Today, Viacom announced that the boomer-facing VH1 Classic, your one-stop destination for old episodes of Behind the Music and creaky music videos, will begin catering to gen X by rebranding itself as MTV Classic. Nostalgia is big business, after all, and the sentimental cultural attachment to the recent past that has led to a burst of interest in everything from Stranger Things to, er, Russia and Donald Trump was inevitably going to lead to a fresh blast of ’90s and early ’00s revivalism.
MTV Classic caters heavily to ’90s heads with its announced launch programming, which features old episodes of shows like Beavis and Butt-Head, Daria, and Unplugged, as well as early ’00s shows like Pimp My Ride, Cribs, and Jackass.
All of that is terrifically exciting if you’re, say, about 35 years old. It’s your childhood and college years, all on one channel you can just turn on and revisit the good ol’ days! But if you’re on the early end of the coveted 18-35 demographic, you’re probably missing a lot of context for these shows. To help you prep for the August 1st debut of MTV Classic, then, we’ve compiled a helpful cheat sheet to help you understand what these shows are, who made them, and why they’re worth your time a decade or more after their initial relevance.
WHAT: A beloved animated series that ran from early 1993 to late 1997, spawned a movie, and even got a revival with new episodes in the early ’10s.
WHO: The show was created by Silicon Valley cocreator Mike Judge, who became such a red-hot commodity as a result of its success that it led to his mini-empire of similarly beloved cult favorites like King of the Hill, Office Space, and Idiocracy, before his eventual settling in for HBO’s best comedy.
WHY WE CARE: Beavis and Butt-Head actively mocked MTV’s audience for MTV’s audience, and it was so good at doing it that nobody minded. It launched Judge to the sort of career that’s allowed him to make forward-thinking work that went from “ahead of its time” (like Office Space and Idiocracy) to “perfectly capturing its time” (like Silicon Valley). Beavis and Butt-Head similarly encapsulates its own time and space, which should be fun to revisit.
WHAT: A scripted-reality show that followed a handful of wealthy high school students in Orange County that ran from 2004-2006.
WHO: DiGa principals Tony DiSanto and Liz Gateley created the show, which starred–among others–Kristin Cavallari and Lauren Conrad.
WHY WE CARE: Laguna Beach had a long tail, at least for some of the people involved. Not only did it spawn the post-high school spin-off The Hills, which ran an additional six seasons, but it also launched Cavallari and Conrad into the public consciousness, where they remain–working in fashion, media, charities, and more. The Hills, of course, would launch (spawn?) Spencer Pratt and Heidi Montag as well, so . . . let’s move on.
WHAT: One of the longest-tenured shows on MTV, Cribs gave viewers the chance to check out the houses of their favorite celebrities/musicians/actors/etc., through 17 seasons, from 2000-2007 (on MTV–it moved to CMT for another four years’ worth of programming after that).
WHO: Basically everybody who was famous in the ’00s, but especially Mariah Carey.
WHY WE CARE: Cribs satisfied our basest celebrity desires–a voyeuristic chance to see “where the magic happens,” as a ton of people referred to the bedrooms–while also giving celebrities the chance to borrow Lamborghinis and other fancy things that weren’t really theirs so they could pretend they were richer than they actually were. What’s not to love?
WHAT: A stunts/pranks show that ran for just three seasons–long enough to redefine MTV, launch a bunch of careers, and spawn an empire.
WHO: Johnny Knoxville was the headliner, but Bam Margara and Steve-O both became superstars pretty shortly thereafter. Jeff Tremaine produced, and the whole thing had the stamp of approval of Spike Jonze, who went on to be nominated for an Oscar for Her in 2013 (among many other achievements).
WHY WE CARE: There are few shows that are more dumb fun to watch than Jackass, and the enduring appeal of the series is such that it spawned between three and seven feature films (depending how you count these things). There are three official Jackass movies, two “point-five” sequels, an Evel Knievel tribute released directly to DVD, and Bad Grandpa, a whole movie devoted to Knoxville’s “grandpa” character from the show.
WHAT: Basically Candid Camera, but with the hidden-camera pranks being pulled on celebrities. The show ran from 2003-2007.
WHO: Ashton Kutcher was the host and cocreator of the show, along with frequent collaborator Jason Goldberg.
WHY WE CARE: Punk’d helped transition Kutcher from “that guy from That ’70s Show” to an A-list star. (His choices between 2007-2011 helped transition Kutcher from an A-list star to that guy from Netflix’s slimly loved The Ranch, meanwhile.) Still, it’s hard to overstate the relevance of Punk’d during its heyday, when Kutcher made Justin Timberlake cry after convincing him the IRS had repossessed his house. The show also featured some of the early work of actor Dax Shepard, who was usually a featured player in the pranks.
WHAT: A short-lived cartoon series about clone versions of Gandhi, Abraham Lincoln, Joan of Arc, and others, all at high school together. It lasted one season, and 13 short episodes.
WHO: The reason this show is on the list is because of who made it: Phil Lord and Chris Miller cocreated the show early in their careers, before they would go on to direct Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs, The Lego Movie, 21 Jump Street, and the forthcoming Han Solo Star Wars anthology film. They were joined on the project by Bill Lawrence, who helped develop it near the end of the run of his Spin City and near the beginning of the run of Scrubs.
WHY WE CARE: There are occasionally those shows that bring together a ton of not-quite-there-yet talent for something special, that hits just before its time. (Think The Dana Carvey Show, with Louis CK, Stephen Colbert, Steve Carrell, and Charlie Kaufman before any of them took off.) Clone High is the same sort of show, with Lord and Miller joined by Lawrence, and a cast that included Will Forte, Zach Braff, Andy Dick, and more. Back in 2002-2003, Clone High was way ahead of its time, but now that it’s 2016, it’s probably just about right.
WHAT: An animated series that ran from 1997-2002 about a sardonic teenage girl who wants more out of life than what she’s got available to her in the suburbs, and lets everyone she encounters know that in the most sarcastic terms possible.
WHO: Mike Judge created the character on Beavis and Butt-Head, but she came into her own after Glenn Eichler and Susie Lewis Lynn developed a show focused specifically around the character, who was voiced by Tracy Grandstaff.
WHY WE CARE: The Daria team didn’t go on to grand things after the show’s tenure (Eichler currently writes for The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, while Lewis is a producer on Sea World’s Sea Rescue), but Daria herself lives on in the hearts and minds of her fans. Aubrey Plaza essentially built her early career playing a version of the character–which culminated in a live-action fake trailer for College Humor–and as long as there is stuff worth responding to with sarcasm, and smart teenage girls who are underestimated by the world, Daria will find her audience.
WHAT: A reality show in which people wrote to MTV asking for an upgrade to their cars, and received bizarre, exotic, spectacular, weird custom jobs from a team of highly creative experts. The show ran from 2004-2007.
WHO: The show was created by Bruce Beresford-Redman and Rick Hurvitz, neither of whom went on to match the success of Pimp My Ride. (Oddly, Beresford-Redman is currently serving a prison sentence for murder in Mexico.) The real star of the show, though, was Xzibit and the crew from West Coast Customs, who pimped the rides of the people who petitioned MTV for help with joyful abandon.
WHY WE CARE: Pimp My Ride was a procedural-style reality show in which the problem was laid out (a ride was un-pimped), Xzibit showed up like Santa Claus to address the problem (he would take it to West Coast Customs, who would get weird with it), and then the car’s owner would see how the ride would match his or her personality and lose their shit (a guy who likes fish got a fishtank in his car!). It was joyful (even if most of the customizations may have been fake) and beautiful, and even if it did signal the transition of Xzibit from “hardcore rapper” to “guy from those ‘yo dog, I heard you like [whatever], so I put a [whatever] in your [whatever]” memes, it was worth it.
WHAT: A short-lived animated science fiction series that debuted on MTV’s Liquid Television. It ran from 1991-1995, but most of that tenure involved very short episodes (under five minutes). The third season, in 1995, was the most conventional, with 10 30-minute episodes completing the story.
WHO: Aeon Flux was the brainchild of animator Peter Chung, with voice actress Denise Poirier in the lead role.
WHY WE CARE: For something so short-lived and unconventional, Aeon Flux ought to be a footnote–but it was so well-loved during its tenure that 10 years after it ended, it got a feature film adaptation, directed by The Invitation‘s Karyn Kusama and starring Charlize Theron. Fans (and Chung) disputed if the movie captured the original series, but anything that could inspire the passion necessary to revive a cult property for a major feature a decade later is worth revisiting in its original form on MTV Classic.