That Not So ‘90s Show’

That Not So ‘90s Show’ (Patrick Wymore via Netflix © 2022)

Oakland, CAWarning: Spoilers

Fans of "That ‘70s Show" have something to celebrate. Netflix's latest original show "That ‘90s Show" premiered this month. The spinoff comes years after a failed spinoff, "That ‘80s Show." 

The odds of another failed spinoff? Considerably high.

The 10-episode inaugural season left a lot to be desired as cast members Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp return to Point Place, Wisconsin as Red and Kitty Forman, respectively, and with mostly new actors. There are also cameos from Laura Prepon, Topher Grace, Wilmer Valderrama, Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis and Tommy Chong.

When the idea of "‘90s" was conceived, many were hoping for the original cast to be more present in the show. It would have given fans a new perspective on well-established characters.

The cast was undoubtedly influenced by the dynamics which existed in the predecessor. It felt like watching the old characters with new faces and subpar acting. Ozzie, portrayed by Reyn Doi, was heavily influenced by Fez's character (now a recurring character). Maxwell Acee Donovan plays Nate, who is practically a carbon copy of the character Kelso. The character of Gwen, played by Ashley Aufderheide, is reminiscent of Danny Masterson's character Hyde. Because of all these similarities, it almost felt like watching "That ‘70s Show" with a 1990s aesthetic. That concept only sounds good when the cast from the original show is the main cast.

(L to R) Mace Coronel as Jay Kelso, Sam Morelos as Nikki, Maxwell Acee Donovan as Nate in episode 101 of That ‘90s Show | Patrick Wymore via Netflix © 2022

One problem with the new show is the 90s aesthetic (or lack of it). Throughout the show, there are very few references to pivotal 1990s culture and events. 

In an episode, Kitty buys a personal computer and uses dial-up internet. In the same exact episode, a reference to 42nd U.S. President Bill Clinton is made. Other than these few moments, it feels like a show that could be set in any year post-90s. When one thinks of the 1990s, things like hip-hop music, grunge rock bands, the Chicago Bulls, and WWF come to mind. Occasionally there would be the use of 90s music in an episode, but it wasn't enough to set the tone. Granted, the show is set in 1995 Wisconsin, so certain culturally relevant events had yet to occur. The fact still remains, this show had the perfect foundation in an iconic era and it didn’t deliver as expected.

Another issue with the show was the poor acting. 

It feels wrong to criticize the skills of young teenage actors, but Netflix charges way too much for its members to sit through such feeble dialogue. I found myself cringing most of the time when there was any line delivery from Leia Forman and it's not because her character is supposed to be dorky. It was the kind of cringe that makes you dislike a main character. Ozzie at times was unbearable. The show tries to present him as cute and witty, but it just didn’t work. His presence didn’t add anything to some significant moments. An entire episode was dedicated to Ozzie coming out as gay to Kitty, but it felt like the plot was lost within the episode. The payoff in the episode wasn’t even grand. 

Lazy writing is very noticeable to the average “That ‘70s Show” fan. A memorable episode from the old show involving stolen beer kegs is basically re-done for the new show. While paying homage to the source material is great, it lacks originality when you are practically recycling old episodes from an old show. By the end of the show, a potential romance between Leia and Nate is set up. In the show, Nate is in a relationship with Nikki, so the potential relationship with Leia sets up a love triangle. This exact dynamic existed in “That ‘70s Show.” If I wanted to experience “That ‘70s Show” again, I would just switch to the old show.

The best performances were from Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp, because they knew how to play their characters. The same could be said for the rest of the returning characters from “That ‘70s Show”, and they were just cameos.

Overall, “That ‘90s Show” is plagued by corny Netflix writing and forced humor. There could have been a saving grace throughout this show with the original cast but it seems like there was an emphasis on introducing new characters with ties to the old ones. Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp carried the show with their superb character work. It still wasn’t enough to make the show good enough for me to anticipate a new season.

I rate “That ‘90s Show” at 5/10.

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