I need to be like Fred Savage. To be more specific, I need to be like Kevin Arnold, the character Fred Savage, played on The Wonder Years. To be even more specific I want to be the voice over that narrates the events as Fred Savage’s character from The Wonder Years (Kevin Arnold) grows up in the suburbs of Anywhere, USA. So, in essence, I want to be Daniel Stern.
I’m burying the lead. This is the definitive list of the best 1990s Nickelodeon shows. This a post about all the shows that you (maybe) and I (definitely) grew up on. This is about Capri Sun commercials and Super Soakers and Rosie O’Donnell hosting the Kid’s Choice Awards for the 39939383838 time in a row. So, what does The Wonder Years have to do with any of us this? Daniel Stern’s perfectly crafted, nostalgia inducing, narration is exactly the kind of pontification necessary for an introduction about a network that so clearly defined an era for any child who watched television. With that said, let’s start again and try to evoke the same kind of emotions that Kevin Arnold might if he were waxing philosophical about the 90s. Feel free to choose whatever backing music you like while imagining people wearing LA Gear shoes and playing with Gak or snap bracelets. I’d suggest 1979 by The Smashing Pumpkins but that’s just me. Here we go.
Let’s be honest. I was raised on Nickelodeon in the 1990s. I guess some people think Nickelodeon was a channel that we put on because we weren’t mature enough to watch shows like Party of Five or MTV’s Undressed. But really it was a moment in time. A golden age of television and maturation all united during one perfect decade. It was running inside, soaked in sweat from playing running bases in the middle of the street, and hopping down to watch your stories. Sunday mornings. Saturday nights. Afternoons before you had to do your math or reading homework. Everyday was summer when we watched these shows.
6 Quick rules.
1. We’re only doing shows that spent an extensive amount of time in the 90s. For example, if a show started in 1988 and ended in 1990, that show better have spent a ton of time in syndication.
2. All original programming. That means no The Wonder Years. Sorry, Kevin Arnold. We’re also not talking Nick Jr. or Nick at Nite.
3. I really did enjoy all of these shows. So if it’s at the bottom of the list it probably means I spent too much time convincing my mother to purchase Kool Aid while it was on.
4. Like all lists written by me. It’s arbitrary and none of it is really definitive at all. Also, at some point I’m going to be so deep in 90s nostalgia that I’ll forget all of these rules and start naming shows that appeared on the TGIF lineup. Boy Meets World obviously wins. Step by Step is next. Hanging with Mr. Cooper. Actually, let’s not get started with that just yet.
5. 90s Nickelodeon kids are better than 90s Disney kids. Shots fired.
Let’s get it started.
1001. The Brothers Flub: To be honest, I don’t remember watching this program all that much. However, I am definitely starting a two piece folk band named after this show. We will only perform covers of Nickelodeon theme music.
966. Animorphs: The books were better. That’s what people who want to look intelligent say. Let’s go with that.
900. U to U: Cool set design. I watched this show like once.
877. The Wild Thornberrys: This was the prequel to Mean Girls, right? No? It was the source material though, right? Still, no? Whatever. Nigel’s mustache was creepy. I don’t care if he’s a documentary filmmaker. That kind of outlandish facial hair is only acceptable in Brooklyn.
835. Fifteen: Nickelodeon’s only soap opera. I understand that the new live action programs on Nickelodeon are different but you can’t tell me Zoey 101 wasn’t at least influenced by this show. And just so it’s clear that I’m not a 90s only Nickelodeon snob here is a quick list of the shows that still can be found on Nickelodeon that are definitely watchable for a younger audience.
2. Zoey 101 – Britney’s little sister who sings this now.
3. Drake and Josh – Shirley from Community is in it sometimes.
4. ICarly – Miranda Cosgrove is the girl from School of Rock as well as the girl who sings this.
5. Big Time Rush – Gratuitous plug for Katelyn Tarver doing a B.O.B. cover.
822. Space Cases: I remember thinking Space Cases was Nickelodeon’s answer to the Power Rangers at the time. That probably had to do with Walter Emmanual Jones appearing it. Don’t make fun of me I was eight. Sweet theme song though.
779. Oh Yeah Cartoons: A show that assembled a bunch of different animated pieces and aired them for an audience. This means there were different characters each episode. It was an anthology series of sorts. My under developed mind could not process things such as that at the time so I never got hooked on the show. If I could go back in time with the knowledge that I have now this would totally be the program that I’d swear is better than the Rugrats just because I want to elicit a reaction.
756. CatDog: If this show was just named Dog I would have enjoyed it a lot more. Also, how did the CatDog go to the bathroom? Every 90s Nickelodeon kid asked that question at some point in their life in order to be funny. “Hey, let’s get some frozen ice pops and talk about how CatDog defecated for an hour. Sound good? Cool, bro. ”
755. Rocket Power: Stop. I know what you’re thinking. And you’re right… Dunkaroos are delicious, but that doesn’t excuse the fact that Rocket Power was a show that tried to make me feel guilty about not being outside during the summer. While Chuckie Finster’s more EXTREME brother (because him and Otto look the same) was out hanging ten and showing people how to ollie on a skateboard, I was staring at an electronic box trying not to hate myself. I’m sorry I don’t have a defined six-pack at the age of ten. I’m sorry I prefer Italian Ices from the Good Humor Man than breaking my face ice skating. I’m sorry I can’t even boogie board correctly. Does that make Rocket Power better than me? Yes. But that also makes Rocket Power extremely insensitive to the needs I had as a prepubescent boy.
684. You’re On!: Underrated alert. This little gem only lasted a couple of years but I hold that it’s exactly what the world needed at the time. Observe as children try to get unsuspecting targets to eat sardine souffles and do other wacky hijinks all in the name of comedy. Fact, watching people do dumb things on camera doesn’t get old. Jamie Kennedy understands this.
626. Welcome Freshman: You might not remember this show because unlike some of the other more well known Nickelodeon programs this one didn’t get as many reruns. Regardless, the show does hold up on repeat viewing if you remember it was created for kids. Also, I’m working on a sequel called Welcome Back Freshman where all the kids return to Hawthorne High as teachers. That’s just my elevator pitch. You can call the agent I don’t have for inquiries.
548. The 100 Deeds of Eddie McDowd: I always thought this was called The 100 Good Deeds of Eddie McDowd. Oh well. This is about a bully played by Logan Echolls of Veronica Mars who has a curse put on him and becomes a dog voiced by Seth Green. The 100 deeds that Eddie has to complete is a clear syndication grab (100 episodes is normally the amount of episodes a show needs to get a good syndication package). Still, I’m a sucker for talking dogs that once were Logan Echolls in Veronica Mars.
488. Roundhouse: The older grungier precursor to All That with arguably the better theme music and unquestionably more people wearing plaid vests. This is what happens when you take a sketch show and force everyone to down gallons of Surge. Surge being the 90s child equivalent to speed. Though the Roundhouse did not have any breakout stars and it didn’t have any bits that were spun off into world-beating movies that can be found on Netflix today, the show is worth a watch. The format, feels like it was stolen from an extremely well funded college improv group. That’s a compliment. I promise.
355. My Cousin Skeeter: The voice of Bill Bellamy as a puppet who everyone accepts as a real person despite the fact that he’s a puppet? A young Meagan Good who hangs out with this puppet? Listen, I bought Summer Roberts as a doctor but even the level to which I can suspend disbelief has its limits.
233. The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo: Mr. Miyagi is in this show which makes it important. Unfortunately, it was always pretty hard to find on television. Too many commercials for Snick. Just kidding. There is no such thing as too many commercials for Snick. Also, here’s another commercial for Snick.
200. Weinerville: I was always afraid that I was going to grow up to be like one of the characters on this show. Eat vegetables or you’ll end up like that character who is always screaming to start the show. Looking back now it doesn’t seem so bad. Watching clips of it makes me feel a lot like this song and this book.
195. SpongeBob SquarePants: Probably the most successful cartoon on Nickelodeon now. For some reason I never really considered it a 90s show. If I’m not mistaken it premiered in the summer of 99. It’s probably still on now. Right this second. Turn on your television and check if I’m right. I need validation.
187. Nick Arcade: This one hasn’t aged as well as Guts or Legends of the Hidden Temple but Saturday Mornings before MTV’s Top 20 Countdown were all about catching an episode of this game show and that counts for something. If this show were made today, there is a 100% chance a scrawny kid named Elliot would be on it screaming noob at his opponent after every round.
99. The Journey of Allen Strange: This show is mostly forgotten because it played a lot alongside The Secret World of Alex Mack. I don’t know if that’s true but in my head that makes sense. Actually, I’m writing a sequel to this one as well. It starts with Allen making it home. Then he comes back to attack earth with all his alien friends. It’s going to be super dark and gritty with a lots of gratuitous head explosions.
84. The Amanda Show: Back in the day Amanda Bynes parlayed her role on All That to her own television show. I assume the Nickelodeon executives all just loved the Ask Ashley sketch enough to allow Bynes the freedom to do whatever she wanted. Some of the stuff on The Amanda Show still holds up and I like thinking Moody’s Point was the rough draft to Dawson’s Creek. It wasn’t.
73. Figure it Out: This was Danny Tamberelli’s star making turn that wasn’t titled All That or The Adventures of Pete and Pete. When he got slimed he would always fling the excess goo (not Goo from My Brother and Me. More on him later) off his hair at the audience sitting behind him. It was a thing of beauty. Furthermore, I’m sure more than one member of the Charade Brigade has gone on to fortune and fame. They probably put Charade Brigade at the top of every job resume they send out.
65: Kenan and Kel: Who loves orange soda? The answer that has eluded generations of people can finally be found here. Another show that happened because of the success of All That. Kenan is now the longest tenured cast member of SNL and Kel is currently swimming in his living room filled with that Mystery Men money. Kel is the greatest grocery bagger of all time and I often find myself trying to challenge his speed in Stop Shop. I always fail.
57. The Angry Beavers: Grossly underrated if not simply for the episode where the beavers start a band and one of them says they’re bigger than sliced bread and then everyone starts burning their records. Alluding to other popular culture references that kids don’t understand at the time is the best. Also, every child I knew at the time wanted a house like the Beavers. That thing should have been on MTV Cribs.
43. Wild and Crazy Kids: My single biggest regret in life is not being in born in the 60s so I could be like Don Draper in every way except as a terrible husband and father. My second biggest regret is not having enough money or internet savy to purchase a piece of the Aggro Crag. More on that later. My third biggest regret is not ever appearing on this show. This seems like the most fun. Human Battleship? Yup. Omar Gooding? Yup. Arnold Schwarzenegger cameo? Yup. I want this show back on air. Now. Do this for me and every sad kid who never got to play a massive game of red light green light. Bring this back for every kid who wanted to play tug of war with a professional wrestler.
Make this happen Internet.
28. Double Dare: Marc Summers is a national treasure. Was he a better host than Mike O’Malley? I’ll let the rankings answer that question. Know this, nothing is more fun for a 90s Nickelodeon kid than coming home from day camp, jumping on a couch, and watching families dig through an over sized nose for a flag. There was slime. There was competition. That was our childhood. Is anyone getting misty eyed?
21. Hey Dude: Ranches are not like this in real life. Christine Taylor doesn’t show up and teach you how to dance or tell you not to run while she is manning the pool area. Did it stop me from watching? No. Did I think that every state west of New York looked like the Bar None Dude Ranch? Yes.
19. What Would You Do?: You remember that song by City High? It has nothing to do with the other game show hosted by Marc Summers. I just wanted to mention it because the phrase is the same in both the song and this Nickelodeon classic. Life is funny that way. What Would you Do? totally didn’t have a point. A lot of it was just picking doors to open and having a pie thrown in your face. Remember the Pie Pod? Whoever engineered that beautiful piece of machinery deserves some kind of award.
I think now is as good a time as any to talk about the Kid’s Choice Awards, don’t you? One Saturday, and then for the rest of the weekend on repeats, of every year there was a show dedicated to us and only us. The Kid’s Choice Awards were about sitting on your parent’s bed and forcing your babysitter to call in to vote for Jonathan Taylor Thomas. It was about celebrities feigning ignorance to the amount of slime that was going to fall on them. It was about Rosie O’Donnell performing the thankless task of getting thousands of children under the age of nine to scream their faces off. It was a moment in a time. Also, orange blimps.
15: Guts: Do you trust me?
13. Rugrats: Probably the flagship cartoon of the 1990s. Ren and Stimpy was probably the most adored by adults who loved animation, but Rugrats was far and away the most popular Nicktoon. This show spawned two movies, a spinoff called All Grownup!, and a music video that involved Blackstreet, Mya, and Mase. The holiday episodes are classic. Every 90s Nickelodeon kids remembers Reptar on Ice, the episode where they go into Chuckie’s stomach to remove a watermelon seed, and of course the Passover episode. When Rugrats was on it was on. That means it was good. But you know what, the popularity forced into something it shouldn’t have bee. There were too many pieces after the movies. I don’t need Dill and Kimi tagging along on the Originals adventures. Maybe this is an unpopular opinion but I Stick Stickly by it.
Also, this theory about Rugrats is really dark. Watch two episodes and it doesn’t hold up at all but it’s still awful. Let’s go to a happier place now.
12. Global Guts: Do you have it? Anytime I can get ultra patriotic about some kid from Florida who ends up being a singer in the Backstreet Boys, I do it. The original Guts was good but putting countries into this competition took it to the next level. Of course, I had no idea where the other countries were but that is besides the point. If I couldn’t have a piece of the Aggo Crag I wanted my American brethren to take it home.
Some of the kids were really bad on the show but it was okay because back then Lunchables and juice boxes existed. Again, even when it was snowing outside it was summer. Talking about this makes me remember one of my favorite scenes from my favorite episode of Twilight Zone.
And for those of you who think there’s no glory in being a referee just remember there will always be Mo.
11. All That : Let’s get this out of the way. All That has not aged well. Watch the Pierre Escargot sketches that everyone used to talk about during lunch on Monday morning and you’ll see how much this show was tailored to its children audience. That’s not a bad thing, I mean it did appear on a network whose key demographic is 6-13 (I just made that up). However, in my opinion, in order to be a truly great 90s Nickelodeon show you still have to be watchable. That sounds like a knock on the show but it’s not. All That truly did capture a moment in time and it is no coincidence that when Nickelodeon brought back a block of programming called The 90s are All That this shows name was in the title. It’s one of the flagships. Think about the cast of characters that came from the Saturday Night Live like program.
30 years from now when I write my period dramedy about growing up in the 90s in Anywhere, USA I will probably make more All That references than any other show on this list. A bored but rich Steve Buscemi will narrate. For now though, It’s out of the top 10. Because….
10. Ren and Stimpy: This show always scared me as a kid. The super close up shots of the animal body parts freaked me out. Ren and Stimpy was for an older group of people. Somewhere inside it though is the reason why Rocko’s Modern Life was made. Both these shows were ahead of their time and while Rocko’s Modern Life was definitely broader, there is something to be said for emotionally unstable chihuahuas.
9. Clarissa Explains it All: Let’s get something straight. It’s Clarissa playing Sabrina the Teenage Witch not Sabrina the Teenage Witch playing Clarissa. Also, Salem the Cat was awful. Good moving on. This show was smart and Clarissa was a genius. She made her own video games, broke the fourth wall, and totally had a father who is on Mad Men. Quick, let me tell you my three least favorite characters in Mad Men now that I’m on the fifth season.
Glen sucks. Not even a Nickelodeon show could make him likeable.
Back to Clarissa Explains it All. Her brother Ferguson (Ferg-Face) was a genius but also gave gingers a bad rap. All the goodwill that had been built up by Bobby Budnick was quickly destroyed by Ferguson and then Ron Weasley in the Harry Potter movies (Emma Watson deserved better).
The will they won’t they of Sam and Clarissa was simply beautiful. Remember the ladder? Sam was either too good for front doors or just kind of creepy. Remember how Clarissa’s mom was a health food weirdo before Whole Foods existed? Remember how there was a pilot for a show set later in Clarissa’s life that found her in NYC trying to make it as a journalist? No? You’re welcome.
8. Legends of the Hidden Temple: The Orange Iguanas. The Blue Barracudas. The Silver Snakes. I’m so happy that this show has made a comeback into the cultural zeitgeist. And what I mean by that is, I’m so glad people dress up as the teams on Legends of the Hidden Temple for Halloween. This was always my favorite game show because I thought it was the one that I could do best on.
Seriously, I would own the Shrine of Silver Monkey. That thing is three pieces. Boom. Boom. Boom. I will punch a temple guard in the face. The host of this show totally could have the life that Jeff Probst leads today.
Also, Olmec will eat your face off.
7. The Adventures of Pete and Pete: The hipster choice for the best Nickelodeon show of the 90s. The theme music is perfect and I bet millions of kids everywhere begged their parents for Petunia tattoos (guilty). This is one of those programs that gets better on a second viewing. The episode where Danny Tamberelli kills baseball with orange slushies holds up as one of the greatest episodes of anything to appear on Nickelodeon. The characters, in this show were just so weird. The mother with the metal plate in her head, Artie, Steve Buscemi cameos, and Iggy Pop. Back then if I were forced to pick only three actors I could buy stock in, the youngest Pete would have been one of them. The other two would have been Kenan and the lead of the next show on the list. Simply put, The Adventures of Pete and Pete is probably the show that currently resonates the most for 90s Nickelodeon kids because it seems so unlikely that it would be on the network now.
Also, the writers of this show did Snow Day. Read my Snow Day reboot idea.
6. The Secret World of Alex Mack: Her name was Alex Mack and while she thought she was just an average kid, she was so much more to me. Larisa Oleynik, as the title character of this science fiction fantasy show about a girl who accidentally has chemicals dumped on her, was my first celebrity crush. She was a vision. Of course, Joseph Gordon-Levitt loved her in 10 Things I Hate Bout You. Why wouldn’t he? I loved the way she could turn into a puddle of goo (not Goo Milton) at a moments notice, her hats were the best, and she just seemed like an all around standup person. The show itself introduced me to the idea of major plot arcs and the importance of mythology in television. I ate a lot of curry to see if it would make me super strong and I ran in front of big trucks in hopes that it would dump chemicals on me. No such luck. I’ll always have Alex though.
5. Rocko’s Modern Life: This show was dirty. Seriously, dirty. It was also the perfect middle ground between the critically acclaimed Ren and Stimpy and the generally more watched Rugrats. Rocko’s Modern Life had Heffer the cow, excuse me he’s steer, a turtle that was at least sort of based on Sol Rosenberg of the Jerky Boys, and a kangaroo lead. The episode where Rocko and Filbert go into rescue Heffer’s mind from TV Central still holds up. I occasionally have dreams about The Fatheads. Also, there is only one dog on Nickelodeon that was better than Spunky. To be clear, it’s not CatDog. It will never be an animal that is half cat. Ever.
4. Are You Afraid of the Dark: Submitted for the approval of the Midnight Society, I call this story, How the Theme Music of a Kid’s Show Makes me Consider Urinating Myself. This show was about some teens called the Midnight Society (they sound like a cult that beats up teachers or a bunch of nerds who go into the woods and tell ghost stories) that sat around a fire and tried to scare each other with stories. They probably got picked on a lot in school but ultimately grew up to be really successful in life.
Quick note, I threw sand at fire for almost three years of my life because of this show.
I dare you to sit in the dark and watch The Tale of the Frozen Ghost and tell me you’re not scared. I’m cold. I’m cold. I’m cold. Someone get that ghost a bugle boy sweatshirt so he can stop freaking me out.
While the production budget on all these episodes seems to be pretty minimal, the storytelling is what made it great. The Pinball Wizard was a classic, the one about the crazy woman in apartment 214 who just wanted a friend is still frightening, and that character Sardo reminded me of a substitute teacher who had no idea what he was doing.
Later on there were a bunch of new nerds that told ghost stories and called themselves the Midnight Society (Tucker led this group and then went on to be Jason in Mean Girls). One member of the new generation was Elisha Cuthbert but we all know it’s important to say the original was better. Besides, a young Ryan Gosling was in an episode. And did I mention the chief nerd, Gary? He probably ended up at Wesleyan or something.
3. Hey Arnold: I distinctly remember arguing about this show on my way to Washington D.C. with the high school marching band. I was in said band. One of my friends was adamant that this was the best Nicktoon there ever was. I wasn’t so sure. I argued for another cartoon on our list (that’s foreshadowing). Amidst all the hurt feelings and punches thrown, I knew that I was just arguing to argue. Hey Arnold is by all measures a very good show. A great show even. There is no denying that. The roster of minor characters on Hey Arnold is Simpson’s deep. From Other Arnold to Harold Berman to Stinky Petterson.
Helga G. Pataki is the first antagonist that I ever really cared about and empathized with. I once borrowed a Nickelodeon magazine from the media center in Elementary school so that I could learn how to draw Arnold. To this day, it’s the only cartoon character I’m at all competent in sketching. The bromance between Arnold and Gerald was a thing of beauty. I assume whoever made I Love You, Man watched their friendship blossom and said, “let’s make their relationship a live action movie but with Paul Rudd and Jason Segel.” I honestly believe this show could be put on television right now and succeed.
So what I’m saying, in the most long winded way possible, is sorry for arguing on that bus trip, man. Let’s just agree Hey Arnold was great and that we both shed a tear when Stoop Kid (voiced by the actor in the next show on the list) finally left his stoop.
2. Salute Your Shorts: The only show that ever made me consider wanting to go to sleep away camp. I fantasied about befriending someone who all the other kids named Donkeylips. Ug was a terrible counselor who either always had suntan lotion or bird poop on his nose. I saw a lot of myself in Sponge Harris even though he definitely grew up and started his own internet company in Palo Alto, California. The only thing I know about computers is what I learned by playing Oregon Trail and watching The Social Network.
In the proposed sequel I’m working on for this show, Bobby Budnick is down and out. His wife left him for another ginger and took the kid with her. It couldn’t get any worst, right? Wrong. That ginger was Ron Weasley, his boss, who also fired him for finding out about the affair. Ugh. Wait. That gives him an idea. Of course, why didn’t he think of this sooner. He calls Ug who is the new owner of Camp Annawanna. Ug offers Budnick the just vacated head counselor job. With no other options, Budnick accepts. We throw in cameos from Telly, Z.Z., and Michael Stein as parents of new campers, find some a location near Nickelodeon’s Universal Studios in Orlando, Florida to shoot, and we’re looking at nine seasons maybe 19. Hollywood, get at me.
1. Doug: Growing up I always saw myself at Doug Funny. No, it wasn’t just because he wore the same outfit all the time. It was something different. Doug worried about everything. He worried about getting to The Beets concert on time. He worried about eating liver and onions. He worried about making Patti Mayonnaise fall in love with him. Most of all, Doug worried about aging. Evolving. Saying goodbye to everything he once knew. He wanted things to stay the same forever, but inevitably as in life, it had to change. It was a coming of age story that happened while we were coming of age. All the stuff we worried about was thrown at one developing young adult from Bluffington for our amusement. The show was a blueprint for how to conduct your life through the twists and turns of adolescence.
I’m sure I’m not the only one who saw himself in Doug. He was voicing all the issues that someone lucky enough to watch Nickelodeon at the time might have. Pimples, friends, and family. There might not have been a leather jacket wearing Macklemore lookalike laughing at your every move but there was always something accessible about this cartoon. One could argue it wasn’t the funniest and it definitely wasn’t the edgiest but the way the show was presented was so simplistic it felt real. If you watched this show, and loved it, I bet you went searching for neematoads anytime there was a body of water around. I did. If you were industrious at all and felt comfortable enough to wear your underwear outside of your pants I bet you considered being Quailman every year for Halloween.
Let’s not forget about music. It was incredible. Here is just a quick list.
Like all these shows the writers of Doug were trying to create a world that allowed its audience in. We didn’t have Mr. Dink or Skeeter or Beebe Bluff but we thought we had versions of these people walking in out of our lives all the time. Best friends. Vice Principals. Next door neighbors. Doug wasn’t just the mirror of the 90s Nickelodeon Kid. He was the 90s Nickelodeon.
Doug was us. And like us, Doug was still working on growing up.
90s Nickelodeon forever.