By the usual standards of excellence, you wouldn’t find the goofy TGIF legend Perfect Strangers, which premiered 30 years ago this week, on anyone’s list of great TV shows. Indeed, some might call it bad. But here’s the thing about “bad”: it has degrees, gradations, nuances within its definition. A series may suffer from uneven writing, absurd plotting, overacting (or all three) — but one function of TV is to provide comfort and escapism, and by those measures, our list of the 30 Best Bad Shows of the Last 30 Years is a hall of fame of some of the warmest, most blissfully enjoyable shows millions of people have ever enjoyed. And so as you read our nominees and our little hymns to their longevity in our hearts during this week-long countdown, bear in mind a couple of things. These are not shows that we “hate-watch”— we love the way they make us feel. And these are not “guilty pleasures” — there can be no guilt, if a show gives you pleasure. Which is what each and every show on this list does for an awful lot of people. See which ones make you smile at the memory of them.
18. Hey Dude (1989-91, Nickelodeon)
Why It’s So Excellently Bad: Nickelodeon’s 1990s lineup of live-action programs was pretty groundbreaking. Remember how quirky, hilarious, legitimately scary, and charmingly strange Clarissa Explains It All, Salute Your Shorts, Are You Afraid of the Dark?, and The Adventures of Pete & Pete, respectively, were — and even now, with fresh eyes, still are? Somewhere in that stellar lineup was the only-great-by-association Hey Dude, a western comedy about the wacky summer antics of a group of teen staffers at a dude ranch called the Bar None. The show lacked depth in all aspects: Characters were too stereotypical, storylines were too cheesy, and “very special episodes” were too saccharine. What many a ‘90s kid may have fond memories of, though, is Hey Dude’s extremely catchy theme song — as evidenced by the many covers found on YouTube.
Signature Moment: Hey Dude gave Graham Yost his first big scripted job, and 20 years later he went on to create one of the most acclaimed shows on TV, Justified.
Where You Can Watch It: The complete series is available on DVD and via streaming on Amazon and iTunes. —Chrissy Le Nguyen
17. Pretty Little Liars (2010-present, Freeform)
Why It’s So Excellently Bad: When PLL is at its absolute worst, it still revolves around four affable characters with amazing clothes. And even when it’s at its best, that’s still one of the highlights. The truth of the matter is, a mystery show where characters go from dead to alive and back again with alarming frequency and every last one of the teens has committed felony after felony in order to stay alive and protect one another should be (and still kind of is) total garbage, but this one is just so darn addictive. It’s a massive credit to showrunner I. Marlene King, who elevates the series with completely unpredictable — and totally juicy — plot twists.
Signature Moment: Remember that time it turned out that Alison DiLaurentis (Sasha Pieterse) was alive after all? Or that time they tried to convince us that dreamy Toby Cavanaugh (Keegan Allen) was on Team A? Or how about that time nearly every single episode where at least one of the girls wound up trapped in a seemingly inescapable box of death? (See: Spencer in a steam room; Aria and Spencer in a freezer; Aria in a box; Emily in a coffin.)
Where You Can Watch It: Netflix, Amazon, DVD, etc. —Breanne L. Heldman
16. Nashville (ABC, 2012-present)
Why It’s So Excellently Bad: This behind-the-scenes country-music drama is the nighttime-soap version of a great Tammy Wynette ballad, with vengeance, tears, and alcohol. The characters constantly contradict their motivations from week to week, no one is ever happy for more than two scenes in a row, and the only constant is the perpetual effort to keep people destined for each other (Scarlett and Gunnar!) apart. All of which, in its hypnotic way, keeps you watching and hoping the show could be all it could be.
Signature Moment: Hayden Panettiere’s Juliette Barnes, high on booze and depression, stands on a ledge contemplating suicide. Jeff Fordham (Oliver Hudson) tries to do the first unselfish thing in his life. He reaches to grab her but instead splats to his death.
Where You Can Watch It: ABC, Hulu, etc. —Ken Tucker
15. The All-New Mickey Mouse Club (1989-‘94, Disney Channel)
Why It’s So Excellently Bad: Remember how great your junior high school production of Guys and Dolls was when you were a kid? And how torturous it is when you try to watch it again as an adult on a scratchy VHS tape? That’s the experience of re-watching The All-New Mickey Mouse Club for anyone over the age of 25. Sporting the same Scotch tape production values and eager-beaver overacting as the plays you used to watch in the gym, MMC is like a school yearbook that has come to frightening life. But what a yearbook! Boasting a list of alumni that includes such future superstar talent as Britney Spears, Christina Aguilera, Justin Timberlake, Ryan Gosling, and Keri Russell (who once showed off her CD collection for the camera), the series is the gift that keeps on giving for fans of amazing “before they were stars” clips.
Signature Moment: Don’t believe us? Just check out the video above of a baby-faced Gosling and Timberlake — as well as JC Chasez — crooning “Cry For You” in front of a screaming crowd of tween girls dressed in oversized shirts. It’s an assemblage of talent that could only have happened at the Mickey Mouse Club.
Where You Can Watch It: Copious clips can be found on YouTube, but good luck tracking down full episodes. The Mouse House has never let them out of the Disney Vault for DVD or streaming. Although we’re betting that Timberlake has the complete series in his home video library. —Ethan Alter
14. Glee (Fox, 2009-'15)
Why It’s So Excellently Bad: To its credit, Glee never would have made this list if it quit while it was ahead and became a one-season wonder. That first season was simply excellent. But, for the many who watched the series through to completion, the preachy storylines, over-the-top romances, and totally addictive (albeit absurd) performance sequences took the show undeniably south and yet remained oddly watchable.
Signature Moment: The show had evolved deeply into the “bad” category from the excellent one by the time Rachel (Lea Michele) was in her freshman year in college, but her breathtaking performance of “Oh Holy Night” reminded us why the show was still worth watching week after week. And, yes, it’s also worth noting the impressive way the series handled the untimely death of its star Cory Monteith.
Where You Can Watch It: Netflix, Amazon Prime, DVD, etc. —BLH
13. Sliders (1995-2000, FOX and Sci-Fi)
Why It’s So Excellently Bad: “What if you found a portal to a parallel universe? What if you could slide into a thousand different worlds?” Oh, what a delicious concept. Despite creative differences (most notably a major tonal shift in Season 3), a rotating cast, and budgetary issues, Sliders remains one of the most digestible of the ‘90s sci-fi series that followed in the wake of The X-Files. Starring Jerry O’Connell (Seasons 1-4) as the boy genius turned science-action stud Quinn Mallory, John Rhys-Davies (Seasons 1-3) as the stately Professor Maximilian Arturo, Sabrina Lloyd (Seasons 1-3) as the plucky Wade Wells, Cleavant Derricks (Seasons 1-5) as washed-up crooner Rembrandt Brown accidentally along for the ride, and Kari Wurher (Seasons 3-5) as the fiery Captain Maggie Beckett, Sliders evolved from a clever science fiction social satire (“The Weaker Sex,” “The Good, the Bad and the Wealthy,” “El Sid,” “As Time Goes By”) and an exploration of alternative histories (“Time Again and World,” “Greatfellas”) to an action-heavy show centered on the battle between the intrepid Sliders and an evil alien race called the Kromaggs, who were bent on conquering the entire multiverse. It’s painful to think what might have been if the original creative team had managed to stay intact. Despite major cast exits and obvious behind-the-scenes drama, Sliders kept its loyal fan base watching even after its move from Fox to the Sci-Fi channel after the third season. One major bright spot in the show’s final years? Jerry O’Connell’s brother, Charlie (The Bachelor Season 7), joined the show in the fourth season as Quinn’s long-lost brother Colin (whatelse?).
Signature Moment: It’s a three-way tie: Quinn’s double from a parallel world teaching Quinn Prime how to “slide” in the “Pilot”; the prediction of a Hillary Clinton presidency in a world where traditional gender roles are reversed in “Weaker Sex”; and when Maggie can’t breath on Earth Prime and Quinn chooses to slide back with her rather than stay in “The Exodus, Part One.”
Where You Can Watch It: Netflix has the entire series available to stream. —Karen Kemmerle