— Recommendations are independently chosen by Reviewed’s editors. Purchases you make through our links may earn us a commission.
It’s hard to pin down when the Golden Age of Television really began. Some argue that it started in 1999 with the premiere of The Sopranos on HBO, while others contend that it really only kicked off circa 2008, thanks to shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and later, Game of Thrones.
But if you came of age during the 1990s, you know better. From 1990 all the way up to the new millennium (or should I say, Willennium), television was positively glorious.
On any given night, you could tune into one of the major networks like ABC, NBC, or Fox and catch a family-friendly sitcom (like Fresh Prince of Bel-Air), an edgy teen drama (cue the Beverly Hills 90210 theme), or—if you were lucky enough to be a house with cable—channel surf over to HBO and follow groundbreaking shows like Sex and the City or Oz right from the beginning.
The best ‘90s TV shows had it all: aliens, gangsters, great friends, wise-cracking cats, vampires with souls (before it was cool) and that’s only the tip of the iceberg. Here are 26 of the most incredible '90s TV shows you can watch for the first time—or fall in love with all over again—on HBO Max, Disney+ and other streaming platforms. Lord, have mercy.
Get the latest on streaming, deals and more by signing up for our weekly newsletter. It’s free and you can unsubscribe at any time.
1. Buffy the Vampire Slayer
For most folks, high school is hell. But on Buffy the Vampire Slayer—the influential ‘90s teen show that was based on the 1992 box-office bomb of the same name—that metaphor is taken to its most literal place. Full of special effects that haven’t aged well (but storylines that did), Buffy gave us sexy vamps, LGBTQ+ witches, one-off episodic gems like the musical Once More With Feeling and teen angst and melodrama for days.
But perhaps its biggest contribution of all is that it gave us a heroine like Buffy Summers (played with wit and tenderness by Sarah Michelle Gellar), a blonde high school cheerleader chosen—reluctantly—by fate to save the world. A lot. In that way, show creator Joss Whedon (despite his recent controversies) helped give an entire generation of young girls the best female superhero since Wonder Woman and that slays.
Have you been on a break from this hit ‘90s sitcom since it wrapped up in 2004? With a reunion set to air later this month and the entire 10 seasons available to stream right now on HBO Max, there’s never been a better time to give the Central Perk gang another go-around, especially if you’ve been dying for a good excuse to sing along during a rendition of Smelly Cat again.
3. The X Files
Thought science fiction was all navel-gazing or men in cheesy green alien suits firing off plastic ray-guns? Think again. Fox brought new life to the genre with this hit show about a couple of FBI agents—one a skeptic, the other a true believer—charged with investigating the unknown. Often considered the best 90 sci-fi TV show of them all, The X Files launched stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson into the pop-culture stratosphere and helped make conspiracy theorists out of all of us (for an hour a week, at least).
Although Seinfeld is usually described as a “show about nothing,” this mega-hit ‘90s sitcom created by Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David of eventual Curb Your Enthusiasm fame actually gives viewers a whole lot of "somethings" to think about. Like, is it wise to pretend to be a marine biologist just to impress a woman? Answer: No, probably not. Or, is it advisable to stock up on your favorite birth control before it goes off the market and only use it with those deemed the most “sponge-worthy”? Answer: Maybe, but ask your doctor first. As ‘90s sitcoms go, Seinfeld is arguably the best (sorry, Friends stans) and absolutely worth a rewatch.
5. Twin Peaks
Unless you were an arthouse kid back in ‘70s or ‘80s, chances are that director David Lynch slipped under your radar. That is, until the 1990 premiere on ABC of Twin Peaks, which he co-created with Mark Frost. This weird murder mystery, set in a quirky fictional town in Washington state, weaves together comedy, soap opera and tragedy in a way that Lynch fans know well.
After an acclaimed first season, the show went off the rails in season two and ended on one of the most famous cliffhangers of all time. But do yourself a favor and don’t Google it, or watch Twin Peaks: Fire Walk With Me (Lynch’s divisive 1992 prequel) or Twin Peaks: The Return (the limited-run series that aired on Showtime in 2017) first. Just grab a hot cup of dang good coffee, kick back and start from episode one of the O.G. series. Trust me, you’ll enjoy it better that way.
6. Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Will Smith is better known these days for blowing up aliens and passing on one the most influential films of all time, but back in the early ‘90s, he was just an up-and-coming rapper from Philly and the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was his breakthrough role.
As one of the most beloved ‘90s family TV shows, this NBC hit aired from 1990 to 1996 and gave us so much, from quippy one-liners to incredible dance moves. You can catch the reunion on HBO Max right now, but consider treating yourself to a weekend of binge-watching this series, too.
7. Boy Meets World
Raise your hand if you always secretly wished you were in Mr. Feeny’s (William Daniels) class alongside Cory (Ben Savage), Topanga (Danielle Fishel) and the rest of the gang of Boy Meets World. As one of the most charming ‘90s family TV shows of its time, this series started in 1993 and served as a cute coming-of-age tale that definitely resonated with millennials of the time. Plus, you get to admire Topanga’s hair in all its thick, wavy, Gen X glory.
Sitcoms have a rich history of spawning spin-offs: All in the Family famously led to seven other shows, including The Jeffersons and Maude (which, in turn, eventually led to Good Times). But it’s rare for a sitcom spin-off to truly match—or in some cases, even outdo—the show that inspired it. Frasier is a notable exception, though.
The character Frasier Crane (Kelsey Grammer) first appeared on the hit sitcom Cheers, but in 1993, got his own eponymous show. Set in Seattle, the show follows his life as a radio advice show host, as well as his relationship with his father and brother. Contrary to what you might think, you don’t need an IQ of 130 or higher to chuckle along with the jokes on this show, either.
Speaking of spin-offs, it’s impossible to talk about the best ‘90s TV shows and not mention Daria. As MTV’s “loose” spin-off of Beavis and Butthead, this cartoon series is as hilarious and insightful today as it was when it originally aired.
Remembered for her monotone voice and scathing one-liners, the character of Daria Morgandorffer was like a stand-in for anyone who felt out-of-sorts in high school, but the supporting cast of characters (from popular kids to alt-rock crushes and more) help make this one of the most nuanced teen shows of its time. Along the way, the show does an admirable job of critiquing suburbia, teen culture and the status quo, but with lots of heart, too.
10. The Sopranos
Depending on who you ask, The Sopranos didn’t just kickstart the Golden Age of Television, it created it. Even 22 years later, the HBO crime drama is often considered the best show of all time, period. (Although fans of The Wire, HBO’s critically acclaimed drama from the 2000s, can wage a strong counter-argument.)
The premise—a mafia capo in therapy—could just as easily read as a comedy (and was fodder for several, starting with Analyze This), but show creator David Chase’s celebrated series goes deeper, with all the violence, intensity, family drama and pathos you’d expect. It still holds up, more than two decades later.
11. Law & Order
This procedural drama about cops and attorneys in New York City might be one of the best binge-worthy shows of all time. It spawned several spin-offs, most famously Law & Order: Special Victims Unit (which is still airing but available on Sling TV, too) and Law & Order: Criminal Intent, which ran from 2001 to 2011. The O.G. Law & Order—which featured Jerry Orbach, a bonafide national treasure—proves that being formulaic isn’t necessarily a bad thing, because the show is still wildly addictive, all these years later.
12. Dawson's Creek
You wouldn’t get teen drama shows like Riverdale or One Tree Hill if it wasn’t for Dawson’s Creek, the WB/CW hit about brooding teens living in a fictional New England town. Filmed on location in Wilmington, North Carolina (another thing it shares in common with One Tree Hill), Dawson’s Creek is one of the best-known ‘90s teen shows and helped to cement a tried-and-true formula that still works to this day: beautiful teens + beautiful location + beautiful tragic problems = ratings gold.
Beyond its catchy theme song, the show helped to launch the careers of Katie Holmes, Josh Jackson and Michelle Williams, respectively. Of the three, Williams has enjoyed the greatest success, thanks to her impressive work in critically acclaimed films like Blue Valentine, Brokeback Mountain and My Week With Marilyn, as well as TV shows like FX's wonderful Fosse/Verdon, but it all started here.
13. Sex and the City
Whether you love it or you kind of cringe over it now, there’s no denying that Sex and the City broke new ground when it premiered on HBO in 1998.
Ostensibly, this show about four single, successful ladies in their 30s living and loving in the big city was part of HBO’s gritty, hyper-realistic programming for the era, along with The Sopranos. These days though, Sex and the City mostly reads like an urban fairy tale. (“What do you mean a writer with only one article due a week and no side hustles could afford to live in her own apartment and buy $400 designer shoes on the regular in ‘90s-era Manhattan, that’s not fair,” sobbed the single, city-dwelling, 30-something year-old millennial author of this article after dodging another month of student loan bills.)
Still, some fairy tales are worth passing onto the next generation, especially when they involve general sex positivity (the show didn't age well around certain LGBTQ+ issues, it must be said) and characters as woke and wonderful as Samantha Jones (Kim Cattrall). For all those reasons, Sex and the City is worth hanging onto.
14. Freaks and Geeks
Although Freaks and Geeks famously only lasted for a single season on NBC back in 1999, its sweet yet merciless take on the high school experience garnered many fans. It’s since become a cult classic and for many, was the first real taste of what Judd Apatow could do, plus a great introduction to future mega-stars like Seth Rogen, Jason Segel, James Franco and others.
15. Living Single
Tell me if this sounds familiar: A show about a group of single, successful ladies living and loving in the big city in their 20s and the heartbreaks and friendships that bind them and help them grow better as people.
Sounds a lot like Friends and Sex and the City, right? Except unlike those two shows, Living Single features a cast of talented Black actors, including Queen Latifah. Also, it came out in 1993, before anyone had ever been introduced to the saga of Ross and Rachel or Carrie Bradshaw’s never-ending love-affair with Manolo Blahnik. Criminally underrated but a total delight, Living Single is a delightful show to consider giving a watch, especially if it flew under your radar.
16. Beverly Hills 90210
Remember that formula from before? You know, the one about how shows based on beautiful teens and their beautiful, tragic problems will almost always equal network ratings gold? While Dawson's Creek directly inspired a string of imitators in the 2000s like One Tree Hill, Gossip Girl and others, all of these shows owe a debt to the grand-daddy of them all: Beverly Hills 90210.
Produced by the legendary Aaron Spelling (whose small-screen hits prior to the 1990s included Charlie's Angels, Dynasty and others) this iconic '90s teen melodrama focused on a group of teens from one of the poshest zip codes in the U.S. and touched on after-school special topics like teen pregnancy, addiction and parental pressure. It also helped make its cast of dreamy mostly 20-somethings like Luke Perry and Shannen Doherty mega-stars in the early part of the decade.
17. Sabrina the Teenage Witch
The ‘90s were the perfect time for witches to get cool again. You had bell bottoms, girl power, Lilith Fair—so much divine feminine energy just bursting through everywhere. And of course, who could forget Sabrina, the titular character of the popular ABC show Sabrina the Teenage Witch?
Inspired by the Archie Comics series of the same name (just like Riverdale), this tween-friendly hit was completely adorable and anchored by a charming performance by Melissa Joan Hart, who was already known to kids of the era as Clarissa, from Nickelodeon’s show Clarissa Explains It All. Plus, there was a talking cat. Nothing can ever be bad about a show that features a talking cat that also makes puns, I mean really.
18. Sister, Sister
Although Disney remade The Parent Trap in the ‘90s, ABC’s popular show Sister, Sister always felt like a more modern version of the same premise. Starring real-life twins Tia and Tamera Mowry, the plot focuses on two twin sisters separated at birth and adopted out to separate people—one, a straight-laced dad (Tim Reid) and the other, a fast-talking fashionista (Jackée Harry). This is one of those ‘90s family TV shows that feels safe and cozy upon rewatch and could be especially good if you’re looking for options to mix it up.
19. Are You Afraid of the Dark?
There’s a good chance that Are You Afraid of the Dark? eventually led an entire generation of millennials to love shows like Black Mirror. In the vein of The Twilight Zone, this Nickelodeon show conjured up all things creepy and spooky and the unleashed them in anthology form over 45-minute blocks of time. The initial show ran over the course of five seasons (with subsequent reboots in 1999, 2019 and 2021). Gather round the campfire—or in this case, your TV—and give this kid-friendly horror series another go.
Oz isn’t a show for everyone. Set in a prison, it’s about as brutal and violent as you might expect and it features a truly chilling performance by J.K. Simmons. If you want a drama that has sweet, tender moments, look elsewhere, because Oz really is unrelentingly bleak. But as ‘90s drama TV shows go, it’s important to include in the conversation because it did push the envelope and pave the way for other gritty shows like The Shield in the 2000s and 2010s.
21. My So Called Life
Teen angst earned its poster girl in the form of Angela Chase (Claire Danes), the protagonist of the short-lived but celebrated ABC series, My So-Called Life. Over the course of its lone season, the show netted lots of critical acclaim and earned a then-15-year-old Danes a Golden Globe award and Primetime Emmy nomination for Best Actress due to her portrayal, as well as helped launch the career of Jared Leto (who would later earn an Academy Award for his performance in Dallas Buyers Club). It also tackled serious issues, from homophobia to drug use, but in less of a soap-opera way than contemporary shows like 90210.
22. Full House
Was it possible to experience the ‘90s and not know about Full House? As the king of ‘90s family TV shows, this classic is totally corny, but that’s also part of it’s charm.
Dive back into one of these old episodes and Uncle Jesse (John Stamos) is still as hot as ever, little Michelle (played by the immortal Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen) is still adorable and Dave Coulier is now the guy you can’t believe probably inspired Alanis Morisette’s signature anthem. Aside from Aunt Becky (now better known for Operation Varsity Blues), everything about the show feels wholesome and nostalgic in the sweetest way possible.
23. The Nanny
Fran Drescher's distinctive voice isn't the only draw to The Nanny, the popular '90s sitcom that just became available on HBO Max, but it's among the most memorable. As a show about a street-smart Jewish woman from Flushing who, by sheer twist of luck, ends up as the nanny for a well-to-do Broadway producer, this is comfort viewing at its finest.
R&B singer Brandy Norwood was already a teen sensation when she signed on in 1996 to star as the title character in Moesha, but her fame grew exponentially larger by the end of it's six seasons thanks to hits like The Boy is Mine, off her chart-topping 1998 album Never Say Never. All that's to say, Brandy was a big deal in the '90s and this UPN sitcom just served to further showcase her talents. Similar to other tween-friendly dramas of the era, the show has an after school special vibe to it, but features fun appearances by stars like Bernie Mac, Usher, Mo'Nique and others.
25. Will & Grace
Say what you will about Will & Grace now (it's always been divisive), but when it first appeared on the small screen in 1998, it became an instant game-changer. Co-created by Max Mutchnick, who is gay, the series debuted in 1998 during a period of time where the LGBTQ+ community was still reeling from the AIDS epidemic and rarely represented on screen.
Will & Grace however, is all about queer celebration: of love, of friendship, of culture. It's fair to say that the show played to certain stereotypes along the way, but it helped change the country's views (in a favorable way) toward queer humans. For that reason, it deserves a solid rewatch.
Did you know that if you own a Samsung television, you have access to an entire Baywatch channel that just streams the iconic '90s drama? This cult-favorite series followed the ins and outs of daily life for the lifeguards at Malibu Beach. Starring David Hasselhoff and a number of blonde, tan 20-somethings, the series ran for an impressive 11 seasons, covering a number of soap-opera-worthy topics, including estranged parents, haunted homes, redemption for bank robbers and even a story arc with Hulk Hogan.
If you're a big Friends fan, this series is a must-watch. See what Chandler and Joey—and millions of die-hard Baywatch fans—saw in the series. Just don't be shocked when you realized how many montages you'll have to sit through.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.
This article originally appeared on Reviewed: 26 incredible '90s TV shows to stream now