Created By: ThisIsATestTai on August 6, 2013 Last Edited By: ThisIsATestTai on November 6, 2013

That Nostalgia Show

A work set in the recent past for no apparent reason other than nostalgia.

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Some series are set in the present, or 20 Minutes into the Future, or they're meant to have a sort of timelessness to them (which make it awkward whenever someone brings out a cassette tape or a payphone), or else they're set in the distant past, so far back that no-one who was alive at that time would be alive to shout "Hey! That's not how it was back in my day!"

Then there are these pieces. Maybe they wanted to avoid certain things from today's society, like modern technology or the Internet, that they didn't have when they were a kid. Maybe the author was looking back to the "good ol' days". For one reason or another, they've chosen to set their show a couple decades back.

Now, just slapping a "June 5th, 1976" on an establishing shot isn't enough. The show's time period has to be readily evident. If it's set in the '60s, they should listen to The Beatles and protest the Vietnam War. If it's set in the '70s, some mention of disco and classic rock should come up. If it's set in the '80s, everyone should be blowing out their hair and wearing neon. If it's set in the ' get the idea. It doesn't necessarily need to be The Theme Park Version of its decade, but it should be pretty blatant.

Note that this differs from a Period Piece because of the nostalgia factor; if there's an obvious reason for the series to be set at a certain time, then it becomes a Period Piece. For example, The Great Gatsby is set in the 1920s because it's based on a novel written at that time (in particular one that delved deeply into the pop culture of the time, making it difficult to set in other time periods). Meanwhile, the film Frost/Nixon is based on events from the 1970s, and so there's less of a nostalgic factor in the decision to set it in that time so much as historical accuracy. On the other hand, Harry Potter, despite being set in the '90s, would not qualify, because there's nothing nostalgic about the books or really any indication of the decade it's in beyond the dates. We can't know for sure that the author is setting a work at some point in time because they're feeling nostalgic, but unless the work is based on something else (historical events or a work from that time period), then nostalgia is a logical assumption. In general, if you can picture the author of a work writing the script, and then deciding last minute to set it in such-and-such time period, then it counts as this trope.

Furthermore, as a rule of thumb, the series' main creators should have been alive when the series is being set (More or less; it's possible to be nostalgic for your parents' era as well). It can't be too recent; generally, anything set in the 21st century is a no-go. On the other hand, if it's too old, it becomes less nostalgic and more of a period piece; for example, something set in the 20s today is now considered a period piece. A good rule of thumb is anything set less than 20 or more than fifty years ago does not qualify; as of 2010, the 1960s have slipped into period piece territory, and the 1990s have fallen into this.

Sub-trope of Period Piece. Compare Retraux, which is when the series is meant to look like it's from a time period, which has its own nostalgic value. May relate to Romanticism vs. Enlightenment as another reason to set a piece in an earlier time period. Has nothing to do with the video game Nostalgia, or The Nostalgia Critic, or any of the many similar critics; the trope for that is Caustic Critic.

Examples (in order of the period when they're set):


  • The Lovely Bones, as well as its film adaptation, begin in 1973 and span a couple years.
  • Stephen King's The Dark Tower series has actually turned into this, being largely set in the '70s and publishing from 1982 to 2012.

Live-Action TV
  • Probably the Trope Codifier is Happy Days, which ran from 1974-1984 and took place in the '50s and '60s. While a show set in the same time period would be considered a Period Piece nowadays, at the time when it was made it was very nostalgic.
  • Hi-de-Hi! is a British sitcom from the '80s set in the '50s holiday camp, Maplins.
  • Mad Men plays this trope to a T (although it barely meets the "5 decades ago" requirement).
  • Pan Am was this to the 60s before its cancellation.
  • Oliver Beene was set in the 1960s, and used its time period to great effect, referencing Zeerust predictions for the present day of when it was broadcast that, of course, time would prove completely wrong.
  • The Wonder Years ran from 1988 to 1993, and took place from 1968 to 1973.
  • The trope gets its name from That '70s Show, which is set 22 years before it was originally made.
    • By extension, it also gets its name from the lesser-known spin-off, That '80s Show.
  • Freaks and Geeks qualifies, being made in '03 and set in 1980 (but really having more '70s nostalgia than the '80s).
  • The upcoming TV show, The Goldbergs, will be set in the '80s and is largely biographical.

  • Billy Joel's 1983 album An Innocent Man is made up almost entirely of 1950s style songs. The video for "Uptown Girl" keeps the theme as well.
  • Deee-Lite's music video for "Groove is in the Heart" is a classic '90s song, and features the singer and background dancers dressed up like characters from the '70s.

Western Animation
  • Walt Disney was enamored with the 1890s (he was born two years after they ended, in 1901) and set many of his cartoons in that period, such as Mickey Mouse's The Nifty Nineties and Donald Duck's Crazy Over Daisy. Even Donald's iconic outfit is a Gay Nineties throwback!
    • Although Lady and the Tramp doesn't quite meet the deadline (it was released in 1955, 65 years after the decade it was meant to invoke), it fits this trope in all other ways.
Community Feedback Replies: 27
  • August 6, 2013
    The upcoming show about the '80s family (can't remember the name) will definitely qualify.
  • August 8, 2013
    Potholed the centuries mentioned in the description to their respective pages.

    EDIT: Also, Name Spaced the examples that were not already.

    EDIT2: Sorted the examples by media.

    EDIT3: I'm not sure if the OP:s edit overwrit mine but I did the Name Spacing again...
  • August 8, 2013
    I'm actually not seeing any of your edits, Paradisesnake. I thought you were making suggestions and editing appropriately.
  • August 8, 2013
    Okay...? Well, the important thing is that the changes are now done, I guess :D
  • August 13, 2013
    So... my issue is that the criteria are sort of unclear. "For nostalgia" is kind of a tough thing to determine for certain. Doesn't help that most of the examples are pretty much Zero Context Examples.

    I'd support a rename to Recent Period Piece or something.

    EDIT: Also I don't get how the flashback examples (Friends and Scrubs) apply, since they have to be set in the past since they're, well, flashbacks. Also Life On Mars, since the premise of the show is a Fish Out Of Temporal Water.
  • August 20, 2013
    Nostalgia isn't necessarily a YMMV concept; generally you can tell when a series is meant to be nostalgic. However, I can recognize that it's a difficult to ascertain; the examples have as much context is related to the trope, but unfortunately that's not a whole lot. (I am attached to the name, though).

    The flashbacks count because they make a point of establishing a time and parodying the approximate decade that would be in; most shows will show flashbacks as being vaguely in the past without making their setting clear. I'll remove Life On Mars; I included it only because I wasn't familiar with the show but I was told it might apply elsewhere.
  • August 20, 2013
    Nostalgia isn't necessarily a YMMV concept, but the claim that "for no apparent reason other than nostalgia" is difficult to prove, barring Rule Of God and particularly egregious examples (like The Wonder Years).
  • August 20, 2013
    Hence, no apparent reason; I mostly just included that to bar series that are about historical figures or adaptations and remakes of works set in a period.

    EDIT: The trope is also geared towards the most egregious examples, like The Wonder Years, Freaks And Geeks, and That70s Show.

    EDIT 2: Not to mention that the title still works as a catch-all; just like Bunny Ears Lawyer applies to non-lawyer characters, this could apply to shows that are not necessarily nostalgic, but still follow the trope.
  • August 20, 2013
    The upcoming 80s show is called The Goldbergs.
  • August 23, 2013
    • 2013 romantic comedy The To Do List is set in 1993 for no obvious reason.
  • August 23, 2013
    And what's the justification for Back to the Future on this list?
  • August 27, 2013
    Time-traveling movies like Back to the Future and Hot Tub Time Machine that go back to a time in recent memory barely qualify for this trope, as they play into the nostalgia moreso than the unjustified period setting. Ultimately, they could be removed if it seems they'll make or break the trope.
  • August 30, 2013
    I'd reject putting any time-travel work on this list. "Set in the recent past for no particular reason"--well, time travel is the whole point.
  • September 3, 2013
    Alright, cutting the time-travel works.
  • September 16, 2013
    Should flashbacks be included? Friends and Scrubs are included in the examples, but those shows are set in the present day, and the flashbacks don't have a crucial role in the show as a whole. I think that, unless the flashbacks make up a substancial amount of the show, individual flashback episodes should not be included.
  • September 16, 2013
    "For no apparent reason" isn't really accurate — the nostalgia is the reason.

    The shows you're going for here are generally set at a time period during the youth of parents watching (I think half the point is so you can tell your kids "That's how it was then, haha!")

    Maybe Decade Nostalgia Show? Pretty much every example is pegged to a decade — I think that's the true crux of this.

    Or, alternately just Decade Nostalgia could include flashbacks and time travel when they go out of their way to date themselves.
  • September 17, 2013
    Drac Monster, you've definitely hit the nail on the head; I actually originally had it as "no apparent reason except nostalgia", but nostalgia was deemed too variable.

    As for the decade thing, while modern eras are generally defined by decades, there are other eras (the Victorian era, the Edwardian era) that could hypothetically have examples which wouldn't be defined by a title like Decade Nostalgia Show. (Which reminds me of an example...) Also, Decade Nostalgia would quickly just become The Nostalgia Trope, as it wouldn't refer to the actual premise being nostalgia.

    I'll be cutting the flashbacks as well.
  • September 26, 2013

  • October 8, 2013
    This isn't to be an actual example, but it is a series that I think could qualify for this trope.

    Oliver Beene was set in the 1960s, although the series as a whole was simply used for using that time period just to make a bunch of I Want My Jetpack type jokes where people made predcitions that were completely wrong.
  • October 8, 2013
    From your description and the series's article, it looks to me like Oliver Beene would definitely qualify.
  • October 9, 2013
    The TV adaptation of the Nero Wolfe stories is set in the same nebulous 1950's-60s as the books, but ran in 2001-2002.
  • October 9, 2013
    I am excluding adaptations of things written in the time period they're set in, so as much as I want to include Nero Wolfe, I'll have to leave that one out.
  • October 11, 2013
    This may be Relate to Romanticism Vs Enlightenment via the "Glorious past" vs "Glorious future" argument.
  • October 11, 2013

    • Adam Sandler's The Wedding Singer, which uses the '80s setting for sone lazy jokes and nothing else.
  • October 15, 2013
    Added The Wedding Singer, but I don't quite see the Romanticism vs. Enlightenment relation. Care to explain?
  • October 23, 2013
    Billy Joel's 1983 album An Innocent Man is made up almost entirely of 1950s style songs. The video for "Uptown Girl" keeps the theme as well.
  • October 24, 2013
    Added Billy Joel