For children of the late '90s and early '00s, 'That '70s Show' was a staple of the TV diet.
Sandwiched between 'Friends', 'Dawson's Creek', 'Buffy the Vampire Slayer' and whatever else was doing the rounds on Trouble, 'That '70s Show' was proactive enough and funny enough to stick around for a whopping 200 episodes. Its cast of characters - Eric, Hyde, Kelso, Fez, Jackie, Donna, Red and Kitty, as well as supporting characters like Mr. Pinciotti, Laurie Forman, Leo - were all so effectively written and portrayed that in 'That '90s Show', it's essentially history repeating itself.
For those who watched the original and are now of an age to have kids of the age of teenagers, 'That '90s Show' will either cause a spiral into terror over the unyielding passage of the years, or it'll be a fun twenty-five-minute sitcom. Either way, you'll come out the other side of it relatively fine.
Eric and Donna's daughter, Leia, takes the role played by Eric while Kelso and Jackie's son, Jay, is more or less a version of Donna. Fez is replicated in Ozzie, an openly gay teenager, while Hyde is replicated in next-door neighbour Gwen. As for Kitty and Red, both Debra Jo Rupp and Kurtwood Smith are back in full swing and are far and away the best part of the show. In fact, most of the best moments in 'That '90s Show' are taken almost verbatim from the original. There's the infamous stoned talks around the table, there's the interstitials with everyone dancing, and they even have a scene involving Leia stoned and getting reamed out by Kitty and Red - just like the original.
What's apparent in watching 'That '90s Show' is that the main cast of teenagers isn't nearly as sharp or as funny as the original cast. All you need to do is watch a compilation video on YouTube of some of the original series for five or ten minutes and you'll find all the evidence you need. The jokes land better, for one, but what's also clear is that there is a sharpness to it that is sorely missing in 'That '90s Show'. It's not that the decade isn't ripe for parodying - it absolutely is - but so many of the jokes about it are just flat and lifeless.
There's an episode of Kitty and Red trying to make sense of the internet that culminates with Red trying to get some naked pictures of Raquel Welch. Another episode sees Leia and Donna talking about birth control in a way that's, well, simply not funny. Again, that was a much funnier episode the first time around - Mr. Pinciotti discovering his daughter's on the pill in front of Eric is an all-timer - but here, it barely registers. It may be trying to make a point of it, that everyone's moved on and birth control isn't the big deal that it was in the '70s, but even if this is the case, it could have been made funnier.
Still, 'That '90s Show' has its moments. Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp still have a great comedic dynamic together, and the cameos from the original cast and a few others are good fun. Who knows, with better writers and a willingness to go for edgier comedy, there might actually be something more here than just a diverting trip down memory lane. This being Netflix, the odds are probably against it.