Retro TV, Movies, Music & Video Games
Turn on your radio or TV and it’s a sure bet you’ll find something that looks and sounds awfully familiar. Now more than ever, what’s old is new, yesterday is today and if it was good then, it’ll be better now. Retro is everywhere!
Why? Lots of reasons, really. We’re getting older and living longer, so the pool of fond memories of the past keeps getting bigger, as does the audience. It’s a tough economy and movie studios would rather latch on to a familiar name than take chances. Some older actors and musicians “still got it.” (You go, Betty White!) Thanks to digital music and online services like Hulu and YouTube, new generations can enjoy yesterday’s TV shows, movies and music like never before.
The retro entertainment wave seems to be at all-time high. Here’s a look at some of the ways you can get your retro groove on and still be “with-it.”
TV: MAD MEN ON A PLANE
When you talk about retro TV, you have to start with AMC’s Mad Men. In addition to being popular with critics and fans alike since its debut in 2007, the show has defined the standard for ‘period nostalgia drama.’ Set in the early 1960s at a Madison Avenue advertising agency, Mad Men highlights the rough edges of what we think of as simpler times. Its plots are gritty and its characters complex and contradictory, starting with the duplicitous but debonair ad exec, Don Draper. The show accurately reproduces the Eames armchairs and skinny ties of 1960s fashion, as well as social realities like racism, sexism, smoking, adultery and cutthroat capitalism. Make no mistake – this ain’t no Happy Days!
ABC’s Pan Am takes a slightly different approach to retro nostalgia. The show is based on Pan American World Airways in the early 1960s, following the adventures of its pilots and stewardesses (remember those?) as they jet around the world. Like Mad Men, Pan Am tackles issues like sexism and feminism, but these simmer beneath a more romantic, glamourous exterior.
Retro TV also comes in the form of revivals (or reboots). Hawaii Five-0 has been very popular since its launch in 2010 on CBS. Like the original show – broadcast from 1968 to 1980 and starring Jack Lord – the new version follows the exploits of Steve McGarrett as he battles organized crime and international ne’er-do-wells.
Though it doesn’t reach back quite as far, CW’s 90210 captures the tone of the original Beverly Hills, 90210 and updates its high school-age drama for a new audience. CW also worked the retro mill with Nikita, a show based on two feature films and a previous TV series.
But the biggest treat for retro fans is watching the classic TV shows we remember from yesterday! For this trip down memory lane, start with TV Land. Launched in 1996, TV Land is the oldest and best-known classic TV network. Its shows cover 50 years of television’s best, from I Love Lucy and The Dick Van Dyke Show to M*A*S*H and Everybody Loves Raymond. You can also find cool new shows with names you know and love, like Hot in Cleveland (Valerie Bertinelli, Betty White) and Happily Divorced (Fran Drescher).
Our craving for retro is so strong that other networks have popped up to satisfy it. RTV (Retro TV) and Me-TV (Memorable Entertainment Television) can be found on many cable outlets across the country. Both offer vintage movies and shows like The Rifleman, Starsky & Hutch, Kojak and Cheers. Me-TV even broadcasts classic commercials with the cool jingles you remember from when you were young!
Even kids can ride the retro wave. Nickelodeon offers new adventures of Power Rangers and Rugrats, while Cartoon Network serves up hard-hitting doses of Tom and Jerry, Looney Tunes and Scooby-Doo!
MOVIES: THERE AND BACK AGAIN
Remakes aren’t a new Hollywood phenomenon, but the recent surge in remakes – or “re-imaginings,” as industry types like to call them – is absolutely mind-blowing! Check out this small sample of recent redos:
Footloose, Arthur, Rise of the Planet of the Apes, The Thing, Fright Night, True Grit, Clash of the Titans, Karate Kid, Fame, Star Trek, Friday the 13th, Nightmare on Elm Street . . .
We can keep going, and that’s just in the last two years!
Remakes rumored to be in the works include Robocop, Police Academy, Alien, Flash Gordon, Pet Sematary and – gulp! – Gilligan’s Island. (Is nothing sacred?!)
Superhero movies are a big part of this Hollywood retro wave. We just can’t get enough of costumed heroes, many of which got their start in the 1960s or even earlier. Superheroes bridge generation gaps thanks to the popularity of comic books and their crossover to video games, TV and the big screen. In addition to heroes who recently made their first major movie splashes – Thor, Green Lantern, Captain America – we’ve also enjoyed redos of The Hulk, Batman and Superman, with yet more relaunches coming soon.
MUSIC: OLDIES BUT GOODIES
You’ve probably got oldies or classic rock FM stations programmed in your car radios. The music of yesterday also lives on satellite and Internet radio, with entire channels devoted to specific styles or decades of music. Even after all these years, you can swing to the hits of Duke Ellington, kick back with Carley Simon or bang your head to Motley Crue! And of course, classic songs will always be covered by new artists. These remakes introduce new generations to the originals and ensure they’ll never be forgotten. Very often old songs get refreshed into dance and club remixes.
Then there’s that trend that’s now a fixture in pop music: sampling. This is where only a piece of a song is used in a new song. One of the earliest and most famous samples was Vanilla Ice’s use of the opening riff from Under Pressure for his 1989 hit Ice Ice Baby, but there are thousands of more recent examples. (Trivia time: According to whosampledwho.com, James Brown, Sly & The Family Stone and Kool and the Gang are among the most sampled artists of all time.)
Another place retro music lives on is the KidzBop music albums. These collections feature popular songs of yesterday and today sung by kids, for kids. KidzBop is so popular it’s spawned a radio channel and a social networking site with games, videos and fan pages. And let’s not forget the remakes of classic songs on the Glee TV show and soundtrack collections. Who would have thought today’s high school kids would even know who Bill Withers or Joan Jett is, let alone dig their music?
VIDEO GAMES: GAME NOT OVER
Remember playing Pac-Man or Donkey Kong at the bowling alley? How about fighting with your siblings over the Atari or Super Nintendo?
Whatever your preferred generation of retro gaming, there are plenty of options for you. You can find tons of apps for your Android or iPhone, game collections for your PC or console system, and even play classic games on the Internet for free! You dedicated arcade rats out there might even find a vintage coin-operated arcade game for sale online, or a new cabinet packed with yesterday’s arcade hits.
If old computer games are your thing (Wolfenstein 3D, anyone?), you can find software that emulates DOS or Windows 98, allowing you to play your dusty old favorites on your shiny new computer. Some companies have even released versions of vintage PC games that are compatible with Vista and Windows 7. With all this retro game support around, your game is never over!
FINDING THE OLD IN THE NEW
This tiptoe through the tulips of retro entertainment has me thinking the appeal of retro works two ways. We can love the originals, which will always be with us in our DVD collections, on TV and on the Internet. But in this age of reboots and remakes, we can also find new ways to appreciate our old favorites. Maybe the new Charlie’s Angels wasn’t a great idea! But it did get us talking about the original show and comparing it to the new one, and maybe it got 20-somethings checking out old episodes online, or sent us scurrying through the attic for that Farrah Fawcett poster we used to love. That’s what retro is all about: discovering something new in the tried-and-true, and having lots of fun along the way.
Even if it is on your iPad or comes with a $9 bucket of popcorn!