5. STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION (1987-1994)
Lightning is hard enough to bottle once, but twice? Just the same, Trek godfather Gene Roddenberry gave resurrecting Star Trek as a TV series a go, and in doing so allowed us to take TV sci-fi seriously again. And the masterstroke was casting Patrick Stewart. By signing on as Capt. Jean-Luc Picard, the Royal Shakespeare Company veteran gave The Next Generation a gravitas-laden foundation to build on. (Having Brent Spiner as Data and Jonathan Frakes as Commander Riker definitely helped.) As time went on, the writers and producers erected a sci-fi gold standard, tackling subjects as varied as homosexuality, euthanasia, and slavery — all while flitting around the cosmos doing battle with Romulans, Klingons, and the Borg.
5. THE REAL WORLD (MTV, 1992-present)
The great-granddaddy of all the other strangers-in-a-house reality series on this list. And even though some recent seasons played more like soft-core porn than sociology experiments, World still has moments of the cross-cultural bonding that made it famous. They just usually happen in hot tubs now.
Best season: 3 In San Francisco, Pedro Zamora showed the world what it was like to live with AIDS — and a gross, belligerent, peanut-butter-pilfering guy named Puck.
Beverly Hills, 90210 (1990-2000)
The first modern teen drama tweaked Spelling’s nighttime soap formula for younger audiences — the pretty people and rich surroundings were there, but this time with social issues and a conscience.
THE JUDD APATOW COLLECTION
Before his string of box office hits, Judd Apatow had a string of critically acclaimed but tragically low-rated TV comedies. From the pop culture parodies of The Ben Stiller Show (1992) to the maladjusted high schoolers of Freaks and Geeks (Above, 1999-2000) and the maladjusted college freshmen of Undeclared (2001-02), the comedy king perfected his hilariously (and sometimes painfully) realistic portrayal of misfit-and-geekdom with cult TV hits before striking gold on the silver screen.
Read the reviews:
The Ben Stiller Show
SEX AND THE CITY
PREMIERED June 6, 1998
THE SCOOP What better time for a little Sex talk than when mercury levels — and hemlines — are rising? Based on Candace Bushnell’s best-selling book, Sex and the City chronicled the amorous exploits of four thirtysomething gal pals living and loving in New York City. The HBO series was lauded for its refreshingly frank (read: graphic) portrayal of women’s sex lives, garnering seven Emmy wins during its six-year run. Two silver screen versions later, many of us still feel connected to Carrie and the girls. —Amy Wilkinson
4. THE X-FILES (1993-2002)
Once upon a time, the FBI sent no-nonsense special agent Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson) to debunk the crackpot theories of special agent Fox ”Spooky” Mulder (David Duchovny). What they got instead was a conspiracy-fighting team so powerful it threatened to bring down the shady men who’d infiltrated the highest levels of government with their dreams of alien/human hybrid technology. What did we get? One hell of a TV show — even if we never quite got the truth. For the first time since The Twilight Zone, viewers could ponder the mysteries of the universe and get scared silly. From inbred mutants to satanic cults, Mulder and Scully’s darting flashlights lit up some seriously freaky darkness.