The 20 Best Sitcoms of the 1990s |

The 20 Best Sitcoms of the 1990s

By 1990 the sitcom was ready to be blown up. The traditional family sitcom, as defined at the time by ABC’s TGIF block, was strictly kid’s stuff, and the MTM / Norman Lear model of smart shows written for adults had fallen out of favor with both the public and the networks. Something new was needed. The self-aware, post-modern comedy of Late Night with David Letterman was ready to go primetime, most notably in a show that was proudly “about nothing.” Simultaneously, the growth of new broadcast networks led to a new era of comedies starring and created by Black artists. The best comedies of the era weren’t necessarily on traditional networks, with some of the most important sitcoms of the decade airing on cable. Meanwhile, a new network struggling for an identity was about to give a weird, ugly animated short from a low-rated sketch comedy show a shot as a weekly half-hour program; it would go on to establish animation as a viable medium for primetime comedy, while also dominating pop culture for the next three decades (and counting). The ‘90s were both an end to TV as it had been known for a half-century at that point, and the launching pad for the overwhelming, option-rich entertainment world of the ‘00s, which first overfilled with hundreds of cable channels, and then went digital with a dizzying array of streaming services. It was the last time when a TV show could become a true mainstream phenomenon, before the viewing audience permanently fragmented into a kaleidoscope of niches, and as a result the biggest sitcoms of the decade are still popular today, airing regularly on cable, in syndication, and on streaming services. You’ll find those shows on the list below, along with several other hits, cult classics, and overlooked gems. These are the 20 best sitcoms of the 1990s.

20. Will & Grace67-90-of-the-90s-Will-and-Grace.jpgYears: 1998-2006, 2017-2020
Created by: David Kohan, Max Mutchnick
Stars: Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Megan Mullally, Sean Hayes
Original Network: NBC


Will & Grace remains a pivotal show for gay culture and the representation of gay characters on a sitcom. It received an absurd 83 Emmy nominations throughout its original run—the series returned for a ninth season in the fall of 2017—and each of the four regulars, Eric McCormack, Debra Messing, Sean Hayes and Megan Mullally, won an individual Emmy, making it one of only three sitcoms ever to achieve that feat. The stories, revolving around life and love in New York City, may have been sitcom boilerplate, but the subject matter (gay/Jewish identity), the rat-a-tat one-liners, the blockbuster guest stars, and the main cast’s chemistry were anything but: Will & Grace isn’t just a landmark TV series, it’s a rollicking good time. Most of its run happened in the ‘00s, which is why it’s not higher on this list about the ‘90s.—Jim Vorel and Matt Brennan

19. Red Dwarfbest-sitcoms-red-dwarf.jpg
Years: 1988-1999, 2009-
Creator: Rob Grant, Doug Naylor
Stars: Chris Barrie, Craig Charles, Danny John-Jules, Norman Lovett, Hattie Hayridge
Network: BBC Two


Produced mainly due to an unexpected surplus in the BBC budget, Red Dwarf was a fluke program that ended up becoming one of the most innovative and successful British sitcoms of all time. The central premise concerns Dave Lister, a slovenly crew member on the titular Red Dwarf spaceship, who is put into suspended animation as punishment and—after a catastrophic radiation leak—awakens millions of years later as the last surviving human. Left alone, Lister’s only companions are the ship’s computer, the sentient hologram of his former boss and a cat that, thanks to millions of years of evolution, has developed into a conveniently humanoid figure. Originally presented as a more traditional, multi-cam sitcom, wherein the cast (including a scene-stealing “mechanoid” named Kryten in later seasons) would bicker about the various problems and threats that emerged week after week, the creative team soon proved to be much more ambitious in their storytelling aspirations, incorporating plotlines centering on parallel dimensions, genetically modified monsters and terraforming (not to mention displaying a significant upgrade in production design quality). At times, the show would even downplay its farcical elements in favor of a more dramatic approach. And though behind-the-scenes disputes have resulted in the (sometimes temporary) departure of several key cast members and creative figures throughout the years (including co-mastermind Rob Grant), Red Dwarf’s enduring legacy has carved it a secure place in television history. One part Alien and one part Hitchhiker’s Guide to the GalaxyRed Dwarf remains a beast all its own.—Mark Rozeman

18. Everybody Loves Raymond17-90-of-the-90s-Everybody-Loves-Raymond.jpgYears: 1996-2005
Creator: Philip Rosenthal
Stars: Ray Romano, Patricia Heaton, Brad Garrett, Madylin Sweeten, Doris Roberts, Peter Boyle, Monica Horan
Network: CBS


Everybody Loves Raymond was the quintessential “family/marriage sitcom” of its decade, never genre-bending but generally solid, always dependable. The insecurities of its characters were certainly relatable, from Ray’s struggles to assert himself in any facet of his life to the general concerns of age and sexual inadequacy. Between them, Ray and Debra seemed like people who could easily be living across the street from you, which was the whole idea. Of course, the characters of Ray’s parents and his brother Robert were just as important if not more so at times—look no further than the show’s Emmy history, where Doris Roberts and Brad Garrett led the series in wins. If Ray is the gravitational center of the show, Garrett is the heart and Roberts is the verve. —Jim Vorel

17. Daria65-90-of-the-90s-Daria.jpgYears: 1997-2002
Creators: Glenn Eichler, Susie Lewis Lynn
Stars: Tracy Grandstaff, Wendy Hoopes, Julián Rebolledo, Marc Thompson
Network: MTV


Significantly more influential than one would have expected from a Beavis and Butt-head spin-off, Daria is without a doubt the defining show of angsty teens of the late ’90s who couldn’t quite get over the death of grunge. It’s a paean to the lazy, the slackers, the cynical and the sarcastic, as Daria and her friend Jane bemoaned the plight of a broken society by watching tabloid shows with titles like Sick, Sad World. Its fatalism was deep, dark and often hilarious, and one got the sense that few shows have ever actually captured the zeitgeist of their subjects more accurately. Every teen who ever shrugged their shoulders and sighed in frustration after being asked how their day at school was by Mom was clearly thinking, ‘My life is just like Daria.’ —Jim Vorel

16. Friends7-90-of-the-90s-Friends.jpgYears: 1994-2004
Creators: David Crane, Marta Kauffman
Stars: Jennifer Aniston, Courteney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matt LeBlanc, Matthew Perry, David Schwimmer
Network: NBC


In terms of pure marketability, Friends was a juggernaut. Everyone watched Friends. Parents watched alongside kids. Its mass appeal is summed up by its incredibly general title alone—I mean really, “Friends”? Its success may be the ultimate reminder that truly populist sitcoms are all about the characters and not necessarily the storylines. Friends simply had the best-defined characters: Nebbish Ross, prickly Chandler, air-headed Joey, domineering Monica, bubbly Phoebe and “I’m very attractive” Rachel. The writing was just clever enough to let a talented bunch of actors grow into their roles and become archetypes that have been echoed in dozens of sitcoms in the decade since the show’s finale. The reach of Friends extends to every end of pop culture, even fashion. Case in point: “the Rachel” hairstyle, which became the decade’s defining ’do. That is the definition of influence. —Jim Vorel

15. Martin84-90-of-the-90s-Martin.jpgYears: 1992-1997
Creators: John Bowman, Martin Lawrence, Topper Carew
Stars: Martin Lawrence, Tisha Campbell, Carl Anthony Payne II, Thomas Mikal Ford, Tichina Arnold
Network: Fox


A lot of people, Martin Lawrence included, probably thought this would be the peak of the former stand-up’s career in comedy, but they were simply unaware that he would one day make Big Momma’s House. Set in direct opposition to the dominance of NBC’s “Must See TV” block on Thursday nights, Martin became a counterbalance, a story set in urban Detroit with a largely black cast. A bit of a blowhard and a paper tiger, Martin is a funny guy who likes to act tough, but is secretly a softy on the inside, a characteristic only rarely seen by his more serious, long-suffering girlfriend, Gina. The show had a bit of an odd conclusion, as a sexual harassment lawsuit from Tisha Campbell resulted in her being absent through a good portion of the final season. She eventually settled and filmed three final episodes under the stipulation that she wouldn’t appear in any scenes with Lawrence, which certainly sounds like it must have been awkward to witness.—Jim Vorel

14. Sports Night18-90-of-the-90s-Sports-Night.jpgYears: 1998-2000
Creator: Aaron Sorkin
Stars: Josh Charles, Peter Krause, Felicity Huffman, Joshua Malina, Sabrina Lloyd, Robert Guillaume
Network: ABC

Sportscenter parody was a pretty ripe idea for a comedy-drama when Aaron Sorkin dreamed it up in the late ’90s, but unlike other Sorkin gems such as The West WingSports Night never ended up finding the popular appeal to match its critical acclaim. One gets the sense that it could have gone over better had it been more squarely in the hands of its creators, but in its first season, ABC insisted the show be a comedy first and foremost. Over time, the laugh track was eliminated and the show began to incorporate many more of the stylistic choices that one would see on other Sorkin shows, such as the witty, fast-paced repartee and the tendency to “walk and talk.” Perhaps this could have eventually breathed some new life into the series, but by 2000 The West Wing was taking off as a hit show and Sorkin left to focus on a sure thing. Sports Night was left behind as a program that displayed a ton of promise but didn’t quite manage to harness it. —Jim Vorel

13. Sex and the Citybest-sitcoms-satc.jpgYears: 1998-2004
Creator: Darren Star
Stars: Sarah Jessica Parker, Kim Cattrall, Kristin Davis, Cynthia Nixon
Network: HBO


Most of us who watched Darren Star’s Sex and the City could not relate to the very specific demographic of women who were showcased. And, for a series whose beating heart was NYC, the show did not do well in its presentation of gay characters or characters of color (whenever they showed up). Hell, even the main character was problematic and difficult to root for at times—Carrie Bradshaw (Sarah Jessica Parker), the not-so-eloquent writer who was better at choosing a pair of Manolo Blahniks than making decisions in her love life (Team Aiden)? Indeed, this was an infuriating show to experience sometimes, and that’s partly why we loved it. It remains a phenomenon, and as cliché as it may sound, it opened the door for more complex narratives about women and sex, and it did so unapologetically thanks in large part to Kim Cattrall’s role as Samantha Jones. And if Samantha was too much for you, Charlotte York (Kristin Davis) and Miranda Hobbes (Cynthia Nixon) offered up their own unique perspectives, giving the foursome an original, entertaining, and important balance of personalities and feminist (or anti-feminist) outlooks. Whatever class issues, or race issues, or gender and sexuality issues Sex and the City might have swept under the rug (or addressed in an off-putting way), it still functioned as a loud, oft-obscene call for agency among the marginalized. And it did all of this with some of the funniest dialogue and sex talk we’d ever heard. “My man has funky tasting spunk!” will go down in history as one of the most horrifying, incredible TV moments of all time, and that’s just the tip (ahem) of the legendary SaTC iceberg.—Shannon M. Houston

12. Living Singlebest-sitcoms-living-single.jpgYears: 1993-1998
Creator: Yvette Lee Bowser
Stars: Queen Latifah, Kim Coles, Erika Alexander, T.C. Carson, John Henton, Mel Jackson, Kim Fields
Network: Fox


In a ’90s kind of world, I’m glad I’ve got my girls! During a decade with many successful black sitcoms, Living Single was the flyest. It remained in the top five most-watched programs by black audiences throughout its five-year run, and eventually knocked Martin out the No. 1 spot. The beloved series had unforgettable style, unparalleled verbal sparring between Kyle (T.C. Carson) and Max (Erika Alexander), and a theme song by Queen Latifah that has since become iconic. Yvette Lee Bowser, a producer on A Different World, drew on experiences from her life to create Living Single, which followed six single black twentysomethings living in a brownstone in Brooklyn, N.Y., and figuring out their personal and professional lives. The cast’s group chemistry produced comedy perfection, introducing a special kind of humor, personality, and heart to network TV that still hasn’t been exactly replicated. —Ashley Terrell

11. Roseanneroseanne.jpgYears: 1988-1997
Creators: Matt Williams, Roseanne Barr, Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner
Stars: Roseanne, John Goodman, Laurie Metcalf, Sara Gilbert, Michael Fishman, Lecy Goranson, Natalie West, Sarah Chalke, Emma Kenney
Network: ABC


Before she permanently nuked her reputation and career through her unhinged social media, Roseanne (formerly Barr, formerly Arnold) was the star of the best ’80s and ’90s sitcom about working class America. The blue-collar milieu wasn’t laid on too thick, but was always present within the show, at a time when the disparity between the haves and have-nots grew exponentially. Much of the show’s success can be credited to John Goodman and Laurie Metcalf, two world class actors who are as adept at comedy as they are drama—a skill that’s vital for a sitcom that regularly turned melodramatic. A testament to how strong the show’s cast and concept was: when it was revived 20 years after its initial cancellation, it became one of the most popular shows on TV again, and has continued on for multiple seasons after the firing of its former star. —Garrett Martin

10. Murphy Brownbest-sitcoms-murphy-brown.jpgYears: 1988-1998, 2018
Creator: Diane English
Stars: Candice Bergen, Charles Kimbrough, Robert Pastorelli, Joe Regalbuto, Lily Tomlin
Network: CBS


How many television shows actually become part of the national conversation? That’s exactly what happened on May 19,1992 when Vice President Dan Quayle called out Murphy Brown (Bergen) for being a single mom. It’s hard to even imagine in 2016 the scandal the show caused by allowing its title character to have a baby out of wedlock. But Murphy Brown was also much more than its most well-known zeitgeist moment. As a newswoman with a penchant for firing her secretaries, Brown was her generation’s Mary Richards. Surrounded by her naïve and nervous executive producer Miles Silverberg (Grant Shaud), best friend Frank (Joe Regalbuto), stuffy newsman Jim (Charles Kimbrough) and way-too-cheery Corky (Faith Ford), the series was consistently topical and political, but most importantly, it always made us laugh. —Amy Amatangelo

9. The Wonder Years41-90-of-the-90s-The-Wonder-Years.jpgYears: 1988-1993
Creators: Neal Marlens, Carol Black
Stars: Fred Savage, Dan Lauria, Alley Mills, Danica McKellar, Olivia d’Abo, Jason Hervey
Network: ABC


The Wonder Years was set in a perfectly evoked 1960s, but just hearing Joe Cocker’s take on “With a Little Help From My Friends” immediately makes me think of watching the show with my family in my childhood living room. The show featured some of the best-developed characters of any sitcom, especially owing to the trademark narration by Daniel Stern, which examined all the events with the knowledge of age. An episode like “My Father’s Office” is still a beautiful thing and such an identifiable nugget of childhood—the realization that one’s father is just a man and a worker bee, rather than a patriarch in all aspects of his life. The Wonder Years was filled with those kinds of revelations.—Jim Vorel

8. Fresh Prince of Bel Air49-90-of-the-90s-Fresh-Prince-of-Bel-Air.jpgYears: 1990-1996
Creators: Andy Bororwitz, Susan Borowitz
Stars: Will Smith, James Avery, Janet Hubert-Whitten, Alfonso Ribeiro, Karyn Parsons
Network: NBC


Most beloved opening theme song of the 1990s? Could very well be, judging from the response this one will get at literally any bar karaoke night—seriously, try it the next time you’re out on the town. Looking at this series in the context of 1990, it’s funny to think that Will Smith was already sort of viewed as a “has-been” in his music career, a guy desperately trying to stay relevant by joining a sitcom. Of course, he ultimately had the last laugh as the fish-out-of-water story of Fresh Prince became popular immediately and survives in syndication to this day. Smith went on to become Hollywood elite, and the rest of the country learned to dance The Carlton. Everyone wins.—Jim Vorel

7. King of the Hill38-90-of-the-90s-King-of-the-Hill.jpgYears: 1997-2010
Creator: Mike Judge
Stars: Mike Judge, Kathy Najimy, Pamela Adlon, Brittany Murphy, Johnny Hardwick, Stephen Root
Network: Fox


When you really consider the traits and personalities of the characters, one can’t help but realize that King of the Hill is honestly one of the most unique animated shows of both the 1990s and 2000s. Name one other popular, long-running sitcom where the protagonists—people we at least like, if not agree with—are staunch conservative, mildly redneck individuals. You can’t do it, because King of the Hill tapped into an aspect of the American ethos that is often ridiculed and made those characters funny, human everymen. With the possible exception of Peggy (who can be a real pill with few redeeming qualities), the characters on King of the Hill are really decent people, even when they’re a little overzealous. But in the end, Hank always fundamentally does the right thing, even if that does involve threats to “kick your ass” on a disturbingly regular basis.—Jim Vorel

6. Get a Lifebest-sitcoms-get-a-life.jpgYears: 1990-1992
Creators: Chris Elliott, Adam Resnick, David Mirkin
Stars: Chris Elliott, Sam Robards, Robin Riker, Elinor Donahue, Bob Elliott
Network: Fox

Fox often toyed with sitcom deconstructions in its early years, from the pitch-black satire of Married… with Children to the meta commentary of It’s Garry Shandling’s Show. In a way those shows were a prelude to Get a Life, which, 26 years later, is still one of the weirdest and most subversive sitcoms to ever air on a network. Starring Chris Elliott and created by Elliott, Adam Resnick and David Mirkin, Get a Life was a half-hour distillation of the smart, ironic comedy Elliott performed on Late Night with David Letterman in the ’80s, irreverently mocking well-worn sitcom and TV clichés and introducing the kind of absurdity that would come to define “alternative comedy” into American prime time. It wasn’t a hit (although it did stay on for two seasons) but it’s still beloved today by fans of Elliott and weird comedy. —Garrett Martin

5. The Larry Sanders Show30-90-of-the-90s-The-Larry-Sanders-Show.jpgYears: 1992-1998
Creators: Garry Shandling, Dennis Klein
Stars: Garry Shandling, Jeffrey Tambor, Rip Torn
Network: HBO


Before HBO established itself as a dramatic powerhouse with The Sopranos and OzLarry Sanders was their flagship scripted program. It was literally a decade before its time, prefiguring shows like The Office and Arrested Development with its lack of a laugh track, a single camera setup, and a roster of unlikable characters. It blurred the line between reality and TV show, with real-life actors playing themselves on the talk show within the show, and often sending up their public personas. It also featured three unforgettable performances from Garry Shandling, Jeffrey Tambor and Rip Torn, who were all as good at revealing the desperation and futility of their characters as they were in the comedic moments. Despite its inside showbiz setup and caustic humor, its characters were fully-formed, believable people. It was a very smart and human show. —Garrett Martin

4. Frasier5-90-of-the-90s-Frasier.jpgYears: 1993-2004
Creator: David Angell, Peter Casey, David Lee
Stars: Kelsey Grammer, Jane Leeves, David Hyde Pierce, Peri Gilpin, John Mahoney
Network: NBC


Many of the sitcoms on this list are paeans to blue-collar family life, but Frasier was the odd show that made cultural elites and eggheads somehow seem like lovable characters to a mass audience. Both Frasier and his brother Niles can be infuriatingly snobbish, but audiences soon found that when their petty jealousies were directed at each other, they could also be hilarious. The show soon became an off-hand representation of the idea of “smart comedy” on TV, but it was also still a sitcom full of relationship humor. Viewers waited a hell of a long time in particular for the long-teased relationship between Niles and Daphne to finally come to fruition (seven full seasons). Frazier, on the other hand, is never really lucky in love, but he was always better as a semi-depressed single, turning his probing mind on himself. —Jim Vorel

3. Newsradiobest-sitcoms-newsradio.jpgYears: 1995-1999
Creator: Paul Simms
Stars: Dave Foley, Stephen Root, Andy Dick, Maura Tierney, Vicki Lewis, Joe Rogan, Khandi Alexander, Phil Hartman, Jon Lovitz
Network: NBC


One of the most perfectly cast sitcoms of the past 30 years, NewsRadio elevated the stature of the workplace comedy, thanks to a marvelous absurdist streak and an unwillingness to stick to the rules of the traditional three-act structure. Few lessons are learned and no one within the show really grows as a human being. Creator Paul Simms also threw aside the idea of dragging out a “will they/won’t they?” storyline with station manager Dave (Kids In The Hall member Dave Foley) and producer/news director Lisa (Maura Tierney, who would go to star in The Affair) by having the characters sleep with each other in the second episode. As much fun as their relationship woes were, NewsRadio was anchored by its supporting cast, especially Phil Hartman as the Ted Knight-like buffoon Bill McNeal, Vicki Lewis as Dave’s snarky secretary, and the always reliable Stephen Root playing Jimmy James, the wildly eccentric billionaire owner of the radio station. The show maintained decent ratings numbers for four seasons, but its spirit was deflated prior to season five due to the untimely death of Hartman. —Robert Ham

2. Seinfeldseinfeld_poster.jpgYears: 1989-1998
Creator: Larry David
Stars: Jerry Seinfeld, Julia Louis-Dreyfus, Jason Alexander, Michael Richards
Network: NBC


On any given weekday, the likelihood is high that I watch a Seinfeld rerun that I’ve seen at least 20 times before, and I’m not alone in that habit. The fact that the show has been in continual reruns and syndication since its 76-million viewer finale proves how beloved it remains to this day: Seinfeld is still making money for networks 16 years after it ended. Its grasp on pop culture minutia was on another level entirely, as was its distaste for typical sitcom conventions. Long-term relationships and love triangles were practically non-existent on Seinfeld. Never did characters offer sappy apologies to each other. Never did they even learn from their mistakes! Larry David and company were instead committed to telling stories of everyday, casual misanthropy from people who viewed themselves as “generally decent” or average, but were in reality pretty terrible individuals. Without even going into depth about the show’s transformative effect on the cultural lexicon, known as “Seinlanguage,” it’s easy to see how Seinfeld uniquely stood out from every one of its peers. —Jim Vorel

1. The Simpsonsthe-simpsons.jpgYears: 1989-
Creator: Matt Groening
Stars: Dan Castellaneta, Julie Kavner, Nancy Cartwright, Yeardley Smith, Hank Azaria, Pamela Hayden
Network: Fox


At its creative peak in the mid-’90s, there was no better-written show on TV—the joke density alone is absolutely incredible. Go back and watch an episode like part one of “Who Shot Mr. Burns?” from 1995 and the thing one can’t help but notice is how insanely fast everything moves—there’s literally a joke every few seconds, most of them brilliant. Every type of humor is present, from the ubiquitous pop culture references to self-referential parody, slapstick, wordplay and simply silly, iconic characters. Really, what TV character has been quoted more times since the early ’90s than Homer Simpson? How many of us can recite entire passages or episodes?—Jim Vorel

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