They just don’t make TV the way they used to, right guys? Or maybe I’m just feeling nostalgic for a time when young women had so many amazing role models on TV. I started out trying to name 10 shows from the 90s with awesome female protagonists and ended up with 13. I could have kept the list going, probably infinitely. Why were there so many good shows about smart, strong girls back then? What are we doing now? Ugh. Let’s take a look back. Here’s the evidence that it can be done successfully. IT CAN BE DONE.
1. “Clarissa Explains It All”
Beginning in 1991, Clarissa Darling debunked the myth that boys wouldn’t watch a TV show starring a girl. Everyone loved “Clarissa Explains It All.” She was a relatable teen and she dealt with the problems we dealt with — dating, pimples, annoying little siblings, parents. She made everyone want to have a friend who climbed through their window just to chat. Clarissa was also a wicked computer programmer, remember? She was always making her own games. So neat.
Starring the awesome Mayim Bialik, “Blossom” was another TV show starring a quirky teenage girl. “Blossom,” however wasn’t as light-hearted as Clarissa. Sure, it was a funny show but it also handled topics like divorce, alcohol abuse, addiction, sex, drugs, etc. The characters really learned hard lessons on that show. Blossom was super smart, intuitive and weird. You know, complicated, like a real teenage girl.
3. “The Mystery Files of Shelby Woo”
Shelby Woo works as an intern at the local police department but is so good, she often ends up solving the cases even though she’s just a teenage girl. While it’s 2013 and we’re up in arms about Lucy Liu starring in “Elementary,” in 1996, a woman of color was the lead in a successful Nickelodeon children’s show for teens. What has happened to us, guys? Are we going backwards?
4. “Pepper Ann”
Pepper Ann Pearson was a 12-year-old girl who faced many a moral dilemma, but always learned her lesson in the end. She was gawky and awkward, but always seemed really smart and cool to me as a kid. She played soccer, didn’t feel the need to be “pretty” and was very independent. Dude, I just remembered that her mom was a feminist and how in one episode she takes Pepper Ann to a Womyn’s Weekend where she learned women are just as capable as men and contemplates the glass ceiling. I was obsessed with this show. I would rush home from school to watch it. CARTOONS. BE LIKE THIS AGAIN.
5. “So Weird”
This show, which started in 1999, had not one, but two female leads. First there was Fi, and then she was replaced with Annie. Also her mom was Mackenzie Phillips and they toured in a rock band. How sweet is that? I LOVED “So Weird.” Fi, and later Annie, investigated weird, scary supernatural, paranormal activity and helped people across the country. (It’s like the prototype for “Supernatural” except with an awesome teen girl at the helm.)
The ultimate awesome, sarcastic, smart girl from the 90s was obviously Daria Morgendorffer. She’s misanthropic and observes the stupidity of the small-town folk around her. The show is a satire of high school seen through Daria’s eyes. She critiques pop culture, social class, popularity and societal norms. God, you know what? Just bring Daria back, please.
7. “My So-Called Life”
If you couldn’t relate to Angela Chase, you are lying. (Though I think maybe I was more of a Rayanne? Not sure.) The show centered around Angela and her friends. Not popular but not nerds. Just teens, with drama and crushes and high school shenanigans. But it felt so real! And Angela and Rayanne were two great leading ladies with such different priorities and backgrounds. It felt like we were all represented. This show was OUR so-called life. (And now I’m in a K-hole of watching clips.)
8. “The Secret World of Alex Mack”
Alex Mack was an average teenage girl until a chemical spill turned her into a superhero! But she’s on the run from the evil corporation that made her because she’s a total liability. She was a teen like you or me, but she could morph into silver liquid and spy on people and she had to hide her powers from everyone but her close friends and her sister. A lot of these episodes are up on Vimeo actually if you want to lose several hours of your life.
9. “The Wild Thornberrys”
The show as supposedly about the whole family living in the jungle and searching out new wildlife, but really it centered on Eliza, the youngest daughter, and her magical ability to talk to animals. I mean, sure we loved Nigel, but Eliza was a kick-ass female lead. She saved the day, cared about the environment and genuinely wanted to learn about the world around her. The show was educational and still great. Eliza was a very specific kind of nerd who looked kind of weird (with braces and glasses), but she was also cool and went on sick adventures in exotic locales. Who wasn’t jealous of Eliza Thornberry?
10. “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”
As fellow TC-er Ryan O’Connell just said, “Buffy was like, the most feminist show ever and we’ve really gone downhill ever since.” I could not agree more. Buffy was a shallow, sassy teen girl who just so happened to be the savior of the mortal world. Her growth through the series was incredible and she was a fantastic strong female lead. She also surrounded herself with kick-ass chicks like Anya, Willow, Tara, Faith, etc. Joss Whedon really knows his women.
11. “Sabrina The Teenage Witch”
Starting in 1996, Melissa Joan Hart had another awesome 90s TV show centered around her. Damn, girl. She starred as Sabrina Spellman, a teenage witch who finds out she has powers on her 16th birthday. She lives with her two kooky aunts and a talking cat named Salem. You know, the basic premise for any good comedy. Sabrina was smart, lovable, sarcastic and fun. Melissa Joan Hart ran shit in the 90s. Wow.
You know how now TV executives seem to think shows with black people belong on a separate network or need to be marketed specifically to black people because white people won’t watch them? (Lies!) That shit was proven wrong decades ago by “Moesha,” a popular show starring a cool, independent black girl. “Moesha” starred R&B singer Brandy as the titular character, a high school student living with her family in Los Angeles and going through typical teen trials with her friends. The show was one of the most successful in UPN’s history. “Moesha” was a great sitcom and opened the door for the Keke Palmers and Kerry Washingtons of the world. Again: MORE OF THIS PLEASE.
13. “Powerpuff Girls”
Another fantastically weird cartoon, “Powerpuff Girls” stars three little girls with superpowers who have to constantly save their city, Townsville, from crazy villains. The girls often go into battle and fight evil with their different strengths. Then, they come home and play with dolls and sleep in a fluffy pink bed. Did I mention the girls are in kindergarten and have to deal with kid-stuff like the Tooth Fairy, bed-wetting, sibling rivalry, and security blankets. The girls, Bubbles, Blossom, and Buttercup, are originally created to be the perfect little girls but then Chemical X is accidentally added and they become crime-fighting badasses, proving just because you’re feminine doesn’t mean you can’t kick butts.