We live in a Golden Age of television where production values are high, musical scores are sweeping, and historical dramas like to keep their male leads shirtless about 50 percent of the time. Trust me: I’m not complaining. But there is something to be said for the TV shows of yore, when sitcoms ruled the airwaves and standard plotlines still felt fresh and new. Some of the old stuff just doesn’t hold up—I’m looking at you, Small Wonder— but plenty of it does. Here are three old shows that are definitely worth a second (or third, or 15th) watch:
I’m a sucker for British teen shows. Somehow those Brits have figured out the perfect formula combining smart, hilarious, quick and oddly touching. Press Gang, which aired from 1989 to 1993 on ITV, was the show that started it all for me. I discovered it on the long-defunct WAM channel (now Encore), a Dish network that used to broadcast foreign teen programs. Press Gang was one of its best offerings. The show is about a newspaper run by high school students called The Junior Gazette, which is led by the type-A, insanely smart, hilariously mean Lynda Day (Julia Sawalha). She runs the paper with an iron fist, despite the varying abilities of her staff. The characters are hilarious and Lynda ends up falling hard for the American juvenile delinquent Spike (Dexter Fletcher). The two trade one-liners faster than a tennis match and their chemistry crackles through all five seasons. Only later did I find out the series was created and written by Steven Moffat, the latest showrunner for Doctor Who and creator of Sherlock. That alone should be enough to sell you on this zippy, early ‘90s teen show.
Where to watch it: All episodes are streaming on YouTube
There’s always that one show whose theme song your parents wouldn’t stop singing. Just me? OK. In my house Green Acres was the one. “Goodbye city life!” was on a constant loop in my household. When Nick-at-Nite started airing old episodes of the fish-out-of-water comedy (it originally aired on CBS from 1965-1971), we all took up singing the theme song. It’s just so catchy! And the show, about two Manhattanites who move to the country to become farmers, is surprisingly hilarious. Lisa (Eva Gabor) can’t quite give up her furs and jewels and her husband Oliver (Eddie Albert) is pretty much fed up with everyone. It’s great. And I can’t even blame my parents for all their singing: I have a feeling my future kids are going to be complaining about The Fresh Prince of Bel Air theme song for years to come.
Where to watch: Hulu
I’ve spent many a late night bingewatching old episodes of Strangers With Candy. And can you blame me? Hilarious, cutting-edge, and always a little controversial, Strangers was the brainchild of Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris, Paul Dinello and Mitch Rouse. The show tells the story of Jerri Blank, a junkie whore runaway who’s returning to high school at the age of 46. There’s always a moral to each episode, though it’s probably not advice anyone should live by: “Befriending new people can lead to having sex with your children—accidently.” Colbert and Sedaris shine in this bizarre comedy; if you haven’t seen it yet, you’re seriously missing out.
Where to watch: Comedy Central and Hulu
Andy & Don by Daniel de Vise (Simon & Schuster; November 3, 2015)
It would be tough to find someone who didn’t love The Andy Griffith Show. Part of the boom in rural TV programming in the 1960s, this show perfectly captured quaint small town life. And while all the characters shone (hello little Ron Howard as Opie!), the heart of the show was Sheriff Andy Taylor (Andy Griffth) and his Deputy Barney Fife (Don Knotts). This new biography chronicles years of their close friendship, but also the dirt behind-the scenes: affairs, jealousies, and all that good stuff. The perfect read for any lover of both gossip and old-school television.