As you’ve noticed over the last few weeks, we’re in the middle of a ’90s TV nostalgia boom. A fresh generation has started to look around and realize that they (we) are getting older, and they want to reach for something familiar. So far, the shows booked for a return engagement have been a mix of obvious (X-Files), interesting (Full House), and surprising (Coach), and more are on the way that will make the internet either roll its eyes or vibrate with excitement. With that in mind, we humbly suggest that these five ’90s TV staples could be ripe for re-visitation.
Quantum Leap (1989-1993)
The easiest way to explain Quantum Leap is to say that it was, in some ways, an Americanized version of Doctor Who with Scott Bakula playing Doctor surrogate Sam Beckett, a time-leaping do-gooder and man of science. To say that shortchanges Donald P. Bellisario’s sci-fi adventure series because it really stands on its own as a unique entity, thanks to its almost Capraesque quality.
Unfortunately, Quantum Leap only lasted 1/10th as many years as Doctor Who has; ending in its fifth season with a meditative episode that re-introduced a lot of familiar faces — including Sam’s own — and allowed him to right one last wrong before taking what was hinted at as a sabbatical before “embarking on a difficult new assignment” by God/a bartender/Bruce McGill or whatever. In the end, we learn that Sam never took the leap home, but the episode asked us to contemplate what “home” really meant in the context of the show and the universe, so it’s unclear if Sam ascended to something beyond our imagination, or if he’s still out there somewhere acting as the universe’s boyscout. And some of us would love to know and would love to see Bakula reprise the role for another adventure though history, even though the open ended finale feels at once perfect and incomplete.
SeaQuest DSV (1993-1996)
SeaQuest DSV was a mess during its initial NBC run in the mid-90s, jumping from a hard science ocean-exploration series to more of a sci-fi action series. Cast changes and a 10-year jump in the storyline following the abduction of the ship by an alien race that transported it to another planet didn’t help matters, but despite these flaws, the show has a small cult following, the concept has ample potential, and a reboot with a new cast and better special effects could work if the show can figure out what it is and stick with it. Especially in a moment where we’re generally more aware of the concerns about dwindling resources and rising sea levels.
Murphy Brown (1988-1998)
The face of journalism has been fundamentally altered by the internet, social media, cable news, and the public’s growing taste for the absurd and the frothy. The world could use a few fresh episodes of Murphy Brown to remember the old way and laugh at, prod, and better understand the new way while also seeing Candice Bergen play what is arguably the strongest and smartest female comedy lead character in television history. That’s not hyperbole, Bergen won five Emmys for Murphy Brown and would have won more if not for her decision to stop submitting herself for the nomination.
Northern Exposure (1990-1995)
Northern Exposure won two “Best Drama” Golden Globes and an Emmy Award, as well as two Peabody Awards during its run, and it doesn’t feel as though it makes it into the conversation when people discuss the best shows of the ’90s. More a dramedy than a straight drama, the show centered on a fish out of water story and the quirky inhabitants of an Alaska town. The hook was really the interplay between this intellectually diverse group and the performances that sold those relationships, so trying to replicate and sell that might be a challenge. If another trip to Cicely to see what the locals are up to could be half as charming as the original, though, then it would be well worth a try. The world could use a less kill-y version of Fargo.
The Larry Sanders Show (1992-1998)
Garry Shandling could have been the star of his own late night show after years working as a guest host on The Tonight Show during Johnny Carson’s vacation-heavy later years. Instead of slipping into that golden coffin, though, he chose to lampoon the idea of late night talk shows and celebrity ego in a brilliant comedy that pre-dates HBO’s accepted status as a place for iconic and groundbreaking TV.
Much like a Murphy Brown return, Shandling’s Larry Sanders would find himself in an unfamiliar world. Late night comedy shows are no longer at the center of the TV universe — though, the popularity of the preceding night’s clips demonstrates that they also aren’t irrelevant — but the competition is fierce in a congested marketplace. Would a Larry Sanders comeback make for good TV, thanks to this new set of challenges and a panic about his pending irrelevancy in a moment where it seems like comedy is moving past the old guard of Leno and Letterman? I’m not sure, but I wouldn’t flip the channel if it was on.