The ’90s died 15 years ago, but to quote your Dad’s favorite metal band, the memory remains, kept strong by millennials who would perhaps further distinguish themselves as “’90s kids.” Aware of this wistfulness, companies have found a way to summon the long dead back to the land of the living. Or back to television. Whichever. Three weeks ago, on a day much like this one, Nickelodeon announced that they were launching “The Splat,” a power block featuring more than a dozen classic ’90s shows.
So, in preparation for that, I decided to rank the 12 best scripted (sorry, Double Dare) Nickelodeon shows from that era. In order to be considered, the show’s original air date had to have been between 1990 and 1999, (sorry, As Told By Ginger).
So, here we go… and remember, if you don’t agree with these picks, let us know how you’d stack these shows and any shows that somehow managed to not make the list.
12. Ren and Stimpy (1991-1995)
Though the quality waned at the end after behind the scenes squabbles pushed the show’s co-creator out the door, Ren and Stimpy makes the list due to the big impact that it had thanks to its more grown content.
11. Doug (1991-1994)
Doug Funnie, whether he was himself or Quailman, was an everyman who resonated with kids everywhere. Navigating life with his best friend, Skeeter, and his crush, Patti Mayonnaise, Doug’s troubles ranged from bad haircuts (I guess that happens even to cartoons) to dealing with that jerk Roger Klotz, so the show was both charming and comforting.
10. The Secret World of Alex Mack (1994-1998)
After an accident with toxic waste, Alex Mack discovers she has special powers like turning into a puddle of goo and glowing skin. It was a relatively standard superhero story set in an ordinary adolescent girl’s life, but to not include it seemed sacrilegious.
9. Rocket Power (1999-2004)
Rocket Power emerged in the twilight of the ’90s and followed a group of misfits in the fictional Southern California town of “Ocean Shores.” Their lives revolved around rollerskating, skateboarding, surfboarding, and almost any other activity on wheels. Following Otto, his sister Reggie, and their friends Twister and Squid, the lives of these extreme sport lovers and “shoobie” haters were certainly enviable, if not occasionally reckless.
8. Clarissa Explains It All (1991-1994)
The quintessential ’90s show and first major role for future Teenage Witch Melissa Joan Hart, Clarissa Explains It All was the first Nickelodeon show to feature a clear female lead. Clarissa Darling was your average teenage girl, and we listened as she addressed the audience directly in every episode, detailing her life through the use of a fictional video game. The show was a major turning point for teen sitcoms on Nick, as it proved that having a female protagonist did not diminish a show’s male audience. Clarissa paved the way for other shows like The Secret World of Alex Mack, and later Zoey 101, Unfabulous, iCarly, and Victorious. She also had a pet alligator, which is important.
7. Kenan and Kel (1996-2000)
Armed with only each other and a love for orange soda, Kenan Thompson and Kel Mitchell played Kenan Rockmore and Kel Kimble, two scheming teenagers who never knew what the night would bring. The show showed off the stars’ comedic chops, and it’s certainly a nostalgic watch for those who grew up with them, though it might come off as a bit corny for those who don’t have any connection to the show.
6. Rocko’s Modern Life (1993-1996)
Like Ren and Stimpy, this show was definitely not appropriate for young children, in hindsight. Centering around the Aussie wallaby Rocko and his other anthropomorphic animal friends in the fictional O-Town (seriously?) as he deals with his cranky neighbors Mr. and Mrs. Bighead and all the other goings on in his life. The show had several instances of censorship due to the racy nature of the humor, but it’s exactly that humor that makes the show hold up so well for audiences that were children at the time. It’s like watching The Lion King and realizing that “Can You Feel the Love Tonight” may not be just about “like-liking each other.”
5. The Adventures of Pete and Pete (1992-1996)
“What would happen if parents named both their children the same thing?” is essentially the premise of The Adventures of Pete and Pete. Primarily narrated by “Big Pete” Wrigley, the show centers around the wacky, oftentimes surreal adventures of the two children whose lives include a dancing tattoo named Petunia and a mother with a plate in her head that can pick up radio signals. Some other “Nick-coms” feel not only dated when re-watched as an adult, but leave you feeling disappointed and wondering how you could ever find it amusing. Pete and Pete is an undeniable exception to this rule, which puts it above the others.
4. Hey, Arnold! (1996-2004)
The level of competency of the fourth graders at P.S. 118 is far superior than I’ve ever encountered, none more so than our favorite football-headed hero, Arnold. Though many of these shows “follow the everyday lives” of various teens, Hey, Arnold! was perhaps one of the most honest portrayals of urban school life. The show featured a cast of diverse characters from all kinds of backgrounds. The show was praised by critics for its consistent attempts to approach difficult subject matters that inner-city youth could relate to, and the show certainly resonated with its audience. Over the course of eight years, we saw Arnold and his friends tackle every issue, whether it be unrequited love, bullying, eviction, immigration, mental illness, living in someone’s shadow, and even stoop baby abandonment. Hey, Arnold! always approached serious issues with humor and honesty, which is why it has stood out for so long
3. Rugrats (1991-2004)
Who would have thought that a show about literal babies would become one of the most popular cartoons of the ’90s? Following the adventures of eight children ages 0-4, Rugrats dealt with very real family issues including death, divorce, adoption, sibling rivalries, new family members, and a whole host of other things as seen through the eyes of the very young. We even got to glimpse what they ended up like as pre-teens and teenagers in the made for TV movie All Grown Up, which then turned into an unsuccessful spin-off. Something about the children’s naive and yet wildly informed view of the world was lost in the spin-off.
2. The Amanda Show (1999-2002)
Sure, The Amanda Show was on the tail end of the ’90s, but after her breakout performance as a cast member of All That, it was clear Amanda Bynes was going places. Those places included a courtroom as the Honorable Judge Trudy, the Girls Room, a video rental store, a jacuzzi, and wherever the heck Moody’s Point took place. The show also launched the careers of Drake Bell and Josh Peck, who would later go on to define 2000s Nickelodeon with their hit Drake and Josh. The Amanda Show was the perfect combination of sketch comedy for kids and the quirky, lovable Amanda Bynes… what happened afterwards, however… never mind.
1. All That (1994-2005)
The PG-version of Saturday Night Live aired on Nickelodeon for 10 years before being cancelled for the second time (there was one year between 2001 and 2002 that there was no season). Featuring stars like the formerly mentioned Amanda Bynes, Kenan Thompson (who went on to join the cast of SNL in 2003, beating out his former co-star Kel Mitchell), Gabriel Iglesias, Nick Cannon, Jamie Lynn Spears, and a bunch of other people who were never heard from again, the show was a wild ride of sketch, variety, satire, and music that every ’90s kid needed.
There was so much good TV on Nickelodeon during the ’90s that choosing only 12 to single out was a painful exercise. This list could have easily included Are You Afraid of the Dark?, Aaahh!!! Real Monsters, Salute Your Shorts, and Hey, Dude, but, unfortunately, choices had to be made.