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Frozen in Time

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When the concept behind a series is so tightly bound to a particular period of history that the series cannot leave that era, it is Frozen in Time. This can be a sliding scale; some series can slip a lot (The Dark Knight is just a Batman story — not "Batman in the 21st Century"), some can only slip a little bit (Sherlock Holmes started in Victorian times and got updated to World War II for the wartime films, but is usually considered Victorian), and some can't slip at all.

This can happen within a single series, or within a long-lasting franchise. It's more common in series that are already set in a historical period (since they're probably set there because the history is important to the story), but it can be more striking when it happens in a series that is initially set in the present day, then remains in that same "present", possibly due to Schedule Slip. If it happens in a single series, there can be strange effects such as having more annual Christmas shows than there were actual Christmases in the defined period. The natural aging of performers can also cause cognitive dissonance when one thinks about how old they are supposed to be at any given point in the series.

Note that this trope is about the setting not advancing. If the setting advances but the characters don't age, that's Comic-Book Time. If a single character in a work that normally uses Comic-Book Time is tied to a specific historical event, that's Refugee from Time.

Sometimes caused by Briefer Than They Think. See also: Alternate History, Not Allowed to Grow Up and Retro Universe. Not to be confused with Time Stands Still.


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    Anime and Manga 
  • In Cyborg 009, Albert Heinrich/004's Backstory involves his attempt to cross the Berlin Wall. In order to keep this in continuity in the 2001 series, the writers had the first four cyborgs created in the 1960s, then put into Suspended Animation for 40 years, at which point the project was continued and the rest of the team 'recruited'. Notable mainly since this was one of the few time sensitive plot points they went out of their way to keep.
  • The anime 009-1 takes place in an alternative universe where the Cold War never ended — because the source manga was so tied to the Cold War that the background had to be kept.
  • A 2016 chapter of Inside Mari shows that it still takes place in 2011, the year it began. Mari was born in 1995 but is still a high schooler. Only a few weeks have passed in-series.
  • Gigantor was contemporary when written (and its anime adaptation was slightly 20 Minutes into the Past due to being made in the 1960s). Aside from the 1980s version, all versions depict it as a 1950s Period Piece.
  • Sequels to Digimon Adventure keep it set in the early-to-mid 2000s. Digimon Adventure tri. is set in 2005 despite being from 2015.

    Comic Books 
  • Asterix, comprising 34 books published between 1959 and 2010, canonically starts years after Vercingetorix's rendition at the Battle of Alesia (52 BC) - which, as per Asterix and the Chieftain's Shield, happened early enough for Chief Vitalstatistix/Abraracourcix to have fought in it as a young man, and have become fat and weary since then - but is set before the death of Julius Caesar in 44 BC. Asterix in Spain (1969), set right after the Battle of Munda in 45 BC, is the only book with a canonical date on it, while Asterix and Son (1983) introduces Caesarion (born 47 BC) as a baby and mentions that Caesar has been away on campaign (Munda actually being the last battle he fought in real life).
  • Archie Comics: The characters, setting, and overall mood is so tied to the idyllic image of The '50s that, while new technology and new media pop up in the stories as they're written, the series cannot leave that decade's culture and visual style without a complete reworking from the ground up (which isn't without precedent, like with Riverdale or Archie Comics (2015)) or as non-canon parody (like with Archie vs. Predator).

    Comic Strips 
  • Rupert Bear began in 1920 and is still published today. Its setting still appears to be sometime in the 1920s or '30s.

    Fan Works 
  • The author of With Strings Attached has said that she would have much preferred to set the story in more recent times (it takes place in 1980). However, it being about The Beatles, a certain unpleasant event meant that she was stuck leaving it in 1980, which she doesn't remember too well, being 15 at the time. She gets around this by setting nearly all the story on different worlds and using reference sources to verify any pop culture or technological references the four might make.
  • The Arthur fic Lies and the Lying Parents Who Tell Them is set in 2009 despite being written in 2017. This is because it's a direct sequel to another fanfic that was finished in 2009 and the original fic dated itself as being circa 2006-2009.

    Film — Live Action 
  • Walden Media has tied the Earth sections of the Narnia film-verse to World War II. The book The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is set around the time of the bombing raids, but there it's just an excuse to place the characters where they need to be; the movie added the Luftwaffe bombing London to establish it, and it continues to be relevant throughout the film. While later books slip into Comic-Book Time, the next two films take deliberate trouble to stay grounded in the period.
  • The original Universal Frankenstein (1931) film seemed to take place in the present day, but Bride of Frankenstein made more of an effort to take place in the 1800s.The first film was ostensibly set somewhere where German is spoken (not that most of the actors even tried to come off as Germans), but also took place near a little village that one could imagine having been "forgotten by time," so the film doesn't suffer too much for not getting too technical.
  • In the original Back to the Future, the present year is 1985 because that's the year the film came out. Its two sequels were released in 1989 and 1990, but they still treat 1985 as the present. In nearly all subsequent Back to the Future media, The '80s is maintained as Marty and Doc's home era. Moreover, the original film was adapted as an illustrated storybook in 2018 and as a musical in 2020, and both of these keep Marty as an '80s teen who travels back to his parents' era in The '50s.

  • Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey-Maturin series had normal time for the first seven books-until the author realized he couldn't end the Napoleonic Wars yet and it remained 1813 for the next ten books, even though in one of them the narrative comments the characters have been away from England for "years." In the 18th book normal time resumed. He referred to the years as "1812A, 1812B" and so on when speaking out of continuity.
  • Increasingly noticeable in the Ring Of Fire Shared Universe, where due to one-way Time Travel (of an entire town), the modern technology is from the 1999-2000 era. In the first book, published in 2000, the technology was perfectly current — by the time of 1636: Commander Cantrell in the West Indies, published 2014, the technology the 'up-timers' brought with them looks increasingly out of date. Author Eric Flint actually enforces this, making sure that no 21st-century gadgets like iPads, smartphones, etc. sneak into the novels.
  • Sherlock Holmes, of course. The stories were set in the present day (or recent past) up until the character's apparent death in 1893. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle brought him back ten years later, but only three years had elapsed in-universe. From that point on, Sherlock Holmes has remained more or less anchored to the late nineteenth century. Doyle's stories (with only a few exceptions) continued to be set in the 1890s, though he was still publishing new ones as late as 1927. Most adaptations have honored this tradition.
    • There have, of course, been exceptions. The Basil Rathbone films took a brief detour to the present day to show Holmes fighting Nazis. More recently, the BBC's Setting Update Sherlock and CBS's Elementary have successfully transferred the characters to the present day.
      • Word of God has it that Sherlock was an example of the trope being consciously defied; Steven Moffat originally came up with the idea because he thought the Holmes franchise's status as a late-Victorian-to-Edwardian Period Piece was starting to overshadow the fact that it was originally written as contemporary crime drama.
  • The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde is also typically adapted as taking place in Victorian England. Present-day stories may get around this by having the formula be rediscovered by a modern day descendant or researcher while keeping the original story in its original period.
  • Ditto for The Time Machine. This gives contemporary writers a good lead on the Time-Traveler, allowing him to pass through real time periods on his voyage to 802701 AD. Of course, a one hundred year lead isn't all that impressive when he's going 800,000 years into the future, but it's something. Both the 1960 film and the 2002 film give 1899 as the Time-Traveler's year of origin, which is actually four years after the novel was written. (The 1960 version goes so far as to make him take off from New Year's Eve of 1899, i.e. the last day of the 1800s.)
  • Tarzan was originally set in the present day and was treated as such until about the 1980s. Around that time, the character started to get tied to The Edwardian Era in which he first appeared, something which may have been started by Greystoke: The Legend of Tarzan, Lord of the Apes. The Disney version goes back further and sets itself in the time of Victorian Britain, which has pretty much codified in the public imagination that the story doesn't take place in the present.
  • Eddie from The Dark Tower. In The Drawing of the Three we're introduced to three characters from "our" world, one each from the 60s, 70s, and 80s. Eddie is supposed to represent a person from our current time, which he was in the book. By the series end it was well into the 2000s, making Eddie a historical character much like his fellow Earth gunslingers. This is even lampshaded by the series end, as it got really meta.
    • Stephen King lampshaded this entire trope in the short story Umney's Last Case, about a private eye set in the late 30s. One day he wakes up and everything in his life that had formerly been static starts changing, and it just doesn't feel right. Turns out he's a character in a long-running pulp series set vaguely in the late 30s and his author is attempting to break the setting he's established so he can take over his character's life.
  • A strange in-universe example with The Girl from the Miracles District - the eponymous District is set in 1936, and is never allowed to leave 1936 even when the world around it has long galloped past the year 2000, because the magic that keeps it safe from the outside is explicitly tied to that year.
  • Alice's Adventures in Wonderland was, of course, set in the present day when it was written in 1865. Barring the occasional Setting Update, adaptations have treated it as a Victorian period piece since whenever it was that Alice's Iconic Outfit went out of fashion.
  • The Marvelous Land of Oz and the other fourteen original Land of Oz books were set in present day, but it's since become known as an early 1900s period piece. Few adaptations date it any later than The Great Depression (due to the unintended Dust Bowl parallels). Not to mention, if it's after 1939, you wonder why the characters haven't heard of what might be the most famous movie of all time.
  • The Sopranos (Warner) was set in the mid-nineties which was the present day when it was first published, and the adaptations (Our Ladies Of Perpetual Succour and Our Ladies (2019))have preserved this setting rather than trying to update it.

    Live-Action TV 
  • M*A*S*H ran for 11 years when the actual Korean War lasted less than three — and, on average, most surgeons only served about six months at a MASH. There were at least four Christmases and six winters shown, and Hawkeye went from young and raven haired to middle aged and greying. The chronology would make more sense if every use of "Korea," "Koreans," etc. were replaced with "Vietnam" and "Vietnamese" note .
  • Combat!, which covered the post-D-Day (1944-45) adventures of an infantry platoon ran from 1962-67.
  • Heartbeat ran for eighteen years, and when it ended it was still The '60s.
    • Even worse than that, for the last decade or more of the show's run they were specifically stuck in 1969, a year in which Gina Ward managed to cram in two full-term pregnancies. And they don't seem to have made it past July.
  • The first episode of That '70s Show took place in May of 1976 and eight years later, the series finale took place on New Year's Eve 1979. Four years in, That '80s Show was launched, but since it was a bomb we'll never know how long that show would have stayed in 1984.note 
    • Also Eric & Co. go to see Star Wars midway through the first season, which didn't premiere until May 1977. The show stopped telling us the exact date shortly thereafter.
      • Possibly lampshaded at the beginning of the season 8, when the license plate shown at the end of every episode (and sporting the year the series' action takes place) was shown for a few episodes without a year on it, and Kitty referred to the current year as "nineteen... today" in the premiere.
  • 24 is an interesting variation on this, in that every episode is a specific hour in a specific day. Generally, the show's makers put great effort into making sure that costuming and makeup reflect this - an injury suffered in one episode leaves a bruise for the rest of the season, for example - but there is the occasional blunder. For example, in Phillip Bauer's second appearance on the show, near the end of season 6, his hair was considerably longer, and worn in a markedly different style, than he had had it in his first appearance (set 16 hours earlier, but filmed nearly 4 months prior).
  • The TV series Gunsmoke, set in Dodge City, Kansas, in 1873, ran for twenty years without any noticable change in setting or costume. However, as might be expected, James Arness, Milburn Stone, and Amanda Blake all aged a considerable amount in those 612 episodes.
  • Dad's Army started with the formation of the Home Guard in 1940, and followed that plotline for its first season, with the platoon gradually gaining weapons and uniforms over the course of the season. The remaining eight seasons did not specify which year(s) the show followed (although events such as the arrival of the Americans in the war were mentioned), and the series ended with the war still in progress.
  • Hogan's Heroes - 6 seasons, all supposedly taking place between 1942 and 1945. Of course, most of these were not in chronological order anyway - historical background details in three episodes in the 5th season place the show at 1943, 1945, and 1944 in that order.
  • Inverted in historical dramas like Upstairs Downstairs and The Duchess Of Duke Street, where two or three decades pass in continuity but the actors only age four or five years.
  • The Goldbergs lives on this trope in regards to the 80s. The show purposely plays loose with the timeline in order to cram in as many '80s references as possible and to keep the family in a specific era as long as possible.
  • Averted in The Wonder Years. Although the series is often remembered as taking place in the 1960s, that's only true of the first two seasons. The rest of the series took place the in the 1970s, and there are references to contemporary events (such as Apollo 13) to prove it.

  • A Chorus Line became trapped in The '70s at some point in its original run (which extended all the way through the 1980s).
  • Pygmalion was set in The Present Day when it debuted in 1913 and was still regarded as such when the 1938 film version came out. By the time of the 1956 musical version, My Fair Lady, the story was treated as an Edwardian period piece and has been ever since.
  • The Children's Hour was written as contemporary. Due to its dated premise, revivals play it as a 1930s-1960s Period Piece.
  • La Traviata is an interesting example. The original 1848 novel La dame aux camelias was a contemporary drama. Verdi and Piave wanted their opera to follow suit and be performed in modern 1840s/50s dress, but because the story line, revolving as it does around a High-Class Call Girl Hooker with a Heart of Gold, was already considered shocking for the opera stage, the theatre insisted on softening the impact by staging it as a period piece, set circa 1700. Not until the 1880s were productions set in the mid 19th century, which by that point had become a "period" setting itself. To this day, "traditional" productions of the opera always use the mid 19th century setting.

    Western Animation 
  • The Simpsons runs on Comic-Book Time, however some things are set in place. Abe is always a World War II vet, Skinner is always The Vietnam Vet, and Homer and Marge's teenage years almost always take place in The '70s, even though that'd make them much older than they were originally intended. There are a few exceptions, such as "That '90s Show" having Marge as a college student in The '90s, but these are exceptions more than the rule. Most post-2000s flashbacks keep this element subtle by not clearly dating the scenes; for example, Homer and Marge's high school flashbacks look like they're set in the 1970s but no one ever makes any clear '70s references.
  • Calendars in Pepper Ann still show that it's the 1990s, even in 2000s episodes.
  • Recess began in the '90s and is set during a school year. It was still set in the 1990s when it ended in 2001.
  • The Peanuts franchise has been going in this direction. The original comic strip used Comic-Book Time, as did the animated specials and films produced during the lifetime of creator Charles M. Schulz. Since Schulz's death in the year 2000, however, animated Peanuts productions have gradually shifted to taking place in some kind of amorphously mid-to-late 20th century setting. 2015's The Peanuts Movie was made with the rule that they could only portray technology if it appeared in the comic strip at some point, limiting them to 1990s-era tech at most. For The Snoopy Show, which began in 2021, the rule is that they can't portray any technology invented after the 1970s.