The sequel/spin-off to the iconic That ‘70s Show is unable to recreate the magic of the original
Last Updated: 05.40 PM, Jan 22, 2023
Story: The story is set in the year 1995, Eric (Topher Grace) and Donna Forman’s (Laura Prepon) daughter, Leia (Callie Haverda), spends her summer with her grandparents, Red (Kurtwood Smith) and Kitty Forman (Debra Jo Rupp). She meets new friends at Point Place Wisconsin, where her parents met and fell in love in the 70s.
Review: Reboots and spin-offs of popular TV shows have rarely managed to emulate the success of the original — Frazier, Better Call Saul, House of the Dragon and a few other titles being the exceptions. But the list of reboots/spin-offs that have flopped is endless — from Joey to Fuller House and How I Met Your Father. Unfortunately, That ‘90s Show has repeated the same mistakes as some of the other spin-offs, despite the odd bright moments over the course of season one.
Several aspects contributed to the success and popularity of That ‘70s Show, such as the memorable characters, the ‘70s setting, and the well-written humour. The new spin-off, however, fails to emulate any of these aspects. The newer generation of characters are cliches of teenage TV tropes that have been recycled in several TV shows over the last decade.
The young actors essaying the roles are burdened with the impossible task of replacing incredible talents such as Topher Grace, Laura Prepon, Danny Masterson, Wilmer Valderrama, Mila Kunis, and Ashton Kutcher. In fact, Topher Grace’s lead role as Eric Forman, with his dry humour and impeccable comic timing, was the glue that held the story and its characters together in the original. There was even a significant decline in the show's quality in the eighth and final season after Grace left the series by the end of season seven.
That ‘90s Show is in many ways is crippled by the success of its predecessor. It is also unable to explore the ‘90s aesthetic apart from a few fleeting ‘90s references. It gives the impression of Gen Z teenagers stuck in 1995 in a house that looks like it’s from the ‘70s. The show’s most noticeable setback is its inability to incorporate ‘90s American socio-politics and culture into its narrative. This is an aspect that the original series thrived on — the‘70s recession, the Cold War, the aftermath of the Korean War, and teenage sexuality.
Apart from exploring a tried and tested coming-of-age story, That ‘90s Show does not explore ‘90s socio-politics. This negates any meaningful subtext the story could have had, even more so considering the 90s was an era of significant social, political, and cultural change across the globe.
The more concerning aspect of the show is the mild revisionism of history concerning ‘90s America’s views on homosexuality. Through the character of Ozzie (Reyn Doi), the show could have effectively highlighted the plight of homosexual teenagers in ‘90s America, similar to how The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air highlighted racism in America through comedy and satire.
There are a few junctures where the series does thrive and it’s when the legacy characters appear on the screen. Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp are iconic as ever, and the cameos by the other original cast members are also carefully incorporated without hindering the main story. But if the show has to rely on the legacy characters for moments of quality, it speaks volumes of its drawbacks.
Verdict: Netflix’s That ‘90s Show fails to recreate the magic of the original series despite a few promising moments from season one. It is devoid of depth in its story and characters, crippled by its one-dimensional script. Taking into account Netflix’s ruthless cancelling spree of late, it wouldn't be a surprise if the series does not return for another season.