From Classics to Cringe: 30 TV Shows That Have Aged Terribly
By Sophia Maddox | April 27, 2023
While Scrubs garnered a dedicated fan base and a reputation for blending humor and drama, it's also been subject to criticism in recent years. As much as we love the zany antics of J.D., Turk, and the gang, some of the show's humor leans on stereotypes and jokes that haven't aged well in today's more socially aware climate. From the recurring gag of the "Todd" and his inappropriate, sexually forward behavior to some of the jokes about race and gender, certain elements of the show's comedy feel more than cringeworthy now. Additionally, when Scrubs was renewed for a ninth season, it underwent a significant transformation, with a new cast of characters and a shift in setting from Sacred Heart Hospital to a medical school. This change was not well-received, as many fans felt it was a departure from the show's original charm. The ninth season's lukewarm reception has left a bit of a stain on the show's overall legacy.
We all know Baywatch - it made slow-motion running on the beach an art form. With its red swimsuits, tanned bodies, and those unmistakable opening credits, Baywatch was the epitome of sun-soaked escapism. But, like a sunburn that just won't fade, the show hasn't aged all too great. For example, it's hard to ignore the fact that the show's representation of lifeguards and beachgoers was far from diverse. From today's point of view, Baywatch's overwhelmingly white cast feels outdated and tone-deaf. Then, of course, there's what the show was famous for: scantily-clad, slow-motion beach runs. While there's nothing inherently wrong with showing off beautiful bodies, the show often veered into objectification territory, reducing its female characters to mere eye candy.
Just Shoot Me!
Just Shoot Me! brought us a world of laughs via the quirky shenanigans of the staff at Blush magazine, but to modern viewers some of those laughs are pretty tone-deaf. A lot of the show's humor was rooted in poking fun at appearance, weight, and age. While this might have been par for the course in the late 90s and early 2000s, today's audiences have become more aware of jokes that punch down or belittle others. The office culture the show normalized was also not ideal, with casual sexism, cutthroat rivalries and unhealthy power dynamics running rampant. Then of course, you have the coworkers: the vain, shallow fashion editor, the bumbling male assistant, and the womanizing boss are all tropes that feel overplayed. In a world where TV characters have become more complex and nuanced, these caricatures of Just Shoot Me! seem a bit out of touch.
Back in the day, Lost had us all hooked, with its intriguing mysteries, compelling characters, and that oh-so-maddening island. But as much as it was a cultural phenomenon, it's kiiiiinda aged like a carton of milk left out in the sun. Though we still love the plot twists, there's a lot to look back on that makes us cringe. With the questionable way it portrayed women at times, we have a hard time thinking that Lost would pass the Bechdel test. Lost also wasn't great when it came to body-shaming, often making Hurley's body the butt of a joke. In terms of visuals, you can't help but gasp when you check out that CGI - and not in a good way. Since Lost put out so many episodes per season, the network tried to cut costs when it came to effects, and it shows. The CGI submarine is often cited as one of the worst effects in recent TV history!
Family Matters introduced us to the lovable Winslow family and their iconic, bespectacled neighbor, Steve Urkel. It was groundbreaking in its front-and-center representation of a middle-class African American family, but unfortunately, Urkel's one-note character ended up taking center stage. The endless pratfalls and catchphrases ("Did I do that?") have lost some of their charm, and the show's overreliance on Urkel have made it feel one-dimensional in retrospect.
Walker, Texas Ranger
Blossom was the quintessential 90's sitcom, featuring the quirky, lovable Russo family and their teenage daughter who was busy navigating the ups and downs of adolescence. It's probably most memorable for tackling serious issues like eating disorders, racism, and gun safety in its "very special episodes." While this was an innovative concept, the heavy-handed approach of these episodes can feel a bit preachy to modern viewers. Furthermore, the storylines in these episodes are often quite fantastical, which wouldn't be very helpful to kids trying to deal with similar, more grounded issues in the real world.
Hercules: The Legendary Journeys
This 90s sitcom that brought us the lovable Taylor family, their quirky neighbor Wilson was once a fixture in American living rooms. Tim Taylor embodied the "man's man" archetype, with his love for cars, tools, and sports. While this character type was popular in the 90s, it now feels a bit one-dimensional and limiting. Additionally, Tim's macho antics and love of power tools, when contrasted with Jill's role as the sensible, nurturing wife and mother, only reinforced heteronormative gender roles. Modern audiences appreciate more nuanced portrayals of masculinity that don't rely on such clichéd tropes. Although parts of Home Improvement may have aged like a rusty old hammer, it still holds a special place in the hearts of many who grew up watching it!
How I Met Your Mother
How I Met Your Mother took us on a rollercoaster of laughter, tears, and endless "legen-wait for it-dary" moments to get to know the titular mother. The show was a huge hit during its nine-season run, but some aspects of it didn't age that great, such as the "Slap Bet" episode that portrayed harmful Asian stereotypes or the running joke about Marshall's "gay" brunches. These moments, once brushed off as harmless comedy, now feel out of touch with contemporary values. Additionally, as societal attitudes towards relationships and consent have evolved, both Barney's womanizing ways and Ted's "nice guy" attitude come across as creepy as problematic.
Save the cheerleader, save the world! Heroes was a phenomenon during its initial run, captivating audiences with its thrilling premise of ordinary people discovering extraordinary powers. However, since Heroes' heyday, the superhero genre has exploded in popularity, with countless movies and TV shows exploring similar themes. This saturation makes Heroes feel less groundbreaking and unique, as it now competes with a plethora of other superpowered narratives that have expanded and refined the genre. Secondly, while the first season of Heroes was widely acclaimed, the second seasons suffered from a decline in quality due to a writer's strike, resulting in confusing plot twists and a lack of clear direction. Many characters were introduced with compelling backstories and abilities but ultimately fell victim to inconsistent writing and lackluster arcs. After season one, this show just does not hold up!
Three's Company was a huge hit at the time, taking us on a laughter-filled ride through the lives of Jack, Chrissy, and Janet, as they navigated the ups and downs of living together in a Santa Monica apartment. However, if you're going for a rewatch you might just find yourself cringing. The premise of the show is already woefully uncomfortable, with Jack pretending to be gay to live with two women. There is also constant sexual innuendo involving his roommates, which is not only dated but sexist to boot. The sexual jokes and harmful stereotypes continued throughout the show's eight season run - while we're sure some considered them hilarious at the time, not even John Ritter could get us to sit through them again!
The Cosby Show
The Cosby Show was once a staple in American households, breaking down stereotypes and winning over the hearts of millions. Sadly, it experienced a huge fall from grace due to the highly publicized scandal involving its star, Bill Cosby. Cosby was accused of rape and drug-facilitated sexual assault by approximately sixty women, going as far back as the 1960's. It's understandably extremely challenging for modern viewers to separate the beloved character of Dr. Huxtable from the heinous real-life actions of the actor, casting a dark shadow over the once-celebrated series.
2 Broke Girls
Two Broke Girls follows the unlikely friendship between Max, the street-smart waitress, and Caroline, the formerly rich socialite, as they navigated life, love, and the pursuit of opening their own cupcake business. Yummy, right? Unfortunately, it's kind of aged like a stale cupcake. Viewers often point to the questionable humor, specifically the racial humor directed towards Han Lee, the owner of the diner where Max and Caroline work. Han speaks in broken English, which is often the butt of the joke, and the other characters often make crude, anti-Asian jokes about his work ethic and perfectionism.
Ally McBeal was a hit in the late '90s and early 2000s, letting us follow the life of the young lawyer navigating her career, love life, and vivid imagination. However, it wasn't all legal documents and roses - there was also rampant transphobia, homophobia and misogyny. In my 2000s TV? Ally's workplace is rampant with sexual harassment in the name of comedy. In season one, there's a plot where we're supposed to root for an aggressive (possible) sexual predator, and cheer when his date/victim agrees to go out with him again. In season four, there was a subplot that involved the office being uncomfortable with their colleague Mark dating a transgender woman, making numerous offensive and dehumanizing comments. Casual misogyny is in every corner of the show - for instance, the "dancing baby" hallucinations that Ally experienced represent her ticking biological clock, which reinforced the stereotype that women should prioritize having children. Not so cute!
Frasier was a spin-off of the hit show Cheers that took us into the world of Dr. Frasier Crane, a radio psychiatrist dealing with his own quirky family and love life in Seattle. Though it still has undeniable charm and some classic one-liners, there are certain aspects of the Seattle show that have aged rather poorly. Like many shows of the early 2000's, it includes many jokes and situations that rely on gender and cultural stereotypes. Men being gentle or cultured, like Niles or Gil Chesterton, are seen as effeminate or gay - which is, of course, a negative thing in Frasier-world. Women are the worst - see Lilith or Maris. Then there are the numerous slut-shaming comments towards Roz and fat-shaming jokes towards Daphne. Last but not least, we have SEASONS of married Niles basically stalking Daphne, but it's just played for laughs. That's romance, folks!
Sex And The City
Are you more of a Carrie, Charlotte, Miranda, or Samantha? Though we still have love for the Sex And The City girls and their countless cosmopolitans, the show itself hasn't aged perfectly. It predominantly features a white, privileged perspective of New York City, celebrating high fashion, designer brands, and luxurious lifestyles. While the glamour was part of the show's appeal, this focus on materialism and consumerism can feel superficial and less relatable to modern audiences who are more conscious of sustainability. While some at the time pointed to Sex And The City's inclusion of LGBTQ+ characters as progressive, their portrayals often relied on stereotypes, and their storylines were largely centered around their sexuality rather than giving them depth and character development. In a similar vein, the show relied heavily on outdated gender roles and ideas of femininity (shoes! fairytale weddings!). Despite these shortcomings, Sex and the City remains a beloved piece of television history that broke ground by openly discussing female sexuality, friendship, and ambition.
Perfect Strangers was a beloved show during its run in the late '80s and early '90s, introducing us to the hilarious antics of Larry Appleton and his distant cousin Balki Bartokomous as they navigated life in Chicago. Balki, hailing from the fictional Mediterranean island of Mypos, was often portrayed as naive, overly enthusiastic, and lacking in common sense. His heavily exaggerated accent is played for laughs throughout the series, with the character frequently mispronouncing words and struggling with the English language. This depiction relied heavily on stereotypes of foreign characters and can feel dated and insensitive to modern audiences. Additionally, Perfect Strangers had pretty limited representation, predominantly featuring white, male characters. The few female characters included were one-dimensional, with their primary roles being love interests or supporting characters for the male leads.
Buffy The Vampire Slayer
Buffy the Vampire Slayer, created by Joss Whedon, is an iconic TV series that ran from 1997 to 2003, and is still beloved to this day. Its legacy has been marred by the fact that in 2022, Joss Whedon was accused of inappropriate and abusive behavior, with many allegations mentioning toxic behavior on the set of Buffy. Even if you're able to completely put these accusations out of your head while rewatching, there are still some aspects of the show that definitely will make you uncomfortable. Buffy has issues with consent - like when our main character kisses Spike while invisible - and victim blaming. It also unfortunately perpetuates the "Bury Your Gays" trope, which is the harmful pattern of LGBTQ+ characters being killed off or having tragic endings in media. You've been warned!
The Dukes Of Hazzard
The Dukes of Hazzard followed the adventures of cousins Bo and Luke Duke in the fictional Hazzard County, Georgia. Although the series is remembered for its action, car chases, and comedy, it also had several problematic elements. The iconic car in the show, the "General Lee," is a 1969 Dodge Charger with a large Confederate flag - a symbol for racism and white supremacy - painted on its roof. Not a great look, especially in show where characters of color are scarce, and when they do appear, they are often portrayed through racial stereotypes. For example, in the episode "The Hazzardgate Tape", a group of Asian characters is depicted as martial arts experts and portrayed with exaggerated accents, perpetuating harmful stereotypes. Oof.
All In The Family
All In The Family centered on the lives of the Bunker family, led by the bigoted and opinionated patriarch, Archie Bunker, played by Carroll O'Connor. Archie Bunker frequently uses racial slurs and derogatory language when referring to people of color, including his African-American neighbors, George and Louise Jefferson. Similarly, he makes derogatory and offensive comments towards LGBTQ+ characters and women, often even belittling his own life. While the show is purposefully portraying Archie as narrow-minded and ignorant in an effort to challenge these prejudiced views, it still exposes viewers to offensive language and perpetuates harmful stereotypes, possibly causing more harm than good.
The IT Crowd
The IT Crowd focuses on the lives of three socially awkward IT department employees, Roy Trenneman (played by Chris O'Dowd), Maurice Moss (played by Richard Ayoade), and Jen Barber (played by Katherine Parkinson). Jen Barber, as the only woman in the IT department, is often subjected to sexist behavior from her colleagues and other characters in the show, which is played for laughs. Harmful jokes being played for comedy is a recurring theme throughout the show - Roy pretending to be disabled, the homophobic jokes during "Are We Not Men?" - the list goes on.
Psych centers on Shawn Spencer, a private detective with a knack for observation and deduction, who pretends to be a psychic. Along with his best friend, Burton "Gus" Guster, they solve crimes in the city of Santa Barbara. The show is packed to the brim with quick wit, clever plotlines, and quirky guest stars, but there's some questionable content mixed in that hasn't aged too great. Throughout the series, Shawn and Gus often adopt exaggerated accents and assume different personas to gather information while investigating cases. For example, in the episode "Bollywood Homicide" , Shawn and Gus dress up as Indian characters, using exaggerated accents and reinforcing cultural stereotypes in their attempts to infiltrate an Indian community. While this kind of humor was commonplace at the time of filming, it relies on harmful stereotypes and definitely is a no-go among a modern audience. Additionally, Psych sometimes portrays characters with mental health in a negative light. For example, in the episode "Psy vs. Psy", a character named Lindsay Leikin is revealed to be a con artist faking a multiple personality disorder. This contributes to the stereotype that people with mental health issues are "faking it". Yikes!
How could all-American, khaki-wearing, beet-loving Doug Funnie have aged poorly, you might ask? Well, not to put a damper on your childhood, but some people think Doug has aged like a jar of (Patti) Mayonnaise left out too long in the son. A Huffington Post article from 2013 delved into the possibility of Doug having racist undertones, specifically citing a 2009 post from blogger Wolfie G. Nards:
Every supporting character around Doug is some wacky shade except, of course, for Doug Funnie, who is a regular white kid. The main character is white in world full of colorful yet ancillary characters. What does that tell our children? It tells them only the white race is deserving of a spotlight. Only the white race is worthy of being the star of the show. All other skin tones must remain in the background.
We're not surprised this one made the list. Known for its dark humor and controversial themes, Family Guy has had numerous problematic moments throughout its run. It often crosses the line of "edgy humor" into the territory of "things that shouldn't be joked about", like rape and sexual assault. The repeated homophobic jokes surrounded Stewie are not only offensive but tired, as are the ableist jokes about Joe or the transphobic ones about Quagmire's parent Ida. Plus, the political humor is just plain outdated at the point. Get new material!
My Two Dads
In My Two Dads, Michael Taylor and Joey Harris are awarded joint custody of a 12-year-old girl named Nicole Bradford when her mother passes away, as one of the men is Nicole's father, but her mother wasn't sure which one. The premise of the show is inherently problematic, as it's basically "gotcha-ing" the audience with the title: You thought this was about a gay couple? Psych, it's about two very straight, single men who LOVE women. Eek. Premise aside, there's one episode in particular that makes us cringe: In Season 3's "She'll Get Over It", Nicole's friend Shelby develops a crush on Michael, leading to a subplot where the teenage girl is portrayed as a temptress. Who in the world thought that this plot line was a good idea?
Boy Meets World
Boy Meets World follows the life of Cory Matthews as he navigates school, friendships, and relationships from childhood to adulthood. It tackled some pretty heavy storylines, and, looking back on it, it definitely made some missteps along the way that have us shaking our heads. In the episode "Danger Boy" Cory and Shawn accidentally spread a rumor that their friend, Topanga, has been intimate with another student. The episode's treatment of the situation and the resulting shame Topanga experiences promote problematic ties to sex that women have been trying to get rid for years. In the episode "Heartbreak Cory", Shawn pretends to have multiple personality disorder to attract girls. This portrayal trivializes the very real challenges faced by those with mental health disorders and perpetuates harmful stereotypes. These are just a few examples of a myriad of uncomfortable moments in Boy Meets World, watchers beware!
Knight Rider features crimefighter, Michael Knight, an artificially intelligent, self-aware, and nearly indestructible car named KITT, and female characters are often sexualized, objectified, and portrayed as damsels in distress, relying on Knight to save them from dangerous situations. On top of it all, these dangerous situations aren't even exciting! A 2012 article from The Globe And Mail says the following:
As a child, I loved this show. As an adult, I am amazed it ever got made. For an action drama, [Knight Rider] is often monumentally dull. Mr. Hasselhoff reads dialogue the same way nearsighted patients read optometrists' eye charts. The voice of KITT sounds like a passive-aggressive accountant. Also – and it is difficult to overstate this point – the show is about a talking car.
The premise of Fantasy Island was that people would come to the titular island to have their fantasies fulfilled by the enigmatic Mr. Roarke and his assistant, Tattoo. There's no way that this could get weird, right? In the episode "The Devil and Mandy Breem" (Season 1, Episode 10), a woman named Mandy suffers from what is implied to be a severe mental illness. Her fantasy is to confront the devil, whom she believes is responsible for her suffering. Throughout the episode, Mandy's mental illness is treated as a source of entertainment, and her delusions are played for laughs. Even Tattoo, a main character, wasn't safe from poor treatment. Played by Hervé Villechaize, a little person, he was often the butt of jokes due to his stature, and his role was primarily as comic relief.