Nostalgia Comedies and Reboots: Why TV Culture Is Looking Backwards

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Opening a TV Guide in the late 2010s is like going through a time portal.

Popular shows from the 1970s, '80s, and '90s are back, with all new casts and stories, and several new comedies take place in bygone eras.

Some viewers think that the TV industry has gotten lazy, but that's not it at all. These shows are popular. People are hungry for them. And there are good reasons for that.

Magnum and Higgins on the Case - Magnum P.I. Season 1 Episode 6

Times are tough for many viewers.

Politically, the United States in 2018 is more divided than it's been in any era of history, with the possible exception of the late 1960s when tensions over the Vietnam War ran high

There's a lot of fear and anger, families are being torn apart by strong disagreements, and there are lots of people dealing with tough stuff in their own lives.


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When things get tough, viewers often turn to TV for comfort, and there are lots of reasons why both reboots and nostalgia TV might be comforting to viewers.

1. They bring back fond memories.

Reboots, in particular, can be comforting because viewers might have watched the originals with their families or simply felt good when they watched the show.

If Will & Grace was your go-to show in high school or you have fond memories of your parents always wanting to be home in time to watch Magnum PI, it's natural to be excited about them returning.

Nostalgia comedies -- shows that take place in the past -- serve a similar function.

Sheldon's New Computer - Young Sheldon

Shows like The Kids Are Alright, The Goldbergs or even Young Sheldon may remind viewers of neighborhoods they used to live in or the way things were when they were kids or were raising small kids.

This doesn't mean these shows aren't funny, original, or exciting in their own right, but the connection to the past can be comforting and enjoyable for viewers.

2. Sometimes people feel like the past was better.

In uncertain times, people tend to feel like the past was far better or certain than the present -- even if it really wasn't.

When looking back on times gone by, we often see them through a more positive lens than we did when we were living it, and TV viewers are no exception.

Conner Family Tradition - The Conners - Tall Season 1 Episode 3

Both reboots and nostalgia comedies give viewers the opportunity to relive that past in a way.

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Reboots give viewers the opportunity to revisit old friends that they thought were long gone, while nostalgia comedies allow them to travel back to the world they once knew.

In a world that feels unstable and uncertain, that's important. It not only gives people comfort but gives them that sense that the world is predictable that they so need right now.

3. These shows remind us that we got through tough times before and we will again.

Both nostalgia comedies and reboots serve a purpose beyond mere comfort. Viewers don't want to just live in the past. They want reassurance that they will survive and thrive in the present.

Take The Kids Are Alright, for example.

This series takes place during the Watergate era, and one of the major themes of the show is the ongoing conflict between the more conservative Mike and ultra-liberal eldest son Lawrence, who rejects the priesthood and disagrees with much of the family's way of doing things.

Mike and Peg - The Kids are Alright

These kinds of conflicts are comedy gold and are reminiscent of classic shows like All in the Family. But they serve an additional purpose for viewers from both sides of the political spectrum who feel like they are living through crazy times.

These shows remind fans that they lived through equally crazy times in the past and survived and that some of the intergenerational and other conflicts they may be experiencing aren't unique to this era.

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Some reboots serve a similar purpose.

The action might be set in the 2000s, but the issues the characters face and overcome may be similar to those they did decades ago.

Comedy reboots often address political and social issues, using characters that have not changed anything other than the problems they're grappling with, and action-adventure reboots feature the same heroes doing the same sort of larger-than-life things they did years ago and still coming out on top.

Avery and Murphy Ready for Battle - Murphy Brown Season 11 Episode 6

For example, Murphy Brown was an outspoken news anchor who stood up to Dan Quayle in the 1990s (something the character never lets the audience forget), and now she's bringing that same outspokenness to a new morning gig while competing with her son for ratings.

On the action-adventure side, MacGyver used his scientific knowledge and whatever ordinary objects he had on hand to resolve problems and beat the bad guys back in the 1990s, and he's doing the same thing in the 2010s.

Both of these shows, along with many others, suggest that the can-do attitude never dies and that there's always a way to triumph over adversity, messages that viewers may badly need.

Do you enjoy nostalgia comedies? What about rebooted shows?

Share your favorites and why you like them in the comments and don't forget you can always watch TV online here at TV Fanatic if you're looking for a new or old favorite!

Jack Ori is a senior staff writer for TV Fanatic. Follow him on Twitter.

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