 41st worst show of all time, while Time Magazine called it "The Best Show of 2000." To a casual watcher, it was dumb, childish bullshit. Someone who got lucky enough to land a show and then blindly stumbled around, desperately trying to make someone -- anyone -- laugh.
To people who actually watched it regularly, there was something much, much larger at work there. Tom didn't just show up on set and make shit up as he went along. There was a method and a reason to what he was doing. Yes, he was trying to make people laugh by being childish and off the wall ... but he was also like sandpaper to pop culture varnish. He was deconstructing the formula and making fun of stale, repetitive talk shows.
He constantly fucked with his parents, at one point putting a real severed cow head in their bed at 3 a.m. because they like the movie The Godfather:
Or showing them that he was mature enough to stay at home without supervision while they were gone by painting their house plaid.
Other times, he flat out made fun of cliche talk show skits by doing some "observational comedy."
The Tom Green Show ran on a couple of different networks, including Comedy Central, but saw its biggest pull when MTV picked it up in 1999. However, when Tom was diagnosed with testicular cancer, he quit the show so he could get his surgery. There was a revival attempt a few years later, but not much ever came of it.
But Wait, He's Still Around!
In 2006, Tom Green took his show to the Internet, running the whole goddamn thing out of his own living room. TV Guide promptly gave it an award for best Web talk show. Yes, the same TV Guide that basically called him the Ed Wood of talk shows just a few years earlier.
Not only does he get nonstop stars to sit in with him, but absolutely nothing is scripted or rehearsed. Every conversation is as real and open as possible, and that's the beauty of the whole thing. If he and Steve O want to drink for four hours until they puke and literally pass out while on the air (which totally happened), so be it. If he wants to bust out an impromptu freestyle rap with Xzibit, no problem:
Without the restrictions that come with being on television, he's free to do whatever he wants for as long as he wants, and it's totally worth checking out. Because if Tom Green was that insane with the restrictions ... imagine him with full control of the content.
Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist
Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist ran on Comedy Central from 1995 to 1999, and it was one of the most brilliant shows I've ever seen. It had a perfect contrast of subtle, refined comedy interspersed with guest comedians jamming it right into your eye until you learned to flinch when they spoke. Combined with Tom Snyder's direction and famous Squigglevision animation technique, once you saw an episode of Dr. Katz, you never forgot it.
Jon Benjamin (Archer, Bob's Burgers, and a billion other projects) played Jonathan Katz's son, and the majority of their exchanges were just loosely mapped out or "retroscripted." Meaning that most of what they said to each other was improvised.
Every episode was a combination of scenes from the personal lives of the Katz family mixed with his therapy sessions with standup comedians -- which boiled down to them doing part of their set, and as he puts it, "My contribution was to try not to interrupt people and to say funny things." When the show ended in 1999, I personally punched an army tank in half.
But Wait, They're Still Around!
Well, not the exact show, but the makers of Dr. Katz have a whole new thing going on online with the same heart, the same style and tone of comedy, the same core people that made that show what it was. It's called Explosion Bus! and it is goddamn wonderful.
We don't do interview type stuff on Cracked, but I actually had the chance to briefly talk to Jonathan Katz about it, and he had this to say:
"One of the reasons the show succeeded was the magic that is Tom Leopold. He is an actor/producer and Harry Shearer's secret weapon. Tom Snyder directed the show. Directing animation is a really specific skill. He also directed the first few seasons of Dr. Katz. The show went through many iterations (is that a word?) from 18-minute episodes that focused on audio and gestures to shorter episodes that focused on tits and/or ass. I'm glad it attracted your attention."
First, yes, I'll admit that part of the reason I used that quote is to rub it in your face that I got to talk to Jonathan Katz. Suck it. But more importantly, he let me know that he stuck with Tom Snyder since the early '90s, and that overall team (meaning the entire core -- not just those two people) is what makes Explosion Bus! work. And it really, really does. At the 38-second mark in their trailer, I lost it hard enough to have to pause the video:
Now understand that I'm not simply telling you about this stuff just to be talking about it. I'm a huge "Fuck TV" advocate, and one of the reasons is that there's not enough genuinely good content out there to justify my cable bill. But there could be. It just takes finding things that you like and passing it along to as many people as possible (hence this article). If they don't like it, oh well. But if they do -- and they pass it around to even more people -- maybe there's a chance we could see some good, talented people get deserving shows like these on the air.
Otherwise, we're stuck with the bullshit we have right now. And I really don't want my kids growing up to be nostalgic about Dog With a Blog.