When we talk about the nostalgia effect in TV series, we mean the trend, particularly overwhelming in recent years, of paying homage to or citing everything that is considered a cult of the past years, whether they were movies, songs, fashions or gadgets. If we consider that today’s authors and screenwriters probably lived their childhood and adolescence between the 80s and 90s, it is clear that above all these will be the decades to which reference is made most often. Cobra Kai o Stranger Things are two perfect examples of this of this phenomenon.
If we consider becoming an adult as an awareness and responsibility, a succession of commitments, exams, duties, it is not difficult to understand how reassuring it is to think back to the good old days. Nostalgia is a somewhat melancholy feeling, but one that does not generate stress, on the contrary, it relaxes us to review what we were passionate about when our life was easier. We like to see how well we lived before, when the biggest concern was getting home in time for the afternoon cartoons. How we can still perfectly remember the sounds and smells of our past daily life and how strangely the sensation of grass stuck to the skin or the sense of freedom given by the last day of school is still vivid.
The danger, however, is that bringing all of this into a TV series is a bit cloying, ending up in a somewhat self-serving quotation that contributes nothing to the plot. There is the risk of appearing superficial if we limit ourselves to showing only the more frivolous aspects of years which, in any case, were also characterized by complex themes.
However, there have been series that have exploited the nostalgia effect in an intelligent way, bringing us back to stories and atmospheres we have already seen and known, but giving us a second opportunity to steal what was good from those years. The aforementioned Cobra Kai is a perfect example, but not the only one.
1 Stranger Things
Stranger Things it is the series that is remembered almost more for the nostalgia effect than for the actual plot. The construction of the series is an evident reference to the sci-fi plots of the 80s where in exchange for Alien we will have the Demogorgon. The rainy atmospheres and the hypnotic music bring us back to the horror films of those years, such as The thing o The Return of the Living Dead. Also evident are the references to the works of Stephen King, made of deep fears and dark basements. Thinking of the protagonists, it is impossible not to think of cult films like i Goonies o Stand By Me and even the mustache of Hopper they remind us a bit of those of another legendary detective of those years, Magnum P.I. Speaking of the 80s, references to the Cold War could not be missing and therefore here are the underground military bases, Soviet spies and experiments on children. Finally, there are countless references to the popular culture of those years: Dungeons and Dragons, Madonna’s hits, big hair, walkie talkies and high-waisted jeans. Stranger Things that’s it, a handful of brave kids saving the world from monsters humming the immortal refrain of Neverending Story. But above all it is an incredible love letter to the 80s.
2 Cobra Kai
Welcome to the world famous dojo Cobra Kaiindeed welcome back. In fact, the series restarts exactly thirty-five years after the events narrated in the 80s cult The Karate Kid and if you grew up with this film it will be impossible not to love it (to read our review click here). In fact, we find the same protagonists, now adults, grappling with diametrically opposite lives: Johnny he is a middle-aged man who lives from hand to mouth, has many problems and a son with whom he has a bad relationship. Daniel instead he is a successful man with a nice job in the auto show business. He will be the one to take the master’s place Miyagi as a karate teacher, ignoring however that among the students there is the son of Johnny. On the other side Johnny he will begin his journey of redemption by returning to the tatami in turn, to show the boys how to defend themselves. The series is obviously full of quotes, references and references to the cult film, but it has the intelligence to modernize itself and propose a fresher and more modern version. This spinoff uses the nostalgia effect with extreme intelligence, proposing illustrious actors and cameos for historical fans, but also hooking a new audience who will find themselves watching a series with an unquestionable entertainment capacity. The main themes of the film are maintained: discipline, the fight against bullying, anger control, but they are stripped of any rhetoric, proposing a story in which the distinction between what is right and what is wrong is no longer so clear-cut . In short, nostalgia yes, but also something new. To put it like the master Miyagi: put nostalgia, remove nostalgia.
3 Fresh Off the Boat
Partially autobiographical story (first season only) of the Asian-American writer Eddie Huang, Fresh off the boat tells the story of a family of Taiwanese origins who move from the city of Washington to Orlando, a city in Florida, where there will always be the sun, but unfortunately there is no Asian community. The series is fun because it is based on a game of contrasts: on the one hand there is the cheerful and sociable father of the family who blindly believes in the American dream, on the other the more severe and rigid mother who remains closely anchored to the culture and original traditions. Everything is told by the eldest son, Eddie, who will have to deal with some integration problems, to add to those of any high school student. Unlike the younger brothers, strongly stereotyped thanks to the image of disciplined and successful Asians, who instead will prove to be more capable of adapting. The story is set in the mid-90s and references to those years are well inserted in a plot that wants to tell a different theme. The references to Shaquille O’Nealat the time champion of the NBA Orlando Magic team, the love for Hip Hop music, terry socks, skateboarding, but also fake laughter and indoor shots (frequent elements in sitcoms of those years), there they give an authentic atmosphere, which brings us back to being nostalgic Willy the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but without taking away the focus from the real message of the plot, centered on the difficulties of integration and the contradictions of American society.
This series will be one of the strangest things you will ever see. Schmigadoon! speaks of a couple in crisis, the one formed by John e Melissa. They love each other, there is no shortage of affection and respect, but the situation is stagnant and so they try to resolve their relationship by leaving for a backpacking trip. During the journey, however, they establish an intense conversation that makes them lose their sense of time and orientation, making them land in the charming village of Schmigadoon. The town is a clear reference to the musical sets of the 40s and 50s, so much so that the inhabitants are often engaged in choreography and singing to the point that no one would be surprised to see them jump out Mary Poppins and it Chimney sweep of the famous Disney film. The series exploits the nostalgia effect for lovers of the genre, but even the skeptics will be truly impressed by the music, the costumes, the setting, by that theatrical way of acting. The American 1950s are those who more than any other pushed an ideal of the family that was proposed as one of the founding values of the human being, together with his commitment to the community. Reliving those old-fashioned models, but at the same time a little naive in showing an almost cloying emotional bond, will allow Melissa and John to find each other. Also because in reality they have no alternatives: if they are not able to write a perfect Broadway-style happy ending, they will not be able to go home.
5 The Goldbergs
Sitcom set in the 80s, The Goldbergs exploits a double nostalgia effect: not only is the setting full of quotes and references to the decade of high-waisted trousers, but the story of this strange family from the point of view of the eleven-year-old son cannot fail to bring us back to memory Malcom in the Middle. But not only that, even all those TV series families we’ve seen throughout our childhood, from Parents in Blue Jeans a Eight Under One Roofpassing through I Robinson. Also in this case the characters are the classics of all sitcoms: the perfect eldest daughter, the mother hen and the irascible father, the overbearing older brother with the little one of the house, who however finds the complicity of an adorable grandfather. Full of hyperbole and exaggeration, The Goldbergs will make those who lived through the period laugh and even those too young to remember it, but who have seen enough American sitcoms to recognize the mockery of the society of the time. Surely the families represented were not perfect, but for this very reason they were closer to normality.
The nostalgia effect is beautiful when used well and not trivialized as a mere marketing strategy. In fact for a successful spinoff like that of Cobra Kai there have been a thousand other reboots that have fallen short of expectations, McGayver o 90210 just to name a few. It’s a double-edged sword: we like to revel in old childhood memories, but we don’t like having them ruined.
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