The Best TV Shows That Are Set in the Past

Downton AbbeyI love this post because it’s so true! Mad Men and Downton Abbey are my current favorites. šŸ™‚

Since the inception of TV, television networks and studios have been commissioning pieces set in varying points of history. Just mentioning this may spring to mind some favourites such as “Blackadder” in which each series was set during a different time period. We will now have a brief look over some of the modern shows on television today that hark back to days gone by.

Downton Abbey

This period English drama has just recently finished showing its second series. It has become a sensational hit, both in the UK and perhaps more surprisingly in the US. The plot revolves around a fictional stately home in Yorkshire and its inhabitants. The time period for the series is the early part of the 20th century, and addresses such events within its screenplay as the sinking of ‘Titanic’ and the Great War of 1914-1918. The appeal of ‘Downton Abbey’ may come from the social insights it investigates through the relationships of the staff, and the owners, of the stately home and the archaic class system it embodies.

Boardwalk Empire

Boardwalk Empire is a series made by the excellent American drama network ‘Home Box Office’ or ‘HBO’, and starring Steve Buscemi. HBO productions are often lavish and detailed, and many have been huge successes the world over, for example ‘Band of Brothers’ and ‘Pacific’. Boardwalk Empire is set during the 1920’s and 30’s in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The series follows ‘Enoch “Nucky” Thompson’, a real-life political figure, through this period of prohibition. The pilot of the series was directed by award winning director Martin Scorsese, and the following series was a huge television success with the season finale gaining 3.29 million viewers in the US.

Mad Men

Mad Men is a long running American drama focusing on a fictional advertising agency in New York during the 1960’s. The series is notably famous for its attention to detail when depicting the 1960’s, and a lot of effort has been made to maintain the historical accuracy and visual aesthetics of the period. The drama is currently in its 5th season and has addressed some of the social issues of the 60’s throughout. Some of these controversial issues include racism and sexism.

Life on Mars

This TV show is a British BBC production which follows a policeman, ‘Sam Tyler’, in 2006. Tyler has an accident and is hit by a car; the character then awakes in 1973. Tyler is still on the payroll of Manchester Police, only that now he is a lower rank than he was at the time of his accident, being a Detective Inspector. The two series that were made follow the character through his line of work and the 1970’s in general. Throughout the series the viewers do not know what happened to Sam Tyler in real life, whether he has in fact travelled in time, if he was killed by the accident, or if he was actually in a coma back in 2006. Life on Mars features many historical accuracies such as the fashion, including high heeled platforms, and the music, including ‘David Bowie’ and ‘Thin Lizzy’.

That ’70s Show

This is the only comedy TV show mentioned so far. As you can see most period productions tend to be serious dramas. ‘That’70s Show’ focuses on the lives of a group of teenagers living in Wisconsin. It enjoyed a long and successful running period, with 8 seasons, comprising of 200 episodes, created in total.

That ’70s Show of course contained many aspects of the decade and addressed some of the relevant social issues where possible. Some of the social issues that featured in the show’s storylines were feminism and the hardship associated with the 1970’s recession. The production of the show maintained the ’70s feel, replicating the fashion styles worn throughout the decade. Style-markers included items such as high heeled platforms, lots of denim, and floral print shirts.


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