***** Stars

The Nineties is an ambitious series, taking in a decade that saw technical, political and social revolution, a new understanding of international relationships, as well as the explosion of a new information and technology age, groundbreaking entertainment and dark times that shook the world.

The successor to The Sixties, The Seventies and The Eighties, all CNN series, this is an exploration of a decade that broke down barriers around the world and challenged preconceptions across all forms of entertainment, politics, technology and our place in the world.

With Tom Hanks and Gary Goetzman as executive producers, this is the definitive chronicle of the decade, from the point of view of the world’s greatest superpower, the United States of America.There is, however, a full decade to cover across subjects, any review would find it hard to do this concisely. Each episode, quite rightly, could have its own review. It will become the type of series you will want to watch over and over.

Told in seven parts (though episode 1 – The One About TV – is in two parts), the series starts with light entertainment, in a fashion, covering the key TV of the period as television channels exploded with ideas that were seen as anathema to traditionalists and brought us The Simpsons, ER, The Sopranos, Friends and Twin Peaks, and then taking in music (from commercial pop to hip hop, rap, grunge, country and endless subgenres), before we move into politics (from the rise and near fall of Clinton to the events of the decade that would shape the world), the information age (through the rise of Amazon, Google and other power players, to the bursting of the tech bubble and the dark side that technological freedom gave us) and how this not only changed modern life but made the world smaller and finishing by touching on terrorism (domestic and international, from Columbine school massacre to the bombing of the World Trade Centre to the acts of Osama Bin Laden), racial equality and the divides that continued into the 21st Century (covering Rodney King, OJ Simpson and the race riots that divided a nation).  

This isn’t exploitative television – there’s no element of “Most Shocking Moments Ever” that you may expect from reflective television – this is intelligent television at its finest.  It’s an easily accessible series, well structured and presented, that drives forward at a pace that will keep you watching.

FRIENDS — Pictured: (clockwise from bottom left) Courteney Cox Arquette as Monica Geller, Matt LeBlanc as Joey Tribbiani, Lisa Kudrow as Phoebe Buffay, David Schwimmer as Ross Geller, Matthew Perry as Chandler Bing, Jennifer Aniston as Rachel Green — (Photo by Reisig & Taylor/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)

Experts speak with candour, placing their comments and the events within their context.  It’s unapologetic in its honesty and it isn’t revisionist. This is a warts-and-all recollection of a decade.  When things go wrong, it’s talked about with the same integrity and the high points. Cop Rock is treated with the same dissection as The Simpsons, the crimes of OJ Simpson are discussed as fully as the end of apartheid.  The events that led to race riots in LA and Crown Heights are dealt with as frankly as the release of Nelson Mandela.  Nothing, in each topic, is out of reach and everything is spoken about with intelligence.

Archive footage is well used, alongside the expert talking heads, to make the points and, at times, it’s emotional.  From seeing the end of Cheers to watching the struggles of a nation and the war in Iraq, to hearing those closest to the stories, it’s impossible not to feel the emotion that these people feel. With each episode being focused on a specific topic, you can just watch the things you’re interested in watching, but it really is worth experiencing the breadth of the subject and how each developed over the decade:

The One About TV – A decade of the fantastic and the familiar – from Twin Peaks to Friends to Sex and the City.

Isn’t it Ironic – From country music to gangsta rap, genre begets subgenre in a decade of musical diversity

The Comeback Kid – A look at the remarkable resilience of Bill Clinton – America’s first Baby Boom president

New World Order – World events bring about fundamental change during the first few years of the decade

The Information Age – The World Wide Web changes the fabric of modern life, but the brave new tech world has a dark side

Terrorism Hits Home – A decade of politically and religiously motivated violence shakes America

Can We All Get Along? – Progress is made in America’s struggle with racial equality, but a price is paid.

A remarkable achievement to confer so much information in the 50 minute run time of each episode, The Nineties is must-see television for anyone interested in history, society or just how we got to where we are today.