The '80s: The Decade That Made Us

TV review by
Emily Ashby, Common Sense Media
The '80s: The Decade That Made Us TV Poster Image
Fascinating, mature retelling of memorable era's legacy.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.

Positive Messages

The series views this decade through the lens of history, drawing relationships between seemingly minor events and illustrating how each one played a role in creating the world as it is today. Innovators in entertainment and politics get a nod. Mature themes like race relations, sexual freedom, and war are investigated.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The show focuses on the players who had a positive role in moving the country forward during the '80s, but sometimes it raises the story of a less sympathetic character or upsetting events like John Lennon's death or hostage stand-offs.


Video footage of war scenes, hostage situations, beatings, shootings, missile launches, etc. as they relate to the events of the decade. Some are disturbing in their reality; others are gleaned from TV shows and movies and obviously are fiction.


Sexual topics are discussed within their role in the changing times. The advent of the pornography industry is mentioned briefly. Some scenes show women in revealing clothing like low-cut exercise leotards...and lots of spandex.


"Ass," "hell," "son of a bitch," and "pissed" are audible; "f--k" is bleeped.


Brand names and logos (Apple, IBM, PacMan, Sony, etc.) are shown as the narrator discusses the products' impact on the times.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The '80s: The Decade That Made Us is a cultural re-examining of an era that changed the course of American history. The docuseries brings a little bit of everything to the table, from the assassinations of world leaders and cultural icons to the evolution of computer technology, making the content difficult to predict from one episode to the next. Some segments reference sexual topics like pornography, others are marked by strong language in music lyrics and interviews with the artists. Violent video footage of war show people being beaten, carrying weapons, and bound and blindfolded. Older teens might enjoy this show's unique presentation of history as it relates to cultural icons and products they recognize, but it's more likely to captivate adults who can match their own memories of the time to the series' depictions.

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What's the story?

THE '80S: THE DECADE THAT MADE US is a retrospective journey through a 10-year time span of cultural evolution, technological breakthroughs, and political change that set the stage for the state of world and cultural affairs today. Narrated by Rob Lowe, this six-part series revisits historical events from the assassination attempt on Ronald Reagan to the advent of the VCR, exploring the role each played in the progress of the '80s era. Pairing video footage with modern-day interviews, the content draws relationships between seemingly stand-alone events, illustrating the interconnectedness among revolutionary figures, life-altering inventions, and iconic moments united in the timeframe from which they came.

Is it any good?

The age of breakdancing and jelly bracelets inspires distinct visual images, especially for viewers who have their own memories from this era. But The '80s: The Decade That Made Us doesn't wallow in nostalgia so much as it uses cultural references to complete the picture of a time that witnessed indelible changes to American politics and society. As the country transitioned from the weariness over energy shortages and hostage crises in the '70s to a new climate of individuality and entrepreneurship, what role did the Sony Walkman or Jane Fonda fitness videos play in forever altering that picture? How did a ragtag hockey team inspire an entire nation's new confidence and view of the future? And what was the significance of voting an actor into the White House?

Because this series assumes the audience has a working knowledge of major historical events during this era, it's not a suitable choice for younger kids. What's more, it explores a range of mature topics like gender discrimination, race relations, war, and sexuality, sometimes in greater depth than is appropriate for some teens. If your older ones are interested in watching, you might want to screen the content to judge its appropriateness for them. Ultimately, though, the curious questions, thought-provoking answers, and yes, touches of nostalgia make this a fascinating and entertaining series for a range of viewers.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about how history shapes our world today. What is the lasting legacy of the '80s decade? How do the breakthroughs that era saw continue to influence our lives today?

  • Can we properly appreciate the impact of the events we live through as they happen? How does elapsed time give us a clearer view of how things change because of them? What do you think will be the legacy of the most recent decade?

  • Discuss the reasoning behind this documentary's unique style. Why does it give equal time to political events, technology, and important moments in our cultural history? How do these factors influence each other?

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