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‘That ‘90s Show’ fails to stand out in a cycle of spinoffs

‘That ‘90s Show’ fails to stand out in a cycle of spinoffs

‘That ‘90s Show’ fails to stand out in a cycle of spinoffs
January 26
13:00 2023

Hello again, Wisconsin!

Nearly 17 years after “That ‘70s Show” wrapped its final season, the Forman family makes their return in Netflix’s “That ‘90s Show.” While the series aims to recreate the magic of the ‘00s classic, it results in yet another half-baked attempt at a nostalgic spinoff.

“That ‘90s Show” follows Leia Forman (Callie Haverda), daughter of Eric Forman and Donna Pinciotti, in the summer of 1995. While visiting her paternal grandparents, Red and Kitty, Leia forms friendships with a new generation of quirky teens reminiscent of her parents’ old gang.

Upon first watch of the 10-episode season, it becomes obvious that much of the new cast are stand-ins for old, fan-favorite characters. Awkward Leia mimics Eric’s nerdy nature, while “riot grrrl” Gwen (Ashley Aufderheide) exhibits Hyde’s rebelliousness. Jay (Mace Coronel), Jackie and Kelso’s son, and his friend Nate carry on Kelso’s hunky himbo qualities. Even secondary character Sherri (Andrea Anders), the Formans’ new neighbor, fills the show’s Laurie-shaped gap.

Other members branch a bit further beyond their source material and attempt to add newer dynamics for modern-day viewers. The Jackie-inspired Nikki (Sam Morelos) is an independent, less grating female character who shows her smarts. Ozzie (Reyn Doi), a newly out teen, is openly accepted and acknowledged for his queerness, unlike Fez, whose effeminacy triggered “That ‘70s Show” laugh tracks.

The new ragtag group of teens seemingly promise viewers a look at Point Place in a new age. However, “That ‘90s Show” still diverts into the same old spinoff cyclical pitfalls. It heavily leans on a crutch of forced nostalgia, diminishing any hint of originality.

Netflix knows “That ‘70s Show” fans wouldn’t be interested in the series without its classic basement setting or iconic circle scenes, and duly uses this to its advantage. As seen by the successful four-year run of “Fuller House,” the streaming service has perfected its formula for viewer-sucking spinoffs.

Predictable guest appearances, including Eric (Topher Grace) and Fez (Wilmer Valderrama), as well as Easter eggs, like the gang’s Candy Land box, are scattered throughout episodes to distract from the show’s uninventive plot. While the initial sentimentality satisfies fans’ longstanding itch, it quickly becomes old. Once the dependability on old gags becomes painstakingly obvious, audiences will soon feel duped on “new” content.

Not all of the attempts at nostalgia in “That ‘90s Show” are poor. It can be nice to see old characters in a new setting, no matter how unnatural. However, a new series attributing its best moments to old material should cause concern for its quality.

The main bright spot in “That ‘90s Show”’s nostalgic pile on is the return of Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp) and Red Forman (Kurtwood Smith). The pair are given some of the best lines in the show, another trend passed down from “That ‘70s Show.” Kitty’s iconic cackle and Red’s signature dryness add a breath of fresh air to an otherwise stuffy sitcom.

It’s enjoyable to see the now-grandparents grow into their older roles as they house their granddaughter and her newfound gang. Similarly, other select cameos are more touching than forced, like Donna’s (Laura Prepon) offering of maternal comfort to Leia in the face of heartbreak. However, these moments are few and far between, leaving many missed opportunities as to how casts new and old could have connected and collaborated.

Like most modern spinoffs, “That ‘90s Show” fails to find its true heart within the reminiscence. A fistful of guest stars and lukewarm references cannot replace the impact of strong writing, characters and dynamics. If the sitcom took more liberties with its promising cast of newbies, it could likely stand alongside “That ‘70s Show,” rather than hide beneath its shadow.

Samantha’s rating: 2/5

Featured Illustration by Jazmine Garcia

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Samantha Thornfelt

Samantha Thornfelt

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