For those who grew up at the cusp of the new millennium, we may all often remember the thrill of switching on our television screens to catch up with our favourite shows on TV3, NTV7 or Astro. And while times have moved swiftly on from the late 1990s and early 2000s, many of these entertainment gems continue to remain as nostalgic classics for those of us who grew up alongside them.
If you’re looking to spend your weekend with a little trip down memory lane (and remind yourself of how old you’ve become, like we have at the Wau Post team), then check out our top picks for some of the most iconic Southeast Asian shows and movies from the 1990s and 2000s!
1. Phua Chu Kang (1997)
If we’re going to compile a list of the most iconic shows from the region between the nineties and early aughts, then confirm we need to start with what is quite possibly the most iconic of all sitcoms: Phua Chu Kang Pte Ltd. First aired in 1997 by Singaporean broadcaster Mediacorp, it stars Gurmit Singh as the titular general contractor Phua Chu Kang, and Irene Ang as his wife Rosie Phua Chin Huay.
Centered around the couple’s life at home with their family, the show became an instant hit and ran for a whopping 10 years spanning eight seasons, which eventually led to Malaysian spinoff that debuted on NTV7 in 2009 as well as a movie in 2010. And for the record, he is still ‘the best in Singapore, JB, and some say Batam’!
2. Bawang Merah Bawang Putih (2004)
For Malay-language speakers who grew up around this period, you will no doubt have tuned into Bawang Merah, Bawang Putih at some point in your adolescence. One of the most popular Indonesian soap operas of the time, otherwise known as a sinetron, the show was first aired back in 2004 (19 years ago!) in its country of origin.
It would later gain prominence in Malaysia when local broadcaster TV3 bought over distribution rights for all 108 episodes, which were televised from 2006 up until 2007. Based upon the traditional Indonesian folktale of the same name, it stars Revalina S. Temat as Alya/Bawang Putih and Nia Ramadhani as Siska/Bawang Merah, and documents how the lives of both girls and their families intertwine, with plots of intrigue and conflict.
3. Gerak Khas (1999)
For Malaysian viewers, this one needs no introduction. Police procedural drama Gerak Khas bears the distinction of being the longest running primetime drama series on Malaysian television since it was originally aired back in 1999. Up until the show’s eventual ending in 2021, the show had amassed a total of 1,054 episodes across 20 seasons. Yes, that’s one thousand and fifty four episodes.
Depicting the exploits of the eponymous fictional Gerak Khas (Special Forces) unit in the Royal Malaysian Police in tackling major crimes such as murders, drug trafficking, money laundering, as well as terrorist attacks, the series even had a spin-off in 2021 after the conclusion of the original show. What’s more, three movies were also released as part of the Gerak Khas franchise, cementing its status as one of the most popular entertainment cornerstones in Malaysia.
4. Kampung Boy (1997)
The works of celebrated local cartoonist Lat have often been considered to be one of Malaysia’s most beloved intangible treasures. Best known for his candid and charming depiction of local life, his most popular creation is arguably the Kampung Boy series, which was first released in the form of an autobiographical graphic novel on his own life back in 1978.
Seeking new ways to introduce local culture to a younger demographic of audiences, Lat decided to turn his life’s story into an animated series under the same name, and worked with an international team of creatives between Kuala Lumpur, Los Angeles and the Philippines to bring it all to life on the screen. First aired in 1997, the series has been praised for its authentic and accurate depiction of Malaysian rural life, especially in the state of Perak where Lat grew up in.
5. The Little Nyonya (2008)
Another Singaporean television show that was popular on both sides of the Causeway would have to be The Little Nyonya, which debuted 15 years ago back in 2008. Produced by local broadcaster MediaCorp as part of Channel 8’s 45th anniversary, the show was based off on the lives of three Peranakan families living in Melaka from the 1930s to present day.
Spanning across a period of 70 years and several generations, the show was met with critical acclaim for its depiction of Peranakan life as well as its intricate plot. At the time, it was noted for being MediaCorp’s most expensive production due to the use of elaborate costumes and props. Many of the scenes depicted in the series were filmed in Malaysia, including in parts of Ipoh, Penang, and of course Melaka itself. Naturally, it was aired on a number of local channels in Malaysia, where it gained a similarly large following.
6. Kopitiam (1998)
From between 1998 to 2003, local channel NTV7 had a local hit on its hands with the release of the situational comedy series, Kopitiam. Featured a cast comprising of Joanna Bessey, Lina Teoh, Douglas Lim, Rashid Salleh, Tan Jin Chor and Mano Maniam, all of whom have gone on to become household names in local entertainment, the series was based on the interactions of a group of friends in a local coffeeshop, otherwise known as a Kopitiam.
It’s casual tone and ease of relatability to local audiences made the English-language sitcom a popular show throughout its run of seven seasons. A 10-episode reboot dubbed Kopitiam Double Shot was introduced by streaming company Viu in 2019.
7. Jagan Ketawa (1991)
Americans had the likes of MadTV and Saturday Night Live where sketch comedy shows were concerned. Malaysians had Jangan Ketawa, which was aired by local broadcaster TV3 in 1991, directed by Harith Iskander and the late Linda Chong. Best known for its vivacious, saucy, no-holds barred approach to humour, the show was celebrated for its groundbreaking diversity in cast, as well as for encapsulating and making light of Malaysian life in each skit.
It was also especially well-remembered for introducing the characters Dee and Moon to the Malaysian public, played by veteran comedian Syed Muradzi Syed Shamsul and his friend, the late Sheikh Munir Sheikh Mahmud.
8. Senario (1993)
Another popular sketch comedy show from TV3 during the same period in the 1990s was Senario, which ran from 1993 to 2006. The original troupe of talents were first cast after they had won the Sinaran Pasport Kegemilangan talent show, which was organised by the broadcaster during the early part of the decade. Combining music, acting, and humour into the mix, the show became a runaway hit with Malaysian audiences.
Their success led to the release of five movies, as well as a brief stint in the local music scene upon joining Anugerah Juara Lagu in 2001 and 2006, which saw them entering the final stages of the local music competition in both instances.
9. Usop Sontorian (1996)
Where childhood cartoons made locally are concerned, Usop Sontorian is definitely a true throwback for kids from the 1990s who grew up watching a healthy diet of local television. Made jointly by local cartoonist Ibrahim Anon and the late-Kamn Ismail (whose legacy in Malaysian animation you can read about here), the series ran from between 1996 to 1997 on TV1.
Described as a Malaysianised version of the popular American cartoon ‘The Simpsons‘, the series centers around the titular Usop and the adventures that his friends Abu, Dol, Ah Kim, Vellu, and Singh, embark on together. To date, the series is still acknowledged as being the first-ever Malaysian animated series!