Available now to stream at your leisure, these six classic television series from days gone by offer an escape from reality that will transport you from medieval England to 1970s San Francisco and all the way to the final frontier.
Retro gold for your viewing pleasure
The Vicar of Dibley
There could hardly be a jollier escape to the country than that offered by the charming fictional English village of Dibley, where the daily dramas range from a mix-up over the guest performer at the annual fete to an Easter Bunny mystery. The series was written by veteran British screenwriter and director Richard Curtis for comedy actress Dawn French, who plays the ebullient progressive female vicar Geraldine Grainger, assigned to lead the local parish following a rule change allowing women to be ordained. French is truly God’s gift to comedy, and the eccentric villagers who surround her in The Vicar of Dibley guaranteed the BBC had a hit on its hands when the sitcom debuted in 1994. Two series and several season specials are available now to stream on Stan. Keep viewing after the credits for the vicar’s nightly joke shared with adorable verger Alice.
The truth is out there … and you can find it now on SBS on Demand. The network has released all 11 seasons of The X-Files as part of its “Streaming Survival” collection, offering a deep dive into the Golden Globe and Emmy-winning drama that kept science-fiction audiences captivated throughout the ’90s (although the last reboot by Fox was just two years ago). Unconventional FBI agent Fox Mulder (David Duchovny) and his sceptical sidekick Dana Scully (Gillian Anderson – most recently seen as Margaret Thatcher in The Crown) investigate strange unsolved cases that Mulder believes involve paranormal phenomena. Alien abductions, UFOs, high-level conspiracy theories, secret military facilities, simmering sexual tension and a mysterious “Cigarette Smoking Man” – what’s not to love?
Tales of the City
The original six-part Tales of the City series was produced in the UK in 1993, despite the fact it’s set in 1970s San Francisco. The storylines were considered too risqué for American networks to touch, but high ratings saw them change their tune by the time two further series were filmed. All three seasons, plus a 2019 sequel, are now available on Netflix, offering a faithful dramatisation of author Armistead Maupin’s nine novels centred around the adventures of a naïve young woman named Mary Ann (Laura Linney) who moves into a large ramshackle home at 28 Barbary Lane, San Francisco, with an enigmatic landlady named Anna Madrigal (Olympia Dukakis) and an assortment of tenants with colourful – in some cases secret – lives. Dukakis is a delight, and while those once-taboo themes – homosexuality, occasional nudity and pot smoking – seem tame by today’s standards, Tales of the City is still a trip.
The Golden Girls
In hindsight, it seems slightly surprising that this concept flew with TV execs in the ’80s: a sitcom revolving around four older single women – all of them feisty, funny and forthright – sharing a house in Florida. But The Golden Girls were golden then and they’re golden still, even though most of the stars have now passed away (Betty White, who played Rose, is still acting at 98 and just last year voiced the character Bitey White, a teething ring, in Toy Story 4). Quirky storylines, sharp scripts and even sharper characters saw the show win multiple awards across its seven seasons, from 1988-92, all of which can be streamed on Stan – that’s 180 episodes in total, which could fill a lot of isolation time.
Before he became Mr Bean, Rowan Atkinson embodied the equally bonkers yet brilliant character of Blackadder in this highly successful BBC mock-historical comedy series that first aired in the UK in the early ’80s. The four series (The Black Adder, Blackadder II, Blackadder the Third and Blackadder Goes Forth) are available on Stan, with each one set in a different time period – from 1485 to 1917 – as the character of Blackadder moves from being a prince to a lord, a royal attendant and an army captain, all the while accompanied by his long-suffering servant Baldrick. The writing credits were shared by Atkinson, Richard Curtis and comedian and actor Ben Elton, the cast included the likes of Stephen Fry, Hugh Laurie, Rik Mayall and Miranda Richardson, and the series boasts arguably some of the best insults and quotes ever heard on screen.
Star Trek: The Next Generation
The release of the 2020 series Star Trek: Picard – the eighth in the Star Trek franchise – can be credited with sparking renewed interest in The Next Generation, which aired from 1987-94 and first introduced Patrick Stewart as Jean-Luc Picard, captain of the starship USS Enterprise-D. Set in the 24th century, it sees Picard leading a whole new crew on missions to explore unknown worlds. Despite coming a couple of decades after the first series premiered – and the fact that the original cast (including William Shatner and Leonard Nimoy) had been jettisoned – the series proved hugely popular, winning 19 Emmy Awards and attracting around 30 million viewers for the season finale. You can go back to the future with all seven seasons on Netflix (or fast forward to the present to see the now much older Picard come out of retirement on Amazon Prime Video).
Note that most streaming services offer a free 30-day trial – plenty of time to binge on a few series while deciding if you want to sign up for more.