Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best TV Shows of the 1990s – Rolling Stone
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Readers’ Poll: The 10 Best TV Shows of the 1990s

See what show managed to beat ‘The Simpsons,’ ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ and ‘X-Files’

David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson

'The X-Files' appears among our readers' picks for the best TV shows of the Nineties.


Many people feel that we're living in the golden age of television, but the present run really began back in the 1990s. It was a time when shows like Seinfeld and The Simpsons elevated the art of the sitcom to new highs, while The X-Files, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Twin Peaks changed the rules of the game for dramas (and dramedys) forever. Since Friends landed on Netflix earlier this month, we decided to have our readers vote for their favorite shows of the entire decade. Some of these shows began in the late 1980s, while others carried on into the 2000s. But they're all firmly rooted in the 1990s. 

The SImpson

‘The Simpsons’

The fact that The Simpsons landed at Number Four on this list proves how much we take it for granted. After all, the show is currently in its 26th season, and there's no reason to think it won't reach 30 and beyond. Many people who watch it now weren't even born when it began, so they don't actually know what it's like to live in a pre-Simpsons world. They've also seen many, many sub-par episodes. Nothing gets the internet arguing faster than trying to determine when the show peaked, but most sensible people agree there was a drop-off after season 10. Zooming in further, seasons two to seven feel very, very special. They may even contain the greatest television ever made.


‘The X-Files’

It was tough being a nerd in 1993. Prodigy, AOL and Compuserve were slow and cumbersome, Star Trek: The Next Generation was whiffing in its final season (Worf dating Counselor Troi?) and Devo remained stubbornly broken up. Then Fox started airing a new series about two FBI agents that investigate paranormal events. One is a believer. The other is a skeptic. They have chemistry, but will they ever take their relationship to the next level? Who is the mysterious Cigarette Smoking Man? What happened to Mulder's sister? Questions like these kept AOL message boards humming for years. 



At first glance, nothing seemed all that noteworthy about Friends. Beyond the generic title, we'd seen many of these actors bouncing from one lame to sitcom to another. It then became clear that something was special about this one: The ensemble had amazing chemistry, with no one person taking too much of the attention. Before long, women were having their hair cut like Jennifer Aniston, the theme song became an actual radio hit and the cast was everywhere from Oprah to the cover of this magazine. The Ross and Rachel drama dragged on for years longer than necessary, but needless to say they ultimately wound up together. 



Seinfeld was far from an instant hit. The show first aired as The Seinfeld Chronicles in July 1989. Kramer was named Kessler, Elaine wasn't around and a waitress named Claire played a big role. The pilot didn't receive huge ratings, and the second episode didn't air until nearly 11 months later. During this time, Jerry Seinfeld and Larry David worked out the kinks and cast former SNL actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus as Jerry's ex-girlfriend. Moderate success followed, but NBC knew they had something fresh.

As the months went by and the writing grew sharper, Seinfeld began rising in the ratings. By the third season, roughly 18 million people were watching every episode, and by final season that number had doubled. Jerry was offered incredible amounts of money to carry on, but he knew he'd damage the legacy should he agree. Seinfeld has now been gone for 17 years now, but with constant reruns on cable it really feels like it never left. 

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