With the dawn of the age of Netflix and other streaming networks, it’s difficult to resist the urge to go back and binge watch all your favorite old ’90s sitcoms – and frankly, why would you? The nostalgia factor itself is enough, but it’s also hard to dispute that the ’90s cracked the code on light-hearted PG rated comedy. The average ’90s sitcom can deliver one perfectly timed 22 minute segment – just enough to lift your spirits when you’re feeling down, distract you from the bearings of the real world, or serve as affable background noise around the house.
That being said, with the advent of streaming devices, many eager binge-watchers are now faced with the crippling honest truth that their favorite sitcoms are – well, kind of cringe-worthy. At best. At worst, they’re off-color and offensive, engaging in humor that’s equal parts shocking and showing off a long aged-out bias. Whether it’s homophobia, casual (or overt) racism, or using femininity as the butt of a joke, most of our favorite ’90s sitcoms are guilty of being horrifyingly ignorant to our modern sensibilities. Many power through, hoping to see the silver lining in their old familiar – some have one. Some do not.
Here are 15 ’90s Sitcoms That Have Aged Terribly.
15. Everybody Loves Raymond
Everybody Loves Raymond featured Ray Romano as Ray Barone, who had the great misfortune in life of having a wife who tried to organize the hectic disaster zone of a home with three small children, an over-bearing mother-in-law, and a husband who was, at best, entirely apathetic.
The show heavily played on the trope that women are nagging buzzkills and men are hard-done-by; Barone’s mother-in-law was a cariacture of the same nature, over-bearing and judgmental – the show did not even allow the female workerbees to bond in friendship, instead pitting the women against each other in tense and consistent petty competition to be the best female companion to the men in their lives.
14. Home Improvement
Here’s another ’90s sitcom that heavily played into the hand of what men do and what women do, and never the two shall meet. Tim Allen’s character is a little more active in his role as father and husband, but the nagging angle definitely factors in to Home Improvement.
Its biggest cringe-worthy storyline, however, is the inclusion of the “Tool Time” girl – who is nothing more than a hot prop for the two “Tool Time” guys to alternatively ogle and be exhausted by. She dresses overly provocatively for her role – if she’s dealing with home improvement, one would think steel-toed boots and tying your hair up would be mandatory. Not only that, but the role is filled by a myriad of different women, as if a having consistent identity isn’t important. At one point she was even portrayed by Pamela Anderson.
13. Saved By The Bell
Saved By The Bell was a wholesome show about a group of kids coming of age – right? In retrospect, there are some huge moments here toxic masculinity reared its ugly head; in pretty much any storyline to do with Zack Morris. Highlights include him owning a cardboard cutout of the girl he liked (because a silent, two-dimensional version is just like the real thing), attempting to subliminally convince girls that he was Tom Cruise so they’d liked him, and even dressing up like a woman so he could sneak in to spy on other girls changing.
12. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Who can forget this iconic opening theme? Most true ’90s sitcom fans still have it memorized. A fair number of elements in The Fresh Prince of Bel Air still stand the test of time – Will’s antics with women, however, do not. He frequently engages in sketchy tactics to get women to date him, including flat-out lying to gain their affections. There are multiple instances of him distilling women to their physical attributes, and in one particular episode he even makes up a rhyme about a woman’s butt.
Though a show about sophisticated, well-mannered men, there are many elements to Frasier that reveal a lack of class – or at least, an uncomfortable display of privilege. Most notable is the nearly series-long obsession by Frasier’s brother, Niles Crane, toward Daphne Moon, an employee of Frasier’s.
Niles moons after her for seasons, idolizing and fantasizing about the woman without really getting to know her, and at the same time, degrading and mocking his own wife. He does nothing material to pursue Daphne but sniff around her for years, but when his secret attentions are revealed, she realizes she too is in love. A sticky situation, not least of all because of the power at play here – she is an employee of his brother, and refers to Niles as “Mr. Crane” throughout the series. Yet, the two end up living happily ever after – a problematic conclusion at best.
Most of the problematic elements in Seinfeld revolve around the women the main characters date – in George’s case, he is constantly judging and weighing a woman’s worth based on how she looks. His on-again off-again partner Susan at one point ended up in a lesbian relationship before her partner is seduced by Kramer. The homosexual relationship here is used simply as a plot device, and Susan’s death is a big joke.
Jerry himself is no better in his treatment of women – ranging from forgetting a partner’s name to dating a Native American woman and offending her by mocking Native American culture in front of her. This becomes the running gag of the episode, where to the thrill of the studio audience, he accidentally lets slip words like “sculptor” and “reservation” – bad taste is putting it mildly.
9. That ’70s Show
Despite the show having a little leeway in basing many of its jokes in the form of ironical retrospective, That ’70s Show still shows its bias as a ’90s sitcom. The idea of Fez – whose name actually stands for Foreign Exchange Student – is in bad form at best. It’s a running joke that the gang doesn’t know where he’s from, what his cultural background is, or what other language he speaks. He is largely in the butt of the joke – his “outsider” status is used for parody and a comical distinction as a lesser-than “otherness.”
The treatment of women by the gang is also tired – though perhaps true to the era – Jackie and Donna are constantly sexualized even despite pushback, and Eric’s sister Lori has an entire identity based solely around her physical attraction and promiscuity.
Friends was a blockbuster TV show of its time – an early member of the coveted Must-Watch-TV Thursday night spot – and even after 13 years off-air, maintains that status. Today, it’s the second most-watched television show on Netflix.
The popular sitcoms shows its age today; the focus here will be on the show’s heavy reliance on homophobia as a comical subplot. Fans will remember the episode that revolved around Ross and Joey taking a nap together, where – to their absolute horror – they wake up incredibly well-rested in each other’s arms. In one episode, Ross is bewildered by a male nanny, and assumes the man is gay. The entire episode revolves around Ross’ discomfort about a man being a nanny, and his prejudice is never resolved or fully admonished. Finally, who could forget the caricatured portrayal of a transgender woman as Chandler’s father?
7. Will & Grace
The original release of NBC’s Will & Grace did a lot to move LGBTQ+ culture into the mainstream. It was very progressive at the time, but looking back, there really wasn’t that much diverse representation on the show. Will & Grace promoted the normalcy of white gay male relationships – but even in this vein, they stumbled into overt stereotypes – particularly in the character of Jack, an incredibly flamboyant man with a significant bias against women (particularly lesbians).
Jack’s flamboyance was often used as comic relief, and Will’s character – conservative, intelligent and rational, frequently misidentified as heterosexual – was seen as the proverbial straight man. This dynamic today is problematic at best, and it’s best to remember the era-appropriate context when binging the original release.
6. Full House
Full House recently enjoyed a Netflix reboot, Fuller House, which was met with mixed reviews. The nostalgia factor was hard at play with the revival, but some noticed that the concept was wholly undated, and – when re-watching the original – the content was hard to swallow.
One particular element to note in the original show is the subtle homophobia that permeates the show’s concept – every time a suggestion is made that the men in the house may be engaged in a gay relationship, the idea is met with ridicule, as though such a concept out of the realm of possibility and entirely absurd. Today, it seems like a fair and far more likely conclusion that men who live and are raging children together would be engaged in some sort of romantic attachment.
5. The Drew Carey Show
The Drew Carey Show aired from 1995 to 2004 – a good run for a show that isn’t talked about very much anymore. Drew Carey is better known for Whose Line Is It Anyway? these days, as are a good number of the other cast members.
The Drew Carey Show‘s biggest offense is the way the characters – especially Drew – treat Mimi. Though she generally gives as good as she gets, Mimi is consistently harassed for the way she looks, including her being overweight – more of a damnable crime for a female, then a similarly overweight male like Drew himself. She is not allowed to dress, act, and say how she feels without being consistently ridiculed for it. Thankfully, she does so anyway. It’s hard not to feel for the character, despite the writers attempts to make her unlikeable.
Seemingly innocuous in form – he is, after all, a puppet – ALF was a ’90s sitcom chock-full of Jewish stereotypes. ALF was an alien (the title is an acronym for Alien Life Form) who landed in United States suburbia and began living with the quiet and respectable Tanner family.
The puppet was named Gordon Shumway, and fully fit the outline of the television trope of “Ambigiously Jewish.” It was heavily implied that Shumway’s characteristics were Jewish in origin. And they were not necessarily complimentary or positive in portrayal: Shumway frequently overindulges, can be rude and ignorant, and disrupts the serenity of the perfect Tanner family (although, eventually, for the good of all).
The show’s primary narrative is that a foreigner comes into the neighbourhood, is met with trepidation and suspicion, but eventually wins everyone over with his strange ways – a failed attempt at political correctness.
3. Married…With Children
Married…With Children is another ’90s show that tried to cash in on the concept that men are hard-done-by, and that women – particularly the wife – just make everything harder. Though much of its humor is tongue-in-cheek, the despicable antics of Al Bundy grate on the modern audience; whether it’s his constant sexualization of other women, his constant passing-off of personal responsibility (he believes his life is doomed by the “Bundy Curse”), or his verbal abuse toward his own wife, it’s enough to shut the television off right then and there.
2. Just Shoot Me!
A good deal of the humor in the ’90s sitcom Just Shoot Me! is based on the premise that the bulk of the employees working for fashion magazine Blush are as shallow and selfish as the readers they are catering to. The show, at best, is an examination of our consumerist, beauty-obsessed culture. At worst, it’s misogynist, homophobic, and ablesit.
David Spade’s Dennis Finch is consistently the perpetrator of demeaning and offensive comments and actions toward women, and little is done to curtail his behavior. However, the series’ low point in the subplot revolving around David Cross’ recurring role of Donnie, where Cross’ characters pretends to be mentally disabled to get out of doing things he doesn’t want to do. The portrayal is not only offensive, but it’s hardly acknowledged as inappropriate by the only characters – as well, it’s gag that recurs throughout the series.
1. Men Behaving Badly
Men Behaving Badly was the American remake of the British show by the same name, but both renditions succeeded in being totally and uttering offensive. The American version ran for only one season on NBC, and for good reason.
It centers around two lazy under-achieving male roommates trying to avoid all responsibility for their actions and their lives. The characters are morally reprehensible – examples include Rob Schneider’s character lying about having a child to get a woman to go out with him, hitting on his recently immigrated employee, and pretending to be a woman to win a contest, all for the sake of a laugh.
The shows offers dialogue such as: “the sex was consensual when we started, but what about after she fell asleep?” It perpetuates toxic masculinity and rape culture at every turn – even for the ’90s, this sitcom pushed the limits of what was acceptable.
What other ’90s sitcoms aged badly? Let us know in the comments!
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