I think we can all agree the 90’s was the golden age of American television. The formula was easy back then: pair a buttoned up, straight edge beta male with an off-the-wall, free spirited foreign maniac and let the episodes write themselves. And if you’re thinking: “that sounds an awful lot like Perfect Strangers,” you just hit the nail on the head.
Balki Bartokomous is as self-aware as they come. He said what he wanted, wore what he pleased, and stole the heart of this young adolescent male struggling to come to terms with a world that forces people into the center. I’ll be forever grateful for the lessons Balki taught me about knowing who you are and never apologizing for it, even if it puts your misunderstanding cousin into jam after jam of comedic gold.
The 90’s were great that way, and Balki wasn’t the only self-aware character we had. This is the definitive list of the most self-aware 90’s TV stars, and I dare you to find a more definitive one.
MacGyver’s skills are so well known and documented even people who didn’t religiously tune in understand what it means to “MacGyver” something. He’s more than just a cheeky verb, though, and his impact goes far beyond the ability to fix an engine using a raw egg. Even though he operated under the umbrella of a veiled government agency that were probably involved in all sorts of shady misconduct, he worked under a strict, unwavering moral code that made him stand out from other action stars at the time. He didn’t use guns. He never lost his cool. He respected women. Most importantly he gave all us nice guys a risk-taking role model we could relate to. Also holy shit that mullet is legendary.
Has there ever been a character who gives fewer fucks than Kramer? He’s the cigar smoking, loafer wearing, loud mouthed neighbor from hell, who, on top of it all exudes a kind of rugged masculinity. Of the four main characters on Seinfeld, Kramer was perhaps the only one comfortable in his own skin as he unapologetically went about his life without heed for cause or consequence. I could probably dedicate and entire blog to the art of being Kramer, but I’m not ready to subjugate myself to what that that might do to me long term.
Finally someone with a full name! Although from now on and forever we’ll simply refer to him as The Code-Man. Step By Step was full of angst-ridden parents and children who were constantly fighting for territory amongst their convoluted family situation. In steps Code-Man: the free-spirited cousin who lives in a van and doesn’t have a negative bone in his body. We could chalk his carefree attitude up to whatever leafy greenery he was undoubtedly firing up in his creep-van, but I like to think it’s just the kind of person he was. Smoke on Code-Man.
Ah, Topanga. My first crush. Your long golden curls and innocent smile sent me to the moon and back in my pre-teen years. She’s everything my dream woman was to be: smart, weird, confident, and elusive. Boy Meets World lined up with my adolescence pretty much perfectly. I was the Cory Matthews to many of my friend’s Sean Hunter, so I inevitable developed the same crush on Topanga young Cory had on the show. She was his north star, his guiding light, his spirit animal. And so she was mine.
What can I say about the lumpy-headed man-baby leader of The Rugrats? Not only could Tommy break out of baby pen slash floor prison with his trusty Fisher Price screwdriver, he was Chucky, Phil and Lil’s only chance of putting up a fight against the deplorable Angelica. It doesn’t get more self-aware than a steely-eyed toddler who can lead his peers to take on an aloof group of negligent parents AND the most evil four year old to ever walk the playground.
Steve might have been destructive, annoying, insufferable and the poster child for home owners insurance, but one thing you can say is he was never anything but himself. Steve stuck to his love for Laura and his unwavering resilience when it came to assimilating his way into the Winslow family. A lesser man would’ve given up on winning the affection of Carl, Harriett, Eddie and crew, but not Steve. He kept coming back because he knew exactly what he wanted, and didn’t stop until he got it. Yes, you DID do that, Steve. And that’s just fine.
Wings is one of my all time favorite shows and I’m not ashamed to admit it. Looking back, there’s nothing particularly ground-breaking or even mildly amusing about the day to day antics of a small Nantucket airline owned by brothers with opposing personalities. That is, until you introduce a simple-minded mechanic who marched to his own beat and was never afraid to say something stupid. In fact, Lowell often said something stupid, but people loved him anyway because he reminded all the neurotic, self-centered and insecure people around him that doing what you love is enough to make you happy.
Kimmy was always on the ass-end of the punchline during her time living next to the fullest house in San Francisco. For a show grounded in acceptance and family, the Tanner’s often shunned young Kimmy for being just a little bit weird. Okay, a lot weird. But that didn’t stop Kimmy from staying weird and becoming a true guiding light in a troubled DJ’s adolescent years. Kimmy showed us how important our real friends are, even if they do drive you crazy sometimes. Also holy shit that mullet is legendary!