From “That ’70s Show” to “That ’90s Show”, nostalgia has aged badly

After Beverly Hills 90210, The prince of Bel-Airor saved by the bellit’s the turn of another series from the 1990s, That ’70s Show, to have his reboot! From 1998 to 2006 on Fox, this sitcom followed the daily lives of Donna (Laura Prepon), Kelso (Ashton Kutcher), Jackie (Mila Kunis), Hyde (Danny Masterson) and Fez (Wilmer Valderrama), a group of teenagers who squatted the basement of one of them, Eric (Topher Grace), in Point Place, small town in Wisconsin in the 1970s.

More than fifteen years after the finale, Netflix launches this Thursday That ’90s Showsitcom which features a new generation of young people, led by Leia Forman (Callie Haverda), the daughter of Eric and Donna (who bears the first name of the princess of Star Wars) when she came to spend the summer of 1995 with her paternal grandparents, Kitty and Red Forman (Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp) who were still living in the small town in the American Midwest.

Cameos of the original cast are expected, with the exception of Danny Masterson, charged with three rapes. At the helm of this project, the creators of the original series, Bonnie and Terry Turner, and their daughter, Lindsey Turner, the showrunner and executive producer Gregg Mettler as well as the executive producers Marcy Carsey and Tom Werner, already at work on the 1990s series. Why That ’90s Show isn’t it able to break the curse of rebooting inferior to its source material?

An almost alternative sitcom in the 1990s

When it was launched in 1998 on Fox, That ’70s Show felt like an almost alternative comedy, taking unexpected risks, at least by prime-time sitcom standards of the day. Shot with a 360° rotating camera in the middle of the actors, certain sequences of this family sitcom suggest that these young people smoke marijuana. “The trick was to be one step ahead of the passage of the joint so as not to see it on television”, explains the executive producer, Dean Batali in the columns of the New York Times.

“If you lived in the 1970s or just survived your teenage years, one of those characters could be you,” Topher Grace told the New York Times. The laughs leaned heavily on the generational contrast between Red, a conservative, overbearing veteran, and Eric, a slacker nerd. The series thus allowed teenagers of the 1990s to imagine what a young person was like in the 1970s, and implied that our parents were, once, like us.

A “flagship Fox” series in the 1990s

If the series never had the notoriety of Friends or of Seinfeld“it was really a flagship series for Fox at the time, one of its longest sitcoms,” recalls Séverine Barthes, media analyst and lecturer at Sorbonne-Nouvelle University.

“The series was a secret pleasure for the Fox audience, the 18-34 year old viewership community,” Jim Kraus, president of national distribution for Carsey-Werner Productions, which produced the series, recalls in the columns. of New York Times. “No matter what night it aired – and it was constantly moving – viewers would find it and follow it. »

“It was a real phenomenon in the United States. In France, it was first passed on the cable. We are on a smaller public base, ”abounds Séverine Barthès.

A cult series thanks to Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis

That ’70s Show remained in the cathodic memories especially because it allowed several of its actors to become stars. “It was really touching to be back on set. We got to where we are thanks to this series,” confided Ashton Kutcher this summer to variety.

That ’70s Show became cult a bit later when Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis got together. All the stories about the series, about how they met, have circulated, ”says Marjolaine Boutet, series historian, professor at the Sorbonne Paris Nord University and author of TV series for dummies (First).

A show on the model of “Happy Days”

That ’70s Show takes up the principle of another cult sitcom, Happy Days, a 1970s series set in the 1950s. This nostalgic 1970s sitcom depicted the 1950s as a golden age when young people went to diners, drank Coca-Cola, ate burgers and danced the rock’n’roll. A much less complicated youth than the protesting and drugged youth of the 1970s”, analyzes Marjolaine Boutet.

The unexpected success of Star Warsthe Farrah Fawcett blow-dry, the lava lamps, the names of the episodes borrowed from the song titles of Led Zeppelin, The Who and Queen and that constant stream of cameos of famous personalities in the 1970s… “In That ’70s Show, the reconstruction of the time, particularly in terms of music and cultural references, played on this terrain of a common culture and a mythified, happier and more colorful past”, deciphers Séverine Barthes. “In the 1990s, when it was a little hard to dream, there was this nostalgia for this somewhat crazy period of the 1970s, for a certain ode to freedom, for this moment when everything was possible”, adds Marjolaine Boutet.

A series that relies on the “positive aura” of the Nineties

Viewers like to see themselves through a sepia-toned lens. “We are in the principle of the nostalgic sitcom”, continues the expert. A formula taken from Our favorite yearsseries of the 1980s on the sixties, freaks and geeksseries filmed in 1999 on a high school in 1980 and of course, Stranger Things2020s hit on the Reagan era.

In this context, the spin-off version 90s is it a brilliant idea or a disaster in the making? “Some of the fans of That ’70s Show will be happy to see how the children of the series they loved before have grown up, believes Severine Barthes. Young people use Netflix to rediscover old series like Friends with this limit: some things no longer pass like fatphobia, etc. There is perhaps the idea of ​​playing with this positive aura of the 1990s with a younger target, but written today, with a current sensitivity. »

A reboot that does not capture “the spirit of the times”

A wild dance on the 1990 hit Groove Is in the HeartCDs by Alanis Morissette, a video club and VHS, a reference to Clerksan imitation of Joey in Friendsa parody of the video game Donkey Kong…. That ’90s Show seems to be surfing on the nostalgia of the 1990s.

“After seeing the first 3 episodes, I find that the series does not say much about the 1990s. There is not really a discourse on the spirit of the period”, laments Marjolaine Boutet. In the early 1990s, the grungy was the soundtrack of a great cry from the heart of a disillusioned and a little nervous youth: “ That ’90s Show remains a very sweet, slick, shy sitcom. I expected more music, more grunge, ”continues the expert. Unlike in Stranger Things which “says something about our imagination of the 1980s”, That ’90s Show misses its first target: people in their forties who grew up listening to Nirvana and Pearl Jam.

Some episodes are also problematic. “The third episode about Leia’s first kiss ends as she forcefully kisses a young ice cream vendor. I want the action to take place in the 1990s, but we are in 2023, ”exclaims Marjolaine Boutet. An astonishing screenplay choice in the age of consent. “The jokes about Fez, with its hyperpronounced accent… It’s dated”, still regrets the researcher. Not sure vintage flannel shirts are enough to captivate Gen Z like That ’70s Show has charmed Generation Y. In the meantime, it may make them want to rediscover the original series, available on somersault.

From “That ’70s Show” to “That ’90s Show”, nostalgia has aged badly