Man, do we love our '90s sitcoms. Boy Meets World gets the green light for a spin-off/sequel hybrid show on the Disney Channel and fans go into an internet frenzy. While such reunion spin-offs are the exception, TV producers have taken notice of our torch-carrying for the old Must See TV and TGIF lineups and characters. Putting that nostalgia to good financial use, networks have made it a more regular practice to inject their struggling sitcoms with cameos that reunite beloved '90s characters.
Take Matthew Perry's new show Go On, for example. Despite high hopes and a fall premiere, the show's ratings are at an all-time low. Enter special guest star Courtney Cox. After months of hype, Cox will finally make her appearance Tuesday, portraying a manic widow set up on a blind date with Perry's character, widower Ryan King. See the teaser clip:
The likely ill-fated match is a play on their Friends' characters, Chandler Bing and Monica Geller, who went from best friends to secret lovers to a happily married couple on the long-running show. The pairing is a nostalgic cameo set-up done right. The rekindled on-screen romance between Cox and Perry is a "wink, wink" to devoted Friends fans who followed Monica and Chandler's love story and who might find themselves feeling an instant affection for these new characters. Meanwhile the network gets an episode-boost and may come away with a few more viewers who now care enough to check in on Perry's show.
What other former TV favorites are popping up in current sitcoms? Scroll down for more.
1. The Cosby Show sisters on Guys with Kids
The former characters: On the beloved sitcom The Cosby Show, Tempestt Bledsoe and Keshia Knight Pulliam played sisters Vanessa and Rudy Huxtable. Vanessa was Cliff and Clair Huxtable's studious fourth child who often fought with Rudy, the baby of the family, over childhood problems like their shared bedroom and telephone time.
The reunion set up: Nearly two decades later, the actresses are reunited as on-screen sisters in the NBC comedy Guys with Kids. Bledsoe is a starring character on the sitcom, playing Marnie, a hard-working mother of four and wife to her stay-at-home husband Gary (Anthony Anderson). In the season 1 finale Knight Pulliam appeared as Marnie's endearingly delusional kid sister Bridget, who ends up helping Gary with his start-up business.
Why it works: The pairing plays right into the hearts of viewers who might have liked to see where younger sister Rudy and older sister Vanessa ended up. Yes, they play different characters, but is it so much of a stretch to think that Rudy would be wildly optimistic about her minimal success? Her star within the Cosby family did always seem to shine the brightest, warranted or not.
2. Friends friends on Cougar Town
The former characters: On Friends, Jennifer Aniston played Rachel Green — a converted spoiled Daddy's girl and fashion enthusiast — the best friend and roommate to Courtney Cox's Monica Geller, the group's type-A mother hen who worked as a professional chef.
The reunion set up: On Cougar Town, Courtney Cox plays Jules, a divorced 40-something who dives back into the dating pool, and gets into wine-fueled hijinks with friends and an adult-age son. In the second season, Aniston guest starred as Glenn, Jules' new age-y therapist who confuses her clients' stories, basks in incense, and believes a purple crystal will prevent her from getting cancer.
Why it works: They may not play friends, but a therapist-client set up is second best. When Glenn relates a story about being an overprotective mom, Jules responds: "Soul mates!" Indeed, if you forget the names and (ahem, Courtney) the Botox, it's like Rachel and Monica are just catching up at a Florida Central Perk. The fact that the two actors are buddies in real life only adds to their easy going rapport. And the short guest stint allows Aniston to remind us that she's actually quite funny.
3. Home Improvement's father and son on Last Man Standing
The former characters: Tim Allen starred as Tim "The Tool-man" Taylor, an accident-prone know-it-all husband, father to three sons, and host of a home improvement show called Tool Time. Jonathan Taylor Thomas played Tim's wise-cracking middle son, Randy.
The reunion set up: In Last Man Standing, Tim Allen returns as a typical male, but this time instead of obsessing over power tools, his character, Mike Baxter, has a penchant for outdoor sports. And unlike Tim the Tool Man's fake family, which was dominated by boys, Mike's is overrun with women, four to be exact: His wife (Nancy Travis) and his three daughters. In the season 2 finale, Thomas plays Jon, a "hip" restaurant owner who hires Mike's daughter Kristin and then offers to drive her to work on her first day, which is how he comes to meet Mike.
Why it works: This time, the reunion's success isn't thanks to the characters' on-screen relationship, which is nothing like the one they shared on Home Improvement. Where Last Man Standing shines is in Mike and Jon's short interaction. Jon extends his hand to Mike who says, "Man, you look familiar." Jon says, "Well, you know, I used to work with Kristin." Mike, looking skeptical, says, "That's not it." A silly but appreciated inside joke.
4. Dawson's Creek friends on Don't Trust the B---- in Apartment 23
The former characters: When Dawson's Creek went on for two seasons too long, Dawson Leery (James Van Der Beek) and Co. found themselves magically attending the same fictional, Boston-based college called Worthington. Busy Philipps played Audrey, a Los Angeles transplant who rooms with Joey, Dawson's best friend and one-time love. Audrey and Dawson have little shared camera time, save for one summer spent in Hollywood and the time Dawson visited her in rehab.
The reunion set-up: On Don't Trust the B in Apartment 23, James Van Der Beek plays an exaggerated version of himself who is best friends with Chloe (Krysten Ritter), said "B---- in Apartment 23." In the second season, James tries to orchestrate a Dawson's Creek reunion and so invites Busy Philipps playing Busy Philipps to a diner to talk about the possibility. But Busy, who arrives incognito, reveals she'd be shunned if any of the Creek actors knew they were meeting. (Click here to watch the clip.)
Why it works: Van Der Beek already impresses by freely mocking his stagnant career, so having the real-life Busy pile on only increases the laugh factor while acknowledging Creek fans' secret hope that one day cast members from the fast-talking teen show will in fact reunite.
5. Roseanne's teenage loves on The Big Bang Theory
The former characters: Sara Gilbert played tomboy teen and middle daughter Darlene Conner in the hit comedy Roseanne. Half way through the series, Darlene meets David Healy (Johnny Galecki) a fellow high-schooler. The two embark on a long relationship through high school and college, including a few break ups, until they eventually get married and have a baby.
The reunion set-up: On the popular CBS show The Big Bang Theory, Johnny Galecki stars as Leonard, a physicist with an I.Q. of 173. Sara Gilbert has a recurring role as Leslie Winkle, a physicist who works in Leonard's lab. Leslie initially rebukes Leonard's romantic advances, but then comes on to him after they play in a string quartet together. Their relationship ends after Leslie has sex with Leonard's friend Howard. (Click here to watch a clip.)
Why it works: At first, I didn't actually think the guest star arc worked because I got Johnny Galecki confused with the kid who played D.J., the little brother to Gilbert's Roseanne character. In which case, watching Galecki and Gilbert's Big Bang Theory reunion was just plain disgusting. (This also, conveniently, serves as a cautionary tale to producers: Don't ever, ever reunite former siblings as contemporary love interests.) Upon learning that Gilbert and Galecki were not in fact fake-related to each other on Roseanne, this televised rekindling lived up to nostalgia's strengths. As an added bonus, Galecki and Gilbert have just as little sexual chemistry now as they did when they played awkward teens.
6. Seinfeld friends on Curb Your Enthusiasm
The former characters: On the sitcom Seinfeld, Jerry, George, Kramer, and Elaine, are the most idiosyncratic group of New York weirdos/friends you will ever love.
The reunion set up: In his HBO comedy Curb Your Enthusiasm, Larry David plays a curmudgeonly version of himself, which means he is also the creator of the insanely popular sitcom Seinfeld. Throughout the seventh season of Curb, Larry brings the Seinfeld cast together for a reunion season that plays out in bits — scenes of writing with Seinfeld, read-throughs and rehearsals with the cast, and actual "aired" shows.
Why it works: If you can wrap your head around it, David's meta experiment far exceeds your average reunion spin-off show. Seinfeld fans get to see their favorite neurotic characters in the same familiar, cereal-laden apartment, acting out their lives after an 11-year hiatus. And the events that took place for the characters over that decade are well thought out. George, for example, made millions off of an app that directed the user to the nearest public toilet only to be duped by Bernie Madoff. It's like the Modern Seinfeld Twitter feed played out on TV: Genius.
7. Blossom friends on 'Til Death
The former characters: Mayim Bialik starred as Blossom on the eponymous show. She's a teenage girl living with her father and two brothers who adjust to life without their mother, who left the family behind. Her best friend, Six (Jenna von Oy), was a fast-talking boy-crazy girl who thinks of Blossom's family as her own.
The reunion set-up: In the final season of the Fox comedy 'Til Death, which ended in 2010, Bialik played a therapist who tries to help one of the main characters Doug (Timm Sharp) overcome the belief that his life is a sitcom. To do so, Bialik invites her former fake-family, including von Oy and Blossom's oldest brother, actor Michael Stoyanov, to join the session. Bialik tries to show Doug the distinction between people who were actually on a sitcom "versus the fantasy of believing you're currently in one."
Why it works: It's not perfect — all of the Blossom actors, including Bialik, are guest stars, making the reunion a little forced. However, it succeeds in its mocking of the "where are they now" question that plagues stars of long-gone shows. Von Oy and Stoyanov take turns poking fun at the other's lowly career since Blossom ended. 'Til Death also creates its own meta moment: The other purpose of the therapy session is for Bialik's character to film and star in a reality show about actors who used to be on sitcoms, which is often how former stars attempt to regain their lost fame.
8. Married with Children father and son on Modern Family
The former characters: On the long-running Fox sitcom Married… with Children, Ed O'Neill played Al Bundy, the once heralded high school football star turned women's shoe salesman. David Faustino played his girl-crazy son, Bud, who is lauded as the only Bundy to attend college.
The reunion set up: Ed O'Neil plays Jay Prichett, the patriarch of the so-called Modern Family that includes his daughter Claire, son Mitchell, and their respective families. Claire goes to her college reunion where she runs into her old buddy Drew/"Tater" (David Faustino). Claire's husband Phil mistakenly assumes Tater was Claire's last ex-boyfriend and tries to intimidate him. Jay, meanwhile, saves the rest of the family from the wrath of his wife Gloria after a wig is accidentally glued onto their newborn son, Joe. (Click here to watch the full episode.)
Why it works — a little: So perhaps this particular example is more of an honorable mention than a "best." Of all the reunions it's the least successful. While it's funny to imagine Faustino's character as a threat to Claire and Phil's marriage, the former Bundys don't even share any screen time. As The Huffington Post puts it, "Jay was too busy being a better parent to Manny than [Al Bundy] had ever been to Kelly and Bud on Married." Burn.
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Why all drugs should be legal. (Yes, even heroin.)
- What would a U.S.-Russia war look like?
- Here's the schedule very successful people follow every day
- 7 ideas from ancient thinkers that will improve your modern life
- Are there too many good shows on television?
- The weird obsession that's ruining the GOP
- How to trim $500 from your monthly spending
- Comic-Con 2014: Everything we learned about Avengers 2, Batman v. Superman, and more
- Why you should really take a nap this afternoon, according to science
- The forgotten victims of the war in Ukraine
Subscribe to the Week