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Is there a doctor in the House? (Photo: Supplied)
Is there a doctor in the House? (Photo: Supplied)

Pop CultureFebruary 18, 2024

Five retro shows to escape into this weekend

Is there a doctor in the House? (Photo: Supplied)
Is there a doctor in the House? (Photo: Supplied)

Tara Ward on the nostalgic joy of watching vintage telly.

This is an excerpt from our weekly pop culture newsletter Rec Room. Sign up here. 

In a world where we’re constantly bombarded with the latest “must watch” prestige drama, there’s something special to be said for acquainting yourself with some good old TV. Over the summer, I rewatched Ally McBeal (Disney+), the quirky American comedy-drama about an eccentric group of Boston lawyers. The show dominated popular culture in the late 90s, and watching it two decades later, I rediscovered a series that was both smarter and more problematic than I realised. It also featured a lot less of that ooh-ga-chugga dancing baby than I remembered, which is probably for the best.

Streaming services also seem to be aware that viewers are seeking escapism and nostalgia through their TV screens. It’s no accident that Suits was the most streamed show in America last year after being added to Netflix, or that thousands of New Zealanders have watched the original Shortland Street episodes from 1992. As the world becomes more uncertain around us, it’s reassuring to revisit those shows we enjoyed years ago, as imperfect as they might be by today’s standards, or just finally getting around to catching up with content you missed the first time around. (Game of Thrones, I’ll get to you one day, I promise.)

Just because it’s old, doesn’t mean it’s not good, right? Here’s a few recommendations for some of the best TV shows from the past few decades to binge watch, preferably while wearing a pair of low waist bootleg jeans and playing snake on your Nokia 3310.

House (Netflix, eight seasons): The world went batshit for House in the late 2000s, and now that Netflix has dropped every season of the Hugh Laurie medical drama, we’ve fallen in love with it all over again. It’s currently sitting in Netflix’s top 10 most popular shows, with eight seasons of the cranky but brilliant Dr Gregory House (Laurie) using his extraordinary skills to solve the weirdest of medical cases. One online fan described the show as both serious and “rib cracking funny”. They might want to see a doctor about that.

McLeod’s Daughters (TVNZ+, eight seasons): McLeod’s is a heartwarming, feminist series from the 2000s about two sisters running a farm in Australia, but it’s also a valuable educational tool about how not to drown unexpectedly in a silo of grain. Remember when Claire made Tess walk a bloated cow around the garden until it farted? You don’t get that in Netflix’s nine millionth Harlan Coben adaptation. Be warned: season three is an emotional rollercoaster, and I’m not talking about the time Meg’s chutney went all weird and she couldn’t work out why.

The new season of Line of Duty focuses on what happened to Meg’s chutney (Photo: Supplied)

Line of Duty (TVNZ+, six seasons): Line of Duty set the bar high for police dramas when it debuted in 2012, giving us six action-packed seasons about three detectives working for a police corruption unit. More than anything, Line of Duty proves that you can’t trust anyone and you should always wear a nice vest when dealing with the criminal underworld. It’s British crime drama (and waistcoat fashion) at its very best.

Grey’s Anatomy (Disney+, 19 seasons): If you’re committing to watching all 19 seasons of Grey’s then you won’t have time to read this newsletter ever again, so thank you and goodnight. Like old mate McBeal in the 1990s, Greys dominated popular culture in the late 2000s, bringing “vajayjay” into the public consciousness and making ‘Chasing Cars’ a global hit. The medical drama also gave us season after season of empowering friendships, heartwarming relationships and compelling storytelling. Justice for Denny! Justice for everyone wearing scrubs.

Gloss (NZ On Screen/YouTube, three seasons): Gloss is one of our most iconic shows, a weekly primetime drama that revelled in the opulence and glamour of the late 1980s. Don’t let the cultural cringe factor stop you from rediscovering this gem – yes, it’s over the top, but the fashion is delicious, the drama genuinely gripping and the plot absolutely out the gate. The first episode of Gloss is available on TV treasure trove NZ On Screen, and the rest is lurking about on YouTube. Bring it back, immediately.

Keep going!