Our look at the hallmarks of pop culture during the midpoint of the ’90s continues as we pick up with summer of 1995 and everything that followed. Part one ran yesterday.


1. Clueless brings an end to the age of the “slacker”

The early ’90s saw the media fascinated with “Generation X,” the disaffected youth whose laziness, cynicism, and studied sloppiness inspired widespread attempts to package and sell it back to them. But just as 1994 saw peak slacker with the release of movies like Reality Bites, Clerks, and S.F.W., 1995 washed all that carefully cultivated filth away with the release of Clueless. That film’s Cher Horowitz (Alicia Silverstone) sneered at the guys at her school who “put on some baggy pants and take their greasy hair and cover it up with a backwards cap,” mocked her Gen-X stepbrother’s “chin pubes,” and derided Radiohead as “the maudlin music of the university station.” And with that, the millennial generation—driven, positive, self-assured—had made itself known. That cultural sea change was everywhere in 1995: Even the kids in ostensible “slacker” movie Empire Records all worked together toward a goal the guys of Clerks would have just shrugged off. Meanwhile, slackers yielded to Hackers—a risible movie whose societal outcasts nevertheless possessed extremely marketable skills. In the years that followed, Hollywood looked to Clueless as its blueprint for how young people saw themselves, celebrating earnest, energetic teens who—for all their relatable fuck-ups—have ambitious goals and good hygiene, in movies like Scream, Can’t Hardly Wait, and American Pie. At least the rise of these shiny, happy hopes for the future gave Gen Xers something else to grouse about. [Sean O’Neal]


2. Waterworld becomes a cautionary tale… briefly

The 1990s saw blockbuster budgets explode: In 1994, True Lies became the first movie to cost over $100 million to produce, and the next summer saw the release of Waterworld, a maritime Mad Max knockoff, complete with drifter antihero (Kevin Costner), bizarre villains, ramshackle production design, and Dean Semler camerawork. Budgeted at $172 million (about $265 million in today’s devalued dollars) with plenty more spent on promotions and merchandising, it was the most expensive movie ever made—so expensive, in fact, that it managed to lose money despite being one of the highest-grossing films of the year. It enjoyed a brief life as a late-night punchline and a widely repeated cautionary tale that Hollywood wasn’t all that interested in heeding. Tentpole projects only got more and more expensive, and mega-budgets became the norm. Consider this: Even when adjusted for inflation, the fourth Pirates Of The Caribbean movie cost more than all three Lord Of The Rings movies combined. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]


3. The State wraps up on MTV and flops on CBS

After delivering sketch comedy to MTV viewers over the course of a year and a half, the 11 cast members of The State—Kevin Allison, Michael Ian Black, Robert Ben Garant, Todd Holoubek, Michael Patrick Jann, Kerri Kenney, Thomas Lennon, Joe Lo Truglio, Ken Marino, Michael Showalter, and David Wain—found themselves tempted by the bright lights of the broadcast networks. First, ABC toyed with the idea of pitting them against Saturday Night Live, but the deal never materialized. CBS soon offered them the TV equivalent of the rent-to-own option, offering them a few specials and promising the possibility of a series if the specials went well. In fact, there was only one special: The State’s 43rd Annual All-Star Halloween Special, featuring musical guest Sonic Youth. In the words of David Wain, “The reviews were great, but there was no promotion nor ratings, and CBS decided not to renew us. So ended The State on TV.” While the collective’s demise was disappointing at the time, it’s hard to complain about the comedy that ultimately emerged as a result of its members going their separate ways. [Will Harris]


4. Road Rules debuts, pushing MTV even further into reality-TV hell

While The Real World debuted on MTV in 1992, its first few seasons were relatively tame, offering twentysomethings sitting around in fairly nice houses talking about race or whatever while still working their own jobs and living their own lives. Road Rules, which debuted July 19, 1995, changed all that. With Road Rules, the youth network threw together five strangers in a small, smelly RV, challenged them to complete missions and do inane odd jobs for money, and then lavished them with a trip to Europe at the end of the whole thing. Originally billed as The Real World on an RV, Road Rules quickly became not that, with producers realizing viewers liked watching wacky challenges more than they liked watching interpersonal relationships. The show morphed, with the third and fourth seasons finding the “Roadies” in Europe and the Caribbean Islands, respectively. That fourth season also found the gang competing against the Boston cast of The Real World, for whatever reason, something that eventually sparked the most devious and unholy of MTV creations, The Real World/Road Rules Challenge. Today, that show is simply called The Challenge, and has birthed reality stars all on its own. One eight-time competitor, Kenny Santucci, has won more than $240,000 just from The Challenge, having never appeared on either The Real World or Road Rules. [Marah Eakin]


5. The Virtual Boy flops

While the Sega Saturn may have sputtered after its launch, Nintendo’s ungainly portable offering proved to be the black sheep of new 1995 consoles. In theory, the house of Mario was offering players their first taste of affordable home virtual reality. In practice, the tabletop goggle contraption was uncomfortable to use, and the red 3-D images were prone to induce nausea and headaches. Unwanted Virtual Boys would clog the clearance shelves of Software Etc. for years, but the device’s legacy isn’t all bad. Nintendo’s creative culture values long-term thinking, and the company often holds onto ideas even after they fail in the marketplace. So Nintendo never forgot about 3-D: Sixteen years after the Virtual Boy flopped, Nintendo’s designers would take another crack at a 3-D portable with the 3DS, and they got it right the second time around. [John Teti]


6. Microsoft licenses “Start Me Up” for its Windows 95 campaign

Microsoft owned the ’90s. In the post-iPod/iPad/iPhone world, it’s hard to think of a time when Apple was floundering and Microsoft ruled the tech landscape, but that’s how it was in 1995. Not only did the computer company inexplicably partner with NBC to launch a cable-news network, MSNBC, that year, it thought nothing of paying millions to license a single song by one of the world’s most famous rock ’n’ roll bands for a commercial. To show off the new “Start” button on its hot-shit new operating system, Windows 95, the company licensed “Start Me Up” from The Rolling Stones’ 1981 album Tattoo You. Experts speculated for years that Microsoft paid anywhere from $8 million to $15 million for the rights, until former Microsoft executive Bob Herbold admitted a few years ago it was closer to $3 million. [Kyle Ryan]


7. The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame And Museum opens, revitalizes Cleveland

Although The Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame had been inducting people into its hallowed halls since 1986, the actual physical Rock Hall didn’t open until September 1, 1995, when acts like Bruce Springsteen, Bob Dylan, Al Green, Little Richard, Iggy Pop, and others helped the I.M. Pei-designed building heave open its doors in style. Though Cleveland landed the museum for iffy reasons—some Alan Freed history, plus the fact that the city was willing to fork over the $65 million to build the thing—the museum has been a boon for the city, drawing 8.5 million visitors and $1.8 billion in tourism bucks to the once-struggling town. [Marah Eakin]

8. Showgirls tests the NC-17 rating, fails

The MPAA’s NC-17 rating was actually introduced in 1990 as a replacement for the X, which was associated with pornography. But for its first five years or so, the rating was affixed primarily to arthouse releases and bigger studio projects that were re-rated R after an appeal and/or cutting down. So while movies as varied as The Doors, True Romance, and Predator 2 all had shots at becoming the first wide-release NC-17 movie, none of them stepped up to the plate. Enter Paul Verhoeven and his irascible sidekick Joe Eszterhas, re-teaming after the nearly NC-17 Basic Instinct for the full-blown NC-17 extravaganza Showgirls. The stripper saga kept its NC-17 when it opened on more than 1,300 screens in September 1995. Many outlets would not run ads for the film, and it grossed a modest $20 million in its total run, effectively consigning the controversial rating back to the arthouse. In the years since, releasing a film unrated has become more and more commonplace, especially with the advent of day-and-date VOD release, while NC-17 remains relatively rare. Though some notable films have gone out with a real NC-17, Showgirls failed to carve out a space for adults-only fiction films at the local multiplex—which also, weirdly, makes it the rating’s de facto biggest success. It remains the widest-released and highest-grossing NC-17 movie to this day. [Jesse Hassenger]


9. Saturday Night Live ends its “bad boys” era

Unfortunately for Janeane Garofalo and Chris Elliott, their big Saturday Night Live breaks coincided with one of the weakest stretches in the show’s history. The former quit in early 1995, citing the fratty atmosphere that came to characterize SNL during the reign of so-called “bad boys” Adam Sandler, Chris Farley, and David Spade. Threatened with cancellation, Lorne Michaels cleaned house at the end of low-rated season 20, rebuilding with the likes of Will Ferrell, Cheri Oteri, and future longest-serving cast member Darrell Hammond. Molly Shannon had been brought in after Garofalo’s exit, making a splash that fall (and a crash, and probably a rash from all those fingers stuck in armpits) as Catholic school outcast Mary Katherine Gallagher. When Ferrell and Oteri debuted The Spartan Cheerleaders shortly thereafter, they ushered in a new dawn of character-based recurring bits and merchandisable catchphrases. At SNL, 1995 came in U-G-L-Y (and sorely lacking an alibi), but went out a superstar. (Just beware of those Roxbury Guys lying in wait in 1996.) [Erik Adams]


10. Xena: Warrior Princess upstages the show it spun off from

It’s rare that a spinoff surpasses its parent show, but 1995’s syndicated action-fantasy series Hercules: The Legendary Journeys was trash TV that knew it was trash TV from the start. While its spinoff Xena: Warrior Princess is just as anachronistic and cheesy, there’s a surprising amount of heart behind all the sword-clashing. It’s a shame the show was never taken seriously enough in its time for Lucy Lawless to have received any major accolades, because her layered, grounded performance buoys the character into much more than a monolithic “strong woman.” Yes, she could defeat men—whole armies of them—but she could also be vulnerable and emotionally rich. And instead of a man at her side, she had Gabrielle. Starting with season one’s “Sins Of The Past,” Xena was the only show running in 1995 where viewers could regularly see lesbian subtext unfold in the form of Xena and Gabrielle’s complex, sincere, and subversive friendship. It’s tough enough to find that kind of relationship on television in 2015, let alone two decades ago. Xena and Gabrielle were never explicitly lovers, but this was a full two years before the historical coming out episode of Ellen. Even as subtext, the queerness of Xena was radical. [Kayla Kumari Upadhyaya]

11. The PlayStation breaks up the Nintendo-Sega duopoly

In the first half of the ’90s, the game console market was defined by the long, bitter fight between Nintendo and Sega. And as 1995 began, the two dominant studios were gearing up for another round of battle—Sega with its newly released Saturn and Nintendo with the device that would become the Nintendo 64. Sony had never planned to insert itself as a third combatant in this ongoing squabble. Instead, the company had pursued off-and-on talks with Nintendo about a technological collaboration. But when that potential alliance fell apart, Sony struck out on its own and ended up creating a platform, PlayStation, that would transform the world of games nearly as much as the Walkman transformed music. The storage capacity of the PlayStation’s CD-ROM media and the processing power of its hardware made it possible for developers to create 3-D worlds with a newfound breadth and richness. Meanwhile, the underpowered complexity of the Saturn’s chips kept it from developing much of a base among game creators, and while the cartridge-based Nintendo 64 gave rise to acclaimed and influential works like Super Mario 64 and GoldenEye 007, it was doomed to be an also-ran to the more versatile PlayStation. [John Teti]


12. Britpop peaks

Plenty of great music came out of Great Britain in the ’90s, but Britpop was a very specific subset within that larger wave: tight, sharp, and beholden to the classic rock and pop of the U.K.’s past, from mod to punk to new wave. Britpop reached its peak in 1995, though, thanks to the media-manufactured rivalry between the movement’s two most popular bands, Oasis and Blur, who each released their best albums—(What’s The Story) Morning Glory? and The Great Escape, respectively—that year. But they weren’t the only ones. From the bouncy power-pop of Elastica’s Elastica and Supergrass’ I Should Coco to the sumptuous, literate melodrama of Pulp’s Different Class, Britpop flashed hot and bright in 1995, with even C-list albums like Echobelly’s On and Menswear’s Nuisance helping to round out one of the most vivid, vital, fleeting moments of glory in pop history. [Jason Heller]

13. Mr. Show debuts and alt-comedy breaks out

When The State’s CBS deal fizzled, it could’ve introduced a new strain of “Why bother?” into the loosely connected network of comedians working non-traditional rooms across the U.S. Fortunately, a different TV series was preparing to shout those types of questions on HBO, though it would do so with greater insight, poignancy, and humor than any before it. Debuting in November of 1995, Mr. Show With Bob And David was a high-water mark for performers who’d been skipped over during the comedy boom. It was righteously satirical and gleefully profane, the closest American equivalent to Monty Python’s Flying Circus. Ronnie Dobbs and GloboChem made it to premium cable amid a rise in visibility for Bob Odenkirk and David Cross’ peers: Stephen Colbert, Amy Sedaris, and Paul Dinello did a dry run for Strangers With Candy on Exit 57, and Dr. Katz, Professional Therapist provided an animated outlet for the innermost thoughts of Louis CK, Laura Kightlinger, and Andy Kindler. In New York, Luna Lounge built its reputation with the stand-up showcase Eating It, while alt-comedy godheads Janeane Garofalo and Chris Elliott gave Saturday Night Live a credibility-booster. And just like that, caring, trying, and bothering could lead a young comic to some pretty big stages. [Erik Adams]


14. The Beatles Anthology gave rock ’n’ roll’s biggest band a comeback

The appetite for anything new related to The Beatles—bootlegs, analyses, merchandise—has always been insatiable, though Beatlemaniacs almost got their fill with the release of The Beatles Anthology. Five years in the making, The Beatles Anthology was the band’s effort to tell their story in their own words, a six-part documentary series that traced The Beatles from Liverpool to Hamburg to Shea Stadium to the roof of Abbey Road. While a largely subjective look at the band’s career, the project set a new benchmark for music documentaries in terms of completeness, with almost 12 hours of archival footage and extensive interviews with surviving Beatles Paul McCartney, George Harrison, and Ringo Starr. The accompanying Anthology albums—a massive trilogy of outtakes, demos, and alternate versions—gave The Beatles three consecutive No. 1 hits on the U.S. Billboard charts, another first for their storied careers. Most remarkably, the project even produced two new Beatles songs, “Free As A Bird” and “Real Love,” the results of McCartney, Harrison, and Starr collaborating to finish demos recorded before John Lennon’s death in 1980. The project sparked new interest in The Beatles, introduced their music to a new generation of fans, and allowed them to gloss over some of the uglier details that led to their original breakup: another success for a band that was never lacking them. [Les Chappell]


15. The Olsen twins go to the silver screen in It Takes Two

Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen shared the role of Michelle in Full House, their twin status enabling the show to comply with child-labor laws. Their feature film debut playing two individuals came with It Takes Two, though, oddly, they play identical strangers rather than twins. Nevertheless, twins got their spokespeople in Mary-Kate and Ashley, and the world was introduced to the juggernaut siblings who became poster children of both twins and female preteen and teen media over the next decade. It Takes Two is based on Mark Twain’s The Prince And The Pauper, his first foray into historical fiction that tells the story of a pauper boy identical in appearance to Prince Edward, son of King Henry VIII. Twain’s story highlights class inequalities, while the movie version is more interested in the Olsens’ characters playing matchmakers between the rich girl’s father and the poor girl’s kindly social worker, played by Steve Guttenberg and Kirstie Alley. [Caitlin PenzeyMoog]


16. GoldenEye kicks off a pretty lousy run of James Bond movies starring Pierce Brosnan

Last year, Pierce Brosnan admitted in an interview with The Telegraph that he was “never good enough as Bond,” especially when compared to his predecessors, Roger Moore and Sean Connery. Wasn’t Brosnan being too hard on himself there? Yes, his version of 007 was a little too much of a robotic quip machine—a guy who looked good in black and sounded good talking about martinis, but never seemed dangerous enough to carry a license to kill. The real problem, though, was the general lousiness of the movies themselves, a series of chintzy action vehicles featuring lame gadgets, forgettable set pieces, and a nuclear scientist played by Denise Richards. The best of the four Brosnan Bonds is easily the first one, 1995’s GoldenEye. It benefits from the clean, classical direction of Martin Campbell (who would later ease another actor, Daniel Craig, into the franchise with the truly terrific Casino Royale) and such vintage Bond touches as a villain who kills people with her thighs. Brosnan can also take heart that his mediocre stint in the tux inspired one of the greatest video games of all time. [A.A. Dowd]

17. Toy Story kicks off the long reign of Pixar and computer-animated features

When Toy Story opened in theaters in November 1995, no one had ever attempted to make an entire feature using computer animation. But all it took was one look at Disney’s first collaboration with Pixar—an existential buddy comedy about plastic toys vying for the affections of their owner—to realize that this new cartooning style was here to stay. It would be a few years before ones and zeroes became the dominant animation tool of Hollywood; Disney itself kept making films in the traditional style, though the same year’s middling Pocahontas brought an end to its own late-’80s/early-’90s renaissance. The real aftershock of Toy Story’s success was the ascendancy of a true dream factory: Going forward, Pixar became not just an unstoppable commercial force—all 14 of its features have been smashes, with the lovely Inside Out poised to become its 15th next week—but one of the most artistically reliable creative organizations in modern movies. To infinity and beyond, indeed. [A.A. Dowd]


18. The era of Quentin Tarantino knockoffs begins with Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead

It’s a time-honored tradition in the entertainment industry to take something that’s proven successful and attempt to ride on its coattails by replicating as much of its formula as possible, which is why the hoopla surrounding Pulp Fiction led Hollywood to spend the second half of 1994 trying to come up with as many “Tarantino-esque” projects as possible. Because of the amount of turnaround time involved on the cinematic side of showbiz, it took more than a year before Things To Do In Denver When You’re Dead—its title derived from a Warren Zevon song—arrived in theaters, but it came armed with two instant advantages. Not only did it come from the same studio that produced Pulp Fiction (Miramax), but it also featured actors with experience delivering actual Tarantino dialogue (Steve Buscemi and Christopher Walken). Inevitably, Denver was met by critics who were ready to rip it to shreds, but little did they know that it would prove to be far stronger than most of the subsequent attempts to ape Tarantino’s oeuvre. [Will Harris]

19. Calvin And Hobbes ends


The end of Calvin And Hobbes on December 31, 1995, didn’t comes as a surprise. Creator Bill Watterson announced the beloved comic strips’ demise earlier that year, in a statement saying simply, “I believe I’ve done what I can do within the constraints of daily deadlines and small panels.” Calvin And Hobbes became an instant hit on its introduction in 1985, but Watterson’s integrity—he famously refused to license his creations, the impish boy Calvin and his sage toy tiger Hobbes—led him to lose faith in the comic-strip format, not to mention the cold, hard industry behind it. None of that disappointment bled over into his final strip on New Year’s Eve of ’95, though; instead, it’s a sparse, deceptively straightforward exchange between a boy and his toy that seemed to open up more possibilities than it closed. It remains one of the most poignant, soul-weary, yet beautifully hopeful piece of comic art ever put to paper. [Jason Heller]