If you’ve seen previews for AMC’s new series “Halt and Catch Fire,” you likely noticed how much it looked like something directly out of the 1980s. In fact, with its technological look of the early 1980s down so pat, it almost looks like a lost TV show filmed over 30 years ago for one of the mainstream networks. Obviously, that’s the intention as this show about the early computer revolution works to possibly become the new “Mad Men” of the next decade. It also sets a reminder that the 1980s have now become the new decade TV wants to take a second (or maybe third look) at.
We should have seen it coming the 1980s would become the new decade TV would want to explore based on past track record. Fiction always seems to explore certain decades about 20 years later to allow enough time for things to settle and for memories to become slightly better than they were originally. In the 1970s, there was an interesting fascination for the 1950s on TV with “Happy Days,” “Laverne & Shirley,” plus “Grease” on Broadway and movie theaters.
Why the 1950s were so popular during an era of hedonism still seems to have a bit of a mystery. Then again, it seems we were applying a more fun layer to the 1950s that probably never existed and taken on to soothe the 1960s depression America was still getting over. We also forget America was stuck in a major recession the same year “Happy Days” started. It was the equivalent to “Happy Days Are Here Again” from a decade earlier when JFK was in his final year before the assassination.
Let’s also not forget that “Happy Days” and “Laverne & Shirley” ran long enough where it additionally took on the 1960s, or at least the first half of the decade. It never went into too many details, though, as we’ve seen with “Mad Men,” and the above two shows almost seemed to be out of time anyway with parallels to the current day.
Television still has yet to get to the truth of the 1950s, even if we’ve long been enamored of the 1960s where there’s a never-ending well of events and situations connecting to social drama. As “Mad Men” proves, the 1960s are eerily closer to where we are now than it seems on the surface. Regardless, we may have our fill now of the ’60s, despite non-fiction documentaries continuing to still be made examining new angles.
While “That 70s Show” was more of a satiric jab at the 1970s, we don’t always want to take that decade on in fiction. With the American adaptation of the sci-fi series “Life on Mars” recreating the early 1970s in perfect detail back in 2008 on ABC, it ultimately failed to capture any interest. The early 1980s, though, were that bridge between the ’70s and the more greedy part of the mid to late 1980s. It’s an era loaded with plenty of nostalgia and when we were on the cusp of major technological revolutions.
Are we going to be stuck in the early 1980s now as “The Goldbergs” on ABC already are? That show is already becoming “The Wonder Years” about the early 1980s. And with Netflix soon to make a series of the movie “Wet Hot American Summer” that takes place in the early 80s, the era may just become television’s 1960s. In contrast, they’ll have to show how different of a universe it was from where we are currently, which might be better than showing how we’re the same.
As “Mad Men” ends, perhaps the 1960s are about to take on the exact definition of “Halt and Catch Fire”: Cease all meaningful function–or at least for now.