“The Owls are Not What They Seem” and Other Life Lessons From 90’s TV

Editor’s note: This post was written by Lydia Mondy, a part-time freelance blogger and full-time nerd. She grew up in an extremely rural area with four fuzzy television channels from a rickety antenna. She mostly played with sticks.

Harry, I’m going to let you in on a little secret…

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Despite rampant trash-talk, the “1990’s-2.0” trend is showing no sign of letting up. Bike shorts and Nirvana reissues on vinyl are regarded as the modern pop-culture status quo. As a child of the nineties, I actually have no beef with this. (PS: To me, “nineties child” means…born in the 80’s.)

In fact, I’m jumping on the Hypercolor bandwagon. On that note, let’s take a look at a few sage nuggets gleaned from a youth spent propped in front of nerdy shows on the telly…

Pee-Wee’s Playhouse

“Heard any good jokes lately?!”

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My parents didn’t understand the humor in Pee-Wee Herman. To which I say, “Fair enough.” Absurdities and oddities reign supreme on this show. Pee Wee had no shortage of quirky buddies, but even inanimate objects could serve as close confidantes. Trusting in your own imagination is the name of the game, and that’s an awesome TV life lesson if anything.

Favorite bit character? It’s a tie between Penny and Cowboy Curtis. And Pteri.

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 I was stunned to just learn Pee Wee’s Playhouse earned 15 Emmy awards during its short stint on the air. Paul Reubens had the uncanny ability to land big-time celebrities as guest stars – the Christmas special alone featured Grace Jones, Oprah, Little Richard, Frankie Avalon & Annette Funicello, Cher, Zsa Zsa Gabor, Magic Johnson and Joan Rivers. If you haven’t seen it, find it. Immediately.

Life lesson: Don’t be afraid to be who you are. (Note: Just…don’t do it in a porno theatre, I guess.)

Fresh Prince of Bel-Air

He’s smirking because he knows he’ll be a multimillionaire in a few years…

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 Am I the only one who wanted to be adopted by the Banks household? Certainly not, I’m sure. Iconic references abound on the Fresh Prince, from Will Smith’s signature neon print explosions, Tatyana Ali’s velvet chokers, The Carlton Dance, replacement Moms… Taking a moment to brag, I won a radio call-in contest in high school for knowing every word to the theme song.

Television’s finest family?

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The Fresh Prince was utterly goofy, sure – but the show was also notorious for slipping some seriously deep messages into the mix. They were wrapping relatable truisms in punchlines and upon adult re-run viewings, they’re actually quite profound and relevant for a laugh-tracked sitcom. Unlike, say, the ‘caffeine-pill Saved By the Bell episode’.

Life lesson: When life throws you out the front door over and over, you don’t surrender. You get up, dust yourself off and try again. Even if you’re a dorky semi-skeeze, like Jazz.

Unsolved Mysteries

“Perhaps you can help solve a mystery…”

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 I swear, Unsolved Mysteries only aired on nights I happened to be home alone. Ten years old, crouched in a ball on the couch: I knew on the other side of the front door lurked creeps and killers, muggers and Martians (fact: I grew up in town with a population of 816. It had zero crime). Just looking at Robert Stack in his omnipresent trenchcoat still gives me the heebie-jeebies.

You’re about to be murdered, bro. Alright, alright, alright…

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 His voice freaked me out, the stories freaked me out, the music definitely freaked me out – let’s just say Unsolved Mysteries was super freakin’ freaky, shall we? My lifetime love of conspiracies undoubtedly sprouted from their supernatural segments. “Who cares if the people of America help catch a bank robber; tell me more about Elvis’ long-lost twin being abducted by the chupacabra!”

Life lesson: Uhhh…you can’t get rid of Civil War ghosts?

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles

Say “anthropomorphized” five times fast, I dare you…

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Every other show I’ve mentioned might be fondly remembered, but with a new summer blockbuster-type movie, TMNT are most definitely still relevant in the pop culture pantheon. My generation loves the nostalgia, but each subsequent age group gets their own version of the toxic-sludge-tainted reptiles. It’s all about the slang. Oh, and the merch – from day one. ‘Cowabunga, dude!’

The comic book spawned TV shows, video games, movies…and dog costumes.

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Like many of my fellow young’uns, my favorite turtle was the uber-radical, pizza-scarfing cool dude Michelangelo. His ‘surfer brah’ accent really appealed to my elementary school sensibilities. Now it sounds more like nails on a chalkboard to me, but surely I couldn’t have been the only 3rd grader with a crush on a cartoon turtle.

Life lesson: Reporters should always wear yellow utility jumpsuits. Thanks, April.

Twin Peaks


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 Alright, full disclosure: I had never seen Twin Peaks until last year. To be fair, I was seven years old when it was on television. I was waaaay more interested in Zach Morris’ hair than the mysteries of the Black Lodge. But if we’re talking ‘life lessons from 90’s TV’, I could sue myself for negligence if I excluded the greatest prime-time soap opera of all time. Where to start?

Smokin’ in the girls’ room…

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 I hate to get all squealing fan-girl, but I wholeheartedly believe David Lynch broke the mold with this one, folks. (And to be fair, I only like one of his movies.) Wacky humor, dark plotlines, characters that undergo drastic transformations – Twin Peaks could be super-silly and downright somber at the same time. Plus, watching it as an adult led to many rounds of the “OMG-what-is-that-actor-in?!” game. I’m currently trying to talk a dozen friends into going as the cast for Halloween.

Life lesson: The gum I like will come back in style (Dr. Pepper Hubba Bubba?!); donuts and a cup of damn fine coffee can change your day or life; David Duchovny looks better in drag…  Okay, I’ll stop.

“Lydia, how could you forget about me?!”

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 Alright, I probably could wax reminiscent about childhood boob-tube wisdom all day. I didn’t even mention my fondness for Jem, Blossom, Saved by the Bell, Darkwing Duck, Star Trek, Freaks and Geeks, the whole gamut of seedy day-time talk shows… But enough about me – what is this list missing?


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