Article Lead Image

8 weird and wonderful ’90s shows you can watch on YouTube

All perfectly preserved in digital amber, just waiting for you to take a time jaunt back to the Clinton years.


David Wharton


Posted on Mar 28, 2016   Updated on May 27, 2021, 12:59 am CDT

YouTube is like pop culture’s attic: You climb up there looking for one specific thing and then, before you know it, you’ve rediscovered some dusty relic from your childhood. Buried among all the ancient viral videos and local TV commercials beamed in straight from your childhood, YouTube is also home to quite a few TV shows you forgot you ever knew about, and some you’ve probably never heard of at all—but should have. With that in mind, we took a deep dive into YouTube’s poorly lit corridors and found eight shows from the 1990s that you can watch in full on the streaming service (as of this writing, anyway). They range from the weird to the wonderful to the woeful, but they’re all preserved in digital amber by YouTube, just waiting for you to take a time jaunt back to the Clinton years. I mean, the original Clinton years…

1) Cop Rock (1990)

Co-created by Steven Bochco (Hill Street Blues), Cop Rock was ahead of its time, but that unfortunately doesn’t save it from being kind of terrible. Still, it’s one of those pop-culture artifacts that still gets dropped as an occasional punchline even almost 30 years later, so if you’ve ever wondered what all the fuss was about, YouTube has the answers. The “ahead of its time” part is that Cop Rock was, as the name implies, a blend of cop show and musical, with everything from juries to suspect lineups interrupting the usual procedural beats with bouts of song. It even had an opening theme song performed by Randy “You’ve Got a Friend in Me” Newman.

Shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Scrubs have successfully adapted the musical format for a single episode in more recent years, but Cop Rock tried to go all in a decade earlier… and the result had audiences and critics insisting that no, really, the show needn’t go on after all. At one point having been listed in the top 10 of TV Guide’s 50 Worst TV Shows of All Time, Cop Rock is easily the worst item on this list, but damned if it isn’t a memorable trainwreck.

2) Herman’s Head (1991)

Fox’s broadcast history is littered with the corpses of fascinating shows that never caught on or, more often, were never given time to find an audience. Herman’s Head probably wouldn’t have made it past the first season on modern Fox, but back in the early ’90s, the high-concept comedy managed to survive for three seasons, all of them now lurking on YouTube. Herman’s Head is about Herman Brooks (William Ragsdale), an ambitious go-getter working at a prestigious Manhattan magazine publisher. But Herman’s Head is also about the voices inside Herman’s noodle: The scenes of Herman’s life are interspersed with “head” sequences where his daily struggles are personified by Angel, Animal, Wimp, and Genius, each representing Herman’s various drives, impulses, and personality aspects. Yes, it’s Pixar’s Inside Out 14 years earlier (and considerably less likely to make you cry). But Inside Out never had Leslie Nielsen show up as God, so advantage Herman’s Head.

3) The Critic (1994)

The Critic remains a woefully underrated classic that, in a perfect world, would have lasted at least half as long as freakin’ Family Guy. Created by Simpsons veterans Al Jean and Mike Reiss, The Critic actually began life on ABC before jumping to Fox for season 2 after ABC dropped the axe. Jon Lovitz provided perfect levels of snark and condescension as the voice of Jay Prescott Sherman, a New York cable film critic who savages many an underwhelming flick with the declaration that “It stinks!” Like The Simpsons before it and Family Guy after it, The Critic was chockablock with film parodies and pop-culture references, including a particularly brilliant riff on Orson Welles’ forays into commercials that my friends and I are still quoting to this day.

4) Due South (1994)

Created by eventual Oscar winner Paul Haggis (Million Dollar Baby, Crash), Due South remains to this day one of the most underrated shows of the ’90s. Actor Paul Gross stars as Constable Benton Fraser, an officer of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police who leaves the Great White North and heads to Chicago on the trail of the man who murdered his father. Thoroughly out of place in the Windy City, he’s soon partnered with Ray Vecchio (David Marciano), a brash, tough-talking Chicago cop who would rather be doing pretty much anything other than escorting around an overly polite Mountie with no street smarts. With a little help from Fraser’s deaf wolf, Diefenbaker, Fraser and Ray soon prove the old adage that the Mounties always get their man.

Unfortunately, that man was involved in a scandal that embarrasses many powerful people back in Canada, resulting in Fraser getting reassigned permanently to the Canadian consulate in Chicago, leaving him free to keep pursuing bad guys with Ray. Due South coasts easily on Gross’s charm and the chemistry between him and Marciano, and it’s a great perfect example of the buddy cop genre done well. It also has a stellar soundtrack, endlessly quotable dialog, and a huge heart that ensures it’ll probably make you tear up more than once.

5) Strange Luck (1995)

Another Fox cast-off from a graveyard full of them, Strange Luck aired for a single season between 1995 and 1996. It starred D.B. Sweeney as Chance Harper, a man hounded by ill fortune beginning with a childhood plane crash that he survived but which killed his mother and sister. But the name of the show isn’t Bad Luck; Chance’s “strange luck” means he’s followed by peculiar coincidences both helpful and harmful, but which always seem to put him in the path of people who need help. In between following where his luck will lead, he continues searching for his brother, who vanished not long before the fateful plane crash that started the whole mess. Aside from being a fun little paranormal procedural in and of itself, Strange Luck also tied itself into one of the most iconic shows of all time thanks to an episode where Chance is referred to someone who might have insight into his unique situation: an FBI agent named Fox Mulder.

6) Muppets Tonight (1996)

The Muppets returned to primetime after a long absence this past year, but ABC’s latest incarnation is just the latest of television’s many forays into Jim Henson’s beloved world of felt. None have recreated the heights of the classic Muppet Show that ran from 1976 to 1981, but I’ll always have a soft spot in my heart for this single-season outing from the mid ’90s. Like both the original Muppet Show and the current incarnation, Muppets Tonight is set behind the scenes of a Muppet show-within-a-show, with Kermit and company having abandoned the spacious theater of their first series in favor of a more modern TV studio. Now the Muppets are hosting a talk/variety show in the vein of Leno and Letterman, with the dreadlocked Clifford playing host and Kermit working tirelessly as a producer. Just like The Muppet Show, Muppets Tonight features a blend of skits and interviews from “on camera,” mixed with assorted chaos happening backstage and plenty of familiar guest stars. All your old Muppet favorites are here, along with tons of then-new ones, and you even get a recurring Pigs in Space sequel riffing on Deep Space Nine. What’s not to like?

7) Buddy Faro (1998)

The brainchild of Twin Peaks co-creator Mark Frost, Buddy Faro stars Dennis Farina as the titular Buddy, a crackerjack private eye who vanished in 1978 while trying to track down the killer of the woman he loved. Buddy has become something of a legend among the flatfoot set in the years since his disappearance: There was even a Buddy Faro TV series starring George Hamilton. So, aspiring private dick—and Buddy fanboy—Bob Jones (Frank Whaley) is understandably thrilled when he discovers Buddy is still alive and kicking after two decades under the radar. Bob convinces Buddy to get back in the game and reopen Buddy’s old P.I. shingle in Los Angeles, and the two of them start cracking open cases involving everything from magicians to long-missing showgirls to George Hamilton himself, who thinks somebody’s trying to snuff him. If the price is right, Buddy and Bob will be on the case, and they’ll do it all with a dose of swinging, Rat Pack style.

8) Action (1999)

Yet another short-lived Fox project (there were just so many), Action starred Jay Mohr as hotshot Hollywood producer Peter Dragon, a ruthless power player whose star is on the wane after his latest project, the charmingly titled Slow Torture, proves to be box-office poison. His partner in crime is Wendy (Illeana Douglas), a fallen former child star turned hooker whom Peter appoints as Vice President of his Dragonfire Films production company after she impresses him with her blunt honesty. Like any self-respecting show about show business, Action is packed with celebrity cameos, ranging from Keanu Reeves to Sandra Bullock (who made a sex tape with Peter at one point, much to her chagrin). With its pitch-black sense of humor, gleeful amorality, and frequent bleeped profanity, Action would likely have fared much better a decade later and on a cable network, but unfortunately it landed on Fox… and we all know what that means.

Illustration by Max Fleishman

Share this article
*First Published: Mar 28, 2016, 8:00 am CDT