“Darmok and Jalad at Tanagra.”
I don’t really need to remind you what show that line is from (I hope). This is not a ranking of the best sci-fi TV shows from the 1990s—which means there will be no Next Generation. No Star Trek shows at all, in fact.
No, this is about those shows that fall into a weird space as far as ‘90s TV culture goes: the gaps in between heavyweights. The shows that filled countless afternoons and evenings for many of us, but only for a little while.
These are the shows that you definitely watched at some point, but haven’t thought about in probably 5-10 years. When you’re reminded about them, you go “ohhhhhh yyyeahhh that’s right!”
And, for a couple of these, maybe, just maybe, you haven’t seen them at all.
These are the sci-fi television shows from the ‘90s that you completely forgot about, until right now.
Eat your heart out Stephen Strange, because Sliders was tackling the multiverse way before the MCU was even a twinkle in Kevin Feige’s eye.
Sliders follows the journey of a ragtag bunch of misfit scientists (and one singer) as they travel through the multiverse, experiencing alternate Earths as they try to figure out a way to get back to their home Earth.
For at least the first two seasons, this was actually a good show. Perhaps it was my kid brain, but I enjoyed visiting worlds where penicillin hadn’t been invented and you might run into another version of yourself at any moment. Not to mention the fact that John Rhys-Davies absolutely crushed every scene he was in, because of course he did.
But frankly, this show wasn’t forgotten sometime in the oughts or the 20-teens—it had oozed out of our brains easily by season 4, which probably should have never been made in the first place (and it was five seasons long).
Is there anything more ‘90s than Jonathan Brandis?
No, no there isn’t. And yes, that’s Chuck Norris.
So when Brandis lends his talents to a weekly sci-fi series on NBC, you know it’s a big deal. And for me, it really was. I loved this show.
The plot is so damn easy—basically, someone walked into a room full of NBC execs and said, “Star Trek but in water.” And while they all looked at one another making sense of the idea bomb just dropped on them, they added: “Oh, and Jonathan Brandis is the Wil Wheaton.” Then presumably they all cheered, lit cigars, sat back, and let the checks start rolling in.
But while the show was popular at its release, ratings basically started plummeting from thereon until it was abruptly canceled in the midst of its third season. When I learned that, I think my reaction was mild surprise that there ever was a third season.
When I was a kid I assumed Scott Bakula was basically the most famous human on the planet and everyone would crack up anytime I pretended to be talking to an invisible hologram from the future that only I could see. Turns out they lock you in a padded room and let you talk to the nice doctors when that happens.
In the near-ish future, Dr. Sam Beckett theorizes that time travel actually is possible, with one catch—you can only move around within your lifetime. But when Beckett tests this theory on himself, he finds that he is stuck “leaping” from time to time. Oh, and he’s leaping into the bodies of other people at seemingly critical moments in their personal lives and/or history.
Quantum Leap lands on lots of cult-favorite lists to this day and might be one that you technically didn’t forget about. As a kid, I remember loving it every time he’d leap into an awkward situation, like the body of a woman about to kiss a man. Today, some of those episodes might be prove to be a little problematic.
The Adventures of Brisco County, Jr.
Bruce Campbell is the most famous guy no one’s heard of. So when the star of Army of Darkness is tapped for a Fox serial? Hell yeah, I’m in.
But apparently, America wasn’t as ready for Bruce as the producers thought, and the show lasted a way too short single season. That season was fantastic, taking a classic western story and throwing in elements of sci-fi with steampunk. And, also, Bruce.
I would shout “REBOOT!” for this one, but there’s something about the production quality of the early ‘90s that just fits the entire vibe so well, and frankly I’d prefer it stay that way.
Yep, there was actually a RoboCop live-action TV show.
I don’t blame anyone in the entertainment business for trying to expand one of the most quintessential cyberpunk franchises of all time. Yet, not unlike other forays into Delta City, the RoboCop series never seemed to quite catch on.
Maybe it’s the fact it was produced in Canada and never received broad distribution in the U.S. Maybe it’s the fact it completely ignored the plotlines and characters from the movie sequels. Or maybe trying to port something ultraviolent to TV with nonlethal items was just, you know, less RoboCop.
You see, back before we had social media, rumors would just kind of start, usually by some kid in 5th grade, and spread around schools unabated. I heard some pretty sketchy stuff that was supposedly in the X-rated version of the movie, which of course made me want to see it really bad.
But I heard absolutely nothing about this show. In fact, this one could probably go under sci-fi series you never heard of, let alone forgot about.
Alright, I may have lied. There might be one challenger to the ‘90s prowess of Jonathan Brandis. His name is Edward Furlong.
Unfortunately, Furlong has nothing to do with Eerie. But up until very recently, I would have gone toe-to-toe with you arguing that he was, indeed, the lead actor. That for some reason, he went from one of the most successful and well-known movies of all time in Terminator 2: Judgement Day, to a struggling cult comedy that takes place in Indiana.
But alas, it was not Edward that investigated urban legends or kept superintelligent dogs from taking over the world, but instead this dude: Omri Haim Katz.
I mean, it’s sort of the same haircut? I think I thought every teen or kid-ish actor with that haircut was Edward Furlong, and apparently still think that. And something about the bike vs. the motorcycle must have confused me.
Either way, this is a show worth remembering and forgetting again. Just don’t forget whether Edward Furlong starred in it.
Knowing Classic Nerd’s readers, it’s less likely that you completely forgot about Babylon 5 than you simply forgot to rewatch it for the 10th time this year. But nonetheless, this is one that’s almost always worth dusting off for a trip down memory lane.
Anticipating HD and shot in the 16:9 format, the effects in Babylon 5 don’t always hold up today, but they sure are ambitious. In fact, “ambitious” is the perfect word to describe this entire series. It’s a big story worthy of the genre designation “space opera,” decades ahead of its time with a pre-planned 5 season story-arc that they actually stuck to.
You know what? Go ahead and take the afternoon off and rewatch a few episodes. Especially since a reboot coming to CW in 2023 appears to still be on track.
Chances are actually pretty high that you’ve never heard of Night Man. Unless you’re thinking of an episode of It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia, this one really flew under the radar.
Oddly, a show about a superhero whose main superpower is that he’s awake at night didn’t make much of a splash.
OK, maybe that’s not his superpower, but I mean, it sort of is. Following a lightning strike, Johnny Domino (yes, Johnny Domino) has the ability to telepathically sense evil. But there’s a terrible side effect: it keeps him from sleeping at night. And since he does stuff at night, well, boom, Night Man.
So yeah, that’s it in terms of powers. Luckily he also has a sweet suit that does even more than any supercharged Batman suit could ever hope to. Also, he’s a bad-ass saxophone player.
While chances are you never saw this show, if you did, you probably completely forgot about its existence.