As millennials, we like to think we know the 90s. If playing Pokémon on a Gameboy Color, taking trips to Blockbuster to rent VHS tapes and listening to the Spice Girls are among your fondest childhood memories, chances are you grew up to call yourself a “90s kid.”
We’re nostalgic for this time—and not just because it was our childhood. As it turns out, the 90s was a fly time to be alive, no matter how old you were.
The New York Times columnist Kurt Andersen (who is not a millennial) posits that this is due to political, technological and socio-economical advances during the last ten years of the 20th century in an op-ed called “The Best Decade Ever? The 1990s, Obviously.”
Our awareness of current events as adults makes this 90s nostalgia even more acute. Now we know that the world back then truly was, by our standards, pretty chill.
If given the chance to go back in time and experience this glorious epoch of tattoo chokers and Legos with the knowledge we have as adults, how would we fare? If a millennial lives in the ultimate 90s fantasy world but can’t share the experience via Snapchat, did it even happen? Ugh, as if!
MTV’s new reality-competition show 90’s House lets us witness what our lives would be like in the 90s, without time travel.
For my 11th birthday, my parents bought me a 13-inch, white Panasonic TV/VCR set. I was most excited about the fact that it was white, and therefore girly, but also the fact that it gave me access to the exclusive club of sixth grade girls at my school who could invite their friends over to watch MTV.
My neighbor Lauren had been the first of my friends to enter this coterie when her older brother moved out and gave her his TV. I skip my bus stop and get off at her house, raid the fridge for Pepperoni lunch-ables, Dunkaroos and Cherry Coke, and head to her basement playroom, where we’d turn the TV straight to TRL and watch Carson Daly countdown the day’s 10 hottest music videos.
On a typical spring afternoon in 2002, we’d watch the same *NSYNC video for the fourth time that week, along with hits from Blink 182, Christina Aguilara, Britney Spears, Shakira, Michelle Branch, Brandy and Kylie Minogue. Sometimes we’d call in our request, but usually we’d just try to guess which one was coming next. Most of the time, we were right.
By the time my new TV allowed me to form my own girls club to watch TRL, Carson Daly had stepped down as host, and we were introduced to a downright dreamy group of regular “VJs” (video deejays, something I learned much later in life). My friends and I crushed hard on Damien Fahey, and wanted to look just like the trendy, chic Vanessa Minnillo.
Now, MTV is bringing back this iconic video countdown show, which ran for 10 years between 1998 and 2008. TRL’s revival is set for October 2, to be broadcast from a renovated version of its iconic Times Square studio.
TRL will be different than the one I remember— the video countdown model and audience request integration will stay, but the new show yanks the format into the post-2008 world of social and interactive media, with a mélange of linear, social and digital dimensions (expect some TRL Snapchat filters and daily updates on Instagram and Twitter).
A new generation of VJs will rotate through the studio, including, as of now, D.C. Young Fly, Erik Zachary, Amy Pham, Tamara Dhia and Lawrence Jackson. Learn more about the hosts here.
The revival of this flagship show is a logical move for the network as it shepherds in a new era of MTV that is remarkably similar to the one my friends and I would watch on that 13-inch TV in my bedroom.
With revivals of My Super Sweet 16 (a reality show I watched religiously as a teen, which I wrote about here) and Fear Factor (NBC’s gruesome game show, re-invented with a millennial twist), as well as a new show called Siesta Key (created by the same producers responsible for MTV’s original, laid back teen-paradise reality show, Laguna Beach), MTV seems ready for a millennial renaissance.
Watch the teaser for Siesta Key:
And why not? All of us who grew up watching these shows as kids are now in our 20s, able to buy our own TVs (albeit without VHS players attached), subscribe for VOD streaming services or cable packages and browse the internet without parental controls. Above all else, we’re nostalgic for the carefree shows of our childhood.
When I used to watch Kristin Cavallari flirt with Stephen Colletti back in middle school, I desperately wanted to be in her $300 Tory Burch kitten heels. Now, I’m in my mid-20s and have slightly different summer aspirations than spending it prancing around a beach with my high school crush, but that doesn’t mean I can’t relive the fun.
MTV President Chris McCarthy is largely responsible for this mining of the network’s history to inform its current programming. “MTV’s reinvention,” he told recently toldThe New York Times, “is coming by harnessing its heritage.”
As a business strategy, this has been remarkably successful. In June and July, ratings for MTV’s target demographic – millennials, aka 18 to 34-year-olds—soared. It was the first time the network experienced two consecutive months of ratings growth in four years.
As Viacom President and CEO Bob Bakish toldThe New York Times, “[McCarthy] reset the brand filter, cleaned out the pipeline and began building a new MTV that’s much more based on reality, unscripted and music content.”
Nickelodeon unleashed a pair of nostalgia-infused trailers at last week’s San Diego Comic Con, promoting TV movies that will revisit fondly remembered series from the 1990s and early 2000s: Hey Arnold! and Rocko’s Modern Life.
“Nickelodeon rolled into Comic-Con 2017 with the most effective weapon they could possibly unleash on millennials: nostalgia,” wrote Katie Buenneke in L.A. Weekly. “As always, Nick isn’t just catering to kids — and now they’re specifically targeting the generation of now-adult kids who grew up on Nick’s animated programming.”
Hey Arnold!, which ran on Nick from 1996 to 2004, is set in the streets of Hillwood, a sort of Portland-Brooklyn-Seattle mash-up where fourth grader Arnold lives in an inner-city boarding house with his grandparents. Kind and unassuming, Arnold is a low-key bully-battling hero who is perpetually helpful to those in need.
This no-judgement, all-are-welcome Mr. Fix It persona endeared Arnold to a whole generation of Nick viewers. “90s kids who grew up with the show Hey Arnold! love it because main man Arnold is earnestly cool and selfless to everyone in his neighborhood and PS 118,” writes Inquirer.net’s Niña V. Guno.
It turns out that nice ages well. Fast forward to 2017. Arnold has aged one year. He is prepping to enter sixth grade. Best bud Gerald has organized a rooftop tribute to Arnold’s relentless do-goodery. And then we find out that this crew is sending their urban hero to the (fictional) Central American nation of San Lorenzo, where his parents disappeared back in the 90s.
Hey Arnold! creator Craig Bartlett talks a bit more about the characters’ updated styles and teases Arnold’s destination:
Rocko’s Modern Life, which ran on Nick from 1993 to ’96, followed the titular anthropomorphic immigrant wallaby and his crew – Heffer the steer and Filburt the turtle – through the fantasyland of their fictional city, O-Town. Despite its short-ish run, the series retains a loyal fanbase.
“The fourth Nicktoon to debut, Rocko’s Modern Life boasts a sizable cult to this day, largely thanks to the fact that it tosses a bunch of goofily animated animals straight out of a brightly colored Sunday comic strip into the midst of decidedly mundane situations, from visiting the DMV to flying on a plane to cleaning an apartment,” A.V. Club’s Todd VanDerWerff wrote more than a decade and a half after the final episode aired.
That final episode – or at least what the creators intended to be the final episode – sent Rocko and his posse deep into space, where they have been floating about (along with an impudent monkey and bunches of bananas) ever since.