For the most part, television stays with us, and for many of us, the shows we watch become part of the fabric of who we are. Our choices, tastes, and opinions are all reflected in what we watch. But as time moves on and continues propelling us forward, we sometimes forget details that were once so clear…like the names of old TV shows we used to watch all. The. Time.
It happens to us all; we each have those shows we definitely remember watching, but we don’t necessarily remember what they were called. Maybe we can vividly recall a storyline, or a certain character or plot point — some major element tied to the show that has stayed with us through the years — but when we try to remember what the name of the damn thing was, all our memories conjure is a flurry of scenes and images. It almost seems as though many shows simultaneously leave an impact on us while still slipping through the cracks somehow.
We did some thinking, and we came up with 15 Old TV Shows You Watched But Completely Forgot The Name Of.
15 You Can’t Do That on Television
This is the oldest show on the list (it originally aired from 1979-1990) and arguably the most iconic. One of Nickelodeon’s first sketch comedies for teens, YCDTOT featured a large cast of teenagers performing now (in)famous sketches, including a firing squad skit with an incompetent officer who could never quite finish his execution orders until he himself was in the line of fire, and locker jokes, a bit where the teen stars of the show all hid inside their lockers and poked their heads out so they could tell each other ridiculous one-liners.
The show was full of oddball humor, and it gave Canadian superstar Alanis Morissette her start in showbiz (she appeared in five episodes in the mid '80s). YCDTOT also gave birth to a certain slimy substance that has since made its way into the pop culture zeitgeist. When it comes to getting buckets of green sludge dumped on your head, this is the show that started it all. Whenever anyone on the show said the words “I don’t know,” chartreuse-colored slime fell onto their heads from an unknown source above. The show’s stars were also doused with a few gallons of H2O whenever anyone said the word “water” out loud, making this the show many remember for its perpetual drenching of its stars.
14 The Hogan Family
Remember that one show where teenaged Jason Bateman played the oldest brother of a group of dreamy '90s boys who lived with their widowed father and witty Aunt Sandy (Sandy Duncan)? If you cannot recall the name of it, that could be because the show went through its fair share of title changes. Before it was called The Hogan Family, it was also called both Valerie and Valerie’s Family.
The titular changes came when the matriarch of the show, the boys’ mom Valerie (Valerie Harper) was killed off after the actress didn’t get along with the producers (this was a sitcom, mind you). The Hogan Family ran for five seasons (it ended in 1991) and despite the heavy-handedness of teen boys grappling with the death of their mother, the show was a comedy, we promise. The primary reason to watch was to see Bateman’s adorable, dependable David, who, pre-Arrested Development, gave us our first glimpses of Michael Bluth’s pained sarcasm and hyper-dry delivery.
13 Get a Life
Another name for this show could have been: Chronicles of The Greatest Man-Child in History. Starring Chris Elliott, the show’s opening credits featured Elliott’s newspaper delivery boy riding a bike and lackadaisically flinging newspapers at houses while R.E.M.’s “Stand” played in the background. Elliott’s character, also named Chris, lived above his parents’ garage, and he was prone to moments of ridiculousness and insanity.
The show was progressive in its absurdist humor and playful structure — Chris actually died several times throughout the show (once, he literally stepped out of an airplane midair), and his parents were perpetually wearing their bathrobes, even when they ventured outside of their house. Typical plot lines include Chris and his father Fred (played by Elliott’s real-life dad, Bob Elliott) entering a father/son paperboy competition straight out of American Gladiators, and later getting stuck in the shower after building a two-person submarine in their bathroom. The show only lasted for two seasons (it aired from 1990-92), but they were some memorable years. Sort of.
12 Brotherly Love
It seems as though this list is plumb full of dreamy '90s boys. Brotherly Love, leaving little to the imagination, starred the real-life Lawrence brothers: Joey, Matthew, and Andrew, who played brothers named...Joe, Matt, and Andy. Joe, the oldest, was the buff, tough-yet-sensitive mechanic. Middle child Matt was the sweet, neurotic neat freak, and the youngest, Andy, was the adorable wisecracking moppet. Joe moves back home after the death of their father in order to help look after his teenaged brothers, and water balloon fights and motorcycle rides ensue.
The show was mostly a gimmick to cash in on the teenybopper status of the Lawrence brothers. (Hey everyone, come see these adorable real-life brothers with flowing tresses play adorable TV brothers with flowing tresses!) But it was also harmless, vintage '90s bubblegum fun. Joey, who released a solo album in 1993, and was still riding high off his Blossom fame, also crooned the show’s theme song.
11 Life Goes On
Remember the show whose opening credits were a typical family trudging through their morning routine while The Beatles’ “Ob-la-di, Ob-la-da” played? That was this early '90s family drama starring Kellie Martin as Becca, the quintessential nerdy teenage daughter, and Patty Lupone as Libby, the tough, awesome, and caring matriarch. Life Goes On centered on the Thatcher family, rounded out by dad Drew (Bill Smitrovich) and brother Corky (Chris Burke), a young man navigating teendom while living with Down’s Syndrome.
The show was a hit with critics, perhaps because the struggles of the Thatcher family felt at once relatable and cinematic, both small and large in scope and resonance. The show ran for four seasons (1989-1993), and it tackled two painfully devastating topics: the potentially deadly results of driving while intoxicated, and the impact of living with HIV. After losing first love Tyler (Tommy Puett) to a tragic car accident in which he drove while inebriated, Becca falls for Chad Lowe’s Jesse, who later learns he has contracted HIV after having unprotected sex. Becca stands by him, and the results may require a case or two of Kleenex. Lowe won an Emmy for his role, and the show remains a wonderful little blip on the '90s TV radar.
The show with the dinosaurs was actually called…Dinosaurs. Airing on ABC’s TGIF lineup from 1991-1994, it featured the voice acting of Stuart Pankin as daddy Dino Earl Sinclair, and Jessica Walter — who, along with raising the Bluth kids and Sterling Archer — has quite the history of playing mom to all sorts of eclectic individuals. The Sinclair family also had two teenagers, a baby, and a grandma dinosaur complete with white wig and lots of lipstick. Despite airing alongside family-centric fare like Full House and Family Matters, the show was definitely intended for a more mature, intelligent audience, and often featured tongue-in-cheek critiques of other sitcoms.
In season two’s “A New Leaf,” for example, teenage son Robbie eats a plant with his friend that makes him feel incredibly carefree and happy. He takes the plant home to Earl, who tries it and totally relaxes. Eventually, Earl loses interest in doing anything other than eating the plant, and he gets fired from his job. The episode ends on a clever note, with Robbie talking directly to the audience, warning them about the dangers of drugs, chief among which is that they “lead to heavy-handed, preachy sitcom episodes, like this one…so say no to drugs. Help put an end to preachy sitcom endings like this one.” Too bad Full House never took his advice…
9 The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo
This Nickelodeon gem aired for four seasons (from 1996-99), and starred the legendary Pat Morita as Grandpa Mike Woo and Irene Ng as aspiring detective Shelby, a girl who could give Veronica Mars a run for her money. Teenaged Shelby worked as an intern at the local police department, and when she saw a curious case that piqued her interest, she would enlist the help of her friends to solve it. Grandpa Mike and the authorities frequently objected to her constant interventions, but Shelby was two parts Nancy Drew and one part Velma, and was not to be deterred.
Shelby was one of a few young ladies featured on a Nickelodeon program who were all at once unique, intelligent, and assertive when the adults around them were not (another girl who meets that description can be found later on in this list), which wasn’t entirely common in the '90s. In retrospect, the show seems timely, too—Shelby was the embodiment of the girl power the Spice Girls were singing about.
8 City Guys
Saturday mornings on NBC were marked by Saved By The Bell, its new class, and the crooners on California Dreams, but there were a few other shows we remember watching during the rockin’ TNBC (which stood for Teen NBC) '90s block. Enter City Guys, a Saturday morning staple we all remember watching, yet none of us really…remember. There was a high school, and the setting was less suburban than many of us were used to. The cast was more diverse than the other programs airing on TNBC at that time, but the show itself was pretty generic.
The series starred Wesley Jonathan as Jamal Grant, a lower-middle class student at Manhattan High School whose other-side-of-the-tracks relationship with the privileged Chris Anderson (Scott Whyte, aka Gunnar Stahl from D2: The Mighty Ducks) formed the foundation of the show. City Guys, despite being a bit conventional, did deal with more difficult issues than its fellow TNBC programs (racism, in-school violence) and Jamal, a witty and sweet young man who had dealt with a heap of tragedy (he lost friends and his mother) was arguably TNBC’s most complex leading man.
7 Hang Time
Another Saturday morning non-gem airing on the TNBC block that we definitely sorta remember watching, Hang Time was a show that focused on a high school basketball team—which, progressively enough, also included a girl (it was Saved By The Bell on a Basketball Court, basically). Hang Time had a virtual rotating cast every single season, which included a pre-Suicide Squad Jay Hernandez, former Chicago Bear Dick Butkus as a coach, and a young Anthony Anderson when he was the age his kids are now on Blackish.
Less edgy than City Guys, largely set in a gym, and featuring game action in which it looked like the athletes weren’t even trying, the show got lost in the TNBC shuffle despite lasting six seasons (it aired from 1995-2000). The most memorable characters were lone female player Julie Connor (Daniella Deutscher, who ended up marrying co-star Hernandez) and the obsessive and neurotic Mary-Beth Pepperton (Megan Parlen), a cheerleader who was also in charge of the team’s equipment.
6 Smart Guy
Many people remember this as the show that starred the little brother of the Sister, Sister twins. Tahj Mowry played T.J. Henderson, a 10-year-old with an IQ of 180 who gets moved up from elementary school to high school. The move up the educational ladder may have been as hard on his siblings Marcus and Yvette (Jason Weaver and Essence Atkins) as it was on T.J., as they had to adjust to life in high school with their smart-aleck baby brother. Marcus, for example, had to deal with T.J’s tendency to act like a 10 year-old dictator on several occasions (when T.J. temporarily coached the basketball team, or when he directed their music video project and refused to hear any ideas other than his own).
The show aired from 1997-99 and, in a nod to his famous siblings, the show had Sister, Sister stars Tia and Tamara guest star in an episode titled “Brother Brother.”
5 Parker Lewis Can’t Lose
This show was basically what would happen if Ferris Bueller's Day Off became a TV show and was set in the 1990s. The influence of Ferris is all over this show, and in not-so-subtle ways. Parker’s primary antagonist was his principal, who often worked against him with his own vengeful little sister, and the girl of his dreams was named Sloan. Starring Corin Nemic as the titular, loud shirt wearing Lewis, this was a fun, self-aware series full of high school hijinks and quirky teen characters. Sample, time-stamped dialogue: “I never saw a hotel room this trashed since Donnie Wahlberg stayed at the Hilton.”
The show also starred Maia Brewton (the Thor-obsessed young charge in Adventures in Babysitting) as Parker’s kid sister and usual arch nemesis, Shelly. Their competitive exchanges were oodles of fun, and made the infrequent occasions when they worked together all the more delicious and enjoyable.
4 Early Edition
Didn’t there used to be a show where Coach Taylor got newspapers delivered by a cat that helped him see life-changing future events? There sure was, and it was called Early Edition. Airing on CBS from 1996-2000, Edition starred Kyle Chandler as Gary Hobson. After Gary got dumped by his wife, he moved into a hotel room, and one day, an orange cat appeared at his door sitting on a newspaper. Upon looking closer at the paper, Gary noticed he was seeing tomorrow’s headlines a day ahead of time. While tempted to simply play the lotto and be done with it, Gary decides instead to try to use the info provided in the newspapers for good.
The series is a chronicle of his various attempts to change the future by intervening in people’s lives to prevent potential tragedy (the show provides a counterpoint to shows like LOST, insinuating that we DO have control over our fates and/or the fates of others). Chandler, as always, was great fun to watch.
3 The Secret World of Alex Mack
Poor, lovable Alex. She didn’t mean to be in the path of a truck carrying GC-161, a secret and highly volatile chemical coveted by scientists. But when a truck full of the stuff swerved to avoid hitting her, it saturated her with the chemical instead, which resulted in Alex acquiring weird abilities, like firing mini electricity-filled shots with her fingers and turning into a puddle eerily similar to in appearance to Terminator 2’s T-1000.
Played with pluck by Larisa Oleynik, Alex, who rocked hats as well as LivPo rocks power suits, was one of Nickelodeon’s aforementioned younger leading ladies who ended up being more capable than many of the adults around her. Along with her best pal Ray and her science-loving sister Annie, Alex sets out to learn how to get rid of her recent affliction while simultaneously having to cover it up. See, the president of the chemical plant that made GC-161, Danielle Atron, knows that a girl was accidentally exposed—she just doesn’t know who that girl is. Atron actively hunts for Alex, hoping to stow her away to use as a test subject. Complicating matters is the fact that George Mack, Alex’s adorkable father, works as a scientist in Atron’s plant.
In the end, Alex must choose whether or not to keep her powers, but we didn’t care what decision she made. We were just bummed that the cool show about the girl with telekinesis who could also turn into a puddle was ending.
One of Nickelodeon’s signature shows in the early '90s, this Canadian teen drama was Degrassi meets those awful old After School Specials, without any of the more risque content. Called Hillside in its native Canada, this was another teen show with a revolving cast door, save for a few core characters, one of whom was Billy, played by a teenage Ryan Reynolds.
The show had a ton of flaws: clichéd plots, weird character developments, and some truly awkward performances. Yet we watched anyway, because it was a soap opera set in a high school that felt way more organic than shows like Beverly Hills 90210 because the students actually looked like people, not pages out of an American Eagle catalog. Watching him here, few could see Reynolds’ transformation into Deadpool coming. His character, Billy Simpson, was a total whiny downer who bullied kids smaller than him when he was upset about his parents’ divorce. Regardless, this show was must-see TV for kids growing up in the '90s.
This gem only lasted two seasons, (it originally aired on the WB from 1995-97, but attained a bit of a cult status after that with viewings on Cartoon Network), but they were both excellent. The premise: über-nerd Dexter Douglas gets zapped into his computer by a computer virus and absorbs all the information available on the Internet. This gives him superpowers such as hyper strength, speed, and agility, while also turning him in to a fast-talking, babbling lunatic.
Executive produced by Steven Spielberg, Freakazoid was an often hilarious character who, once he captures the bad guys, tortures them in new and inventive ways, like making them say tongue twisters (“Grandma Moses Makes Much Meatloaf Monday Morning” is a favorite) before letting them out of various chokeholds. Ed Asner is a standout as Cosgrove, trusted local cop and Freakazoid’s best pal. Their banter alone is worth watching, but the show was blatantly satirical of the superhero genre, and thus, was chock full of delicious nerd humor. It's even been suggested that the show could be a successful film, which we’re completely on board with.
What old TV shows have YOU forgotten the names of that we forgot to list here? Assuming you can track down their titles with a Google search, let us know in the comments.
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