From Pacey and his teacher lovin’ ways on Dawson’s Creek to the drama over Donna Martin graduating on Beverly Hills, 90210, the 1990s were certainly a decade devoted to choice teen dramas. Whether you preferred the over-the-top hijinks of Saved By the Bell or the Salinger family’s drama-a-minute happenings on Party of Five, the decade surely had something for everyone on the small screen.
While there were several predominant themes that inevitably showed up on most ‘90s teen dramas (like, every teenager in the ‘90s was encouraged to live on the beach, evidently because beach life was the best life) there was also an incredibly bountiful pack of teen-centric TV shows that made the 1990s arguably the most popular decade teen drama has ever seen.
And while everyone remembers whether they were Team Dawson or Team Pacey, what about those series we used to watch back in the day that have slipped through the cracks of our television memories somehow? What about the shows we used to watch all the time that we recall with cheesy fondness only after we’re gently reminded? This list is for those shows: the forgotten ones we actually kinda remember once we think about it. Here are 16 ‘90s Teen TV Shows You Completely Forgot.
16 California Dreams
Saturday mornings on NBC (the TNBC block, for ‘90s nostalgia heads) featured Saved By the Bell and its New Class, but there were also several other teen oriented shows that aired along with Zack Morris and company. There was the show about the high school basketball team (Hang Time), and there was also the show about an inner city high school (City Guys). And then there was that one show about a high school band whose opening theme song talked about surf dudes with attitudes. That would be California Dreams.
Featuring awful band jams and SBTB-esque plotlines, California Dreams lasted five seasons (1992-1997) and featured a revolving door of characters, with blonde beach babe bassist Tiffani (Kelly Packard) and the buff, BS spewing band manager, Sly Winkle (Michael Cade) being around the longest. If you ever recall anyone teen jamming on a Saturday morning, it was likely to this show.
Called Hillside in its native Canada and starring a very young Ryan Reynolds, Fifteen was a Nickelodeon staple for many kids in the early ‘90s. Featuring plotlines akin to what one would expect from a Canadian After School Special, major happenings on Fifteen included a divorce that affected the lives of multiple characters, a major cheating-on-a-test scandal, and a 15 year-old basketball star who, after getting drunk at a party, spent the rest of the series dealing with his alcoholism.
There was also the obligatory band that every ‘90s teen show evidently had to have, and, like every other teen music group seen on TV that decade, the kids on Fifteen assuredly did NOT rock. It was typical teen fare to be sure, but if you were watching Nickelodeon in the early ‘90s, this show was near impossible to escape.
14 Ferris Bueller
Starring a pre-Friends Jennifer Aniston as kid sister Jeannie and Charlie Schlatter in the titular role, this short-lived sitcom based on John Hughes’ contemporary classic was self aware in all the wrong ways. The pilot episode featured Ferris talking to the camera, directly referencing the original film. Turns out, TV Ferris was a bit peeved that Matthew Broderick portrayed him in a film, (?!) so he literally hacked away at a life sized cardboard cutout of Broderick in order to drive this point home.
Not only was this weird, it was off-putting and nonsensical, and the show never gained its footing due to its inability to find its niche or define what kind of show it wanted to be. Also missing was the charm and heart that the film had in abundance, making this version of Ferris one we sorta remember, but only after being nudged a few times.
13 The Heights
Further reinforcing the whole bands were big in the ‘90s theme is this little seen one season wonder that aired in a Thursday night block along with Beverly Hills, 90210 and starred former 90210-er Jamie Walters, who had a memorable arc as Donna’s abusive boyfriend Ray. On The Heights, Walters played Alex O’Brien, a non-abusive, struggling, hunky, misunderstood poet-musician who just wanted to write meaningful songs, man.
It turns out that the show’s music was more popular than the show itself. “How Do You Talk to An Angel,” a hit song from the show’s soundtrack, was number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 charts, and was likely the most memorable thing about The Heights, which lasted a whopping 12 episodes before getting the axe.
Based on the YA book series, this late ‘90s Nickelodeon show featured a young Shawn Ashmore as Jake, the leader of a small group of rag tag teens who are given the ability to morph into animals in order to fight against the Yeerks, a group of aliens who have secretly infiltrated the human race. It seems as though humans morphing into animals was also a majorly ‘90s happening (see: like, every video Snoop Dogg ever made) and this show definitely tried to capitalize on that particular trend—the operative word being tried.
Animorphs lasted only two seasons, and it was limited by its wince-worthy special effects and dialogue. Fans of Ashmore are likely to remember the show, as he became Bobby Drake in the X Men film franchise a few years after, but it’s doubtful many others recall much about this one.
11 One World
Remember that one Saturday morning show featuring a cast of diverse teens all living under the same roof with their adoptive parents? That would be One World. Set in Miami and centered on a former baseball player, his wife, and their adoptive family, One World aired after California Dreams ended, and it lasted three seasons (1998-2001).
It focused on typical teen plotlines (dating issues, shoplifting, making the team, etc.) but it also attempted to tackle more mature material, including an episode devoted to sexual harassment in the workplace, issues surrounding adoption, and racism. One World was one of the last TNBC shows that aired before Saturday mornings devolved into more kiddie-cenric fare (or weird fishing/hunting shows, depending on where you lived), and while it certainly tried, it wasn’t as memorable as many of its TNBC counterparts.
10 Parker Lewis Can’t Lose
This show was actually a quality program with smart, layered teen characters—in fact, we’d venture to say that Parker Lewis Can’t Lose was everything the Ferris Bueller TV show tried and failed to be. Trouble is, it aired for three seasons forever ago, and it never had a huge following, so it has kinda left the pop culture zeitgeist, making it a perfect choice for a reboot (an unlikely one, but whatevs).
Featuring standout performances by virtual unknown actors in supporting roles (Maia Brewton, who played the Thor-obsessed little girl in Adventures in Babysitting, was phenomenal as Parker’s Freshman sister—and biggest nemesis—Shelly) Parker Lewis Can't Lose was, in some ways, one of the more original and entertaining teen shows of the decade. It’s too bad hardly anyone watched it.
9 Zoe, Duncan, Jack, and Jane
Riding high on her post-Cruel Intentions fame, Selma Blair starred in this 1999-2000 series about four NYC prep school students trying to navigate the lives of the rich and the clueless. The show also starred a pre-Smallville Michael Rosenbaum, who replaced Jeremy Renner in the series (Renner starred as Jack in the pilot episode only).
Billed as Seinfeld for teenagers, the series changed drastically from the first season to the second in a blatant attempt to attract new viewers. It shortened its title to just Zoe… and moved the cast from high school to college, but none of the changes helped draw in more viewers, and the show was cancelled after its second season. Perhaps it didn’t help matters that Zoe aired opposite The X-Files, but the show was largely forgotten about shortly after its cancellation. We remember you, Zoe. We remember.
8 Breaker High
Did you ever watch that one show in which a bunch of high schoolers attended their classes while aboard a hulking cruise ship? That would be Breaker High. Originally airing in Canada and on the UPN “kids block” during the week, Breaker High had at least one alum who went on to bigger and better things. Perennial Oscar nominee and meme king Ryan Gosling starred as Sean, who, in a life-is-definitely-separate-from-art twist, can never quite manage to win the hearts of the ladies he pursues.
The show was definitely typical teen fare, and only stood out from other shows like it due to its unique setting--the cruise ship jogs the memory, though. Unfortunately, not a lot of people got onboard this particular ship, causing it to sink to the bottom of the TV ocean after two seasons.
7 Saved by the Bell: the College Years
There was the original, of course, and there was also The New Class, both of which aired every Saturday morning. But we would be remiss if we didn’t discuss this short-lived single season sitcom that aired in primetime during the fall of 1993. Whether the series creators were just trying to prolong the inevitable, or whether they were testing the waters to see if the franchise could thrive in a prime time slot, we’re not sure. We do know that SBTB: The College Years didn’t last long.
Set at fictional California University, The College Years featured Zack, Slater, and Screech all rooming together in an apartment style dorm across from two new girls...and eventually, Kelly Kapowski, who of course had to move in eventually, because what else would Zack do? Not surprisingly, the show didn’t make it past the fall of ’93, probably because its target audience had long outgrown the hijinks of one Zachary Morris.
6 Malibu, CA
Here’s that beach theme again. Set in sunny California (Malibu was certainly a hot spot for ‘90s teen drama—more on this later), Malibu, CA followed two twin brothers from NYC who became surfer dude transplants of sorts when they moved to the opposite coast to live with their father after their mother has moved to Saudi Arabia for work. Aaaah, ‘90s plotlines.
The show wasn’t much more than the super cute fraternal twin dudes chasing young ladies around town while stopping for brief meals in their dad’s hip Malibu restaurant, The Lighthouse. Produced by Peter Engel, who also produced California Dreams, Saved By the Bell, and nearly every other TNBC show ever made, it was pretty common for stars of other TNBC shows to pop into The Lighthouse for a bite (Dennis Haskins, AKA Mr. Belding, was one). But they didn’t stay long. Malibu, CA only lasted two seasons.
5 Get Real
The three or four people who originally watched this show when it aired its only season remember a young Jesse Eisenberg and Anne Hathaway starring as brainy siblings in a hyper quirky family. Get Real was centered on the Green family, a wild and dysfunctional group of diverse personalities who managed to have unique and believable relationships despite all the angst and midlife crises in their abode.
The camaraderie between the trio of siblings played by Eisenberg, Hathaway, and Eric Christian Olsen was a perfect encapsulation of sibling life: these people get on your nerves and annoy the crap out of you, but at the end of the day, only you get their idiosyncrasies. Get Real had a small but loyal fan base at the time, but Fox has a long history of canceling quality shows with small devoted audiences (see: Firefly).
This show, starring singer Brandy Norwood, lasted six seasons, and was a hit for the UPN network, but it kinda feels like a blip on the memory radar now. Moesha was a stellar role model: smart, outspoken, always trying to do the right thing while sometimes being confused as to what the right thing even was.
The show itself had many hardcore plotlines, and would often waft between comedy and drama, often intermingling very serious storylines into a sitcom format (prime example: the time Moesha found out that the guy she thought was her cousin was actually her brother due to a decades old infidelity on her father’s side. Drama!). Despite its success, Moesha ended its run in 2001, and just sorta disappeared into obscurity after that.
3 The Outsiders
Yep. This happened—and it wasn’t all bad, especially if re-watched today as a comedy with a few dramatic scenes sprinkled in. One memorable episode featured a mulleted Billy Bob Thornton as a bartender who takes Pony Boy under his wing, teaching the lad how to properly acquire Playboy magazines, among other things.
The show, which aired for one season in the spring of 1990, picked up time-wise where the 1993 film (and the 1967 novel on which it’s based) left off, and it featured a young Jay Ferguson (Mad Men) and David Arquette (Scream) in early roles. It was billed as a serious hour-long drama, but the constant presence of its aesthetically pleasing males stars on the covers of every Teen and Tiger Beat magazine around may have put off everyone other than teenage girls.
2 USA High
Airing on the USA network from 1997-99, this series was set in a Paris high school and followed six students: four from America, one from England, and another from Germany (French students were curiously absent from the high school set in Paris). It was one of those undeniably awful shows you just…always ended up watching for some reason.
The characters were all awful and/or annoying, the plots were preschool level, and the sets made the show look like a low-grade soap opera half the time. In fact, the lame theme song (sing it with us: “Rockin’ at USA High!”) might just be the most memorable thing about the show. And yet, we still watched anyway, maybe not religiously, but enough to recall this dud—buuut only when our memories are jogged.
1 Malibu Shores
Aaron Spelling created this 1996 primetime teen soap that was two-parts 90210, one-part West Side Story. Starring a pre-Felicity Keri Russell and a pre-Buffy Charisma Carpenter, Malibu Shores was full of hype and hot air, and was cancelled after only 10 episodes. Featuring a rich girl meets poor boy from the wrong side of the tracks romance, the show was definitely loaded with way intense drama.
There were destructive house fires, fist fights, and lying teens who drove under the influence. While Keri Russell is amazing in everything—even this tripe—but the show never clicked the way 90210 or Melrose Place did. Plus, it's timeslot was hideous: it aired during the summer on Saturday nights, so it’s no wonder Malibu Shores tanked without leaving much of a trace.
Which ‘90s teen shows did we miss? Tell us in the comments!
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