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Nostalgia in 2016, ranked: From ‘Stranger Things’ to ‘Fuller House’

Washington Post

Our culture has been obsessed with nostalgia for a while now, but it may have hit its peak in 2016, with a slew of remakes, reboots, revivals, sequels and homages.

Which ones were the best? Nostalgia, at its core, is deeply personal – the reason it’s so powerful is that it reminds you of a meaningful time in your life. But a few of us at the Washington Post managed to agree enough to rank 10 nostalgia projects that really struck a chord with us this year.

1. “Stranger Things”

The lauded Netflix sci-fi thriller about a missing child in a small town paid tribute to a ton of movies from the 1970s and 80s, and became a phenomenon over a summer that lacked any really good blockbusters on the big screen. I could barely tear myself away from the eight-episode series; but homages to “E.T.” and “Stand By Me” didn’t resonate with me so much as the feeling of what it was like to be a kid before the days of cellphones and the internet. During one of the first scenes of the pilot, when Will Byers rode his bike home from a friend’s house, it reminded me of the glorious days of biking all over my suburban hometown. Fortunately, I didn’t ever get swept into a terrifying alternate universe, so that aspect of the eight-episode series just made it even more gripping.

– Emily Yahr

2. “La La Land”

Musicals aren’t everyone’s cup of tea, but for those of us willing to believe in a surreal world where singing and dancing are the only logical ways to express one’s emotions, the effects are dazzling. We don’t get many movie musicals these days, so each one feels like a throwback to another era. “La La Land” conjures up “Singin’ in the Rain” and “Swing Time,” not to mention Jacques Demy’s vibrant, tres French “The Umbrellas of Cherbourg.” And yet, the likely Oscar contender feels utterly contemporary despite its use of artifacts from different eras, including a shot of the observatory from “Rebel Without a Cause” and songs from the 1980s. If “La La Land” weren’t so impeccably constructed, you might say it belongs in another era. Instead, the movie proves that at this moment, an effervescent, tap-danced duet is just what we need.

– Stephanie Merry

3. “The X-Files”

The original “X-Files” spoke to me then for the same reason the internet speaks to me now: The show was a weekly exploration of the strangest rabbit holes that humans could think up. It certainly helped that one of the main characters was a good-looking weirdo, and that the other was Scully. She was a grumpy, skeptical woman, and the reason I wanted to be a forensic pathologist for most of my early adolescence. Another true thing about “The X-Files” is that the show was not very good for much of its later seasons. So when “The X-Files” TV revival was announced, I expressed my feelings in the following headline: “’The X-Files’ revival has a chance of being horrible, but I don’t care.” After watching the actual six-episode return earlier this year, I stand by that observation. “The X-Files” revival was not very good, but I don’t care. A show like “The X-Files” is never going to perfectly work now. But most longtime fans of the show don’t expect perfection. It was, like any good nostalgia trip, just nice to see them again.

– Abby Ohlheiser

4. Dixie Chicks

I started listening to the Dixie Chicks in 2003, just around the time they were essentially shunned from country music after Natalie Maines’s controversial comments about George W. Bush, so I never got to see them live. The lyrics hit home for me back then, especially as a teen who just wanted to leave home and have adventures: “Wide Open Spaces” and “Cowboy Take Me Away” became my anthems. This year, when the Dixie Chicks announced they were going on tour for the first time in a decade, my friends and I snapped up tickets to see them in Ireland. I wondered if I would still feel the same connection. Then, upon hearing the opening song, “Taking the Long Way,” the inspirational tune about the road less traveled, I burst into tears – and clearly had my answer.

– Emily Yahr

5. Disney Channel

original movies marathon

When Disney Channel announced that, in anticipation of its 100th original made-for-TV movie, it would be airing a Memorial Day marathon of the first 99 (several of which, ironically, are not based on original ideas), it was a nostalgia blitz. No winking references or obligatory cameos here: just Shia LaBeouf and Zac Efron acting their pubescent butts off; catchy, kid-friendly soundtracks; stories of children overcoming their shortcomings to follow their dreams; and enough sap to fill a maple tree. The only thing better than bringing back a new version of an old thing? Simply watching the old thing.

– Caitlin Moore

6. “Gilmore Girls:

A Year in the Life”

I had a lot of anxiety before I pressed “play” for the first time on Netflix’s revival of “Gilmore Girls,” my all-time favorite show: Would it be terrible? Would the fast-paced writing that initially charmed me now seem grating? Would the magic of the original series even remotely hold up? The answer to all those questions turned out to be … “kind of.” The revival had many flaws (slow pacing, an insufferable musical, Rory acting like a monster), but it was still exciting to see the characters back on screen together again. Four 90-minute episodes was a lot of time to spend with “Gilmore Girls” 2.0, yet I’m really glad I did.

– Emily Yahr

7. “Degrassi”

As a teenager, I devoured every episode of “Degrassi: The Next Generation,” part of the award-winning Canadian teen drama franchise that began more than 35 years ago. However melodramatic, “Degrassi” always felt authentic to me, even as (I’m not ashamed to admit) I continued to watch the show into my late 20s. By then, the actor who played the show’s cute basketball player Jimmy had become a full blown superstar. Drake got a cheeky shout-out at the beginning of the franchise’s latest iteration, “Degrassi: Next Class,” which premiered in January on Netflix. I’ve been out of high school longer than some of the show’s young actors have been alive, so I finally had to stop watching. But I did check out the first few episodes to confirm that, yes, “Degrassi” still goes there.

– Bethonie Butler

8. My 2K Tour

I thought I knew exactly what I was getting into with the My 2K Tour: A night of ‘90s and early 2000s pop, starring 98 Degrees, O-Town, Ryan Cabrera and Dream. Upon arrival, however, I found the whole thing extremely unsettling, especially when O-Town (the band that made “Liquid Dreams” a thing) started to play; it felt too surreal to see middle school dance music live in 2016. But by the time 98 Degrees arrived on stage, I calmed down and was able to enjoy the throwback tunes of Nick Lachey and the gang, some of whom looked like they hadn’t aged a day. And in performing an impressive medley of songs by their ‘90s “rivals” (from Backstreet Boys to ‘N Sync to Britney Spears), they proved they have a sense of humor about the cheesiness of their life’s work.

– Emily Yahr

9. “Ghostbusters”

“Ghostbusters” rolled into theaters with enough baggage to fill the Ecto-1. It was clear from all the enraged comments on the YouTube trailer that a certain segment of the population wouldn’t be satisfied no matter what. But for the rest of us – those who aren’t fanboys putting the 1984 original on a pedestal alongside “Hamlet” – would the all-female version of “Ghostbusters” strike a balance between covering new ground and paying homage to the past? The answer was: Not exactly. Director Paul Feig tried hard; he even gave the three surviving original Ghostbusters cameos. But those roles, like so much of the movie, didn’t come across as inspired so much as dutiful. The thing that made the first “Ghostbusters” so great is how different it was, blending brilliantly delivered quips, action and horror. But that formula isn’t nearly as fresh anymore.

– Stephanie Merry

10. “Fuller House”

Listen, we all know “Full House” was terrible. It was schmaltzy, overly simplistic and ill-acted. But sometimes, that’s just what you’re in the mood to watch. (“Saved by the Bell,” anyone?) I thought Netflix would maybe put more of an adult spin on a show that mostly appealed to people now currently in their 20s and 30s. I was wrong. The first season of “Fuller House” was filled with the lovably terrible plotlines and cheesy music that shaped the previous series, and catered to viewers’ childhood memories, bringing back classic characters to the delighted woos of a studio audience. But the shortcomings we begrudgingly tolerated in “Full House” – the overacting kids, hard push for catchphrases and life problems that wouldn’t even warrant a diary entry for an actual adult human – are more than annoying when used the exact same way 20-plus years later. And while the first season of “Fuller House” had enough throwbacks to childhood to make it a guilty pleasure (and we mean REALLY guilty), the second season proved that there can be too much of a bad thing.

– Caitlin Moore

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