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REVIEW: ‘That ’90s Show’ Feels Like Going Back Home

The cast of That '90s Show

For the better part of the early ’00s, we spent our time in the ’70s. That ’70s Show served as a way of making our parents furious in explaining their younger years to us and gave us all characters we would relate to. As always was my case in the ’90s and ’00s, I related to the male character of Eric Forman (Topher Grace) and his nerdy qualities more than anything else. So when That ’90s Show was announced, I knew my time had come—meaning I would finally feel old watching the kids of Point Place, Wisconsin.

The show, as a whole, is cute. That’s the best way to break it down. It’s not reinventing the wheel of That ’70s Show and it’s more surface than anything. But it does feel like going home—not for the holidays or a significant event, just like taking a weekend trip to see your family for fun—and that’s kind of awesome, I have to say.

Mainly because the show could have changed so much. It could have made a more “girl power” show that would have felt so very ’90s or let the characters be more of the same archetypes we’ve come to know through the years. Instead, it just gives us a look at female friendships, family, and growing up in the 1990s.

That ’90s Show’s focus on Leia

For me, it’s great having Leia Forman (Callie Haverda) at the center of the show, because having a nerdy girl lead a ’90s-era series feels like a gift to little me, and I know that I’m not the only one who will feel that way. But it also means that we’ve got a series about female friendship over the male-heavy group in That ’70s Show. We had Eric, Fez, Kelso, and Hyde to Jackie and Donna. And yes, there were other women in the series, but the main group was split four to two. In the new series, we have three boys and three girls, and it is enough to make the show feel fresh and new.

The reason I love Leia does come from her being the Eric Forman replacement. She’s different from her dad (and has both elements of Eric and Donna in her character), but she is still a nerd like him, and it is cool to see.

We’re all alright (sort of)

So the draw for a lot of fans is the returning cast, but I wouldn’t get your hopes up by promising a return to the same series. It’s not. It belongs to a new generation, so the show doesn’t necessarily oversaturate you with cameos. We get to see Topher Grace return as Eric for the pilot, as he visiting with Donna (Lauren Prepon) and their daughter Leia, and then we see him leave Leia with Red (Kurtwood Smith) and Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp).

Then there is an episode when we figure out that Jay (Mace Coronel) is a Kelso, where we see Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher return as Jay’s parents, Jackie and Kelso. For the most part, the only original cast that we see a lot of is Red and Kitty, Don Stark Bob for Leia’s birthday, and the return of Tommy Chong as Leo. But it isn’t just a repurposing of the same show we know and love, and that actually works to its advantage.

I think, if the series were just a lot of the characters we knew returning as adults, it wouldn’t be what we loved That ’70s Show for. It is nice to see them as parents (or as a Wisconsin celebrity, in Wilmer Valderrama’s Fez’s case) and to pass the torch, as it were, to the next team of kids.

When it finds its own, it is great!

The pilot struggles, mainly because the jokes feel cheap and like a constant reminder of what That ’70s Show was with a nudge and a wink. But it then finds its own footing. We get to see how the series embraces that family feeling and makes the tone of the original series its own. It is, for lack of a better way of describing it, cute. It’s not something that will change the world.

But I do think that it will bring audiences joy. Where That ’70s Show shaped a lot of younger fans in how we interacted with the ’70s, I think that That ’90s Show will serve more as a comfort than anything else. As I said, it’s like going home just for a quick visit, and it is nice to have that feeling.

(featured image: Patrick Wymore/Netflix © 2022)

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Resident Spider-Man expert, official Leslie Knope, actually Yelena Belova. Wanda Maximoff has never done anything wrong in her life. New York writer with a passion for all things nerdy. Yes, she has a Pedro Pascal podcast.