Fall Variations on Nostalgia

Curator's Note

 Fall TV is bombarding us with variations on nostalgia — some enticing and some evoking a weary sigh. There are traditionally nostalgic shows (Pan Am, Playboy Club) and quasi-traditional reboots (Charlie’s Angels). But even aside from these, almost half of new shows are fitting into 1 of 3 types of nostalgia: “It’s Like A+B” Nostalgia, Generalized Nostalgia (Birchall, 2004), and Star Nostalgia.

“It’s Like A+B” offers up 2 Broke Girls, How to be a Gentleman (both CBS) and Revenge (ABC). I’ll view the first and third, respectively being promoted as a modern Laverne and Shirley and a throwback to Dynasty and Dallas; the middle option of a modern Odd Couple doesn’t excite me much without Randall and Klugman. 

The batch of Generalized Nostalgia shows might have some winners. By generalized nostalgia, I refer to storytelling that evokes earlier times: small towns, low key/low tech environments, family-centered—all with a modern twist. On CW we have Secret Circle (orphaned girl moves to small town and finds out she’s a witch) and Hart of Dixie (unemployed NYC doctor moves to small Southern town to practice medicine). We have American Horror Story on FX (a psycho sexual ghost story), Terra Nova on FOX (set in both the future and the past); and Grimm (NBC) and Once Upon a Time (ABC) will duke it out to see which take on the “fairy tale meets present day” viewers flock to.

My favorite category has to be the Star Nostalgia shows as I’m a sucker for seeing actors return to TV. Yes, I will largely tune into X Factor to see Paula and Simon reunite. I will also tune into 2 ½ Men to see what happens when Charlie dies and Ashton Kutcher-Kelso-Moore enters that town house. And Ringer? Hell, yeah! It’s neo-noir, tapping into a whole other realm of aesthetic nostalgia; centered on characters attempting to remake their pasts (anti-nostalgia?); and we get to see this via Sarah Michelle Gellar playing one twin who is playing at being the other twin. Got that? Only the woman who played Kendall Hart on All My Children could pull off something this convoluted and deliciously soapy…Only the woman who played Buffy could make me believe such a goofy premise. So I will watch, hoping I can return to a star and by so-doing find a fun “guilty pleasure” to chat about with friends. Let the memories begin!


Your intriguing comments on nostalgia for a star's previous roles reminds me of Jane Gaines' comment that sometimes a character's costuming has a "visual excessiveness" that calls attention to itself and distracts from the storytelling. When the costume isn't "subservient to" the narrative, it disrupts it. I wonder if this sometimes applies to an actor's previous roles. When we see Gellar, we see Buffy, and that excessiveness disrupts the narrative of the episode of the new series we are watching. We keep expecting her to take on Buffy's vampire slayer moves or to be aided by her Scooby crew. The "seeing double" feeling usually fades once we invest in the new character.  

 I agree and have had fun reading blog reviews mentioning the desire to "see Buffy kick ass" during the pilot.  I'll have to tune in a few more times to see what comes of this--and I wonder if similar reactions are occurring with Ashton Kutcher?  Revenge was the only star return so far that didn't make me really think of a prior character (Amy from Everwood)--wondering now if tat's a sign of strength?

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