The 1990s was a golden age for American culture and the last truly great decade this country has seen. Every week there was a new album, movie, or TV show to enjoy and both the quality and quantity of this media output would become the stuff of history.

But with this largesse came a lot of misfires. Only in such a healthy economy could so many mistakes be made. The production cost of even one of the series on this list is more money than I’ve ever made in my life so far in total. And all of these aired on national television! This is to say, while the 1990s was an inventive time in the medium and novelty was sought-after, not every original idea actually had value. And we may remember the 1990s as it captured America in its prime – but here are 10 garbage TV shows from that decade that were sub-prime even when if they were aired during primetime.

Television in the 1990s was on a similar upswing: with possibly the strongest economy in history and America holding a firm hegemonic grip on global culture, there was only opportunity and money on the horizon. And truly the 1990s did produce some imperishable television: Seinfeld, Mystery Science Theater 3000, Daria, The X-Files, Law and Order, Twin Peaks, all classics that can still be enjoyed today.

But not these shows. These are garbage, produced in a society with far too much money on its hands to push into venture capitalist nonsense. This existed in every direction in the 1990s (see: slap bracelets, 1-900 numbers, Urkel) and it was up to the fickle public whether you would be the Vanilla Ice of the day or Vanilla Ice of two years later. These are all post-Vanilla Ice Vanilla Ice shows, and like Mr. Ice these are productions that should be embarrassed of themselves.

Woops! (1992)

While the 1990s in America was characterized by the celebratory tone of a country and culture at its height, there was a surprisingly nihilistic undercurrent that wove its way through contemporary art. The gloomy pessimism of grunge and industrial rock and amorality of films like Pulp Fiction and Fight Club hinted that the glossy surface of the culture was aggressively pushing down the cynical darkness of reality.

However, this didn’t mean that people wanted to spend all their time focusing on such matters, especially when they’re watching a half-hour sitcom. “Woops!” was a show that follows the aftermath of a nuclear apocalypse and the hapless survivors who are left to rebuild society. That’s right, this was a wacky sitcom set literally at the end of the world. Talk about a situation! You can hear the laughter already.

From the bickering couple who can’t stand each other to the clueless scientist who caused the disaster in the first place(!), the cast of “Woops!” is a motley crew of misfits who struggle to adapt to their new post-apocalyptic world. It’s like The Walking Dead meets Gilligan’s Island.

Of course, nobody wanted to watch this. Especially on a Sunday night. In 1992. On FOX. Trashed by critics upon its release, “Woops!” only lasted 13 episodes before being canceled mid-season. There’s a reason why there are only a few post-apocalyptic comedies and they’re almost exclusively one-shot feature films or the actual successful version of this show, “Last Man On Earth.” Expecting audiences to tune in every week to check in on how a handful of survivors are getting along the night before they go back to work for the week and chuckling at their situation was a disaster and this show soon blew away like a pile of ash.

Cop Rock (1990)

People love police procedurals. People don’t necessarily love musicals. But what if you put the two together? The answer: one of the most infamous shows ever aired on television.

“Cop Rock” is a TV show that blends the gritty realism of police dramas with the toe-tapping fun of musical theater. Picture this: a tough cop chases down a criminal and then breaks into a song and dance number about justice and the importance of upholding the law. The show features a cast of crooning cops, belting out tunes about solving crimes, catching bad guys, and finding love in the most unexpected places.

Bizarrely, this show was produced by Steven Bochco, who created Hill Street Blues, LA Law, and NYPD Blue. So the man who created the modern procedural decided mixing hardnose police drama with upbeat musical numbers complete with choreography was just what the 1990s needed.

It’s completely nuts, of course: watching it you begin to feel cognitive dissonance where a serious scene of two prospective parents meeting a baby merchant(!), and the merchant sings a song about what he does, including the lyrics, “I’m the Baby Merchant, Tots’R’Us/I give you all the service, and no damn fuss/Give the baby merchant just a week or two I’ll have your baby for you.” To reiterate: a human trafficker with a healthy supply of human children for sale gets a fun little song. Wow.

Only lasting 11 episodes in the fall of 1990, “Cop Rock” was soundly rejected by critics and audiences alike. Now seen as a campy cult classic for its nuts-o premise, Bochco fondly recalled the experience of making the show as “the most fun I’ve ever had in my life,” which makes me feel bad for Steven Bochco.

The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer (1998)

Racial issues being depicted in 1990s entertainment was awkward: while the classic liberalism of the decade and the rise in prominence of black culture in the American mainstream suggested racial tensions were easing, this was also the decade of the LA Riots. And as awkward as a teenage boy who started wearing FUBU and speaking in an “urban” dialect despite growing up in white middle-class suburbs, so came across the race-based “comedy” of the time.

“The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer” followed the exploits of an unlikely hero: a black English nobleman who becomes Abraham Lincoln’s butler during the Civil War. Mind you, in 1998 the internet was 56k/s and you dialed into it like you were making a phone call on a landline so it wasn’t so much as an information superhighway as a dirt road. Upon hearing about this show, many assumed Desmond was a slave and were revolted by that as the basis for a sitcom.

Not that the show didn’t unmuddy that idea: while Desmond is a nobleman, he is kidnapped and sent to America on a slave ship. This is the situation proposed from which comedy would spring. On top of this, the portrayal of Lincoln was fairly offensive as he was transformed from the stoic Great Emancipator into a buffoonish Bill Clinton-esque pervert.

Airing on UPN in October 1998, which at the time was attempting to establish itself as an urban FOX, only four episodes were aired before being cancelled with extreme prejudice. Although race relations weren’t perfect, all sides could agree that “Desmond Pfeiffer” was a step in the wrong direction for everyone involved.

Tequila and Bonetti (1992)

High-concept ideas were all the rage in the 1990s. A lying dad can’t lie for a whole day due to a wish from his kid; a theme park with actual dinosaurs wreaks havoc; a portal sends you into John Malkovich’s head, etc. One productive brainstorming meeting could produce dozens of single-sentence ideas that could potentially become a TV show or movie.

“Tequila and Bonetti” followed the unlikely partnership between a hard-nosed detective and his wisecracking sidekick – who just happens to be a talking dog. That’s right – a dog who can talk! It’s like they handed CBS over to an 8-year-old for a few months and this is the one show they came up with that got greenlit.

Together, the duo investigates crimes and brings criminals to justice, with Tequila being the serious one and Bonetti being the comic relief. Also, the show is incredibly stupid and poorly made. The dog “talks” like the babies in Look Who’s Talking do, which is to say it’s a dog with its mouth shut and ADR dialogue placed over it. It’s barely a show and it’s definately not entertaining. With only 10 of its 12 completed episodes aired, the high concept of this mid-season replacement is, “what if a terrible idea was made into a TV show and was almost immediately cancelled?” That’s nearly 1:1 with the actual concept anyway.

Homeboys in Outer Space (1996)

Surely this was not an actual show that aired on television. People did not conceptualize, write, cast, produce, film, edit, and release a show called “Homeboys in Outer Space.” But lo and behold, this was indeed a real show, produced by Disney subsidiary Touchstone Pictures(!), with a whopping 21 episodes airing from August 1996 to May 1997.

Like “Desmond Pfeiffer,” this aired on UPN and was the first sitcom produced by the network. Like “Pfeiffer,” the show’s perspective and representation of race-based topics came across as tone-deaf as most “racial” humor in the 1990s.

The show follows the misadventures of two space-traveling homeboys from the ghetto (the show’s words, not mine). These two adventurers are more interested in party planets and meeting alien babes than anything else. They travel in a Space Hoopty (as it’s referred to in-universe), can’t pay their space rent on time, and the ship is run by a sassy computer named Loquacia. Adding to this is the fact the show was neither created nor written by black entertainers, there’s a reason why one critic called the show “Star Trek meets Amos n’ Andy.”

I can only imagine the only reason it lasted a full season is because UPN had almost no other original programming to air and they had already made their investment in the production. Too low-brow and crude to be enjoyed even ironically, “Homeboys in Outer Space” is somehow better being remembered as a fake punchline show than an actual show that aired.

Muscle (1995)

Everyone is familiar with the soap opera format: gauzy lenses and soft lighting focusing on the domestic drama of the wealthy with long-form stories that unfold over hour-long daily episodes. Well, what if instead you took that format and made a comedy out of it? And now it’s only a weekly half-hour? And it centers around a gym dynasty? Oh, that sounds terrible and I should leave immediately? Of course, my apologies.

Yet this was the premise of “Muscle,” which aired on The WB for 13 episodes in 1995. After the founder of a chain of gyms is poisoned, his ne’er-do-well son tries to find his father’s killer all while navigating the conniving family and workers of the company who all have their own schemes and interests.

Replicating the visuals and tone of a standard soap opera, the show is immediately confusing, with every episode starting with a minute of plot recap. Densely plotted but with bad jokes and a laugh track, it’s difficult to grab onto any element of the show that meshes. It’s a parody but the actual content is hacky sitcom. None of the characters are likeable and the comedy isn’t clever enough to make it work. Think of unfunny version of Arrested Development that didn’t understand what the focus was supposed to be.

Also, this show was already made almost two decades prior. It was called Soap and it was exactly what this show thought it was accomplishing. They could have just rerun episodes of that show. Not only could they have saved a little money but people would have actually enjoyed it.

The Trouble with Larry (1993)

Bronson Pinchot was riding high in the early 1990s: having concluded the hit TGIF show Perfect Strangers, Pinchot was seen as a bona fide TV star. Seeking to distance himself from the wacky foreigner Balki Bartokomous and not wanting to share the spotlight, Pinchot was given his own starring vehicle in The Trouble with Larry.

With the first episode airing just 3 weeks after the conclusion of Perfect Strangers, there was a fair amount of goodwill by fans to give Balki’s new show a shot. And the trouble with The Trouble with Larry is that Larry – along with everyone else on the show – is an obnoxious jerk. Literally the opposite of the naïve sheepherder from Mypos, Pinchot’s Larry was rude, selfish, and cynical.

The premise was over-tortured and stupid: a man is dragged off by baboons during his honeymoon and spends years lost in the jungle and presumed dead before finding his way home. Once home, he attempts to pick his life up where he left it, with his ex-wife having remarried and with a 9-year old daughter. This doesn’t stop him from being an ass, of course. Then comedy ensues?

Only it didn’t: dragged by critics for its juvenile humor, dreary tone, and endless unfunny quipping, it was actually cancelled before the TV season started proper, airing only 3 episodes before being cancelled in late September 1993. Good news for Courtney Cox, who had a supporting role in the show. With The Trouble cleared off her plate, she was cast in an obscure show called Friends. I think Pinchot ended up as a valet or something, who cares?

Fish Police (1992)

The Simpsons was not only one of the biggest shows of the 1990s, it fundementally shifted what the animated format could be on television. No longer relegated to saturday morning cartoons, the 1990s in America began producing adult-oriented animation to mixed results. For every influential new animated show like South Park you had God, The Devil, and Bob. And in contrast to the gigantic success of The Simpsons you had “Fish Police.”

“Fish Police” is a TV show that follows the adventures of a hard-boiled fish detective and his partner as they solve crimes in a world populated entirely by aquatic creatures. Wearing trench coats and fedoras, these fish detectives are like something out of a film noir. Gill noir?

If you liked that pun, this may be the show for you. Filled to the brim of the bowl with aquatic-based groan-inducing puns (literally baked into seemingly every line of dialogue), an out-of-place animation style that looked like a kid’s show despite being for adults, and humor that came across more gross than funny when it’s applied to anthropomorphic fish, “Fish Police” aired only three of its six produced episodes until being flushed down the toilet.

Down The Shore (1992)

Listen: I spent over 20 years living at the Jersey Shore, literally in one of those towns that represents the classic Jersey Shore scene. Summer crowds, the boardwalk, and the smell of the salty sea air have been daily realities for me for decades. Like most people that live here year-round, we all hate the reputation the Jersey Shore has amassed over the years, particularly when the eponymous reality show became a phenomenon. Considering the “typical” Jersey Shore citizen in the public’s mind aren’t people who actually live here but the obnoxious tourists that ruin what is usually a nice place to live, the resentment is understandable.

Before that was at least one show set here: 1992’s “Down the Shore.” This show followed a group of friends as they spent their summer working at a New Jersey beach resort. Unlike MTV’s show, the problem wasn’t how outrageous the characters are but how bland they were. Set in Belmar, NJ and featuring a young Anna Gunn, it’s confusing who this show was made for. Apparently it was to appeal to the crowd that visits the Jersey Shore during the summer, which is a narrow sliver of the total potential national audience.

It certainly didn’t appeal to anybody else in the country, as it only lasted 2 seasons (really only one – from June 1992 to May 1993) and 29 episodes. Episodes are available to watch online but why would you want to do that?

The Powers That Be (1992)

Who likes politicians? Outside of being representatives of ostensibly their constituency’s political affiliations and beliefs, I’d wager very few are actually liked by people personally. After all, politicians are known to be manipulative, greedy, morally corrupt creatures and the stains from the dirty business of politics on their souls only deepen over time.

Yet the creators of “The Powers That Be” considered this and figured it was high time awful people were seen as likeable protagonists. Senator William Powers is an entrenched decades-long beaurocrat who cheats on his wife and is constantly scheming ways he can hold onto and further expand his power. And it’s a comedy! You can tell by the canned laughter on the soundtrack.

Illegitimate children, suicidal family members, slimy aides, naked ambition and jealousy comprised the characters and their stories. Which, why would anyone want to watch this as a way to relax after a long day? You get enough of the hypocritical garbage politicians shovel down your throat as is. No need to put a laugh track to it.

A cynical sour note, “The Powers That Be” did not find an audience in the positive, populist 1990s and after 2 brief seasons over the course of a year, “The Powers That Be” was impeached from its time slot.

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