1. Daria and My So-Called Life
Between butt-kicking girl heroes to relatable on-screen teens, the 90s was a great time for female role models. We had Kimberly Hart, Trini Kwan, Aisha Campbell, Ellie Satler and Felicity Porter, and Clarissa helped explain it all to us — or at least how to sneak your best friends in through your window. Although the kids of today have Awkward., we got the original version in Claire Danes’ Angela Chase, the bleeding-heart protagonist of My So-Called Life. Angela was a blend of responsible and level-headed and irritatingly emo, yet always real and relatable. You knew exactly how she felt, aching to just get the guy to notice her. However, as she discovers, getting the guy doesn’t mean finding yourself. Some of still need to learn that lesson.
Daria, though, I found more refreshing — as the kind of girl who is too busy being a badass to worry much about guys. Daria was already over this high-school scene, and you knew that great things awaited her when she got off to college. Daria could take over the world, just as long as she made it through the banality of high school. To all the kids who didn’t fit in and didn’t care, she was our acerbic hero, and the older I get, the more I get her. Every day I strive to give as few fucks as Daria. She is my spirit animal.
2. Oregon Trail, Rollercoaster Tycoon and Civilization
Like The Sims (which debuted in 2000), each of these games hung around because they taught us important life lessons. In the Sims, we learned that it’s really fun to set your house on fire and burn it to the ground, so long as it doesn’t have real world consequences. You can always start again with a new family.
But Oregon Trail taught us about the costs of survival and why we always need to be prepared for what life throws at us, whether that’s dysentery, smallpox or the death of your entire family. Civilization prepared us for the stakes of geopolitics and told us that if you don’t give women rights, they will revolt. Who knew that the word “suffrage” could be a good thing? Rollercoaster Tycoon was about the importance of budgeting and finishing what you start. If you don’t have the money to finish that track, everyone will crash and die.
There was a lot of death in the 90’s.
3. The Internet
In the 90’s, we put up with a lot of shit to get connected to the world. You had to battle that annoying dial-up sound, endless pop-up windows, buffering wait times and the invariable blue screen of death that awaited you should you do absolutely anything wrong. There was no more frustrating act in the world that having to reboot and start over, hoping that you saved everything you were working on. Far too many book reports were lost that way.
However, this was the only life we knew. We were like fish in a giant tank of technological infancy, unable to swim upstream to a better digital world and blissfully unaware of the walls that enclosed us. The AOL greeting should have said, “You’ve got limited resources!” It wasn’t our fault. Society was still learning what this thing was and what it could do. Remember in 2001 when Minority Report seemed like the distant future? Well, the future is now, and it’s pretty awesome. You grew up good, internet.
4. Ren and Stimpy and Rocko’s Modern Life
How Ren and Stimpy ever aired on a children’s network is beyond me. On top of being deliciously twisted, the show featured numerous over-the-top references to the pair’s same-sex partnership; anyone who ever wondered if Ren and Stimpy were together only had to watch the 2000’s reboot to confirm. (See: The pitcher-catcher sequence.) However, Ren and Stimpy introduced us to an odd-couple who were a loving, if highly dysfunctional couple, being that one of them was a psychotic Chihuahua. Many thank Modern Family’s Mitchell and Cam for opening America’s hearts to gay couples but let’s be honest: Ren and Stimpy got there first.
Also, if you’ve never rewatched Rocko’s Modern Life as an adult, it plays much better than when you were a kid. It might be the most subversive kid’s show in history, throwing in numerous gay sex references (see: The No-Tell Hotel), felching and masturbation. During one episode, Rocko took a job as a phone sex operator and in another, he grabbed a bear’s balls. Let’s not even get started on The Shining episode or when Heffer meets Satan, whose name is Peaches. The man had udders on his head. That show is just a gift to adulthood.
5. The Mickey Mouse Club
Think about everything The Mickey Mouse Club has given us: Justin Timberlake. Britney. Ryan Gosling. Christina Aguilera. Keri Russell. It was the Coca-Cola of future celebrity factories. Kids’ Incorporated wasn’t even Pepsi. They gave us what, Fergie? That’s some RC Cola level shit.
6. Joseph Gordon-Levitt
Joseph Gordon-Levitt was the hippie-haired boy next door on 3rd Rock from the Sun, who started to blossom into quite a young specimen of a man just as the show declined in popularity. Gordon-Levitt cut his hair in 1998 and let us see the adorable baby face under those locks, but it wasn’t until the show went off the air in 2001 that his full hotness began to blossom. Tommy went from the guy who looked like the best friend you’d never date to the guy in English class you have the hots for; with his mechanic button ups and rockabilly polos, he was perfect blend of intelligence and stealth sex appeal.
Justin Timberlake was the guy you fantasize about. Joseph Gordon Levitt turned into the guy you marry — right before our very eyes.
7. Friends and Seinfeld
When you were a kid, these were the shows your parents watched and said you were too young for, the ones you would flip the channel to check out when you claimed to be “watching” Step-by-Step. (Sorry, Suzanne Sommers. I just wasn’t that into you.) You didn’t get it yet, but you wanted to so bad — because they made living in the big city look so fun and attainable. It was the kind of life you wanted and if anything, watching these shows was aspirational. You didn’t understand, but you would when you got older. One day, you would be cool.
8. Mike O’Malley
Who knew that Mike O’Malley would hang around as long as he did? The former host of Guts trudged through years of post-Nickelodeon sitcom hell (see: Yes, Dear) only to end up with his signature role, as Kurt Hummel’s dad on Glee. Although I hate that show, O’Malley is Glee’s secret heart, a man who would fight anyone to support his son, even himself. Mike O’Malley turned what should have been a one-note character into that show’s only discernable human — and nabbed himself an Emmy for it. O’Malley is getting his own NBC show that looks terrible because it’s on NBC, but as Guts proved, Mike O’Malley can climb mountains — and even survive Glee. He can do anything. He’s got it.
9. Hillary Clinton
If you had told me in 1995 that the Emma Thompson look-a-like with the Elle Woods wardrobe would likely be our first woman president, I and the rest of America would have scoffed at you. Not a full-on laugh, mind you, but a hearty chortle at least. Since then, Hillary Clinton (the “little woman” with the universal health care “pet project”), has stepped out of the shadow of her husband and become a force to be reckoned with. She’s like Liam Neeson without the neoconservative politics, a badass who stopped giving a fuck about what people thought of her and became awesome. She doesn’t put up with your sexism anymore, America.
When she ran in 2008, she used “I’m Your Girl” as her campaign song. When she runs again in 2016, she’ll have proven she’s no one’s girl. She’s her own woman. I can’t wait to call her Madam President.
10. Reality Bites and Clueless
In every 90’s kid’s adult life, you have that moment where you rewatch Clueless and realize that movie was way too old for you when you were in fifth grade, mindlessly aping all the lines. I remember telling a teacher that I was “surfing the crimson wave” and had to “haul ass to the ladies.” Luckily she was so incensed by the fact that I had cursed that she neglected to realize I had just told her I was on my period. Also, fun fact: I didn’t pay attention in health class, so I wasn’t aware until a surprisingly late age that guys didn’t get those. The day I found out was one of the best of my life. Bullet dodged!
Clueless and Reality Bites are like little gifts to us from the 90’s, movies whose references hold up surprisingly well. In addition to teaching me about cocaine and marijuana use, these movies taught me the importance of Good Times trivia, making fun of Peter Frampton songs, rolling with my homies and vegging out while watching Ren and Stimpy. These are lessons that hold up, no matter what age you are.