This 90s show is now streaming on Netflix.
In the age of reboots, revivals and sequels to popular series classics, That ’70s Show, which aired from 1998 to 2006, experienced another revival, and unlike That ’80s Show that failed, That ’90s Show is a successful continuation of the family story Foreman in Point Place, Wisconsin, although at times it borrows a little too much from its predecessor.
Fifteen years after That ’70s Show ended, That ’90s Show stars Eric Foreman (Topher Grace) and Donna Pinciotti (Laura Prepon), who live happily married in Chicago and are the parents of a young, awkward teenager named Leia (Callie Haverda). They visit Eric’s parents – Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp) and Red (Kurtwood Smith) – on July 4th in Point Place, Wisconsin before Eric and Leia leave for their father-daughter space camp retreat. But after befriending Gwen (Ashley Aufderheide) and her friends from the riot grrrl next door, Leia asks to spend the rest of the summer with her grandparents. Her new basement friends consist of grunge music lover Gwen; Gwen’s Himbo half-brother Nate (Maxwell Acee Donovan); his controlling, witty girlfriend Nikki (Sam Morelos); the sarcastic realist Ozzie (Reyn Doi); and handsome dork Jay Kelso (Mace Coronel) – yes, the son of Michael (Ashton Kutcher) and Jackie Kelso (Mila Kunis).
This ’90s show sticks to the same format and vibe as the original series. The kids spend their summer doing all kinds of fun, from attending a rave to picking up free stuff from the Pennysaver to having their hilarious deep discussions while high. Leia is adorable as a wallflower – basically the girl version of her father as a teenager. Like Michael Kelso and Jackie, Nate and Nikki are the shallow, irreconcilable couple. Ozzie is the queer Asian kid living in Wisconsin, comparable to Fez (Wilmer Valderrama), who was also considered an outsider. Gwen is just as rebellious as Eric’s best friend Steven Hyde (Danny Masterson). And Jay is a goofy version of Donna, the love interest. If the formula worked before, it should work again, right? To a certain extent sure. The characters are funny individually – especially Ozzie, whose sardonic one-liners were amusing – but as a group they lack the chemistry to believe in their relationship drama. Even the season finale, which ended on an emotional cliffhanger, felt flat and undeserved.
The show plays well into the ’90s with its music and subtle calls for glamor shots, snap bands, blockbusters, and even the movie Clerks – leading to a hilarious moment where Leia, who Clerks had never seen before, turns herself in fancies that it is her favorite movie and that Kevin Smith “was so sexy in it”. It’s also fun to see how Red and Kitty adapt to the ever-changing society by being introduced to the internet. Kitty once believes that the government can hear everything through the computer. She whispers, “I loved you at Arsenio, Bill” — referring to then-President Bill Clinton on the ’90s talk show The Arsenio Hall Show.
The series really works because of its connective tissue to the original with Kitty, Red, Fez and the many cameos that appear. Fans of That ’70s Show can expect plenty of inside gags and Easter eggs, with the pilot episode being particularly crammed with references. It will definitely be a treat for those wondering what happened to the beloved characters without Hyde (due to Masterson’s legal troubles). Rupp, Smith and Valderrama slip back into their roles as if no time had passed, and Valderrama steals every scene he’s in. While it’s delightful to see familiar and some unexpected returning characters on the show, newcomers might catch the inside jokes or comedy. For example, Leo’s (’70s icon Tommy Chong’s) many cameos on That ’70s Show made sense, but some viewers today won’t understand his role on that show as anything other than a stoned hippie.
The series follows the same format as the original, which works for the characters and their storylines.
This ’90s show is at its best when the gags reference the original series, particularly with the high circle and handling of Red and Kitty. But that puts too much emphasis on the older cast members when the show should focus on today’s kids — or in this case, ’90s kids. That’s not to say they can’t improve on that aspect if they get a second season. The teenage characters have the potential to be even better than their predecessors, but nepotism can only get you so far.