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The Best Teen Shows From The '90s

From specialized Saturday morning and Friday night programming blocks to the heart of the primetime schedule, teen shows were everywhere in the 1990s. And while much of '90s teen TV had a healthy dose of tackiness –- especially the outfits –- these shows spoke to a generation of adolescents who were able to see themselves depicted on screen, identify with role models, and laugh at the ridiculousness of high school life (and sometimes cry).

Nearly all '90s teen shows focused on common high school problems like dating, pimples, and peer pressure (with various degrees of seriousness and significance). A lot of them also featured storylines that explored underlying societal problems like classism, sexism, racism, and homophobia. By the 1990s, it had become commonplace for TV targeted at teens to tackle what was previously thought of as "adult" content –- topics like domestic abuse, date rape, sexual orientation, homelessness, and other difficult topics were no longer off limits.

Whether we're talking about a show filled with lighthearted high school schemes, like "Saved by the Bell," or one with a more raw take on adolescent drama, like "Party of Five," there's no shortage of fantastic teen TV from the 1990s. Here is a list of some of the best teen TV shows the decade had to offer, in no particular order.

Beverly Hills, 90210

Though most of the actors on the show weren't actually teenagers –- Gabrielle Carteris (Andrea Zuckerman) was famously 29 years old when the show began -– "Beverly Hills, 90210" was nothing short of a cultural phenomenon in the early 1990s. The series started to low fanfare in 1990, but became a hot commodity for a generation of teenagers after an airing of summer reruns. Set in opulent Beverly Hills, the show followed twins Brandon (Jason Priestley) and Brenda (Shannen Doherty) Walsh as they integrated into life in the hoity-toity ZIP code. Rounding out the cast were spoiled Kelly Taylor (Jennie Garth), mysterious Dylan McKay (Luke Perry), arrogant Steve Sanders (Ian Ziering), nerdy David Silver (Brian Austin Green), and innocent Donna Martin (Tori Spelling).

The show made stars out of its cast: their faces were plastered on posters, clothing, dolls, and more. Even The Peach Pit, the local diner the teens frequented, entered the cultural lexicon. Lasting for 10 seasons, the teen soap tackled serious issues like addiction, abuse, eating disorders, and sexual assault, as well as the usual gossip and romantic drama one would expect from an Aaron Spelling production. It also offered its fair share of surprises –- like smart, dorky Andrea's pregnancy in season five –- and memorable quotes, such as "Donna Martin Graduates." This wasn't a show about sheltered teens, but of adolescents who heard, saw, and experienced far more than TV teens ever had. Many cast changes occurred throughout the decade-long run of the show, but the heart and soul remained for the entirety of its impressive run.

Moesha

Singer/actress Brandy Norwood was everywhere in the 1990s, thanks in no small part to her starring role on UPN's "Moesha," which began in 1996 and lasted for six seasons. Norwood played the titular character, Moesha Mitchell, who lived with her family in a middle-class Los Angeles suburb, and who navigated teenage life with gusto, courage, and a lot of stubbornness. Moesha's mother had passed away, and so she lived with her father Frank (William Allen Young) and stepmother Dee (Sheryl Lee Ralph), which created an interesting dynamic that differed from many other shows featuring more traditional nuclear families.

Moesha also had a younger brother, Myles (Marcus Paulk), but it was her best friend Kim Parker (Countess Vaughn) who stole most scenes. In fact, Kim eventually got her own spinoff, "The Parkers," which turned into a hit unto itself. Norwood has spoken about the legacy of "Moesha" and her hopes for an eventual reunion. "I think for young black girls to grow up through her journey and through her eyes and to see a young black girl with braids in her hair, it leaves the legacy of possibility," she told Entertainment Tonight. The show handled issues like infidelity –- Moesha's father was revealed to be her cousin's biological father -– and grieving for a dead parent (Moesha's mother) with raw, poignant honesty.

Blossom

Younger generations know her as Amy Farrah Fowler on the enormously popular "The Big Bang Theory," but any child of the '90s will tell you that Mayim Bialik will forever be known as Blossom Russo, star of the NBC's sitcom "Blossom." The show, which ran from 1991 to 1995, followed Blossom, a precocious teenager with questionable fashion tastes who lived in a house full of men after her mother's abandonment of the family. This included her father Nick (Ted Wass), grandfather Buzz (Barnard Hughes), and brothers Anthony (Michael Stoyanov) and Joey (Joey Lawrence).

As Blossom explored teenage life alongside her best friend, Six Lemeure (Jenna Von Oÿ), the smart, grounded teenager set the mold for quirky girls everywhere. Terrible hats aside, Blossom often displayed a maturity beyond her years, and the show addressed topics like alcoholism, drug abuse, and racism with a heavy hand. Blossom always stood in juxtaposition to dumb but lovable Joey — whose catchphrase, "Woah," became somewhat iconic — and recovering addict Tony. Unlike many other teenage characters, she actually looked like a typical high schooler. As Blossom learned her life lessons, so too did her teenage admirers.

Party of Five

"Party of Five" was by no means an immediate hit when it first came out in 1994, but the show about a family of five orphaned siblings was a critical favorite and fans eventually came around. Set in San Francisco, the program focused on the Salinger siblings, whose parents were killed in a catastrophic drunk driving accident, which caused oldest brother Charlie (Matthew Fox) to become a legal guardian for his kin. Not only did Charlie need to raise his siblings – headstrong Bailey (Scott Wolf), angsty Julia (Neve Campbell), gifted Claudia (Lacey Chabert), and baby Owen (played by various child actors) – but the family also owned a restaurant, Salinger's, which the kids took over.

"Party of Five" -– which won a Golden Globe for Best Drama in 1996 and was nominated again in 1997 -– never shied away from hard topics. Whether it was Bailey's alcoholism or Julia's abusive relationship with college boyfriend Ned (Scott Bairstow), the show continuously kept things real and relatable (and kind of tragic). "Party of Five" lasted on Fox for six seasons, and even spurred a one-season spin-off, "Time of Your Life," starring Jennifer Love Hewitt, who played Bailey's girlfriend Sarah Reeves-Merrin. In 2020, Esquire magazine published a piece calling "Party of Five" a "unique gift to American culture." We're inclined to agree, provided no one mentions the awful reboot.

Freaks and Geeks

Sometimes really fantastic shows get cut short. That was the case for "Freaks and Geeks," which did not make it past Season 1 on NBC back in 1999. "When the show was canceled, there was an offer from MTV to continue making the show at a much lower budget. And we all decided we didn't want to do a weaker version of the show," executive producer Judd Apatow said (via Collider). Despite its short life, "Freaks and Geeks" is perhaps one of the best teen television shows not only of the 1990s, but of any decade.

Created by Paul Feig (director of amazing films such as "Bridesmaids" and "A Simple Favor"), the show focused on teenagers on the fringes of high school's social warzone. In a fictional Detroit suburb, Lindsay Weir (Linda Cardellini) decided to shed her dorky mathlete ways by befriending a group of social misfits –- "freaks" played by future mega-celebs like Seth Rogen (as Ken Miller) and Jason Segel (as Nick Andopolis). In contrast to the freaks were the "geeks" –- namely, Lindsay's brother Sam (John Francis Daley) and his friends, Neal Schweiber (Samm Levine) and Bill Haverchuck (Martin Starr). The stellar cast also included Busy Philipps (as Kim Kelly) and James Franco (as Daniel Desario).

Saved by the Bell

"Saved by the Bell" technically began in the 1980s as a restructured version of the Disney Channel's "Good Morning, Miss Bliss," but the bulk of its run was in the 1990s. And pretty much everything about the show -– from the vibrant squiggles in the opening credits to the oversized cellphones –- screams early '90s. Airing from 1989 to 1993, the NBC sitcom centered on a group of friends at California-based Bayside High School, led by main character and resident bad boy Zack Morris (Mark-Paul Gosselaar), who was equal parts charming and terrifyingly devious. In fact, Zack is such a notorious teen character that Funny or Die created an entire series devoted to his awful ways, entitled "Zack Morris Is Trash."

In addition to Zack, the gang included his sometimes-girlfriend, cheerleader Kelly Kapowski (Tiffani Thiessen, then known as Tiffani-Amber), his geeky sidekick Samuel "Screech" Powers (Dustin Diamond), his outspoken neighbor Jesse Spano (Elizabeth Berkley), as well as chauvinistic jock A.C. Slater (Mario Lopez) and spoiled, shallow Lisa Turtle (Lark Voorhies). Zack's ultimate foil was principal Richard Belding (Dennis Haskins), though anyone was game for one of Zack's schemes. Despite being incredibly cheesy and ignoring continuity (episodes were often aired out of order, which was an issue when Berkley and Thiessen missed some episodes and were replaced by rebel Tori Scott, played by Leanna Creel), the show was an entertaining, lighthearted viewing experience that resonated with younger adolescents. It spawned multiple spin-offs ("Saved by the Bell: The College Years" and "Saved by the Bell: The New Class") and was successfully revived on Peacock in 2020.

Hang Time

Like "Saved by the Bell" and its spin-off "Saved by the Bell: The New Class," "Hang Time" was a part of NBC's Saturday morning programming block, TNBC, which centered on teen-focused sitcoms. "Hang Time" started in 1995 and lasted until 2000, and though it never reached the heights of "Saved by the Bell" and its place in the cultural landscape, it was a solid and dependable teen comedy. "Hang Time" revolved around a high school basketball team in fictional Deering, Indiana, named the Deering Tornados.

Ahead of its time in some regards, the show featured transfer student Julie Connor (Daniella Deutscher) as the team's first female player, alongside others including Danny Mellon (Chad Gabriel), Josh Sanders (Kevin Bell), and more. There was some turnover between seasons, particularly after the first, but Julie and head cheerleader Mary-Beth Pepperton (Megan Parlen) were staples throughout the show's run. On top of the goofy plots and life lessons typical of early morning teen TV, the show also confronted a number of sports-specific issues during its run, including the other players' jealousy of Julie, the role of athletics in self-confidence for basketball players, and the pressures of being a girl on an all-male team.

California Dreams

Yet another relic of TNBC developed by the team behind "Saved by the Bell," "California Dreams" aired from 1992 until 1996, bringing music to Saturday mornings. It focused on a group of teenagers who played together as a band (named "California Dreams"). With its original songs, colorful fashions, and loads of teenage drama, it picked up right where "Saved by the Bell" left off. Also, in typical cheesy TNBC fashion, the band had a manager in fellow teen Sylvester "Sly" Winkle (Michael Cade), and most cast photos inexplicably included surfboards, lest the viewer dare forget the SoCal setting.

The first season centered on both the band and the home life of two of its members, bandleader Matt Garrison (Brentley Gore) and vocalist Jenny (Heidi Lenhart), his younger sister. After season one, the show shifted to be about the group of teens and the Garrisons didn't last much longer, anyway. In addition to the Garrison siblings, the band also originally included bassist Tiffani Smith (Kelly Packard) and drummer Tony Wicks (William James Jones). Later characters included vocalist Samantha Woo, a foreign exchange student who took over for Jenny, and guitarist Jake Sommers (Jay Anthony Franke), the resident "bad boy" in a leather jacket. High school is that much harder when you're trying to land a record deal.

My So-Called Life

Far more somber than lighthearted Saturday morning sitcoms, "My So-Called Life" offered a fresh take on the adolescent drama, as seen through the eyes of Angela Chase (Claire Danes), a teen living in the fictional Pittsburgh suburb of Three Rivers. The brainchild of Marshall Herskovitz and Edward Zwick — the team behind "Thirtysomething" –- the show handled issues in a much more honest way than its contemporaries, and as Angela struggled to find her place at Liberty High School, she proved to be the sensitive, slightly off-balance protagonist that we never knew we needed.

Angela's crush on troubled heartthrob Jordan Catalano (Jared Leto) was one of the most relatable infatuations ever depicted on teen TV. Her friends — rebellious Rayanne Graff (A.J. Langer) and Rickie Vasquez (Wilson Cruz), a gay teen who lives with an abusive uncle — were also some of the most complex, most interesting characters on television at the time. In a rarity for '90s teen TV, "My So-Called Life" scored multiple Emmy nominations, as well as a Golden Globe award for lead actress Danes. It is often lauded as one of TV's great shows, despite lasting only a season. For example, Entertainment Weekly named "My So-Called Life" a "new classic" and Time listed it amongst its top 100 shows of all time).

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

Unless you spent the early 1990s living under a rock, chances are that you are so familiar with "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" that you can rattle off at least part of its iconic theme song at will. Best known for bringing Will Smith to mainstream America's attention, the popular program aired on NBC from 1990 to 1996. Smith starred as a fictionalized version of himself, a wayward teen who is sent to live with his affluent relatives in Bel Air after getting into trouble in his native Philadelphia.

The show was specifically written for Smith, then a rapper with money issues. It has been applauded for its portrayal of a counter-stereotypical Black family. Much of the humor came from the comparison between street smart jokester Will and his spoiled, sheltered cousins Hilary (Karyn Parsons), Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro), and Ashley (Tatyana Ali) Banks. A fish-out-of-water at his new prep school, Will frequently butted heads with authority, most notably in the form of his strict Uncle Philip (James Avery). Aunt Vivian (played by Janet Hubert to start, and later Daphne Reid) and butler Geoffrey (Joseph Marcell) rounded out the hilarious cast of characters. Classic episodes focused on issues such as racial profiling, body shaming, and parental abandonment.

Boy Meets World

Airing on ABC from 1993 to 2000, "Boy Meets World" was popular with younger audiences throughout its run, which traced teenagers Cory Matthews (Ben Savage), Shawn Hunter (Rider Strong), and Topanga Lawrence (Danielle Fishel) through their adolescent years. The program started with the teens as middle schoolers, but audiences followed them all the way through college, much like their teacher-turned-principal Mr. Feeny (William Daniels).

Cory and Shawn were best friends with very different upbringings, which allowed the show to explore difficult issues like classism, poverty, abandonment, and alcoholism. While Cory came from a stable home –- he was the middle child of loving parents Amy (Betsy Randle) and Alan (William Russ) and his older brother Eric (Will Friedle) and younger sister Morgan (various actresses) were staples on the show -– Shawn had a more difficult upbringing. He bounced around homes throughout the series, most notably living with a hip English teacher named Jonathan Turner (Anthony Tyler Quinn) from Seasons 2 to 4. Eventually, the kids went off to college and new characters, like Shawn's half-brother Jack (Matthew Lawrence) and his girlfriend Angela Moore (Trina-McGee Davis), rounded out the cast. Cory and Topanga got married, and the reboot "Girl Meets World" centered on their daughter, Riley.

Sabrina the Teenage Witch

"Sabrina the Teenage Witch" ran from 1996 to 2003, bringing to the screen one of Archie Comics' most beloved characters and making a teen idol out of Melissa Joan Hart (who played Sabrina Spellman). In the show, Sabrina lived in the suburbs of Boston with her two cooky aunts, witches Hilda (Caroline Rhea) and Zelda (Beth Broderick), who mentored her as she learned to utilize her magical powers. Also living with them was a sarcastic talking cat named Salem.

"Sabrina the Teenage Witch" focused on Sabrina's friendships and the complications that arose when she used her spells to influence things. The gang originally included Sabrina's boyfriend Harvey Kinkle (Nate Richert), best friend Jenny Kelly (Michelle Beaudoin), and nemesis Libby Chessler (Jenna Leigh Green), but there were a number of cast changes over the years. The final two seasons featured Sabrina as a college student, with housemates Roxie King (Soleil Moon Frye) and Morgan Cavanaugh (Elisa Donovan) playing central roles. Though the show wasn't known for delving into deeper issues, as part of ABC's TGIF lineup, it was a carefree, enjoyable way for teens to spend a Friday night. Sadly, when it moved to the WB after Season 4, it lost some of its mojo.

Daria

"Daria" was developed as a spin-off vehicle for Daria Morgendorffer, a standout character from MTV's "Beavis and Butt-Head." Voiced by Tracy Grandstaff, Daria was a teenage girl in the fictional town of Lawndale. Cynical and sardonic, she was an antihero for an entire generation of young girls, and she is widely considered to be one of the best female cartoon characters of all time (see: this list in Time magazine).

Aside from the wickedly smart and incredibly pessimistic titular character, "Daria" also featured the rest of the Morgendorffer clan –- father Jake (voiced by Julian Rebolledo), mother Helen (voiced by Wendy Hoopes), and sister Quinn (also Hoopes). Finally, there was Daria's best friend Jane Lane (Hoopes, once again!), a budding artist and fellow outcast with a similarly disparaging outlook on life. With her blunt bangs, classic green coat, giant boots, and circular-framed glasses, Daria's style was as sharply defined as her tongue. But at the end of the day, it was all about her astute commentary –- always delivered in her trademark monotone, and frequently focused on topics like materialism and popularity.

Family Matters

An ABC sitcom that aired from 1989 until 1997 (and then on CBS for the 1997-1998 season), "Family Matters" first started as a spin-off of "Perfect Strangers." While the original focus was on the Winslow family -– mother Harriette was an elevator operator on "Perfect Strangers" -– the popularity of breakout character Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) led to the annoying neighbor playing a more central role in the program than initially anticipated (Urkel became a main character as of season two). But the Winslows didn't just have to deal with their obnoxious neighbor; they also had to deal with the complexities of life as an intergenerational family living under one roof.

Harriette's husband, Carl (Reginald VelJohnson) was a Chicago police officer and Steve's main foil, and they lived with their children Eddie (Darius McCrary), Laura (Kellie Shanygne Williams), and Judy (Jaimee Foxworth, whose character mysteriously disappeared after Season 4). Mouthy grandmother Estelle (Rosetta LeNoire), flaky aunt Rachel (Telma Hopkins), and Rachel's son Richie (Bryton McClure) also lived with the family. The show wasn't always grounded in reality, but that was part of the fun. It was hard not to smile when Steve invented a machine to turn himself into a "cool" alter-ego, Stefan Urquelle, or when Steve, Eddie, and their friend Waldo dressed up as nuns to infiltrate a convent.