The 90s Sitcom Streaming Services Should Really Be Fighting Over

Casey Duby ’21 / Emertainment Monthly TV Editor
The loss of Friends from Netflix’s programming has left a noticeable absence on the site, as many viewers rushed to binge the show one last time before losing access to it. The show has had a wildly successful second life, bringing Friends merch back in style and once again making the leading actors household names, and it will continue to live on at HBO Max and in reruns on Nick at Nite and NBC. Yet, amid all the Friends craze, I can’t help but think that there’s another series of this era that is just as deserving, if not more so, of a reemergence into mainstream TV culture.
Mad About You premiered in 1992 on NBC, starring Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt as the newly wed and warmly in love Paul and Jaime Buchman. The show follows the Buchman’s as they heartwarmingly navigate married life in Manhattan along with their friends, family, and dog Murray (who gives Frasier’s Eddie a run for his money). For Friends fans, this show is set in the same universe as the Central Perk sitcom, and Phoebe’s twin sister Ursula even has a small recurring role. However, the true strengths of this show come in the things that set it apart from other sitcoms of its time, not what it has in common.

Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt in ‘Mad About You’. Photo courtesy of IMDB.
The comedy in Mad About You feels especially familiar to audiences not because it is true to typical sitcom style, but because it is true to life. Scenes aren’t built around a joke and characters don’t speak just to reach a punchline; the humor is woven seamlessly into the story and personalities of the characters. The range of comedy is impressive as well, as the show finds a way to incorporate an abundance of witty banter, physical comedy, and everything in between.
Every episode opens with a short- sometimes under a minute- interaction between Paul and Jaime that is hilarious precisely because of its relatability. Be it Jaime demonstrating to Paul how to load a new toilet paper roll onto the dispenser or smelling a nasty fart from the dog, audiences laugh because they’ve had an almost identical experience. While the show’s openers play to realism, however, the final scene of every episode rolls over the credits and takes a much more meta, self-aware approach. The characters often acknowledge something that happened in the episode, and this conscious wink to the audience serves to include them even more.
Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt in ‘Mad About You’. Photo courtesy of IMDB.
The show, created by Paul Reiser whose character is a filmmaker himself, is unafraid to make other unique cinematic choices, even within the confines of a studio show filmed in front of a live audience. For instance, one episode is shot entirely in one take, without the camera moving or cutting away for the entire twenty-odd minutes. Another episode consists only of brief, seconds long clips from previous episodes. With many other choices like these, Mad About You pushed the limits of the rigid shooting format of sitcoms.
Mad About You was as ahead of its time in content as it was in cinematography. Paul’s sister on the series is a lesbian (a plotline that Friends only halfheartedly attempted), and her character is fully fleshed out with stories that go beyond her sexuality. Paul and Jamie also go to couples’ counseling throughout the second half of the series, and while plenty of comedy occurs mid-session, the show’s attitude ultimately aims to normalize the practice of going to therapy.
Overall, Mad About You was a huge success when it aired, and it stands the test of time better than many shows of its era. A testament to its popularity is the hugely famous celebrity guest stars and cameos it secured, including Carol Burnett, Ellen DeGeneres, Billy Joel, Jerry Seinfeld, and many more. Yet despite its initial success, Mad About You is essentially impossible to watch today unless you’re willing to buy the show on DVD.
Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt in ‘Mad About You’. Photo courtesy of IMDB.
While the show has yet to bring in the next generation of TV watchers, it has excitingly found a new life in the form of a limited series revival starring much of the original cast. The new eighth season follows the Buchman’s as they send their now-grown daughter off to college. Unfortunately, the revival suffers from the same inaccessibility as the rest of the series- the twelve new episodes are available exclusively on Spectrum, a paid streaming service I had never even heard of before it hosted the show. Reiser promised the same wholesome show that Mad About You has always been, and while I haven’t been able to find an outlet to watch it, I have to believe that they delivered.
Friends has been able to be so successful in the 21st century primarily because of its accessibility. While flipping through channels or scrolling through Netflix, it was almost impossible not to stumble upon the sitcom, and audiences rediscovered it by a very happy accident. Mad About You has been given no such luxury, though the release of a revival would be the perfect opportunity for streaming services to capitalize on the renewed press and interest in the series.
Mad About You created a world filled with endearing characters and heartfelt stories that are still impactful almost thirty years later. If your Netflix queue is coming into the new year with a Friends sized hole, Mad About You will fill it and then some- if you can get your hands on it.

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