‘That ’90s Show’ builds on nostalgia

Netflix’s first season of “That ‘90s Show” comes more than 15 years after the final episode of its predecessor “That ‘70s Show” aired. With much of the main cast from the original returning — whether for guest appearances or recurring roles — hopes were high that the season could hold its own. While not living up to the original series, “That ‘90s Show” had its moments.

The pilot begins by showing Kitty and Red Forman — played by Debra Jo Rupp and Kurtwood Smith — dancing in the iconic kitchen from the original show. Kitty hears a car door and opens the door to her son Eric, played by Topher Grace, to thunderous applause from the audience. Following him in are now-wife Donna —  played by Laura Prepon —  and their daughter Leia —  played by Callie Haverda. Leia is named after Princess Leia from “Star Wars,” a nice callback to Eric’s obsession with the franchise in “That ‘70s Show.”

After playing basketball in the driveway, Leia hears someone singing “You Oughta Know” by Alanis Morissette and goes over to investigate. She looks through the window of her mother’s old house to find her eventual first friend, Gwen, who introduces her to her group of friends. Leia, who was just visiting Point Place, Wisconsin from her Chicago home, decides that she wants to stay the summer with her new friends. Although Eric opposes the idea at first — even citing one of his father’s vintage “foot-in-ass” lines — he agrees to let her stay.

While the season was not awful, especially towards the final episodes, it did not match the magic that the original series had. Most of the problems lie with the new cast of kids. It seemed as though the actors needed some time to adjust into their roles, as evident with some cringy and awkward acting in the beginning of the season.

This was to be expected, however, as a similar situation took place in the first few episodes of “That ‘70s Show.” I believe that it is unfair to judge actors, especially younger actors, without giving them a chance to fully dive into their characters. The one character who stood out among the kids, however, was Jay Kelso, played by Mace Coronel.

Jay is the son of “That ‘70s Show” characters Michael Kelso and Jackie Burkhart, who were played by Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis. Kutcher and Kunis even make a surprise cameo in the first episode, not skipping a beat in their dysfunctional relationship from the original show. Jay is the perfect blend of Michael and Jackie in terms of his characteristics and mannerisms. The show even casted an actor that looked like a young mix of the two of them.

Throughout the season, Jay tries to convince Leia to date him, and in the sixth episode he finally gets his wish. However, with Leia moving back to Chicago at the end of the summer in the finale, Jay feels like he has no choice but to break up with her since a long-distance relationship will be too hard. He ends up changing his mind at the end of the episode, but it is complicated as Leia and Gwen’s brother, Nate, nearly share a kiss without Jay’s knowledge. We are left on this cliffhanger.

With more recurring appearances of the original cast from Leo, played by Tommy Chong, and Fez, played by Wilmer Valderrama, “That ‘90s Show” definitely relies on some nostalgia from the original series. These moments seem to be the highlights of the season, although as the season progresses, the kids begin to grow into their characters and have better storylines, especially Leia and Jay.

Of course, it is difficult to fully develop characters in one 10-episode season. I believe the show did enough to warrant at least a second season, especially with the cliffhanger at the end. However, with Netflix’s recent trend of canceling shows, it is still uncertain whether there will be one or not. If there is one, I would like to see more cameos from the original cast, as well as more developed storylines for the kids.


3/5 Stars



Photo courtesy of Gage Skidmore, Flickr