Revisiting beloved pieces of media – from remaking classic films, sampling old songs for modern music, or reviving fan-favorite tv shows – always comes with the huge risk of not living up to expectations and failing to do the source material justice. That ’70s Show showrunner Gregg Mettler along with original creators Bonnie and Terry Turner ran with this risk anyways with That ’90s Show on Netflix, trying their best to use nostalgia and familiarity to their advantage as a tool to appeal to both new audiences and those who grew up with Eric Forman, Michael Kelso, and the gang. Sadly, That ’90s Show mostly falls flat, dulling in comparison to its iconic predecessor. In all fairness, it’s quite a daunting reputation to live up to and this spin-off can be charming enough at times. However, it’s simply incomparable to the original show at the end of the day.
That ’90s Show follows Leia Forman (Callie Haverda), daughter of Eric and Donna Pinciotti, as she meets a fresh gang of misfits which prompts her to ask her parents if she can stay the summer with her grandparents’ Red and Kitty Forman in Point Place, Wisconsin. Upon her arrival, Red acts like he’s less than pleased to have kids back at the house, groaning and shuffling along, but Kitty has never been more elated. Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp fall back into their staple roles with ease as they prepare their infamous basement for this latest era of youngins ready to infiltrate their humble home.
This new young cast is comprised of six members who have striking behavioral similarities to the classic That ’70s Show ensemble. Callie Haverda as Leia is the nerdy, awkward, and endearing goof, Nikki played by Sam Morelos is the self-obsessed yet caring one, and Mace Coronel as Jay Kelso (yes, the son of that Kelso and Jackie Burkhart) is the thick-skulled heartthrob with sweet intentions. Other new faces include Ashley Aufderheide as the rebellious Gwen, Reyn Doi as the perceptive Ozzie, and Maxwell Acee Donovan as the easy-going Nate. Altogether, these players make for the main squad of troublemakers taking over the Forman household, causing hijinks and mischief that’s certainly reminiscent of times past.
An aspect of That ’90s Show that will definitely draw in viewers is the multiple guest appearances from the legacy cast. Topher Grace and Laura Prepon pop in here and there as the beloved married couple Eric and Donna to give advice to their daughter, but ultimately have very minimal screen time. Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher briefly appear as Jackie and Kelso, bickering the whole time as they explain why they’re remarrying for the umpteenth time. Wilmer Valderrama squeezes in screen time as Fez, who’s now a local salon guru with his own hair company, complete with over-the-top, suave commercials. Tommy Chong and Don Stark also get some time to shine. Obviously, Steven Hyde actor Danny Masterson is the only one to not reprise his role due to his sexual assault allegations.
Even if it is admittedly fun to see these familiar faces again, each member of the original cast making the best with what they’ve got, they are truly just cameos as That ’90s Show puts the utmost priority on its hip new leads. The only main recurring stars from back in the day are Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp, who are arguably the most delightful part of the series. Despite the severe empty void that is left from shuffling the old ensemble aside, Smith and Rupp are just so undeniably heartwarming to see in action again, wrangling teenagers and secretly loving every minute of it.
Though Red and Kitty are an absolute joy to see return, their involvement isn’t redeeming enough for the entirety of That ’90s Show. The current group of kids, as pleasant as they can be, do not come close to living up to the chemistry of their predecessors. Their inner circle dynamics and friendships never ever really feel completely organic. The jokes and gags are often cute enough to produce a smile sure, but their humor is aggressively forced and more theatrical than what was probably intended.
The fact that this new generation of point place kids are meant to each symbolize or fill the previous role as the core characters of That 70s Show doesn’t do this Netflix spin-off any favors. When Jay is mimicking Kelso’s mannerisms or pickup lines or Leia drops a punchline exactly like her father once did, viewers will more than likely just wish they were watching the original cast again instead of these carbon copies. The problem isn’t necessarily that younger characters are introduced to take over the wheel, as another risky revival in Disney’s Girl Meets World managed to make it work enough for 3 seasons, though That 90s’ Show puts little effort in giving its juvenile leads their own identities.
That 90s Show isn’t horrible by any means, however, it’s wholly unmemorable and arguably an unnecessary addition to That 70s Show. There’s nothing profound or totally original to be found here. And even if That ’90s Show doesn’t have to necessarily be any of those things, it doesn’t really try to act like it’s anything else. There will definitely be some fans who will find joy in seeing a new group of kids interacting in the iconic basement, discovering hidden stashes throughout the house, sneaking into parties, frequenting the diner, and tormenting old Red Forman. Consisting of 10 episodes, there’s plenty of nostalgia to be found in this redundant streaming revival, but if someone is looking for a fresh and unique story, characters, and gags, perhaps they should venture out of Wisconsin.