When the Streetlights Go On attempts to make its own entry into the teenage nostalgia genre with a flashback tale set in the summer of 1995.
Teenage nostalgia is a big ticket right now thanks to the success of Stranger Things. And while Stranger Things is definitely guilty of engaging in nostalgia for nostalgia’s sake, there’s narrative purpose behind it as well.
The Cold War plays a huge part, as well as pop culture tropes from the time period. Stranger Things isn’t just mimicking Spielberg movies and Stephen King and 1980s science fiction and horror – it takes the tropes created by those sources and puts its own spin on them, while making sure to weave them into the overall story so nothing feels out of place.
And while Streetlights is clearly excited about the opportunity to milk the nostalgia of that decade, primarily in terms of the series’ soundtrack, it does little else to justify setting the story 25 years in the past. It’s a thoroughly generic teen murder mystery plot, with occasional shots of Bill Clinton on television to remind us what decade it is.
Not even the costumes seem particularly 90s – Becky (Sophie Thatcher) straight-up looks like a teenager in 2020. And the computer lab in which Charlie (Chosen Jacobs) writes his articles about the crime for the school newspaper is loaded with anachronistic laptops.
There’s no narrative purpose behind the show’s setting beyond luring in viewers who fondly remember the release of Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness, and it doesn’t even do the work to effectively create the setting.