The Top (and Bottom) 10 TGIF Shows of the 90’s: In Order of Memorability
From the late 1980s to the mid 1990s Friday nights actually had SOMETHING on TV to watch. And, for the most part it was aimed toward kids and teens because ya know, mayhem and illegal activities were unknown to the 10 year old crowd.
It’s Friday in 1992, and you’re seven years old. You get out of school, had your afternoon filled with playing outside, Power Rangers and Batman: the Animated Series. Now, you nabbed some sleeping bags and headed over to a friend’s house with pizza, hunkered down in front of the TV to watch “TGIF.” It was the night where ABC dominated home, and kids all over would laugh, and of course learn “important”, but in reality, idiotic life lessons.
TGIF (for the uninitiated) was a TV show lineup that aired on Friday nights from 8PM to 10PM. The shows were usually family oriented and focused on being comedic in nature and sometimes tried to have” life lessons,” however these were usually schmaltzy, and even had “sympathetic “ music play during them, which is when I would take a bathroom break, knowing they were ridiculous, even as a prepubescent. Anyway, TGIF stood for “Thank Goodness It’s Friday,” and it even had its own musical intro and outro, hosts, and from time to time special TV events; like clips from upcoming Disney movies, since Disney bought ABC around this time, and previews of the new Saturday morning cartoons that would debut the next day.
The lineup had a wide selection of shows ranging from crap, like You Wish and Dinosaurs, to really poignant coming of age comedies like Boy Meets World. This lineup was established for quite some time, with shows like Perfect Strangers and Webster, but it wasn’t really until shows like Full House that the lineup became the standard for our generation. I will focus on the ten shows that I think really were the most memorable, good or bad.
The Not So Remembered:
10. You Wish
In the mid 90s there was resurgence in supernatural based sitcoms on TGIF. Essentially the purpose was to echo others of the past, such as Bewitched. The most popular and successful of these shows was Sabrina the Teenage Witch, which I will get into later in this list. While that show was essentially a Bewitched of the 90s, You Wish, attempted the same, mirroring itself on I Dream of Jeannie. Did it succeed; well do YOU remember this show…exactly.
On to the show itself, You Wish follows single working mom, Gillian Apple, which if that doesn’t sound like a porn name I don’t know what does. Anyway she picks up a magic lamp at a rug shop owned by Sallah from Raider’s of the Lost Ark. The genie in the lamp becomes indebted to her for his freedom, and lives with her and her children, thus causing sit-com hijinks to ensue.
Was it good?
No, but it wasn’t a blight to humanity or the worst show ever. It was standard, stock, and nobody bought it. When you start introducing long lost grandfathers in your first season you know there are problems. Even as a kid I knew it was pathetic and usually changed the channel or played Super Nintendo for a half hour until the next show in the block was on. It just came off as lazy, and to be frank “Sabrina” while still cheesy, did have better jokes, I mean TV’s Frank from “MST3K” wrote on it for a while, and even Penn Jillette was a recurring character. So, you can see they were trying when they made that show, was it funny, no, but at least an effort was being made.
9. Teen Angel
Also from the fantasy sit-com pile, Teen Angel is the story of Marty, who one night hungry, probably high as well, ate a six month old hamburger under his friend Steve’s bed on a dare. This of course kills Marty and now he is Steve’s guardian angel, who attempts to help his friend, but usually fails abysmally, and gets chewed out by God’s cousin Rod, played by Shepherd from Firefly, regularly throughout the series.
This show was created by Al Jean and Mike Reiss both veteran writers on The Simpsons during the golden days of that series. The premise of the show was rather unique of a TGIF show, it started off pretty dark with someone dying in episode 1, had a sarcastic humor, and even some interesting ideas. Since Marty was dead no one saw him, classic movie angel rules, but he pulls an invisible man in one episode and covers himself in makeup to become visible. All mind you, to try and make out with some girl.
To be honest, I kinda liked Teen Angel as a kid. It took risks, for a family show, made light of usually taboo subjects on TGIF, in this case death, and even broke the fourth wall. This happened when Steve’s mom, played by Brady Bunch alumnus Maureen McCormick, left the show mid-season, and Steve’s dad was introduced later. Usually, TGIF would just ignore that character and pretend they never existed (i.e.: Morgan’s recasting on Boy Meets World.) But, this still was a show riding the “Sabrina” fanta-com, yes I just invented that term, wave. Everyone saw through this, and a show about a dead kid doesn’t really sell with parents, so this was canceled after one season as well.
8. Hangin’ With Mr. Cooper
This is where the reviews get much easier to explain, the premises from here on are your standard TGIF programming. And speaking of standard TGIF, I bring you Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper. The premise was Mark Cooper, former NBA player turns to being a high school teacher, and moves in with two women, since they need a third person to make rent. This of course leads to family-friendly sexual tension, and dragging out a romance for five seasons. Man, and I thought Jim and Pam took forever on The Office.
Was it good?
Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper was essentially a hybrid of many sitcom elements. For example, it was produced by the guys who made Full House, and I believe they may have referenced that show in the dialog once in a while, I even think they did a crossover at some point, but all my searching has led to hazy answers. Also, it felt very much like The Cosby Show, having a predominantly black cast, and a similar family-friendly approach to humor. This even had a little Head of the Class/ Welcome Back Kotter thing going on with the teacher angle. Not to mention the premise of the show, one guy living with two women, where sexual tensions flare and a romance buds. Yeah, I saw Three’s Company as well, ABC, thanks for the ten minutes it took to create that story. Also, I love the dropped “g” in “Hangin’” it really makes me think an executive was yelling the following: “No! We need to sell this as an URBAN ‘Three’s Company’ drop that ‘g’!”
This show was lame. It was boring; the characters were half-assed and just felt like someone tossed darts at a board of sit-com clichés, drunkenly I might add, and ta-da, new show. However, it did quite well, and lasted for five seasons. Sure, retooling happened, but to be fair five seasons for a TGIF show, and staying on ABC for its full run, is quite rare. So, this show may be bland, but it least it was consistently bland.
This of course was the TV-Series based off a movie, based off a Jane Austen book. So, of course it’s very true to its source material. Anyway, to break down the basics of the show, Clueless is the TV-series based off the 1995 film about a rich girl in California, rife with 90s slang and playing matchmaker at school with random people she finds to fit together. The series followed this pattern as well as other misadventures involving proms, box socials, and other stereotypical girly nonsense I don’t care about.
The show did do well, but ABC cancelled it before seeing the figures…geniuses. It was later moved to UPN and had a decent run for that network. It lasted three seasons overall. It even ran in syndication for a few years after, and probably still does on obscure cable channels or local stations.
Was it good?
The show overall was not that bad. Having an older sister I was kind of forced to watch reruns of this while I waited for “Power Rangers” to come on. Honestly, it wasn’t gag inducing, aside from many of the 90s stereotypes, compared to other TGIF fodder with their emotionally schmaltzy crap. It had decent acting for the genre, until UPN took over and changed the dynamic from slower humor to more fast paced and pop culture driven. Overall, not a bad show, but really for the girls out there, obviously.
6. Perfect Strangers
Perfect Strangers was the show that spawned Steve Urkel…indirectly. But first, what was this show? Remember Mork & Mindy, the fish out of water comedy about an alien trying to adjust to earth culture? This is the same show, seriously, even has the same creator. The only difference between the two shows is the “fish” in the story. Mork, an alien from another planet, now replaced with Balki, immigrant from the island of Mypos (aka NOT-Greece.) Both were loud annoying characters who didn’t understand Earth (American) culture, and had people who cared about them that went crazy trying to control them. In this case instead of Mindy we have Larry, Balki’s distant cousin.
Was it good?
That’s it really – the show was nothing but a Mork & Mindy/ Odd Couple third cousin, with a nice layer of subtle racism towards immigrants to tie it all together. Seriously, everything Balki says is like something Fievle’s dad would dream about “In America they have SHOES!” See he’s not from American so he’s dumb, which makes it funny, HA.HA. Seriously, what was ABC trying to say with this show?
Despite what I thought, the show did incredibly well. It stayed on for eight years, making it one of the longest running ABC TGIF shows in the block’s history. It also created the spin-off, Family Matters which made that a mega hit. However, I still put it low on the list, because no one in their early twenties even remembers this show, and its spin-off Family Matters reached pop culture heights that Perfect Strangers never achieved.
5. Full House
While it didn’t have the most creative writing, or really “writing” at all, Full House did seem to pull everyone under the age of nine into its viewership, and for some reason kept everyone attached to it for years to come. The show followed a widower, Danny Tanner, his friend Joey and brother-in-law Jesse living in a house trying to raise his three daughters, hence a “full house,” subtle. While I don’t remember ever laughing at this show, even as a kid, what came off as most memorable was the life lesson moment that came at the end of every episode, which taught some nonsense like, “Daddy still loves you, even if you broke the lamp. Aww.”
The things to note if you watch any episode now, is how hilarious it is to see Bob Saget trying his hardest be nice and clean, when in reality he is a filthy comic who is actually funny, albeit bitter. Also, Joey, played by someone as funny as renewing your mortgage, Dave Coulier, is just creepy when you really look at him and his character. Obsessed with Bullwinkle at the age of 40 (which comprises most of Dave’s act even to this day) and refusing to get a job and move out of his friend’s house, while still making creepy cartoon voices to teenage girls, may make Uncle Joey about as weird as the bike shop owner on that one episode of “Diff-Rent Strokes.”
Was it good?
Was Full House a good show? No, but it made some serious money. The only other bland comedy that I think this mirrors today is Two and a Half Men, which is just horrible, but still rakes in cash from the elderly viewers, aka CBS, and is syndicated all over the place. This of course gave Charlie Sheen more money to use on doing cocaine, trashing hotels, and smacking women, because, you know, he was on a family show, and that’s how sit-com stars roll. Now he’s got tiger blood. Yeow!
4. Family Matters
Oh man, this show was the biggest thing as a kid, it was everywhere, and just about every show had a joke about it, The Simpsons would bash it almost regularly, as well as Pinky and the Brain. Family Matters followed a black family living in Chicago, whose father was a fat cop, played by the fat cop in Die Hard, can you say type cast?
The show was actually a spin-off of Perfect Strangers, a show about Bronson Pinchoit playing an annoying character (See Above). So, of course, the breakout star of Family Matters was Steve Urkel, easily the MOST ANNOYING CHARACTER EVER DEVISED! A skinny nerd with high-water pants and a loud nasally voice. He basically looked like those nerds you’d see on Saved by the Bell, walking stereotypes if you will.
Was it good?
For some God-forsaken reason his character became the big star of the show, and would even make cameos on other ABC programs, like Full House, to boost ratings. But as soon as this phenomenon of obnoxious nerdiness came, it quickly went, and it was taken off of TGIF and moved to CBS. Where they attempted to do a Friday night lineup of their own, which failed so badly that Family Matters’ last episode, a two-parter, never was completed…Thank God! I personally believe Urkel is the reason it took ten more years for America to get a black president. The Urkel dance did to us as a nation getting past color barriers as George Lucas did to me after I saw “Epiosde I.”
3. Step by Step
Remember that show about a single mother and a single father who get married and take their respective kids to live together in a new home, yeah me too it was called The Brady Bunch. Seeing how successful that was, ABC copied the idea and made Step by Step. Haha…get it …Step by Step, cause they’re step…brothers…and sisters…oh forget it.
Was it good?
The show basically took the creepy amount of happiness in The Brady Bunch and instead had the kids hate each other and constantly fight, just like YOUR family. The family, again, consisted of stereotypes: the tomboy, the nerd…again identified by glasses, the surfer, the blatant Wayne’s World knockoff, the smart opinionated girl, and the valley girl. Although a valley girl joke by 1994 was already a dated and lame, hell all of these were. It’s like someone thinking that stereotypes from a decade ago would work in the current era. At that rate they should have had hippies and greasers in there while they were at it. To be fair, Step by Step was funnier than the last two shows, still not great and the jokes for the most part were lame, it did have a little more real dialogue with kids who said sarcastic quips, and insulted each other, which compared to Full House was like Tarantino dialogue.
2. Sabrina, the Teenage Witch
Sabrina, the Teenage Witch. That’s the premise right there, I don’t need to explain anymore. OK, fine, Clarissa, from Clarissa Explains It All plays a teenage witch, based off of the Archie comics’ character, who would become a cartoon on ABC Saturday mornings shortly after .
Was it good?
This show was again, not really funny, but it was mildly entertaining, and would occasionally have an interesting face appear like the always-awesome Penn, or in an episode Frank Coniff, aka TV’s Frank from “MST3K.” Poor Frank, he must have really needed cash. ABC tried to do all sorts of gimmicks to profit off “Sabrina, “such as shows like You Wish and Teen Angel, which I mentioned earlier. Eventually “Sabrina” was moved to the WB, retooled, and finally canceled, but despite the flaws, it was still one of the better TGIF shows.
1. Boy Meets World
This was THE show; every kid loved this TGIF staple, and would watch every week. If you came in to school Monday missing that week’s episode you were out of the loop, it was really the water cooler show for kids drinking juice boxes. The show followed the exploits of a young boy, Corey Matthews, growing up, living and learning from his teacher and neighbor Mr.Feeny. Who handed down life lessons, which actually made some sense. The show lasted eight years and went from Corey’s middle school days, up until he left college to go off to New York.
Was it good?
The show obviously had a heart, but didn’t pour as much sap on as Full House and had characters that were actually entertaining. On top of that, the show was legitimately funny. The character Eric, Corey’s dimwitted brother, was played by Will Friedle, later the voice of Terry McGinnis in Batman Beyond, was one of the funniest and in the earlier seasons, best developed characters in the series.
The show really defined what it was to be a kid growing up in suburbia, in an essence it was a later generation’s The Wonder Years, funny and sentimental. The only problems are episodes focusing on Shawn with his family in the trailer park. They were usually the least funny and most hammy in acting. But aside from that I feel it is a high watermark for family programming, and easily the best TGIF ever produced.
Now, TGIF is extinct. ABC is aiming for new markets to produce content. It still tries to be a family network, with shows like Dancing with the Stars and other bland inoffensive tripe. But, in an age of the internet and quality cable shows on AMC, FX, and of course premium channels like HBO, the day of TGIF and basic network TV is heading for the way of the Dodo. Therefore, they are trying for somewhat edgier programming, like Lost and Modern Family. The problem being, with shows like Mad Men and The Walking Dead being able to do so much more and not worry about a family image ABC is at a crossroads and will eventually have to adapt to change for its viewers, or be left by the wayside permanently, which is where I see the old networks ABC, NBC, and CBS heading if things don’t change.
by Michael F. Curran