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Underrated ’90s Animated TV Shows That Still Hold Up


Underrated '90s Animated TV Shows That Still Hold Up


The 1990s were golden years for animation fans. Adult shows like South Park and The Simpsons took off this decade, while kids shows like Dexter’s Laboratory and X-Men: The Animated Series remained favorites for many. Thanks to the marvelous character designs, flawless plots, and abundance of humor, many other series of this era are widely considered classics or should be labeled such.

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However, as is always the case in any scenario where there is an overabundance of high-quality productions, some ’90s animated shows remain underrated. These shows have all the ingredients fans normally demand, yet they aren’t discussed in glowing terms like the familiar series. Still, it’s never too late for a show to become a hit in the age of streaming services. Here’s to hoping the following animated gems get the widespread recognition they deserve.

10 The Critic (1994 – 1995)

The Critic

The Critic

Release Date
January 26, 1994

Seasons
2

The Critic follows the mean-spirited 36-year-old New York film critic Jay Sherman (John Lovitz) as he analyzes movies via his fictional show, Coming Attractions. He rarely sees the positive side of any motion picture, so his signature line is “It stinks!” The show’s subplots revolve around Jay’s father, his son Marty, the Australian actor Jeremy Hawke, and his boss Duke.

The Critic Is Filled With Parody Galore

The show has plenty of euphoria-triggering aspects, but it is often at its best when it is lampooning popular movies. The parodies, “The Cockroach King” (The Lion King), and “Honey I Ate the Kids” (Honey I Shrunk the Kids) are especially memorable. And because it is a show about film criticism, The Critic is packed with surprising cameos from some of the greatest critics of all time. The likes of Roger Ebert, Gene Siskel, and Rex Reed all show up at some point over the show’s two seasons.

9 Rocko’s Modern Life (1993 – 1996)

Rocko’s Modern Life centers around the cowardly anthropomorphic Australian immigrant wallaby, Rocko, and his best friends, Heffer Wolfe, a steer; Filburt, a turtle; and Spunky, a dog. Their next-door neighbor is Ed Bighead, a toad who hates Rocko, and his compassionate wife, Bev Bighead. The events occur in the fictional town called O-Town.

Rocko’s Modern Life Boasts Social Satire and Racy Humor

Generally, Rocko’s Modern Life is structured as a form of social caricature. O-Town’s locations are exaggerations of real-world businesses or mythical planes of existence. There’s Chokey Chicken (a KFC parody) and Heck (a hell parody). In what is a slight dig at consumerism and capitalism, there’s a megacorporation called Conglom-O Corporation, which uses the slogan, “We Own You!”

Additionally, Rocko’s Modern Life has plenty of innuendos, hence it has always been assumed that it was targeted at adults despite airing on Nickelodeon. However, this has never been stated outright. This is seen through some of its plots and scenes, notably one where Rocko gets a job as a phone sex operator and another where a character pleasures himself with a milking machine.

8 Todd McFarlane’s Spawn (1997 – 1999)

Spawn

Spawn

Release Date
May 16, 1997

Cast
Keith David , Richard Dysart , Dominique Jennings , Victor Love , James Keane , John Rafter Lee , Brion James , James Hong

Seasons
3

In Spawn, former Marine Force Recon Lieutenant Colonel Al Simmons gets betrayed and killed by one of his friends. He is then sent to hell because he killed people too, and while in this dimension, he makes a pact with Satan to fight for his army in exchange for him being allowed to go back to Earth to see his wife again. However, he doesn’t get to have the grand return he hoped for, because the devil gives him a smelly, maggot-ridden body. Worse still, his wife is now married to his best friend, Terry.

Todd McFarlane’s Spawn Has Fights and Frights

Few shows handle the concepts of the afterlife and Armageddon better than Spawn did. Like The CW show Supernatural, the series doesn’t just take viewers to dark places, it entertains them by influencing plenty of action. Though it has remained obscured, critics and award organizers recognized its awesomeness when it first aired. During the 1999 Emmy Awards, the animated masterpiece was awarded the trophy for Outstanding Animation Program (Longer Than One Hour).

It’s strongly believed that the only reason the show got fewer viewers is that a film version of Spawn was also released in 1997 to poor reviews. Many thought the TV version was just as bad, yet it was the superior of the two. Thankfully, a reboot is in the works.

7 Pepper Ann (1997 – 2000)

Based on a YM Magazine comic strip, Pepper Ann follows the titular teenage character as she experiences different challenges during her adolescent years. Her emotions generally take the form of fantasies, hence viewers are often treated to bizarre plots. Many of the events unfold at Hazelnut Middle School, where she studies. The key supporting characters are Pepper’s best friends, Nicky, and Milo, and her mother, Lydia.

Pepper Ann Follows Relatable Teen Adventures

Pepper Ann presents relatable teen experiences, especially for the average teen girl. The show even begins with Ann getting her first pimple, something that causes her to be very concerned. This is followed by a captivating and hilarious plot where she dismisses an upcoming Romeo and Juliet play as boring, only to audition for the part of Juliet after learning that her crush will play Romeo.

The animated series also doesn’t mask common social problems like other cartoons in the era. Ann doesn’t have a perfect family. Her parents are divorced, hence she always feels like she is missing out on something. Because Ann’s younger sister is a lesbian who speaks in a strong voice, the show also gets to explore a couple of fun queer storylines.

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6 Aaah! Real Monsters (1994 – 1997)

Aaahh!!! Real Monsters revolves around three child monsters — Oblina, Ickis, and Krumm — who attend a school for monsters located under a New York City dump. There, they are taught how to scare humans. Many of the episodes of the episodes involve them going to the surface to perform “scares” as part of their class assignments. The monster community is also shown to have a seamless economic system, so much so that members even use toenails as their currency.

Aaahh!!! Real Monsters Has Innovative Monster Anatomy

The creators of monster movies and TV shows often struggle to come up with cool designs for their characters, yet the Klasky Csupo animation studio faced no such challenges while making Aaahh!!! Real Monsters. Anyone watching can’t help but be awed by these monsters and their appearances. There’s one whose eyeballs are not attached to his body, so he has to keep carrying them in his hands, and another who has removable intestines and lungs. The scares keep coming too, so parents will have to think twice about letting their children watch it. Overall, it’s flawless, and it is undoubtedly the kind of show that deserves a Tim Burton reboot.

5 Æon Flux (1991–1995)

Aeon Flux

Aeon Flux

Release Date
August 8, 1995

Cast
John Rafter Lee

Seasons
3

Set 1000 centuries into the future, Æon Flux introduces viewers to a surreal German Expressionist-style futuristic dystopia that is populated by clones, robots, and mutants. In this particular timeline, only a few human settlements exist. The titular character is a dominatrix spy who intends to infiltrate a neighboring city led by her frenemy. Years later, the series was adapted into a live-action movie starring Charlize Theron.

Æon Flux Is a Smogarsbord of Genres

Æon Flux deserves to be recognized as one of the greatest sci-fi animation shows, but the show glows brightly because it never limits itself to subgenre restrictions. It often jumps from one taxonomy to the next, so fans can expect to see plenty of biopunk, psychedelic, espionage, postmodern, and psychological drama elements. Generally, the show is academic, covering themes like technocracy, Orwellianism, nihilism, and anarchism. This makes it a perfect television project for those who don’t just wish to be entertained but to be intellectually stimulated.

4 Recess (1997 – 2001)

Recess

Recess

Release Date
September 13, 1997

Seasons
6

Recess focuses on a group of elementary school students as they interact with classmates and adults. During recess sessions, the students at the school form their mini-society, complete with laws and class structures. They all adhere to a monarchy style of government and are ruled by the sixth grader, King Bob, who has enforcers to ensure his will is carried out.

Recess Tucks Geopolitics into Simple Plots

Once in a while, there comes a cartoon that is perhaps too clever for the kids it’s targeted at. Recess fits such a description. It isn’t every day that a cartoon gets to insert Cold War and American geopolitical analogies into daily kids’ adventures. Adults are, therefore, likely to enjoy it more. There is an episode where a teacher asks a student to write an essay on why bullying people is bad unless such an activity boosts America’s political interests. There is also an episode where a student gets blackmailed for supposedly having ties to the Soviet Union. It’s all quite fun and clever, but still better suited for mature audiences.

3 2 Stupid Dogs (1993 – 1995)

Often thought of as Hanna-Barbera’s answer to Nickelodeon’s Ren and Stimpy, 2 Stupid Dogs follows two dimwitted dogs — Big Dog and Little Dog — as they endure various misfortunes stemming from their lack of intelligence. The show’s other key character is Mr. Hollywood, a heavily built man who is arrogant and judgmental. His catchphrase is “Well now, isn’t that cute… but it’s wrong!” He is also shown to have a different occupation in each episode.

2 Stupid Dogs Is Dumb Fun at Its Best

From Courage the Cowardly Dog to Scooby-Doo, there has never been a shortage of animated dogs that are way more pigeon-hearted and scatterbrained than their real-world counterparts. Big Dog and Little Dog fit that category too, and they often act like it’s not a big deal. One episode involves the two dogs searching for a lost bone only to later realize that it was on the back of Big Dog’s head.

The show deserves a wider audience, but the producers can at least be thankful for the fact that its quality was appreciated by a few organizations. The show got nominated for a couple of Daytime Emmy Awards during its run, as well as a few Annie awards.

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2 Daria (1997 – 2002)

daria

daria

Release Date
March 3, 1997

Seasons
5

A spinoff of Beavis and Butt-Head, Daria follows the intelligent and cynical teenager, Daria Morgendorffer, as she analyzes the world around her. The show is, therefore, packed with critiques of social practices and popular culture trends. Events kick off in the early stages of Daria’s years at Lawndale High School and conclude with her graduation and admission into college.

Daria Is a Typical Teen Drama in Animated Form

Daria has all the usual ingredients that make a perfect teen drama. There are football players who consider themselves God’s gift to women, mean girls who care about nothing but boys and grooming, and socially awkward students who always turn out to be the more likable of the bunch. Thanks to Daria’s intelligence, the show gets to provide commentary on various social issues. Because there is a conversational approach to every plot, the dialogue is the show’s strongest pillar.

1 Street Sharks (1994 – 1997)

In Street Sharks, college professor, Dr. Robert Bolton and his assistant Dr. Luther Paradigm conduct an experiment that changes amphibious creatures into anthropomorphic hybrids by altering their DNA. After the two scientists fall out, Paradigm transforms Bolton’s four sons into a half-human, half-shark, team known as the Street Sharks. Dr. Paradigm then becomes Dr. Piranoid after coming into contact with the DNA of piranhas. The show was created to promote a new line of toys by Mattel.

Street Sharks Is Pure Action

Viewers can always appreciate an animated show that isn’t too complicated. Street Sharks falls into that lane, once the DNA and marine jargon has been explained extensively. For the most part, the protagonists battle various forms of enemies in the streets and they often emerge victorious. Additionally, there is some great collective character development. For example, the heroes enjoy junk food, yet they exhibit a strong disdain for pizza. Overall, it’s a fun show for those who prefer pure action-hero mayhem.

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