So talking of '90s TV, I watched the whole of Friends over the last few weeks (mostly whilst cooking, washing up, playing lower-attention games and so on), and it was surprising in a number of ways.
First off, the social attitudes were both more and less different to now than I expected. Attitudes to racism were similar, homophobia of the “don’t act gay” kind was seen as much funnier (and used almost excessively with the guys - whereas the girls have virtually none), but wow the internalized misogyny/gender roles damn, oof, wow. They mock them a bit but at the same time they basically celebrate some incredibly stereotypical attitudes about women. Also some just outright misogyny/slut-shaming (despite a lot of slut-positivity too!). Attitudes to body shape were much worse too (and not just for the girls, though, like particularly for them). The homophobia also weirdly gets worse in later seasons than earlier, and includes some stuff which might have seemed progressive them but seems regressive and insulting to basically everybody now (casting Kathleen Turner as Chandler’s drag queen father, for example). There’s also some like weird prudish-ness over like random stuff though I kind of suspect that’s down to specific writers.
Also like half the characters just would not be seen as anything but antagonists on a TV show today. Ross, Rachel and Chandler specifically. Ross starts off as a perfectly fine comedic loser character, but after a few seasons they just basically make him into a dick/creep before desperately hitting the retro-rockets in late S9 and S10 to try and de-dick-ify him. Rachel is pretty awful in a lot of ways, and does some really mean things which kind of go “over the line”. Chandler is just a sort of exemplar of Gen X attitudes towards so many things, not least what’s “cool” or not, to the point where despite being funny, he’s kind of anti-fun. And it was common among people that age to be like that, but it’s incredibly wearing to watch (esp. as everyone tends to go along with him except Phoebe). All that said everyone in the show gives Ross a hard time for stuff he’d kind of be celebrated for now (like, being a massive dinosaur nerd and really genuinely loving dinosaurs in a largely unashamed way) - though also he gets let off stuff which would be like way over the line today (like hiding that he hasn’t got an annulment for several weeks).
Monica would still fly as she’s a massive over-competitive dork with issues and knows it. Phoebe and Joey are such ridiculous and broad characters that they’d also be largely fine today. That said even Phoebe gets hit with the internalized misogyny occasionally, and Joey gets massively flanderized later on, going from a guy who is kind thick and misses the point of discussions a lot to a guy who is basically mentally subnormal.
In the end the show is trading pretty much entirely on the charisma and comic timing of the actors involved, and gets much bigger laughs than it should because the cast have generally great chemistry and really do deliver those lines. You can see why they had to keep paying them more and more and more (which really shaped the landscape of modern TV), because you just could not possibly have replaced any of them. They have a lot of guest stars, and sometimes it seems like they might be seeing if someone could potentially fit in as like a new “friend” (maybe at a much lower salary), but it just never works. Even Paul Rudd looks like a completely boring and unfunny dweeb next to them (despite being handed a few decent lines).
There are only two really major missteps in the show. First, it eventually does “Jump the Shark”, in like S8, when they introduce a dreadful “Joey is in love with Rachel” storyline, which is not only excessively incestuous-seeming, but just really doesn’t work (and they have some of the weakest sexual chemistry on the show - even Monica has better chemistry, and Phoebe way better - in fact she manages to flirt effectively with just about everyone, even the girls). And then it’s like, just when you thought it was over, another episode brings it up and bores you with it. And they end it like three times. It is quite funny at times but also does seem like a Shark-Jump right from the “accidental proposal” bullshit (which also makes Joey seem like a massive dick in a way he hasn’t been previously).
The other thing is that, around the same time and indeed a little earlier, the go much harder into “comedy mode”. Early on the episodes are often extreme but sort of believable or based on exaggerations of real-life situations. In S8-10 particularly that sort of goes out the window a bit - there are some episodes which are great and just like the best early ones (the one with the lottery, for example), but other ones are just dreadful and unbelievable, and sort of turn into that painful Shakespearean farce at it’s worst, where people have to actively believe the most implausible possible thing. And at the same time, they really cut down on the incidental crazed New Yorkers and recurring characters (like Gunther) who helped add a lot of life to earlier episodes, and made it actually feel like it was in New York, not just on a set, so things become much more lifeless. Paul Rudd as one of the few recurring characters really doesn’t help, as he’s strangely charmless and humourless.
The other weird thing which actually seems like a stroke of genius in retrospect is that despite being set in New York, and the last season being broadcast in 2003, they never once mention or refer in any way, however obliquely, to 9/11 (I read that some set-dressing does, but it’s pretty obscure). This works though because we don’t have to deal with some maudlin 9/11 episode which would have broken the flow of the show and seemed out of place.
Overall I was surprised with how well it held up - it’s certainly more watchable than a lot of TV comedy of the era, including, bizarrely, imho, Seinfeld, which I’ve tried to re-watch a couple of times, and despite loving it at the time, just couldn’t. And Frasier too is hard to re-watch because the father is just such a cunt with such horrible attitudes (despite being excellently played). But yeah, it’s decent, even great sometimes.