By now we're used to different shows becoming suddenly popular on social media. Most of the time, there's a recognizable reason — it's a new show, it's ending, it's celebrating an anniversary, they're doing a movie version of it. But sometimes it seems everybody is talking about a older TV show and we have no idea why. This was particularly common during the early stages of the pandemic, when the homebound masses seemed to travel in packs from one streaming series to another. The Sopranos were the series rewatch of choice for a time, then it was Survivor and West Wing. In recent weeks, a somewhat less revered show has started popping up: the 1993-99 CBS sitcom The Nanny.
Everyone seems to be watching The Nanny (by everyone I mean gay people) and that makes me happy.— billy eichner (@billyeichner) April 14, 2021
James Marsden in The Nanny pilot! And he’s credited as Jimmy Marsden. Jimmy! pic.twitter.com/1j0VsegYkb— Francesca Bacardi (@OriginalFresca) April 2, 2021
Maggie, the oldest daughter, says “Fran, today I met Woody Allen!” And Fran replies “Oh! Isn’t that exciting! (beat) You stay away from him.” Season 4, Episode 21. 1997. #TheNanny— Saeed Jones (@theferocity) April 14, 2021
The "why" of why people are talking about The Nanny now begins with the fact that HBO Max began streaming all six seasons of the show on April 2nd. Of course, HBO Max and its brethren are streaming many old TV shows, so the show's new availability doesn't fully explain why the former bridal-shop employee turned live-in nanny has recaptured our collective attention. That may have more to do with what The Nanny was and what current television is not.
The Nanny was created by series star Fran Drescher and her then-husband Peter Marc Jacobson. Drescher was a New York character actress who'd seen moderate success in small roles — most memorably in Saturday Night Fever, and as publicist Bobbi Flekman in This Is Spinal Tap. The Nanny's Fran Fine shared a few biographical details with Drescher: both were natives of the Flushing neighborhood of Queens, both went to cosmetology school, and both had mothers named Sylvia and grandmothers named Yetta. Drescher never served as a nanny to the three children of a single British theater producer, but that's what puts the "situation" in "situation comedy."
The series was a modest success, even if it almost immediately felt of another time. Friends debuted a year later, and soon the TV sitcom landscape veered hard in the direction of twentysomething hangout shows. The Nanny was on CBS, the least edgy of the major networks, so it was less out of place there than it would have been elsewhere, but from its expository opening credits sequence to its high-concept premise to its setup/punchline comedic delivery, the show definitely felt more late '80s than mid-'90s. But for all that it lacked in cultural cachet at the time, it's arguably that same relic-of-a-bygone-era feel that's been so central to its recent resurgence. With a neverending TV buffet in front of us, with comedies testing every possible boundary of format and subject matter, the comfort of a TV show as confident and unbothered by its sitcomminess holds an undeniable appeal.
With the last year being so incredibly bleak, there's been an understandable pull toward comedies that deliver an escape from anything resembling the real world. And since The Nanny was notable but not exactly dominant like Friends, Seinfeld, Frasier, or any of the other shows that have been successful on streaming, it hits the sweet spot between general nostalgia and new-to-you novelty. All of which isn't to say that The Nanny itself itsn't worthy of a renaissance. Fran Drescher is a singular comedic persona who, no, is not incredibly subtle in her delivery, but she is utterly fabulous, a campy icon of a woman with a wardrobe as blazingly loud as her personality. There's no pretension to The Nanny, no attempts at sophistication or edginess. Fran's a Flushing fish out of water among the Sheffields, C.C. Babcock (Lauren Lane) is endlessly stymied by her, and butler Nigel (Daniel Davis) is a quip assassin. Throw in Renee Taylor and Ann Guilbert as Syvia and Yetta and you've got a perfectly constructed early '90s sitcom that will shock you with how funny it still is.
It's all there for the watching on HBO Max: 146 episodes of textbook '90s sitcom to escape into. A chance to fall in love with Fran Drescher's foghorn of a Queens accent for the first time or all over again. A chance to get onboard with the Twitter discourse about the show. A chance to have style, to have flair, and to be there.
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Joe Reid is the Managing Editor at Primetimer and co-host of the This Had Oscar Buzz podcast. His work has appeared in Decider, NPR, HuffPost, The Atlantic, Slate, Polygon, Vanity Fair, Vulture, The A.V. Club and more.