I remember, as a teenager in the 90s, my mum and uncle laughing about how they enjoyed all these songs from the 70s that they hated at the time. And I wondered if I would ever listen back to All For Love or even I’ve Been Thinking About You with warm feelings instead of adolescent fury.
Yes, it turns out. I betrayed you, Teen Shane.
But nothing compares to the multitude of betrayals that comes from seeing your formative years rebuilt for the screen, be it big or small. That strange filtered nostalgia that hits when you see an old corporate logo or TV ad? It's somehow magnified when they're being used as set dressing.
It’s all part of growing up, of course. One minute you’re wishing you could’ve visited the New York of The Deuce and laughing at all the pop culture references in The Wedding Singer for the millionth time, the next you’re tut-tutting at Captain Marvel for having Garbage’s Only Happy When It Rains on a jukebox in June 1995 when the song wasn’t released until September 1995. (Come on, Marvel!)
Even though we’re Australian, so many of our memories of what no one calls “The Reality Bites Decade” are filtered through remembered or half-remembered imagery from America. Monica Lewinsky’s beret. Fairuza Balk’s choker. Kirsten Dunst craving more blood.
And that’s why On Becoming a God in Central Florida feels so close to the bone. A dystopian tale of suckers being drawn into multilevel marketing schemes isn’t inherently a 1992 one – you could just as easily tell it today, with a subscription-based podcast instead of motivational cassettes, for example. But it’s everything around the central performances and darkly funny tone that takes me straight back to The Reality Bites Decade: references to rollerblading, DOS on a monitor, shortening mullets and nascent goatees, analogue photographs… and Julie Benz for good measure. Even the fonts used on FAM labels and the shades-of-grey-and-blue colours in their logo are a nostalgic gut-punch.
It’s not just Kirsten Dunst’s latest outing that’s doing this to us, of course. On Netflix we saw one-season wonder Everything Sucks! tackle the pain of adolescence in a rural American setting circa 1996 (featuring, um, a teenage girl who looked a lot like I did at that age). PEN15 is doing the same thing – although happily with more episodes incoming.
In the end, there’s a sick pleasure at watching your youth recreated in service to a fascinating and propulsive story, and On Becoming A God In Central Florida is perfect for that reason. It’s not a straight comedy or even a drama, it’s a dark, dark tale of what happens to individuals facing off against a cult-like organisation. That undercurrent of dread at the passing of years feeds into the complicated cocktail of feelings this show evokes. It’s the televisual equivalent of watching the No Rain filmclip, which my adult self may or may not still love today.
On Becoming a God in Central Florida starts on Thursday, 21 November at SBS On Demand, and on SBS with a special double episode at 8:30pm. Remaining episodes will air at 9:30pm weekly thereafter.
Watch the trailer now: