EnContext Media Blog

Television Through the Decades

There is something magical that happens when a television show gives a glimpse into another time. For many, television is already an escape but most of the time it is an escape into fantasy. When a show is set in a decade that is long gone, it can act as an escape into a reality that many of us never knew. There is a false sense of realism in these types of shows. A distinct difference can be seen between a show that was filmed in another decade, and a modern show that is depicting life in another decade. We decided to start in the 1950s and work our way into the 90s showcasing the best shows depicting a time some dream of living again, and some fear.

1950- The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel

Although there are many shows that depict the 1950s, The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel shows a different view of what things where like in this decade. M*A*S*H was very close to being our pick, however The Marvelous Mrs. Maisel (MMM) shows more than just the hardships and comedy of war in the 50s. MMM is set in the late 50s into the early 60s and follows a newly divorced woman named Midge played by Rachel Brosnahan, as she stumbles into the world of stand-up comedy. Although the show is fiction, there are some truths to the show, including the legend himself, Lenny Bruce. Stand-up comedy today had its foundation laid by the sacrifices Lenny Bruce made in the 50s and 60s. For any lover of comedy, seeing even a little bit of his life being played out on screen is a huge win. Not just that, but Midge is such a fantastic comedian who breathes life into real comedy. The show highlighting a female comedian in a time when females were held back based on their gender, is one of the many reasons it has earned its place on this list.

1960-The Wonder Years

One of the most beloved television shows to ever air, The Wonder Years takes place in the late 60s into the early 70s. In some of the earlier episodes, the conflict over seas in Vietnam plays a serious role in the life of show lead, Kevin Arnold (Fred Savage). Kevin talks about how numb he becomes to the war until one morning while eating breakfast the news shows video of children in the war zone. The reality of the fear and uncertainty in America in these times is really brought to life in this show. The series also shows the lighter side of the 60s. It showcases what family life was like and the truth about living in what seemed to be a simpler time, even though there were major political and social issues going on.

1970- That ‘70s Show

It would be very difficult to have a show depicting the 70s and not choose That ‘70s Show. Over the 8 seasons of the show, the cast grew not only as characters in the show, but as actors as well. The majority of the cast members went on to became successful stars, all in their own way. It is not always easy to produce a show that captures the issues with growing into adult hood as well as providing comedic relief, but That ‘70s Show pulled it off perfectly. Having Tommy Chong cast as a reoccurring guest was a slam dunk as well! In the later episodes of the show unfortunately the chemistry of cast was not the same and ultimately the show suffered for this.

1980- Freaks and Geeks

Really just a lateral move from That ‘70s Show, Freaks and Geeks takes everything that was already done, and gives it a slightly more serious story. Although the show is more serious than That ‘70s Show, it still has many comedic moments. A tragedy of this show is that it was only on for one season. The reason for the show being canceled was the fact that NBC kept moving it around to different time slots making it hard for viewers to find the show. Much like That ‘70s Show, Freaks and Geeks helped pave the way for many actors who would go on to become stars. There are also a few shows that came close to making the list for the ‘80s slot, like Stranger Things, The Goldbergs and Everybody Hates Chris. In the end, Freaks and Geeks felt like a more balanced show.

1990- Fresh Off the Boat

Fresh Off the Boat is set between the years of 1995 and 2000. It follows the life of the Huang family. All though the 90s do not seem like they were that long ago, times have changed drastically over the last 20-25 years. Seeing how life was through the eyes of a Taiwanese American family is a unique and educational way of producing the show. Based on the autobiography of celebrity chef Eddie Huang, there are many moments in the show that for anyone who grew up in the ‘90s, no matter their race or background, is not only familiar, but also comforting. The feeling of nostalgia that the show breeds is unlike most shows set in the same decade.

Narrowing the list down to just these shows were anything but easy, but in the end we feel that each show here does a great job of showing more than just one type of life set in each specific time period.

Written exclusively for our company by Jacob Ruble