15 TV Shows From the 90s That Would Have Certainly Been Scrutinized Today

It felt like TV was finally diversifying and changing in the 1990s but if you look back at many of the popular series from the decade, you will soon realize that many of these TV shows would not pass today’s muster. While most sitcoms and popular TV shows of the era seemed pretty banal, many of the hit shows back then toyed with downright offensive narratives. And, while some shows as a whole still hold up, there were moments or episodes of each that would cause public outrage today (we’re looking at you Friends).

Culture changes and TV reflects that back to its audiences. But, sometimes shows miss the mark. We decided to take a look back at the 90s shows that feel inappropriate and extremely outdated today. It’s amazing how much society has changed over the last 30 years. Now, let’s talk about the TV shows that would most assuredly get canceled today.

Johnny Bravo

offensive tv shows from the 90s
Promotional Poster / IMDB

The TV show that top to bottom would be offensive to audiences today is the animated series Johnny Bravo. The premise of the show was “The misadventures of a dumb blond egomaniac who is deluded about his own manliness.” So, yes, it was a show that was all about using toxic masculinity as entertainment. But, it was not offering social commentary. The series leaned into it and made one of the most sexist series to have landed on the small screen.

Married… with Children

offensive tv shows from the 90s
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Another show with few redeemable qualities is Married… with Children. It felt outdated even in the 1990s! If want to remember what this show was all about, read how the producers of the series described it. Think of it as the writers’ pitch and see if you think a streamer would pick it up.

“With a paycheck that is lower than what the local beggar is earning, and with a wife and two children whose only interest is to rob him of his last cents, shoe-salesman Al Bundy is lucky if he can sit down in front of the TV with an ice-cold beer, or sneak out to the local Nudy bar every Tuesday night. Life isn’t what it used to be when he was the star of the high school football team, and when he scored four touchdowns in a single game.”

*Sigh.* Need we say more?

Home Improvement

offensive tv shows from the 90s
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Millions tuned in to see the “wholesome” family sitcom Home Improvement which starred Tim Allen as Tim “the Tool Man” Taylor. The show was based on Allen’s comedy which amounts to little more than male grievance. The show featured some seriously outdated gender roles and promoted stereotypes. As you will recall, Tim’s wife was Jill who was often relegated to the trope of the “nagging wife.”

The TV show was like “men like beer and tools, women like book clubs and art.” Case in point: when Tim’s son gets cast as Peter Pan in his school play, his son rehearses his part which finds him simulating flight. To Tim, who was watching unbeknownst to his son, the rehearsal looked excessively feminine to the point that Tim nearly has a heart attack. This sort of gender essentialism can be left in the 90s.

Friends

offensive tv shows from the 90s

Have you ever noticed how white the cast of Friends is? The TV show was set in one of the most diverse metropolises in the world and yet there are very few actors of color who appear in the show. Okay, this is still a problem today but most networks and streamers are looking to diversify their talent behind and in front of the camera to reflect our society.

As a whole, Friends is mostly inoffensive however the TV show had its moments and they would not fly today. For instance, Rachel’s racially insensitive comment upon meeting Julie, Ross’ Asian girlfriend, and saying “Welcome to our country.” But, Julie was American.

Another terrible offense was the running joke about the gender transition of Chandler’s dad. There are too many transphobic jokes to count in those early episodes.

Dawson’s Creek

offensive tv shows from the 90s
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Young audiences today, who are used to the outrageous antics of Riverdale or Pretty Little Liars, would find Dawson’s Creek to be incredibly boring. The show might have launched the careers of its young cast but it was not all soapy melodrama. In fact, one storyline from the TV show that often gets looked over was its lax approach to student-teacher relationships.

You might recall that Pacey (Joshua Jackson) was just 15 years old when he lost his virginity to Mrs. Jacobs, who was 35, making the illicit affair even more inappropriate and disturbing upon reflection. In fact, it makes us want to gag.

Saved by the Bell

offensive tv shows from the 90s
Promotional Poster / IMDB

If you watched Saved by the Bell as a kid but have not revisited it as an adult, you should. It’s an eye-opening experience. Firstly, it was geared so totally to kids that it is unbearable to watch as a person who made it out of high school. It’s petty, silly, and void of any real substance for many of its episodes. Aside from being a terrible TV show, there were some moments that are truly problematic.

In an episode entitled “Running Zack,” Zack (Mark-Paul Gosselaar) learns that one of his ancestors is Native American. Do you see how that title is already not on good footing? Well, it only gets worse from there. Zack goes on to make racist, offensive comment after racist, offensive comment. He even puts on “war paint” and a headdress to give a presentation to his class. It was so terrible that Gosselaar recently admitted that he “cringed” while rewatching the Season 2 episode of the TV show. “This episode would never get made in current times, and rightly so,” the actor shared. 

The Ren & Stimpy Show

offensive tv shows from the 90s
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Somehow the adults in the room thought that a TV-Y7 rating was appropriate for The Ren & Stimpy Show. If you remember this one from your childhood, you likely remember how uncomfortable it made you. The show was extremely violent (yes we know about Looney Tunes) and grotesque. Potty humor, offensive caricatures, and so much more often found episodes being censored or banned from TV.

Who could forget the time Ren plucked bloody nerve endings out of his toothless mouth? Or the time when Ren and Stimpy end up in a bathtub with naked, random adults? Yikes!

Seinfeld

offensive tv shows from the 90s
Promotional Poster / IMDB

Of course, Seinfeld was one of the most popular and celebrated TV shows of the 1990s. Now, you might beg to differ here but we just don’t think this show holds up. Sure, it has its moments of genius that will never get old but so much of the humor and situations feel incredibly dated today. Stand-up comedy has undergone a huge transformation over the last several years. Those segments where Jerry does stand up are completely cringe-worthy. It’s got a very “I’m a white dude and I know things about things so let me preach at you about what bugs me” vibe.

But, there are actually instances of troublesome scenarios and dialogue and scenarios we can point to. The one that is first of mind is the time that Jerry puts his girlfriend to sleep. In the episode from season 9, Jerry’s girlfriend has a collection of vintage toys she wouldn’t let him handle. So what did Jerry do? He drugged her with sleeping medication so he could play with her toys while she snoozed. What’s worse, George and Elaine happily joined in and acted as Jerry’s accomplices. They would go on drugging her several more times so they could play with the toys, too.

That’s a crime and the TV show played it off like it was subject material for a joke.

Sex and the City

offensive tv shows from the 90s
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When Sex and the City first aired in 1998, the show was seen as a progressive and proactive TV show that would usher in more sex positivity. Unfortunately, the show, for all the good it did, was insultingly tone-deaf on a number of issues. One episode of season 3 really stands out and would be the subject of backlash today.

In the episode, Carrie begins dating a bisexual young man played by Eddie Cahill. After the character comes out as bisexual, explaining that he had dated a man in the past, Carrie completely freaks out and has a meltdown. According to her character, bisexuality is just a myth that she describes as “just a layover on the way to Gay Town.” Then, she dumps him. This country has come a long way with LGBTQIA acceptance but it was clear in the 1990s that more work needed to be done.

In Living Color

offensive tv shows from the 90s
Promotional Poster / IMDB

When the TV show In Living Color premiered in 1990, it was positioned as an edgier more culturally relevant sketch comedy series that would push the boundaries that SNL could not. And, push the boundaries it would! Now, the show was a huge hit and people loved the humor that was offbeat and fresh. However, today, so much of it feels offensive. If you have never gone back and watched this TV Show, you have forgotten how homophobic, transphobic, and misogynistic the sketches are.

For instance, Damon Wayans and David Alan Grier portrayed Blaine Edwards and Antoine Merriweather, two extremely stereotypically effeminate gay movie critics. Jamie Foxx famously played Wanda, a forceful woman who went after the men she wanted but who was always rejected due to her severe ugliness. And lastly, Jim Carey‘s Vera De Milo character, a female bodybuilder action star, made the joke that she was not actually a woman.

The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer

offensive tv shows from the 90s
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Slavery is no laughing matter and the creators of the short-lived The Secret Diary of Desmond Pfeiffer somehow missed that fact. We don’t have to dig too deep to explain why this show was so problematic. The Black character, Desmond, in the pilot for the show escapes a lynching, is subjected to a minstrel show, and there’s a disgusting joke about Desmond needing to get his feet off the table because “the slaves haven’t been emancipated yet.” Critics and the NAACP cried foul over this show which was shelved shortly after it premiered.

Tiny Toon Adventures

offensive tv shows from the 90s
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Tiny Toon Adventures is mostly remembered fondly but the animated series for kids took a real wrong turn with an episode that was banned after it aired. The episode entitled “Elephant Issues” and the segment in question was called “One Beer.” It was supposed to be a segment encouraging children to not drink but it missed the mark.

In the episode, Buster Bunny, Plucky Duck, and Hampton J. Pig immediately engage in some car-stealing after drinking a single bottle of beer. The intoxicated characters carjack a police car and drive it recklessly off of a cliff to their death. The souls of their bodies float to the heavens from the wreckage. In the end, it is revealed that it was all just a skit to keep kids from drinking but parents were absolutely outraged.

TaleSpin

offensive tv shows from the 90s
Promotional Poster / IMDB

Like Tiny Toons, TaleSpin was an animated TV show for kids that most had an innocent run. However, there were a couple of episodes that really rubbed people the wrong way. In an episode called “Last Horizons,” the show finds its star Baloo stumbling on a city beyond the last horizon, Panda-La. The episode features panda-inspired characters and a whole lot of terrible East Asian stereotypes. Including a not-so-subtle reference to the dictatorship of North Korea. The show was taken out of circulation following the backlash that was endured following its premiere.

Profit

offensive tv shows from the 90s
Promotional Poster / IMDB

Profit was a TV show that only ran for eight episodes. At the start, the TV show was critically acclaimed with many applauding the show as a satire about corporate and personal greed. The main character, Jim Profit, is a white-collar criminal who will stop at nothing to… well, profit. What started out as a good thing quickly devolved as the show went on. The character and show would depict “murder, incest, blackmail, drugs, insanity, adultery and all manner of sex,” a writer for the New York Times noted at the time. And, yes, the lead character did murder his father and sleep with his mother.

Could you imagine this flying today? The backlash following this show’s descent into the grotesque caused the show to be canceled after a handful of episodes.

Heil Honey, I’m Home!

offensive tv shows from the 90s
Promotional Image / IMDB

Okay, so we had to turn to the UK for this TV show and it is so unbelievable that we thought you deserved to know about it. In 1990, the most ill-advised television series to ever be made. The show which is delivered as an American sitcom complete with gags and a laugh track centers on Hitler and Eva Braun living next door to a Jewish couple named Arny and Rosa Goldenstein in Berlin in 1938. Needless to say, this show did not strike audiences as funny at all. After airing only one episode, the TV show got the chop. Thank goodness.

Now you know the most offensive and controversial tv shows and moments from them to ever make it on TV. Things were improving in the 1990s when it comes to representation and an openness to new perspectives but there was clearly a lot of work that still needed to be done. If you liked learning about offensive TV shows, keep reading as we have rounded up the most offensive Halloween costumes that people have actually worn.

Avoid These Canceled Halloween Costumes to Save Yourself from Embarrassment & Ridicule!

A Clansman

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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Who in their right mind does this? The KKK is a domestic terrorist organization that actively hates, terrorizes, and sews divisions in our country. They’re not a thing of the past. By wearing their dumb sheet costumes, you’re endorsing their mission which is hate. Yes, a clansman is scary. No, it’s never okay. Don’t spread their hideousness with one of the worst canceled Halloween costumes on this list.

Imposter Calaveras

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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“People need to understand that when they are wearing that Calavera, that it’s not just a mask or something to decorate their face with,” Yreina Cervantez, a Chicano/a studies professor at California State University, Northridge, told the Inquisitr. “What they are wearing is the symbolism of that eternal cycle of life, death, and rebirth.”

So, unless you were raised in Mexican culture, you should avoid these canceled Halloween costumes as you probably have no idea the significance they hold for others.

Blackface

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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“To this day we are still fighting to tell our own stories because minstrelsy is the origination of our cinematic history before we ever had the chance to represent ourselves,” the person who posted this still writes. The image is a still from Birth of a Nation, a horrific film about the rise of the KKK. In the movie, white actors don blackface and act as offensively as possible. Blackface is a disgusting, enraging, hideous, and racist practice that some people still think is perfectly fine. It’s not. It’s never okay.

Terrorists

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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We eye-rolled so hard when we saw this image. Are you tired of these canceled Halloween costumes yet? Do not wear a crude “terrorist” costume on Halloween. Costumes that equate clothing associated with Middle Eastern culture as “terrorist” outfits perpetuate disparaging stereotypes. They often include items that imply violence, ultimately reducing a diverse group of people down to a single, stereotypical monolith.

Members of the Armed Services

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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“Sexy soldiers” and civilians in military fatigues are not too nice for the people who served our country. Imagine risking your life and then going to a Halloween party and seeing a costume that belittles that sacrifice. If you want to protest a war, fine! But, do not insult members of the military with your silly, canceled Halloween costumes. It’s not a game for them.

Stereotypes of Asian People

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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Again, a cultural stereotype does not justify a costume. Costumes of “men from the Orient” were big in the US starting in the 1920s. Hollywood began to crank out movies that vilified Asian men and women and academics now refer to them as Yellow Peril Films. The demand for racist costumes surged at the time. And, apparently, are still being made today despite being roundly condemned as canceled Halloween costumes.

Kilts

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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Gaelic boys and men have been wearing kilts in the Highlands of Scotland since before the 16th century. They are made from tartan fabric and symbolize Celtic or Gaelic culture. They’re not funny or novel. That’s someone’s traditional culture you’re mocking with these canceled Halloween costumes.

Voodoo Practitioners

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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The term “Voodoo” itself is offensive to some with many preferring the alternative term, Vodou. These “voodoo priests” and “priestess” costumes are offensive as they often equate “black magic” and Vodou. That’s not too great for practitioners of the religion who see these canceled Halloween costumes as mocking their spirituality, traditions, and beliefs.

Members of the SS & Nazis

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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Because a costume is marketed as being from a movie, in this case, Inglourious Basterds, does not make it any less stupid. You’re still dressed as a Nazi if you put on one of these canceled Halloween costumes. Some will argue, “No, this isn’t offensive because I’m so-and-so from the movie and not an actual Nazi.” At the end of the day, you’re dressed as a Nazi which means to many folks that you don’t care about the heinous crimes they committed. Get a grip!

Hitler

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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While we’re on the topic… Adolf Hitler is “scary” but not in a way that’s suitable for Halloween. He was a real-life monster who thrust the world into a bloody war and he oversaw the systematic killing of millions of Jews. It’s no laughing matter and you should not dress up as him or else you’ll look like a complete toad.

An Egyptian Deity

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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The religious and cultural traditions of a group of people have no place as Halloween costumes. Just because marketers put the word “sexy” in front of the name of a costume doesn’t make them less offensive. In fact, the opposite is true. “Sexy Egyptian goddess” costumes and the like are super offensive.

Just Don’t

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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“Pharaohs, Cleopatra costumes, Nefertiti costumes, anks, etc. is not for white people to wear [sic].” a writer for Bustle notes. “The Ancient Egyptians were basically the only Black, African civilization given any exposure or respect, and even then their blackness is systemically denied.” As with the “Egyptian goddess” costume, all in this class are canceled Halloween costumes.

Gypsies

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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“Even after ten years in the field of Roma representation and rights, I sometimes wonder: How is it possible to get away with stereotyping the Roma people in such a disparaging way?” Cristiana Grigore wrote for Newsweek. She urges everyone and journalists, in particular, to call out cultural appropriation when they see it. “It takes access to a respected place within mainstream society for Roma and our allies to see that we Roma are still represented by grotesque or exotic Gypsy imagery.”

Appropriated Regalia

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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Good people often make poor decisions because of a lack of education and empathy. “They blatantly take certain aspects of our culture, race, religion, and use it for their advantage and ignore the people living it,” Glory Ames, co-president of the American Indian Student Association at Minnesota State University Moorhead told the Washington Post. Dreaded feathered headpieces are most certainly canceled Halloween costumes.

Historical Native Figures

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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“You might think that you’re throwing a nod to a fun character, but you’re actually taking a culture to which you don’t belong and turning it into a whimsical costume,” Madeleine Aggeler wrote for Bustle. “And without knowing the full sordid history behind such stories, your costume could be at most violent and at least painfully ignorant.”

Mexican Individuals

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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“Disgusted and appalled!” the person who found this costume captioned the image. “How the ???? is this still a thing in 2020? Found this in between a squirrel costume, and a cactus costume, you know, silly things to actually be for Halloween. Who would think that such a racist caricature of a Mexican man was a great idea for a costume? My culture isn’t some plaything to be bought, and worn for your amusement for one night. The Sombrero and Serape are beautiful aspects of my people and is not something to be mocked.”

Confederate Soldiers

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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We didn’t think we needed to say this, but it’s America in 2021, so… Do not dress as a soldier of the confederate army. They fought to uphold slavery and nearly broke our country. They also lost the Civil War. If you wear a costume to “honor” them, you’re really just a loser. A good rule of thumb is that any type of soldier costumes are canceled Halloween costumes.

RELATED: 15 DIY Halloween Costumes That Are So Much Better Than Store-Bought

The Coronavirus

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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COVID-19 is scary, but that doesn’t mean you should make light of it with a costume. You’re wearing a costume that represents a cause of death for 700,000 people and counting in the US and over 5 million worldwide. It’s not cute or cheeky. It’s just sad. Don’t make light of a global pandemic with one of these should-be canceled Halloween costumes!

Ninjas

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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In a piece titled “All You Know About Ninjas Is Wrong,” Brian Ashcraft argues that Japanese ninjas were more akin to intelligence professionals like you’d find at the CIA than actual assassins. “Those black suits. Those weapons. Martial arts. The image of the ninja is rooted more in fiction than fact. Everything you think you know is probably more ‘wrong’ than ‘right,'” he argues. So, don’t be in the wrong with one of these canceled Halloween costumes.

Incarcerated Individuals

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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Unless you’re prepared to talk at length about criminal justice reform, do not wear a prison jumpsuit as they really should be considered canceled Halloween costumes. Whether you’ve been to prison or not depends a lot on class, race, and privilege. Not everyone has had a fair shake. If you’re out wearing a prison jumpsuit on Halloween, you’re essentially saying that you don’t care.

Muslim Individuals

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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A burqa, hijab, or turban does not belong on your body on Halloween if you don’t wear one year-round. These coverings are important religious, cultural, and traditional symbols that shouldn’t be ridiculed. Don’t even think about wearing one of these highly offensive canceled Halloween costumes.

People Experiencing Homelessness

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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How did this get costume even made? Who thought it would be a good idea to create a costume of a stereotype of a homeless person? Thousands of people slip into poverty and homelessness every year. And now, with the economic downturn caused by the pandemic, it’s even harder for folks to get by. Don’t insult someone’s suffering with canceled Halloween costumes that caricature pain.

Maids

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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Reader, did your jaw just hit the floor. “Who would buy this for their child?” the person who found this terrible costume wrote. We wonder the exact same thing! This is the costume equivalent of the movie, The Help. This is an insult to just about all people, somehow. Women, black women, Black people, working-class people, and actually the concept of fashion should all be outraged.

YOU MIGHT ALSO LIKE: 30 3 Person Costumes Ideas Just in Time for Halloween

Geisha Costumes

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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“Why are ‘the other’ and ‘the exotic’ such sources of enjoyment and pleasure that they’ve become Halloween staples?” Washington State University’s David Leonard said. “What does it tell us,” he asks, “that amid all these scary things of ghosts and witches, we also have all these racialized costumes?” It’s a great sentiment that you should keep in mind to distinguish canceled Halloween costumes.

“Dragon Lady”

25 canceled halloween costumes that are beyond offensive
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“Found an original Collegeville ‘Dragon Lady’ costume yesterday,” the individual who stumbled on this costume wrote. “This stereotype cast Asian women as mysterious deceitful and domineering, often enslaving and trafficking whites at opium dens.”

This costume was originally manufactured in the sixties. It was offensive then and 60 years later, it’s even worse. Don’t wear a stereotype, people! These are definitely canceled Halloween costumes!

Now you know which canceled Halloween costumes are the most controversial and offensive. Getting dressed up for Halloween should be a fun experience and you can find a perfect costume without offending others. It’s all about putting yourself into someone else’s shoes. If those shoes tread on a racist path, you better rethink your Halloween costume idea.

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