90s sitcoms: How they doin’?

James Nash places our favourite shows under the microscope...

James Nash
29th October 2018
Credit: youtube


With the recent revivals of Will & Grace and Roseanne (now The Conners), as well as all ten series of Friends appearing on Netflix UK, increasing numbers of young viewers are watching these classics with fresh eyes.

However, watching shows from the 1990s through a 2018 lens has proved to cause quite a stir with some new viewers highlighting various issues – a lack of diversity, toxic relationships, etc. Similarly, the current nostalgic trend to revive old sitcoms has had varying degrees of success. Is this just ‘millennial snowflakes’ overreacting? Are these shows still relevant today? Is this all just a moo point?

There was a genuine argument for the revival of Roseanne, with wealth, class and political dynamics in the US shifting dramatically in recent years, particularly in the post-Trump era. Where the original may not hold up to 2018 standards, a fresh, relevant take on a familiar format proved to be hugely popular, as did star Roseanne Barr’s controversial support of President Trump both in and out of character. However, despite audiences relishing in a positive portrayal of a Trump supporter, especially a well-loved TV icon, the tone proved to be somewhat jarring.

The matriarch’s defence of her gender non-conforming grandson in the series’ second episode was heavily debated. Many questioned how a rabid ‘deplorable’ could reconcile their beliefs with that of social progressiveness, especially after the negative rhetoric Trump has inspired concerning the issue. Barr’s controversy proved to be the show’s downfall, perhaps suggesting that even the relevance of Roseanne couldn’t survive the minefield of the current US political landscape. How The Conners will aim to address these issues remains to be seen.

On the flip side, the cultural phenomenon that is Friends shows no signs of stopping. Global viewership of the hit series has only increased in the fourteen years the show has been off the air, with a whole new generation watching after Netflix UK added it to its roster at the beginning of 2018, becoming the UK’s most popular subscription streaming show. But with great power comes great responsibility. First time viewers in 2018 will undoubtedly carry with them the current social climate, one that paints a poor view of palaeontologist and three-time divorcee Ross Geller.

If the live studio audience hadn’t been laughing along, Ross’ dating antics could have looked like something out of a Criminal Minds episode – not telling Rachel that they’re still married is surely friendship-ending behaviour. Similarly, the introduction of Charlie in Season Nine marked the first time a black actor had been a recurring character on the show - a shocking statistic for a 90s show, let alone today. Viewers in 2018 may find it hard to warm to creepy Ross and the lack of diversity, but does that mean the show should be written off entirely?

The short answer is that there is no short answer. These unfortunate problems don’t dampen the comedic genius of these sit-com classics, but they do start important conversations. In 2018, we should be able to recognise the flaws in what has come before and try to rectify them for future entertainment, whilst appreciating all that is hilarious, touching, and relatable about the Conner family and our six friends – they’ll always be there for you.

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