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From Stranger Things to GLOW: 10 Netflix series set in the 1980s

The 1980s, an era of glory, madness and pop-cultural breakthroughs. From bands like Queen, Guns N’ Roses, AC/DC, Scorpions and solo acts of Bon Jovi, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie and Whitney Houston creating magic on-stage. The ’80s was the decade that the world of music lost John Lennon, blockbusters like Scarface, The Shining, Dead Poets Society, Blade Runner and more graced theatres, and the cinema industry mourned the loss of the great Alfred Hitchcock. Make no mistake about it, popular culture encountered some of the major events of this era. Besides iconic TV shows and crazy fashion trends like huge poofy hair, perms, mullets, spandex and high-waisted jeans and more, the decade was filled with the biggest and craziest trends that made people go bonkers. 

The 1980s was not only the time for fashion fads but also some essential social and cultural movements including the movements that fought for the rights of minorities such as homosexuals, elderlies, disabled and more as well as the various school protests and peace movements. These movements often take a central seat in films and TV shows of/based on that era. Series and films often mirror the contemporary synth-wave aesthetic of the ’80s as well which features sunset graphics and neon girds, sports cars, pixel arts, arcades and more. 

This crazy era has been an area of avid interest and featured in various Netflix shows and films. Here are 10 series on Netflix that were set in the 1980s. 

10 Netflix series set in the 1980s:

10. Fuller House (Jeff Franklin, 2016-2020)

A spin-off series to the 1987 series Full House, Fuller House is set in the same California house that was owned by Danny tanner. His daughter D.J. Tanner-Fuller has recently lost her firefighter husband unexpectedly to some freak hazard and moves in with her father along with her three troublemaker sons. After Danny moves away for work, D.J’s sister Stephanie and best friend Kimmy as well as Kimmy’s daughter Ramona move in to help D.J. take care of her family and chaos ensues. 

Although the premise of the show was interesting, it failed to live up to audience expectations and had little to offer except nostalgic tinglings of the glorious predecessor. While it captures the essence of the ’80s and the ’90s well, the writing is not fresh and original. The laugh tracks seem forced and no wonder the audience was not that happy given the comedy content Full House had to offer. 

“I never knew there could be a day I’d have doughnuts and pie and still feel sad.” 

9. Locke & Key (Carlton Cuse, Meredith Averill, Aron Eli Coleite, 2020)

Based on Joe Hill and Gabriel Rodriguez’s novel of the same name, the series is based on the lives of the Lockes after they return to the Keyhouse. After their father, Rendell Locke’s murder at the hands of his student, the three Locke children Tyler, Kinsey and Bode, move to their ancestral Keyhousewith their mother Nina, where they discover numerous mysterious keys that can lock various magical doors. This awakens a malicious demon who tries to overpower the Locke children as they try to establish a connection between the keys and their father’s death. 

A wonderful tale of love and loss, grief and denial, this series accentuates the importance of a loving and close-knit family. With wonderfully complicated subplots thickening the main plot, the series bears witness to great performances. According to USA Today, Locke and Key have had “nearly as strong a debut as Stranger Things in 2016, but it [needs] a few tweaks to jump the hurdle between good and great.”

“Just because I don’t have fear, doesn’t make me irrational.”

8. Luis Miguel (Humberto Hinojosa, Natalia Beristain, 2018-)

Micky is a family-oriented guy whose natural singing talent becomes a sensation in Mexico. After he turns 11, his father begins to exert Micky to make him a superstar to fill in the emptiness in his heart due to his failure. Micky grows up with the stage name of Luis Miguel and becomes the Sun of Mexico. However, with fame, he realises the downside of it and how it affects his intra, and interpersonal relationships. While the world goes gaga over Miguel, his fame and fortune make his personal life take a backseat, disillusioning him. 

The series focuses on his life and gives a proper insight into the life and journey of a superstar, both literally and metaphorically. Diego Boneta who plays Miguel sang all the songs on his own. The show captures the ’80s aesthetic well and reveals the mystery, addressing speculations surrounding the life of Boneta. With season two set to be released in April 2021, this Spanish show needs a rewatch right now due to its beautiful exploration of fame and fortune surrounding one of the most mysterious figures in Mexico. 

“The most enjoyable part of my career is singing live.”

7. GLOW (Liz Flahive, Carly Mensch, 2017-2019)

 Set in 1985 Los Angeles, the show is puffy hairstyles and shiny spandex galore, capturing the perfect ’80s vibe. It follows Ruth Wilder, a struggling actress, who accidentally auditions for a wrestling promotion by the name of GLOW (Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling). Based on the real and eponymous wrestling show that had emerged in the 80s, the series provide a fictional narrative that upholds the overall drama that goes on inside and outside the wrestling ring, with the wrestlers always at loggerheads with each other. While the fourth season was on its way, it lost the wrestling match with Covid-19 and got cancelled. However, the wonderful vintage theme on the show makes it perfect for a re-run. 

As Flahive recounted, her and Mensch’s interest evolved from the idea of the wrestling leagues in the aftermath of the Women’s Liberation movement. They were intrigued by whether the women were empowered or continued to be exploited. In the show, Ruth is placed with her arch-nemesis Debbie, whose husband she had an affair with, causing tension between the two women. Their rising rivalry hampers and threatens to upstage the show or might have a positive effect due to negative publicity. 

“Men try shit, you have to pretend to like it until you don’t have to anymore.”

6. Pose (Ryan Murphy, Brad Falchuk, Steven Canals, 2018-)

Set in the late ’80s, the series features a myriad of lives in the various societies of New York which include the various aspects of the African-American as well as Latino non-binary and drag ball culture as well as the various other upcoming young-professional yuppie sectors. The second season is set in the early ’90s when the focus shifts to some far more serious issues such as HIV and AIDS awareness, activism regarding these as well as the AIDS pandemic that spread like wildfire amidst the LGBTQ community. The season also sees them seeking new forms of employment as strippers, dance teachers, background dancers as well as dominatrices. 

In its nostalgic tribute to the ’80s and the ’90s, the show is a moving ride that might make the viewers sob and feel extremely fulfilled at the same time. The strength and perseverance exhibited by the people from the community as well as their endurance are portrayed well. The stereotypes and stigma surrounding the LGBTQ community are well-upheld in the series which presents the story in good harmony with the events that actually took place. It juxtaposes the modern reality to that of the ’80s and the ’90s and forces the viewers to re-examine their concept of freedom while continually highlighting the crisis of the period.  

“There is nothing more tragic than a sad queen.”

5. When They See Us (Ava DuVernay, 2019)

While the 1980s, was one of the most favoured periods in history, its underbelly often hid dark and shabby realities. This miniseries documents a harrowing commentary of justice in America as well as the atrocities perpetrated against the people of colour due to the systemic racism and oppression prevalent in the ’80s. Created by Ava DuVernay, who has in films like 13th commanded our attention to be directed towards the racial injustice in America, the series is a difficult yet necessary watch due to the truth value of the events. The events have been laid out for the audience to judge without over-sympathising with the convicts; instead, it adds a humane touch to them and challenges the audience’s conscience to figure what was right, while nakedly pointing out the prevailing injustice in the country’s legal system.

Based on the true incidents of the Central Park jogger in 1989, the series sees five adolescents Yusef, Raymond, Kevin, Antron and Korey being taken away in police vans from their residential neighbourhood for having allegedly assaulted a female jogger in Central Park. wrongfully convicted, the men fight for justice before they are finally awarded justice in 2014.  The racially-fuelled misjudgement on part of the American legal system shows how easy it is to lay the blame on the Blacks. The unjust are demonized while the just are portrayed with a perfectly balanced characterisation which makes the series a rather shocking and heartbreaking one. 

“If they don’t wanna hear my truth, I don’t wanna waste my energy.”

4. Narcos (Chris Brancato, Carlo Bernard, Doug Miro, 2015-2017)

The series follows the boom of the cocaine trade in Colombia and takes a close look at the dangerous lives of the drug kingpins, especially Pablo Escobar, the infamously notorious drug cartel leader. It follows Escobar’s success due to the production and distribution of cocaine as well as his gripping interactions with opposition parties, drug lords and Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) officials. The figures are all in a conflict that transcends politics, morality, ethics, legality and more. The show also focuses on the fall of Escobar and the subsequent efforts by the DEA to disrupt the rise of the notorious Cali cartel. 

Addictive and unnerving, the characters in Narcos are brilliant and charming but fail to evoke sympathy. They are cunning and vile, especially Pablo Escobar who will go to any lengths to appease his ambitious hunger for success. Grisly and indefensible, the intense and interesting characters as well as the brilliant recounting of recent history makes Narcos a show worth binging on.  

“In the United States, the Mafia makes witnesses disappear so they can’t testify in court. In Colombia, Pablo Escobar made the whole court disappear.”

3. Mindhunter (Joe Penhall, 2017)

Mindhunter’s riveting storyline delves into the criminal psyche to explore the wondrous minds of serial killers, and their motivation. FBI agents Holden Ford and Bill Trench investigate grizzly murders while trying to uncover the secrets of the criminal mind. Dangerous criminals are interviewed in long, gruelling sessions to help the men understand their thought process, motives and compulsions – the knowledge of which can be used to prevent further crimes in future. The horrors of the human mind, the darkness it manifests within itself as well as the twisted contemplations that reside within it are enough to trouble the audience. The actors are exceptional- Cameron Britton as Edmund is perhaps the most interesting- cold-blooded and dignified, his words unsettle the agents- their tension and anxiety send the audience into panic and frenzy. The scene where Charles Manson is interrogated is tense and ominous as he mocks the agents pompously. 

The two seasons are grappling with wonderful direction, excellent visuals and stellar performances. The second season is set in the 1980s while the first in the late 1970s sees the development of the behavioural unit.  Gruesome and vile, it is quite depressing as well. Psychological horror stumps the bravest of minds- Mindhunter is a show that crawls under one’s skin and settles in a minute at a time, terrifying them. The series lacks violence and gore; the criminal psyche is complex enough to trigger a psychological turmoil in the viewers’ minds. The raunchy scenes add to the oomph factor; the private lives of the agents humanise them. This crime thriller is meticulously designed for the period it is set in, and elaborates on how the behavioural science unit was conceived in detail. 

“How do we get ahead of crazy if we don’t know how crazy thinks?” 

2. Stranger Things (Matt Duffer, Ross Duffer, 2016-)

Created by twin brothers Matt and Ross Duffer, Stranger Things is set in the fictional town of Hawkins, Indiana in the 1980s. It involves a group of children investigating their friend Will Byers’ disappearance which leads them to befriend a girl named Eleven, who has psychokinetic abilities, as well as uncover dark secrets of the government. Gradually, they find out about The Upside Down which is a portal into the alternate universe; Will is held captive by a creature from the Upside Down. The three-season show is based on Will’s rescue and the subsequent events that follow where the lives of the Hawkins resident are plagued by supernatural monsters from the Upside Down. 

The show has attained unthinkable with a classic child endangerment theme set in an ’80s grunge backdrop. Nerdy kids on bicycles trying to find their missing friend, a girl with telekinetic powers, dangerous species travelling to and from between dimensions, a wicked bureaucracy and nearly helpless adults. Stranger Things is a concoction of every child’s dream sequence where they save the day along with their cheeky friends. With a grunge-like 80s effect as well as a resplendent Winona Ryder, this series has won the hearts of millions worldwide. Even the master of horror, Stephen King, himself has praised the show. Stranger Things comprises an incredibly talented set of actors which include Finn Wolfhard, Millie Bobby Brown, Noah Schnapp, Caleb McLaughlin, Gaten Matarazzo and more. 

“I’m going to my friends. I’m going home.” 

1. Dark (Baran bo Odar, Jantje Friese, 2017-2020)

Concepts of supernatural elements, time travelling, bootstrap paradox, Schrödinger’s cat, and predestination trapped in remarkable story-telling and camera work as well outstanding performances make Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese’s German series, DARK, a masterpiece of its kind. A visual treat for sci-fi connoisseurs, it is based in the fictional town of Winden where the mysterious disappearance of two children exposes the deadly past of the town as well as the web of lies the dysfunctional families are trapped in. It is a continuous movement between the events of 1986 and the present, as well as the future, where complex relationships are formed and the characters meet their past or future selves. 

Unpredictable and complicated, Dark witnessed an ingenious blend of anxiety, guilt, emotions as well as sci-fi concepts which make it intriguing and exemplary. The background score manages to set the melancholy mood- the characters are rightfully sullen and sombre. The inter-personal drama peppered with trauma, the existence of a wormhole beneath the nuclear power plant as well as the morbid progression of the story puzzles yet engrosses the audience. Entangled in sinful secrets and horrifying tragedies, the characters race against time, sending chills down the audience’s back; the series begins with Einstein saying how the difference between past, present and future is just an illusion.

“Most people are nothing but pawns on a chessboard led by an unknown hand.”

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