26 Amazing Netflix Shows That Are Set In The 1980s
If there’s one thing that we love more than reminiscing about our favourite 1980s films, TV shows, music and toys, it’s settling down to watch another episode or two of our latest Netflix obsession. Thankfully, there are many modern shows that are both entertaining and set – at least in part – during our very favourite decade. Sit down and relax as we present some amazing Netflix shows guaranteed to transport you to the era of neon leg warmers and big hair.
26. Stranger Things
Since we’re talking about Netflix shows set in the 1980s, there really was no other place to begin than Stranger Things. Created by the Duffer Brothers, it’s possibly the single biggest hit that Netflix has had to date. Kicking off in 1983, the series takes place in the sleepy town of Hawkins, Indiana, where there’s always something profoundly weird going on in the shadows, with an ensemble of nerdy teens who always find themselves in danger.
As well as being a compelling drama in its own right, Stranger Things ramps up the nostalgia level to Eleven (see what we did there?) with some amazing throwback references throughout the entirety of its three seasons. From the gang dressing in Ghostbusters outfits to the frequent scenes of them playing Dungeons & Dragons, Stranger Things is a show that never fails to press our nostalgia buttons.
25. Black Mirror: Bandersnatch
If you’ve never taken the time to watch Black Mirror then you’re really missing out. Charlie Brooker’s anthology series is a brilliantly nightmarish take on what the future of technology might hold. As creative, compelling and unnerving as the show usually is, special episode Black Mirror: Bandersnatch takes things to another level.
A spin-off from the main show, Bandersnatch is an extended episode about a 1980s video game programmer. Taking advantage of online streaming technology, the episode lets viewers choose their own adventure as they watch in the style of those gamebooks we all loved back in the 80s.
One of Netflix’s best original crime thrillers is based on the true story of the most infamous drug lord of the 80s. Narcos is a fact-based drama telling the story of Colombia’s notorious Pablo Escobar. Kicking off in the 1970s, the story then proceeds to explore Escobar’s exploits in the 80s and beyond.
Brazilian actor Wagner Moura, who takes the lead as Escobar, received a Golden Globe nomination for his performance. A planned fourth season of the show was instead rebranded as a spin-off entitled Narcos: Mexico. This spin-off is also set during the 1980s is itself and well worth checking out.
Few modern TV shows capture the big hair and spandex of the 80s as vividly as the sensational GLOW. The series depicts the cast of a struggling TV show entitled the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling. It’s a fictionalised take on the true story of the wrestling show of the same name which emerged in the 80s.
Alison Brie takes the lead as an ambitious actress who stumbles into wrestling almost by accident, but soon comes to embrace the sport. GLOW is very much an ensemble piece, with as much intense drama going outside of the wrestling ring as within it. A fourth and final season is currently in production, giving you plenty of time to catch up on the show before it comes to an end.
22. Locke & Key
In common with Stranger Things, Locke & Key is another 80s-set show that sends its young characters into sinister scenarios. Featuring a spooky house containing doors that can be opened in various magical ways, Locke & Key makes great viewing for both teens and adults. The show is based on a comic book written by acclaimed horror author Joe Hill (whose novel Horns was adapted into a 2013 Daniel Radcliffe movie).
Hill also has significant pedigree in 80s horror, as he’s the son of none other than Stephen King. This is another Netflix show with a distinctly Stranger Things vibe, as 80s nostalgia plays a big part in proceedings. Locke & Key has recently been renewed for a second season, so further creepy adventures are guaranteed.
21. Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp
The 2001 movie Wet Hot American Summer may have totally flown under the radar on release, but in the years since it has built a cult following, which in turn has given the property a new lease of life. Wet Hot American Summer: First Day of Camp is a prequel series to the exceptionally offbeat parody of 80s summer camp comedies.
It’s putting it mildly to say that the Wet Hot American Summer brand of humour is a bit weird, and the show is also an acquired taste. Put it this way: it features H Jon Benjamin (best known for his voice work on animated comedies like Archer and Bob’s Burgers) as a sentient can of mixed vegetables. The series was successful enough to spawn a 90s-set sequel, Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later.
20. When They See Us
Not every 80s-set TV show on Netflix is filled with unbridled nostalgia for the era. Some, such as When They See Us, directly address the darker realities of the decade. This fact-based drama was created by acclaimed filmmaker Ava DuVernay (whose films Selma, 13th and A Wrinkle in Time also prioritise black voices).
When They See Us deals with the infamous Central Park Jogger case of 1989, in which five young men were wrongfully prosecuted for the sexual assault of a woman. The dramatisation details the miscarriages of justice that occurred – as well as how the men ultimately cleared their names years later. When They See Us certainly isn’t easy viewing, but nevertheless it’s a story that needs to be heard.
19. Luis Miguel
Another fact-based (but not quite so hard-hitting) Netflix series set in the 80s is Luis Miguel: The Series. While the title character may not be a household name in English-speaking countries, he’s a big name in Mexican music. This Spanish-language show casts Diego Boneta as Miguel and details the singer’s rise to fame in the early 80s.
As you might expect from the premise, Luis Miguel: The Series packs in music, glamour and glitz galore. However, the series doesn’t shy away from the grittier side of things, exploring the downsides of sudden fame and fortune. While a second season of Luis Miguel is on the cards, it’s another production to have been forced into hiatus due to the global public health crisis.
18. Ashes to Ashes
This BBC cop drama with a fantasy twist may not be a Netflix original series, but it’s available on the streaming service nonetheless. First aired in 2008 and taking its name from the David Bowie song, Ashes to Ashes is a sequel to cop fantasy Life on Mars. However, where Life on Mars followed Jon Simm’s 21st-century copper Sam Tyler through 70s Manchester, this one takes Keeley Hawes’ Alex Drake to 80s London.
There, Alex meets returning Life on Mars characters DCI Gene Hunt (Philip Glenister), Ray Carling (Dean Andrews) and Chris Skelton (Marshall Lancaster). Like its predecessor, Ashes to Ashes hinges on a quirky blend of humour, nostalgia, classic police procedural drama and mind-bending time travel sci-fi.
17. The Naked Director
As a subscription-based streaming service, Netflix isn’t subject to the same content restrictions as most network TV stations. This allows them to produce and platform content which is strictly adults only – such as this Japanese series. The Naked Director is a comedy-drama set in 80s Japan, delving into the seedy underworld of X-rated entertainment.
Takayuki Yamada takes the lead as adult video director Toru Muranishi, with the show exploring how the controversial filmmaker’s career got off the ground. As much of the material Muranishi was producing was illegal in Japan at the time, the drama gets quite fraught. Obviously, it’s not one to watch with all the family, but – for open-minded adults, at least – The Naked Director makes for compelling and often very funny viewing.
Pose is another 80s-set drama that isn’t a Netflix original, but which has reached a wider audience via the streaming service. Originally produced for US TV network FX, the show was co-created by Ryan Murphy (American Horror Story). It’s a fictionalised take on the rise of the gay ballroom culture that developed in New York City in the 1980s.
The series explores how LGBTQ African-American and Latinx people banded together in an era defined by the AIDS crisis and systemic discrimination. It’s certainly not all doom and gloom, however, as Pose really puts the fabulousness of the ball scene at the forefront. The second season of Pose continued the narrative into the 90s and a third season is on its way.
15. White Gold
Another 80s-set show that premiered on the BBC but later moved to Netflix is White Gold. This light-hearted sitcom sees a group of salesmen push UPVC double-glazed windows in mid-80s Essex. White Gold is the brainchild of writer Damon Beesley, co-creator of earlier UK comedy hit The Inbetweeners.
Nor does the connection end there, as Inbetweeners actors Joe Thomas and James Buckley are also part of the White Gold ensemble. Buckley and Thomas play Brian and Martin, junior salesmen working under Head of Sales Vincent, played by Ed Westwick. Two seasons of White Gold were produced between 2017 and 2019, but the brakes were applied when sexual assault allegations were made against lead actor Westwick.
Louder for those in the back: not every great Netflix show is in the English language, as demonstrated by the compelling Dark. Created by Baran bo Odar and Jantje Friese, this German series has often been touted as an ideal follow-up experience to Stranger Things. However, Dark has a unique brand of weird mystery – and, as the title might suggest, it’s not exactly light.
Explaining the plot of Dark in a couple of sentences is utterly beyond us, even as ardent viewers of the show. However, we can confidently state that one of its many intertwining plot-lines is set during – yes, you guessed it – the 1980s. Dark’s third and final season has only recently landed, and if you’re thinking of giving it a go then be sure to bring along a notepad and pen and ideally a wall display and balls of string. You’ll need them.
Mindhunter is one of the most thrilling and horrifying shows on Netflix, not least because it’s based on real events. Its brilliant first season takes place in the late 70s, when criminal psychology and criminal profiling were being pioneered by the FBI. By the second season, the chilling action takes us into the 80s as the Bureau tries to solve the real-life Atlanta child murders.
Mindhunter is an adaptation of the book Mindhunter: Inside the FBI’s Elite Serial Crime Unit by John E Douglas and Mark Olshaker. Created by Joe Penhall, the illustrious executive producers on the series include David Fincher and Charlize Theron. While the show is supposedly intended to run for five seasons, production is indefinitely paused at the time of writing for reasons known only to David Fincher and co.
12. Sex Education
Sex Education isn’t explicitly set in the 80s, instead seeming to be a melange of multiple eras. Still, Sex Education is so heavily indebted to 80s and 90s pop culture – and so brilliant – that it would seem wrong not to give it a mention here. Created by Laurie Nunn, this British comedy-drama follows the exploits of awkward teen Otis (Asa Butterfield) who somehow winds up running a sex therapy clinic at his school.
While the presence of modern technology (i.e. smartphones and computers) would seem to confirm Sex Education as being set in the present, almost everything else seems to have fallen through a time warp from 20-30 years ago. Creator Laurie Nunn has confirmed this time-out-of-time feel was a “a very conscious decision… We all absolutely love the teen genre, particularly the John Hughes films of the 1980s so we really wanted to make the show have the feeling that it’s an homage”
11. Cobra Kai
OK, we’ll admit right away that we’re stretching our premise just a little here, as this particular Netflix series is set in the present day. However, as a canonical sequel to the Karate Kid movies, the shadow of the 80s hangs heavily over this great comedy-drama.
Decades after Daniel defeated Johnny at the All-Valley Karate Tournament, their roles have been largely reversed: the former alpha male bully is struggling to get by, whereas the kid he once picked on is now a successful car salesman. However, when Johnny decides to re-open Cobra Kai, the dojo that taught him all he knows, it revives old tensions – as well as sparking unforeseen consequences for the next generation of karate enthusiasts.
10. Fuller House
We’re cheating just a little in counting this as an 80s set-show – but its roots are so thoroughly in the 80s that we couldn’t really leave it out. Fuller House is Netflix’s original sequel to Full House, the beloved US sitcom that ran from 1987 to 1995. Premiering 21 years after the original show ended, Fuller House reveals what’s become of the now-adult Tanner sisters and their lifelong friend and neighbour Kimmy Gibler.
The show is loaded with callbacks to the original Full House, as well as guest appearances from almost every star of the original show including John Stamos, Bob Saget, Dave Coulier and Lori Loughlin. The only notable no-shows are the original’s child actors Mary-Kate and Ashley Olsen (although the show never misses the chance to make a fourth-wall-breaking joke at their expense).
9. BoJack Horseman
BoJack Horseman is not primarily set during our favourite decade, but does feature a number of 1980s-set flashbacks. Created by Raphael Bob-Waksberg, the series depicts the further downfall of a washed-up 90s sitcom star – who also happens to be an anthropomorphic horse.
While predominantly set in the present day, we regularly return to earlier times in Bojack’s life (the 80s included) and what we find is rarely pretty. While Bojack Horseman is not without its madcap moments, it is, for the most part, an unrelentingly bleak look into the inner workings of a deeply troubled individual, and the dark side of the world of celebrity.
8. The Umbrella Academy
The Umbrella Academy is another show which only partly takes place in the 80s – but don’t let that put you off! Adapted from the comic book written by Gerard Way (lead singer and songwriter of My Chemical Romance), The Umbrella Academy is a dark spin on the classic superhero team adventure. The show sees seven super-powered individuals, who were adopted as babies by an eccentric billionaire, descend into familial acrimony.
When the family reunites years later following the death of their father, it’s clear just how dysfunctional their upbringing really was. Initially planned as a movie, The Umbrella Academy became a big hit for Netflix, with the first season watched by 45 million households in its first month on the streaming service. The time-hopping narrative saw the second season take place in 1963. Further seasons are planned.
7. The Dirt
Ok, so it may not be a TV show, but The Dirt is a film that was distributed by Netflix, and it’s about as 1980s as they come. Premiering in March 2019, it’s a warts-and-all biopic of one of the most notorious rock groups of the era, Mötley Crüe. Based on the real-life memoirs of the band’s members, The Dirt follows the group as they revel in the excesses of being rock stars during the 1980s.
Douglas Booth, Colson Baker, Daniel Webber and Iwan Rheon star as Tommy Lee, Nikki Sixx, Mick Mars and Vince Neil. There are also appearances from such other 80s icons as Ozzy Osbourne (portrayed by Tony Cavalero), David Lee Roth (Christian Gehring) and Heather Locklear (Rebekah Graf).
6. Young Sheldon
The Big Bang Theory might not take place in the 1980s, but it is choc-full of references to 80s pop culture, from Star Trek: The Next Generation to Back to the Future. This isn’t surprising, since most of the Big Bang Theory gang were born in the late 70s or early 80s, and so grew up immersed in 80s film, TV and games.
As the title suggests, Young Sheldon goes back in time to explore the upbringing of The Big Bang Theory’s Nobel Prize winner Sheldon Cooper. Season one opens in early 1989, with a nine-year-old Sheldon struggling to find fulfilment in his average school, and pushing his teachers and family to the brink of frustration.
5. Firefly Lane
Firefly Lane was released in 2021, but it has a serious throwback feel. The show follows fast friends Tully Hart and Kate Mularkey from their meeting as 14-year-olds in 1970, to fully grown young professionals in the early 2000s. As a result, the nostalgia of several decades is on full display, but the 80s in particular are given lots of time to shine.
In a fun and quirky naming convention, each episode is named after a popular song of the era, and episodes four to seven of the first season are all named after 80s hits, from Love is a Battlefield to Total Eclipse of the Heart. That, plus awesome needle drops and some of the best fashion the decade has to offer – what more could you want?
4. Inside Job
Plenty of 80s and 80s-inspired media deals with conspiracy theories, from Stranger Things’ supernatural Cold War coverup, to thrillers like Blow Out and Defence of the Realm. Inside Job expands on that theme and turns it into an entire premise, following a shadowy governmental agency in charge of keeping various conspiracy theories under wraps and operating smoothly.
Though the show deals with conspiracies from all eras of history, from JFK clones to human-dolphin hybrid people, the most iconic episode The Brettfast Club is set in a town kept artificially imprisoned in the 80s by a nostalgia-inducing chemical. The team must dose the town with nostalgia without succumbing to the charms of the decade, which understandably proves difficult.
3. Saturday Morning All-Star Hits!
There are lots of great things about the 1980s, but is there anything better than those iconic 80s Saturday morning cartoons? If you spent your childhood racing down to the living room to watch Inspector Gadget or Jem and the Holograms, then Saturday Morning All-Star Hits is definitely for you.
Though not technically set in the 80s, it is directly inspired by and pays homage to cartoons of those eras, with segments like a parody of The Smurfs called The Meeps, a Muppet Babies inspired section called Crittle Littles, and a playful jab at the 80s trend of making children’s cartoons out of adult properties like Rambo and Robocop, with Intimate Compromise: Casino Nights Seductions: The Animated Series.
2. The Guardians of Justice
The Guardians of Justice, otherwise known as Adi Shankar’s The Guardians of Justice (Will Save You!) is a satire of DC Comics’ Justice League, and follows a ragtag group of heroes who struggle to prevent the outbreak of World War Four in the wake of their leader Marvelous Man’s death.
Though the fact that World War Three has already happened by the time the show starts might suggest a futuristic timeline, Marvelous Man’s death actually occurs in 1987, leaving the bulk of the action to happen in a parallel universe version of the 1980s. Plus, the superhero cast means there is spandex galore, which is definitely appropriate to the decade!
1. Narcos: Mexico
While the original three seasons of Narcos follow the exploits of Pablo Escobar and the development of Columbia’s illegal drug trade, the 2018 spin-off Narcos: Mexico instead focuses on the evolution of Mexico’s own illicit substance market. Beginning in the early 1980s, it follows the criminal underworld as it evolves from a group of independent growers and dealers to a highly organised cartel.
Specifically, Narcos: Mexico follows famed cartel leader Miguel Ángel Félix Gallardo as he unifies several territories under his rule and consolidates more power than anybody could have imagined, and the real-life DEA operative Kiki Camarena who attempts to bring him down. The show ran for three seasons, beginning in 2018 and ending in 2021.