Editor’s Note: This article contains spoilers for “That ‘90s Show.”
Airing fifteen years after the hit sitcom “That ‘70s Show,” Netflix launched its original reboot series, “That ‘90s Show,” on Jan 19. The show takes place in the year 1995 and centers on the daughter of Eric Forman (Topher Grace) and Donna Pinciotti (Laura Prepon), Leia Forman (Callie Haverda). Leia decides to stay at her grandparent’s house for the summer to get a taste of the wild stories from her parent’s youth and meets a new group of friends who use her grandparent’s famous basement as their hangout spot.
For a show that many thought had fully run its course, the series reboot was surprisingly entertaining with moments of hilarity that rivaled its predecessor. Entertainment and humor came naturally to the series and it’s fun to see the younger characters partaking in the activities of their parents.
All the original “That ‘70s Show” characters make cameo appearances, except for Danny Masterson who played Steven Hyde. Due to several charges of sexual assault, he was not invited back. More information can be found here.
Everyone else returned as adults with children of their own and booming businesses. While it is very satisfying to watch how the characters have grown up, the show unfortunately only shows them individually. It would have been nice to have at least one scene with them all together to see how their friendship has changed over the years.
Many of the reboot’s best moments come from Red (Kurtwood Smith) and Kitty Forman (Debra Jo Rupp), who have evolved from strict parents to relatively laid-back grandparents. Red is his classic grumpy self, but Kitty has become very open to the chaos of the youths and even gets involved in their antics. Their constant presence throughout the entire series keeps the show grounded in its roots.
Each new character within “That ‘90s Show” takes certain traits from the original characters and jumbles them. This makes sense for Leia’s character and that of Michael (Ashton Kutcher) and Jackie Kelso’s (Mila Kunis) son, Jay Kelso (Mace Coronel). However, for all the other characters, it feels like they are copying and pasting past successes onto new faces. This strategy overuses sitcom character tropes in a way that feels a bit repetitive.
The new characters don’t live up to the older generation — so far. This isn’t too surprising considering the older characters have already had eight years to get comfortable in their roles. By putting a brand new set of characters next to the older ones, it contrasts the two casts in a way that makes you appreciate the charm of “That ‘70s Show” at the expense of making the new cast look cheesy and cliche.
To compare, in the first season of “That ‘70s Show,” the characters also felt very cliche: the nerdy guy, the popular girl, the dumb jock, the foreign exchange student and the girl next door. However, as the creators got comfortable with the characters and had time to make them more complex through years of filming, the characters were able to take on more complex personalities. This first season of “That 90s Show” feels as if the actors and writers are still getting comfortable with the new characters. If “That ‘90s Show” is confirmed for more seasons, it’s likely that the cast dynamic will improve with time considering both shows have the same creators, Terry Turner and Bonnie Turner.
The old-time sitcom feel was kept alive through laugh tracks and fake audience reactions. Although this style of television may be outdated, it doesn’t feel cheesy or overused. Instead, the laugh tracks contribute to the show’s theme of nostalgia and looking back in time. By using them ironically, the laugh tracks have an element of parody to them because they exude an older style of television similar to the feeling of antique furniture from the ‘80s.
The humor of the series feels similar to a Disney Channel show with PG-13 dialogue. It is over the top and often too mundane. Much of the charm of “That ‘70s Show” was its unique episode plots, one of the best, for example, when Kelso (Ashton Kutcher) prank calls the White House and jokingly makes a threat on the president’s life. The boys become paranoid and quickly dispose of “the evidence” also referred to as “the stash” after which they become even more paranoid. The new series feels much more limited and often relies on stereotypical scenarios such as kissing a boy for the first time at the mall or lying about going to the movies.
Although the show is entertaining, it’s not doing anything original that we haven’t already seen in “That ‘70s Show.” Because the show is rather simple in terms of plot, it still somewhat works — just barely though. There are a few comedic lines that are genuinely funny, but the majority of the screenwriting feels lazy.
Overall, “That ‘90s Show” is worth watching for purely nostalgic purposes. If you watched “That ‘70s Show” as a kid, this show will definitely bring back old memories, and it does a good job of mimicking the original’s best parts.
While the new characters are cute, they don’t come close to the dynamic of the original cast. Still, it definitely merits the launching of a second season. Ultimately, “That ‘90s Show” functions well as a complete conclusion of its predecessor, but could not stand alone.
Emma McCandless is an Entertainment Staff Writer. She can be reached at email@example.com.