That 70’s Show.
In Finally Caught Up, I do reviews of an entire television show. You can catch my previous entries Scrubs and Heroes by clicking the links. In this edition, I review That 70’s Show, which lasted eight seasons and whose cast has a stellar record for making the transition to the big screen.
“I’ve never seen it, what is it about?”
Maybe, like me, you never watched That 70’s Show and you feel like you’re a little out of the loop. Well, let me explain the basic premise. We follow six teenagers from a small Wisconsin town as they grow up. The first few seasons focus on high school romances and high school debauchery. As the show progresses, they tackle larger and larger issues, as they enter adulthood. The escalation is barely noticeable until you look back and realize that the first season is relatively simple compared to the bigger twists and turns that seasons 5-8 might bring to the table.
In addition to the kids, we’ve also got an eclectic group of parents and other adults that have issues that parallel those of their children.
“Who’s in the show?”
The show begins focused on Eric Forman (Topher Grace) but slowly opens up to include the other teenagers. Laura Prepon stars as his on-again/off-again girlfriend and neighbor Donna. Danny Masterson stars as the “bad apple” of the group and conspiracy theory nut Steven Hyde. Mila Kunis begins the show as the nagging annoying rich girl Jackie but slowly gains more depth, while Ashton Kutcher begins as an empty-headed idiot Kelso who slowly finds that he has a brain (or does he?). The sixth character in our core cast is Fez, the loveable but creepy foreign kid played by Wilmer Valderrama.
“Why should I watch this?”
In addition to being clever and utilizing the 1970’s period perfectly, without overdoing it, this show has a lot of heart. In a similar way to Scrubs, it balances drama and humor perfectly, as we’re able to laugh but still go through hard times with our cast. There is a subtlety to the humor that means I’ve found jokes during my second watch-through that I didn’t even notice during the first. If you want laughs and a solid story that can tug at your heartstrings every once in a while, That 70’s Show is for you.
I think it’s easier for me to point out the weak link in the cast: Laura Prepon. There are countless moments that Prepon could’ve capitalized on, for any effect, but she has a trademark blank face that seems like she’s trying to overact. I noticed it during season one and I couldn’t ignore it during the rest of the series. Her timing is off and usually flat. Now, with that said, there are plenty of dramatic moments that Prepon did just fine, but comedy was definitely her weakest aspect during this show. Maybe it’s gotten better. Her and Eric (Topher Grace) had a great chemistry but she just couldn’t keep up with the laughs.
When it comes to making us laugh, the other cast members all did a tremendous job. Kutcher was able to pull off his completely oblivious one-liners perfectly, while Kunis was able to trash-talk and degrade everyone else on the show with ease.
But when it comes to the glue that holds the show together, you might be surprised who I give the MVP award to: Danny Masterson as Steven Hyde. Throughout the show’s eight seasons, you’ll notice that Hyde has more at stake in the central storyline than most. You meet his family, you see his home, and in the later seasons, we spend a lot of time at that record store. We never see Kunis’ family after the first season (I think). We only meet Kutcher’s brother. We never even learn where Fez (Valderrama) is from. But Hyde, we get a deeper look into his life. And because of this foundation, the show was able to continue during the 8th season, when both Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher take a leave of absence to pursue films. Even though two of the main characters were gone (and Donna basically just wandering around all season), Hyde was able to carry the show. And while the 8th season was hardly great, there was still a lot to enjoy, which is more than I could say for Scrubs‘ last season.
Highs and Lows:
Season 2 was probably the best of “high school shenanigans,” including some amazing adventures with Kelso’s new van. I also really enjoyed their post-graduation years, as they had to grow up and take on jobs. The only disappointment was Eric (Topher Grace). After graduation, they never really managed to find a storyline for him that made sense. He spent a whole season “taking the year off,” which sounds fun in real life, but it’s not very exciting to watch as a television show. In terms of growing up, I thought Kelso’s (Kutcher) turn as a father was a nice one, as he was forced to grow up by necessity. I warmed up to Shannon Elizabeth’s character eventually but I thought Kutcher handled the transformation nicely.
I also really loved the end of season 3 into season 4, when Eric and Donna break up. There’s some terrific episodes that focus on their relationship and if things would’ve been better had they not gone out. Topher’s depressed Eric was both compelling and realistic.
In terms of lows, the last season has to be mentioned. It felt like it was one season too long. The series finale was fantastic but the episodes before that were all a little off. Hyde’s story was great but everyone else was shoe-horned into a random storyline. Donna started dating the newest cast member (Josh Meyers, who happens to be Seth Meyers from SNL’s twin brother). Fez and Jackie had a weird love affair. It was just a strange season, though there were definitely laughs. And when the series finale came around, I was in tears. So I guess they did that right.
That 70’s Show is a classic. When you’re looking for a new show to pick up, consider this one. It’ll have you laughing but also relating to these teenagers who have to grow into adults. Even the weakest episodes in the series provide more entertainment than other sitcoms I’ve watched. Definitely give a shot, it’s streaming on Netflix as we speak.