Netflix's That 90's Show debuted last Thursday, and I've since watched it 2.7 times in preparation for this blog slash genuine enjoyment.
I LOVE That 70's Show. Iconic is a word that gets beat to death on the internet nowadays, but T70S was an iconic staple of the 2000s (at least to me). I have the DVDs of the first few seasons and remember watching the series finale live in 8th grade when I was grounded for getting into some shenanigans that would make the legends of Point Place proud and had my dad calling me a dumb ass.
I binged That 70's Show in less than two weeks on the cock to get in the spirit, which was no easy feat. It turned into a comfort show, and frankly, I miss my rewatch. The series spans from May 17th, 1976-December 31st, 1979, over 200 episodes and eight years of real-time. I'd easily put That 70's Show in my Top 10 all-time favorite shows, but this blog is about the 90s edition and my criticism/praise of it. This post will contain spoilers, so as much as I hate to turn readers away if you still haven't watched and would like to, I'd X out now.
Now that we're all alright, let's travel back in time...to July of 1995 in Point Place, WI.
Adjunct professor of the religion of Star Wars at an unnamed college, Eric Forman, his writer (with a freshly published book) wife Donna, and their daughter Leia are visiting from Chicago for 4th of July weekend. Eric and Leia are set to go to Space Camp in Alabama because when you think science, naturally, Alabama comes first to mind. However, Leia makes friends with kids from the neighborhood and wants to stay for the summer. Kitty obliges, opening up the basement for Leia as she did for Eric and his friends.
As much as I bash remakes for their laziness, I love a spin-off within the show's universe. Reboots, spin-offs, however, you want to classify them all not created equal; some feel unnecessary, but I truly enjoyed this show. It has its flaws (which we'll get to) but also has serious potential, and enough time has passed where it plays as vintage. Red and Kitty are the only returning characters with starring roles in season one and they are incredible; Red's eased a little with age, but still has wit. Kitty is funny as ever and ends up tatted by the end of the season,. All the living main characters (minus Hyde for #badguyreasons) make at least a brief appearance in these ten episodes.
That's my first complaint. I know streaming shows usually don't have 20+ episode seasons, and that debuts are historically shorter. Still, after binging That 70's Show, which is 200 episodes over eight years (and only three and a half in 70s time), I'm scratching ---my nails down someone else's back for more! Ten inches will leave you satisfied, but ten episodes does not. It feels like things are just getting started, then bam, it's all over.
Before I tell you what else rubbed me the wrong way, let's break down the new characters.
Leia Forman (played by Callie Haverda)
Daughter of Eric and Donna Forman; Granddaughter of Red and Kitty Forman; Granddaughter of Bob Pinciotti.
Gwen (played by Ashley Aufderheide)
Daughter of Sherri Runck; half-sister of Nate Runck (different dads); neighbor of Red and Kitty Forman
Sherri Runck (played by Andrea Anders)
Mother of Gwen and Nate; neighbor of Red and Kitty Forman; Fez's on-again, off-again girlfriend
Nate Runck (played by Maxwell Acee Donovan)
Son of Sherri; Half-brother of Gwen; Nikki's boyfriend
Nikki (played by Sam Morelos)
No family mentioned; Nate's girlfriend
Ozzie (played by Reyn Doi)
No family mentioned
Jay Kelso (played by Mace Coronel)
Son of Jackie and Michael Kelso
In my research, I learned that Covid hampered production, and that's partly why all the OG That 70's Showers aren't in many scenes together (Fez and Donna share a moment in the circle in the finale, and that's basically it), but I'm worried about the relationship between the gang. Of course, Hyde wasn't brought back because Danny Masterson is in legal trouble for scuzzy behavior, but it's weird to me they don't mention his character at all. Hyde was like a son to the Formans and a significant part of the series. They could've said he died or was away, literally anything, but he just wasn't addressed as if he didn't date Jay's mom and live in the Forman's house for years. Leo is the only person with an excuse not to mention Hyde.
Speaking of Leo, he's used perfectly in the That 90's Show. I love Leo, so I'm always down for him getting more screen time, but his usage rate was fantastic. The video scene is hysterical. It's even funnier that he taped over Clerks for his Real World audition. He's excellent in the woods for the picnic scene. I fucking love Leo, man.
I'm not going to hold a comedy to the same standards as, say, Mad Men when it comes to historical accuracy in a period piece (it feels so weird considering something from the 90s as such). Still, they could've done a better job making it feel like the summer of 1995. It feels like a Gen Z take on the 90s. There are plenty of references sprinkled in, I liked the cutaways, like Ozzie's 90s talk show, but I'm looking for more, mainly the slang and aesthetic. I'd give the clothes like a B-.
The Formans get their first computer, which makes sense from a timeline standpoint with Windows 95, but the language could be much better. Clueless would've come out during the timeline of the season. You'd for sure hear Nikky or Leia drop an "as if" after seeing it. Gwen is too cool and would never, well, maybe ironically.
This part isn't that big of a deal, but Red gets that massage chair from Sharper Image (maybe I'm being too hard about the lack of 90s feel?) in the 3rd episode; it's in the living room, then never seen again!
Here's his chair in episode nine (and appears in e5).
What happened to the massage chair? I'd take a secondary storyline in an additional episode explaining its fate. Did Ozzie or Nate break it? Did Kitty make him return it? Did Bob get stuck in it??? Where does this red chair come from?? One of the better running jokes of the season is Red talking about how much he spent on things years ago as to why he won't get rid of them. You know there'd be a good reason if he replaced it so quickly.
By far the biggest bummer of That 90's Show, apart from how rough Bob looked and sounded (Red is 79 in real life, Bob is only 68) ---
I didn't do Bob any favors using this pic where it low key looks like he's having a heart attack when he reality he's singing a sex song to his granddaughter.
---was the implication that the gang isn't friends anymore.
Eric, Donna, Kelso, and Jackie appear in the first episode, but only Donna returns later in the series (twice). Eric and Donna are presumably at Red and Kitty's for a couple of days, but Kelso and Jackie only show up at the house once they've both left.
Now they're busy since they're about to get re-married (again), which, based on their conversation, the Formans had no idea. Jackie tells them they're registered at Bloomingdales, which I get based on her personality (although she grew throughout the series, this version of Jackie feels like if season 3 Jackie was 35). Even if they did have a falling out, she'd still want a gift. But the whole dynamic of this scene makes it seem like this is the first time they've seen each other in years. There's no mention of their friendships with Donna or Eric or that they just missed them. Plus, the Formans only realize they have a son, Jay, once they meet him this summer. They only met him this summer???
It could just be bad writing. That 70's Show took plenty of liberty with the storyline and plot holes (what happened to Donna's sister???).
Maybe we'll see more of the old gang together in the second season, but between this scene and the Kitty-Fez interaction at his Salon where he talks about how Sherri is the first woman he's felt like *this* since Jackie (who he was dating in 1979) things don't add up. It's now over 15 years later, and if Point Place truly is "her town, sweetie," don't you think Kitty would be well in the loop in the love lives of the people she was basically a second mother of in the late 70s?
You have eyes everywhere but didn't know why Jackie and Fez split up until July of 1995?? Nirvana came and went before you knew what's up? There needed to be more thought put into all the backstories. That 90s Show has potential. Despite my complaints, I'm not writing it off; I genuinely enjoyed it. I'm bummed it was only ten episodes. There wasn't enough time to fully or even adequately develop these new characters.
It's cool that they used actual teens to play the new kids, but they had zero chemistry. Like how did they become friends? It didn't feel authentic and more like some Netflix execs had a checklist of requirements to appeal to the largest demographic possible. I have no issues with a diverse group of friends; I had a diverse group of friends considering the makeup of my town (my grade had like four women of color, and two were in my squad), but we can't just act like the 90s weren't full of hate and shit talk. This was the Jerry Springer generation. This was a time of the Real World and grunge. Things were dirty. Are they all cool with having a gaysian in the squad? If so, bravo, for being so progressive, but even in times of tolerance, there will be jokes about that if you're actually friends. Friends make fun of each other. That's all they did on That 70's Show. The closest we came to that is when Gwen says she wants to be supportive but doesn't believe Ozzie's Canadian boyfriend is real.
This is where the lousy writing starts to get the wheels in my mind turning at 3 in the morning. So Leia doesn't live in Point Place. She's from Chicago and visiting. That makes sense. But Jay and everybody else presumably live close by, which means Michael and Jackie still live in Point Place. We're supposed to believe that Red and Kitty didn't know about Kelso and Jackie having a kid? They would've had to know even if they had a falling out or lost touch.
Also, their son is at least 16. We can look past how he would've been born during That 70's Show since we're already piling up continuity errors. I get it; this was life before Facebook, but come on. Kitty Forman would know what the fuck is going on. She has eyes everywhere! She worked at a HOSPITAL. She knew the town gossip. You don't think she'd know all the stories of little Jay Kelso following in his father's foot steps?
So it's either there was a falling out between everybody once the 80s started, or the writers really need to consider details or authenticity to its mother program. I guess the former could make sense given the Fez-Jackie-Kelso dynamic, but then Donna and Fez are hanging out (I use that term loosely, she's surprised to see him) in the circle in the season finale. Fez talks about how he misses all his people and says Eric is his best friend.
I would love to help fix these issues in season two. That 90's Show was loaded with bad writing! I'm a weird detail guy. I remember dates. I can recall bizarre shit. None of these plot holes would've happened with Ole Dozo in the mix!
Lastly, That 90's Show wasn't that funny. It was alright, but nothing like the 70s. I got into it because I love character-based shows and am a huge That 70's Show fan (I'm a sucker for nostalgia). I was hoping for Eric, Donna, Jackie, Kelso, and Fez (we did get a fair amount of Fez). Eric, Jackie, and Kelso are only in the first episode. I needed more.
There were some nice homages to the 70s. The old living room furniture is in the basement and the Packers helmet is still there. The kids still hang at The Hub. Red had some great lines (his interactions with Eric were awesome), and Kitty was a pistol like always, but there weren't many memorable jokes or zingers. Ozzie coming out to people he'll never see again was hysterical. The first Leo scene, where Kitty and Leia are trying to get Clerks from him is fantastic. The 90210 parody was solid, especially the "it's cause I'm a freshman bit." Pastor Dave hanging in the porno section of Video Haven is a smart joke. I think Gwen is one of the stronger characters. I like Leia too. I like them all, although Jay's voice annoys me. Surprisingly, Sherri's sorta does it for me. I'd see if our pieces match.
The 5th episode was the best, most well-rounded of the first season (the 1st is good too because of all the OGs). If the people behind That 90's Show can replicate that whenever S2 picks up in the late '95 or sometime in '96, then this series could fly like R. Ke---wait, we don't mention him anymore. It could fly like Sugar Ray! I hope they incorporate the Packers winning the Super Bowl into the storyline next season. I'd love to see Red's reaction. At this point, they last won in 1968 (1967 season)!
Rotten Tomatoes gave That 90's Show a 7.6; before I saw that, I was thinking 8.2, and I'm sticking with that, even with my critiques, because I'm a notoriously easy grader and softy. MVPs of season 1 are Red & Kitty Forman. It's so fucking cute when he drops off her resume. I SAID GOOD DAY!
I don't love how the first episode doesn't include the theme song.
Another thing this season was lacking was a call back to Red and Kitty running up the stairs, but at their ages, I get why they couldn't do that. It'd be funny if they did it with a chairlift. It was cool to see them imply them doing it though. I heard them playing "Tell Me Something Good."