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Top 10 Most Controversial Things on 90s TV

VO: Rebecca Brayton
Script written by George Pacheco Get ready for a ride in the way back machine, because we're heading to the '90s! Join as we count down our picks for the Top 10 Most Controversial Things on ‘90s TV. For this list, we're looking at episodes and moments from '90s television that shocked us or caused public controversy on a large cultural scale. Special thanks to our user drewbrown for submitting the idea using our interactive suggestion tool at WatchMojo.comsuggest

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Script written by George Pacheco

Top 10 Most Controversial Things on 90s TV

Get ready for a ride in the way back machine, because we’re heading to the ‘90s! Welcome to, and today we’re counting down our picks for the Top 10 Most Controversial Things on ‘90s TV.

For this list, we’re looking at episodes and moments from ‘90s television that shocked us or caused public controversy on a large cultural scale. We will also be taking into account the level of controversy brought on by the vibe of a series as a whole; programs which, by nature, tended to push the envelope for content or controversy.

#10: “Heroes” (1993)
“Beavis and Butt-Head” (1993-97; 2011)

This MTV animated series from creator Mike Judge was known for courting controversy almost from the very beginning, but this second season episode proved particularly troublesome for Judge and his crew. In “Heroes,” our dimwitted metalhead protagonists waltz into a gun store, easily pick up a couple of rifles and decide to go skeet shooting. Unfortunately, their target practice ends with the duo accidentally shooting down an airplane that crash lands in a field not far off. This little stunt naturally resulted in Beavis and Butthead receiving complaints not only from anti-gun activists, but also from concerned parents, and got the episode banned.

#9: WWF During the “Attitude Era” (circa 1996-2002)

Vince McMahon’s World Wrestling Federation - now known as World Wrestling Entertainment -underwent a sharp creative makeover back in the late ‘90s, shocking those who grew up in the more innocent times of cartoonish ‘80s “rasslin’.” WWF during the “Attitude Era,” as it eventually grew to be known, was a playground of realistically bloody violence, adult imagery and bizarre storylines, all of which fans ate up like candy. Parents weren’t as amused and often complained to McMahon about the program’s drastic shift to maturely themed content. Time and a lack of serious competition would eventually soften the WWE’s creative stance, however, with today’s programming coming across as decidedly more “PG” than “extreme.”

#8: “The Puppy Episode” (1997)
“Ellen” (1994-98)

Where do we start with this one? Perhaps with the humorously misleading title of “The Puppy Episode?” Or maybe we can discuss how bold it was for comedian Ellen DeGeneres to use her ABC sitcom as a vehicle for her and her character’s coming out party? It wasn’t quite as easy back in 1997 for a situation comedy to have a lesbian leading character, but that’s exactly the trail DeGeneres was blazing with this episode. ABC faced criticism and backlash from both religious groups and advertisers concerning the episode, but the two part “Puppy” nevertheless aired unedited, and in the process gained DeGeneres a whole new audience of appreciative fans.

#7: “Home” (1996)
“The X-Files” (1993-2002; 2016)

The subject of incest is never an easy subject to broach, even on the most serious of dramas, never mind a science fiction juggernaut like Chris Carter’s “The X-Files.” The controversial fan favorite episode “Home” shocked and horrified viewers back in ‘96 with its grim and bleak portrayal of the deformed Peacock family, who have been burying babies alive in the backyard of their property. This plot point alone would be enough to earn the show its “parental discretion” advisory, but “Home” pushed the boundaries that much further by adding in the fact that the Peacocks’ matriarch had been inbreeding with her sons for years, disturbing not only Mulder and Scully, but audiences around the world.

#6: “Homer’s Phobia” (1997)
“The Simpsons” (1989-)

“The Simpsons” has always been known for its clever bits of social commentary, but this season 8 episode stands as one of the strongest of the entire series. Noted exploitation filmmaker John Waters voices the Simpson family’s new friend John, whose revealed homosexuality comes across as a threat to Homer. It wasn’t too often where we saw the lovably dimwitted Homer offering up some sincere, troubled pathos, but the writers here did a great job at juggling a father’s love for his family balanced against his own, recently discovered prejudices.

#5: “Oz” (1997-2003)

The landscape of violence on cable television has always been one of peaks and valleys, but “Oz” managed to push the creative envelope for what would be displayed on the small screen. This original HBO series was set in a maximum security prison, and displayed, in shocking detail, all of the daily bits of violence, rape and intrigue that go on behind bars. Inmates and guards alike indulged in the carnage, which ranged from gang rape and murder to scatological humiliation, making “Oz” a program that can still manage to disturb, even today.

#4: “Politically Incorrect” (1993-2002)

There may not have been any rampant sex or violence on “Politically Incorrect with Bill Maher,” but this late night talk show was never without its fireworks. “Politically Incorrect” thrived on conversation and in-depth discussions with people who possessed diverse and passionate opinions about everything from social culture to politics. As a result, Maher’s show consistently provided a forum for those whose positions didn’t always make for easy listening, ensuring that heated arguments would become the norm. Maher would even land in political hot water himself due to some controversial statements the comedian made on his program shortly after 9/11, resulting in calls for his cancellation.

#3: “Earshot” (1999)
“Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (1997-2003)

This episode of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” falls on our list thanks to its timing, with “Earshot” having the unfortunate distinction of being scheduled to air one week after the Columbine High School Massacre. The episode doesn’t actually deal with gun violence in reference to homicide, however, instead telling a sad tale of one student’s suicide in a clock tower. Still, the fact that “Earshot” contained a scene of a young teen assembling a rifle caused its network The WB to air a rerun episode instead, preempting “Earshot” until later in the season.

#2: “The Puerto Rican Day” (1998)
“Seinfeld” (1989-98)

It may seem difficult to believe that an episode of that “show about nothing” could be banned for content, but that’s exactly what happened to “The Puerto Rican Day” episode of “Seinfeld.” In this episode, an unfortunate series of events leads to Kramer’s accidental burning of the Puerto Rican flag. The resulting heat was not only focused on Cosmo, however, but also on the show itself, with NBC being forced to issue an apology and ban the episode all together. It wasn’t until 2002 that the episode began airing, unedited, in syndication.

Before we reveal our most controversial ‘90s T.V. spot, here are a few honorable mentions!
“Pilot” (1993)
“NYPD Blue” (1993-2005)
“Buffalo Gals” (1998)
“Cow and Chicken” (1997-99)
‘One Beer’ from “Elephant Issues” (1991)
“Tiny Toon Adventures” (1990-95)
David ‘Puck’ Rainey (1994)
“The Real World” (1992-)

#1: “The Jerry Springer Show” (1991-)

C’mon, you know you love it. You’re not alone, either, as it seemed that just about everyone was tuning in to “The Jerry Springer Show” back in the ‘90s for their daily dose of talk show chaos. This former mayor of Cincinnati translated his natural ease in front of the camera into a career as ringmaster for his own circus of allegedly choreographed fistfights, outrageous storylines and salacious material, the likes of which would make just about anyone blush. “The Jerry Springer Show” quickly became known as the most controversial tabloid talk show around, consistently upping the ante in terms of guests, actors-posing-as-guests and general, all around lunacy.

Do you agree with our list? What did you find controversial about ‘90s TV.? For more fun top 10 lists, published every day, be sure subscribe to!


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