90’s Offbeat Animated Series

By Isaac H.

Imagine a time when cable television reigned supreme. An era of video rentals instead of streaming services. A time of skip-prone compact disc players the size of dining plates instead of digital audio playing smart devices. When cellular phones were the size of a brick, and when contact lists meant memorizing the number of every person you knew. A strange era that doesn’t seem that long ago to many of us who lived through it, the 1990’s were also a time of off-beat, oddball animated television programs. What follows are three animated television shows from that era, each with their own unique attributes that stand out in their time.

Daria

Imagine a teenage Gen-X’er with the critical snark of Arrested Development‘s Lucille Bluth, the razor sharp wit of Golden Girls Dorothy Zbornak, and the unyielding cynicism of Marvin the depressed robot. If you could blend each of those attributes and pour it into the mind of monotone teenage suburbanite, you would have Daria. Eternally morose and deadpan, Daria does her best to endure her sitcom-esque family, new town and school. The character began as supporting cast member of the equally 90’s MTV show, Beavis and Butthead. After her father changes jobs, her family relocates to a generic suburban Midwestern town where she meets her equally sardonic best friend Jane Lane. Daria is such a great show in the sense that many people who experienced high school in the 90’s had friends (or were) just like her.

Ren and Stimpy

Animated shows that feature humor that works for children and adults is nothing new in the age of Pixar and Dreamworks children’s movies. If I’m being honest, it may be a much older concept than we think re-examining the old Looney Tunes shorts. That aside, the early 90s Nickelodeon cable television show Ren and Stimpy pushed the envelope. The show was filled with adult humor. The cartoon mainly focused on an overconfident, high strung chihuahua named Ren constantly bungling schemes with his maniacally cheerful-yet-dull cat friend Stimpy. All in a setting that frequently parodied rampant commercialism and children’s educations with zany (and dangerous) product advertisements and sing-a-longs.

Transformers: Beast Wars

On the surface, this show was the last of a generation of Saturday morning cartoons primed to selling sugary breakfast cereals and toys. But below that surface, it was much, much more.  Beast Wars was simultaneously a prequel and a sequel series to the original Transformers G1 cartoon series. It explained what happened long after the war between the Autobots and Decepticons ended, not to mention what each robotic “species” evolved into. But there is a lot more going on here under it’s seemingly simple plot of future robots stranded on Pleistocene age Earth. Plots revolving around love, serial killers, racism, depression, classism, betrayal, even human evolution repeatedly come up throughout the show. It was almost more of a soap opera than it was a digital cartoon about good robots fighting bad robots.

Are there any 90’s cartoons you recall or enjoyed? Let us know below. Also take a look at this longer list of animated shows from the decade that you might enjoy.

90's Off Beat Animated Series

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