With the news that the 2004 movie “Wet Hot American Summer” will soon become a series on Netflix, you have to wonder how many more past eras of the 20th century haven’t been covered yet in a TV show. If you remember the above movie comedy, you’ll know that it went after the early 1980s and its styles with a hilarious passion. Also, it was an early glimpse into future stars wearing clothing and hairstyles they ordinarily wouldn’t be caught dead in. Well, you can say otherwise with original star Bradley Cooper who was caught alive wearing 1970s clothing and hairstyles in the recent “American Hustle.”
As far as the rest of the original cast of “Wet Hot American Summer,” you have to wonder if they’d ever want to be stuck wearing their hair in a retro style like that again. Because rumors are starting the original cast will return to their roles in the Netflix series, the advent of more shows about the past may bring some serious hair issues in the acting business. The same goes in trying to fit into specific clothing styles that seem almost incomprehensible in hindsight.
Ever since “The Wonder Years,” it seems every show since taking place in the past has tried to bring the same kind of fun in referencing pop culture. The beauty of “The Wonder Years” was they didn’t go overboard on the fashions of the era. It seemed to almost fit in with the time it was being shown in the late 1980s, which is retro on its own now. You can say the same about “M*A*S*H” a decade earlier that looked completely out of time, despite taking place during the Korean War in the early ’50s. Even “Happy Days” and “Laverne & Shirley” moved away from focusing consistently on the styles of the 1950s and became almost synonymous with the time it was airing.
“The Wonder Years” seemed to take the strange 1970s fascination with the ’50s and officially declared the 1980s and beyond more fascinated with the 1960s. Every ensuing retro show seems to tackle a generation 20 years prior to the generation watching the show. The only exception to this would be “Mad Men” that took a wider leap back 50 years, outside of it always equating to what’s going on now.
It’s those sly connectors between now and the past that’s made the period TV show a continually successful venture. And you can say “Mad Men” is the greatest example of any in the genre thanks to the near obsessive attention to detail for believability. What era, though, is going to become the most explored in the future now that the 1960s and 1970s seem to have been explored satisfactorily on TV?
The Advent of the 1980s, and the Ancient Past
As Netflix starts their first period TV show, the fact that they’re starting one taking place in the early 1980s is very telling. Right now, exploring the 1980s seems right on time considering we’re about 25 years removed from the end of the decade right now. ABC’s “The Goldbergs” is also exploring the early to mid 1980s with plenty of pop culture references that show us a completely different universe from where we are now. It tells you a lot when the 1960s on “Mad Men” look closer to us than the 1980s do. For some, the ’80s should stay as far away as possible considering the different mind set and fashions then reflect polar opposite views of the 2010s.
You can expect more shows to explore the 1980s, though, namely because very few shows have yet. In another decade, shows about the 1990s will pop up and shows us those glory years when the Internet boom and the economy were taking America to a supreme place that’s since somewhat crumbled.
By then, though, period TV shows may be moving on to the ancient past to see the connectors of how history repeats hundreds or thousands of years later. With “Downton Abbey” already taking place in the early part of the 20th century, we also have shows like “Black Sails” about pirates in the early 1700s, plus “Vikings” on History Channel taking place even earlier.
Whether we go back to the Stone Age or not will remain to be seen, though don’t count it out. In the world of entertainment, we haven’t gone there seriously and only in the movie comedy “Caveman” in the early 1980s, plus “The Flintstones.”
Because shows that celebrate the retro will never end, you have to see Netflix creating more of them to fit into the fray. The good news is that when they do, we’ll see those eras with complete dramatic honesty to give new insights. It may not matter if those eras are also slightly reinvented as “Mad Men” did with the 1960s for the sake of helping us think a little deeper about how times don’t really change all that much.