TV can be fun! Just clean your room or do some squats while you watch it and it’s like you’re being productive. There are a surprising number of wonderful vintage-themed shows out there where you can get your fix of vintage clothes, classically handsome men with good hair, and gorgeous cars and houses. Oh yeah and plots and characters and stuff. Unfortunately a good many of these shows only lasted a season or two – because why watch well-crafted, gorgeous storytelling when you could watch Big Brother? (Don’t answer that. I don’t want to know, it would probably just depress me.)
Here are some of my favorites, in no particular order.
Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries
This show is kind of the hot bitch on the block right now, and if you’re a vintage fan you’ve probably already watched the first season on Netflix and obtained the second season in some underhanded way that you’ve justified to yourself as “not that illegal.” Don’t worry, I understand. Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries is an Australian show set in the 20s, starring the glamorous, independent Phryne Fisher, who solves a new mystery every episode and usually kisses a new handsome man, as well. It’s a fun, light-hearted show (even though it’s about murder. But it’s mostly about fabulous Phryne, really), great for when you feel down in the dumps and need to watch a few episodes of beautiful distraction.
This Canadian show features a large cast of young women working in a munitions factory in World War II. It’s also pretty light-hearted and cute, and there are tons of great 40s hairstyles and dresses to go around. There are some really great, complex female characters that show how difficult midcentury life could be for women who didn’t conform to societal expectations. Too bad it was canceled after two seasons! There are some cute boys, too.
The first episode starts right after the sinking of the Titanic and now in the 4th season we’re well into the twenties. The set design is fantastic and especially the first two seasons are really well-done. It’s interesting to see a period of such change – from Downton getting electricity for the first time to the Great War and beyond, and all the ensuing cultural upheaval – and how different types of people react. I mostly watch it for the sets at this point though, if I’m being honest.
One of the best shows in television history. The attention to detail and historical accuracy is fantastic, and the themes of American culture in the 60’s will be recognizable to anyone with grandparents. Or parents. Or who were adults back then. Times are changing, women and minorities are claiming their place in the business world, and midcentury formality slowly gives way to Free Love and psychedelic rock. It’s a fascinating period and Mad Men is the TV version of fine literature. Don’t think it’s boring, though – this shit gets cray. And oh yeah I love Joan. And Betty. And Pete (in a hate way). And Rachel Menken. Ok gotta go now
The Bletchley Circle
There are only three episodes on Netflix (I suppose it’s like a mini-season? Idk, British TV is weird) but they are fantastic. I watched them all in a row, sucked in by the story and the characters. This show probably features the smartest people on television right now – a group of women who worked for Alan Turing’s Bletchley Park during World War II, cracking Nazi codes and staying one step ahead of the enemy. Now it’s years later and they’re all living mundane lives – until they band together and use their skills to catch a killer the police can’t track. I think there’s a second season of this, can’t wait.
Titanic: Blood and Steel
The story of the Irish men and women who built Titanic at the same time as many struggled for freedom from British rule. As a Titanic enthusiast, I loved this show and I find her construction fascinating. Personally I could have done with more Titanic and less romantic drama, but, you know, it’s a TV show that people besides me are supposed to enjoy. Sadly canceled after one season. I’d really love to see a post-sinking show – delving into the investigations and cultural ramifications. Eh, one can dream.
I just discovered this show (that’s been on for like ten years) on Netflix and I love it. Every episode shows Detective Foyle solving a mess of mysteries, which often put his patriotism to the test. Is it worth investigating the murder of a German citizen when Germany is bombing Britain? Do you probe into national secrets if they might be covering up local crime? This show isn’t as much about glamorous costumes and settings as much as most of the other shows on this list but it’s really interesting and well-done. In fact, I might go watch another episode right now.
Boardwalk Empire: I’ve been meaning to watch it, but it’s not on Netflix instant so it just hasn’t happened. Someday.
Land Girls: I watched the first couple episodes of this and it was OK, but people seem to really like it so I’m going to get back into it.
Any that I’ve missed? I’d love recommendations I haven’t heard of!