The Most Cringeworthy TV Shows Of The 1990s
By Sarah Norman | October 23, 2023
Sweet Valley High
Welcome, dear readers, to a nostalgic trip down the memory lane of the small screen, where the '90s gifted us with some TV treasures that left us questioning our life choices. Whether you remember watching these shows as they aired or you're diving into the cringe-worthy depths of '90s television for the first time, get ready for a rollercoaster ride of epic proportions.
From the oddball experiments like Get Real and Cop Rock to the quirky family dynamics of Step by Step, we're here to celebrate the best of the worst.
So grab your time-travel remote and join us as we explore the guilty pleasures, the head-scratchers, and the downright disastrous TV moments of the '90s. Ready for the cringe? Let's dive in!
Sweet Valley High, the TV adaptation that took the beloved book series and managed to distill all the worst parts into visual nonsense.
Francine Pascal's novels might have had their moments, but this show seemed determined to gather up all the cringe-worthy bits and serve them up with a side of teenage drama. Instead of following the Wakefield twins throughout their lives, it fixated on their high school years, effectively putting the "high" in "high school."
With characters lacking context and a story stripped of its entertaining dynamics, Sweet Valley High left viewers yearning for something a little less sugar-coated and a lot more substance.
Ah, Renegade, the '90s syndicated gem that reminded us all to get our homework done, pronto. This series was like the equivalent of a biker gang rolling into your TV schedule with all the subtlety of a sledgehammer. Lorenzo Lamas played a motorcycle-riding bad boy turned bounty hunter, and if that doesn't scream "classy television," what does?
With its predictably formulaic episodes and cheesy action sequences, Renegade was the ultimate afternoon eye-roll inducer. When it came on, usually right after the equally cringeworthy Highlander, you knew it was time to put down the remote and pick up that math book. So, if you ever find yourself feeling nostalgic for a time when syndicated shows like this were the pinnacle of afternoon entertainment, you might just want to double-check your priorities.
The Chevy Chase Show
The Chevy Chase Show is a prime example of how not to spend your millions. Fox dropped a cool $3 million bag of cash on Chevy Chase to host a late-night talk show, not to mention another million sprucing up what they optimistically dubbed The Chevy Chase Theatre.
Unfortunately for them, this late-night flop was more cringe than charm. Advertisers were promised the moon and stars, with projected viewership numbers that would have made David Letterman blush. But in reality, it was a sinking ship from day one. With actual ratings that looked more like a bad punchline, averaging fewer than three million viewers and plummeting to less than two million during its death throes, The Chevy Chase Show was, well, brutal. It's almost as if they paid for the Chevy name and forgot to chase the actual viewers.
Highlander was a very '90s TV series that thought it could extend the life of a movie that had a pretty definitive ending. It's like trying to resurrect a character after they've already had their head chopped off—wait, that actually happened in the show.
While the concept of immortal sword-wielding warriors might have worked in the very campy '80s movie, the '90s TV adaptation took things to a whole new level of dorkiness. Not to mention the fact that the original film was a classic in its own right, and trying to build a series around it felt like an exercise in futility. So, if you're up for some cringe-worthy, head-slicing, time-traveling adventures, Highlander might just be your guilty pleasure.
The Flash from the '90s, starring John Wesley Shipp, is the prime example of cringe-worthy superhero television. It's as if they raided the costume closet from a high school theater production and slapped some shiny fabric on poor Shipp. The cheesy special effects could make your eyes roll so hard they'd get stuck. At a time when superhero storytelling was more 'pow' and 'zap' than deep character development, The Flash stuck out like a neon sore thumb. But hey, let's give credit where it's due—it's an interesting '90s oddity, a reminder of a time when superhero TV shows were far from the sophisticated storytelling we enjoy today.
Pacific Blue, the '90s syndicated sensation that proved you could slap a badge on a beach bum and call it law enforcement. Who wouldn't want their crimes solved by a bunch of tan, muscle-bound officers in swim trunks cruising the boardwalk on bikes? It's not like they had, you know, actual police cars or anything.
Sure, why not have beach cops tackle crime on rollerblades and surfboards while you're at it? The premise alone was so preposterous that you'd think it was a parody, but nope, it was a real TV show. That being said, the theme song still slaps.
The syndicated sensation Night Man truly stretched the boundaries of what could pass as a superhero series. So, picture this: a San Franciscan jazz musician named Johnny Domino, struck by lightning in a freak cable-car incident, develops the incredible power to telepathically recognize evil. Great, right? But here's the kicker—he can't sleep anymore. Guess he'll have plenty of time to practice his saxophone solos.
While Night Man's superhero credentials were basically limited to a fancy bulletproof bodysuit and some nifty gadgets, like flight and a laser beam (because, of course), it's hard not to appreciate the sheer audacity of this show's ridiculous premise. If you're in the mood for some "so bad it's good" '90s TV, Night Man is your ticket to a superhero world where jazz and lightning strikes collide in the most perplexing ways.
Sliders, the '90s show that practically begged for a wedgie, captured the hearts of '90s nerds like no other. Who wouldn't want to watch a bunch of disparate friends as they hop through wormholes, sliding between parallel universes like it's a Saturday morning cartoon?
It was like a sci-fi version of "Choose Your Own Adventure," except with more cheese than a pizzeria. Sure, it had its moments, but let's be real—it's a show that leaves you reminiscing about the days when your fashion sense was as questionable as the show's grasp on reality. So, if you're ready to embark on a cringe-worthy journey through '90s nerd nostalgia, Sliders is here to transport you to a parallel universe where pocket protectors and wormholes rule the day.
Silk Stalkings was a '90s syndicated sensation that made solving sexually-based crimes of passion seem like a glamorous day job. For viewers coming of age in that decade, this show must have felt like a forbidden glimpse into the oh-so-adult world of Palm Beach's ultra-rich. But looking back, it's hard not to chuckle at the way the series tackled these titillating cases. It's almost as if it were penned by a group of pre-teens playing detective, trying desperately to sound like adults while cracking the case of the missing maturity.
Viper, the epitome of '90s action TV, where every crime wave in the fictional city of Metro City, California, seemed to be as relentless as the show's shameless Dodge Viper ad campaign. Imagine a special U.S. task force, armed with a weapon so formidable that it could transform a Dodge Viper into an urban assault vehicle. Brilliant, right?
It was like an hour-long commercial for Dodge, disguised as an action-adventure series, with enough car chases and explosions to rival a Michael Bay film. The plot was as thinly veiled as the Viper's "masquerade" as a cool roadster—just enough substance to keep you hooked between the blatant car promotions.
Touched By An Angel
Woof, Touched By An Angel, the show that proved even divine intervention couldn't save some of its sappy storylines. With Roma Downey playing the angelic messenger Monica and Della Reese as her no-nonsense supervisor Tess, it was like a heavenly buddy-cop duo on a mission from the divine.
Week after week, Monica swooped down from the celestial realm to bring guidance and messages from God to people facing life's crossroads. It was the quintessential '90s tearjerker, a place where moral lessons and heartwarming moments collided with a touch of the divine.
George Foreman, the man who can pack a punch and grill your burgers, decided to try his hand at carrying a sitcom. ABC must have been banking on his charisma transferring to the small screen when they greenlit "George." The premise? A retired boxer running a youth center for troubled youngsters. Sounds like a knockout idea, right? Well, the reality was more like a swift jab to the funny bone. Audiences clearly preferred Foreman in the ring or cooking up a storm with his grills because George got pummeled and was pulled from the airwaves faster than you can say "lean, mean, grilling machine."
Oh hey it's Uncle Buck, the '90s TV series that tried to capture the magic of the beloved '80s film but left out the most crucial ingredient: John Candy himself. It was like trying to make a sandwich without the bread. The show had the same premise—wacky uncle in charge of nieces and nephews—but without Candy's inimitable charm and comedic genius, it fell flat.
Clueless, the '90s TV adaptation that left everyone feeling, well, clueless. Trying to recreate the magic of the hit 1995 film without Alicia Silverstone as Cher was like trying to have a Beverly Hills shopping spree without a platinum card—it just didn't work. To make matters even more bewildering, they managed to rope in Brittany Murphy, Paul Rudd, and Breckin Meyer for guest appearances but didn't let them reprise their iconic characters. It's as if they decided, 'Hey, let's take everything that made the movie great and throw it out the window!' So, if you ever find yourself wondering why some TV adaptations should just stay in the '90s vault, Clueless might just have your answer.
Teen Angel, the TV series that could only have been born in the depths of 1997. A teenager meets his untimely end, not from anything heroic or dramatic, but after devouring a six-month-old hamburger. Naturally, he's reborn as his best friend's guardian angel, with God's cousin Rod serving as the celestial mentor. It's like someone took a time capsule of '90s absurdity and turned it into a show. The premise alone is enough to make you wonder what on earth (or in heaven) the writers were thinking.
The '90s TV adaptation of Ferris Bueller, where the only thing that could rival Ferris's legendary day off was the show's brief one-season run.
Charlie Schlatter's version of Ferris even had the audacity to claim he was the inspiration behind Matthew Broderick's iconic character from the film. But let's face it, Ferris Bueller's Day Off remains a classic of the '80s teen film genre, while the TV series is more like that forgotten postscript you skip in a book.
However, the series did give audiences us a pre-Friends (and pre-Leprechaun) Jennifer Aniston, proving that even a show as forgettable as this could occasionally strike gold.
What A Dummy
Okay, so you may not remember What A Dummy but it was the '90s show that proved that even in the golden era of television, you could turn a ventriloquist dummy into a beloved family member. Because, you know, finding a talking dummy in a trunk is a perfectly normal way to expand the family dynamic.
Sure, the premise may have been a bit, well, wooden, but it was the '90s, and TV was all about pushing the boundaries of absurdity. So, if you're in the mood for a dose of nostalgic strangeness and you've always wondered what it would be like to have a ventriloquist dummy as a family member, What A Dummy is here to, well, dummy it up for you.
Baby Talk is a forgotten '90s flop that proved once and for all that not every movie should have a TV show spinoff. Taking the not-so-shining example of Look Who's Talking and turning it into a comedy series was an ambitious misstep.
Homeboys in Outer Space
Homeboys in Outer Space was an ntergalactic masterpiece that boldly went where no one asked it to. Picture this: two astronauts, Tyberius and Morris, cruising through the cosmos in a winged car that looked like it had been designed by a blindfolded Mad Max. They were chauffeured around by a talking computer named Loquatia because, clearly, a talking car just wasn't absurd enough. In the 23rd century, no less.
It's no wonder people loathed this show faster than an alien invasion. Perhaps they should have stuck to exploring outer space and left television to those with a semblance of taste.
Walker, Texas Ranger
Walker, Texas Ranger, a show that proved that even Chuck Norris couldn't karate-kick good taste into existence. Inspired by the film Lone Wolf McQuade (because one Chuck Norris vehicle clearly wasn't enough), this series took the whole "Texas Ranger" thing to a level of silliness that even the Lone Star State couldn't endorse.
But what really takes the biscuit here is the shameless product placement. They might as well have called it "Walker, Dodge Ram Ranger," with Chuck swapping out vehicles faster than he could roundhouse kick a bad guy. It was like a never-ending car commercial with a side of martial arts. Bravo, Walker, for turning every episode into a four-wheeled, high-octane spectacle of brand synergy.
Baywatch Nights, the spinoff that made you question if David Hasselhoff had accidentally wandered onto the set of a completely different show. Initially, it tried to turn the king of beach bods, Mitch Buchannon, into a private eye, as if the beach patrol didn't provide enough thrilling mysteries. Angie Harmon and Gregory Alan Williams played detectives, and together they embarked on a journey that left you wondering if they were trying to find lost sunscreen bottles or solve real crimes. But wait, there's more! In the second season, this show decided to throw logic out the window and dive headfirst into B-movie sci-fi horror. Suddenly, Mitch Buchanan was fighting off more supernatural beings than he had ever fought off sinister beach bums. It's almost as if they couldn't decide whether they wanted to save lives or star in a low-budget X-Files knockoff. Bravo, Baywatch Nights, for making the '90s even weirder than we remembered.
Nothing says the '90s like a musical police procedural. Thank goodness we were able to see one season of Cop Rock.
Steven Bochco, the genius behind hits like Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, and NYPD Blue, must have thought, "Why not add a tune and dance number to catching criminals?" Unfortunately, this experiment lasted about as long as it took to realize that the combination of cops and Broadway-style musical numbers was a crime against good taste.
Step by Step
Step by Step, the '90s sitcom that tried to capture the magic of blended families but ended up feeling like a distant cousin to The Brady Bunch. With the lightning-fast marriage of two single parents who met on vacation, it was clear that subtlety wasn't on the menu. Sure, it managed to cling to life for seven seasons, but that might have more to do with the lack of interesting television in the '90s than its excellent storytelling.
Herman's Head was the '90s sitcom that proved that even the inner workings of one man's mind can be painfully repetitive. William Ragsdale played Herman Brooks, a fact-checker with more personality quirks than the entire cast of a soap opera. The Greek chorus-style interpretation of his thought processes was certainly intriguing at first, but it quickly grew as tired as Herman himself.
Season after season, viewers were treated to the thrilling spectacle of four conflicting personality traits bickering over every decision. It's almost as if the show's creators ran out of ideas after the first episode and just decided to recycle the same old inner turmoil. Herman's head may have been a complex place, but Herman's Head was anything but.
The Single Guy
The Single Guy, yet another entry in the '90s TV lineup of single guys who refused to grow up and settle down. Because clearly, we didn't have enough of those on our screens already with the likes of Seinfeld, Frasier, and the boys of Friends.
Jonathan Silverman played the struggling writer Jonathan Eliot, navigating the treacherous waters of New York City. The show had so many friends coming and going, it was like a revolving door of questionable life choices. It's almost as if the '90s had a checklist for sitcom premises, and The Single Guy was just one more predictable checkmark.
Saved by the Bell: The New Class
Saved by the Bell: The New Class, because apparently, the '90s couldn't let go of the magic of Bayside High. This show managed to make a retread of the original Saved By The Bell seem like a thrilling idea, and that's no small feat. With a revolving door of students, the only constant was Mr. Belding, who seemed to have discovered the secret to eternal youth or was just really, really bad at his job. Because nothing screams relatability to young viewers like lead actors who could have been their parents. Bravo, The New Class, for proving that some things are better left in the '90s.
Dharma & Greg
Dharma & Greg, the '90s sitcom that took the phrase "love at first sight" to a whole new level by skipping the dating process and jumping straight into matrimony. Because who needs the excitement of getting to know someone when you can just marry them on a whim?
With their polar opposite personalities and parents who conveniently matched their quirks, it was a recipe for endless clashes and, apparently, sitcom material. The perfect formula for comedy, perhaps, but one that should've had an expiration date. Even in the final episode, the bickering due to their differing opinions was as present as ever, making you wonder if they should've just swiped left on this whole concept from the beginning.
Harry and the Hendersons
How do we even get into Harry and the Hendersons the '90s sitcom that tried to recapture the magic of a Bigfoot living with a family but ended up feeling more like a hairy version of ALF gone wrong?
Because who wouldn't want to bring a mythical creature home from a camping trip and watch the hilarity unfold? Well, anyone who had the misfortune of tuning in, apparently. It's like ALF, but without the charm, the fun, the well-made puppetry, or the, well, goodness. If you're in the mood for sitcom hijinks, maybe stick to the original movie or, you know, just about anything else from the '90s that doesn't involve a furry, misunderstood creature invading your home.
The Heights, the '90s TV show that proved even a chart-topping theme song couldn't save it from a swift descent into obscurity.
This Beverly Hills 90210 spin-off decided to center itself around a fictional band, the Heights, composed mainly of working-class young adults. With episodes regularly serving as a platform for their tunes, it's almost as if they hoped the music would drown out the dullness of the show. Despite their desperate attempts to be hip and relevant, The Heights premiered to an audience about as enthusiastic as a yawn and quickly plummeted faster than their theme song fell from the top of the Billboard Hot 100 chart.
Get Real, the forgotten '90s TV show that thought it was the cleverest thing since sliced bread. The dysfunctional Green family takes center stage, with parents Mitch and Mary navigating the joys of teenage parenthood and a marriage that's seen better days.
But wait, there's more! The Green kids occasionally break the fourth wall to address the camera, a technique that was clearly an attempt to replicate the success of Parker Lewis Can't Lose while creating artistic distance between Get Real and shows like Dawson's Creek. Unfortunately, their asides often come off as more snarky than smart, making you wonder if they were trying to be insightful or just venting about their own show.
Get Real may have thought it was delivering witty commentary on popular culture and other TV shows, but it was about as sharp as a butter knife in reality.