Celebrity Deathmatch — If you grew up watching Gumby & Friends, Celebrity Deathmatch was the perfect blend of childhood nostalgia and homicide. The show pitted two claymation celebrities against one another in an arena; the opponents chosen based on obvious common ground (Marilyn Manson vs. Charles Manson; David Letterman vs. Jay Leno; Mick Jagger vs. Steven Tyler, for example). Pop stars, pundits, and politicos alike were subject to gory dismemberment in a time when many of them were in need of a good ass kicking (Jesse Camp comes to mind.)
Undressed — Undressed chronicled the sexual and romantic relationships of LA-based teens and twentysomethings in the late ‘90s and early 2000s. Using elements of soft-core porn, the controversy surrounding the show was exacerbated by prominently featuring teenage promiscuity and gay/ lesbian relationships in a candid and frank way. The progressive and undeniably campy nature of the show is irresistible. Plus, Christina Hendricks!
Beavis and Butt-head — B&B were idiot savants when it came to rock, offering up scathing commentary during their MTV binges (save for the few times they were either so appalled that they changed the channel or so astounded that they watched the video in appreciative silence). Even AC/DC and Metallica, whose names were famously splayed across the duo’s chests for the entirety of the series, weren’t spared from piss poor reviews. The exposure Beavis and Butt-head gave to ‘80s and ‘90s heavy metal, hip-hop, and hard rock played a crucial role in reigning in a new era of music. Resurrected in 2011, Beavis and Butt-head has proved itself timeless, inasmuch as anything spawned by MTV could be.
Daria — Every unathletic teenage girl in America wanted to be the acerbic Daria Morgendorffer. Daria was the story of a sharp suburban teen surrounded by a bunch of well-to-do idiots (aside from her best friend Jane and Jane’s dreamboat brother Trent, whose inclusion on the show helped boost the collective IQ of the primary characters). Daria perfected deadpan, giving girls coming of age in the ‘90s a protagonist who didn’t wear crop tops or talk like a Barbie doll on Vicodin.
Engaged and Underage — Before Teen Mom, before My Super Sweet 16, there was Engaged and Underage: the perfect program to watch with your parents when you needed to convince them that cutting school and sneaking cigarettes wasn’t the worst thing you could do at 15. So maybe you had to wake them up at 3 AM last Friday because you needed a ride home from the police station — at least you have no plans to elope, amiright?
Say What? Karaoke — Say What? was like Speak & Spell for stoned pre-teens. I watched it religiously; the fact that the contestants sang the same 15 songs over and over again for the duration of the season was of no consequence. I was able to recite the lyrics to “Gettin’ Jiggy With It,” “Nice Guys Finish Last,” and “Baby Got Back” with my eyes closed in no time, thanks to Dave Holmes.
Rich Girls — Unlike Paris and Nicole, Ally Hilfiger and Jaime Gleicher didn’t need to sweat it out on a dude ranch and ironically wear overalls to win America over. All they had to do was have spontaneous breakdowns, complain about prom, smoke cigs in a limo, and tap their third eye and I was like, SWOON.
Singled Out — Between Jenny McCarthy’s grody self and the schadenfreude derived from watching a bunch of post-grads meander around a soundstage in Hawaiian print t-shirts and khakis, was there anything not loveable about Singled Out? That show deserves to be immortalized by a Gen X case study.
Wonder Showzen — Wonder Showzen used black comedy and children to lampoon sex, politics, religion, and culture at large. If you combined Sesame Street, Robot Chicken, The Electric Company, Tim and Eric Awesome Show, Great Job, and a bottle of Robitussin, you’d have what amounts to the best show on this list, or ever.
2ge+her — Even an earnest boy band fanatic had to love the satirical mockumentary movie-turned-series, 2ge+her, which gave us hits like “Say It, Don’t Spray It,” “The Hardest Part Of Breaking Up (Is Getting Back Your Stuff),” and “U + Me = Us.” The show unfortunately ended in tragedy when Michael “Jason ‘QT’ McKnight’ Cuccione lost his battle with cancer eight days after his 16th birthday. RIP, QT.
Buzzkill — Punk’d, Boiling Points, Jackass, and The Tom Green Show can all find roots in the OG prank show Buzzkill. The show’s three “pranksters” traveled around the US in a white van and were likened to The Jerky Boys and human manifestations of Beavis and Butt-head. While Buzzkill’s pranks were tame in comparison to its protégés, the show was cancelled after one season due to legal concerns.