Some series are set in the present, or Twenty 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 1960s
, they should listen to The Beatles and protest the Vietnam War. If it's set in the 1970s
, some mention of disco and classic rock should come up. If it's set in the 1980s
, everyone should be blowing out their hair and wearing neon. If it's set in the 1990s
...you 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 1990s, wouldn't 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 1920s
today is now considered a period piece. A good rule of thumb is anything set less than 20
or more than 50 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):
- Appropriately, The Roaring Twenties is a 1939 film that looks back on The Roaring Twenties.
- The 1980s Indiana Jones movies were set before World War II. The fourth one, however, moves into Period Piece territory.
- 1978's Grease was this to the 1950s.
- School Ties is set in the 50s, most obviously evidenced by the tame rock 'n' roll that plays in the film, which is treated as rowdy and wild.
- The 1990 Johnny Depp film Cry-Baby plays this trope very straight in the 50s.
- Stand by Me (set in 1959 and featuring an all-star soundtrack) attempts to mark the transition from The Fifties to The Sixties—from Innocence to Experience—reflecting the coming of age of four Oregon youths (and the youths of director Rob Reiner and author Stephen King).
- Diner is a 1982 film that looks back on 1959.
- American Graffiti was made by George Lucas in the '70s to look back on his adolescence in the '50s (well, technically 1960).
- The famous 1987 film Dirty Dancing is set in 1963.
- Across the Universe, being set in the '60s and made in 2007, just barely qualifies as this.
- Anchorman is a 2004 film, set in the 70's mostly to get away with sexist jokes that wouldn't be politically correct today.
- The sequel is set in the late 70s-early 80s, following suit.
- The Coming-of-Age Story My Girl is set in the mid 1970s and lets you know it - mood rings, Volkswagen vans, 70sHair, period-appropriate music etc.
- Dazed and Confused is a 1993 film about high schoolers in '76.
- Although it doesn't technically count (being based on a book written in 1971), the film version of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas was made in 1998, at the height of 70s nostalgia.
- Adventureland is a downplayed version of this trope, set in the '80s and not really pushing the setting with the outfits except for certain "trendier" characters.
- Adam Sandler's The Wedding Singer (1998), which uses the '80s setting for some lazy jokes and nothing else.
- While it is also a Genre Throwback, the movie Super 8 is still very much a love letter to the 80's.
- The 2006 British film, Starter For 10, is set in the '85-'86, a fact that it makes glorious use of for the soundtrack.
- Donnie Darko was made in 2001 and set in 1988. It even seems to have some added film grain, making it look like it was made in '88.
- The 2013 romantic comedy The To Do List is set in 1993, presumably to justify the heroine (an 18 year old, just graduated from high school) being completely sheltered about sex. The plot would not have been plausible in a post-internet era setting.
- The 2014 Liam Neeson film, A Walk Among The Tombstones, is explicitly set in 1999, which doesn't change the plot too much, besides allowing the main character to be unfamiliar with computers and the "World Wide Web" (which he insists is a fad), and a lot of Y2K jokes.
- 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.
- Probably the Trope Codifier is Happy Days, which ran from 1974-84 and took place in the 1950s-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 1980-88 British sitcom set in the Maplins holiday camp from 1959-60.
- 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 1988-93, and took place from 1968-73.
- 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 2000 and set in 1980 (but really having more '70s nostalgia than the '80s).
- 2013 series The Goldbergs is 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.
- 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.
- 1946's Make Mine Music features the animated short "Johnnie Fedora and Alice Blue Bonnet", which features horse-drawn carts that wouldn't be in style since the 1890s.
- The Iron Giant is set in the '50s.