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The 12 best series of the 80s

The 12 best series of the 80s

The 1980s was a special decade for me. First, it was the decade that I was born, right. Second, it was a time marked by great social, economic, cultural and political transformations in the world, due to the end of the industrial period, the end of the Cold War, the development of technology and a worldwide move away from planned economies and towards laissez-faire capitalism

The 80s was also a great period for the progress of Arts and Entertainment. Electronic music and colourful and futuristic fashion clothing became a hit. By that time, new wave and synth-pop became the most popular musical genres, as well as the dance music culture, developed by artists such as Depeche Mode, A-ha, Blondie, Duran Duran and the Pet Shop Boys. MTV Television had risen and created the video clip culture and transformed the way we consume music.

Cinema had its moment of high creativity and productivity through Hollywood, but also in countries like Argentina, which won its first Oscar for “Best Foreign Film” with La Historia Oficial (The Official Story, 1985); and Brazil, when Hector Babenco started a revolution with his “Pixote – The Law of the Weakest” (1981). Television also produced a lot of TV shows (fictional and non-fictional genres) that emerged as cult ones worldwide. 

At that time, I was starting my hobby and passion for Entertainment, Arts and Pop Culture and I still have great affective memories from those golden years and those classic TV programmes. Check out my special list of “The 12 best series of the 80s”. Back to the past and have some fun!

1 – 21 Jump Street (1987-1991)

“21 Jump Street”  was a police procedural television series with a total of 103 episodes. The series focuses on a group of police officers headquartered at the eponymous address. These officers are all young and have especially youthful appearances, which allows them to pass for teenagers. Their assignments generally consist of undercover work in high schools or, less commonly, colleges, where they generally investigate drug trafficking and abuse. 

The show’s plots cover issues such as alcoholism, hate crimes, drug abuse, homophobia, AIDS, child abuse and sexual promiscuity. Similarly, each problem is often solved by the end of the hour-long episode, giving an implicit moral about the impact of a particular activity. 

The series provided a spark to Johnny Depp‘s nascent acting career, garnering him national recognition as a teen idol. Depp found this status irritating, but he continued on the series under his contract.

2 – The Golden Girls (1985-1992)

“The Golden Girls” was a sitcom that originally aired on NBC  with a total of 180 half-hour episodes, spanning seven seasons. The show had an ensemble cast and the plot revolves around four older single women (three widows and one divorcée) sharing a house in Miami. The owner of the house is a widow named Blanche Devereaux, who was joined by fellow widow Rose Nylund and divorcée Dorothy Zbornak, after they both responded to an ad on the bulletin board of a local grocery store a year before the start of the series. In the pilot episode, the three are joined by Dorothy’s 80-year-old widowed mother, Sophia Petrillo, after the retirement home where she has been living has burned down.

The series received critical acclaim throughout most of its run and won several awards including the Primetime Emmy Award for Outstanding Comedy Series twice. It also won three Golden Globe Awards for Best Television Series – Musical or Comedy.

3 – Alf (1986 – 1990)

“ALF” was an American television sitcom that aired on NBC that tells the story of ALF, an alien from the planet Melmac who follows an amateur radio signal to Earth and crash-lands into the garage of the Tanners, a suburban middle-class family who lives in the San Fernando Valley area of California. The family consists of social worker Willie, his wife Kate, their teenage daughter Lynn, younger son Brian and their pet cat Lucky (whom ALF wishes to consume).

Unsure what to do, the Tanners take ALF into their home and hide him from the Alien Task Force (a part of the U.S. military that specialises in aliens) and their nosy neighbours Trevor and Raquel Ochmonek, until ALF can repair his spacecraft. 

“ALF”  has won numerous awards. In 1987 the show won a People’s Choice Award for Favorite New TV Comedy Program. In 1988, it won Favorite Show at the Kids’ Choice Awards.

4 – Lady Blue (1985 – 1986)

“Lady Blue” is an American detective and action-adventure television series which revolves around Chicago investigator Katy Mahoney and her violent means of dealing with criminals and tension with her co-workers. She works in the Violent Crimes Division of the Chicago Police Department.

Mahoney’s reliance on violence is emphasised in the opening scene of the pilot; she sees a bank robbery while she is in a beauty parlour, shoots and kills three of the perpetrators, and returns to the salon for a pedicure. The series got bad reviews and was criticised negatively by critics because of its violent plot, but even that, it gained loyal viewers.

5- Small Wonder (1985-1989)

“Small Wonder” was a comedy science fiction sitcom that revolves around V.I.C.I. (an acronym for Voice Input Child Identicant, pronounced “Vicki”), an android in the form of a 10-year-old girl. Vicki was built by Ted Lawson, an engineer/inventor for United Robotronics, in an effort to assist disabled children. Lawson takes the robot home so that it can mature within a family environment. Vicki’s features include superhuman strength and speed, an AC outlet under her right arm, a data port under her left arm, and an access panel in her back. Despite this, the Lawson family initially tries to pass Vicki off as an orphaned family member whom they eventually legally adopt as their daughter.

The Lawson family tries to keep the robot’s existence a secret, but their disagreeable neighbours, the Brindles, keep on popping up at the most unexpected moments — especially nosy next-door neighbour Harriet, whose father happens to be Ted Lawson’s co-worker. The show’s humour frequently derived from Vicki’s attempts to learn human behaviour, her unprecedented echolalia, the robot’s literal interpretation of speech and the family’s efforts to disguise the robot’s true nature.

The series eventually turned out to be a surprise hit specifically amongst the kid section as many channels belonging to different nations witnessed while re-running the show. Owing to its popularity in some countries, the show had to be dubbed in different languages. The show was aired in many countries in Europe (Spain and France), South America (Argentina, Venezuela, Brazil, and Colombia) India, the Middle East, etc. It was a huge success!

6- Perfect Strangers (1986-1993)

“Perfect Strangers”  was a sitcom that ran for eight seasons, originally on the ABC television network. The series chronicles the relationship of Larry Appleton and his distant cousin Balki Bartokomous. Larry, a Wisconsin native from a large family, has just moved into his first apartment in Chicago and is savouring his first taste of privacy when Balki, a hitherto-unknown cousin from a Mediterranean island, “Mypos”, arrives intending to move in with him.

After initially gently rebuffing his cousin’s request to stay at his apartment, aspiring photographer Larry decides to take Balki under his wing and teach him about American life. However, the neurotic Larry frequently proves to be as inept as Balki, if not more so, and often gets the pair into situations that only Balki can set right.  

7- Macgyver (1985-1992)

“MacGyver” was an actionadventure television series created by Lee David Zlotoff and starring Richard Dean Anderson as the title character. The show ran for seven seasons on ABC in the United States and various other networks abroad from 1985 to 1992. The series was popular in the United States and around the world, including Brazil where it became a phenomenon TV series. 

Macgyver is a secret agent with a difference. He is quiet, mild-mannered, deeply principled and refuses to carry a gun on his missions. Fortunately, the last detail is unimportant when compared to his astounding mind. Drawing on a vast practical knowledge of science, Macgyver can make use of any mundane materials around him to create unorthodox solutions to any problem he faces. The enemies of world peace and justice continually learn that underestimating this man is a fatal mistake for their plans.

A reboot series of the same name premiered on 23 September 2016, on CBS.

8- Moonlighting (1985-1989)

 “Moonlighting” was a comedy-drama television series with a total of 66 episodes. Starring Cybill Shepherd and Bruce Willis as private detectives, and Allyce Beasley as their quirky receptionist, the show was a mixture of dramacomedymystery, and romance, and was considered to be one of the first successful and influential examples of comedy-drama, emerging as a distinct television genre.

The series revolved around cases investigated by the Blue Moon Detective Agency and its two partners, Madelyn “Maddie” Hayes (Shepherd) and David Addison Jr. (Willis). The show, with a mix of mystery, sharp dialogue, and sexual tension between its leads, introduced Willis to the world and brought Shepherd back into the spotlight after a nearly decade-long absence. 

In 2007, the series was listed as one of Time magazine’s “100 Best TV Shows of All-Time”. The relationship between the characters David and Maddie was included in TV Guide’s list of the best TV couples of all time.

9- The Wonder Years (1988 – 1993)

The Wonder Years – “Gallery” 8/90 Danica McKellar, Jason Hervey, Olivia d’Abo, Fred Savage, Dan Lauria, Alley Mills, Josh Saviano

“The Wonder Years” was a coming-of-age comedy-drama television series that depicts the social and family life of Kevin Arnold, a boy in a stereotypical American suburban middle-class family from 1968 to 1973, covering the ages of 12 through 17. The location where the Arnold family lives is never specified other than being a suburb, but some episodes have license plates showing California and New York. Each year in the series takes place exactly 20 years before airing (1988 to 1993).

The show’s plot centres on Kevin Arnold, son of Jack and Norma Arnold. Kevin’s father holds a management job at NORCOM, a defence contractor, while his mother is a housewife. Kevin also has an older brother, Wayne, and an older sister, Karen. Two of Kevin’s friends and neighbours are prominently featured throughout the series: his best friend, Paul Pfeiffer, and his crush-turned-girlfriend Gwendolyn “Winnie” Cooper. Storylines are told through Kevin’s reflections as an adult in his mid-30s, voiced by narrator Daniel Stern.

10- Magnum, P.I. (1980 – 1988)

“Magnum, P.I.” was a crime drama television series starring Tom Selleck as Thomas Magnum. The series unfolds Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV, an ex-Navy “NIA” (ONI) Lieutenant and Vietnam Special Ops veteran who resigned his commission at age thirty-three because he never got to be twenty-three. On the beautiful Hawaiian islands, Magnum is a P.I. who enjoys life, his mates, and who works just hard enough to keep it real. 

“Magnum, P.I.” consistently ranked in the top twenty U.S. television programs in the Nielsen ratings during the first five years of its original run in the United States. A reboot series of the same name was ordered to series in 2018 and premiered on 24 September 2018 on CBS.

11- Punky Brewster (1984-1988)

“Punky Brewster” was a sitcom starring Soleil Moon Frye, as a young girl being raised by a foster parent. Penelope “Punky” Brewster (Soleil Moon Frye) is a warm, funny, and bright child. Her father walked out on her family, then her mother abandoned her at a Chicago shopping centre, leaving Punky alone with her dog, Brandon. Afterwards, Punky discovers a vacant apartment in a local building. The building is managed by Henry Warnimont (George Gaynes), an elderly, widowed photographer with a grouchy streak. Henry discovers Punky in the empty apartment and from that moment on, the two blossoms start a beautiful friendship. 

During the first season, the state forces Punky to stay at Fenster Hall, an emergency shelter for orphaned and abandoned children, until their day in court. The court approves Henry’s wish to become Punky’s foster father. Henry legally adopts her in the second season.

In 2020, NBC confirmed a 10-episode revival to air on its Peacock streaming service. Frye returned, as did original cast member Cherie Johnson, who plays Punky’s best friend. The revival premiered on 25 February 2021.

12- Miami Vice (1984-1990)

“Miami Vice” was a crime drama television series that starred Don Johnson as James “Sonny” Crockett and Philip Michael Thomas as Ricardo “Rico” Tubbs, two Metro-Dade Police Department detectives working undercover in Miami. The series ran for five seasons on NBC from 1984 to 1990. 

Unlike standard police procedurals, the show drew heavily upon 1980s New Wave culture and became noted for its integration of contemporary pop and rock music and stylish or stylised visuals. It has been called one of the “Top 50 TV Shows”. People magazine stated that Miami Vice was the “first show to look new and different since colour TV was invented”.

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I am a script and creative writer, journalist, producer, and marketing content developer with over 9 years of experience in Media (TV / Film Production), Communication, Journalism and Marketing. I worked for companies such as MTV, Animal Planet, Band, Discovery and, Fremantle Media. I am from Brazil, but I've been living in Dublin, Ireland, since 2017. I am also maniac for entertainment and pop culture.
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