If you grew up during the ’90s, you probably remember all those dope television shows that highlighted Black, Latinx, and Asian culture, but may have been too young to really understand and appreciate how groundbreaking these shows were at the time. I definitely find myself watching reruns of In Living Color, A Different World, and Martin, and while I loved them all as a kid, I see so many layers now that I missed when I was younger.
Now that all-things-1990s are in vogue, these classic programs are reaching new audiences and giving older audiences some major nostalgia. Why not binge watch a cool ’90s show you loved or discover a new one?! I plan on taking a trip back twenty years ago to catch some cool fashion, POC representation and excellence, and a look at life when I was much younger than I am today. Oh, nostalgia.
The television show Culture Clash, which aired from 1993-1998, was the creation of the Chicano comedy performance troupe of the same name, that formed in the Mission District in San Francisco (at La Galeria de La Raza). Ric Salinas, Richard Montoya, and Herbert Sigüenza took their satirical sketches, about topics such as Chicano life, immigration, Latinx pop culture, and more, and introduced Latinidad to a whole new primetime audience in America during the ’90s. I can’t wait to rewatch whichever episodes I can find online!
A Different World
Another show that I loved to watch as a kid and watch episodes of again here and there (but want to watch more) is A Different World. The 1987 to 1993 NBC sitcom was such an inspiring and great show. It followed the lives of a group of African-American friends, who all go to a historically Black college together. A Different World pushed the importance of education and Black excellence, and it’s something we should definitely watch again, in the age of crazy reality shows and TV programming that seems vapid.
In Living Color
When the sketch comedy show In Living Color came out in 1990, it took the world by storm and changed pop culture. Some of the legendary characters to emerge from the hit are Homey D. Clown, Fire Marshall Bill, Wanda, Benita Butrell, and Vera de Milo. It was hilarious AF, but also spoke on important topics, highlighted an entire family of immensely-talented African-American comedians (the Wayans), launched so many careers (like Jennifer Lopez’s), and allowed us to see POC excellence, episode after episode.
House of Buggin’
Latinos weren’t on TV very much during the 1990s, and only now are we seeing our faces and stories on a more consistent basis (not enough, however, but it’s a start). One of the shows I remember watching that featured Latinxs on it was John Leguizamo’s House of Buggin.‘ In addition to Leguizamo, it also starred other Latinos, such as Luis Guzman, Afro-Latina Tammi Cubilette, “Afro-Cubarican” Jorge Luis Abreu, and Yelba Osorio. I definitely plan on watching/rewatching episodes of this ’90s comedy show soon.
Like a commenter smartly pointed out on this YouTube video, Margaret Cho’s sitcom, All-American Girl, featured an Asian cast two decades before ABC’s Fresh of the Boat. It was truly ahead of its time. The show, which ran for 19 episodes between 1994 and 1995, stars Cho as the rebel teen in a traditional Korean household. Other Asian actors you may recognize on the show is B.D. Wong, who plays her brother, and Clyde Kusatsu, who plays Margaret’s dad.
New York Undercover
It’s still a major problem that the majority of Latinxs on TV are portrayed as criminals instead of heroes. Shows like New York Undercover put the badge on us, instead of the handcuffs. Airing from 1994 to 1999, the drama starred Puerto Rican actors Michael DeLorenzo and Luna Lauren Velez, as well as African-American actor Malik Yoba. New York Undercover was truly a game changer: it is noted as the first police drama, in the U.S. television history, to feature two people of color in starring roles.
The show Martin, which ran from 1992 to 1997, always has made me crack up but watching a rerun recently made me realize that it also tackled important topics and raised awareness. In the episode “Variety Show,” radio DJ Martin Payne is organizing an AIDS benefit, although he basically messes it all up in the process (don’t worry, all is saved at the end by Gina and the gang).
Maria la del Barrio
The final one of the Thalia “Maria” trilogy novelas on this list is Maria la del barrio. It might be the best one, however. We have Thalia playing the rags-to-riches story, in a remake of the Veronica Castro hit, Los ricos tambien lloran. But the real star of this show is the villain: Soraya Montenegro. Played by the legendary Itati Cantoral, this character has become iconic on her own. Because she’s legit crazy. Her infamous “judges you in Spanish/cries in Spanish/everything in Spanish” is emblazoned on everything now, from memes to shirts, to pins. I haven’t seen Maria la del barrio yet, but it’s definitely on my pop culture to-do list for this year.
If Latinxs aren’t seen enough on television, it’s even worse for Asians. In the ’90s, there weren’t many shows that featured Asian leads, or actors across the board for that matter. But there were some cool shows that were revolutionary and worth watching. One of these is Vanishing Son, starring Asian actors Russell Wong, Haing S. Ngor, Vivian Wu, Marcus Chong, and Chi Muoi Lo (across the made-for-TV movies and television show). The story follows Jian-Wa Chang, and his brother Wago, who flee China and settle in the states. Jian-Wa is a musician who is going after his dream, while Wago decides to enter the mob life.
The RuPaul Show
I definitely recommend watching the new RuPaul show, that premiered in June of this year. But I also recommend taking it back to 1996 and watching the icon’s first talk show. It features sparkling guests like Diana Ross and Cher, co-host Michelle Visage, lots of comedy, and all the glam and extraness you’d expect from the Queen of Drag.
Yo soy, Betty la fea
Colombia’s iconic telenovela, Betty la fea, speaks on the country’s notorious workplace discrimination against those who don’t fit conventional beauty standards. Its protagonist Beatriz Pinzon Solano, is smart, educated, and more than capable of holding down a job at fashion company Eco Moda. The problem is, she’s considered by society’s standard’s fea (ugly). As a result, she has to work harder than everyone else to be accepted by the snobby, looks-obsessed staff. Betty is considered to be the most successful telenovela of all time, having been reproduced in over 25 countries, including the U.S. (Ugly Betty, and the new Betty en NY), and Mexico (La fea mas bella). It’s message proved to be one that resonated with people around the globe.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is one of the most popular shows of the ’90s and ever. Not only did it feature a rich, successful, and united Black family, made us laugh and warmed our hearts, but it also starred a Latina actress! Of course, I’m talking about Afro-Asian-Latina Tatyana Ali, who played Ashley Banks, Will’s sweet and badass younger cousin,
Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper
Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper is another funny ’90s show I used to watch. It’s a sitcom about a retired basketball player-turned high school teacher and coach, from Oakland who rents a house with roommates. The show is loaded with comical moments that will have you laughing all episode long. The blended family/friend unit under one house was really a winning TV show formula in the 1990s! Hangin’ with Mr. Cooper‘s stars include Mark Curry, Dawnn Lewis, Holly Robinson-Peete, Omar Gooding, and Nell Carter.
El Show de Cristina
Cristina Saralegui is often referred to as the Latina Oprah, but the Cubana also has swag of her own. From her trademark light blonde bob with bangs to her signature thumbs-up move, the iconic Latinx journalist and talk show host changed television starting in 1989 with El show de Cristina, until her final episode in 2010. Cristina was the person all the major Latinx stars had to talk to in order to be considered a big deal (much like with Oprah and Barbara Walters). She interviewed everyone, including Selena Quintanilla, Celia Cruz, Thalia, Jorge Ramos, Xuxa, Gloria and Emilio Estefan, and Ricky Martin. Watching and rewatching her old episodes would be a cool way to see just how game-changing Cristina and her show were, as well as catch intimate looks into the lives and careers of your favorite Latinx legends.
Yo! MTV Raps
Hip-hop is a younger musical genre than we realize. It only originated in the late ’70s. While it’s considered the most popular music genre today, it’s important to look at its origins and how it grew into the phenomenon it is noa. Yo! MTV Raps was a trailblazing show on MTV (when it played music) that showed hip-hop videos, performances, and interviews with the biggest players in the rap game. The original release of the program ran from 1988 to 1995, and there are over 1,800 episodes that you peruse to learn about the history, foundation, and pioneers of rap.
MariMar was the Thalia “Maria” novela that I personally watched and loved. In high school, I even modeled a hairstyle for a quince inspired by her character’s style. In this 1994 show, Thalia played protagonist Maria del Mar, a poor girl who lives on the beach with her grandparents. Like the other “Maria” shows, it’s a rags-to-riches story, complete with a super-cute, rich love interest (this time played by ’90s heartthrob Eduardo Capetillo). The super-bad, but the great-to-watch villain is played by Chantal Andere. It’s a love tale that will have you feeling all warm and fuzzy inside. I’m making it a point to watch the “Maria” trilogy soon — it’s classic Latinx pop culture at its finest!
Sure, today she’s a Hollywood movie star, but did you know that Salma Hayek starred in a Mexican novela? Yes! She was the protagonist in 1989’s Teresa, her first and only telenovela starring role. A remake of the 1959 original, Teresa is about a bitter girl who uses her looks to leave her life of poverty behind, to finally become wealthy (it’s a popular novela plot!) This show is definitely worth watching, if only just to see Salma Hayek in puro dramatic telenovela mode. Another version of Teresa was made in 2010, with Angelique Boyer in the title role.
21 Jump Street
Before it was a funny AF movie, starring Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill, 21 Jump Street was one of the coolest shows on television. Running from 1987 to 1991, the show was about young-looking cops who go undercover to solve crimes at schools and other places they needed to infiltrate. 21 Jump Street‘s stars included Dustin Nguyen and Holly Robinson Peete.
Def Comedy Jam
Russell Simmon’s Def Comedy Jam originally aired from 1992 to 1997 and introduced the world to major comedic talent including Dave Chappelle, Martin Lawrence, and Leslie Jones. While you’re watching old episodes of the show, you should also check out the hilarious 25th-anniversary special, Def Comedy Jam 25, on Netflix.
The Arsenio Hall Show
Like RuPaul, Arsenio Hall came back to host a talk show in the 2010s and make us relive the awesomeness of the ’90s. But what he captured in the 1990s was pure fire. The Arsenio Hall Show (1989-1994) was hosted by a person of color, highlighted several people of color, was embraced by people of color, and was aimed towards a much younger and cooler audience than its competitors. It had the best guests, the dopest performances, it’s own chant/fist pump (“woof! woof!”), and moments that will forever be a part of pop culture history, like Bill Clinton playing the saxophone like a G.
In the House
LL Cool J showed us that in addition to rap skills, he could also act when he starred in the show In the House (1995-1999). The sitcom was about a retired football player named Marion, who rents out part of his home to a divorced socialite named Jackie and her two kids, who he takes care of when Jackie gets a job. Later in the show, we see Marion owning a sports clinic, ran with the help of two new cast members. In addition to LL, In the House‘s stars include Debbie Allen, Maia Campbell, Kim Wayans, and Alfonso Ribeiro.
The Wayans Brothers
We previously mentioned how immensely talented the Wayans family is, and we’re happy we got to see more of their comedic genius on various shows after the end of In Living Color. The Wayans Brothers, starring Marlon and Shawn Wayans, ran from 1995 to 1999 and showcased the duo’s talent and humor. In it, they play brothers — suave Shawn and zany Marlon, who share an apartment and work together at Shawn’s newsstand in New York.
Café con aroma de mujer
There are a handful of classic telenovelas from Colombia that when mentioned, will instantly warm the heart of most Colombians. Betty la fea is one, and so is another Francisco Gaitan’s production, Cafe, con aroma de mujer. The 1994 production starred Margarita Rosa de Francisco (also a former Miss Colombia) and Guy Ecker. The storyline follows the love story between coffee harvester Teresa “Gaviota” Suarez and the grandson of a rich coffee businessman and empresario, Sebastian Vallejo. Cafe ended up being a massive hit in Colombia. Fun fact: Like Thalia, Margarita Rosa de Francisco sang the theme song to her own novela (“Gaviota”).
Mortal Kombat: Conquest
I didn’t watch Moesha in the ’90s, although my best friend did (and so did everyone else), and I would catch some of the show here and there. But I knew it was a big deal back in the day. The hit sitcom starred R&B darling Brandy as Moesha Denise Mitchell, a teen growing up in L.A., and aired on UPN from 1996 to 2001. What was cool about the show was that it dealt with several major issues teens face every day in real life.
A show I did watch on the regular was the hilarious Family Matters. A part of ABC’s TGIF lineup from 1989 to 1997, the sitcom gave a glimpse into the lives of the wholesome Winslow family, who lived in Chicago. Of course, we all really watched for their nerdy neighbor, the iconic Steve Urkel. When it ended, Family Matters became the second longest non-animated sitcom in the U.S. (after The Jeffersons) to feature a predominately African-American cast.
Another classic telenovela worth watching is Corazon Salvaje. The 1993 Mexican production is set in the early 1900s and stars the late Eduardo Palomo and Edith Gonzalez. The story centers around the love entanglements between two sisters (Countesses Monica and Aimee) and two brothers (Andres and Juan del Diablo). Did we mention that Juan is a pirate? In general, we are all for novelas set in another time period. Besides a good storyline, they usually showcase beautiful costumes and set design, present different customs and culture, and offer a peek at another way of life.
The Oprah Winfrey Show
Oprah Winfrey changed TV and became the first Black female billionaire in the process by hosting the number one talk show for 24 years — The Oprah Winfrey Show. She covered all kinds of topics and became a trusted friend that we could always tune into for entertainment, wisdom, laughs, tears, and a close look at different issues. You can watch some full episodes of The Oprah Winfrey Show here, and check out which were the most-watched here.
Lazos de Amor
Lucero is Mexico’s sweetheart, “La Novia de America.” Whether it was hit albums or novelas, everything she touched turned to gold. In 1995, she played not one, not two, but three starring characters — triplets — in the novela, Lazos de amor (she also plays their mother!). Maria Guadalupe, Maria Fernanda, and Maria Paula are all different, personality-wise, and live totally separate lives (due to an accident), until life weaves their narratives back together again. In addition to playing four characters, Lucero also sang on the novela’s soundtrack. Lazos de amor would be interesting to watch if only to see how one actress plays so many different people in one production!