On That 70’s Show

I used to freaking love That 70’s Show so much. It has always been a great show on nostalgia of a time I was not even around in. According to the CNN article, “‘That ’70s Show’ gets away with a little bit more than usual“:

It could be that Fox TV put on more than a leisure suit when it aired “That ’70s Show.”

“There’s a little bit more of an edge to it, I think, than ‘Happy Days,'” says Ashton Kutcher, one of the teen ensemble. “We probably get away with a little bit more than what ‘Happy Days’ ever would have.”

That edge gave it a ratings edge in TV’s earlier-than-normal autumn. On opening night, the premiere of “That ’70s Show” tied for 21st in the Nielsen ratings — while placing first among the 18- to 49-year-olds beloved of advertisers and first among male viewers of all ages. Despite, or perhaps because of, its orange and green home furnishings and doubleknit-garbed stars, it even outranked “The Simpsons.”

Since most of the stars were not yet born in the ’70s, the ratings suggest to some that the show has the potential to attract entire families.

“Teenagers will relate to the show as well as the adults because you (adults) will be able to sit down in front of the TV and say, you know: ‘Son, I used to wear that shirt,'” says Wilmer Valderrama, who plays exchange student Fez. “Your son could say, ‘Dad, we did that last week, you know.'”

Ensemble producers

The producers, too, are an ensemble. Marcy Carsey, Tom Werner and Caryn Mandabach of “Roseanne” and “The Cosby Show” partner with Bonnie Turner, Terry Turner and Mark Brazill of “3rd Rock From the Sun” — among their other comedy credits.

Some think the maybe-smoked-marijuana scene in the premiere was not so funny when drug use, especially by teen-agers, has become a deep-seated fear in American society. Maybe seeing the flowered wallpaper swimming around behind his parents’ heads as the kid talks to them shouldn’t be treated laughingly.

“The reason we did it was just because we wanted to portray the decade as realistically as possible,” producer Brazill told CNN.

The scene was controversial even before it was aired. The Turners and Brazill apparently talked about it at length with Fox Entertainment Group President Peter Roth. Bonnie Turner was emphatic that the show had to be honest but that it was “not about drugs.”

Her husband Terry, also the show’s executive producer, joined in voicing concern about the impact of the scene. But he told the San Jose Mercury News: “If we had done a show that was strictly about the clothes and the hair, it would be a very empty show indeed. It would be like doing ‘The Untouchables’ and never mentioning Prohibition.”

Perms, short shorts and polyester pants

While the allusion to drugs was one aspect of realism that reared its head before the youngsters, the adults found reality encroaching in another manner: Mimicking the show’s time frame, when the rebellious 1960s had not quite ended, they know that their teen-age costars don’t listen to them in the show or on the set.

“None of the teen-agers will listen to us, and we know, and so we just let them do their thing, and we kind of let them make their own mistakes, stand in the corner and mumble together, ‘Well, they’ll figure it out,'” says Debra Jo Rupp, who plays Kitty Forman, the mother of 17-year-old Eric.

But in some respects, the kids may have little choice but to listen up, particularly when trying to learn the nuances of ’70s hip.

“Ashton had this thing where he was supposed to refer to ‘Chico and the Man,'” says actor Dan Stark, “and he doesn’t know what ‘Chico and the Man’ is.” So, in a related line intended to be delivered “Lookin’ goooood,” Ashton missed the inflection in the line.

“All of a sudden you find that you are the cultural reference point to an era devoid of culture,” Stark marvels.

These Wisconsin kids of 1976– Eric, Kelso, Jackie, Hyde and Fez — hang out mostly in the basement of the home of beautiful Donna’s parents. Fox says in its publicity material that they have “just discovered perms and short shorts.”

According to the Mental Floss article, “15 Vintage Facts About That ’70s Show“:

With an impressive group of future television and movie stars, That ’70s Show graced the Fox airwaves for eight seasons (almost a full decade!) beginning in 1998. Here are some facts about how the Point Place, Wisconsin cheese was made.

1. TOPHER GRACE WAS DISCOVERED PERFORMING IN A HIGH SCHOOL PLAY.

Co-creators Bonnie and Terry Turner were the parents of a cast member of a high school production of A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum. Their attention gradually turned to the lead, Topher Grace. The Turners asked him to audition the following year for their new show.

2. ASHTON KUTCHER WAS A MODEL BEFORE AUDITIONING.

He got the part of Kelso after playing him “naive” at his audition, while everybody else played him as dumb. But Kutcher had never acted: “The first five episodes of That ’70s Show, I was convinced I was going to be fired, because I was terrible,” Kutcher told Rolling Stone.

3. MILA KUNIS LIED ABOUT HER AGE AT HER AUDITION.

The then-14-year-old reasoned that the producers wouldn’t want to cast someone too young because of work hour restrictions for minors, so “I told them I was going to be 18,” Kunis told People. “But I didn’t tell them when I was going to be 18!”

4. KUNIS’ FIRST KISS WAS ON THE SHOW, WITH KUTCHER.

She enjoyed some other firsts on the show, not all of them with cast members she ended up marrying: Wilmer Valderrama taught her how to drive. Danny Masterson took her to her first club and bought her her first drink. He was also her prom date.

5. MASTERSON’S ROLE IN THE FACULTY WAS CUT SHORT SO HE COULD SHOOT THE PILOT.

All the actor was told about his character, Hyde, was that he is a “deep theorist stoner type.” Masterson figured out how to play his character “by episode four or five.”

6. KURTWOOD SMITH BASED RED FORMAN ON HIS STEPFATHER.

Smith’s stepdad passed away shortlybefore the pilot was filmed. Smith also has the distinction of being the only regular cast member who was actually born in Wisconsin.

7. THE ORIGINAL TITLE FOR THE SHOW WAS TEENAGE WASTELAND.

The Who songwriter Pete Townshend refused to allow his lyric from “Baba O’Riley” to be appropriated for the show; the same went for the proposed title of The Kids Are Alright. After Feelin’ All Right was presented as the name of the program to advertisers, Bonnie Turner realized that no matter what they called it, everybody would just to refer to it as “that ’70s show.”

8. THE CO-WRITER OF THE THEME SONG WAS PAID $70 EVERY TIME THE SHOW WAS ON TV.

Big Star singer Alex Chilton co-wrote “In the Street,” which was covered in season one by Todd Griffin before Cheap Trick’s version kicked things off starting in season two. With the name of the show in mind, Chilton found the dollar amount ironic.

9. LEO WAS WRITTEN WITH TOMMY CHONG IN MIND.

Chong claimed in 2003 that his stoner character Leo was starting to get written out more because of 9/11. After disappearing for a few seasons while serving a jail sentence for selling “drug paraphernalia,” Mickey “Leo” Chingkwake returned, and was credited as a series regular in the show’s eighth and final season.

10. WILL FORTE TURNED DOWN PERFORMING ON SNL TO CONTINUE WRITING ON THE SHOW.

Forte enjoyed the job security of his writing/producing gig on That ’70s Show and feared failure on Saturday Night Live. One year later he changed his mind.

11. THE SMOKE IN THE “POT CIRCLE” SCENES WAS STRAWBERRY-SCENTED.

Laura Prepon, Kutcher, and Masterson hid their lit cigarettes below the table before those scenes so that they could partake in their habit in between takes.

12. LATER SEASONS HAD BAND-THEMED EPISODE TITLES.

Season five episodes all shared titles with Led Zeppelin tunes. For season six, The Who was honored. The Rolling Stones were represented in season seven. For season eight, it was Queen.

13. KEVIN MCDONALD GOT THE ROLE OF PASTOR DAVE BECAUSE OF HIS DOG AND TOPHER GRACE .

Grace drove by one day while The Kids in the Hall cast member was walking his dog and said he was a huge fan. It led to him playing Pastor Dave for six episodes before the character unceremoniously disappeared. McDonald believes the show forgot about him because co-creator Mark Brazill left to work on the failed spinoff That ‘80s Show.

14. THERE WAS A U.K. REMAKE CALLED DAYS LIKE THESE IN 1999.

It was the first time an American company (Carsey-Werner) produced both the American and British versions of the same show. Days Like These used the same scripts as That ’70s Show, switching out American references with British ones, like David Bowie replacing a Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders poster, and Prince Charles visiting instead of President Gerald Ford. Only 10 episodes were aired.

15. LAURIE FORMAN SUFFERED A TRAGIC END.

Lisa Robin Kelly was taken off the show halfway through season three, returning in the fifth season only to be replaced by actress Christina Moore. “I was guilty of a drinking problem,” Kelly said in 2012. “And I ran.” Kelly passed away on August 13, 2013, after entering a rehabilitation facility; the coroner ruled the cause as being from multiple drug intoxication.

Additionally, according to the ScreenRant article, “15 Stars You Forgot Appeared On That ’70s Show“:

Over the course of 8 seasons and 200 episodes, That ‘70s Show offered a unique and hilarious look at the American teenager by filtering the experience through the lens of the midwest in the 1970s. Premiering on Fox in 1998, the show successfully managed to weave pop culture references and multiple coming-of-age stories into a comedic narrative about a bunch of high school friends hanging out and getting high in their small Wisconsin town.

As with any long-running show, the series built up an impressive roster of guest stars and acted as a launching point for a number of up-and-coming actors. Given its setting, the show was also able to pay tribute to many of the actors and musicians with plenty of meta-cameos by a number of stars from bygone eras. Like we’ve recently done with Star Wars, Smallville, and Power Rangers, here are 15 Stars You Forgot Appeared On That ’70s Show.

15. ELIZA DUSHKU

In appearing on Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Dollhouse, Eliza Dushku made a late-series appearance on That ‘70s Show. During season 7, Dushku arrived in Point Place, WI for the episode “It’s All Over Now” as Sarah, the latest addition to the local radio station where Donna worked. Upon her arrival, she immediately wins over the guys in the gang and starts causing Donna trouble at her job. Given that the show takes place in a small, midwest town in the ‘70s, Donna’s manager naturally decides to promote the station by having his two female employees pose in bikinis. Sarah’s game, but when Donna refuses the odious idea, and she’s fired.

Since it’s a comedy, they don’t delve too much into how despicable of an act this was by the manager. It’s also not the best role for Dushku, as she’s more or less relegated to the role of an attractive person who’s willing to cash in her dignity to get ahead at her new job. Considering how strong many of Dushku’s most well-known roles are, the guest spot is an odd choice for both her and the writers. Then again, it does highlight just how awesome Donna is.

14. BILLY DEE WILLIAMS

Considering how obsessed Eric Forman is with Star Wars, and given the show’s regular roster of ‘70s celebrities, it was only a matter of time before one of the cast members from a galaxy far, far away popped up on the series. Interestingly enough, the one guest star they get is Billy Dee Williams, who wouldn’t join the franchise until 1980’s Empire Strikes Back. Of course, that didn’t stop the writers from throwing in tons of Star Wars references.

The Once and Future Lando Calrissian (and former Colt 45 spokesperson) appears in season 6’s “Baby Don’t You Do It” as a pastor that Donna and Eric are forced to go see after a pregnancy scare. Sadly, Williams never makes a return to the series. It would have been wonderful to see him bounce off of Pastor Dave, played by Kevin McDonald from Kids in the Hall. Still, the actor makes the most of his screen time, hamming it up the way you’d expect for such a fun fanservice cameo.

13. LINDSAY LOHAN AND JESSICA SIMPSON

It wasn’t just stars of years gone by who made appearances on That ‘70s Show, as the series was also keen on bringing in contemporary celebrities. During the penultimate season, actor and pop star Lindsay Lohan guest-starred as a new client at the salon where Fez worked. Mimicking the real-life relationship between Lohan and Wilmer Valderrama, the two flirt heavily. Unfortunately for Fez, Kelso is also interested in Lohan’s character Danielle, and the two friends compete for her affection.

Before Lohan’s guest spot, another pop star briefly joined the cast of the show. Jessica Simpson debuted in 2002 for the season 5 episode “Going to California.” Following Kelso and Donna running off to the Golden State in the finale of season 4, the episode opens with Michael in a relationship with local beachgoer Annette. He eventually brings her back to Wisconsin with him, adding to the drama between him and Jackie. Simpson played the role in another two episodes before the character grew bored of the chilly midwest town and Kelso’s continued obsession with his ex-girlfriend.

12. AMY ADAMS

Though much more recognizable here than in her appearance from Smallville, it’s pretty easy to forget that Amy Adams briefly appeared on That ‘70s Show. Long before her star had risen, Adams guest starred in the 2000 episode “Burning Down the House” from season 2. In it, she plays Kat Peterson, a classmate of the gang and one of Jackie’s popular friends. As with virtually every small role by a young female actor on the show, she spends much of the episode watching the various male characters compete over her.

Of course, she’s not having it at first, throwing plenty of shade at Hyde when he offers her a drink. Once her friends leave (after the gang starts the titular fire), she seems much more willing to slum it and heads off with Hyde, leaving Fez alone as usual. It’s hardly a weighty role, but it kicked off a series of guest spots on Buffy, Smallville, and Charmed that would eventually led Adams to her breakout role in Catch Me If You Can.

11. JOSEPH GORDON-LEVITT

Back in 1998, Joseph Gordon-Levitt was making a name for himself thanks to the success of NBC’s 3rd Rock from the Sun. It’s no surprise, then, that he was pulled in for a guest spot on That ‘70s Show during season 1 of the series, as both shows shared a production company in Carsey-Werner. Starring in “Eric’s Buddy”, Levitt played, you guessed it, Eric’s new friend, Buddy. Despite Jackie finding Eric’s friendship with a rich, popular kid to be anathema, the two hit it off as lab partners and after-school pals.

The relationship infamously dissolves, however, when Buddy kisses Eric, revealing that he’s had to a desire to be more than friends the entire time. On the one hand, it’s impressive for a Fox show in the late ‘90s to tackle this subject. While Buddy is dismissed, Eric certainly seems like the one who’s overreacting and Buddy is always shown as a complete person and not a stereotype. Even more interesting is the fact that it’s one of the earliest examples of a gay male kiss to appear on primetime television in North America. It actually beat Will & Grace to the punch, much to that show’s chagrin. Unfortunately, Buddy is never seen or heard from again, and marks the show’s sole attempt at introducing an LGBTQ character.

10. SHANNON ELIZABETH

While That ‘70s Show mostly focused on its core cast and a rotating roster of guest stars and cameos, they occasionally pulled in bigger names for longer arcs. Back in 2003, Shannon Elizabeth featured in a lengthy arc on the series during seasons 6 and 7. During the height of her career, Elizabeth premiered as Brooke in the episode “Acid Queen,” a star student and librarian Kelso swears he hooked up with in the bathroom during a Molly Hatchet concert. This story convinces nobody, including Brooke, who has no recollection of the event.

During her 9 episodes on the show, we learn that she does in fact remember her night of passion with Kelso, but would sooner forget it. Eventually, the two hook up again, however, and Brooke becomes pregnant. Surprising everyone, Kelso finally decides to be a part of the baby’s life and kicks off his most bizarre arc yet. While navigating fatherhood, he’s also trying to be a cop (that’s what happens when you get that deep into a sitcom). The two never quite rekindle their relationship, however, and both Brooke and baby Betsy slowly fade out of the story in season 7.

9. MEGALYN ECHIKUNWOKE

Following Kelso’s relationship with Brooke, he soon starts seeing Megalyn Echikunwoke, the woman who would one day be Vixen in the Arrowverse. Not to be confused with Maisie Richardson-Sellers who plays Justice Society member Vixen on Legends of Tomorrow, Echikunwoke voiced the modern day Vixen on the self-titled digital miniseries and appeared as the character during season 4 on Arrow. A decade earlier, however, she was still making a name for herself when she showed up as Angie Barnett for 8 episodes of That ‘70s Show. Not only did she serve as a fling for Kelso, but Angie was also Hyde’s long-lost half-sister.

That’s right, part of the plot of season 7 revolves around Hyde finally meeting his estranged father, William Barnett, and learning that he also has a sister thanks to William’s second marriage. Hyde and Angie have a number of issues to work out, as do the young man and his father. Eventually, they all learn to accept each other, helped along by the fact that the elder Barnett is rich and owns a hip record shop at which he offers Hyde a cushy job. For her part, Angie ends up moving to a corporate position in her father’s company toward the end of the season, leaving both Point Place and the show.

8. LUKE WILSON

Long before we met Hyde’s sibling, we were introduced to Luke Wilson as Casey Kelso, the older brother of Michael who’d been long-teased on the series. First popping up in season 4’s “Donna Dates a Kelso,” Casey proves to be as smooth as his younger brother is inept. He’s so charming and handsome, in fact, that Donna joins her friend Jackie in the decision to go out with a Kelso boy. In the end, Casey’s somewhat selfish nature doesn’t sit well with Donna. In the meantime, however, Eric is none too happy about the new guy in her life.

With their relationship on the outs, Casey is also presented as a bit of the opposite of Forman. He’s mature, has a cool car, and always knows the right thing to say. But Eric is also caring and empathetic, and Casey has no interest in those finer points of humanity. That doesn’t stop him from showing up here and there over the years, however, with 6 appearances in total. His last was an odd season 7 entry where Eric has to retake a gym class in order to finish his high school degree, and Casey is the taskmaster teacher in charge of the grade. Once again, Eric eventually prevails, and Wilson leaves the show to go travel through India with his other brothers.

7. JIM RASH AND YVETTE NICOLE BROWN

Before Jim Rash and Yvette Nicole Brown played the Dean and Shirley respectively on NBC’s Community, they had small roles on That ‘70s Show. Brown’s was especially small, showing up as a desk sergeant in the season 8 episode “You’re My Best Friend.” In it, Kelso, Fez, and Randy all wind up in jail, and Fez continues his streak of disrespecting the police by sexually harassing Brown’s character.

Rash’s role is more noteworthy, as it constitutes one of the show’s running gags. Showing up in Season 7 as Fenton, the owner of a jewelry store where Eric is hoping to get a ring for Donna, we learn that Fez actually has a long-standing rivalry with the proprietor. According to Fez, it all started with “a half-off sale, a crowded parking lot, and a pair of pants that made my ass look like an oil painting.”

Over his six appearance, which saw him briefly become the landlord for Kelso and Fez, he serves as a foil for both Fez and Eric. Jackie, however, impresses him greatly, and seems to be the only person Fenton truly gets along with. Many of the traits present in the Dean get developed by Rash during his time as Fenton, making it fun to go back and see where the beloved persona started.

6. ALYSON HANNIGAN

Fresh off the heels of Buffy ending, Willow actor Alyson Hannigan made a brief appearance on That ‘70s Show as police cadet Suzy Simpson. Over the course of two sixth season episodes, Suzy is introduced as a fellow cadet alongside Kelso at the Point Place Police Department. She quickly develops a thing for him, but he doesn’t return her affections. Fez, on the other hand, is more than smitten with the young woman.

After an awkward sitcom-style scheme to get Fez and Suzy on a date while the latter thought she was out with Kelso, the two friends come to blows over the situation. Suzy is able to calm them down, but then learns the shocking truth: Fez is in a green card marriage and Kelso has a kid. The two-episode arc ends with Suzy exiting the show, once again failing to give a talented young, female guest star anything to do besides be the object of the boy’s desires.

5. JIM GAFFIGAN

Growing up with a deadbeat mother and an absentee father, Hyde has always lacked role models. In season 5, though, we learn that he once had a Big Brother. Played by Jim Gaffigan, Roy Keene is now the meek proprietor of a restaurant. He’s desperate not only for a new cook, but any form of human interaction. Across 7 episodes, Hyde, Forman, and a few of the other members of the Gang come into the employment of the sad sack and get to know him in hilarious fashion.

While the show never gets too deep into their past together, it does use Roy as a sort-of father figure to Hyde (or perhaps Hyde is the mentor to Roy). Either way, it offers some nice shading for the bad boy while also letting Gaffigan dive into the pathetic persona he crafted for Roy. As with most of the show’s plots, jobs, and guest stars, the restaurant and Roy eventually get left behind in season 6. Still, in his short time on the series, Gaffigan helps craft one of the best minor residents of Point Place.

4. SETH GREEN

Seth Green certainly doesn’t always play an obnoxious idiot, but he seems to get saddled with the role a lot. It’s odd, given his somewhat cooler vibe in Buffy, but Can’t Hardly Wait seems to have sealed his fate. Starting in season 6, Green showed up over the course of 5 episodes as an antagonist to Eric. He too loved Star Wars and Donna, but replaced all of Eric’s likeability with a bratty sense of entitlement.

We first encounter him when he and Eric decide to fight after school. The fight never manifests, but Green’s character Mitch Miller continues to pop up and annoy both Eric and the audience. At one point, he’s even forced on the Gang as a new friend. His final appearance comes during “The Battle of Evermore,” where Mitch and his dad Charlie (played by Fred Willard) face off against Eric and Red in the Point Place Paul Bunyan father-son event. Willard helps balance Green’s extremes and the episode offers Red and Eric with one of their rare bonding moments as they attempt to defeat Charlie and Mitch. Luckily, the competition ends with the character exiting the series. We love you Seth, but Mitch Miller is a chore.

3. BETTY WHITE, MARY TYLER MOORE, DANNY BONADUCE, MORGAN FAIRCHILD, AND ISAAC HAYES

Over its 200 episode run, That ‘70sShow pulled in a whole bunch of stars from the world of variety television, music, and sitcoms. Former ‘70s soap opera star Morgan Fairchild showed up as Brooke’s mother and the bane of Kelso’s existence during his struggles to be a father. Singer Isaac Hayes appears as himself during a musical fantasy sequence Fez has while trying to make himself cooler. And Partridge Family star Danny Bonaduce appears as Ricky, the manager of a burger joint Eric works at for two episodes.

While Bonaduce gets a bit more to do than either Hayes or Fairchild, sitcom stars Mary Tyler Moore and Betty White got the biggest arcs. Over the years, White showed up in 4 episodes as Bea Sigurdson, grandmother to Eric and mother to Kitty. Her appearances allow us insight into Kitty’s neuroses, as we learn than her mother is insanely passive-aggressive and never satisfied with anything Kitty does. Sadly, she disappears from the cast suddenly after her husband dies in the series.

Mary Tyler Moore, meanwhile, arrives for four episodes in the final season of the series. In the show, she plays Christine St. George, the arrogant and demanding host of What’s Up Wisconsin. Fittingly, she’s paired mostly with Jackie, whose style and look borrows heavily from Moore’s ‘60s and ‘70s attire. Thanks to this ability to weave in well-known names from its titular decade into the story, That ‘70s Show was able to elevate itself over mere homage.

2. DAN CASTELLANETA

You may not recognize his face, but your ears will surely perk up when you hear him speak. Though he’s best known for playing Homer on The Simpsons, Dan Castellaneta shows up in the flesh from time to time on TV as well. During season 6 of That ‘70s Show, he featured in an episode revolving around Fez’s immigration status and his green card marriage to Eric’s sister Laurie.

Playing Agent Armstrong, Castellaneta comes to the Forman household to individually interview and interrogate the family and the Gang to discern whether Fez’s marriage is legitimate or just a ruse to keep him in the States. Given his strengths for comedy, it’s no surprise that Castellaneta plays off each character exceptionally well. Though there’s hardly any doubt about whether Fez will be kicked out of the country, Castellaneta still brings a sternness and authority to the proceedings that Homer could never quite manage.

1. DWAYNE “THE ROCK” JOHNSON

The sole appearance in 1999 of Dwayne Johnson, then still known as The Rock, is one of the more meta guest star spots the series has done. Rather than feature a classic celebrity, the series brought in the wrestler at the height of his career. The season 1 episode dubbed “That Wrestling Show,” revolves around Red going to see a local wrestling match with Eric, Donna, Kelso, and Bob, much to the elder Forman’s chagrin. Eventually, the curmudgeon gets into it and he and his son have another rare bonding moment.

Johnson, along with Ken Shamrock and the Hardy brothers, naturally plays a wrestler, and the writers pack his dialogue full of awkward references to his character from the WWF. Interestingly enough, the cameo marked Johnson’s first acting gig outside of wrestling, providing him with a modest start to what’s now one of the biggest careers in show business. Considering he’s the biggest star to ever make an appearance on the series and the role served as his acting debut, it’s not hard to see why the People’s Champion is our number one entry.

Additionally, accordion to The A.V. Club article, “That ’70s Show took TV adolescence down into the basement (where it belongs)“:

Record geeks will always keep Big Star’s first three records in print, but the band’s music likely found its largest audience through a Fox sitcom. As re-recorded for That ’70s Show—first by Todd Griffin, then by Cheap Trick—Big Star’s “In The Street” makes an ideal introduction to life in fictional Point Place, Wisconsin. The words of the band’s dueling pop geniuses, Alex Chilton and Chris Bell, set a fitting scene of adolescent boredom in the suburbs: No plans, no car, no sex, no drugs (not even a lousy joint), no rock ’n’ roll. “Not a thing to do / but talk to you”—preferably in the circular camera setup that would eventually replace the show’s original driving-montage theme sequence.

That ’70s Show paid significant homage to the pop-culture sensations of its setting, but it’s perpetual underdogs like Big Star, Cheap Trick, and Todd Rundgren—a concert by the latter launches the road-trip plot in the series’ pilot—that are the true cultural avatars of the series. Though the show ran for 200 episodes, the time-capsule travails of a gawky Midwestern teen (Topher Grace as protagonist Eric Forman) and his friends made for only a modest hit on Fox, one that never found its way into the Nielsen Top 30. It was a sitcom set in malaise years whose true purpose was never lampooning disco cheese or outdated technology—though it did that, too. That ’70s Show is about the smaller stuff, the truly memorable moments of adolescence unseen in the history books. If it was just about playing “Remember when?” with historical milestones, it would’ve bit the dust as fast as its period-piece companion series, the ill-fated That ’80s Show.

The Happy Days Law Of Nostalgia Crazes states that two decades must pass before an era’s greatest contributions and fluffiest ephemera can be mined for present-day entertainments, fads, and fashions. As such, The 1970s were having a good run in the decade of That ’70s Show’s conception. Generation X’s own arrested adolescence dragged icons of its ’70s childhood into the ’90s, and amid the resurgence of retro kitsch—jellies, flares, Schoolhouse Rock!—there were works like Dazed And Confused. Richard Linklater’s un-nostalgic depiction of The Last Day Of School circa 1976 is something of a spiritual predecessor to That ’70s Show, one that debuted (and quickly faded from theaters to await discovery on home video) five years before Bonnie Turner, Terry Turner, and Mark Brazill introduced television viewers to the residents of Point Place, Wisconsin.

After graduating from the writers’ room that helped revive Saturday Night Live in the glory days of Phil Hartman, Dana Carvey, and Jan Hooks, Bonnie and Terry Turner also had a good run in the ’90s. While colleagues like Conan O’Brien, George Meyer, and Jon Vitti went west with The Simpsons (and then O’Brien returned to 30 Rock to reinvent Late Night with the help of Saturday Night Live vet Robert Smigel), the Turners’ first big breaks outside of Studio 8H came at the movies. But even as screenwriters, they clearly had TV in their DNA: They scripted features for the original Not Ready For Primetime Players (Coneheads) and the so-called “Bad Boys” of SNL (Tommy Boy), and scored a pair of sleeper hits by scripting big-screen spin-offs of “Wayne’s World” and The Brady Bunch. That ’70s Show plays like a hybrid of Wayne’s World and The Brady Bunch Movie: It pairs the former’s portrayal of adolescent time-killing in a fly-over state with the latter’s knowing sense of characters occupying a rerun purgatory. (In both The Brady Bunch Movie and That ’70s Show, it might be the ’90s outside, but it’s still the ’70s inside.) And what is Wayne and Garth’s “Bohemian Rhapsody” cruise if not a dry run for the beginning of every That ’70s Show episode?

But That ’70s Show is much more of an ensemble piece than anything Wayne Campbell ever broadcast on Cable 10 in Aurora. The key was a balance of talented actors on both sides of the show’s generation gap, a cast that could play to the series’ boisterous studio audience (a 1999 Los Angeles Times profile compared ’70s Show crowds to the notoriously rowdy houses attracted by Married… With Children) and still keep it together during the show’s single-camera interludes. The younger side of that ensemble was already a lot to balance: Rounding out the original cast of kids were Ashton Kutcher as boneheaded hunk Kelso, Mila Kunis as small-town princess Jackie, Laura Prepon as girl-next-door Donna, Danny Masterson as burnout-with-a-heart-of-gold Hyde, and Wilmer Valderrama as foreign exchange student Fez. Terry Turner told the Times:

“The thing that I like about the show is that you can put Hyde and Kelso together and they are kind of a comedy unit. You can put Hyde, Eric and Kelso together and they are fine. You can put Kelso and Fez together and they work.”


That article also emphasizes the dynamic between Topher Grace and the two linchpins of the show’s run: Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp. Smith’s dramatic chops gave a hard-bitten gravitas to Red Forman, one of TV’s all-time great no-nonsense dads. Rupp, meanwhile, was frequently all nonsense as Kitty Forman, a live-action cartoon whose golly-gee aversion to confrontation makes her no less compassionate or protective as a mother figure. With a cast as young and bright as That ’70s Show’s, the Turners and Brazill left themselves open to wandering eyes and future cast departures. Smith and Rupp—who stayed on for all eight seasons, along with Kunis, Prepon, Masterson, and Valderrama—served as solid anchors, always giving the show a place to come back to. Literally: The standing sets of the Forman house are the center of the ’70s Show universe. When one of those locations is threatened with remodeling in season four’s “Bye-Bye Basement,” Eric launches a campaign to save his “Batcave,” as if the show is staking out a sacred space from within.

It’s certainly the setting for the closest thing That ’70s Show has to a ritual. “The Circle” was the series’ major addition to the visual vocabulary of the sitcom, a break from proscenium staging that placed the cast around the camera, thus depicting characters’ marijuana use without actually depicting their marijuana use. “The trick was to stay one ahead of the pass so you wouldn’t see the joint on TV,” executive producer Dean Batali later toldThe New York Times. The game of implication was an attempt to counter what Bonnie Turner described as “clean” depictions of growing up, TV comings of age that elided the sort of anxious adolescent experimentation tackled by That ’70s Show (and its theme song, for that matter). That frankness helped place the series on the only Top 10 lists it would ever know—the Parents Television Council’s 10 Worst Shows On Network Television—but the conservative alarmists at the PTC failed to note that Eric and company’s dalliances were not without consequence. Season two ends with Hyde in jail for possession while Eric and Donna’s sex life becomes known to Donna’s father; in Grace’s final “Circle” as a series regular, Red steps into frame, launching a stern lecture and several psychedelic visual gags.

The Circle made That ’70s Show unique, but the basement granted the series authenticity. Eric’s first kiss with Donna takes place on the show’s beloved Oldsmobile Vista Cruiser, but the viewers see these crazy kids fall in love on the furniture that the Formans no longer want to keep above ground. The series has a distinct and fundamental understanding of a basement’s central role in Midwestern adolescence; Eric keeps all of his personal belongings in his room, but it’s downstairs that he has a place he can truly call his own, one where the snacks are always nearby and friends can pop in whenever. For comic effect, The Circle was occasionally moved out of the basement—as in the episode when Red, Kitty, and Donna’s parents eat Hyde’s pot brownies—but the fact that The Circle lives in the Forman basement speaks volumes about its importance. To the show, certainly, but to the characters as well.

Furthermore, the basement houses a TV that the kids have total control over—though in the days of three broadcast networks and over-the-air local stations, they mostly wind up watching syndicated repeats of Petticoat Junction, Gilligan’s Island, and the like. That ’70s Show played with primetime taboos and broke from sitcom conventions, but it understood and respected its television lineage. From the start, the show felt like it could rerun forever, reaching syndication numbers ahead of the last generation of multi-camera programs likely to hit that milestone. While Everybody Loves Raymond, Friends, and other ’90s hits elbowed older favorites off of Nick At Nite, That ’70s Show kept a whole generation of programming in the TV conversation. A Jeannie-versus-Samantha debate between the guys raged (and appropriately warped with age) within The Circle, and stars of shows the characters would’ve watched in first-run turned up for one-off cameos and recurring roles. At opposite ends of the series, Marion Ross and Mary Tyler Moore played against type to terrorize the residents of Point Place; Tim Reid came over from WKRP In Cincinnati, playing Hyde’s biological father, the wealthy owner of a record-store chain. (Hyde waves away the obvious ethnic difference between Reid and Danny Masterson: “My ’fro, my coolness, my suspicion of The Man—this explains so much.”)

The great irony of its guest-casting tendencies is that That ’70s Show wasn’t a sensation like Happy Days or The Mary Tyler Moore Show—or even WKRP: The dark horse of the MTM Enterprises stable managed to crack the upper reaches of the Nielsens in its second year on the air. That ’70s Show’s endurance could be a question of timing as much as anything else. The ’70s still had some cultural cachet when the Turners brought their pitch to Fox, which the executives praised as “daring and distinctive” (“daring” as in “Grace had no prior TV or film experience”). But that pitch came to the network at a time when it could afford to take a risk. The show debuted on Sunday nights, airing between two Fox staples whose creative waves were beginning to crest: The Simpsons started its 10th season that fall, while The X-Files entered its sixth. Still, the network was on a roll following Ally McBeal’s big breakout, and for three months during That ’70s Show’s second season, it formed a Monday-night comedy block with Ally, the infamous half-hour, no-courtroom edit of David E. Kelley’s legal dramedy. As the heat from Ally McBeal fizzled, American Idol fired up. And whatever That ’70s Show lacked for blockbuster ratings, there was always a 24 or an O.C. (which capped the Tuesdays and Wednesdays ’70s Show led in the fall of 2003) to pick up the slack.

Elsewhere, the sitcom climate was undergoing a change. While development executives learned all the wrong lessons from Everybody Loves Raymond, prizing the Barones’ nastiness above all else, the multi-camera sitcom got straight-up mean. Thus the rise of Two And A Half Men and its creator, Chuck Lorre—but That ’70s Show isn’t totally innocent in this regard. Many of its sharpest punchlines are insults; the writers gave Red his own “to the moon, Alice” in the form of his ever-evolving threats to stick his foot in other characters’ asses. To the show’s credit, the catchphrase never lapsed into rote recitation, and Smith is a master painter in profanity, as evidenced by the similar range he brought to simple grumblings of “dumbass.” Dropping the social-commentary conceits of season one—the gas shortage, the economic slump that forced Red out of the factory and put an added financial strain on Kitty—opened a wider berth for cheaper jokes and gimmicky premises, something critics noticed as early as season four.

But as nasty as That 70s Show could and would get, it was always the sort of quintessentially Midwestern nastiness born of affection and a little frustration—busting a friend’s chops between commercials, or ribbing a neighbor during a cookout. These characters are stuck, literally and figuratively: Stuck because of age, stuck because of a job, and stuck in the 1970s. (The series finale ends on the final second of 1979, forever preventing Star Wars fanatic Eric from seeing The Empire Strikes Back.) No matter the viewer’s age, there’s truth in that sensation: Adolescence seems to last an eternity, until you’re over it and the only thing that seems to last that long is the time that passes between sleep. That ’70s Show gets that, and it also gets the significance we bestow on places and events when we haven’t traveled around enough or experienced enough to know better: basements, kisses, water towers, stupid things we said or did while intoxicated. For a show that never found a huge audience, That ’70s Show was granted an awfully long time—plenty of doing the same old thing it did last week—to show how much it understood this.

Finally, according to IGN‘s article, “That ’70s Show: ”That ’70s Finale” Review“:

When it began in 1998, That ’70s Show wasn’t exactly groundbreaking television, but that was just fine. It was exactly what it set out to be; fun, likable and most of all, legitimately funny. It also benefited from a cast of then-unknown young stars who all clicked extremely well together and were all very good at bringing the laughs in distinct ways. But unfortunately, like many other shows, as time wore on the quality gradually diminished and the laughs were fewer and far between. Also the plotlines grew rather tired too; while it was easy to invest in the relationship between Eric (Topher Grace) and Donna (Lauren Prepon) early on, just how many times could they break up and make up?

The show had already been on for seven years when Grace decided to leave at the end of last season, and by all rights that definitely should have been it. First of all, the concept of time and era on the show had gotten extremely fuzzy; the first season had been pretty firmly set in 1976-1977 — as any good Star Wars fan could tell you based on the episode where the gang becomes obsessed with the movie after it opens. Yet now in real life seven years had passed, but somehow it was still magically the 1970’s for the characters… Apparently the last few seasons took place in the same slow time duration that Lost uses. But more importantly, Eric was the central character of the show, and without him, it felt incredibly awkward to continue, and quickly made the show reminiscent of the post-Ron Howard Happy Days episodes. Yes, that show had several seasons without Howard, but there’s a reason we joke about the Ted McGinley episodes. And on That ’70s Show, there was an incredibly forced and some might say creepy vibe trying to justify a group of high school graduates still hanging out in the basement of the parents of their friend who had moved away.

However, that strange year over, this week does see the finale of That ’70s Show, which comes to a close after 8 years. The finale night actually consists of two episodes; the first, “Love of My Life” is actually the stronger and funnier of the two. It features the very amusing Justin Long (Waiting, Dodgeball) as a good friend of Fez’s (Wilmer Valderrama) from back home, who does little to help the gang figure out Fez’s mysterious country of origin when he shows up speaking in a haughty, British-like accent. In the meantime, in a clever subplot, Hyde does the unthinkable and decides to quit smoking pot, leading the others to do what they must to help out a friend in need. That ’70s Show‘s glory days are long over, but this was still a solid installment, with several funny moments and lines of dialogue.

The actual final episode, appropriately titled “That ’70s Finale,” finds the gang celebrating, gasp, the end of the 1970’s! That’s right, it’s December 31st, 1979, and while the countdown to midnight occurs, trouble is in the air. Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp) is having serious misgivings about she and Red’s (Kurtwood Smith) decision to move to Florida. Meanwhile, Fez and Jackie (Mila Kunis) are finding that their attempt to make the transition from friendship to romance isn’t so easy. And Donna is preparing to move away herself, as she sets off to begin college. By the end of the night, Kelso (Ashton Kutcher) has returned for a New Year’s visit, and Donna is more intrigued then she lets on when she hears Eric is coming home too… Though if he’ll actually make it in time becomes the big question.

Many finales choose the tried but true tactic of showing flashbacks to remind viewers of the good old days, and That ’70s Show is no different. I appreciated that for the most part, the clips chosen here mostly consisted of quickly cut montages of running jokes on the show, including one of Red’s never ending series of threats to kick people in their ass. There is one final montage that does indeed go the sappy route unfortunately, though at least it was tempered a bit by getting to see the cast in the early days of the show, which is quite interesting, as you’re reminded just how young they really were when it began.

I wish I could say it was a great finale, but it ends up firmly in the “okay” heading as far as satisfying final episodes. The attempts to look back at the past are a mixed bag but are appreciated, as are the “one last time” moments given to many of the shows memorable bits. But “That ’70s Finale” really isn’t that funny, and it suffers from some concluding scenes that are a bit too rushed, as there is an attempt to quickly wrap up some loose ends, while not properly answering some new questions these resolutions raise.

At its best, That ’70s Show was a well done example of the sitcom, that benefited from a great ensemble cast and, in its early days, a good deal of strong characterization and writing. But the show definitely went on longer then it should have even before Grace left, and continuing without him and Kutcher was simply a bad decision. With this final episode, it was nice to visit with the Foreman family and their friends one last time for nostalgia’s sake, but still hard to not think that as much as fun as they were, they still should have said goodbye quite awhile back.

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s