There is this new sitcom called The Goldbergs that is set in the 1980s. The trailer doesn’t look all that funny. When I first heard that there was going to be a sitcom set in the 1980s, my first thought was that the producers would be kind of sloppy and treat the 80s as some kind of simultaneous cultural moment and just use any stuff that happened in the decade even if it shouldn’t have happened in the moment when the series is set. The review I linked to mentions one such anachronism as you have a white suburban kid in 1985 talking about Flavor Flav at least several years too early. Maybe Grandmaster Flash.  Maybe Run-DMC.

That stuff bugs me not in a fanboy way, but in how it mixes up different cultural moments. There was this other sitcom set in the 1980s that was obviously inspired by That 70s Show. It wasn’t that good. In one episode we see the neighborhood celebrating the US Hockey win at the Lake Placid Olympics. In a later episode, the teenage characters are listening to a song from Def Leppard’s Pyromania album. The problem is that the Olympics were in 1980 and Pyromania was released in 1983.

It isn’t just the sloppiness. It is tough to get something out of a cultural moment if you get the moment that wrong. In 1980, inflation would more likely be the bigger economic worry, while in 1983 people were more likely to be worried about unemployment. In 1980, the background foreign affairs-related worry would have been something to do with feelings of US impotence. In 1983, the background chatter would have more been more about the threat of nuclear war. The stresses people would tend to face would be different depending on when in the 1980s the show was set.

It shows up in other things too. In 1980, a wrestling fan in the Northeast would have cared most about the feud between Bruno Sammartino and his treacherous former protégé Larry Zbyszko. In 1983, pint size (and even teenage) Northeastern wrestling fans would be jumping on each other yelling “Superfly!!” (As in Superfly Jimmy Snuka.)

Articles by Pete Spiliakos

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