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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.

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Now, just slapping a "June 5th, 1976" on an establishing shot and then doing a "Mister Sandman" Sequence isn't enough. The show's time period has to be readily evident from every frame. 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 wistful 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, film adaptations of The Great Gatsby are set in The Roaring '20s because they're based on a novel that was not only written during that time period, but delved deeply into the era's pop culture, 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.

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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; anything set in the 21st century was a no-go until the late 2010s and early 2020s. 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 1950s had fully slipped into period piece territory, the 1960s had started to go the same way, and the 1990s started to enter nostalgia territory. In 2020, the 2000s will start becoming nostalgic while the 1970s will start to become the domain of period pieces.

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Sub-trope of Period Piece. Compare Retraux, which is when the work is meant to look like it's from another time period, which has its own nostalgic value. May relate to Romanticism Versus 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):

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     Anime and Manga 
  • Sazae-san began in 1969 and was dated even then. The manga began in the '40s and it shows. The anime has been running non-stop and is certainly this more than ever. It's one of the top 5, if not the number 1, anime in Japan and is seen as a quaint story about a Showa-era housewife and her family.
  • Kids On The Slope is a quaint slice of life work about two teenage boys growing up in late 1960s Japan.

    Film — 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.
    • 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 from the perspective of the late '90s, and is rich with nostalgia for the decade's pop culture and kitschy aesthetics, albeit taken hand-in-hand with satire of the Cold War paranoia of the time.

     Film — Live Action 
  • Between 1944 and 1948, Judy Garland starred in a trio of nostalgia musicals for MGM:
    • The Harvey Girls is a 1946 musical about the Harvey House restaurants that followed the railroads west and the women who worked as servers there, set in The Gay '90s.
    • In The Good Old Summertime is a 1949 musical remake of The Shop Around the Corner, also set in The Gay '90s. It features a cameo appearance by 3-year-old Liza Minelli in the last shot. Ms. Minelli, of course, is the daughter of Judy and the director of the first movie in this informal trifecta.
    • Meet Me in St. Louis, made by Vincente Minelli and Judy Garland in 1944, looks back with affection on the St. Louis of 1904. While most of the filmmakers were looking back to their parents' era, the film was based on the short stories and novel of Sally Benson, who wrote from her own childhood experiences.
  • Mary Poppins comes from Walt Disney's admiration for the Edwardian Era. The books are set in the 1930s but the film moves the setting to the early 1900s. There seems to be no reason for the change other than the nostalgia and Walt's particular fondness for the era.
  • The Roaring Twenties is a 1939 film that looks back on The Roaring '20s, Exactly What It Says on the Tin — though it begins in 1918, at the very end of The Great War.
  • A Christmas Story was made in 1983 and set in a romanticized late '30s/early '40s suburban small town in Indiana, based heavily on writer Jean Shepherd's recollections of his youth around that time.
  • The 1971 film Summer of '42 was screenwriter Herman Rauscher's almost-autobiographical look back at his own summer vacation of 29 years previous.
  • 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.
  • Cry-Baby is John Waters second foray into nostalgia (see below), being a look back from 1990 to the Baltimore of 1954.
  • Liberty Heights, released in 1999 and set in 1954, is the fourth and final of the "Baltimore Films" by Barry Levinson (see below); all, like fellow Baltimore native John Waters, were based either on his own memories or those of his family & friends of the time.
  • Deconstructed in Pleasantville, where the protagonists' trip into a retro '50s Dom Com universe initially plays this trope to the hilt. David specifically watches the titular sitcom because it's an Unintentional Period Piece to the decade in which it was created and fulfills this role for him, allowing him to travel back in time to a mythologized "good old days". The show's setting is a comically exaggerated version of conservative '50s Americana, and even when his and Jennifer's modern values first start influencing Pleasantville's residents, it initially serves to bring Rock & Roll and slick-haired greasers with hot rods to the town, turning it into the "cool" '50s of American Graffiti and Grease. Then it starts exploring the dark side of '50s nostalgia, as the other townsfolk start reacting to these changes in a manner that explicitly recalls segregationists during the Civil Rights Movement.
  • The 1980s Indiana Jones movies were set before World War II. The fourth one, however, moves into Period Piece territory.
  • The Lords of Flatbush, a 1974 film starring Sylvester Stallone and future Fonzie Henry Winkler, looks at 1958 Brooklyn working-class kids.
  • Stand by Me is set in 1959 and attempts to mark the transition from The '50s to The '60s—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, released in 1982 and set in 1959, is the first of the "Baltimore Films" by Barry Levinson.
  • Across the Universe, being set in the '60s and made in 2007, just barely qualifies as this.
  • American Graffiti was made by George Lucas in the '70s to look back on his adolescence. While it's technically set in 1962, this Oscar-nominated box-office success helped spark the explosion of nostalgia for The '50s, and is practically the Trope Codifier for the all-star soundtrack that would accompany so many later nostalgia films.
  • Hairspray, John Waters first PG film, is a surprisingly affectionate 1988 look back at Baltimore of 1962.
  • Animal House was so influential on college students of the late 1970s and early 1980s that it is often overlooked for being nostalgic, but the 1978 film is clearly and specifically set in 1962, right down to the JFK homecoming float.
  • The famous 1987 film Dirty Dancing is set in 1963.
  • The much less famous 1979 film The Wanderers is also set in 1963.
  • Tin Men, released in 1987 and set in 1963, is the second of the "Baltimore Films" by Barry Levinson.
  • Avalon, released in 1990 and set over a period of decades from 1914 to the early 1960s — thus both nostalgia and a Period Piece — is the third of the "Baltimore Films" by Barry Levinson.
  • More American Graffiti, the 1979 sequel which Lucas produced but did not direct, and which was neither Oscar-nominated nor a box-office success, is set in four consecutive New Years Eves from 1964 to 1967.
  • The Hollywood Knights, a 1980 film featuring early appearances by Fran Drescher, Tony Danza and Michelle Pfeiffer, examines Halloween night, 1965, and the last night of a drive-in that is the favored hangout of the car club of the title.
  • Dogfight, a little-seen but critically-lauded film starring River Phoenix and Lili Taylor, was made in 1991 and set in 1965 and '66.
  • Baby It's You, John Sayles ventures into nostalgia (he has also made more than one Period Piece); was made in 1983 and set in late 1966 and early 1967.
  • The Outsiders book was contemporary when it was written however the film adaptation was released in the 1980s. It's a harsh look at being a greaser in the '60s.
  • 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.
  • Almost Famous is Cameron Crowe looking back at his own beginnings as a boy wonder rock journalist in 1973.
  • Anchorman: The Legend of Ron Burgundy is a 2004 film, set in the 70's mostly to get away with sexist jokes that wouldn't be politically correct today.
  • Anchorman 2: The Legend Continues 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, complete with Bicentennial references.
  • Detroit Rock City is a 1999 film about high schoolers in '78, complete with the disco/rock conflict of the time.
  • 54 is a 1998 film based on the latter days of the infamous epicenter of disco, Studio 54.
  • The Last Days of Disco is Exactly What It Says on the Tin, made in 1998 and set in a Fictional Counterpart of Studio 54.
  • Everybody Wants Some!! is a Spiritual Successor to Dazed And Confused, looking nostalgically at a college in the summer of 1980.
  • Boogie Nights explores the late '70s - early '80s porn scene from the perspective of 1997.
  • 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 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.
  • Summer of '84, made in 2018 and set in 1984, is an homage to the kids' adventure films of the decade like The Goonies and The Monster Squad.
  • The upcoming DC film, Wonder Woman 1984, will likely be this.
  • 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.
  • 8 Mile, released in 2002 and set in 1995, less than a decade after its release.
  • 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 MCU's Captain Marvel is set in 1996, allowing for a '90s-based soundtrack and references to Blockbuster and the analog age, but ultimately could have taken place in any time period, so long as it predated The Avengers (2012).
  • 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.

     Literature  

  • 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.
  • Harry Potter: Even though the books were released in 1998 through 2007, it was set in 1991 through 1998.

     Live Action TV  
  • The Trope Codifier is probably Happy Days (1974-84), which took place in the mid 1950s-mid 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! (1980-88) is a British sitcom set in the Maplins holiday camp from 1959-60.
    • From the same writers, Dad's Army (1968-77) is set during World War II.
  • The Wonder Years (1988-93) took place exactly 20 years earlier: 1968-73.
  • The trope gets its name from That '70s Show (1998-06), which has its eight seasons crammed into a four year period: 1976-79.
    • By extension, it also gets its name from the lesser-known spin-off, That '80s Show (2002) with its single season set in 1984.
  • Freaks and Geeks (1999-2000) is set in 1980-81 (but really having more '70s nostalgia than the '80s).
  • Hippies (1999) is a British sitcom set thirty years earlier in 1969.
  • Oliver Beene (2003-04) 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.
  • Mad Men (2007-15) plays this trope to a T with a 1960-1970 setting, although it barely meets the "5 decades ago" requirement.
  • Pan Am (2011-12) was this to the 1963-64 before its cancellation.
  • The Goldbergs (2013-present) has every episode set in "1980-something" and is largely biographical.
    • Likewise, it's 2019 spinoff, Series/Schooled has every episode in the "1990-something".
  • The three-episode Britsh drama From There to Here (2014) starts with the 1996 Manchester bombing, continues into the 1997 election of Prime Minister Tony Blair and ends with the Millennium celebrations of 2000.
  • Fresh Off the Boat (2015-20) takes place in 1995-2000 and shows '90s pop culture references.
  • The series The 1980s: The Deadliest Decade (2016-17) is an odd mishmash of this and crime documentary show. It's about murders that occured in the 1980s but also features a nostalgia for the era.
  • Stranger Things (2016-present) is one of the archetypal examples of this trope in modern media. The first season was set in 1983, with follow-up seasons set in '84 and '85. The third season went all-out on the '80s aesthetic, with the production renovating part of a dying shopping mall in suburban Atlanta to look like a place that an '80s Valley Girl might shop at, complete with period-appropriate stores and films like Day of the Dead (1985) and Back to the Future playing in the mall's theater.
  • Everything Sucks! (2018) was set squarely in 1996 of the Pacific Northwest, smack-dab in the middle of the decade of grunge.
  • The Kids Are Alright (2018-19) was set in 1972-73. Being set 46 years in the past almost makes it a period piece.
  • British comedy Derry Girls (2018-present) is set roughly in 1995 near the end of The Troubles in Derry, Northern Ireland. It references Pulp Fiction, The Usual Suspects is in theatresnote , and President Bill Clinton visits Derry. However, there are creative liberties with the timeline: Take That performed in Derry in 1993 and the IRA ceasefire happened in 1994.
  • Mixed-ish, the 2019 prequel spinoff of Black-ish, is so far set in 1985-86.
  • PEN15 (2019-present) does this for the Turn of the Millennium, taking place in the year 2000. While the 21st century technically starts in the 2001, this is the first series to start with 2000s nostalgia.

     Music  

  • If any one performer could be said to have invented a "nostalgia genre" of rock, that man would have to be Bob Seger. "Night Moves", "Mainstreet", "Rock and Roll Never Forgets", "Old Time Rock and Roll", "Against the Wind", "Like a Rock"... practically all of his greatest hits evoke a desperately sharp, bittersweet longing for the past.
  • 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 in '60s outfits alongside plentiful psychedelic flower-power imagery.

     Theater  

  • Three of Broadway's biggest hits of the mid-20th century were Life With Father, I Remember Mama, and The Music Man; all were based on the childhood recollections of Clarance Day Jr., Kathryn Forbes, and Meredith Wilson, respectively, and all were eventually made into motion pictures as well (though by the time Wilson's piece reached the stage it was almost a Period Piece).

     Video Games  

     Western Animation  


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