TODAY, stranger fans! Stranger Things 2 is finally available to stream on Netflix! In fact, we’re confused why you’re reading this and not binging right now…
Who are we kidding, though, you probably got up at midnight last night and binged the entire season right through to this morning! No? Even if that’s a slight exaggeration, we’re sure that you’re going to get your fill of more perfectly pitched 80’s references and music in the Duffer Bros’ latest installment eventually… until it’s over. Womp womp.
So what do you do when the rad throwbacks and kickin’ tunes – and episodes – run out? We’ve previously recommended some films that share the spirit of Stranger Things, so for today’s Friday Five we’re moving diagonally across the board and making some recommends for other TV shows with 1980s settings that you can binge for that retro flavor. They’re all very different shows than Stranger Things but fantastic in their own way. And oh, those soundtracks…
WARNING: Some of these trailers are absolutely 100% NSFW. The 80’s were intense sometimes, yo…
Now is a most excellent time to dive in and catch up with FX’s flawlessly crafted, nail-biter of a Cold War thriller, before its sixth and final season airs next year. The Americans is not a non-stop action show, it’s a very complex drama – there are long, slow burns between most major plot points and many sequences that are entirely in Russian with subtitles – but if you can invest in this saga, you’ll be massively rewarded. Keri Russell and Matthew Rhys are spectacular as married Russian spies under deep cover in early 80’s Washington, and the references – including cultural touch-points like when The Day After aired in 1983 and families everywhere freaked out about nuclear winter – are perfect. Plus, far too many great songs to count, from Phil Collins, Stray Cats, Rufus & Chaka Khan, Yazoo and many more. (The Fleetwood Mask “Tusk” sequence in the pilot alone is the stuff of legend.) (Seasons 1-5 are free to stream on Amazon Prime.)
Halt and Catch Fire
So this is about a 95% blind recommendation but hear me out because I’m confident. Halt and Catch Fire is one of those shows that I put off jumping into for far too long. (“Peak TV”, it’s a beast!) I knew I’d probably love a period show about the 80’s Silicon Valley boom that didn’t focus on guys named Jobs or Gates for a change, and the cast (Mackenzie Davis! Lee Pace! Toby Huss!) was A+++. Then I got the brutal reminder to WATCH IT, ALREADY when its final season just aired on AMC. You know, shame on me for delaying… I’m four episodes in and I’m hooked. It’s raw and messy and truthful, and not for the kids but hey, they won’t get the references anyway. 😉 Plus it’s probably got my personal favorite soundtrack of any of these, heavy on New Romantics and post-punk and more. (Segue from Heaven 17 into Grace Jones and you have me forever.) (Seasons 1-3 now available to stream on Netflix.)
Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp
Ahhh, Camp Firewood… the gift that keeps on giving! The original film came out so long ago, I saw it in a cinema that isn’t even standing anymore. And yet, years later, Netflix graced us with a return us to the riotous, rude summer-camp teen parody starring most of the members of The State, plus every comedy star they know within 3-4 degrees, pretty much. First Day of Camp is the better of the two Netflix revivals, but Ten Years Later is awfully great too. (Though it technically takes place in the 90’s and hence is ineligible for this list… sorry, Paul Rudd’s grunge soul patch!) Since the original is an early-80’s setting, some of the soundtrack dips into late 70’s hits to fill in those turn of the decade gaps; still, it’s solidly packed with Foreigner, Billy Squier, The Go-Go’s, etc. (Good luck getting Jefferson Starship’s “Jane” out of your head, though…) (All series now available to stream on Netflix.)
Martin Moone is 12 years old, sweetly naïve, and a bit of an oddball. His favorite show is Dynasty, he’s bullied at his Catholic school and still has an imaginary friend: A sort of ordinary guy called Sean Murphy, which is a meh name for a kid’s fake-o id, right? I mean, Martin’s best friend’s imaginary friend is a wrestler named Crunchie “Danger” Haystacks… how do you compete?! Well to start, Sean is played with effortless dry wit by Chris O’Dowd, who after starring in The IT Crowd created, co-wrote and starred in this love letter to growing up in Ireland in the late 1980s. Moone Boy is crammed with feels about family, adolescence, rough lessons in right vs. wrong, and terrific retro memories. (Highlights include Martin and Sean DIY’ing and getting down to the theme from MacGyver, as well as the funniest use of Enya’s “Orinoco Flow” that you’re likely to see ever.) (All seasons available to stream on Hulu.)
Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace
Meet Garth Marenghi: The greatest, most prolific horror writer you’ve never heard of. Prolific? Yes, definitely. Great?… well, he thinks so anyway. Matt Holness’s superb spoof of cheeseball 80’s genre TV only got one six-episode series in 2004 on the UK’s Channel 4, but in the years since it’s become a beloved cult favorite among comedy geeks. It manages the incredible feat of skewering a lot of uncomfortable things – Bad writing! Massive self-indulgence! Rampant sexism! – and all of the jokes land, while still being completely self-aware and on point. Speaking of on point, so is this cast, particularly the incomparable Richard Ayoade as Marenghi’s literary agent who gets a major role in his TV show despite being the worst, most wooden actor in you have ever seen. Have Kleenex, because you’ll cry laughing. (Not on any streaming services at the moment, but available on region-free DVD and SO worth the investment!)
BONUS CLIP!: Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace doesn’t feature real-life throwback tunes, but it does have Todd Rivers (Matt Berry) as Dr. Lucien Sanchez, with his soulful spot-on 80’s ballad “One Track Lover”… eat your heart out, Rick Springfield!:
Any of these part of your go-to retro favorites? Or maybe we missed one that you love! Let us know on social with the hashtag #Loot80sShows!