'That '90s Show' review: Fun sitcom embodies spirit of the original series
Courtesy of Netflix
“That ‘70s Show” left the linear airwaves in 2006 without much hype, but the streaming revolution introduced the series (a teen sitcom set from 1976 to 1979 that revolved around stoners navigating their high school years and jumpstarted Ashton Kutcher, Topher Grace and Mila Kunis’ careers) to the next generation who embraced it with open arms. Most have probably forgotten about the ill-fated sequel “That ‘80s Show” that ran one season and some are probably sweating the returns on Netflix’s latest franchise revitalization attempt, “That ‘90s Show.” Fortunately, the new spin-off, which is overseen by the original series creators and brings back the irreplaceable charm of both Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp, plus a slew of enjoyable young actors, hits its mark. It manages to capture the low-stakes spirit of what made “That ‘70s Show” special and leans into the nostalgia in a meaningful way.
While OG cast members, Grace, Kutcher, Kunis, Laura Prepon, Wilmer Valderrama, and Tommy Chong make extended cameos throughout the season, “That ‘90s Show” belongs to the new crop of stoners, namely their children. Eric and Donna’s offspring, Leia (Callie Haverda) is the central protagonist and unofficial ringleader of the brigade (much like her father was) as she’s been shipped off to spend summer with her grandparents (Red and Kitty). Many days are spent in the basement while the show acclimates audiences to what amounts to glorified stand-ins of the previous regime. Ashley Aufderheide’s Gwen Runck, a rebellious punk rocker, is the Hyde-equivalent (Danny Masterson is notably the only cast member who doesn’t make a guest appearance as he’s currently facing serious legal issues); Mace Coronel’s Jay Kelso has a few more brain cells than his father did; Maxwell Acee Donovan’s Nate Runck is the hopeless romantic who is head over heels for Sam Morelos’ Nikki, a headstrong and intelligent scholar and finally there’s Reyn Doi’s Ozzy, an insightful teenager who is openly gay and is the obvious parallel to Fez.
Even if some of these young actors look rejected from Netflix’s own “Stranger Things,” they have great chemistry and make a good fit for the lighthearted tone throughout the show’s breezy 10-episode season (who’s to say if more is in the pipeline). Like “That ‘70s Show,” much of the plot hinges on frivolous teenage shenanigans: first kisses, crushes, relationship woes, raves, and...renting “Clerks” at Blockbuster? References to prominent ‘90s staples “The Real World,” Sharper Image and a great “90210” homage won’t be lost on casual viewers.
It’s all held together by Smith and Rupp who haven’t lost their trademark personality traits since they last offered up swift kicks in the asses and nurturing advice. Kitty goes through quite the menagerie of discovery (her figuring out how the internet works is a treat). Meanwhile, Red is still the same stubborn, DMV hating hermit who can sniff out trouble. Watching these two pros slip back into these roles as seamlessly as they do, it’s like we’ve never left them. And the showrunners were wise to film “That ‘90s Show” in front of a live studio audience, multicam style so as to not compromise the show’s signature look and feel. But most importantly, the spin-off has heart and puts its own “rocker” twist on the classic opening intro. I’m not sure if there’s enough here to sustain multiple seasons, but for a spin-off that few thought (including me) would succeed, it could’ve been worse.
THAT ‘90s SHOW is now streaming on Netflix.