If you’re anything like me, you stopped everything on Friday, October 27th and binged as much Stranger Things’ sophomore season as humanly possible. You may have even given it a second, third, or fourteenth binge by now. How could you not when the season itself is so strong and gives great character growth to those that didn’t see much in season one? Who knew that Steve would grow from hated King-esque villain in season one, to the hero of everyone’s hearts in season two? But Stranger Things isn’t the only show to dip its toe in the waters of 80s nostalgia, it’s not even the first. So, if you’re that one person who loves all things Hawkins, but wants a change of scenery, I present to you some fun nostalgia trips to add to your viewing queue.
5. Wet Hot American Summer: First Day at Camp (Netflix Original. 2015)
Serving as a prequel to the 2001 cult comedy, First Day at Camp is quite literally the drawn out story of day one at Camp Firewood over the course of eight episodes. Dramatic irony abounds in this series as they set up all the plot lines that will come to fruition in the film, which is set on the last day of camp. The best example of this phenomenon is the relationship between Susie and Ben who are portrayed by Amy Poehler and Bradley Cooper. We know that in the movie they’re no longer together on the last day of camp as they try put on one last show, but in the series they are still together, and we see them constantly disagreeing with each other as they try to put on the first play. The nostalgia that stands out the most in this series, besides the nostalgia for the film itself, are the fashion choices. Everyone’s hair and clothing are perfectly aligned with quintessential early 80s teenage style. Feathered hair and short shorts are worn by everyone. It’s quite hilarious to see the cast reunite a decade later and a decade older, yet portraying the same characters. It looks utterly ridiculous and just adds to the humor. If you liked the original movie, but for some reason haven’t taken a chance on this series, you are missing out.
4. Moone Boy (Hulu Original. 2012-2015)
Moone Boy is the brain child of Irish comedian Chris O’Dowd, who is best known for his role as Roy Trenneman on The IT Crowd. Not only did he co-create this series, which is loosely based on his own childhood, but he stars as Sean Murphy, the imaginary friend of our young protagonist, Martin Moone. Moone Boy takes us on a nostalgia trip that may be new for some people – late 1980s rural Ireland. The series itself is very earnest and focuses on what it was like growing up as a young boy from an Irish-Catholic family who is a bit different from the rest. Martin is a very imaginative young child who loves to draw and even write poetry. In a particularly heartfelt and hilarious scene he recites a poem about his school days to his beloved teacher while said teacher is dealing with all the boys in the school rebelling on their last day. Not only do we get to experience the nostalgia of late 80s Ireland, but we get to experience the coming of age story of a typical family as they deal with the difficult political climate of the time and the changes that were afoot, along with theirpersonal struggles. If you haven’t had the opportunity to see Moone Boy, I highly recommend it. It’s a sweet show that is not a traditional binge, but you want to keep watching to see how the characters will handle the next situation.
3. Freaks and Geeks (NBC. 1999-2000)
Freaks and Geeks was 80s nostalgia before it was cool as evidenced by it’s unceremonious cancelation during its freshman season. This show expertly depicted the struggles of being an outcast in the era before social media. Linda Cardellini’s Lindsay Weir straddles both titular worlds as she struggles to find her identity, abandoning her academic past for the allure of James Franco’s Daniel Desario and his stoner friends. Her friends and family just don’t understand why she would rebel against everything she has built up over her school career.
Lindsay’s brother Sam (John Francis Daly) and his friends Neal (Samm Levine) and Bill (Martin Starr) are the decidedly geeky half of the show. These boys spend the series dealing with bullies and the other social pressures of fitting in at high school. The freak half of the cast consists of the aforementioned Daniel along with his friends Ken (Seth Rogen), Nick (Jason Segel) and on again, off again girlfriend Kim (Busy Philips). They have their fair share of dealing with teacher and parent drama too as they navigate school.
What made this series so great was the fact that it focused on the other side of high school life. So many shows only show the popular and perfect sides of high school, so this show was a breath of fresh air for those of us in the 99%. It’s sad that we didn’t get another season of this show, but it struggled to find an audience with too many programming changes at the network. Out of all the shows from the recent past that are getting revivals, ones that had long runs and satisfying finales, this one stands at the front of the line of shows that deserve proper closure.
2. GLOW (Netflix. 2017)
GLOW brings us up to the mid 80s, or what many people see as the true 80s when overarching nostalgia is concerned. It’s neon clad with big hair and big personalities. The show is a fictionalized account of the real Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling formation and television debut. It captures the spirit of the era with varied and excellent music including Scandal’s The Warrior, Tears for Fears’ Head Over Heels, and The Dream Academy’s Life in a Northern Town. The costume design was en point as well with each character having their own distinct style: Ruth’s subdued clothing, Debbie’s glamorous attire, and Melrose’s bad girl aesthetic to name a few.
GLOW is truly an ensemble piece and you care about everyone’s story line, but a few do stand above the rest. Allison Brie shines as the aforementioned Ruth, a down on her luck actress who really needs this gig but wants something more. She pours her heart and soul into her wrestling alter ego Zoya the Destroya, even going so far as pretending to be Russian for an entire day. Marc Maron portrays producer and director Sam Sylvia, and it’s a truly sleazy performance. Maron makes you absolutely despise Sylvia most of the time, but then a brief glimpse of his humanity shows through and you end up at least sympathizing with him or hating him less. GLOW captures the political incorrectness of wresting from that era very well. Debbi Eagan’s Liberty Bell, as American as apple pie, is the ultimate hero of the league in contrast to not only Zoya the Destroya. But other smaller roles, such as Fortune Cookie and Beirut the Mad Bomber, the latter portrayed with comic inappropriateness by an Indian actress, also make a lasting impression. The drama in this series is heartfelt, but not in a cheesy way.
1. Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace (Channel 4. 2004)
This show tops my list because of its winning combinations of irreverent humor, meta documentary style framing device, and so bad it’s good production values. In the first episode, show creator Garth Marenghi (Matthew Holness) explains Darkplace’s conceit: the show itself was too controversial to air on 1980s airwaves and was lost, but it’s been unearthed and is now being shown for the first time ever on television. The series is a lampoon of the era’s low budget horror television and doesn’t focus on a specific year of the 80s. Marenghi is a parody of authors like Stephen King who are known for being extremely prolific. In fact, Garth states on the show that he’s written more books than he’s read. Darkplace’s production values are low with constant continuity issues, bad special effects and even worse acting, adding a charm to this show that other naturally bad productions fail to achieve. The documentary element comes into play with modern cast and producer interviews that serve as a running commentary on the episodes behind the scenes. Here we get to see just how narcissistic Marenghi is about his own work. Scenes with him and his publisher Dean Learner, brilliantly played by Richard Ayoade, are absolutely hilarious because both men are just so horrible as human beings. As with many shows that hale from the UK, this series is short, just six half hour episodes. It’s one that I love visiting over and over again because the ridiculousness of it all has a special charm.