Popular sitcoms are usually formulaic in nature. They follow the similar format of an ensemble cast with diverse characters where the humour is light-hearted and the consequences are usually never grave but the shows that still make a mark despite following the same template are remembered fondly. One such show is That 70s Show.
Premiered in 1998, the show followed a group of teenagers who spend most of their time in the basement watching TV. Their lives are uncomplicated, convenient but they don’t lack adventure.
What is That 70s Show all about?
The show’s timeline opens in 1976 and the same is evident from their fashion and music. Eric, Donna, Kelso, Jackie, Hyde and Fez are just a bunch of teenagers who find ways to sneakily get high when no adults are looking and form relationships that become the base for the show and the characters’ lives.
While shows like 90210, One Tree Hill and the likes have teenagers as their protagonist, my biggest grief with them is their non-relatability. Their tracks are often so intense that it’s hard to actually accept them as regular teenagers. In fact, the adults in these shows too act like teenagers. Probably because they are written by the same team, which makes the show too plastic for its own good.
In this department, That 70s Show does a good job. The relationships aren’t the end of the world and fights with parental figures aren’t of the be-all and end-all nature. That does not mean that we don’t witness ups and downs in their lives but it’s all balanced enough that we sympathise with the character rather than wondering about its plausibility. This was the most evident in Steven Hyde’s (Danny Masterson) character arc as the teenager has to come to terms with his mother abandoning him. In another arc, Donna’s mother leaves their home in a huff and this has a strong impact on the teenager.
Eric (Topher Grace) is the central focus of the show since the events that we see unfold on screen happen in his basement. His romantic track with Donna (Laura Prepon) becomes the heart of the show soon after they start dating and remains so almost until the end.
By now, many people know that Kelso and Jackie, played by real-life husband and wife Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, first met on this show. Here, they have an on again-off again relationship with both playing their parts as beautiful buffoons.
What works for That 70s Show?
Even though the show is set in the 70s and was made in the 90s, there is a certain timeless quality that it carries. Since the basics here are relationships – romantic or otherwise, the frills of the era accentuate the plot but don’t hinder it in any way.
Another element that is quite different from other teen shows is the representation of parental figures. In Eric’s parents, you get the stereotypical strict guardians. While they are introduced as kind-of supporting characters, their concern for their son and his friends gets them more and more involved in the later seasons.
In most shows where the characters grow up alongside the actors that are playing them, it’s hard for the writers to give them enough room to grow. What works for a 16-year-old won’t work for a 19-year-old and That 70s Show acknowledges that growth. As the series progresses, there is a significant change in each of the characters and their decision making and this is most evident with Jackie. Her child-like behaviour stays but her personality transforms. Donna, who already acts like a grown-up, is not dependent on the same tools which came in handy for her 16-year-old version.
What does not work for That 70s Show?
That 70s Show ran for 8 seasons but strangely enough, the time duration that passed was only 3 years. For an audience member like me, this was quite confusing as I couldn’t figure out why they weren’t finishing high school.
The fatigue in the show’s writing was quite evident as it entered its fifth season. The basic relationships had been explored, the group was starting to become incestuous and the same graph of every episode did not help its cause.
With Eric being the de facto leader of the group, the show had a balanced voice at the centre but as characters like Hyde grew, it was hard to accommodate two strong influences and this became evident in the later seasons.
Much of the main cast left the show by the last season. The show had lived outlived its welcome. It is advisable to only revisit the glorious first four seasons.
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That 70s Show is available on Netflix.