In the ’90s, Bill Nye the Science Guy helped more than a few middle schoolers limp through science class. The PBS show, which ran from 1993–1998, tackled everything from eyeballs to evolution, lifting normally dry topics out of textbooks and bringing them to life with a nerdy but fun zing.
Lanky Nye was the science teacher we all wished we had, complete with bow tie and sky-blue lab coat. His show incorporated TV show parodies, James Bond–style scenes, and song spoofs. He dressed in a suit of armor to explain reptile scales and stood in Puget Sound for a lesson on primordial soup. And his techniques actually helped us remember concepts too— in one, he began a bike trip at a red balloon representing the sun, and demonstrated how far it took to reach each of the planets.
Humor, charm, and we were learning too? Man, the best we could hope for from our real teachers was that the pop quiz would get postponed for a day.
Status: The show may be gone for good, but Alton Brown’s Good Eats, which ran from 1999 to 2011, featured a similar nerdy, likable host explaining science‑y topics (in this case all related to food) to a general audience. And Nye is still around, blogging and making videos about science.
Fun fact: A lecture by Nye inspired the creation of the CBS crime show Numb3rs, which ran from 2005–2010.
Yes, Blossom had a plot—the eponymous character (Mayim Bialik) maneuvered through life with her single musician dad and two brothers, one a recovering addict and one who was a few peas short of a casserole. But no 1990s kid remembers more than a handful of actual storylines from the 1991–1995 show. We
were too busy being completely stunned, intrigued, and occasionally blinded by the weird and wacky wardrobes.
Some people are staunch believers that sunflowers should stay in the garden, where they belong. Or that while Grandma’s crocheting may be the pride of the nursing home, when she crafts you a lime green sweater, it’s probably best to thank her profusely and wear it only on her birthday. But others looked at Blossom and her best pal Six as trendsetters, slamming together funky, creative, eclectic outfits that somehow . . . worked.
Blossom’s granny dresses, clunky boots, vests, oversized jackets, and—especially— her floppy, flower-bedecked hats influenced a generation of kooky, fiercely independent kids.
Blossom planted the style - setting seeds that let a generation fly its quirky freak flag— even if it was cobbled together out of yellow long underwear, floppy hats, and a skirt made out of neckties.
In our opinionation, that’s reason enough to induct her into the ’90s Fashion Hall of Fame.
Status: Gone for good. Although, in 2012, Bialik and TV sibling Joey Lawrence reprised their roles in a commercial for Old Navy. Whoa. Loads of other shows went on to inspire teens’ wardrobe choices, from Gossip Girl (headbands!) to Sex and the City (tutus!).
Fun fact: In 2009, Bialik got a post-Blossom fashion update on the TLC show What Not to Wear. The hosts called her real-life style “homeless hippie,” and ripped on her “Blossom-ish” clothing choices that included men’s shirts, an antique silk kimono, and yes, her actual grandma’s sweater.
If the colors of the 1970s were earthy tones like harvest gold and avocado green, and the colors of the 1980s were the sunshiny pastels of Miami Vice, what was left for the 1990s? For a while in the early part of the decade, marketers just gave up on color completely, and suddenly, clear was the way to go.
Clear sodas, including Tab Clear and Clearly Canadian. Miller Clear beer and the much-derided Zima. Clear soaps. Even clear trash bags were introduced—because if there’s one thing you want to get a good sharp look at, it’s a mashed‑up bunch of garbage.
Crystal Pepsi, a caffeine-free beverage introduced with a Super Bowl ad featuring Van Halen’s hit song “Right Now,” led the see through cola pack in late 1992 and early 1993. But gone along with the color? The flavor.
Once the big publicity push died down, consumers couldn’t see their way clear to keep buying the nasty stuff, and a reformulated citrus version went sour almost instantly.
Status: Gone for good, but a drink called Pepsi Clear was briefly sold in Mexico in 2005.
Fun fact: The best surviving artifact of the clear cola craze? Saturday Night Live’s hilarious Crystal Gravy commercial parody, which featured Kevin Nealon splashing the clear goo on his face in the shower and Julia Sweeney dipping a chicken leg into a jar of the stuff.
You know the Paula Cole–sung theme song: “I don’t wanna wait . . . for Buffy the Vampire Slayer to be oh‑ver, so I can watch Dawson’s Creek on the WB . . .”
Well, we think it went something like that. We do know that in the late 1990s, TV‑watching teens were transported weekly to the fictional seaside town of Capeside, Massachusetts, home of Dawson, Joey, Pacey, and Jen, and their Falcon Crest–meets Saved by the Bell lives.
The show made teen idols out of its stars, and helped kick off the WB as a network, plus created a new national craze for angst filled teen shows. You’d be angsty too if, like Dawson, you had a forehead so large fans dubbed it a “fivehead,” or if, like Joey and Pacey, you had names that might have sounded better on kangaroos or racehorses. But Dawson’s devotees didn’t care. They were sucked in by the undeniable charm of the lead actors, the ever-changing romances, and the engaging and witty dialogue.
Sure, no one we knew talked as wordily as these kids, but then no one we knew had an affair with their English teacher or platonically slept in the same bed with the beautiful girl next door either.
For kids who grew up right along with the Dawson’s four, the 2003 finale was a monumental event. A little sorrow (Jen dies!), a little romance (Joey chooses Pacey!), and a little wish fulfillment (Dawson meets Steven Spielberg!). The show’s themes were hard to resist. Everyone can relate to the irresistible pull of home and the comfort and the confidence of childhood friends turned adult — even those of us who didn’t have our own creeks.
Status: Gone for good, except for DVDs and reruns. It’s been replaced by scores of angsty-teen shows, from The O. C. to One Tree Hill.
Fun fact: Katie Holmes’s Joey, not James Van Der Beek’s Dawson, was the only character to appear in every episode.
The L. A. Times once wrote that My So‑Called Life was “Beverly Hills, 90210 minus the lobotomy.” Angsty Angela Chase (a luminous Claire Danes) wouldn’t have known how to deal with Brenda and Brandon and their bikini-clad, Jaguar-driving friends.
To her, school was like a drive‑by shooting, where you’re just lucky to get out alive. Angela was battling to find herself — dying her hair red, leaving good-girlfriend Sharon behind, crushing desperately on soulful-looking Jordan Catalano, and dabbling in the daring world of new pals Rayanne Graff and Rickie Vasquez.
In the all-consuming world that is high school, she was suddenly sure she didn’t measure up, and finding out was agony.
Created by veterans of Thirtysomething, MSCL lasted just one short year, but that was enough to forever cement it in the minds of those who found the small truths of growing up in boxes of hair dye, band practice, and love letters never sent.
Status: The show ended in 1995, after just one season. Gilmore Girls attracted similar devotion in the 2000s, though Lorelai and Rory’s sisterly relationship was one Patty Chase could only dream of having with Angela.
Fun fact: In the 2008 film Juno, screenwriter Diablo Cody inserted a reference to never-seen Tino from Jordan Catalano’s band, Frozen Embryos.
Remember that assignment you got in fifth grade, where you had to treat a raw egg as if it were your own child? That was the idea behind Tamagotchi, the huge 1990s fad which provided a digital version of the egg project— only this time, you didn’t need to worry about your mom accidentally making it into an omelet.
You were obligated to feed, clean up after, and even play with your little creature, or it would eventually breathe its last digital breath. Three buttons let you play God—and forced you to constantly run back to your locker to give it a snack, pick up its poop, or give it some exercise. Most annoying was the constant beeping and booping, like it was a starving Coleco Electronic Football game. Some schools banned the needy little things, and more than one parent probably stumbled into their kids’ rooms in the middle of the night and smashed it with a hammer because it just wouldn’t stop peeping.
Still, the virtual creature in a key fob was the perfect starter pet, because if your Tamagotchi died, all you needed to do was reset it — unlike when a real pet died and you had to give it a burial at sea via the toilet.
Status: They’re still around. Now Tamagotchis have an online element and, most important, a way to turn off the sound.
Fun fact: The virtual pet sparked its own psychological term: The Tamagotchi Effect supposedly describes when a human develops an emotional attachment to a machine.
It was part Giga Pet, part Gizmo from Gremlins: Furby was the Cabbage Patch Kid of 1998, as desperate parents knocked each other down at the Toys R Us to bring home the hairy, animatronic alien for their mesmerized child.
Out of the box, the battery-operated fuzz ball spoke only “Furbish,” nonsensical gibberish. But kids could “teach” him English — the more you played with him, the more he made sense. You could interact with him by petting his back or sticking your finger in his mouth. Sure, we all knew the Furby was using every ounce of his alien willpower not to chomp through our flesh and suckle human blood, but they were so cute, we didn’t care.
Just like real parents, Furby moms and dads eventually knew sweet joy when their little guy uttered those three little words every kid longed to hear from a pet: “I love you.” Sure, now they’re mostly screaming for help getting out of the box in the attic you threw them in, but hey, nobody said love was forever.
Status: In 2012, Furby 2. 0 hit stores from Hasbro, now with backlit LCD eyes, an available iPad app, and a price that’s about twice as much as it was in the 1990s.
Fun fact: The little guy’s resemblance to Gizmo the Mogwai from the hit 1984 movie Gremlins didn’t go unnoticed: According to Variety, Hasbro settled with Warner Bros. for a reported seven-figure payout.