Friday, April 26, 2013

Flashback Friday: Five Favorite Teen Shows of the '90s

Flashback Friday is a series where I get in the wayback machine and revisit some of my favorite things from years past. It can be anything really, random stuff from teh intarwebz, books, movies, games, et cetera. 

I was browsing through the murky waters of the Internet this week and found what I thought would be the perfect topic for the next installment of Flashback Friday. I've been pretty honest about my addiction to television and how it spans over twenty years. While I was born in the 1980s and love products of the decade, it was the 1990s that are full of memories for me. A vast majority of these memories center around favorite television programs. As Buzzfeed is quite adept at making lists of things that people care about, I decided to use their list of The 33 Best Forgotten Teen Shows Of The '90s as inspiration for today's post.

While I didn't actually become a teenager until the 2000s rolled around, I was glued to the television during the 90s and watched countless hours of programming. Saturday morning and afternoon television shows were a big part of my TV viewing and I especially loved shows like Saved by the Bell (in all of its iterations). I would watch SBTB once I got to high school on weekday mornings before my bus came. 

Back before TV Land and before shows actually from the 1990s were played on Nick at Nite, all teen or kid programming stopped fairly early in the evening to allow the "adult" programming to be broadcast. The Disney Channel did this for awhile if memory serves, but Nickelodeon was usually my TV station of choice. Of course, I loved the evening shows too. I cut my teeth on The Dick Van Dyke Show, Mary Tyler Moore, Green Acres, and I Love Lucy. I think the exposure to these shows helped me grow up with an old fashioned sensibility. I still say "golly" after all. (Thanks Gomer.) But I digress.

Without any certain order are my favorite teen shows of the 1990s. Many are from Nickelodeon, but let's face it, it was Nick that was producing the best content for teenagers at the time. When I think about these shows, I realize how different it is for kids growing up today.

Honorable mention:

Ghostwriter (1992-1995)

Okay, this isn't technically a "teen" show, but it was something that I definitely grew up watching, mostly in re-runs on my local PBS affiliate. I also remember our school librarian showing this to us when I was in sixth grade. Ghostwriter was a program developed by the Children's Television Workshop (creators of Sesame Street) to help teach reading and writing skills to youth. There were mystery arcs which spanned several episodes. By following clues given in each episode, young viewers would be able to help "solve mysteries" just like the Ghostwriter team.

While researching this list, I learned that the "ghost" of Ghostwriter fame was actually a runaway slave. In an interview (and recently an article on Uproxx) Producer and writer Kermit Frazier revealed the real mystery behind Ghostwriter's identity.

“Ghostwriter was a runaway slave during the Civil War,” he said.  “He was killed by slave catchers and their dogs as he was teaching other runaway slaves how to read in the woods.  His soul was kept in the book and released once Jamal discovered the book.”

Well, that's bizarre. Let's cleanse our palette with a clip of Julia Stiles on an early episode.

Okay, that was bizarre too.

Salute Your Shorts (1991-1992)

A short-lived show, but still a part of the collective psyche of all 90s kids, Salute Your Shorts followed the exploits of a group of campers of Camp Anawanna and their counselor Kevin "Ug" Lee. There were only twenty-six episodes, but both seasons had some pretty memorable moments. The show touches on themes of friendship, diversity, and not changing yourself to make someone like you. With so few episodes, it retained a regular show that was rerun often on Nickelodeon and was beloved by many throughout the 1990s.

One of my favorite episodes centered around a ghost story of a former camp employee named Zeke the Plumber. Watching it now, it's much more disturbing than I remembered.

The Secret World of Alex Mack (1994-1998)
After Clarissa Explains it All, this show was a great series which featured a female protagonist. Larisa Oleynik played the titular character who, after being doused with a top secret chemical known as GC-161, developed special powers. Her father was a brilliant chemist who worked at the plant which manufactured the aforementioned chemical. This takes place after Alex's first day of junior high, so not only does she have to navigate the waters of junior high school, but she has to do so with telekinesis. Oleynik certainly did well for herself as one of the co-stars of 10 Things I Hate About You with a recent stint on Mad Men.

So Weird (1999-2001)

This is on the cusp of being a 2000s show, but I'm going to throw it in here because it really was one of my favorite shows. Being a fan of the paranormal from a young age (X-Files was my jam) I was really drawn to  So Weird. Fiona "Fi" Phillips traveled around the country with her rockstar mom played by Mackenzie Phillips. At almost every tour stop they'd encounter some sort of paranormal activity. From Bigfoot, vampires, angels, to possessions, the show ran the gamut. It was definitely a darker show than what was usually broadcast on Disney, which was a good thing, I think. The series jumped the shark, in my opinion, when Fi was replaced by Annie in the third season. So Weird did have arguably one of the coolest opening themes on TV at the time.

Flash Forward (1996-1997)

Another Disney channel show, Flash Forward also suffered from too little episodes. The series followed neighbors and friends Tucker and Becca as they traverse life in middle school. While the two grew up being best friends, once they reach eighth grade, they find new best friends of their respective genders that make it easier to talk about the opposite sex. The neat thing about Flash Forward is that not only did it show life for the duo as teens, but it also shared insight from them as younger kids. One of my favorite episodes of the series centered around Tucker taking care of a fake baby. (I didn't take the Parenthood home ec class in high school, but some of my friends did.)

Tucker (Ben Foster) and Becca (Jewel Staite) both grew up to do even more great things. Foster has had a pretty prolific career; many will remember him from X-Men The Last Stand as Warren Worthington III / Angel. Staite, of course, is a favorite among many geeks, playing Kaylee Frye on Firefly, reprising the role for Serenity, and portraying Dr. Jennifer Keller on Stargate: Atlantis.

Hey Dude (1989-1991)

The oldest entry on this list, Hey Dude was staple on Nickelodeon. Set on the fictional Bar None Dude Ranch, it focused on the ranch's owner, his son, and his ranch staff. It was  kind of a 1990s version of Green Acres in that Ben Ernst buys the ranch to escape life in the city. Brad was a rich girl from Grosse Pointe, Michigan, but was a very competent equestrian. I think my favorite character of the series was Danny Lightfoot played by Joe Torres. There was some exploitation of Danny's character. For example here is the official description of the episode "Rainmen":

Danny must choose between his friends and his Native American heritage when a drought hits the Bar None threatening the water supply.
Christine Taylor who played principle cast member Melody grew up to have a pretty successful movie career (tv career not so much) and married Ben Stiller. Not bad.

I hope you enjoyed another trip in the wayback machine. What would you like to see me cover in future editions of Flashback Friday? Leave a comment below!


  1. Great Article! So many memories here, Hey Dude! and Salute Your Shorts are two of my favorites.

    1. Thank you! There were just so many that I could have gone so far beyond 5.