I watched Seinfeld, which began "revolutionising" sitcoms, according to people who know about TV and comedy and such. Thinking back, I guess I could tell it was different, only because they didn't have the Full House-style, soppy "I've learned a lesson" scene at the end of every episode. Although the "TV has really changed" lightning bolt for me was Monica on Friends telling someone she "had to pee". Woah! Never once in all the books I read as a kid, or all the TV shows I'd seen before, had anyone ever said they needed to use the facilities. The Faraway Tree didn't have an amenities block. Mollie and Peter never parked The Wishing Chair to drop the kids off at the pool. Trixie Belden didn't have to take a quiet squat while spying on a suspicious farmhouse.
Apart from that I think the only shows with real comic "credibility" I watched during my teens were the Rik Mayal/Adrian Edmondson brawlfest Bottom, sci-fi comedy Red Dwarf (although some tell me post-season-3 doesn't count) and current affairs satire Frontline.
But I sure as hell watched a lot of sitcoms. Most were American. Most were dodgy. Many of them would be familiar to you: Home Improvement, The Nanny, Married... With Children, Family Matters.
|If you can say "Did I do that?" without echoing Steve Urkel's nasally style, |
then congratulations. You are probably capable of conversing with strangers.
But what about the more obscure works in situationally comedic ouevre? Here's a few you probably don't care to remember - if you ever saw enough to forget in the first place.
5. Major Dad (1989-1993)
You know what works in sitcoms? Opposites! Why do you think that They Fight Crime! meme is 97% funny all the time - because it's just so true. People disagreeing about things equals conflict, and conflict creates comedy. We all remember the laugh riot that was the Korean War.
Major Dad was about Major John D. MacGillis, a hard man training hard men at a US Marine Corp infantry school. He marries a liberal journalist, Polly, and must adjust to life with her, her filthy values, and her three daughters. Can this military hardass soften up just a little while still retaining rigid posture and a pert moustache?
I remember very little about this show except for one joke: "Mac" finding out that Polly's middle name was Esther. Geddit? Polly...Esther... hey, I was 11 at the time and that stuff was razor-sharp.
4. Empty Nest (1988-1995)
A spin-off from The Golden Girls, Empty Nest starred the statuesque Richard Mulligan as Dr Harry Weston, a paediatrician living in Miami. His two adult daughters returned to live with him after his wife dies, and the show highlighted their constant bickering, and their and put up with his sleazy neighbour Charley (a kind of real-life Zapp Brannigan). There was also a lovely big dog named Dreyfuss.
My favourite character was Laverne, Dr Harry's tough-talking, wise-cracking nurse. I think hers was the first really Southern accent I can remember hearing, and boy, it was funny. Also, the actor playing her was named "Park Overall", and I never understood that. It sounded like a garment for a council worker.
I was sad to realise while researching Empty Nest that Mulligan died in 2000. I hadn't even realised. He was like the kindly, spindly, determinedly-flat-haired grandfather I never had. Except then I found out that at the height of the show's success in 1992, he married a porn star. Woof, indeed.
3. Blossom (1991-1995)
Mayim Balik has popped up in recent times on The Big Bang Theory, which I've never seen, but seems to have a bunch of 30-something non-nerds putting on bad clothes to play a bunch of 20-something actual nerds. To me, she'll always be Bette Midler as a young girl in Beaches. But after that, she'll always be Blossom.
The show was about a teenage girl living with her father and two older brothers. While it looked incredibly cheesy, it actually dealt with "teen issues". Blossom's eldest brother Anthony was a recovering addict, and her chatty best friend Six had a pregnancy scare. The middle brother, Joey, had a catchphrase - Whoa! - and later on, a music career.
The fashion of this show is so early 90s, it hurts me in the place where I used to wear my Hypercolour t-shirt.
2. The High Life (1995)
Lest all the entries in this list be American, I present this short-lived Scottish sitcom. It was written by Forbes Masson and Alan Cumming, whom you might remember from Bernard and the Genie and some other stuff, and is about two flight attendants working out of Prestwick Airport.
I remember thinking this was hysterically funny at the time it screened, but I can't remember if that was because of the jokes or just the accents. Only one series was made. I seem to recall seeing in as part of some sort of "Saturday Night Classic Comedy" line-up that the TV stations would occasionally do. They'd pull out episodes of George and Mildred, One Foot in the Grave and Are You Being Served? and jam them all together in the hope of entertainment. They never lasted long, mostly because the nostalgia factor was outweighed by the "Oh my God, is this how I'm spending my life now?" factor.
Interestingly, the name of the pilot character in the show was Captain Hilary Duff. And this is before Hilary Duff herself began her career as a child actor. All right, maybe it's not that interesting.
1. Dinosaurs (1991 - 1994)
This is not a parody sketch; this is a thing that actually happened. Dinosaurs was basically The Flintstones but with actual dinosaurs, not people. Well, not actual dinosaurs, people in dinosaur suits, with animatronic heads. Oh God, this is confusing.
But wait, puppets, could this mean...? Yes, apparently Jim Henson dreamt up the whole idea not long before he died, and his son Brian produced it. The show centred on Earl Sinclair, a hard-working megalosaurus dealing with all the pressures of modern family life - in 60, 000, 000BC Pangaea. It's probably most famous for Baby Sinclair, whose catchphrases, including "Not the Mama!", "Again!" and "I'm the baby, gotta love me!" adorned posters and stickers and t-shirts for at least 18 months. They also got a fair workout as witty classroom rejoinders for schoolkids like me.
To be fair, though, one of the most memorable lines of my childhood was from Dinosaurs. For some reason, Earl's company was arguing with another company, and they decided to launch Operation We Are Right to prove their point. I was about 12 at the time, and it took a fricking jabbering puppet to teach me the most succinct definition of war I'd ever heard.
That's my list, for now. Do you have any long-forgotten 1990s sitcoms? Add them to the list in the comments!