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11 August 2017updated 03 Aug 2021 6:50am

The New Statesman pick of 90s sitcoms from Frasier to the Fresh Prince

And why they still matter to us today. 

By New Statesman

Will and Grace, the sitcom about two women and their gay best friends which ran from 1998 to 2006, is coming back. No doubt that while some of the millions who watched it in the mid-Nineties and early 2000s will be celebrating, others, like New Statesman contributor Eleanor Margolis, think some things that were good in the Nineties should stay in the Nineties

But despite the huge audience figures, Will and Grace was just one chuckle in the sitcom smorgasbord that was the Nineties. In a time before TV on-demand, there was the golden hour of the evening – BBC Two at 6pm – when the nation’s kids were served up sitcom after sitcom, and everyone was watching TV at the same time.

There were the character dramas – the emotional volleyball of Ross and Rachel – but also the day-to-day scrapes of the schoolyard heroes, the Fresh Prince and Bart Simpson (OK, we’re bending the sitcom rules in favour of great TV), and the slapstick of Fathers Ted, Dougal and Jack.

Here, our writers reflect on how Nineties sitcoms shaped them, surprised them, or just left them cringing on the sofa:

Martin Crane’s hideous chair was the true star of Frasier

Frasier has a proper emotional core, woven through the story from the beginning, writes Helen Lewis. It is about what happens when you move social classes. What you gain, and what you lose.

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We laughed at Alan Partridge – little did we realise he heralded the age of Donald Trump

Nigel Farage famously copied failed fictional chat show host Alan Partridge’s blazer, but the two men’s resemblance is more than sartorial, writes Daniel Curtis. Partridge is indeed to return to our screens in the not-too-distant future as “the voice of hard Brexit”. 

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air was radical – because it was so ordinary

An equivalent comedy – a majority-minority sitcom in which their ethnicities were an afterthought, rather than the central point of the joke – wouldn’t be made in the United Kingdom until 2016, writes Stephen Bush. 

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Spaced‘s meta-sitcom showed how pop culture invades our everyday lives

Not an episode goes by without a slew of references to, or riffs on, some other show or piece of cinema, writes Jasper Jackson. 

It’s outdated, wealthy and white – so why do I still reach for Sex and the City?

The girls live in a wealthy, white bubble – for a city as diverse as New York, the main cast was startlingly white – and the men they date are a veritable parade of investment bankers and lawyers, writes Sanjana Varghese. Yet, there is still something compelling about Sex and the City. 

The Simpsons: the greatest comedy of the Nineties (and not beyond)

Comedies in television history endure because they are tinged with sadness, and tell us something real about the human experience, writes Anna Leszkiewicz.

Why do so many Irish Catholics love being mocked by Father Ted?

The Catholic Church looms over everything in Father Ted, writes Julia Rampen, but less as a theology, and more as a hierarchical institution that is just asking to be turned upside down. 

Time travelling with That ’70s Show

The series about a group of Seventies teenagers doing nothing in particular in a small Wisconsin town first aired in the US in August 1998. Yo Zushi explains why retro comedy works so well.

Drop the Dead Donkey is why I wanted to be a journalist

As with most British sitcoms, most of the characters were utter wankers, writes Jonn Elledge. But the kind of wankers you’d want to be. 

Absolutely Fabulous will show future generations how fun life was before Brexit

Ab Fab is a love letter to being a citizen of the world – and the opportunities for hedonism that come with looking beyond the boring confines of Little England, writes Lizzie Palmer.

All the fuss over Brass Eye’s bad taste obscures its technical genius

OK, it’s not strictly a sitcom, but it’s topical, writes Tom Gatti. The show’s continued relevance confirms our suspicion that “fake news” is not a product of the digital era but has long been with us.

Why did immigrant families like mine see so much of ourselves in Only Fools and Horses?

Some people might think it strange that my Sri Lankan-born parents named me after Del Boy Trotter, writes Jason Murugesu. But it’s hard to think of a show the British Asian community identified with more. 

The One Where Phoebe Googled: why modern technology would make Friends obsolete

Much as we may want it to, a Friends reunion would just not work in 2017, writes Natalia Bus.