Netflix’s sequel series to That 70s Show provides a welcome dose of multi-cam sitcom laughs.
That ‘70s Show That ’70s Show first aired on Fox in 1998. Throughout the seasons, viewers watched Eric Forman (Topher Grace) and his motley crew of friends as they got into hijinks in ’70s Wisconsin. The friends often met in Eric’s basement, forging bonds through pot-fueled smoky clouds. There were highs, both metaphorically and literally, culminating in a finale in 2006. It’s only fitting that the nostalgia trip continues with the spinoff That ’90s Show. It’sa fun sequel series that plays with elements of the original series while establishing its own path.
The premise follows Leia Forman (Callie Haverda), Eric and Donna’s (Laura Prepon) teen daughter. In the summer of 1995, she’s returned to her parents’ hometown to stay with grandparents Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp) and Red (Kurtwood Smith). Leia soon befriends a ragtag group of teens – angsty rebel Gwen (Ashley Aufderheide), her loveable dimwit brother Nate (Maxwell Acee Donovan), smart girl Nikki (Sam Morelos), quirky techie Ozzie (Reyn Doi), and cute boy Jay Kelso (Mace Coronel). Like the generations before, they find fun and games, growing pains, and friendships in the haze.
The cast of newcomers is fun, even as they map closely onto the previous characters. Haverda imbues Leia with Eric’s adorkabilty Eric and Donna’s fiery control. Likewise, Coronel is a chip off the old block as Jay Kelso – he’s got the playful charm of his father, Michael Kelso (Ashton Kutcher). Morelos and Donovan are cute as Nikki and Nate, the loveable teen couple. They seem like Jackie and Kelso 2.0, minus the loud nagging.
Aufderheide is a knock-out as the friend next-door Gwen, the cool rebel feminist who makes out with boys at the mall on her terms. Doi, as Ozzie, is a standout, portraying an openly gay kid in small-town Wisconsin. It’s nice to see LGBTQ+ kids represented onscreen, and Doi balances the humor and the heart of Ozzie. There’s a particularly humorous and heartwarming episode where he comes out to Kitty as he helps set up her computer with dial-up internet.
For fans of That ’70s Show, there’s plenty to love with That ’90s Show.
It wouldn’t be nostalgic without some cameos from the past – Eric, Kelso, and Jackie drop in for scenes in the first episode. Donna also pops in for more episodes, frantically showing up when Kitty misinterprets a conversation with Leia as a curiosity about becoming sexually active. Finally, there’s Fez (Wilmer Valderrama), who appears in three episodes. Now a local celebrity with his popular Chez Fez hairstyling studio, he’s in an on-again/off-again relationship with Gwen and Nate’s single mom Sherri (a delightfully funny Andrea Anders).
Of course, Kitty and Red get the most airtime amongst the original cast, and their chemistry doesn’t miss a beat. Jo Rupp and Smith have the fun task of showing the evolution of Kitty and Red as they take care of Leia. In the original series, Red was a tough dad to Eric, constantly threatening to give his son a foot in the ass when Eric disobeyed. This time, Red has softened, even when his granddaughter gets into trouble. In response, Kitty now relishes the opportunity to be the bad cop. It’s great to see Smith and Rupp onscreen as Red and Kitty, seeing them explore their characters years later.
As often happens with any nostalgia property, some moments feel stuck in the cringe of the past. For instance, there’s an episode where Leia tries to kiss multiple boys at the mall. The intent seems to be to depict a teen empowering herself by embracing her sexuality. That certainly fits with the era’s attitudes. However, in the present day, its lack of awareness of contemporary attitudes toward consent undermines the scenes.
For fans of That ’70s Show, there’s plenty to love with That ’90s Show. Those who grew up on the show might be in for a reckoning. They may well relate to Eric and Donna’s discovery that they’ve aged out of the basement. Now they’re “upstairs people,” playing cards with the other adults. There’s also a lot of ’90s nostalgia – shopping malls, dial-up internet, and teen heartbreak that can only be solved by watching Beverly Hills, 90210 (there’s a hilarious cameo from Brian Austin Green as his character David). There’s something satisfying about the half-hour multi-cam comedy format, realizing that form itself is becoming a thing of the past. It’s like Kitty’s cupcakes – it’s pure comfort, iced with a thick layer of nostalgia.
That ’90s Show begins the journey from grunge to the Macarena January 19 on Netflix.