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Pop CultureOctober 20, 2016

Throwback Thursday: The television MVPs of the ’90s


The ’90s and early 2000s brought with them an influx of young TV idols. But who has stood the test of time? Claire Adamson investigates.

I’m not sure if the late 90s truly was a golden age for teen drama, or if it just seems that way because that’s when I was a teen.

At any rate, the parade of lush blonde locks and shiny white teeth belonging to a wide swathe of beautiful people in their early 20s across my screen on any given night of the week transfixed me. I was hooked – I would will Fridays to come so that I could catch up with Dawson and Joey in Capeside, and my sister and I would fight over who got to control the remote during Thursday’s screening of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The adolescent wallpaper of pages torn from TV Hits and Girlfriend adorned my bedroom walls.

Many of the key players of the time faded sadly into obscurity. No-one from Popular has had any commercial success since, and Keri Russell is the only one who really got anything out of Felicity (apart from Jennifer Garner, who managed to launch a whole Hollywood career out of a bit part in the show). One player, notably, became a meme – I will never not shed a giggle for crying James Van der Beek.


However, a choice few went on to become quite big stars, with a bevy of awards and box-office records under their belts. I have taken the liberty of picking out some of the MVPs of some of my favourite teen shows of the late 90s and early 2000s:

Dawson’s Creek

When the show first aired in 1998, I died. This was the best thing that had ever happened to me at the ripe old age of 13, and I was immediately rabidly obsessed in the way that only teen girls can be. Joey Potter was as close as I ever got to seeing myself on television (except that she was a beautiful 23-year-old playing a snarky, self-assured, dinghy-wielding tomboy from the wrong side of the tracks, and I was a dorky, diffident 13-year-old living in suburban Kohimarama. I did sail an optimist at the time.)

Much was made at the time about Katie Holmes being the ‘next big thing’ in the acting world, and she appeared in several crappy horror films and started dating all-American heartthrob Chris Klein. But then she lost her mind/married Tom Cruise and went on to achieve almost nothing interesting apart from birthing Suri Cruise, for whom I have high hopes.


Michelle Williams, on the other hand, quietly finished up her run at Dawson’s Creek in 2003, and two years later starred in a little film called Brokeback Mountain with her to-be husband Heath Ledger. Ten years later, she has three Oscar nominations to her name and Blue Valentine might still be one of the most brutally devastating films I have ever seen.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer

For all the impact Buffy has had on pop culture in the last two decades, its stars haven’t shone that brightly since. Anthony Head went back to the UK to be the Prime Minister in Little Britain and continue to be a babe, Eliza Dushku was in Bring It On and then slipped on the banana peel of obscurity, and Sarah Michelle Gellar went on to become a Republican, of all things. Michelle Trachenberg, who played Dawn, could never quite replicate the heady highs of  Harriet the Spy in 1996, but was in Gossip Girl, I guess.

Seamlessly photoshopped Hannigan

Nonetheless, I’m giving Buffy’s MVP trophy to Alyson Hannigan, who went on to star in the not-that-awful sitcom How I Met Your Mother. And she bloody deserves it – in Buffy, a show of incredible characters, intense storylines and razor-sharp writing, Willow, a character Hannigan truly embodied, is a real highlight.

Gilmore Girls

The internet is aflame these days with the imminent return of the fast-talking, coffee-swilling Gilmore Girls and their chisel-jawed parade of suitors. Lauren Graham and Alexis Bledel will no doubt welcome the return to Stars Hollow, being as it is that neither has achieved much fame-wise since (although Graham has written a book and Bledel was in that supermarket own-brand version of Now and Then, otherwise known as The Sisterhood of the Travelling Pants).

One member of the original cast whose paycheck for the reboot will be considerably larger than it was before, however, is Melissa McCarthy. McCarthy played Lorelai’s bestie, Sookie St. James, until 2007, when Gilmore Girls ended. In 2010, she was cast in a supporting role in Bridesmaids and promptly stole the entire movie, earning an Oscar nomination for Best Supporting Actress and the ongoing title of Box-Office Catnip.

McCarthy proudly lifts her MVP trophy
McCarthy proudly lifts her MVP trophy

McCarthy’s most recent accolade (and one she should be proud of) is the title of Shrill Harpy Demon, awarded by the meninists whose childhood she has ruined by rebooting Ghostbusters.

Freaks and Geeks

Trying to choose an MVP from this cult one-season legend from 1999 is like trying to choose between takeaways from Sal’s or Burger Burger – everything’s just so bloody good. The show’s alumni managed to essentially topple Stiller et al from their perch atop the Hollywood comedy heap and have created their own odd kind of dynasty – particularly Jason Segel and Seth Rogen, who went on to write and/or star in Superbad, Knocked Up, and Forgetting Sarah Marshall. These films in turn helped  launch the careers of Jonah Hill and Michael Cera, and revive those of Paul Rudd and fellow 90’s TV star Mila Kunis.

Everyone’s a winner

But they aren’t even close to being the only ones who did well out of the show. James Franco has become a proper Hollywood Heartthrob (albeit one with a distinctly smelly, hippy vibe), and Martin Starr has continued his cynical nerd vibe in shows like Party Down and Silicon Valley. Not to mention show creator Paul Feig is now Melissa McCarthy’s partner in crime, directing Bridesmaids, Spy, and Ghostbusters.


Unfortunately, after Freaks and Geeks took all the Hollywood spots, there was none left for poor old Roswell. It only ran for a couple seasons (because it was a bit crap, let’s be real), and the only one who really had an immediate post-Roswell career was Katherine Heigl, who had the good fortune to score a role on the also a-bit-crap Grey’s Anatomy. Her role across from Seth Rogen in Knocked Up doesn’t count since she practically disowned it.

Shiri Appleby has recently returned to our screens on the very weird UnReal, which I dig, but special shout out must go to Jason Behr, who came to New Zealand to film a more-than-a-bit-crap thriller called The Tattooist, and came into Herne Bay Glengarry to buy a magnum of Champagne from the not-crap-at-all salesperson, me.


That 70’s Show

I know that Orange is the New Black is really great and all, but I can’t deal with Alex’s eyebrows, so Laura Prepon is not taking out the MVP for That 70’s Show. But that’s ok, because she probably wouldn’t have got it anyway.

Dream celeb couple Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis began their careers on the show, which first aired in 1998. Ashton Kutcher went on to make a series of terrible, terrible career choices which all netted him a lot of money (but seriously, though, Two and a Half Men?)


His best decision was marrying Mila Kunis, who, after starring in Forgetting Sarah Marshall, has been in some bloody good films over the course of her career, culminating in her award-winning turn in Black Swan. A friend of mine went to see Black Swan and The Kids Are All Right at the movies in the same weekend before I had seen either and told me: “Black Swan is incredible, Claire, you have to see it. The Kids Are All Right is also really good but didn’t have enough girls turning into swans.”

(Big Giant Disclaimer: You may have noticed I omitted The OC from this list. That’s because it is a trash show and you should be ashamed for liking it, and the show’s MVP is Peter Gallagher’s eyebrows anyway.)

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