That's our duvet cover! For anyone who grew up in the '80s, the thrill of One Day is all the little details of that time. | Emma Beddington

That's our duvet cover! For anyone who grew up in the '80s, the thrill of One Day is all the little details of that time. | Emma Beddington


I In the first episode of Netflix's new drama One Day, I grabbed the remote, entranced, and paused on the scene where Dexter sits on Emma's bed after their first night together. “Look,” I said to my husband, “it's our duvet cover.” It's blue with thin stripes of bright colours. It's faded and the fastenings are gone, but I still have it. I think we bought it when Habitat was a dream store with branches in regional towns. It wasn't a subcategory on the Argos website.

Perhaps the best thing about One Day, which follows a fatefully torn-apart couple for one day in each year of their relationship from 1988 to the early 2000s, is its time. No offense: it's a fun TV show, the cast is great, and the idea is great (as always). But what keeps me, a Gen Xer like me, hooked isn't the love story, but the precise details of the period setting, which has evolved to perfection over the years.

The details are impressive: Emma's polka-dot and tulle dress for her graduation party in Episode 1 (a combination that always came along at school discos) or the white cylindrical bottle of fairy liquid in the kitchen in Episode 7. Others my age were equally delighted with the pinboards filled with gig tickets, flyers, photos, Mango Chili's “new” Kettle Chips, and N-Joi and Frankie Knuckles songs (the entire soundtrack is the perfect gateway to our past).

But it's also unsettling to see the '80s and '90s firmly planted in period drama territory. Watching Ambika Mod (b. 1995) rummage around to play a cassette tape or Leo Woodall (b. 1996) put coins into a pay phone, you can't help but think that for them it must be as foreign as wearing a crinoline or riding in a horse-drawn carriage. Woodall must be unaware of the distinctive smell of a pay phone (what was it? No, not pee, but perhaps the disinfectant used on the mouthpiece?). Mod has never recorded a Top 40, avoiding every Bruno Brooks moment on the double decker.

Moreover, the work has clearly been meticulously and intelligently researched: Whereas in a Jane Austen film adaptation only a few experts might notice an anachronism, here an entire generation would rant online if a character smoked the wrong brand of cigarettes. I imagined scholars poring over copies of The Face and watching The Word with the same intensity as they study the fishnet hats and ties at the Victoria and Albert Museum.

We are history. It's a pain of nostalgia – a pain – but also a fun pain. It's part of the story behind the recent commissioning and success of content from the '80s, and now the '90s. Stranger Things, Wham's documentary “Newsreader” and “The Greatest Night in Pop” (looking back on the making of 1985's We Are the World).

But another aspect is that younger audiences enjoy this perfect recreation of a time that feels and seems so long ago (see also Gen Z's recent obsession with Friends). Gilmore Girls and other '90s series): We are their Mad Men.

And they're right. It was a long time ago. I sometimes work in the Observer archives, and the '80s and '90s stuff has a look and feel of datedness, with yellowed pages and attitudes. In her review, Chitra Ramaswamy highlights an exception to One Day's period accuracy: “A white boy like Dex can't fall for a dark-skinned girl like Em. Dex (and his parents) would have made an unintentional racist blunder.” (“Everyone was confused by Coriander,” said a friend.) Mod is great, and well-cast, but we can look back sentimentally to our past without remembering the casual racism that comes with Saxon's elf boots. This is in contrast to It's a Sin, where rampant homophobia is at the heart of the story.

Anyway, the reason my friends are crazy about Burger Phone and S'Express isn't because they think they were better back then. we It was better. It was brighter and less baggy like my duvet cover. So I guess we'll continue to be obsessed with nostalgic TV shows from the near future. Who could resist that?



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