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A Cute but Lackluster Return to Point Place

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It’s been nearly 17 years since That ’70s Show came to an end, and now Netflix is taking fans back to Point Place, Wisconsin to showcase a whole new decade. That ’90s Show stars a new set of teens as they attempt to have the summer of a lifetime under the watchful eyes of Red and Kitty Forman (Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp). In the sequel series, Eric (Topher Grace) and Donna’s (Laura Prepon) daughter, Leia (Callie Haverda), decides to spend the summer with her grandparents where she befriends a group of local kids. Together, they learn all about the highs (literally) and lows of hanging out in the Formans’ iconic basement. While some sitcom sequels have been hilarious and pointed (RIP Saved by the Bell), others have relied solely on nostalgia (looking at you, Fuller House). For its first season, That ’90s Show falls somewhere in-between. The show won’t exactly have you rolling, but it stands on its own and features some of the key ingredients that helped make That ’70s Show a classic.

If you’re looking forward to That ’90s Show, be warned that the first episode is hard to get through. The writing is borderline cringeworthy and the new cast leaves something to be desired. However, if you’re willing to power through, the show eventually finds its stride. Unsurprisingly, Smith and Rupp return to their characters with glorious ease. They were the best part of That ’70s Show and that hasn’t changed in the revival. Sadly, the rest of the original cast doesn’t get much screen time. If you were hoping for a big reunion, you need to lower your expectations. Grace is only in the first episode, but Prepron pops up a few times and Wilmer Valderrama (Fez) has a fun little arc. However, most of Ashton Kutcher’s (Michael Kelso) and Mila Kunis’ (Jackie Burkhart) small cameo was already featured in the trailer, and their scene is the biggest letdown of the entire new series. 

While That ’90s Show doesn’t give a lot of the original cast much to do, the show does shine when it comes to embodying the new decade. Much like That ’70s Show, the nods to the past are never too forced or gimmicky. Although, the ’90s jokes will feel a little surreal for people who watched the original series as it was airing. Considering That ’70s Show began in 1998 and this show takes place in 1995, it’s almost jarring to hear references that were happening in succession with the initial series. The Formans watch Friends?! What is time?! 

One thing that really made That ’70s Show stand out back in the day were all of the dream and parody sequences, many of which were inspired by 1970s pop culture. Thankfully, That ’90s Show follows in the original show’s footsteps by having some extremely smart and silly inserts. There’s a scene in the show’s second episode that pays tribute to the many times Eric had to talk to his parents while high, and it is the first moment of the new series that matches the cleverness of its predecessor. 

As for the new cast of teens, they eventually do find their groove, but none of them dazzle like the original young stars. Haverda is very believable as the daughter of Donna and Eric, and Mace Coronel (Jay) really does look and act like he could be Kelso’s son, but it’s Reyn Doi (Ozzie) who is the most memorable. Doi proved his comedic chops in Barb and Star Go to Vista Del Mar back in 2021, and he is the only newcomer that is guaranteed to make you laugh at least once. Ashley Aufderheide (Gwen), Sam Morelos (Nikki), and Maxwell Acee Donovan (Nate) round out the group nicely, but it’s hard to imagine any of their characters having the same impact as Eric and company. 

One big positive of the new series is seeing a little diversity in Point Place. Thankfully, we’re not dealing with another group of white kids and their foreign friend whose ethnicity is treated as a running gag. There is also a sweet coming-out storyline that never feels too movie-of-the-week or out of place for a 1995 setting. The show’s creators clearly learned from their mistakes this time around.  

The main question of That ’90s Show: Who is this series for? When you look back at TV history, there aren’t many successful teen-oriented sitcoms. While they certainly exist, the majority of teen-focused shows are either dramas or dramedies, and most of the ones that are sitcoms come from Nickelodeon or The Disney Channel and are geared toward younger kids. I was watching That ’70s Show while I was in middle school, and it was accessible enough to have jokes about sex and drugs without being too obvious or graphic. The new series holds to that theme, which could make it a good comedic source for today’s young teens. As a kid, I had a deep appreciation for the 1970s because of That ’70s Show, and its sequel could very well do the same for today’s kids and the 1990s. The only thing standing in its way is the fact that it’s not nearly as funny as the original series. That being said, it still has the potential to strike a chord with younger audiences. 

As for the returning viewers, there is one hard pill to swallow. When the original series ended, fans hated that Jackie and Fez ended up together, but putting her back with Kelso in the reboot, even for cameo appearances, was not the answer. In fact, even Kunis was against the idea. While Jackie and Fez’s ending made a lot of fans unhappy, the one positive thing about their union was Jackie’s character growth. She was still vapid and self-involved by the end, but she gained a lot of empathy and grew as a person in that final season. In the mere minutes Jackie is seen in That ’90s Show, all of her character development went out the window and it felt like watching Season-1 Jackie again. Sure, it’s cute because Kutcher and Kunis are together in real life, but this isn’t real life, this is Point Place, and the regression of Jackie will be a bummer for die-hard fans.   

Despite the Jackie upset, there are still plenty of moments that will make longtime fans happy, ranging from classic locations to cool cameos and iconic lines. If Red and Kitty were your favorite part of That ’70s Show, Smith and Rupp are worth the price of admission. However, if you’re looking for a series that’s about the Point Place crew all grown up, you will definitely be disappointed. This show is made for a new generation with some gratifying nostalgic sprinkles. That ’90s Show is cute and it’s worth checking out, but it’s not going to go down in history as one of the stronger sitcom reboots. 

Rating: 3 out of 5

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(Photo: ComicBook.com/Netflix)

That ’90s Show is now streaming on Netflix.

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