25 years later, the hit show’s creators are about to serve us another helping in the form of That ‘90s Show, featuring Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp reprising their roles as Red and Kitty Forman, respectively. But aside from the return of Red and Kitty (and a plethora of promised cameos from the OG cast), the new iteration will depend on a band of fresh faces and unfamiliar names.
Is this spin-off a genius idea or a disaster in the making? The answer to this question is most certainly tied to the reason so many of us were obsessed with That ‘70s Show 25 years ago: TV viewers love to see themselves through a sepia-toned lens (metaphorically speaking). Think The Wonder Years, which came out in 1988 and gave us Kevin Arnold & co. in 1968. That show was obviously a huge success, playing off that “remember how great it used to be” energy, even if the people watching weren’t actually around yet during that “great” time. And then there was Freaks and Geeks, a show filmed in 1999, but about high school in 1980. Back to the Future managed to do it all in one movie, straddling the present (1985) and the past (1955). Box office gold! The point being, we love a glance back in time.
That said, I happen to think that tying the success of That ‘70s Show exclusively to nostalgia is an oversimplification. Sure, it was fun to see the ‘70s fashion and the ‘70s hair. It was a hoot to see Kitty’s ‘70s cooking served up in the Formans’ very ‘70s kitchen. But I would argue that this was simply a frame-work for the two things that made this show specifically so appealing: what I like to call the Red vs. Eric Dynamic and the Kelso Effect.