Your Motorola StarTAC belt clip was broken, so you could no longer brandish it proudly in front of your friends. Your fusty CEO talked about the power of the “information superhighway,” yet didn’t even know what a browser was. You were confused by Jim Carrey’s poignant performance in “The Cable Guy.”
Someone said your Urkel costume at the Halloween party had jumped the shark. Your Spice Girls CD was permanently jammed inside your new Discman, and you couldn’t visit your favorite Blockbuster because of all the unpaid late charges. Your new Rachel haircut was not living up to the hype.
I always think of the early and mid-1990s as our last gasp of innocence. It was pre-Columbine and pre-9/11. It was before we fully realized the incredible power of the internet to unleash constant distraction, trolls, cyberbullying and the death of privacy.
We complained about a lot of the little insecurities and frustrations of life, even though life was pretty good. Although I’m certain time has burnished my memory into a nostalgic, rosy glow, I remember the decade as a time of dinner parties, coffee dates with friends, movies and a fairly easy affluence. It was perhaps the one decade when you could get away with “Seinfeld,” a sitcom dedicated to double-dipping, manziers and low talkers.
Now, in the days of COVID, with our country divided in ways many of us never thought we’d see, the temptation to look back is stronger than ever. I find myself gravitating toward TV shows and movies from the ‘90s, and delighting in the sight of six 20-somethings visiting on a couch without checking their phones.
With that in mind, here are five ‘90s shows and movies I recommend revisiting.
You’ll note that “Schindler’s List” and “Silence of the Lambs” are not among them. The idea is escapism and relaxation — not paranoia and hypertension. We have enough in the here and now to worry about.
“Freaks and Geeks”: Executive-produced by an early, tamed-for-network-TV Judd Apatow and Paul Feig, this brilliant little show captures the daily exploits of a group of likable misfits trying to navigate high school culture in the early ‘80s. It introduced a number of actors who are household names today, including James Franco, Seth Rogan and Linda Cardellini.
“Clueless”: One would think this film, with its relentless trumpeting of 1995 fashion and lingo, would be as dated as a boyfriend who insists on wearing bleached tips and baggy jeans. Instead, this breathlessly paced, whip-smart “Emma” update is so funny, well-acted and endearing that my 18-year-old niece cites it as one of her favorite movies.
“Dumb and Dumber”: Man, I hated this movie the first time I saw it. I ranted against the adolescent stupidity, the scatological humor and the dive in our nation’s collective IQ that this dopey movie could cause. But most of all, I think that I hated that, deep down, it made me laugh. Even now, the sight of Jim Carrey and co-star Jeff Daniels piled on the world’s smallest mini-bike or crashing a posh charity event in ruffled polyester makes me giggle. Every time.
“Election”: This little gem pairs young Reese Witherspoon as Tracy Flick, a chirpy high school overachiever who will do anything to ensure she becomes her school’s president and Matthew Broderick as a teacher who secretly abhors Flick’s ravenous ambition. It’s smart, insightful and darkly funny.
“Romy and Michele’s High School Reunion”: Two comely but not-very-bright California girls plan to return to their 10-year reunion as chic and successful businesswomen to avenge their growing-up years at the bottom of the high school food chain. Anyone who has attended a high school reunion will relate, Mira Sorvino and Lisa Kudrow are spot-on, and some of the dialogue has become legendary: “I’m the Mary and you’re the Rhoda!”
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Readers can reach columnist Tammy Swift at firstname.lastname@example.org.