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Throwback Thursday: Why Do the Great Television Shows of the ’90s Still Matter Now?

This week, Alex Casey and Duncan Greive mine the extensive Lightbox catalogue to find the best shows of the ’90s and argue why they are just as relevant as the fancy new shows.

Having television ondemand makes it easier to keep on top of the hot new shows, but also harder to watch everything, all at once, online, anytime. And when there’s so much pressure to stay up to date with new shows, why would you ever bother with old TV? This week we argue why you should not just hungrily look forward to the next episode of the hottest new show, but look back deep into television’s past. All the way… to the ’90s

Why should you watch The X-Files?

The X-Files are more relevant now than ever before, with Rhys Darby just announced as joining the cast of it’s reboot next year. Spanning a whopping 202 episodes, the ‘90s sci-fi/horror follows the FBI special agents Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) as they chase up creepy unsolved cases. Watching now is a welcome time warp for Duchovny, whose floppy hair and round glasses make you forget all about how he weirdly released an album this year. As for Anderson, it raises the biggest paranormal query of all – how has she not aged a day between X-Files and The Fall?

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If humans aren’t really your thing, there are more ghosts, aliens, stretchy people, and giant larvae in this show than you can shake a sceptical stick at. And, as we all know, the mysterious and the paranormal doesn’t have an expiry date. From ancient Egypt to 1940s America, there are endless conspiracy cases and buzzy as theories to sink your teeth into. Even today, there’s enough reason to want to believe, and X Files is there to pique your otherworldly interest. / AC

Why Should you watch Seinfeld?

As far as TV philosophies go, you just cannot beat “no hugging, no learning”. Seinfeld‘s cheerfully cynical creed propelled it for nine seasons, during which nothing happened, over and over, forever. The show is both quintessentially ’90s and entirely ageless; a thirty-something groundhog day in which the only feelings which exist are rage and shame. The beautiful thing about the best sitcom of its era also being close to the biggest is that NBC just kept commissioning more, even as its salaries ratcheted up to make the cast the highest-paid in TV history at the time. So whenever the real world gets too much you can just retreat to the Seinfeld‘s netherworld, cue up any given episode, and spend some quality time with those supremely self-involved weirdoes. With 180 episodes to chew through, that’s a trick which will never get old. / DG

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Why should you watch Just Shoot Me?

“Print media is dead” the made up people on the made up street yelled at me the other day. “Well why don’t you just watch Just Shoot Me for a blimmin’ second and then come back to me!” I yelled back in my imagination. Just Shoot Me was the sitcom of my childhood, placed right in that sweet spot between after school shows and The Simpsons. Set in the bustling behind the scenes world of Blush magazine, David Spade nurtured my growing mind as Dennis Finch. Which, retrospectively, is actually quite weird considering how much time he spent talking about genitalia.

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Things at Blush magazine were exciting, edgy and fast-paced. I recall one episode where a reporter who was supposed to go undercover at a high school called in sick, leaving Dennis Finch to step up to the plate. The episode was called Fast Times at Finchmont High. It rocked. Another groundbreaking feature of Just Shoot Me was the magazine-cover-as-plot-device technique. The cover was always linked to things in the episode, and my young mind couldn’t handle this level of storytelling sophistication (and still can’t). Exploring the underbelly of the magazine advertising world, Just Shoot Me is basically Mad Men – just with more jokes and way more David Spade. / AC

Why should you watch Oz?

Because all of modern television begins here, in this brutal, inhuman prison hell. Tom Fontana’s Oz is set at a high-tech correctional facility in up-state New York, and was the first hour long drama ever commissioned by HBO. It’s no exaggeration to suggest that had the show failed, we might never have had The Sopranos, and every other golden age show which has followed since. Luckily, Oz is terrific. It manages to capture all the indignities and danger of the current prison-industrial complex, swiftly moving on from showily shocking beginnings to present a grimly plausible view into prison life – an entire human ecosystem contained with four impenetrable walls, with race, poverty, education and crime examined in an unflinching detail to which they’d never before been subjected on television. / DG

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Click here to watch Oz, The X Files, Seinfeld, Just Shoot Me and many other ’90s classics.

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