This surge in popularity for most things from the 80s has made me hopeful that an equal wave of nostalgia for the 90s is just around the corner. Because just like the Super Nintendo was better than the Nintendo; the Sega Genesis was better than the Master System; the 90s were better than the 80s… in just about every way.
But I’m not here to start a pissing contest about which decade was geekier (though I’m sure I unintentionally just started that debate). My ranting today is about the five geeky things I truly miss about the 90s.
Probably the biggest on the list, and quite possibly the most controversial, is The Simpsons. Let me just quash the first rebuttal that many of you are probably about to say right now.
“But, Randy, The Simpsons are still on television.” To which I would like to reply: “True, but it is not of the same caliber as The Simpsons from the 90s.”
So I shall.
The Simpsons created today are nothing compared to what they used to be. Certainly, the series did hit a low point during their selling out phase in the early 90s when you couldn’t visit any store in the mall without being smacked in the face by “I’m Bart Simpson. Who the hell are you?” tee shirts (also available in many less-than reputable dealers in poorly-drawn bootleg format). And who can forget the lovable song “Do The Bartman” that took the radio waves by storm?
Ok… yea, I guess it’s best to forget that phase of The Simpsons altogether.
But the reality is, what they created in the 90s is practically timeless. Seasons 3 and 4 are easily my favorites, but I could never narrow myself down to a single favorite episode, but if someone pulled a gun on me and forced me to choose one, it’d be among “Homer at the Bat,” “In Marge We Trust,” “Lisa the Iconoclast,” “You Only Move Twice,” “Lemon of Troy,” and “Whacking Day.”
Phil Hartman was easily my favorite voice actor for the series and since his untimely demise in 1998, The Simpsons have never found a comparable replacement for Troy McClure or Lionel Hutz. In fact, many consider Phil Hartman’s death with their personal jumping off point for The Simpons. Personally, I was able to hang on for a few years more.
I miss The X-Files so very very much and since its cancellation, I have never been able to find a show to fill the geeky hole it left in my heart. Certainly, there have been a few shows that have come close. Torchwood scratched my television science fiction itch for a bit. I’ve never been able to attach myself to Doctor Who. Walking Dead, though it does not deal with aliens or UFOs, is a damn fine show, but unless that comes back on the air soon, I’m going to get sweaty.
But since 2002, things have never been the same.
Kicking off on September 10, 1993, The X-Files checked off several “must-have’s” on my personal list. Ghosts, aliens, occasional gunplay, a cute redheaded co-star, clever writing, and a fascinating series-long story arc about Mulder’s missing sister, Scully’s abduction, and the mystery of the Cigarette Smoking Man all brought me back to watch Fox Sunday night 30 minutes after The Simpsons ended. Hell, for a majority of the 90s, Sunday night was THE night to watch television.
But the series dragged on a little too long (kind of like Call of Duty), and David Duchovny only started appearing sporadically as the storyline began to dwindle. Even he knew when too much was too much. But when I was younger and I saw Fox Mulder working in an office with a poster that read “I want to believe” on it, I knew I was destined to become an FBI agent. That was right after I realized I was destined to be a full-time novelist and just before I knew I was destined to become a lawyer.
Are you part of the Joel Camp or the Mike Camp? Personally, I’m more of a fan of the work of Michael J. Nelson. Don’t know what the hell I’m talking about? Then I feel sorry for you because you’re probably a little too young to remember.
Mystery Science Theatre 3000 (MST3K) was a cult-favorite comedy show that originated on KTMA out of the Minneapolis area. Later, it was picked up by Comedy Central, and after its cancellation on Comedy Central, Sci Fi Channel picked it up for its final years. At its core, MST3K was about a man trapped in space on the Satellite of Love (that’s not the Lou Reed song… it was the name of their ship) with his two smart alec robots who are forced to watch bad movies. In order to retain their sanity, they lampoon the films they watch by adding running commentary. Sound stupid? It was. It was fantastically stupid. It was so stupid, it was genius.
The writing for each show was prepared ahead of time so the jokes were always nailed with perfect timing during their audio or visual queues in film. Before and after commercial breaks, Mike or Joel and the bots would pop out to the living area of the Satellite of Love and continue the story arc about their imprisonment by the Forrester family.
Admittedly, I hopped onto the series late, so that’s probably why I favor the Mike episodes over the Joel ones. Every once in a while I go back and watch a few Joel episodes, but I feel the Mike episodes had better writing, better camera work during the non-film scenes, and I also felt their joke timing was better and interrupted the film less which meant you could hear both the jokes and the film.
Before the days of DVDs and internet torrents, many people would trade MST3K tapes to catch up on missed episodes. I’m certain I still have my collection in a box in my closet. But now you can buy most episodes on DVD, which means you can see them in higher quality than when they were actually on television.
Today, you can still catch a hold of movie commentary from the cast and crew of MST3K on the sites Rifftrax.com and Cinematictitanic.com. The jokes and writing are still funny, but I kind of miss turning on Sci Fi late at night and catching a good episode of MST3K and watching Mike, Crow and Servo tear into some cheesy 50’s Japanese science fiction movies.
I’m going to toss out a nice, huge blanket statement that’s going to offend a ton of people, but… almost every JRPG after Final Fantasy IX has sucked. The true golden age of JRPGs was in the 1990s and I don’t think anyone could convince me otherwise. Back in the days when Square-Enix was simply known as Square, Enix, or Eidos—depending on which game you were referring to—we were blessed with a near limitless supply of good JRPGs. The stories were original and well written for their hardware limitations. The character designs were identifiable and attractive without being creepy. And the best part was, JRPGs were a relatively new genre, so any direction they decided to go in terms of story or gameplay was pretty much new territory.
Final Fantasy II (which we now know is actually Final Fantasy IV) was an amazing start for Square in the 1990s. They only improved their performance by cranking out masterpiece after masterpiece like Final Fantasy III (again… now we know it as VI), Chrono Trigger, Secret of Mana, Romancing SaGa 1 and 2, Breath of Fire, Super Mario RPG, Final Fantasy VII, Final Fantasy Tactics (a gem that I’m still waiting on a TRUE sequel for), Xenogears, Parasite Eve, Brave Fencer Musashi, Final Fantasy VIII, and Chrono Cross.
With that track record, it’s hard to believe where the company is today.
Alone, Enix blessed us with the Dragon Warrior, Star Ocean, Valkyrie and Act Raiser series. I could go on and list a ton of more games from other companies (and I probably should. It would prevent people from saying, “That’s a nice list, Randy, but you forgot games X, Y, and Z.”) but I’m sure most of you get my point.
Most JRPGs today feel too linear, the storyline is too shallow, the characters looks too much like characters created in the 1990s, and some of the women look too young and skimpy for me to be comfortable playing. Seriously… underage women acting overtly sexual in clothing that even porn stars would probably hesitate to wear is flat out creepy.
But I miss the days when you could head to your nearest rental store and pick up almost any JPRG off of the shelf, go home, and at least be satisfied for the weekend.
Speculating about the Star Wars prequels
This entry is far less tangible but far more geeky the rest of the entries in this list.
Back before the horrors of Jar Jar Binks, Hayden Christensen, and Jake Lloyd, most of the geeky world was abuzz with the possibilities of what George Lucas had in store for us. After all, the future…err… past was wide open!
Most of the Star Wars sequel novels that were written at the time were hitting the nail right on the head, especially the Timothy Zahn trilogy. The video games we were presented filled us with hope like Shadows of the Empire and the Super Star Wars trilogy. The Star Wars Galaxy trading cards gave us access to cool new Star Wars artwork along with little hints about what the prequels might be. And the cream of the crop was the Star Wars: Tales of the Jedi comic series.
Most fans are in a love-hate relationship with the re releases of the original trilogy in the theaters. Personally, I don’t give a crap who shot first, or how awkwardly Han steps over computer-Jabba’s tail. It was nice to have so many people openly excited about a topic so geekily taboo. And for that, I’m grateful for their re-releases.
Up until the release of the Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, we were absolutely on the edge of our seats waiting for what the prequels will be like. The trailers actually made the film look good. But then the films actually hit the theaters… and you all know the rest of that story.
But for a brief time in the 1990s, it was absolutely fun to be a Star Wars fan, and it was even more fun to speculate about what might be.