Long-awaited continuation That 90s Show dropped on Netflix on January 19, but did it live up to expectations?
It’s been almost two decades since we left Eric Forman (Topher Grace) and his friends ringing in the new year of 1980.
Viewers are now back in Point Place with a whole new generation, with some fun appearances from familiar faces.
So, how does the new show compare to the original?
First and foremost, let me say that That 90s Show heavily relies on the nostalgia element. Specifically, in having the 70s cast members make return appearances.
It makes complete sense to do this.
Look at it this way: a show just about teenagers growing up in the late ’90s wouldn’t be that interesting.
It’s already been done countless times, especially during the actual time period.
By adding the connection to That 70s Show, there’s immediately more intrigue. Where could the series go in possible future seasons?
Who came back?
Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp reprise their roles as Red and Kitty Forman, Eric’s parents.
The pair, who are also credited as executive producers, seamlessly slip back into the characters like no time has passed.
In That 90s Show, they are grandparents to Leia (Callie Haverda). She is Eric’s teenage daughter who comes to stay with them during the summer.
Speaking of Eric, he and Donna (Laura Prepon), who are now married, appear in episode 1. They help introduce Leia as a character.
As a fan of That 70s Show, I was delighted to see them return. However, I found their chemistry a little stilted this time around.
Individually, the characters were fine, but it was always going to be difficult to recapture the magic they had before, especially with just one episode.
Kelso (Ashton Kutcher) and Jackie (Mila Kunis) drop in for a quick cameo, again to help establish their child – Jay (Mace Coronel), a member of Leia’s friend group and a potential love interest.
Seeing the real-life married couple acting opposite Smith and Rupp again was very nostalgic. As was seeing Kutcher and Kunis inhabit these characters.
They definitely made the most of the short time that they had.
Fez (Wilmer Valderrama) is the last of the “original gang” to return, making several appearances throughout the season. Of the 70s guest stars, Fez has the biggest arc in the new show, which includes trying to find someone to settle down with.
Valderrama playing Fez again is especially more fun after seeing him tackle non-comedic roles on From Dusk Until Dawn: The Series and more recently, NCIS.
In addition, we also get quick appearances from Donna’s dad Bob Pinciotti (Don Stark), stoner hippie Leo (Tommy Chong), and even Fez’s old rival Fenton (played by Community star and Academy Award-winning writer of The Descendants, Jim Rash).
Meet the new cast on that ’90s Show
Of all the younger actors, there’s obviously the most attention on Callie Haverda and Mace Coronel.
Not only are they the only ones playing children of ‘legacy’ characters, their characters also form the central romance of this show.
Although Leia is both Eric and Donna’s daughter, I would say she does an especially good job of emulating the former. You can see she has watched and adopted some of Topher Grace’s comedic nuances and incorporated them into her character.
As for Coronel playing Jay, he may have the Kelso name and parents, but he’s an entirely different character to either of them. While he definitely has some of Michael Kelso’s tendencies with women, it was also interesting to see how Jay diverged from his parents.
That ’90s Show also cleverly subverts the format of the original show.
I mean, Eric was the main character and Donna, his love interest, lived next door.
So that should mean Jay lives next door to Red and Kitty, right?
Instead, we have step-siblings Gwen (Ashley Aufderheide) and Nate Runck (Maxwell Acee Donovan), along with their mother Sherri (Andrea Anders) living in the former Pinciotti home.
All three are hilarious, quirky characters, with Gwen especially going on to become Leia’s best friend.
Also onboard is Sam Morelos as Nikki, Nate’s girlfriend and another member of ‘the gang’. Unlike Jackie before, Nikki is kind and considerate, with a good head on her shoulders.
However, as the season finale showed, her relationship with Nate could be in trouble as they want different things…
Last but not least, Reyn Doi plays Ozzie, this universe’s first openly gay character.
As someone who has quite a dry, sarcastic sense of humour myself, I very much enjoyed Ozzie’s one-liners and quips towards the other characters.
On the flip side, Doi also shows Ozzie’s more vulnerable side in Episode 5, as we get an insight into his coming out journey. After all, as he mentioned, being a gay teen in small-town Wisconsin seems to be very difficult.
If I had to draw rough comparisons between the 70s cast and the That ’90s Show kids, it would look like this:
Overall, I enjoyed Season 1 for what it was – a satisfying continuation to That ’70s Show.
I think the younger actors still have more to give – remember, it took the original cast a little while to reach the heights they did. Without the limitations of being a network series, who knows where That ’90s Show could go storyline-wise?
There’s been no official Season 2 announcement yet – but there have certainly been seeds planted to pick the story back up.
Guess we’ll have to wait and see…