The 15 Best Modern TV Shows Set in the ’80s

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The wave of ’80s nostalgia that has flooded film and television over the past years is undeniable. Nostalgia for the decade has reached beyond those who lived through it and infected those who wish they were around to experience it. Something about the vibrant colors, big hair, neon lights, and pattern-reliant fashion just feels welcoming.

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Pop culture also draws people into the nostalgia of the time, from movies and music to world events and game shows. Despite the many years that have passed since the ’80s ended, we still cling to the aesthetic and essence of the time. And this resurgence of nostalgia has been occurring for the past decade or so.

Modern movies and TV shows continue to choose the ’80s as the period to set stories in, whether it be because of nostalgia, tapping into the minds of adults who were children at the time, or because it’s about a real-life event. Movies such as Atomic Blonde, It, and Sing Street have all captured different aspects of the ’80s that have resonated with audiences.

Television shows have done the same, ever since Judd Apatow’s cult classic Freaks and Geeks ended in 2000. Massively entertaining and brimming with nostalgia, here are 15 of the best TV shows set in the ’80s.

15 GLOW (2017-2019)

glow
GLOW

Release Date
June 23, 2017

Starring Alison Brie, GLOW follows Ruth Wilder, an out-of-work actress living in Los Angeles who finds an unexpected chance at stardom in the world of women’s wrestling. Upon joining the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling, Ruth must team up with 12 other women struggling to find entertainment work in Hollywood. However, she clashes with the program’s director after she learns he hired her former best friend.

Related:10 Most Over-the-Top ’80s Comedy Movies

A Flash of ’80s Neon

The neon colors and elaborate wrestling costumes make this show the epitome of ’80s fashion and pop culture. The exaggerated makeup and extra-voluminous hairstyles were staple style choices of the decade, and they are in full force in the show. GLOW is full of eye-catching colors that makes the show glow without being overwhelming. Plus, it’s also a funny show filled with jokes that land regardless of the time.

Stream GLOW on Netflix

14 Red Oaks (2014-2018)

Red Oaks is an ’80s-set coming-of-age show about a college student trying to enjoy the summer before reality sets in. David (Craig Roberts) takes a summer job at the Jewish country club, Red Oaks, in New Jersey to pass the time. The show follows his life involving his parents, friends, and his time at the club.

A Summer Spent in the ’80s

Summer is possibly the season most associated with the ’80s. Many movies and shows made or set in the ’80s take place during the summer. Red Oaks captures the feel of a summer spent in the ’80s well enough to make viewers who didn’t live through the decade reminisce about those days. The backdrop of the New York Metro Area also provides a look into that specific culture of the time in the city.

Stream Red Oaks on Prime Video

13 Pose (2018-2021)

Pose

Also set in New York City during the ’80s, Pose is a musical drama that explores the juxtaposition of several different aspects of life in the city. From the downtown social and literary scene to ball culture, Pose comments on many aspects of life in the ’80s that are typically less explored.

Expressing the ’80s Through Dance

Pose shines a light on underrepresented communities both on television and in real life. It predominantly focuses on African-American and Latino members of the LGBTQ+ community and the drag ball era of the ’80s that has influenced the culture even now. The show is praised for its portrayals and sensitive take on these subjects.

Stream Pose on Hulu

12 Deadly Class (2018-2019)

Based on the comic book series of the same name, Deadly Class revolves around King’s Dominion, a private academy where students are trained to become assassins. It’s set against the dark backdrop of the ’80s counterculture and follows a homeless teenage boy named Marcus Lopez Arguello (Benjamin Wadsworth). While at King’s Dominion, Marcus must maintain his moral code while undergoing a ruthless curriculum and navigating vicious social circles.

A Different Taste of ’80s Culture

Most ’80s-centric shows display the lighter, brighter aspects of the decade, so it is refreshing to watch something that leans on the seedier side of the decade. It doesn’t showcase the bright neon colors usually associated with the ’80s, but rather shows the punk and rock styles that were also popular at the time. Since the story originates from comic books, it has a perfect blend of action and comedy that fans of shows like The Umbrella Academy will enjoy.

Buy Deadly Class on Prime Video

11 Physical (2021-2023)

In the beachy paradise of San Diego in the early ’80s, Physical is a dark comedy centering around Sheila Rubin (Rose Byrne), a dutiful but quietly tortured housewife. While dealing with her demons in her own darkly comedic way, she finds escape in the most unlikely place: the world of aerobics. First hooked on the exercise itself, Sheila quickly discovers a way to capitalize off the exercise using video technology to build a booming business.

A Tale of Legwarmers and Capitalism

Before Zumba and Pilates, women in the ’80s had aerobics to rely on if they wanted to exercise. Aerobics were wildly popular throughout the decade, and Physical captures that phenomenon perfectly. The obsession with aerobics also led to some of the most recognizable fashion trends of the time that we now attribute to the decade. It also speaks to the rise of capitalism and materialism during the ’80s.

Stream Physical on Apple TV

10 The Carrie Diaries (2013-2014)

Taking fans back to 1984, The Carrie Diaries focuses on Sex and the City‘s protagonist Carrie Bradshaw during her junior year of high school. She navigates her first endeavors into love, relationships, and sex while living life in Manhattan.

Same Carrie Bradshaw Style, Different Decade

Carrie Bradshaw has always been known for her eccentric fashion taste and love of wearing high heels, and this show proves that it was no different for her as a teenager. She develops the signature style we associate Carrie with, but with an ’80s flare that we didn’t get to see in SATC. While it’s set in the mid-80s, it still felt relevant enough to teenagers and young adults when it premiered.

Stream The Carrie Diaries on The CW

9 Halt and Catch Fire (2014-2017)

Set in the early part of the decade, Halt and Catch Fire revolves around the personal computing boom, shown through the eyes of three people: the engineer, the prodigy, and the visionary whose innovations directly confronted the corporate giants of the time. However, their personal and professional partnerships will be tested by greed and ego while changing the landscape of Texas’s Silicon Prairie.

The Battle for CTRL

The technological revolution that we are currently reaping (and maybe regretting) the benefits of is typically associated with the late ’90s and 2000s. This isn’t wrong, but many of the technological innovations of the last 25 years stem from work done in the ’80s.

This show captures the desire to advance society through the use of computers. Computers were around and used for business purposes in the ’80s, but rarely in the home (unless you were Matthew Broderick in War Games).

Stream Halt and Catch Fire on AMC+

8 Chernobyl (2019)

Chernobyl

Based on a real-life man-made catastrophe, Chernobyl recounts one of the world’s worst nuclear disasters. In April 1986, a huge explosion erupted at the Chernobyl nuclear power station in the Union of Soviet Special Republics. The show follows the men and women who tried to contain the disaster, and those who gave their lives to prevent a worse explosion.

A Real-World Look Into the ’80s

While Chernobyl isn’t drenched in the colorful neon aesthetics and blaring music that defined the ’80s, it gives viewers a realistic look into a major historical event that shaped the decade in a very different way. Instead of the usual vibrancy and fun shown in ’80s America, the series shows what the decade was like for those living in the Soviet Union. The contrast is stark, but it does paint an accurate picture of the decade nonetheless.

Stream Chernobyl on Max

7 Narcos (2015-2017)

narcos
Narcos

Release Date
August 28, 2015
Cast
Pedro Pascal , Matias Padin , Damian Alcazar , Alberto Ammann , Michael Stahl-David

Narcos is a chronicled look at the criminal activity of notorious drug lord Pablo Escobar and how his heinous empire wreaked death and destruction on the country of Colombia for years. It follows the DEA agents who worked tirelessly to bring his drug empire down while attempting to prevent the inevitable rise of more drug lords who followed in his wake.

A Life of Crime in the ’80s

While Narcos does start in the ’70s and end in the ’90s, the majority of the show takes place in the ’80s. Colombians were living in fear at this time due to the chaos Escobar and his associates caused to keep his drug ring thriving in the United States. It was an all-out war between the American DEA, the Colombian government, and Escobar’s team, and the show provides a gripping retelling of one of the decade’s most notorious world events.

Stream Narcos on Netflix

6 Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp (2015)

A continuation of the popular comedy movie, Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp is a prequel to the hit 2001 film rather than a sequel. It takes place during the beginning of the summer when counselors and campers alike arrive for their summer of shenanigans and adventures.

A Summer of Fun in 1981

Summer camp is a beloved setting for ’80s movies, and Wet Hot American Summer captures the essence of the free-spirited, pure fun of camp. Summer camp enables campers and counselors alike to enjoy summer in a way that they wouldn’t be able to at home and make friends that last a lifetime.

Stream Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp on Netflix

5 When They See Us (2019)

Based on the devastating true story of the Central Park Five, Ava DuVernay’s limited series When They See Us follows five teenage boys from Harlem who were wrongfully accused of a brutal attack that took place in the park in 1989. The four-part limited series follows the quintet from their questioning that spring and everything that happened after their childhood was stolen from them.

A Dark Side to the ’80s

When They See Us offers a much darker, heartbreaking perspective of the ’80s. Prejudice and racism were still present in society, and these innocent children suffered immeasurably because of it. The acting is incredible, and while the subject is extremely upsetting, there is also a touch of hope through the boys’ resilience.

Stream When They See Us on Netflix

4 American Horror Story: 1984 (2019)

During the summer of 1984, five friends left Los Angeles to work as counselors at Camp Redwood. The camp had just recently reopened after a massacre happened there 14 years earlier. As they adjust to their new jobs and location, they quickly learn that the only thing scarier than campfire stories is the past coming back to haunt them.

A Homage to Classic ’80s Slashers

American Horror Story: 1984, the ninth season of the long-running horror anthology series, is an ode to the fan-favorite slashers that ruled the horror genre in the ’80s. Heavily influenced by the likes of Friday the 13th and Sleepaway Camp, the season plays into all the classic tropes of slasher films that we know and love.

It blends slasher tropes with American Horror Story’s signature twists, while also incorporating much of the style that made the ’80s a decade to remember.

Stream American Horror Story: 1984 on Hulu

3 The Goldbergs (2013-2023)

Created by Adam Goldberg and based on his life growing up in the ’80s, The Goldbergs is a sitcom that follows the life of one family in Jenkintown, Pennsylvania. The show is seen at first through preadolescent eyes and then, eventually, through teenage eyes.

Simple Life in the ’80s

This is a great show to put on if you want to sit back and reminisce about the wonders of the ’80s. Since it’s loosely based on creator Adam Goldberg’s childhood, there’s an authenticity to the decade that not every show can capture. It features everything from awkward family portraits done at department stores to extensive toy collections.

Stream The Goldbergs on Hulu

2 The Americans (2013-2018)

Elizabeth and Phillip Jennings (Keri Russell, Matthew Rhys) are the perfect American couple with two great children and a seemingly perfect life. Except for the fact that Elizabeth and Phillip are both Soviet spies sent to the States by the Russian government. By day, they are stereotypical parents with normal jobs as travel agents, but by night, they weave a web of lies and confidantes during the Reagan-era Cold War.

A Dip Into Conspiracies of the Decade

Spy thrillers are usually a hit with audiences, and The Americans relies heavily on the political climate of the Cold War during Reagan-era America. The show routinely weaves real-world political and societal events into its narrative, making it a thrilling ride for any history buff. There’s even a decent dose of ’80s pop culture intertwined with the story thanks to the Jennings’ children.

Stream The Americans on Hulu

1 Stranger Things (2016-Present)

Stranger Things became an instantaneous global and cultural phenomenon when it premiered back in 2016. The blend of sci-fi and horror appealed to a wide audience and launched its young cast to superstardom. The first season saw the kids discovering the strange, supernatural world of the Upside Down as they searched for their friend Will Byers (Noah Schnapp). Since then, more terrifying creatures and otherworldly events have occurred, sucking fans in each season.

Related: 15 TV Shows That Defines The 80s

An Enthralling Blend of Epic Sci-Fi and ’80s Nostalgia

The Duffer Brothers were able to build a world full of intricate lore and interesting monsters that captivate viewers each season. Both the younger and older kids are incredibly well-written and likable, and their ventures into the Upside Down are always a thrill to watch. Mixed with the sci-fi and horror elements are waves of pop culture references, fashion nods, and game play that leave fans of all ages longing for the decade.

Stream Stranger Things on Netflix

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