Networks and streaming services are still delivering fresh content to our screens on a daily basis, but sometimes you don’t want to find a new show to binge; you just want the comforting familiarity of an old favorite, because what better way to unwind from the stresses of the present day than by seeking solace in nostalgia? Maybe you don’t want to waste your time seeking out something new to watch that might ultimately disappoint you when you have entire seasons of beloved shows like Scandal, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, and Avatar: The Last Airbenderthat you know never fail to deliver. Or maybe you just want to re-create the magic of stumbling onto cable reruns, and you see this summer as a perfect time to dive into a long-finished series you’ve never seen before.
No matter the reason, it’s never been easier to rediscover the greatest shows television has given us over the past 50 years. That’s why TV Guide is celebrating the best TV Throwbacks. We’ll be spotlighting a different decade of television each day this week, starting with the 1970s on Monday and culminating with the 2010s on Friday. We’re sharing our favorite shows to rewatch right now, the best episodes of some standout hits so you can curate your own mini-marathon, and the types of TV epiphanies that can only come from rewatching one of your favorite shows years later with a fresh perspective.
So if you’re looking for some ideas of what to (re)watch next, keep reading for our recommendations for the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s, and check back later this week as we update this story with more!
The 1990s were an especially transformative decade for television. Fox had firmly established itself as a fifth broadcast network after a shaky start in the 1980s, basic cable began to expand at an exponential rate and divided audiences more than ever with all the options that became available, and HDTV entered the market in 1998, setting the stage for a whole new era of television we could actually see. Aside from the streaming era of the 2010s, the ’90s changed the way we watch television more than any decade since TV sets went color.
Keep reading for the best ’90s shows you should stream…
There’s an X-Files episode for everything. Chris Carter’s iconic sci-fi drama churned out 218 episodes and two movies over a span of 25 years, experimenting with form and genre in a way that pushed the boundaries of what a TV show could do. The X-Files could be a surreal black-and-white fable for a week; it could tell stories without any supernatural elements; it could be absurd, funny, romantic, horrifying. That range also means that aside from the obvious classics, the details of any best-of list come down to personal preference.
Keep reading to see our picks for the 25 best X-Files episodes…
PBS, Nickelodeon, Disney+
If you’re reading this list, chances are you grew up watching ’90s cartoons. You have fond memories of turning on the Panasonic on a Saturday morning or after school, eating a packet of Dunkaroos, and escaping into a world of adventure, talking animals, and weird-looking hand-drawn people. Many of these shows you probably watched so many times that they got etched in your brain forever, and watching them again will be like hearing a song you haven’t listened to in years but still remember all the words to. You may be surprised by what you remember, or what you don’t. You’ll definitely catch some jokes that went over your head when you were a kid.
Keep reading to learn where to stream the best ’90s cartoons…
It has been more than 20 years (!!!) since Buffy the Vampire Slayer debuted and introduced us to the Slayer, the Hellmouth, and the enigmatic Cheese Man. And yet the groundbreaking supernatural coming-of-age series from Joss Whedon remains a fixture in our viewing rotation because it is as timeless as a vampire-with-a-soul’s beautiful face. Yes, some of the fashion makes us cringe now, and yes, we scrutinize some of the choices the writers made at the time, especially now that we’re older and wiser and have new perspectives. But the fact remains that Buffy’s (Sarah Michelle Gellar) story, however full of vamps and Keys and tap-dancing demons it may be, holds universal appeal and is insanely rewatchable.
Keep reading for our ranking of the best Buffy episodes ever…
Paul Drinkwater/NBCU Photo Bank
If you’re binge-watching The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, whether for your first time or your 40th, we recommend you keep your eyes peeled, because the celebrated series attracted an impressive array of guest stars who sought to be a part of this touchstone comedy during its six-season run. (The fact the series was created by music legend Quincy Jones didn’t hurt when it came to attracting the show’s expansive roster of singers and rappers for cameos.) Watching The Fresh Prince today is like going on a treasure hunt for celebrity guest spots — everyone from Queen Latifa to Tom Jones to Oprah Winfrey to Dick Clark to Naomi Campbell to Milton Berle appeared on the beloved sitcom.
Keep reading to see the best and biggest guest stars from The Fresh Prince…
Charmed, which ran from 1998 to 2006, came of age in those special years when the late ’90s melded into the early aughts, a time when the women were kickass, the fashion was, uh, interesting, the aspect ratio was a little wonky, and the results were pure magic. Sure, Charmed cranked out some duds, but over the course of its eight seasons, The WB drama also aired some great episodes of television that more than stand the test of time.
Keep reading for our picks for the 10 best Charmed episodes of all time…
Family Matters is one of the most beloved ’90s sitcoms, and probably most famous for Steve Urkel’s (Jaleel White) catchphrase — “Did I do thaaat?” — and his alter ego, Stefan Urquelle. But the Perfect Strangers spin-off, which ran on ABC/CBS from 1989 to 1997, was so much more than the suspenders-loving nerd who went from a side character to its eventual lead. It was a heartfelt and humorous look at three generations of a Black middle-class family in Chicago. That’s probably why, when TV Guide asked star Kellie Shanygne Williams in 2018 for her picks for the most memorable Family Matters moments, she didn’t think of any of the Steve Urkel shenanigans.
Keep reading to learn what episodes Williams remembers most fondly…
The ’80s were a unique era in television history. The shows weren’t as socially conscious as they were in the ’70s, when series like M*A*S*H* and All in the Family drove the conversation about contemporary issues, nor were they as artistically ambitious as they’d get in the ’90s, with shows like Twin Peaks and The Simpsons that broadened the possibilities for what could be done in the broadcast format. In fact, some of the most unforgettably bad TV shows of all time were made in the ’80s (gone but not forgotten, Small Wonder). But there were a number of excellent, groundbreaking series that defined the ’80s and whose legacies endure.
Keep reading for the best ’80s shows you should stream…
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Pee-wee’s Playhouse was an instant hit with critics, kids, stoners, and gawkers, who flocked to something that seemed both so original and familiar. While other ’80s kids’ shows stole from Japanese culture or were spin-offs of established brands, Pee-wee’s Playhouse seemed like it was from another time, influenced by children’s series of the 1950s and 1960s like Captain Kangaroo, Howdy Doody, and Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood in which a mentor virtually welcomed his audience into a clubhouse for wholesome life lessons and fun. For parents in the mid-’80s, it was comfort food, and a relief from talking Gummi bears and squeaking blue elves.
Keep reading to learn why Pee-wee’s Playhouse remains one of the best children’s shows of all time…
Interregional Program Service/American Program Service
In The Joy of Painting, the whole world was reduced to Bob Ross, his paints, canvas, and all the happy little landscapes brought to life. In the show, there were no real stakes, and if a mistake was made, Ross didn’t fret; he calmly found a fix that made you forget that the result wasn’t his original intention. It was a show in which failure didn’t exist, only “happy little accidents” and a love of trying. As Ross painted hundreds of landscapes throughout the show’s run, it was clear that he wasn’t trying to create the next great piece of art; he was just enjoying painting, savoring every aspect of the process. In doing so, Ross invited viewers to share in this peaceful pleasure, either through creating a painting of their own or through learning to just appreciate the journey.
Keep reading about the enduring comfort of The Joy of Painting…
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Whether that meant eating midnight cheesecake, throwing on slinky nightgowns to entertain a barrage of bedroom suitors, or just telling wild stories about St. Olaf, these ladies needed no one’s permission to do the things they loved with the people they’d chosen to spend their final days with. What was a somewhat unusual character set then now feels like a promise. Even if you spend your youth raising children, they’ll eventually fly the coop, and you might outlive your spouse, if you even had one. But what’s left doesn’t have to be loneliness. There’s still a “you” in the future ahead. These women weren’t devoting their time to moping about the loss of husbands or their empty nests; they seized the opportunities they had to pursue their own interests and surround themselves with friends who were funny, compassionate, sometimes even bitter, and, best of all, honest about their ups and downs.
Keep reading about how The Golden Girls helped us look forward to growing older…
The 1970s was a decade of great cultural change. The Vietnam War and Richard Nixon stoked the political divide, music and fashion reached new heights (yes, even disco), and marginalized groups fought for equal rights as people felt more empowered. Television was also feeling the creative energy evident throughout the era, with many ’70s shows paving the way for programs that premiered even decades later. Many shows, like The Jeffersons, expanded the cultural viewpoints explored on TV, while others, like The Bob Newhart Show, redefined what primetime comedy could be. But all of them offer that comforting feeling of nostalgia.
Keep reading for the best ’70s shows you should stream…
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It’s not necessarily that the ’70s comedies as a whole were objectively better than eras that came before or after (although you could make the case for certain shows’ superiority). But since TV was still in its adolescence, the shows of the ’70s were the ones that challenged the status quo and broadened the possibilities for what a sitcom could look like. This decade of experimentation and redefinition kicked off with three groundbreaking series, The Mary Tyler Moore Show, All in the Family, and M*A*S*H, which debuted on CBS in 1970, 1971, and 1972, respectively.
Keep reading to find out how these shows changed the television landscape…Everett Collection
Mary Richards, with her dreamy bachelorette pad and her cool but stressful job as an associate producer at a low-rated Minneapolis news station, is a fantasy of imperfect independence. There’s never a doubt that, in the words of the theme song, she’s “gonna make it after all,” but she also has to stay late at the office, get passed over for promotions, deal with hovering parents, go on dates that go nowhere, and watch her best friends move away. All of these markers of adulthood are treated frankly. Mary isn’t a Liz Lemon type, a sitcom caricature of a woman who’s good at her job but disastrous at everything else. (Mary is only disastrous at hosting parties.) Mostly, she’s capable but still learning. One of the most refreshing things about The Mary Tyler Moore Show is how likable and funny and interesting it finds its main character just for being a young woman who’s doing the best she can.
Keep reading for more on why The Mary Tyler Moore Show’s exploration of solitude still resonates…
Edited by Sadie Gennis, Kaitlin Thomas, Tim Surette, and Noelene Clark
Contributions by Sadie Gennis, Kaitlin Thomas, Tim Surette, Liam Mathews, Allison Picurro, Amanda Bell, Keisha Hatchett, Kelly Connolly, Krutika Mallikarjuna, Lindsay MacDonald, Malcolm Venable, Megan Vick, and Tony Maccio
Creative by Anthony Roman
Photo editing by Jessie Cowan