Looking back longingly on the not-so-distant past is nothing new—it's just happening faster now
I remember the first time I felt old. It happened when the kids I was babysitting plunked down on the couch to watch their favorite after-school TV program: a re-run of Saved by the Bell. They liked the show, but mostly for its unintentional humor. They found everything about it—the clothes, the hair, the schlocky theme music, the giant telephones—hilarious. It was the first time I felt the shadow of a younger generation encroaching, reducing the beloved things of my childhood to kitsch. I was, at the time, 18 years old.
Which is why I felt oddly triumphant when cable channel TeenNick announced that, due to popular demand, it was going retro with a block of programming called "The '90s Are All That." It seemed like a kind of victory—a statement that the 20 and 30-somethings of the world will not go gently into our pop culture twilight years, shuffled ignominiously aside by the hordes of Bieber-loving tweens. The midnight to 2 a.m. slot, which includes Nickelodeon's '90 staples All That, Clarissa Explains It All, and Doug, has proven to be a huge hit for the network, averaging more than 500,000 viewers in its premiere. This means that a lot of young-ish adults are staying up very late on school nights to partake in the nostalgia fest.
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The programming block devoted to the decade of flannel and angst initially set off some eye-rolling over the idea of 18-to 34-year-olds anxious to reclaim their lost youths. But television that taps into a longing for eras not-so-long-past is a staple of pop culture: Happy Days invoked the wholesomeness of the '50s when it first aired in 1974. Beginning in 1988, The Wonder Years poignantly filtered the social turmoil of the late '60s through the eyes of sensitive suburban pre-teen Kevin Arnold. That '70s Show launched in 1998, and remained on the air almost as long as disco was popular, and the teenage misfits of 1999's Freaks and Geeks navigated high school at the dawn of the '80s. In the early '00s, VH1 milked its popular I Love The '80s series, providing numerous tours through the decade led by celebrities both great (Lionel Richie) and small (Hal Sparks).