The decade between the 1970s and the 1990s can be safely classed as iconic. V.H.S. and Walkman’s helped encapsulate the era in an almost mythical quality. But with the fashion and technology being so different from the following years, it can be wild to reminisce. In 2002, a T.V. franchise, that had success with 70s nostalgia tried again to bask in the collective memories of the 80s, while showcasing the eternal struggle to strive for artistic expression, in a sea of Synthpop and commercialism in That 80s Show.
The year 1984 has not been kind for Corey; he is 22, graduated with a philosophy degree, struggling to be a musician. His ex-girlfriend has just realised she is a lesbian and has fallen for his sister, a secret college drop-out Valley Girl turned environmentalist. Corey’s best friend has brought into President Reagan’s dream of a prosperous America, and his dad is pressuring him to join his sports equipment firm. The record shop he works for hired a new employee, a vehemently punk, Tuesday, and the two develop a love-hate relationship. With the hilarious antics caused by these elements, how can Corey survive the decade?
With a name like That 80s Show, the weight of jokes come from the outdated fashion, technological, and societal norms of the era. Portable Phones, Dynasty, Reganomic greed are all poked fun at just in the first episode. The club they hang out of is home to eccentric personalities and cocaine flows rampant in the bathroom stalls. The synth-laden accompanying music is reminiscent of the period and even its title and incidental cards are record sleeves from the period. If that is not enough for you, the latter half of the season is strewn with cameos from the stars of the time, Tiffany, Debbie Gibson et al. Though the humour is not just confined to the 80s references, Selling out is the core concept of a lot of the episodes. Since Corey is conflicted with pursuing his music dreams and maintaining his integrity or taking the easy route and accept the luxury that his rich dad provides in comparison.
As with most sitcoms, it is the cast that helps sell the jokes and script. A relatively young Glen Howerton stars as Corey. There is some minor resemblance to his recognisable character Dennis from It’s Always Sunny, but here he is a typical sitcom star, and full of potential. His sister Katie, Tinsley Grimes, also shares a lot of the screen time, primarily singing and dancing with Grimes giving Katie the ultra-abundance of energy she needs, but a lot of the laughs came from Geoff Pierson as Corey’s dad with his antiquated world views and Eddie Shin as Roger Park with his misplaced charisma and era-appropriate dance moves. Despite sharing a name, none of the characters or plot points from That 70s Show factor in here, providing a clean break that lets the show shine on its own.
Maybe if That 80s Show waited just a little longer it could have capitalised on the wave of 80s popularity and rode it to many series of referential success. As it stands, That 80s Show is an admirable comedy, that merrily pokes fun of a bygone era. Its characters are recognisable archetypes that feel like they will appeal to a diverse crowd and draws its references well to be a perfect nostalgic time capsule. Just as far removed from its air date now as it was from its setting, That 80s Show is an enjoyable blast from the past.
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