I haven't liked many TV shows post 1990, but THAT 70S SHOW is great. Never seeing it during it's first run, thinking a gimmicky period piece, I was wrong! I started watching in reruns and the more I watched, the more I liked! Now, it is the only show premiering post-1990 that I watch regularly.
Although THAT 70S SHOW mimics some of the styles, attitudes, music, and tastes of the 70s, it does not mire itself in that decade by going overboard with the references and look of the 70s. It contains so much funny, witty, biting dialogue that is delivered with confidence and certainty by its main cast that it overcomes any 70s clichés by just being humorous. The humor is what keeps the show eternally watchable.
Although a hilarious sitcom, no matter what time period, the uniqueness of mocking the 70s does work in its favor as it gives the show a signature identity. But its the focus on universal issues (family problems, teen angst, marital issues, peer pressure), dealing with all of them with comic aplomb, that gives the show a mass appeal.
The show's center is one Eric Forman (played to absolute comic perfection by future superstar Topher Grace). Eric is a super-skinny, geeky-looking, non-athletic teen and still comes off as super-cool due to Grace's brilliant self-deprecation of the character. Eric has 5 friends Donna, Hyde, Kelso, Jackie, and Fez (played respectively in hilarious fashion by Laura Prepon, Danny Masterson, Ashton Kutcher, Mila Kunis, and Wilmer Valderama). We get to see life in Point Place, Wisconsin through the eyes of these 6 teens and boy do we get a lot to see! Donna, a forward-thinking feminist, is the object of Eric's affection and these 2 have the core relationship of the show. They become a couple pretty soon after the show starts and they are NEVER a boring couple. Most of the shows eps end with them having a meaningful conversation about them and their future and it works as a great insightful bookend, which works as a perfect counter to the prior hilarity. Hyde is Eric's best friend and soon moves in with the Formans when his mother abandons him; Hyde is the mellow, zen, cool one of the group and just sits back, observes, and makes fun of his fellow friends with easygoing aplomb. Kelso is the dumb one of the group and Kutcher plays it the absolute hilt, displaying amazing physical comedy as well as telling some of the most absurdly hilarious ideas and stories ever! Jackie, who starts out as Kelso's girlfriend, is a verbose, self-absorbed debutante cheerleader and is at first only accepted as part of the group b/c of Kelso, but she manages to ingratiate herself to the point where they all HAVE to accept her! And finally, Fez! Fez is the foreign exchange student from some unknown country (we never know exactly where) and he is a scene-stealer! "I said good day!" "You son of a b*tch!" Valderama is only sporting a foreign accent here as he hasn't one in reality and he is always in character and creates one of the most unique characters I have ever seen. His scene-stealing moments often help make the show for me.
The show constantly takes us into the minds and thoughts of these characters through engaging fantasy scenes of how they would like or imagine things to be. The gang repeatedly gets into trouble (most of it on purpose). They constantly play gags on the Point Place residents as well as each other. They hang out most of the time in Eric's basement plotting, pontificating, or just plain playing around.
Also figuring prominently in the show are Eric's parents, the menacing, commie-hating Red and the lovable, happy-go-lucky Kitty (played memorably by Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp). These 2 adults give the show a much-needed mature point-of-view and constantly berate and advise the 6 ne'er do-wells. Red and Kitty are ably supported by Donna's parents, the buffoonish Bob (played wonderfully for the full run by Don Stark) and blonde bimbo daft Midge (the super-sexy Tanya Roberts, who was on the show for about half it's run). Additionally, for 3 full seasons, Eric's sister from hell Laurie (played brilliantly by the wickedly sexy Farrah-Fawcett lookalike Lisa Robin Kelly) was a major refreshing relief to counter the shenanigans of the main 6 and to be the thorn in Eric and her parents' sides! Kelly came back as a guest character for a few Season 5 eps. But, unfortunately, Kelly's personal problems led to her being replaced by a terrible new actress in Season 6. The newbie didn't last, thankfully, and was gone after a few Season 6 eps!
Sadly, at the end of Season 7, Topher Grace (Eric) and early in Season 8, Ashton Kutcher (Kelso) left the show and it never recovered as Season 8 turned out to be it's last. Grace and Kutcher returned for the series finale, though, giving the show a satisfying end.
A lot of great supporting and cameo characters would help keep the show fresh through added nostalgia and humor. Top notch supporting players were eternally high Leo (played to the hilt by Tommy Chong), Pastor Dave, Roy (the terrific comic Jim Gaffigan), Big Rhonda, Mitch, Earl, etc. They also got legends Marion Ross (HAPPY DAYS) and Betty White (THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW) to play Red and Kitty's mothers, respectively. Many celebrity cameos from the 70s made appearances as well, from Shirley Jones (PARTRIDGE FAMILY) to Pamela Sue Martin (NANCY DREW) to Charo to Ted Nugent to K.I.S.S! It goes on and on!
With great nostalgic 70s homages and references, hilarious dialogue and delivery and a nonsensical, take-no-prisoners style of comedic storytelling, THAT 70S SHOW is a television classic!
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