The 13 Best Nostalgic TV Shows to Make You Feel Better (Now That You’re Out of Netflix to Binge)
Have you capped out Netflix? Countless hours of browsing have led you to a finish line forged by the absurdity of Tiger King; cooped up in your rank domicile, waiting out coronavirus, that bizarre documentary made you feel a little less batshit. What now? It’s not like you have any intention of cleaning or reading a book. No. It’s time to embrace the comfort of nostalgic TV shows.
Those of us born between the 1980s and early 2000s have an affinity for laugh tracks and studio audiences; channel surfing framed our formative years. When we weren’t stuffing our faces at Chubbie’s or TPing the principal’s house, we were tuning into the TGIF programming block, a magical place where tranquility superseded storylines. Sure, the sitcoms and TV shows we grew up on had depth and character development, but what we remember is hearing those themes songs and catchphrases while messaging our crush on AIM (AOL Instant Messenger). Like Tiger King, these shows, sorted oldest to newest, make us feel better.
Cover Photo: NBC
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Those of us who grew up to be alcoholics have Cheers to blame. The sitcom, which ran on NBC from 1982-1993, made bars feel extraordinarily welcoming; if you were a kid back when it aired, you probably didn’t think about Norm Peterson’s drinking problem. Regardless, like most bars, Cheers had its regulars: the beer-guzzling accountant, trivia-spewing mailman, and troubled therapist. Even more memorable than the customers are the staff, led by Ted Danson’s career-making turn as Sam Malone. Every character has a moment of hilarity, plus toga parties and will they or won’t they subplots. We still want to go where everybody knows our name.
Available on Hulu, Netflix, Amazon Prime, and CBS.
Full House isn’t the best sitcom ever but it’s one of the most memorable. It ran from 1987- 1995 on ABC and follows sportscaster Danny Tanner (Bob Saget) in the wake of his wife’s death. With the help of his brother-in-law Jesse (John Stamos) and comic friend, Joey (Dave Coulier), Danny raises his three daughters in San Francisco. The unconventional family dynamic worked well for those accustomed to its corny jokes and long-running gags. The show was popular enough to warrant the revival, Fuller House on Netflix, as short-lived as that was.
Available on Hulu.
'Saved by the Bell'
Saved by the Bell is undeniably corny, like Zack Morris’s ability to take “time-outs,” but there was nothing else like it at the time. The NBC sitcom ran from 1989-1993 and follows a group of teenagers at California’s Bayside High School. For those familiar with it, Saved by the Bell is an iron-clad nostalgia trip; for others, it probably doesn’t hold up.
Available on Hulu.
Because it does. The Winslow family and their neighbor, Steve Urkel (Jaleel White) proved this from 1989-1998 on CBS. The first season focused on Chicago cop Carl Winslow (Reginald VelJohnson) and his family; however, after the introduction of their cheese-loving neighbor, Urkel become the focus. He may be slightly annoying but even people who haven’t seen Family Matters know who Steve Urkel is, especially those who grew up in the '90s. Family Matters wasn’t critically acclaimed but its impact on popular culture is undeniable.
Available on Hulu.
Seinfeld is without a doubt one of the most influential sitcoms of all time. “The show about nothing” put Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld on the map. Running from 1989-1998 on NBC, Seinfeld redefined comedy; Jerry, Elaine, George, and Kramer didn’t get caught up in love triangles, learn from their mistakes, or apologize. The show has been in syndication since its finale. When you're channel surfing today, you’ll probably come across Seinfeld.
Available on Hulu and YouTube TV.
'The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air'
"In west Philadelphia born and raised..." We all know the theme song. Before The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, which ran on NBC from 1990-1996, Will Smith was just a rapper. Now, thanks to his flagship series, he’s one of the millennial generation’s biggest movie stars. Smith’s audience grew up with him, and his transition from the small to big screen felt natural. Rounded out by an underrated supporting cast featuring the likes of Alfonso Ribeiro (Carlton), James Avery (Uncle Phil), Tatyana Ali (Ashley), Karyn Parsons (Hilary), and Joseph Marcell (Geoffrey), The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air remains beloved to this day.
Available soon on HBO Max.
'Boy Meets World'
Boy Meets World is the greatest coming-of-age sitcom ever made. Running from 1993-2000 on ABC, Boy Meets World follows Cory Matthews, his brother Eric, the love of his life, Topanga, and best friend Shawn from sixth grade through college. For people growing up in the '90s, this was a Friday night staple; Mr. Feeny wasn’t just Cory’s teacher, he was ours.
Available on Disney+.
If there was going to be a Cheers spin-off that worked, no one would’ve guessed that spin-off would be about Frasier Crane. Frasier wasn’t about blue-collar beer drinkers or anyone the average person would consider relatable; instead, it followed cultural elites. Snobs. However, Frasier and his brother, Niles (David Hyde Pierce) were lovable all the same. Running on NBC from 1993-2004, Frasier took Kelsey Grammar’s portrayal of Frasier Crane to the next level. A perfect mix of new-age intellectual comedy and traditional slapstick, Frasier does everything that Cheers does and more.
Available on Hulu.
Friends ran for 10 seasons on NBC from 1994 to 2004. The sitcom about three young men and three young women living in New York spoke and still speaks to generations of people just trying to figure things out. Those of us who grew up during the show’s iconic run have since rediscovered it, relating to it even more. It's the one where Ross, Chandler, Joey, Rachel, Monica, and Phoebe remain some of the biggest names in popular culture.
Available soon on HBO Max.
Also known as Nicktoons, these were feasted on by millennials. Nickelodeon cartoons of the late '90s and early 2000s are etched in the mind of many. It’s impossible to list the most memorable because everyone had their preferences; however, it’s safe to say that Doug, Hey Arnold!, Rugrats, SpongeBob SquarePants, and Ren & Stimpy are some of the most notable.
Some Nicktoons are available on Hulu and Netflix.
'That '70s Show'
Fox’s That ‘70s Show ran from 1998-2006. It follows a teenager Eric Foreman and his friends, Hyde (Danny Masterson), Kelso (Ashton Kutcher), Donna (Laura Prepon), Jackie (Mila Kunis), and Fez (Wilmer Valderrama) in 1970s Wisconsin. The show isn’t just nostalgia for those who grew up watching it but for those who grew up in the '70s. Not only did it take place during that period (featuring the types of recreational activities one would imagine) but enlisted the help of many actors who were famous back then such as Mary Tyler Moore, Marion Ross, and Tom Bosely. The show’s combination of old-school aesthetic and new-age laughs scored big with audiences, especially those who appreciate the intimacy of a smoking circle.
Available on Netflix.
Saturday Night Live be damned, Chappelle’s Show was the sketch comedy show from 2003-2006. Comedy Central and Dave Chappelle changed the game with his unique brand of humor, fearlessly attacking stereotypes. A lot of millennials will be able to match lines like, “I’m Rick James, bitch” and “Why don’t you purify yourself in the waters of Lake Minnetonka?” with their respective skits. The show’s popularity was so overwhelming that Chappelle bailed; he ended the show after only three seasons and left public life (temporarily). This has only made the show and Chappelle more iconic in retrospect.
Available on the Comedy Central app.
'Will & Grace'
Will & Grace aired on NBC from 1998-2006 and follows roommates Will and Grace along with their friends Jack and Karen. The two roommates were best friends in college, even dating briefly before Will came out as gay. Will & Grace was one of the first sitcoms to feature realistic gay characters; the show educated a lot of people on homosexuality and love. Unlike other sitcoms, where two main characters are destined to end up together, Will and Grace shared a different kind of destiny. They do love one another but are not attracted to each other. Many thought the show wouldn’t last but it did because it’s hilarious. It even came back in 2017 and is still airing new episodes to this day.
Available on Hulu, with new episodes airing on NBC.