Nostalgia is a strange thing. You tend to look back at your childhood and remember all of the great movies and televisions programs you watched while growing up. Sometimes, you even compare them to the current films and shows of today and wonder why they aren’t as good as before. Well, for one thing, movies and TV shows are rather odd, especially when you compare them to today. Heck, I’d even say some of the ideas they threw at us were strange to begin with but we just accepted it because that was the norm at the time!
So, let’s go take a trip down memory lane and look back at those strange concepts from movies and television that we thought were normal then… but we were wrong. Oh, so wrong…
1. Crime fighting vehicles
Today, we watch action shows because of the characters and the stories. Before, we watched them for the vehicles!
During the ’80s, a little show called Knight Rider was broadcast on NBC. The show was about Michael Knight who partners with KITT, a modified Pontiac Trans Am, to fight crime. The show was a big hit but not really because of David Hasslehoff (but I can’t deny he may have been a huge reason for the show’s success) but because of KITT. Yes, the car was the star of the show! I mean, who wouldn’t want a talking sports car that has Turbo Boost?
The success of Knight Rider made a lot of television executives look at it and say, “Hey, we can do that, too” and proceeded to come up with different shows that used some kind of crime fighting vehicle. Soon, we got ABC’s Street Hawk, about a man who drives a souped up motorcycle in order to fight crime and CBS’s Airwolf, about a pilot who flies a souped up helicopter to fight crime. It turns out CBS might have seen the movie Blue Thunder and decided to copy the entire helicopter idea but that didn’t stop ABC from co-opting the film and making their own Blue Thunder television series, which is about a pilot who flies a helicopter in order to fight crime. But CBS wasn’t done yet because, years later, they gave us Thunder in Paradise, which featured a man who drives a souped up speedboat in order to fight crime! Oh, and it starred Hulk Hogan!
There were also a few other offshoots that seemed to follow the Knight Rider concept of a lone man with some fancy mode of transportation but tried to focus more on the hero. Shows like Automan, Stingray and The Highwayman followed the same format but these shows never achieved the success of Knight Rider. Heck, even the several attempts to reboot the show never really got off the ground! The closest rival to Knight Rider’s success was Viper, which practically apes the idea of the show!
2. Wrestlers with part time jobs
You would think being a professional wrestler who works for the WWF (which is now the WWE) would pay well. I mean, you put your body on the line each and every day to entertain fans all over the world. You also have to leave your family for the majority of the year because, as a WWF wrestler, you have to travel to different cities to perform in different stadiums all the time. Not only that, you do gain some celebrity status as well. So how come there were so many wrestlers who had to take other jobs while they were employed by the WWF?
Okay, the WWE had some far out and totally crazy gimmicks during the ’80s and ’90s for sure. There were guys like Adam Bomb, who survived a nuclear explosion, Max Moon, who came from outer space, Gangrel, a vampire of the most literal sense, Mantaur, a man who dresses up as a minotaur and the Gobbledy Gooker, an anthropomorphic turkey. But at least they were wrestlers. Even when I was a kid, I couldn’t understand the WWE wrestlers who appeared to have other jobs besides wrestling! We saw guys like garbageman Duke “The Dumpster” Droese, Nascar driver Bob “Spark Plug” Holly, dentist Dr. Isaac Yankem, plumber TL Hopper, alligator hunter Skinner, magician-slash-mime Phantasmo and repossession expert Repo Man. Of course, probably the most iconic wrestler with a part time job has to be Irwin R. Shyster, a tax man who works for the IRS… which just so happens to be the initials to his name. What a happy coincidence!
At least the WWF seemed to have wisened up now ever since they started calling themselves the WWE. That’s because the only wrestler who appears to have a second job is The Miz. I’m assuming he’s still gets work as an actor nowadays?
3. “A Very Special” episode in sitcoms
Sitcoms are supposed to be funny, right? The “com” in the word “sitcom” stands for “comedy,” after all. But once in a while, during the ’80s and ’90s, these comedy shows would try to get all serious and hammer in a moral lesson into the viewers’ heads once in a while. Actually, sometimes it wasn’t just “once in a while” and it felt like there would be long stretches of time when we would get these “very special episodes” from these supposedly comedy programs.
To be fair, it’s not like the sitcoms from the ’80s and ’90s originated the “very special episode” gimmick. There were a ton of sitcoms in the ’70s that started doing them. Shows like All In The Family, Maude, MASH and Diff’rent Strokes all had the characters deal with some very serious and very decidedly unfunny situations. But they were still rather few and far between. The “very special episode” boom definitely started during the ’80s with shows like Family Ties, Punky Brewster, Mr. Belvedere and Full House. I guessing these episodes were huge ratings magnets as episodes even started promoting them to make sure viewers tuned in. The show that is permanently linked to the “very special episode” trend is Blossom.
Now, I never watched Blossom but the reason why it was saddled with the impression is that the show would even say it was going to be a “very special” Blossom at the start of the episode. But while we all make fun of Blossom for cramming in so many serious episodes, the most infamous “very special episode” has to be the Saved By The Bell episode, Jessie’s Song, where one of the characters get hooked on caffeine pills and freaks out. I can’t remember a single “very special episode” of Blossom but I certainly remember Jessie singing “I’m So Excited” over and over again!
I guess the lesson here is that caffeine is bad for you? Anyway, people started getting sick of them sucking out the funny out of their comedy programs and the “very special episode” is now more of a punchline than anything. We do get the occasional serious episode in sitcoms today but it certainly wasn’t a prevalent as before, thankfully.
4. One Man Army Action Heroes
Today, the biggest trend in Hollywood as superhero films. They’re usually about heroes who face off against overwhelming odds, perform superhuman feats of strength and still manage to rally to victory despite having the deck stacked against them. We also had those kinds of heroes during the ’80s and ’90s. However, we just called them your regular old action films. Come to think of it, the action heroes of the ’80s and ’90s were better because they could take on armies of people and still manage to do so while spouting one liners and catchphrases!
In the ’80s and ’90s, action movies were actually comic book films but just a little bit more goofy as they would have seemingly superhuman skills at fighting and killing. Don’t believe me? Take a look at this clip of Commando, starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, as he invades the bad guy’s island property and single-handedly take down an entire army of soldiers!
Also, it seems like action heroes of those days were much beefier and larger than life than the ones we have today. No offense to guys like Tom Cruise and Jason Statham, but their physiques pale in comparison to the likes of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone and Jean-Claude Van Damme. The action heroes of the ’80s and ’90s were a product of the times where bigger is better.
To be fair, there are still some action films that try to copy the over-the-top action films of the ’80s and ’90s. Films like 300, John Wick, Taken and even the Fast and Furious series to seem to take their inspiration from the era. But those films are often said to be goofy, testosterone-filled films… which is actually a good descriptions of the action films of before. So I guess they’re doing something right?
5. 30 minute toy commercials
Can you imagine rushing home after school just so you can watch a bunch of overly-long commercials? Well, that’s what most kids did during the ’80s and ’90s because these commercials were cleverly disguised as cartoons. This wasn’t exactly a new thing but these 30-minute toy commercials definitely reached a fevered pitch during that time period as the most popular cartoons then were shows like He-Man, Transformers, GI Joe, Centurions, Captain Power, Sky Commanders, Dino Riders and MASK.
Those are probably just the tip of the iceberg because there definitely seemed to be more than just those eight I mentioned. The point it there were a lot of them and they were generally successful marketing plots to get kids to force their parents to get the toys that were associated with the show. Cartoons today do still have toys associated with them but nowadays, the toys came after the show became a hit. During the ’80s and ’90s, the cartoon was made for the sole purpose of promoting the toys!
Still, a lot of us look at those shows and wax nostalgia over them. We’re all grown up now and we know they were just a marketing tool just to sell more toys but… wow. Those 30-minute commercials were just so plain cool!
Are there any other strange concepts that came from the ’80s and ’90s you can think of? Let me know what they are in the comments section below!