During the 1970s, society was continuing the tradition of questioning norms first started in the ’60s, and the vibe was colorful and stylized, with increased self-expression. The same cultural upheaval was reflected towards entertainment, and as a result, there were many stories fleshed out on the small screens.
The loud prints, far-out vibes, and gritty attitudes of the period established themselves as a theme for TV shows to tell groovy tales of individuals either creating a revolution, fighting for their rights, or navigating the treacherous underbelly of cities. With their generous run times of several seasons, the TV shows that chose this decade as their backdrop not only portrayed events but also the very aesthetic that frames them.
You will notice that none of these shows actually premiered during the 1970s. In fact, a couple of them aired only recently. But this is only fitting, because subtle touches that speak about the evolving liberation of the time and comment on issues of gender, sexuality, breaking down barriers, feel more resonant now than before.
Through glimpses into the daily lives of memorable characters, a whole era springs to vivid life once more in these shows. This list takes a funky trip down memory lane, with 10 TV shows that capture the groovy aesthetic of the 1970s.
10 Mrs. America (2020)
As history has shown, no progress was ever made without being opposed. Picking on the same fact and choosing to tell a true story about second-wave feminism, Mrs. America is a television miniseries that is highly underrated and underseen. In the show, the political landscape of the 1970s is changing and the Equal Rights Amendment is about to become law.
Surprisingly, in the show and in real life, a conservative activist named Phyllis Schlafly protested against women’s liberation, claiming it threatened traditional roles. Her battle with feminists from all across America, particularly Gloria Steinem, attracted a lot of attention and debate.
Activism and Gender Roles in the ’70s
Apart from the changes seen in the entertainment and fashion industries, the “Me” Decade was also significant for its socio-political developments. Mrs. America immerses you directly into the crossroads of the era. With an all-star cast including Cate Blanchett and Rose Byrne, the show examines the feminist awakening and the backlash it produced with as much care as authenticity.
The production design is quite impeccable. Moreover, the show communicates effectively how the liberal side clashed with the conservative side in the debate, and how that led us to where we are today.
9 The Deuce (2017 – 2019)
In 1970s New York, the rise of the porn industry began to alter the city’s culture and people’s acceptance of it. The story of The Deuce follows two facets of this industry — twins Vincent and Frankie Martino, who own a nightclub on Times Square and work as associates for the Mafia leader wanting to push forward the adult business, and Eileen “Candy” Merrell, a former sex worker who emerged as a trailblazing actress and director in the adult film industry. From cops enforcing laws to characters engaging in trials, the show presents an ever-changing backdrop.
A New Era in Times Square for Sex Work
Created by David Simon and George Pelecanos, the show does not waste a second in immersing you into the gritty realism and explicit visuals of Times Square’s grimy underworld. Authentic details and designs from the era pop off the screen. The Deuce is also a raw and intricate character study, the script of which addresses taboos around sex work, and the attempts made to legalize it, with depth. Standout performances from James Franco and Maggie Gyllenhaal make this stylish show a must-watch.
8 That ’70s Show (1998 – 2006)
You know it had to be here. That ‘70s Show is the only sitcom on this list, and is not only perfect for a lighthearted viewing, but also captures the aesthetic of the ‘70s in a spectacular fashion. The show follows teenager Eric Forman growing up in Wisconsin with his friends and quirky family members.
As highschoolers, they experience several cultural, academic, and emotional touchstones throughout the show. Whether they’re rocking out to Led Zeppelin or cheering on their favorite sports team, one thing is for certain: they’re enjoying their time in the groovy decade.
The Grooviest Sitcom
Airing during the late ‘90s and early 2000s, the show wasn’t technically considered a modern sitcom. But it did become a pop culture phenomenon for how authentically it transported the audience back to one of the coolest eras. Right from the show’s retro opening to the carefully curated set pieces, costumes, and hairstyles, it is a trip down memory lane encapsulated into little 20-minute episodes.
7 Fargo (2014 – Present) — Season 2
- Release Date
- April 15, 2014
This critically acclaimed anthology adaptation of the classic film directed by the Coen Brothers follows a series of individuals dealing with several criminal conspiracies across different time periods — their only link being the Midwest. Season two is an essential mention because it occurs as a prequel to the main series and takes place in 1979 in Minnesota. What begins as a simple heist rapidly spirals into deadly consequences as plot twist after plot twist reveals a deeper crime at play.
Late ’70s Midwestern Noir
Having major similarities with the noir genre doesn’t really allow for much flexibility in terms of aesthetic. And yet, the second season of Fargomanages to throw its audience straight to the heartland of the era. From vintage cars and wintry backdrops to dark themes and that authentic Midwestern lingo, the show thoughtfully considers its setting and plays out accordingly. Stars like Kirsten Dunst and Jesse Plemons lead the ensemble and make this strange show an incredible one.
6 Trust (2018)
The dramatization of the saying “money cannot buy happiness” could not be more evident than in the show Trust, set in 1973. Inspired by true events, the show follows one of the wealthiest families in America, the Gettys. When oil tycoon J. Paul Getty’s teenage grandson John Paul Getty III is kidnapped in Rome, the entire family is in shock. Getty refuses to pay the ransom, and soon they all get embroiled in a complex game of power, money, and morality. And of course, the Italian Mafia is involved.
Money vs Morality in ’70s High Society
Trust has an outstanding cast playing some of its most important characters. Hilary Swank, Harris Dickinson, Brendan Fraser, and Donald Sutherland shine in the decadent world of ’70s high society. The show offers glimpses behind the flashy facade of wealth and privilege, and strips away their conscience by placing them in a situation where they have to choose between greed and family. Creator Simon Beaufoy seems to have a stylish eye for fashion and costume, because not for a second does the show feel anywhere other than the ’70s.
5 The Kids Are Alright (2018 – 2019)
Creator Tim Doyle takes inspiration from his own childhood to craft this gorgeous sitcom, The Kids Are Alright. Set in suburban Los Angeles in the early 1970s, the comedy-drama series follows working-class couple Peggy and Mike Cleary and their traditional Irish-American family, surrounded by the social and economic changes that invade their lives. With immense humor and heart, they raise eight rowdy boys and deal with several serious topics.
Are the ’70s Kids Alright?
More than just a single-camera period comedy, The Kids Are Alright uses the iconic era it is set in and makes thoughtful commentary on the changes and values that shape a family. The writing of the show is brilliant. Its phenomenal cast works together to bring authentic takes on inter-generational differences like fashion and music, which always stays subtly inclined to California suburbs in the ’70s.
4 Narcos (2015 – 2017)
- Release Date
- August 28, 2015
- Pedro Pascal , Matias Padin , Damian Alcazar , Alberto Ammann , Michael Stahl-David
The 1970s were a Golden Age for cocaine in Colombia. During that time, drug kingpin Pablo Escobar gathered wealth and power through relentlessly producing and smuggling drugs. Narcos is a crime drama that sees DEA agent Stephen Murphy being thrust into Escobar’s world in order to capture him. He carefully understands the inner workings of the dangerous Medellín Cartel, as well as the political games and violence that churns therein.
The Cocaine-Fueled Era
One of the few genuinely stunning crime dramas that became universally acclaimed for nailing the cultural aesthetic, Narcos plunges you straight into the heart of darkness that consumed 1970s Columbia. The aerial shots that capture green terraces and seedy streets make you experience just how tense the world was at the time. While Wagner Moura embodied Escobar with effortless charm, he also had solid co-stars like Pedro Pascal and Boyd Holbrook giving amazing performances.
3 Minx (2022 – Present)
Filmed against the backdrop of 1970s Los Angeles, Minx a refreshingly fun recent drama that follows an ambitious feminist named Joyce Prigger, who dreams of publishing a magazine that speaks to women’s actual concerns. After several rejections, she finally teams up with a low-rent photographer, and brings this fictional erotic magazine into existence.
Making a Space for Women
Ophelia Lovibond and Jake Johnson (of New Girl fame) are an absolute delight here. What is particularly progressive about the show is that, instead of diving into the period details, fashion, and music, Minx charts the male-dominated worlds and brings in female characters that are extremely passionate and free-spirited. They’re fighting for liberation and establishing female identity, which is an aspect of the ‘70s that often goes unnoticed.
2 Vinyl (2016)
- Release Date
- February 14, 2016
A show that got canceled too soon despite being backed by some of the industry’s most revered icons like Mick Jagger and Martin Scorsese, Vinyl centers around music executive Richie Finestra. As a passionate musician and the founder of American Century Records, Richie has worked hard to make his record label successful. Now struggling to find an artist that can capture the underbelly of New York City, he is on a quest to save his label and make it in the cutthroat music industry.
Punk Rock’s Beginning
Vinyl is a triumph in direction and performances. It plays out as a captivating love letter to the cocaine-fueled era and takes you behind the scenes of the punk and rock culture that made the ‘70s memorable. With Scorsese’s brilliance working as a guiding light to every seedy frame, the show gives you a VIP pass into dive bars, recording studios, and exclusive drug deals. Olivia Wilde, Bobby Cannavale, and Jagger’s own son, James Jagger, star in the show as well.
1 Daisy Jones & The Six (2023)
The drama that took streaming television by storm with its lavish details and endearing passion, Daisy Jones & The Six chronicles the rise of an up-and-coming fictional rock band to world fame. The Six, led by Billy Dunne, may have left Pittsburgh and created a riot on stage, but their songs are incomplete without the vocal powerhouse that is Daisy Jones. Together, they became the biggest rock band in the world. But fame, drugs, and ego tears them apart, leading to an abrupt split after their final show at Dodger Stadium.
The Best Fictional ’70s Band
Based on the beloved novel written by Taylor Jenkins Reid, Daisy Jones & The Six lives and breathes in the 1970s. From the flower dresses and fading denim to the retro hairstyles and fringed suede, the show oozes with period details and the rising countercultures that shaped the musical era. Riley Keough and Sam Clafin have electric chemistry, and it hurts to watch them crash and burn. In equal doses of drama and tension, the series takes a stylish approach towards its source material.