If MTV found itself as a pop culture vanguard in the ’80s, the ’90s was when MTV defined pop culture. Part of that was due to the emergence of grunge, the rise of hip hop, and the blockbuster music video, but MTV also churned out unique and edgy television shows in that decade. The likes of “Beavis and Butthead,” “The Jon Stewart Show,” “Headbangers Ball,” “The Real World” and “Daria” are iconic. But there were a handful of under-appreciated, short-lived MTV shows from that time that have been kicked into the dustbin of pop culture history.
We’re here to give them their due, because while they may not be legendary, these six great, forgotten shows are just as iconic and groundbreaking.
A favorite at the Clutch offices, “Buzzkill” was quite simply one of the most influential shows in MTV’s history. Without this ballsy prank show, there’s no “Tom Green Show,” no “Jackass” and no “Punk’d.” So whether it was a good or bad influence, that’s your call.
“Buzzkill” aired for two seasons in 1995-1996 but was quickly canceled. Apparently MTV outgrew the litigation concerns that led to this show’s premature demise. The fact that the show’s existence has been all but wiped from the internet (including their stunning Whitney Houston prank) only adds to the lore.
This “Beavis and Butthead“-style cartoon aired for two seasons from 1994 to 1996. It was about a college student whose head literally got invaded by a wise-ass purple alien named Roy. Roy was on a mission to stop the evil alien Gork from enslaving the human race.
It’s safe to assume a story like this was conceived with the aid of intense hallucinogenics. But the show was as hilarious as it was out-there, like watching a 20-minute-long Soundgarden video.
‘Dead at 21′
“Dead at 21” is another bizarre encephalocentric series. This one followed a 20-year-old named Ed who discovered that as a child, mad scientists implanted a microchip in his head that enhanced his intellect, but will also end his life at age 21. The organization behind the demented experiment framed Ed for murder and sent a bounty hunter to capture him as he evaded them with a hottie named Maria.
“Dead” lasted just one season in 1994, but the show’s Terminator-like sci-fi aesthetic would seem to fit perfectly into today’s TV landscape.
Airing for six months in 1994, the game show “Trashed” focused on destroying prized possessions of the contestants. Two teams competed in a litter-filled studio and answered pop culture trivia. If contestants didn’t answer enough questions correctly, they had to hand over valuables that were sentenced for demolition in the most creative and hilarious ways possible: chainsaws tore apart surfboards, CD’s (those used to be a thing!) were belt sanded, long blonde hair was cut and sledgehammers crushed state-of-the-art tube televisions.
A few years later, people on game shows and reality series would subject themselves to far greater acts of humiliation. Instead of snowboards and Discmans, they’d offer up morals and dignity to get mangled by the buzzsaw of fame.
“Undressed” revolved around the romantic and sexual relationships of high school and college students in the L.A. area. From 1999 to 2002, the show crammed six seasons’ worth of outlandish stories about teens trying to cram it in.
It was basically like a scripted “Real World” meets soft-core, but it helped put Christina Hendricks on the map (you’re welcome, world) and was part of that first wave of teen soaps that led to shows like “Gossip Girl” and “Skins.”
‘You Wrote it, You Watch it’
After the cancellation of the first season in 1993, Jon Stewart humorously stated “You wrote it, you just didn’t watch it.” But the show’s legacy is thriving. In addition to helping put Stewart on the map, cast-members included “The State” stars Michael Ian Black and Michael Showalter.