Okay, I needed to get Atheist Christmas Carol and the last movie of a certain trilogy out my head.
So much waste of potential. So much money spent keeping dumpsters on fire.
Anyway, I found my mind fading back to the simpler times of my youth. When my “life-crushing” responsibilities were laughable compared to what they are now; the Nineties.
While my beloved Eighties were over and Bill Clinton had become the first of the horrifying Boomer presidents. Life was comparatively easy for us Gen-Xers. True, our careers weren’t moving ahead like our parents had. And finding the “right girl” was proving a quite a bit tougher for us than it had for our Dads. But we were hand waving that away with mumbles about, economic downturns and not having gotten into the right industry at the right time. Not realizing that the Boomers had managed to re-write the rulebook for Gen-X.
So we whiled away the time, waiting for better days that were never going to come, with early computer games, actual human interaction, and bad Nineties dark fantasy shows.
Cable TV had indeed and truly become ubiquitous in the 1990s. What we think of as ‘cable’ came into being during the Eighties.* As a cultural force, it had it’s genesis then. Everybody switched from having only three network channels, (plus PBS and a couple of UHF stations) to having twenty-five channels, (plus HBO).
However, Eighties cable TV was mostly an improved conduit for reruns of shows that had already been in syndication for years. Now you can watch The Beverly Hillbillies four times a day!
When the Nineties arrived the cable TV rules changed. There were now sixty channels and they were hungry for new content.
The baseline rule for these new shows was that they had to be as cheap as hell. Now today, there are plenty of cheap shows that come and go constantly, and you might not hear about one until it had been canceled for years. That wasn’t the case in the Nineties. Sixty channels were few enough to make it difficult to avoid at least skimming across something new and different when you were channel surfing.
Nineties shows were indeed cheap which meant they had to be shot anywhere but Los Angeles and different locations brought some fresh perspectives. They weren’t very good by modern standards but there was a sort of charm to them. And when all is said and done they were trying their best.
Now the big rule I came up with for this list is that the show had to be more or less forgotten and it had to be dark fantasy. So, none of the Star Trek series qualify. Babylon 5 is a borderline case but ultimately it’s science fiction. Buffy is disqualified because it is in no way forgotten.
There may be others that are so forgotten, I forgot about them completely. If you have a favorite, leave it in the comments below.
Let us begin.
1. She-Wolf of London:
She-Wolf of London used a title from a classic horror movie and repurposed it. The intent was to remind you of An American Werewolf in London but instead of the Doctor Pepper Guy it starred a woman. Randi Wallace began as an American grad student studying in London. She was mousy and theoretically unattractive. Which is to say she wore glasses and had neatly mussed hair. After she gets nipped by a werewolf she became super hot because she lost the glasses and started wearing heavy Eighties style makeup, (the show was shot in 1990, so Eighties fashions weren’t dead yet).
She Wolf and Professor Boyfriend would investigate supernatural occurrences.
Below is the episode I remember best. It was probably the inspiration for Galaxy Quest.
2. Forever Knight:
The chicks absolutely loved this one. It was incredibly emo in every way available to it. And it was the very first of the sad vampire shows.
Nick Knight was a detective in the Toronto police force. He worked the graveyard shift because of a rare skin disorder which made him react badly to sunlight. In reality, he was an 800-year-old vampire who was very remorseful over the whole centuries of slaughter and blood slurping thing. He is trying to find a way out of being a vamp and into the light.
When Nick would work a case, he would be reminded of something that happened centuries ago and the B story would take place in the flashbacks (put a pin in that one, we are circling back to it).
Nick finally gave up the struggle and handed his only friend a wooden stake. You were supposed to fill in the blanks with your imagination.
3. Friday 13th, the Series:
So you would get a big dose of Jason once a week? A loyal reader asks. Cool!
Ha! Ha! Ha! I answer. Not even a little bit.
The resemblance to the Friday the 13th movies began and ended with the title. No serial killers in this one. Originally the show was titled The 13th Hour and the producer changed it because Friday 13th can’t be legally trademarked and it might chump a few fans of Jason into giving it a look.
I know I did.
The premise, however, was good enough. Two young Gen Xers got screwed by their older uncle. They inherit an antique shop from him that had been selling cursed antiques. Now they have to put their lives on hold to clean up a mess left by a previous generation. This spoke to Generation X for some reason.
It wasn’t a bad little horror show by the standards of its day. I wouldn’t say it’s still worth a watch because none of these shows are. But it was usually playing in the old Monster Chiller Horror Theater timeslot of 10:30 on a Saturday night and if there wasn’t a party to go to that night it killed the time.
4. Highlander the Series:
Okay, forget what I just said about these shows not being worth watching anymore.
And I know I said. ‘forgotten series,’ but this one is kind-a, sort-a forgotten in that nobody likes to think about it. The reason for that is that it massively overstayed its welcome.
However, when the show was new, there were a few years when the sound of Freddie Mercury singing out, “Here we are! Born to be kings! We’re the princes of the uni-vers-se!” Was enough to get me to drop whatever I was doing, and glue myself to the lobotomy box with a huge smile on my face.
The original Highlander was a decent enough Eighties urban fantasy film. However, it left absolutely no room for a sequel. Connor Macleod was the last Immortal at the end of the movie. Then came Highlander II which was The Last Jedi of the Highlander franchise. But it did seem to work as a functional reset because everybody was so determined to forget everything about that movie, that we also sort of forgot that there shouldn’t be any more Highlander films.
Through some kind of bizarre Hollywood alchemy, Highlander the Series was pitched and greenlit in 1992. Christopher Lambert was too big of a star (at that time) to be in a cheap cable TV show, so the producers hired Adrian Paul. Now Paul could actually do a Scottish accent, and astonishingly, he was a fairly decent swordsman, martial artist. He could also act and looked like he fell off the cover of a bodice-ripping, romance novel.
Honestly, he should have been a much bigger star than he ever became.
The first season was truly excellent. Not even joking. It was everything the films could have been and just weren’t. The pain of a man who couldn’t die but everyone he loved would, was evident in everything they did. His biggest problem, of course, was that the only people he knew that wouldn’t die either, were sooner or later going to come for his head.
Like the film, this series followed the formula of a contemporary (A) story, with a concurrently running (B) story that was told in flashback. In the first season, they didn’t bother with a duel every week. The stories just didn’t need it. When he had to draw the katana it was special.
Then the formula changed to a duel every week. The writing was still good enough but there were clouds on the horizon. Most of these shows took their final bow before you could get tired of them. Not so, with Highlander the series. It went on for a hell of a lot longer than it should have. The scripts became extremely formulaic and repetitive. When they tried to up their game, it made things worse (The Four Horsemen comes irresistibly to mind).
Finally, the series was ended when the producers decided that Adrian Paul should take over for Christopher Lambert, (who was aging pretty badly for an Immortal), in the films. Highlander: Endgame, was just that. The script was weak and the villain was corny beyond belief.
Seven years later there was a made for Sci Fi Channel movie that was supposed to reboot the series. Thankfully it went nowhere.
Immortal, the Highlander wasn’t.
5. The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne:
Steampunk is dark fantasy’s special needs, little brother. And so rounding out the end of this list is the only example of steampunk from the Nineties that I can think of.
The Secret Adventures of Jules Verne looked promising at first. The premise looked fun. That Jules Verne’s writings were based on actual adventures he’d had as a young man. That Fogg and Passepartout were both real people. The acting was good enough, the performers were bringing the goods but the plots just weren’t there. Its ultimate problem was that it was clearly treading a path that was a little too well-trodden.
All good things must come to an end. And for that matter so must all indifferent things. Nineties dark fantasy cable TV ended not with a bang but a whimper.
The Nineties were coming to an end and the cable TV selection of channels was drastically expanding. The Science Fiction channel had morphed into the Sci-Fi channel and cable TV was starting to produce original content that actually had a budget.
After 9-11 there wasn’t much of a need for fake monsters anymore. So, a genre faded from our screens and then from our minds with the passing of years. But now and then when cruising around YouTube, I’ll find something from simpler age that puts smile on my cranky old face.
Okay, I’m done here.
* Please spare me the true history of cable TV and how it actually was invented in the late Forties, (no one cares, stop being that guy),