I have to be honest, the idea for this article comes solely for my love of any and all 90s teen TV shows created by the legend that is Peter Engel. If that name has you grinning from ear to ear then you know exactly who he is and what I mean. If you don’t know the heavenly word that is Engel then my friend, I’m sorry but you probably didn’t have any kind of real childhood.
Of course there are a myriad other 90s teen shows to choose from so this list was actually harder to finalise than I initially thought. Also I was heartbroken to realise that by restricting myself to teen comedies I had to overlook ‘Hangin’ With Mr Cooper’, which is a travesty by any measure. Ah well he’ll just have to wait for another list.
So let’s get to it. I hope I do all your opinions justice (this stuff is sacred).
10. Malibu CA
And just like that we’re straight into Engel territory. Perhaps the least well known of the Engel roster; this beach resort based sitcom taught us about the realities of single parent families, by taking twin brothers whose mother had taken a high flying job in Saudi Arabia thereby forcing them to live with their father in Malibu…………you know…….standard stuff for children of a broken home.
It carried all the usual moralistic trappings that defined any Engel production and mixed them with one of the most annoying characters in history; Murray Updyke, the streotypical surf dude, who you knew was a surfer because he said ‘narly’ a lot and seemed to live in a coconut hut on the beach.
Despite only running for 2 seasons this was actually pretty funny and contained some great Engel crossover cameos including none other than Mr Belding himself Dennis Haskins!
Ok I know what you’re thinking; this programme began in the 80s. But it ran into the 90s and so did a lot of other shows on this list so get over it.
This is the show that made me want to be in a band, although looking back now I’m really not sure why. After all it seems to suggest that musicians are all fairly unattractive and inept, with bizzare families and ill fitting clothes. But who can say that the songs weren’t awesome? So catchy were tracks like “There’s no Reason” with its incessant chanting of “there’s no reason why, no no reason why” that I can be heard humming them regularly to this day. Then there were the inspired lyrics of the opening theme tune in which Pugwall himself introduces all the members of the Orange Organics by pointing out which instruments they all play.
But what gives this show its place on this list are five simple words: “Marion…go to your room!” Ahhh Marmaloid, you are a ginger wonder!
8. Sister Sister
When I was in my teens I had a major problem with any shows with girls in the lead. I don’t remember the actual explanation for this but I know it was the case. So it is a great compliment to Tia and Tamera Mowry that I loved Sister Sister.
Admittedly it was the strained, will they won’t they, opposites attract relationship thing between Lisa and Ray that made the show work for me, but still it was a great show. It had many standout moments, usually involving Lisa’s ‘in your face’ stereotypical diva-ness, but my favourite memory of this show comes from the episode in which the family are stalked by a neighbourhood cat burglar. Ray gets totally paranoid and then in a moment of brilliant escalation, has an asthma attack in the car. If you know what I’m talking about I’m sure you’re laughing to yourself fairly heartily right about now.
7. City Guys
Back to another Engel entry…phew I was getting worried there. This is another of the latter entries in the Engel canon and probably taught the most life lessons of any Engel production. Set in a ‘tough’ inner city school it seemed that every episode contained at least 3 essential morals, delivered with emotion and force by Principle Noble (yes they went there).
What a lot of entries on this countdown have in common are a great theme tune, coupled with a full on 90s opening credits sequence. City Guys is certainly no exception. In fact I think the lyrics “C I T Y, You can see why, these guys, the neat guys, smart and streetwise” make up the first rap I learnt off by heart…impressive stuff:
Yes it’s fair to say that this show led the way, showing all corporate companies how their policy documents should go; it was all about fairness, equality and diversity. Well done Mr Engel!
6. Boy Meets World
Featuring the racist dad from American History X and KITT from Knightrider this sometimes funny, sometimes kind of serious right of passage tale taught a generation of boys that it was possible to get the best looking girl, even if you’re a bit of a geek with a perm.
Of all the shows on the list I think this was the one I found the least amusing. I remember it being more kind of just there. But one thing boosted this programme’s stock over any of its storylines: Topanga! Where did that name come from? I’ll tell you where; schoolboys dreams! Like many other screen angels she seemed to get better looking with each new series and because she was around the same age as me (in the show and in real life) the chance of me actually pulling her felt like a semi-reality.
Of course now she’s not that attractive at all. That’s how life works. All the best things get soiled over time!
5. Kenan & Kel
This is the first show on the list that I found genuinely very funny every single episode. The characters were all great (particularly Kenan’s dad – the ever angry victim of Kenan’s schemes), the little skits in front of the curtain at the start of each episode were brilliant and the theme tune was performed by Coolio for god’s sake! It doesn’t get much more 90s hip hop cool than that!
This was also a show of catchphrases. Even now I can hear you all asking “who loves orange soda?” followed swiftly by “Kel loves orange soda”…..”is it true?”…..”I do I do I dooohooo”. Then there was the line that started every scheme filled episode “Awww here it goes” and of course the brilliantly timed “WHHHYYYY” from Kenan when the plans inevitably fell apart.
With its frantic escapades and levels of stress inducing escalation featuring near heart attack ‘comedy of errors’ moments it generally played like a kids version of Fawlty Towers (did I just compare Kenan & Kel to Fawlty Towers?). No it wasn’t anywhere near John Cleese’s genius but it sure knew how to get the veins popping with sheer stress, whilst making you laugh.
4. Hang Time
This entry comes with a couple of dilemmas. Do you prefer the 1995-1997 Hang Time with Coach Fuller or the post 1997 Hang Time with Coach Katowinski? And in answering that do you prefer the original theme tune:
or the song that came later:
Now it’s worth noting that the second theme did come in whilst Coach Fuller was still at the helm of the team, but still it’s worth answering.
I myself am a staunch Coach Fuller man. I’ve never liked character changes in long running shows and this was no exception. I may also prefer the attempt at tear jerking emotion of the season 1 theme tune, if only for the fact that I can picture Peter Engel composing it on a casio keyboard from Argos, in the middle of an outdoor basketball court whilst the tears of a thousand over emotional teenagers crash all around him.
This programme taught us the value of teamwork and as such is used throughout the world as a corporate training video (if only). It also gave us Teddy (Anthony Anderson), one of the great oversized slapstick characters, who went on to play other oversized slapstick characters in Romeo Must Die, Transformers and of course Kangaroo Jack!
3. California Dreams
The most wholesome, family friendly rock band that ever graced the face of the Earth. This is the band that made me not want to be in a band! Even the somewhat badass Jake Sommers turned out to be a caring and affectionate moral hero by the end of every episode.
I never understood why this didn’t have more of a Pugwall style theme tune. It’s not like Peter Engel had never done rock ‘n’ roll before. But here, when the main focus of the show was a band he decided to pussy out and have one of his emotional phases:
This show holds the accolade of being the first and only programme I have ever seen where the song at the end of each episode represents the moral that was taught during the preceding 30 minutes. This made possible one of the best and funniest moments in all of 90s TV whereby badboy Jake spent an entire episode becoming addicted to smoking, following which his Uncle died of cancer and so he sang a song about the fact smoking was bad! That’s how a leather wearing lead guitarist rolls in the world of Engel people! Pure awesome!
2. The Fresh Prince of Bel Air
Once again with my Top 10 lists I’ve put an entry at number 2 that will cause controversy. I do realise that this is one of the greatest shows of all time and I even considered having an equal first place for a while, but I had to go with my gut on this.
I’ve been generally sarcastic throughout this article so it’s going to be hard to make myself come across as genuinely serious, but Fresh Prince is seriously brilliant. This is the show that managed to balance lessons about growing up, incredible humour and family dynamics in a way that never ever felt cheesy or forced. I still love it as much today as I ever did, maybe more. Like The Simpsons it found a way to tell a good story first and foremost and then let the humour flow organically. Of course it had trademark comedic moments like Jazz being thrown out of the front door, but these were only ever used sparingly and to devastating effect.
There are so many memorable episodes. The one with the pool hustler, Will going to work for Jameson the superstitious millionaire, the family getting robbed in the ski lodge, Will moving back to Philly, Uncle Phil’s old girlfriend seducing Will, Will and Carlton’s on stage dance to ‘Tonto, Jump on it’….the list goes on. But one of the greatest episodes saw a moment of TV brilliance for the ages. When Will’s father came back and subsequently left again, leaving Will in the lurch, the moment between Will and Uncle Phil is genuinely heartbreaking. It is a very stirring performance from both actors that still brings tears to my eyes every time I see it.
That is the genius of Fresh Prince….nuff said.
Drum roll; rrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrrr tshhhh!
1. Saved by the Bell/Saved by the Bell; the College Years
Let’s be honest. Saved by the Bell didn’t just write the rulebook and set the bar for teen comedy, it then reigned supreme at the top of the pile for all time; still going unbeaten today (and I don’t see it being topped any time soon).
This show didn’t just teach me about teenage life, it represented the exact life I wanted (and still do). I want more than anything to be Zack Morris.
Not just because he was the coolest kid in school with the best hair and the best gadgets but also because……..well…..Kelly Kapowski.
This one girl ensured every 90s heterosexual male of their sexuality. Pure and simple the hottest teenage girl that ever lived. I remember when I was in year 7 at high school I had a dream that Kelly kissed me, on the steps leading to the top tennis courts; this is still my all time favourite dream. And don’t even get me started on the College Years! Wow!
OK I’ve stopped drooling now.
This show is where Peter Engel struck teen audience gold. All the story-lines balanced humour and life lessons (ok the episode where Jessie got addicted to ‘stay awake’ pills was a bit heavy handed), but more than that, time and again Saved by the Bell became the mould by which I wanted to live my own life. I love this show, and I love The College Years. I want to go to Bayside, I want to eat at the Max, I want to be the bane of Mr Belding and I want to be the frontman of Zack Attack.
That being the end of my list I would like to take this opportunity to thank Peter Engel for single handedly raising a generation of scheming, surfing, basketball playing, moralistic musicians. Where would we be without you?