Turn-of-the-century TV: the true horror exposed

Sometimes it hurts to remember. The cast of <i>Friends</i> from left to right, Monica, (Courteney Cox), Joey, (Matt LeBLanc), Phoebe, (Lisa Kudrow) Chandler, (Matthew Perry), Rachel, (Jennifer Aniston) and Ross, (David Schwimmer).

Sometimes it hurts to remember. The cast of Friends from left to right, Monica, (Courteney Cox), Joey, (Matt LeBLanc), Phoebe, (Lisa Kudrow) Chandler, (Matthew Perry), Rachel, (Jennifer Aniston) and Ross, (David Schwimmer). Photo: Warner Bros.

Last week, I was lucky enough to contract a flu so violent that it sent me to bed for three days straight, sent all the water that exists in the world directly to my head, and made me see the face of God (shiny!). 

My muscles had atrophied to the point where I could only crawl to the living room where daytime TV reruns awaited. Flu-related delusions aside, do any of you know how bad Friends is? Because it's really, really bad. In fact, a lot of those zeitgeisty shows from the late '90s/early 2000s are terrible. At the time, we thought they defined a generation. Looking back on them now, I realised it wasn't just the fever related sweat sticking to my dressing gown that had taken on a putrid smell.

So here, in no particular order, are five of the most awful shows ever made that were once – much like 'The Rachel' – thought hip and so fetch but have since revealed themselves to be, well, crap.

Miranda, (Cynthia Nixon) and Carrie, (Sarah Jessica Parker) eating cupcakes outside the now infamous Magnolia Bakery in Manhattan.

Miranda, (Cynthia Nixon) and Carrie, (Sarah Jessica Parker) eating cupcakes outside the now infamous Magnolia Bakery in Manhattan. Photo: HBO

1. Friends

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Long before Girls was accused of whitewashing New York, six friends lived within a stone's throw from each other in one of the most expensive cities on earth. They spent their evenings sitting on the pristine couch of a mentally ill woman, whose tragic descent into OCD may or may not have had something to do with her traumatic adolescence as a *whispers* ... fat girl. Sometimes, they hung out drinking buckets of coffee in the quirkily named Central Perk. Its quippy name seems to indicate the gang live somewhere around the Upper West Side, whose gentrified enclaves seem at odds with the fact that, for most of the Friends, work hours appeared optional. This laissez faire approach to money probably also explains why none of them ever locked their doors. But in a city entirely stocked with white people, why would you need to worry about crime?

While it was screening, Friends seemed relatively inoffensive. But rewatching it shows just how conservative it really was. Marriage as a form of success is a big theme, while the affectionate friendship between the guys gives rise to lots of "hilarious" jokes about how gross it is to be gay. And even though Ross is basically a psychopathic stalker who may or may not be making a suit out of human skin, Rachel still gives up her dream job at the show's end so that they can satisfy the audience's desire to have really horrendous relationships modelled to them via the magic of television. I'll be there for you Rachel ... always.

And ... the cast of <I>Party of Five</i>.

And ... the cast of Party of Five.

2. Sex and the City

When I was in New York, a young Australian woman approached me on 34th Street and asked how to get to Spring Street in SoHo. I pointed out the subway entrance to her, and told her it was only a few stops down the line. “Do you think it's safe?” she asked, gripping her Louis Vuitton handbag. “I mean, do you think I should get a taxi?” I assured her it was really safe - the Friends didn't even lock their doors, remember? But if she were really worried, she could walk to Spring Street. It was only a few blocks, and if she gripped the walls behind her on the sidewalk then she could probably avoid running into one of the rapists on SVU. “I think I should catch a cab,” she said, looking worried. “OK,” I replied, having already stopped caring. She flagged one down, just like Carrie had taught her to, and went all the way to SoHo to find Magnolia Bakery. I assume that's where she was going, because the only people who come to New York to catch cabs are people who bought the box set of Sex and the City and care about which archetype they are. And they never want to be Miranda, because even though Miranda is smart and successful and so pale she's almost translucent, producer Darren Star apparently hates women so for most of the series her hair looked like it belonged on '80s Feminist Barbie. And now she's a lesbian.

Watching this show is a bit like watching a Hen's Night bedecked in plastic penises screaming at passing men to kiss them while simultaneously choking on the cloud of their own perfume. You kind of want them all to be run over by a car, but you also can't look away.

3. Dawson's Creek

The theme of white privilege continues with a show which is probably singlehandedly responsible for the fact that any of us have to know who Katie Holmes is right now. The eponymous Dawson had the kind of floppy blonde hair that I guess middle-aged male TV executives think girls like, so for a while I think he was supposed to be the romantic lead. Unfortunately, nothing slays a lady boner quite like seeing a grown man in shorts and socks except seeing a grown man in shorts and socks crying.

Sorry Dawson.

In fact, the only good things to come out of Dawson's Creek were Michelle Williams and Joshua Jackson. Jack came out in Dawson's Creek, and that was pretty good for gay teens. And Katie Holmes sang this, which I think we can all agree sums up the production qualities and overall appeal of DC.

 

4. Beverly Hills 90210

This will be an unpopular inclusion. Beverly Hills 90210 (or just 90210 for those who were there) had just enough cheese, drama and PSA storylines to elevate it to cult status. And that was just behind the scenes.

But it was still dominated by rich white folks battling rich white folk problems – cocaine abuse, car troubles and whether or not Aaron Spelling would ever let Tori boink on camera. Sure, it took a look at teen suicide and teen pregnancy (but as if swotty Andrea would have really sacrificed her life to a child in real life – having a baby doesn't get you on the honour roll, what they can do teen suicide but not teen abortion?) but on the whole the biggest things to happen in that show were Tori Spelling's boobs. They also remain its most famous stars.

5. Party of Five

The show about five orphaned children suddenly and left to fend for themselves was not really what I'd call a party, unless by "party" you mean wake. It introduced the world to what I like to call the Party of Five school of method acting. Basically, this involved the characters engaging in dialogue so heartfelt that they literally couldn't continue looking into each other's faces and instead had to sort of raise an arm to their side so as to provide a visual cue to pull their eyes out of the tractor beam of emotion pulsating between them. They then direct the rest of their feelings to their hands, before allowing their eyes to finally swing back to starting position when it seems like their hearts have sufficiently recovered. Neve Campbell was especially good at this move and has continued to use it to great effect in all the movies she's never been cast in since  Scream 5000.

If I had to describe the show in a single sentence, it would probably be this: an avalanche of emotions running down the side of a mountain of feelings caused by a thunderclap of heartache and contained in a single crystallised tear of sorrow.

And there it is. Basically, the turn of the millennium was exceptionally uncool for television. Our "zeitgeist" had no taste and no vision, which was actually physically a lot like myself during the flu that precipitated this little walk down memory lane. Thankfully I'm better now, and I can get back to television I've now grown to love - epic torture and Machiavellian moves on Game of Thrones, and Connie Britton's Hair on Nashville.

Good times.

208 comments

  • And then there was "Buffy", "Firefly", "Frasier", "Northern Exposure" and for the lovers of the obscure "Due South". Not a complete wasteland by any means.

    Commenter
    MiG
    Date and time
    May 24, 2013, 8:26AM
    • +1 for Due South. Just spent an enjoyable week on my couch watching the Due South DVDs while recovering from surgery.

      Commenter
      Thank you kindly
      Date and time
      May 24, 2013, 8:56AM
    • Firefly was 2002-2003... and Buffy while entertaining as a kid is pretty terrible if you re-watch it now, not to mention completely overdrawn should have ended way sooner.

      Commenter
      Mike<3
      Date and time
      May 24, 2013, 9:00AM
    • Don't forget "X-Files" and "Twin Peaks".

      Of course we also had "Ally McBeal" and "Felicity" so that kinda pushes the balance back towards the crap end of the scale....

      Commenter
      theSkeeze
      Location
      Sydney
      Date and time
      May 24, 2013, 9:11AM
    • These shows were pioneering. They are alot more entertaining than the rubbish we have on tv nowadays which comprises of mind dulling social reprogramming. Thats right in the age of 2013 the TV we watch especially from the US are basically programming our minds to be socially dull humans. The 90's had spice and personality.

      Commenter
      bradns
      Date and time
      May 24, 2013, 9:15AM
    • Frasier??? Hahahaha.......sure. Terrible show, should have been in the above list.

      Commenter
      Lazor
      Date and time
      May 24, 2013, 9:19AM
    • Agreed, Northern Exposure and Due South have still got it. I never got into Buffy when it was on telly, and am slowly making my way through it. I have to remind myself with the terrible special effects that it was the 90s!

      Commenter
      Geekgirl
      Date and time
      May 24, 2013, 9:32AM
    • Frasier was brilliant comedy! I still enjoy the reruns.

      Commenter
      True Fan
      Date and time
      May 24, 2013, 9:50AM
    • Ah Benny and Ray best partners ever! Due South is possibly the only police show I have ever liked. Don't get me started on British cop shows!

      Commenter
      Diefenbaker
      Date and time
      May 24, 2013, 10:25AM
    • Yeah, Firefly was great and so was Space Ghost coast to coast (sgc2c) and the maxx.
      Oh, and a couple of old ren and stimpy eps were very funny.

      The nikita series from the 90's had the worst look to it- looks like it was filmed on a kmart movie camera from the 70's.

      There were some other okay sci-fi series but I can't recall the names now- the time travel one where the chrononaut entered a large white sphere?
      Sliders just got worse as the series progressed.

      Great movies though- The Crow, Donnie Darko and The Virgin Suicides.
      Best album- Fatboy Slim's 'You've Come A Long Way Baby'
      Best single- hmm, Fatboy Slim's version of Groove Armada's 'I See You Baby'

      But Arthur C. Clarke's 3001, the Final Odyssey was such a let down- the black slabs were not aliens but radio transmitters. Way to kill a franchise arthur.

      Reminding me of friends/party of five like that is a little bit like vomit coming up from nowhere when you least expect it.
      Now, if clem had have mentioned cooler 60's/70's vintage Land of the Lost, Sigmund and the Seamonsters or the time greg brady found the tiki on an island in Hawaii...

      Commenter
      Alex
      Location
      Finley
      Date and time
      May 24, 2013, 10:34AM

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