The TV of 1998 feels more like the end of something than the beginning. Dawson’s Creek and Will & Grace were pointing to a new direction for their respective networks, but pioneering comedies like Seinfeld, The Larry Sanders Show, Living Single, and Mr. Show were closing down. Jimmy Smits was making his NYPD Blue exit. The Simpsons got bad (for real this time). Or maybe it’s just that, in hindsight, we now know bigger things were on the horizon: HBO might’ve given up some of its signature hits, but it got a new one in the form of Sex And The City, while over the river and down the turnpike, David Chase was preparing The Sopranos for a 1999 debut.

But between the bookends, there was a lot of interesting stuff to be found on TV that year: Late-night offerings got weirder, Buffy The Vampire Slayer got great, and MTV regularly aired a show where Backstreet Boys and ’N Sync videos jockeyed for position with Korn. To provide a clearer picture of TV in 1998, here are 24 consecutive hours of it, give or take a few minutes every hour for a meal, a bathroom break, or a thematically appropriate bonus clip.


8 a.m.: Teletubbies, “Trickle Painting”

We begin our broadcast day on the cutting edge of children’s programming circa 1998, in the pastoral, gently psychedelic realm occupied by four fluffy humanoids with antennae on their heads and viewscreens in their stomachs. A year after the series launched in the U.K., Teletubbies said “Eh-oh” to PBS affiliates, its bright colors and relative plotlessness appealing to its preschool target audience and stoners alike. In this installment, a messy snack time calls for reinforcements from the show’s secret weapon: the Teletubbies’ googly-eyed, elephantine proto-Roomba, Noo-Noo. [Erik Adams]


8:30 a.m.: Pokémon, “Pokémon, I Choose You!”

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And now, a slightly more aggressive import, with just as much merchandising heft: Mere weeks before Pokémon Red and Blue were released for Game Boy in the United States, the franchise’s anime adaptation debuted in syndication. Airing daily, the series quickly acquainted Pokémon novices with Ash Ketchum, his fellow trainers Misty and Brock, and their dimwitted adversaries in Team Rocket. As the show’s anthemic theme song puts it, Ash wants to be the very best, like no one ever was, but he’s presented with a real test in this series premiere, beginning his quest alongside his first pocket monster, the ornery and electrified but ultimately loyal Pikachu. [Erik Adams]


9 a.m.: The Ultimate All-New Animaniacs Super Special

The following fall, Pokémon would join The WB’s Saturday-morning lineup, but before that, several of the block’s original Steven Spielberg-produced tentpoles would have to fold. In November of 1998, Animaniacs and its spin-off Pinky And The Brain took their bow in an hourlong package that wrapped the final original segments starring Yakko, Wakko, and Dot around the all-star Star Wars parody “Star Warners.” In one last superlaser blast of wordplay, slapstick, and inside-baseball showbiz humor, the crossover special put a bookend on an era of animated comedy at Warner Bros., which soon shifted its priorities to an entirely different universe of heroes: DC Comics. [Erik Adams]


10 a.m.: CatDog, “Dog Gone”/“Fan Mail”/“All You Can’t Eat”

Cable’s first home for original animation was going through its own transition in 1998, as the Rugrats hit the big screen and a pair of new Nicktoons joined the ranks of Hey Arnold! and The Angry Beavers. Premiering after that year’s Kids’ Choice Awards—where P. Diddy received the ceremony’s big celebrity sliming—CatDog was the more outrageous of the pair, combining two species who are sworn cartoon enemies into a single protagonist, a conjoined tube of pet with intellect in its feline half (Jim Cummings) and cheerful verve in its canine half (Tom Kenny). It’s best not to think about how a CatDog comes to be, though Dog dreams up a doozy of an origin story in the “Fan Mail” segment linking the two primary segments of this first episode. [Erik Adams]

Bonus clip: Oh Yeah! Cartoons, “The Fairly OddParents!”

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The next generation of Nicktoons would be defined by the following year’s post-Kids’ Choice premiere, SpongeBob SquarePants, but in 1998, Nick was hard at work developing the series that air alongside SpongeBob, Patrick, Squidward, and friends. On the way to its own lengthy run of wacky wish fulfillment, The Fairly OddParents! debuted as a short on the animated incubator Oh Yeah! Cartoons. [Erik Adams]


10:30 a.m.: The Wild Thornberrys, “Flood Warning”

On the flip side of the Nicktoons equation was this adventure series from Klasky Csupo, the studio responsible for Rugrats and its lumpy, Eastern European-inspired aesthetic. The Thornberrys travel the world together making nature documentaries, a premise grounded in family stories (albeit a family that’s adopted a chimpanzee and a feral child voiced by a Red Hot Chili Pepper) that also gave the animators a panoramic, international canvas to paint on. The animals still talk on The Wild Thornberrys—thanks to the interspecies gift of gab bestowed upon middle child Eliza (Lacey Chabert)—but it’s less in the service of Looney Tunes talking-critter hijinks and more for getting out of jams like the big cat encounter that caps this episode. [Erik Adams]


11 a.m.: The Powerpuff Girls, “Octi-Evil/Geshundfight”

Indulge in some female empowerment before lunch with “Octi-Evil,” which proves that, despite their combined abilities—including superstrength and supersonic waves—the Powerpuff Girls’ greatest asset is their sisterly bond. When the demon HIM possesses Bubbles’ stuffed animal Octi, he fosters discord among the superpowered trio. So instead of taking down the latest mutant to attack Townsville, Buttercup and Blossom, the de facto leader, argue over their attack plan. The conflict is quickly resolved, but this season-one segment sets up a dynamic we see throughout the series. “Octi-Evil” pairs especially well with “Geshundfight,” wherein the hapless Amoeba Boys pull off a dastardly viral attack without realizing it. They may also be a group, but they’re nowhere near as effective as the Powerpuff Girls. [Danette Chavez]


11:30 a.m.: Total Request Live

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It was the great “You got chocolate in my peanut butter”/“You got peanut butter in my chocolate” moment of late-’90s MTV: Combine the prime time video countdown Total Request with the you-are-there afternoon hangout of MTV Live, putting the keys to the channel’s programming in the hands of “the world’s biggest focus group.” Tabulating viewer requests by phone and email, Total Request Live was star-making appointment television—for the artists played and interviewed on air, for host Carson Daly, and for the Times Square studios that became a top tourist destination shortly after the show’s premiere. Intact episodes are hard to come by, so please enjoy this simulacrum of TRL comprising vintage studio segments, a highly subjective rundown of the year’s top videos at Nos. 10 through 5, and a top four that would come to define the first era of the show: “…Baby One More Time,” “Got The Life” (so stymied by its boy-band competition that No. 3 on the countdown came to be known as “The Korn spot”), “I’ll Never Break Your Heart,” and “Tearin’ Up My Heart.” [Erik Adams]

Bonus clip: Gap, “Khaki Swing”

Missing from that countdown: the swing revival, which splashed into the mainstream on the backs of The Brian Setzer Orchestra, Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and this popular Gap spot featuring Louis Prima’s original “Jump, Jive, An’ Wail.” [Erik Adams]


12:30 p.m.: The Simpsons, “Das Bus”

Before the 10th season sent The Simpsons screaming over the edge like the passengers of a school bus with a grapefruit wedged under its brake pedal, the ninth season… sent Springfield Elementary’s Model UN screaming over the edge of a bridge on a school bus with a grapefruit wedged under its brake pedal. So begins “Das Bus”’ riff on Lord Of The Flies, a clever reframing of the kids’ field trip and the basis for one of the last great episodes of The Simpsons’ golden era. Neither purple berries nor Arby’s would ever taste as sweet again. [Erik Adams]


1 p.m.: King Of The Hill, “Meet The Manger Babies”

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“I think God has a plan for me—and it involves puppets.” Luanne Platter (Brittany Murphy) was introduced to the Hill household as a sweet if aimless young woman, one who immediately bonded with Bobby (Pamela Adlon) but gotdangit, was usually kept at arm’s length by her uncle Hank (Mike Judge). But in this season-two episode, Luanne finds a purpose and a way to connect with her uncle: by putting on a Bible-friendly puppet show. There’s a little second-act drama, as the Super Bowl threatens to rain on Luanne’s parade, but Hank gets his priorities straight before episode’s end, showing up to support his niece. It’s a sweet, memorable episode, and a reminder of the wonderful voice work the late Murphy did. [Danette Chavez]


1:30 p.m.: Buffy The Vampire Slayer, “Becoming”

There’s no better way to begin the afternoon than with the series that pushed The WB to reorient as a teen-centric network. Buffy The Vampire Slayer was a landmark series in many ways—feminist, genre-mashing, postmodern—but it never achieved the same zenith of pop-culture zeitgeist as it did during the two-part second season finale. Having experienced the all-time-worst example of a guy who changes after you sleep with him—when Buffy’s undead vampire boyfriend Angel lost his soul after their night together—the Slayer finally accepts that she may have to kill the love of her life to save the world from being destroyed by an all-powerful demon. This was the year the show began firing on all Hellmouth-situated cylinders, and creator Joss Whedon constructed the season expertly, a slow build to these two installments written and directed by Whedon that exert maximal dramatic payoff while delivering a gut punch of a climax. The fight choreography is superb for the era (Buffy and Angel’s sword fight looks good even now), the savvy and self-aware jokes all land, and it closes the book (albeit temporarily) on a televised love story for the ages. There’s a good reason that Whedon’s Mutant Enemy logo, a little poorly animated cartoon that usually utters a silly “grr, arrgh” as it crosses the screen at the end of each episode, here lets out a sad, “Ohhh, I need a hug,” instead. [Alex McLevy]


3:30 p.m.: Charmed, “Something Wicca This Way Comes”

The Charmed pilot is a winning introduction to the magical Halliwell sisters: Family tensions are laid out efficiently, as are the rules of the women’s newly wiccan world. Eldest daughter Prue (Shannen Doherty) is both critical and protective, while middle child Piper (Holly Marie Combs) seeks out balance and peace. As the youngest, Phoebe is the most free-spirited and open-minded, qualities that Alyssa Milano so perfectly embodies that it’s not hard to see why she replaced Lori Rom in the role. They discover their individual powers, but soon come to realize that every spell—especially one of vanquishment—works best when the Power Of Three is behind it. Though creator Constance M. Burge’s script is solid, the cast is really what sells a premise so clearly modeled after The Craft and Practical Magic. Doherty, Combs, and Milano look and act like sisters (whatever reductive jokes about how that fed behind-the-scenes tensions have already been made), and we quickly come to care for them. Though the balance would tip as the show went on, “Something Wicca This Way Comes” juggles the family drama and campier elements in admirable fashion. (Let’s just ignore the fact that 3:30 in the afternoon is more happy hour than witching hour.) [Danette Chavez]


4:20 p.m.: That ’70s Show, “The Keg”

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Put the dramas on pause, head into the basement with your buds, and giggle along with a circle of Point Place, Wisconsin’s most lovable dumbasses. Bonnie and Terry Turner’s “Me” Decade sitcom was still dependent on ’70s signifiers at this point in its first season (see: the Formans and Pinciottis meeting up to watch Rich Man, Poor Man), but “The Keg” also illustrates what makes That ’70s Show one of the most underrated TV comedies of its time. It’s in the kids’ harebrained quest to secure a tap for the keg of beer they find on the side of the road, and it’s in the tension that drives so much of the show: Eric Forman (Topher Grace) versus his dad, Red (Kurtwood Smith), the former striving to find something to make life in a podunk Midwestern town worth living, the latter the foot ready to plant itself in the ass of fun-seekers everywhere. The key to their dynamic was that Red truly cared for his son, and you get that from Smith’s performance in “The Keg,” even before the beer pulls those feelings out from under his perpetually furrowed brow. [Erik Adams]


5 p.m.: Dawson’s Creek, “Pilot”

The WB’s move into teen-centered programming began in 1997 with Buffy The Vampire Slayer, but Dawson’s Creek was every bit as instrumental in that shift as Joss Whedon’s (superior) series. No one was tasked with saving the world, but Capeside’s loquacious teens still managed to parlay the end of summer and first day of high school into life-and-death stakes. Horror-movie director Steve Miner helmed several season-one episodes, including the pilot, which sets up the love triangle (later quadrangle) and—sigh—statutory rape storyline. That was only one of the arcs that had parental watchdog groups wringing their hands before the show even premiered. But, that debacle aside, it’s a very good pilot; creator Kevin Williamson managed to find actors who looked and behaved like teenagers, and their chemistry is palpable. We immediately recognize the archetypes the characters embody—the dreamer, the loner, the tomboy, the “fallen one”—but they don’t feel one-dimensional. Williamson, who wrote the episode, and his cast give us ample reason to stay in Capeside, which The WB did for six seasons. [Danette Chavez]


6 p.m.: Felicity, “Finally”

If Dawson’s Creek took viewers on a trip down the memory of adolescence lane and Charmed demystified adulthood and families, then Felicity mapped out the uncertain—but still sexy!—phase in between. Creators J.J. Abrams and Matt Reeves hit the ground running with an engaging pilot, but “Finally” perfectly captures so much of the end-of-first-semester experience: the all-night cram sessions, dubious study techniques (including Meghan’s “smart powder”), and everything that distracts the newly matriculated from the task at hand. While Ben (Scott Speedman) struggles to grasp poetry, Felicity (Keri Russell) and Noel (Scott Foley) try to define their relationship post-bathroom-makeout session—which, of course, Ben witnessed, further complicating matters. Because who cares about Charles Dickens and organic chemistry when you’re figuring out who your first college boyfriend will be? Felicity, for one—our girl ditches both the fellas to buckle down in a manner that would make her parents proud if they weren’t questioning her decision to move across the country to attend college. [Danette Chavez]


7 p.m.: Ally McBeal, “It’s My Party”

Screenshot: Ally McBeal

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By the time Ally McBeal’s second season rolled around, it seemed that even the man who created the show was fed up with his main character’s constant self-indulgence and insistence that the world revolved around her. So David E. Kelley examined Ally McBeal’s faults in a meta episode that also addressed her controversially short hemlines, which a judge in this episode decrees unfit for the courtroom. Ally (Calista Flockhart) winds up in jail for refusing to abide by the judge’s dress code (and refusing to apologize), until her entire office has to make a court appearance to support her. New associate Nelle (Portia de Rossi) frees Ally by convincing the judge that if a woman is wearing what she wants, it’s not her fault if someone else is sexualizing her for it. But Ally is still more indignant than grateful until her longtime-love-who’s-married-to-someone-else Billy (Gil Bellows) points out how the whole office had to shut down for her skirt shenanigans, and that they all have lives as well. It’s as if Kelley was making a pitch for his own show’s ensemble, heightened in this episode by the extremely hot first kiss between Ling (Lucy Liu) and Fish (Greg Germann) and Elaine’s (Jane Krakowski) adorable new boyfriend (John Ritter), who of course sparks with Ally. The ploy was successful, and the show continued to run for three more seasons. [Gwen Ihnat]


8 p.m.: Friends, “The One After Ross Says Rachel”

Four seasons in, Friends found a way to get more mileage out of Ross (David Schwimmer) and Rachel’s (Jennifer Aniston) “will they again?” dynamic, when the once-and-future groom utters his ex-girlfriend’s name at his wedding to Emily (Helen Baxendale). It’s both a tease and a tangent, because, as this season-five opener reveals, the real romance is budding between Chandler and Monica, though they’re as in denial about the strength of their feelings as Ross is about the odds of his second marriage. Director and executive producer Kevin S. Bright reinvigorates what had become a sitcom staple, setting an almost breakneck pace for “The One After Ross Says Rachel.” Everyone scrambles, including Phoebe, who’s eight months pregnant but still crank-calling Emily’s mother (Jennifer Saunders). [Danette Chavez]


8:30 p.m.: Living Single, “Let’s Stay Together”

Living Single didn’t just help Fox give NBC a run for its “must-see TV” money—Yvette Lee Bowser’s sitcom broke ground for black-led series, as well as popularized the hangout format later seen on shows like Friends. The series bowed out with a traditional, affectionate finale set during New Year’s Eve. T.C. Carson, who played the debonair Kyle Barker, was no longer a regular cast member in the fifth season, but he returned for this broader sendoff. Directed by Bowser’s fellow A Different World alum Ellen Falcon, “Let’s Stay Together” reunites Kyle and his sparring/romantic partner Maxine (Erika Alexander), sends Khadijah (Queen Latifah) on the road with Scooter (Cress Williams), and closes on a shot of the apartment where six black friends frequently gathered to bemoan—and celebrate—their love and professional lives. [Danette Chavez]


9 p.m.: Seinfeld, “The Dealership”

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You don’t want to watch the Seinfeld finale. Nobody wants to watch the Seinfeld finale. Refuse the Seinfeld finale—watch this ninth-season episode instead, a low-concept number that calls back to “The Chinese Restaurant” and “The Parking Garage” with one crucial, offsite distinction: Kramer (Michael Richards), pushing the limits of a test drive with an all-too-accommodating salesman. Back at the titular location, Jerry (Jerry Seinfeld), Elaine (Julia Louis-Dreyfus), and George (Jason Alexander) each have a bone to pick with other employees of the dealership, with Elaine’s being particularly sticky because she’s dating the guy. David Puddy (Patrick Warburton) has graduated from fixing cars to selling them, but his celebratory technique and his idea of fine dining could use an upgrade, threatening both his relationship with Elaine and Jerry’s deal on a new Saab. Remember the show not as it went out, but as it was in “The Dealership”: surging down the road even though the needle’s on empty, righteous in the knowledge that Twix is the only candy with the cookie crunch. High five. [Erik Adams]

Bonus clip: American Express, “Seinfeld And Superman”

A friendlier team-up between Seinfeld and Warburton: The comic and his favorite superhero used plastic to save the day between the downs of Super Bowl XXXII. [Erik Adams]


9:30 p.m.: Will & Grace, “Between A Rock And Harlin’s Place”

The title referred to Will Truman (Eric McCormack) and Grace Adler (Debra Messing), but even as early as the fourth episode, Will & Grace could pinpoint who was stealing all the scenes: “Hey, hey: It’s not The Will And Grace Show—it’s called Just Jack!” And yet it’s a good indication of early Will & Grace’s commitment to its central relationship—as well as 1998’s insistence at giving straight America an entry point into the comedy about the gay lawyer living with his best friend, the heterosexual interior designer—that the name in the title of this episode belongs to affable, disposable Harlin Polk (Gary Grubbs). But Will and Grace’s squabble over the apartment she designs for his Texan client (“It looked like Gene Autry exploded in there!“) finds the show managing its priorities, an A-story generated from the roommates’ messy sense of boundaries and the ready chemistry between McCormack and Messing. Elsewhere, Will & Grace’s other dynamic duo—Sean Hayes as Jack and Megan Mullally as Karen—test their own boundaries, trading quips and grinding hips in preparation for the one-man show that would have everyone talking with their hands dramatically framing their faces. [Erik Adams]


10 p.m.: ER, “Exodus”

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A contender for series’ best, “Exodus” combines breathless tension with some of ER’s most sprawling and cinematic direction (tip of the hat to executive producer Christopher Chulack, who helmed this season-four entry). Long before the building collapse and toxic spill on the doctors’ home turf, County General’s forces are scattered, with Dr. Greene (Anthony Edwards) missing in action and Dr. Corday (Alex Kingston) on a ride-along with EMTs. Another set of mishaps leaves Dr. Ross (George Clooney) and Nurse Hathaway (Julianna Margulies) trapped in an elevator and Carter (Noah Wyle) in charge. His ascent is anything but smooth, but Carter more than rises to the challenge. ER’s tendency to put a hat on a hat would eventually be its undoing, but the heightened drama of “Exodus” is balanced by just enough realism—a frantic search turns up an adequate disaster plan, not a deus ex machina, and even Carter’s near-superhuman efforts can’t prevent the loss of human life. This was one of several Carter-centric episodes in the fourth season, which hinted at Wyle’s own forthcoming move into the spotlight after Clooney’s departure in season five. Although Clooney was arguably the show’s biggest breakout, the cast of ER was full of heavy hitters, most of whom have a chance to shine in this stunning hour. [Danette Chavez]


11 p.m.: NYPD Blue, “Hearts And Souls”

Okay, you’ve (hopefully) laughed and cheered through the first leg of this marathon, but now we’re going to hit you with Bobby Simone’s swan song. “Hearts And Souls,” which rightly won director Paris Barclay an Emmy, is one of the most acclaimed TV episodes ever—a riveting yet touching farewell to Jimmy Smits, whose soulful performance helped keep NYPD Blue on track following David Caruso’s season-two departure. Simone wasn’t just a replacement for John Kelly (Caruso); as Andy Sipowicz (Dennis Franz), his partner of several years puts it, he was “a friend.” (We defy you not to sob along with the detective at this moment in the episode.) Barclay and writers Steven Bochco, David Milch, Bill Clark, and Nicholas Wootton never let the farewell turn maudlin, even as it dawns on the viewer that there’s no way Bobby could survive with anyone’s heart but his own. Kim Delaney delivers her own gut-wrenching performance as Detective Diane Russell, who becomes Bobby’s widow by episode’s end, but not before everyone from Sipowicz to Lt. Arthur Fancy (James McDaniel) has a chance to say goodbye. In addition to being one of the greatest hours of TV, “Hearts And Souls” is also one of the most memorable character send-offs. [Danette Chavez]


12:30 a.m.: NewsRadio, “Bill Moves On”

We conclude the lump-in-your-throat portion of the lineup with the cast of a workplace sitcom mourning one of its own practically in real time. Phil Hartman was killed shortly after NewsRadio aired its fourth-season finale; when the show returned the next fall, it addressed his absence in a half-hour tribute to the actor and his character, Bill McNeal, the type of puffed-up, stealthily insecure type Hartman so excelled at playing. In a script by creator Paul Simms that’s no less funny for how much quieter it is than the average NewsRadio, what’s felt is both Hartman’s absence and the immutable sense of support among the collaborators left to remember him. The highlight-reel set piece is a meeting in the office of WNYX station manager Dave Nelson (Dave Foley), where letters left for the staff give Simms one last chance to write Bill’s words while the cast almost, but not completely, conjures Hartman’s voice. [Erik Adams]

Bonus clip: Troy McClure in “Birds: Our Fine Feathered Colleagues”

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A few days later, that voice was heard for the final time on The Simpsons, in a Troy McClure interlude recorded prior to Hartman’s death. In an episode as tender as “Bart The Mother,” it’s comforting to get one last bit of grinning assurance from the Simpsons’ avatar of showbiz shamelessness. It sure is, Billy. It sure is. [Erik Adams]


1 a.m. Sports Night, “Dear Louise”

The patter, the walk-and-talks, the highfalutin allusions: All the elements of Aaron Sorkin’s style were introduced to television viewers via Sports Night, the screenwriter’s sorely under-seen parlay into prime time. Also established: the epistolary episode, given a pre-“Stackhouse Filibuster” tryout in “Dear Louise,” in which green producer Jeremy (Joshua Malina) writes a letter walking his sister through a less-than-typical day on the job at the SportsCenter surrogate: Dan (Josh Charles) has writer’s block, his co-anchor, Casey (Peter Krause), grapples with his feelings for executive producer Dana (Felicity Huffman), and their boss, Isaac (Robert Guillaume), is worried his daughter is dating a Republican. It’s a lot to get through in less than half an hour, but Sorkin and director Thomas Schlamme do so with gusto and good humor (despite the network-mandated laugh track), including a nod to an infamous ESPN blooper involving a misplaced “s” and the phrasing “bulging disc.” And somehow Sorkin didn’t wind up calling this one “What Kind Of Day Has It Been?” [Erik Adams]

Bonus clip: Mark McGwire breaks the single-season home run record

Sports history bloops over the left field wall at St. Louis’ Busch Stadium, as Mark McGwire hits his 62nd home run of the 1998 Major League Baseball season. In a picture-perfect culmination of a story that dominated the summer, the homer came opposite Big Mac’s top competition for the record: Chicago Cub Sammy Sosa, who’d hit the same shortly thereafter. [Erik Adams]

1:30 a.m.: Sex And The City, “Sex And The City”

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Like many pilots, “Sex And The City” is an entertaining rough draft, full of questionable choices (freeze frames, really?) and a shifting layout. We’ll admit there are better season-one episodes, but the alternate vision of the show that this premiere presents is fascinating. Here, Samantha is the one hitting on Mr. Big (Chris Noth), and Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) is a brunette without an inordinately large closet. (It’s probably just a coincidence that Parker’s styling is so reminiscent of the star of director Susan Seidelman’s second feature, Desperately Seeking Susan.) But though SATC’s look changed throughout the years—the first two episodes are really like night and day—the friendship among Carrie, Samantha, Miranda (Cynthia Nixon), and Charlotte (Kristin Davis) only grows stronger. Obtrusive sax aside, “Sex And The City” sets the tone for one of HBO’s most successful comedies ever. [Danette Chavez]


2 a.m.: Mr. Show With Bob And David, “Eat Rotten Fruit From A Shitty Tree”

It doesn’t contain the biggest laugh from Mr. Show’s final season—that belongs to “The Story Of Everest”’s namesake pratfalls—but “Eat Rotten Fruit From A Shitty Tree” is the best example of the precision-tooled sketch comedy that Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’ flagship series was doing at the end of its run. The episode has a remarkable build, beginning with a spot-on Politically Incorrect parody and the highbrow juvenilia of “Marty Farty” and culminating in the one-two punch of all-time classics “God’s Book On Tape” and “Monster Mash.” And between the media-lampoon-as-playground-rhyme, the smug deity reimagined as super-producer Robert Evans, and the chilling true stories of Halloween novelty records, there’s “Spite Marriage,” a perfect encapsulation of the unbreakable bond between Mr. Show’s principals and the sublimated rage the series allowed them to vent. To quote the sketch’s refrain: “Fackin’ guys.” [Erik Adams]


2:30 a.m.: The Larry Sanders Show, “Flip”

Lots of TV finales turn into tributes to the shows they’re concluding; The Larry Sanders Show was more justified in this indulgence because 1) it had a show-within-a-show to end, too, and 2) no one on TV in 1998 was as self-involved as Larry Sanders (Garry Shandling). Drawing on Johnny Carson’s penultimate Tonight Show for inspiration, guests and figures from the past line up to kiss Larry’s ass, then kick it, whether its Jim Carrey upstaging the man of the hour with a little Dreamgirls, or Carol Burnett and Ellen DeGeneres dropping by to put the lie to Larry’s “You’re the first person I called” BS before cutting him out of the on-camera conversation entirely. (Also great: Tom Petty, insult comedian.) Sanders gets its “fucking celebrity circle jerk” (in the words of Stevie Grant, the pissant agent played by the aforementioned Odenkirk), but also some genuine emotion, in an hour-long farewell where the feelings that talk show host Larry, producer Arty (Rip Torn), and sidekick Hank (Jeffrey Tambor) have tamped down for six seasons finally bubble to the surface. The backstage comedy made an art form out of peeling back curtains, and it saved the one that couldn’t be un-peeled for last. [Erik Adams]


3:30 a.m.: Upright Citizens Brigade, “Poo Stick”

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Before its alumni were responsible for roughly 85 percent of TV comedy output, the Upright Citizens Brigade’s onscreen face was that of its four founding members: Matt Besser, Amy Poehler, Ian Roberts, and Matt Walsh. Premiering in 1998, the group’s eponymous Comedy Central took its inspiration from the Harold, a long-form improv structure that revisits three separate scenes across three separate acts, with the scenes bleeding in and out of each other and potentially tying together in the final act. It made for a sketch show whose between-scene links and thematic rigor could rival that of Mr. Show; just keep track of all the threads involving movies that run in and out of “Poo Stick,” while also keeping a sharp eye out for the episode’s titular (or is it title?) method of defense. [Erik Adams]


4 a.m.: Celebrity Deathmatch, “Seinfeld’s Last Stand”

MTV loved a good rivalry in the late ’90s: ’N Sync versus Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears versus Christina Aguilera, Mariah Carey versus… Jim Carrey? Sure, in the stop-motion squared circle of Celebrity Deathmatch, where superstar beef was squashed like so many tiny clay heads. It’s a premise that could’ve only worked during a time before social media dropped the veil on fame and fortune, before mobilized armies of fans would’ve cried foul about video star killing video star for our sick amusement. The show’s first fight card was also an only-in-1998 affair: Kicking off with Hillary Clinton and Monica Lewinsky, before a main event that pitted Jerry Seinfeld against Tim Allen. [Erik Adams]

Bonus clip: “Stone Cold” Steve Austin vs. Vince McMahon, April 13, 1998

World Wrestling Federation star “Stone Cold” Steve Austin was one of the few celebrities to appear on Celebrity Deathmatch as himself. When he wasn’t being rendered in clay in ’98, the Rattlesnake was defending his championship belt against Vince McMahon and the status quo-enforcing villains of the Corporation. When Austin and the big boss man (not the Big Boss Man) met in the ring on the April 13 episode of Raw Is War, it led to a victory for the WWF itself: That night, for the first time since 1996, it bested the ratings of its rival promotion, the Ted Turner-owned World Championship Wrestling. [Erik Adams]


4:30 a.m.: The Sifl And Olly Show, season one, episode 19

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Late-night public access hosts and sock puppets Sifl (Liam Lynch) and Olly (Matt Crocco) have found new life on review sites and podcasts, but nothing has ever matched the sublime peculiarity of The Sifl And Olly Show. Part of a bygone era in which MTV regularly featured music in some form, the show combined musical performances (the duo’s Blue Oyster Cult cover here is especially crescent fresh) with troubling product endorsements and interviews like this late season-one chat with Mars (the planet, not the Roman god). It’s a parody of talk show segments and yet light years beyond those amiable conversations between celebrities; when was the last time a Tonight Show guest ominously hinted at a cataclysmic event here on Earth? And even if that’s much more likely these days, could Jimmy Fallon take your mind off the apocalypse like pondering the nonexistent connection between the Great Pyramid and rock ’n’ roll? We think not. [Danette Chavez]


5 a.m.: South Park, “Terrance And Phillip In Not Without My Anus”

In retrospect, it should’ve been a little more obvious: South Park’s first season ended on a major cliffhanger involving the paternity of pint-sized fascist Eric Cartman (Trey Parker), which the show promised to resolve when it returned for season two on April 1—April Fools’ Day. Instead, the thousands who tuned in for the return of TV’s most-talked-about show found themselves face to flapping face with an episode starring Terrance and Phillip, the flatulent Canadians beloved by the children of South Park. It was an ingenious prank, but not one without repercussions: Not everyone thought “Not Without My Anus” was a gas, and the stink raised by irate fans led Comedy Central to push the cliffhanger’s actual conclusion to an earlier airdate. [Erik Adams]


5:30 a.m.: The Secret Diary Of Desmond Pfeiffer, “A.O.L.: Abe On-Line”

In the year of There’s Something About Mary, Kingpin screenwriters Barry Fanaro and Mort Nathan learned that bad taste can serve comedy on the big screen, but it absolutely dies in front of a studio audience. Protested before it premiered and panned once it made it to air, Fanaro and Nathan’s Secret Diary Of Desmond Pfeiffer (like the public outcry, the “P” in “Pfeiffer” wasn’t silent) took place during the American Civil War, focusing on an upper-crust black Englishman (Chi McBride) who crosses the Atlantic to flee a gambling debt and winds up working as a butler in the Lincoln White House. The show aimed to satirize contemporary politics, but the slavery-era setting and jokes like Abe Lincoln inventing cybersex via telegraph amounted to one of the biggest misfires in TV history. All the mistaken-identity capers and punchlines about horny chief executives and sexually frustrated first wives amounted to a show that was stupider than it was dangerous. Proving that Twitter parody @UPNTweets is only a slight exaggeration of UPN’s actual programming strategy, “A.O.L.: Abe On-Line” is a little gawking to get you through the wee small hours. [Erik Adams]


6 a.m.: Babylon 5, “Sleeping In Light”

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Babylon 5’s series closer is the definition of a fond farewell, a stirring and reflective hour that, in the spirit of the show, is more interested in exploring the evolution of the relationships of the original space station members. And, like so many of its predecessors, the episode is written by creator J. Michael Straczynski, who also directed. “Sleeping In Light” doesn’t introduce some new, world-ending threat or send anyone off to some distant corner of the galaxy—all we and the characters, including Captain Sheridan, are faced with is the inevitable decline of our physical forms. It’s been 20 years since Sheridan defied his mortality, with some help from Lorien (Wayne Alexander); sensing his time is ending, he and Delenn (Mira Furlan) gather with their oldest friends, including Garibaldi (Jerry Doyle), Ivanova (Claudia Christian), and Vir Cotto (Stephen Furst). They reminisce about Babylon 5’s heyday, but all look to the future—except Sheridan, who returns to the soon-to-be decommissioned station for one last look. There, he runs into Zack Allan (the late Jeff Conaway), whose last words to Sheridan sum up the series: “We did everything we said we were gonna do.” [Danette Chavez]


7 a.m.: From Earth To The Moon, “Le Voyage Dans La Lune”

HBO’s Emmy-winning dramatization of the Apollo program ends with an unexpected swerve, presenting the United States’ final trip to the moon in faux-documentary style. Characters whom we’ve seen throughout the miniseries—Stephen Root as NASA flight director Christopher Kraft, Lane Smith as reporter Emmett Seaborn—discuss the public’s waning interest in lunar missions, and Apollo 17 can’t even hold all of “La Voyage Dans La Lune”’s attention, splitting the episode’s time with recreated scenes from the creation of Georges Méliès’ Le Voyage Dans La Lune (starring From Earth To The Moon producer and “Le Voyage Dans La Lune” writer Tom Hanks!). It’s a bittersweet denouement for such a colossal human achievement, and it’s perfectly fitting for the end of our TV trip back to 1998. Following the events depicted in “Le Voyage Dans La Lune,” NASA would lower its ambitions for manned space exploration; less than a year after “Le Voyage Dans La Lune,” HBO (and TV in general) would take one giant leap forward in one of the most unassuming destinations of all: the New Jersey suburbs. [Erik Adams]