‘That ’90s Show’ review: Netflix offers hackneyed update of a hackneyed sitcom


The new teens in the basement on “That ’90s Show” are played by Maxwell Acee Donovan (from left), Sam Morelos, Reyn Doi, Ashley Aufderheide, Callie Haverda and Mace Coronel.


“Why did you open our house to chaos again? We had it made. All the dumbasses were gone!” – Red to Kitty in “That ’90s Show.”

Through an eight-year run from 1998-2006, the Fox sitcom “That ’70s Show” was a solid performer but failed to come within sniffing distance of the Top 20 in the Nielsen ratings, garnered exactly one Emmy award (for costume design) and never achieved the buzz status of a “Friends” or a “Seinfeld.” It was a modestly entertaining series that launched the careers of an outstanding cast of young talent, led by Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, Topher Grace and Laura Prepon.

Seeing as how this is the Reboot Era, with dozens of series from “Full House” to “Saved by the Bell” to “Gossip Girl” to “Party of Five” to “The Wonder Years” to “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” to “Doogie Howser” to “One Day at a Time” to “Magnum P.I.” to “Night Court” getting the revival/remake/reimagining/continuation treatment, it was only a matter of time before “That ’70s Show” was brought back to life — in the form of the moderately amusing but hackneyed sitcom “That ’90s Show” (available Thursday on Netflix), which, as you’ve probably deduced, returns to Point Place, Wisconsin, in the 1990s.

‘That ’90s Show’

While it’s great fun to see Red (Kurtwood Smith) and Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp) still living in the Forman family home and it’s a kick to see most of the main players from “That ’70s Show” dropping in as adults pushing 40, the new generation of basement-dwellers features a number of thinly sketched characters — and try as they might (and they try REALLY hard) the young actors have a difficult time wringing consistent laughs out of the stale, sitcom-y dialogue. (Note: Lisa Robin Kelly, who played Eric’s sister Laurie, passed away in 2013. Danny Masterson, who was Hyde, is facing a second rape trial after jury deadlocked on three charges in November.)

The pilot episode takes place on July 3, 1995, with the hard-ass Red and the tightly wound but ever-upbeat Kitty hosting their son Eric (Topher Grace), his wife Donna (Laura Prepon) and their 14-year-old daughter Leia (Callie Haverda), who are visiting from Chicago, where Donna is an author and Eric is an adjunct professor at an unnamed university, teaching a course titled “The Religion of ‘Star Wars.’ ” (I think we know how Leia got her name.) “This country’s going to lose the next war,” grumbles Red. “Not if it’s an intergalactic battle between good and evil,” comes the reply.

 “That ’90s Show” uses familiar devices from the original show, e.g., characters hamming it up for the camera as we transition from scene to scene, and the 360-degree shot technique as the kids get high and make the kinds of observations you make when you’re high, as Leia becomes fast friends with a local group of teens, including:

Ashley Aufderheide’s Gwen, who lives next door in what used to be Donna’s house and is a rebellious spirit, as evidenced by her singing along loudly to Alanis Morrissette’s “You Oughta Know.” (Remember, it’s 1995.). The naïve and adorably dorky Leia is instantly taken with the cool Gwen, which is a bit of an upset given Leia is from Chicago and Gwen lives in small-town Wisconsin, but there you have it.
Maxwell Acee Donovan’s Nate is Gwen’s older half-brother, an amiable jock who loves his girlfriend Nikki (Sam Morelos). His best buddy, the handsome and charming Jay (Mace Coronel), is the son of Kutcher’s Kelso and Kunis’ Jackie, who make a cameo appearance in the pilot, and let’s just say their relationship is as complicated as ever.
Reyn Doi’s Ozzie is always ready with a quick quip about whatever wacky sitcom thing is transpiring.

Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp) and Red (Kurtwood Smith) host their granddaughter — and her new friends.


Before the pilot episode is over, Leia has convinced her parents to let her spend the summer in Point Place, and to Red’s chagrin, Kitty tells Leia that she and her friends are welcome to hang out in the basement any time they want — just like Leia’s parents did back in the day!

Every once in a while, someone from “That ’70s Show” stops by (hello, Wilmer Valderrama’s Fez and Tommy Chong’s Leo), but the focus is clearly on the younger group as they have one episode-length adventure after another, e.g., Leia decides it’s time for her first kiss, the gang sneaks off to a rave in Milwaukee, Leia tries to rent “Clerks” for Movie Night even though she has no idea what it’s about, and we get a few running storylines as well, such as a possible romance between Leia and Jay. Along the way, there’s a steady stream of 1990s-centric jokes, to wit: “I’m from a famous family. My cousin did Brett Favre’s bathroom,” and, “If I have to sit through another ‘Grace Under Fire’ rerun, I’m going to root for the fire.”

That’s it. That’s “That ’90s Show.” It’s a little edgy and occasionally chuckle-inducing and mostly sweet-natured, and it’s just OK and quickly forgettable.

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