Judge Brett Cullum has been hangin' out, down the street...
Our reviews of That '70s Show: Season One (published October 19th, 2011), That '70s Show: Season Four (published June 21st, 2006), That '70s Show: Season Five (published November 22nd, 2006), That '70s Show: Season Eight (published May 21st, 2008), and That '70s Show: Season Two (published May 25th, 2005) are also available.
Fez: What's disco?
Donna Pinciotti: Jackie, I went on the pill.
Crank up your 8-track and put on those boogie shoes! Fox has finally begun releasing That '70s Show on DVD, just in time for its last season on the air. Who knew this little sitcom, which debuted in 1998, would last for seven years? 2005 marks the end of the decade for the show (any longer and it would have to become That '80s Show—and we all know where that went), and along comes this set to remind you why you liked it in the first place. Come back to the start, when all the kids were innocent, fresh, new faces stuck in a temporal warp that froze them in a decade of disco. Can you dig it? Come and check out one of the most charming ensembles on television today.
Facts of the Case
Only one new show on Fox survived the 1998 season; the one by the team that put together Third Rock From the Sun. That '70s Show revolves around the teenaged Eric Forman (Topher Grace, Traffic, Win a Date With Tad Hamilton), his friends, and his family, who all live in the mythical Point Place, Wisconsin. The cast was a great ensemble of kids and their parents, so here's the breakdown for people who may not be hip to this groovy little sitcom (in the credits order):
Mila Kunis (American Psycho 2, Family Guy) plays Jackie. She's a socialite who dates Kelso, and starts off as a snobby outsider with a quick tongue. Mila was all of fifteen when the show started in 1998. She lied about her age in the auditions, and landed the most sexually realized character on the show.
Ashton Kutcher (The Butterfly Effect, Punk'd) took the role of Kelso, a bubble-headed pretty boy with no common sense. He easily became the breakout star of the series with his model looks, flair for physical comedy, and taste for older women (like Demi Moore).
Danny Masterson (Dracula 2000) was Hyde, a stoner with a heart of gold and a not-so-secret crush on Donna. He was the oldest of the kids in the cast, and revealed a dry humor that was laconic and brilliant.
Laura Prepon (Slackers) played Donna, the girl next door who went from tomboy to sex bomb for Eric. Laura easily gets my vote for the hottest girl on the show! She's a redhead, and has a husky voice that simmers like Kathleen Turner's. She has a down-to-earth quality that belies her "daughter of Jessica Rabbit" looks.
Wilmer Valderrama (Party Monster) appears as Fes (sometimes people spell it as Fez), the foreign exchange student who slaughters English and American customs. We don't know where he comes from, or even his real name. (Fes is shorthand for foreign exchange student!) He's hilarious; easily the funniest character on the show. He is Ricky Ricardo crossed with Gilligan.
Debra Jo Rupp (Clockwatchers, Garfield) portrays Eric's mother. She's been used on other sitcoms before, such as The Jeff Foxworthy Show, but here she proved she was easily a stand-out at both comedy and heart-felt emotion. Her laugh alone became a trademark of the show, and it's criminal she has never won an Emmy or Golden Globe.
Kurtwood Smith (Robocop, a veteran of sixty-five projects) made Red, Eric's father, a lovable cranky guy. He's always criticizing his youngest charge, but it seems heartfelt and oddly warm.
Tanya Roberts (A View to a Kill, Charlie's Angels) and Don Stark (Star Trek: First Contact) both lent '70s realism to their roles as Donna's parents. Roberts was a '70s sex siren, and Stark had the typical killer '70s unisex perm. Stark plays the proud papa to a tee, and Roberts is ditzy good fun. Too bad she exited the show in 2001.
In this set you get the first twenty-five episodes of the show, from the pilot up to the shows where Hyde moved in with the Formans. Also included are some featurettes, but no commentaries or deleted scenes.
So what's in a name? When the producers were developing this show, several names were tossed around. "Feeling Alright" seemed like a logical choice, since it's referenced in the theme song by Cheap Trick. Also considered were Who songs such as "Teenage Wasteland" or "The Kids are Alright." But during focus group testing of the series people kept saying things like "I really liked that '70s show!" It started to stick, and the show got its generic name.
I hadn't watched this show in a long while, because in the last few seasons I felt it had lost what made it so much fun in the first place. In That '70s Show—Season One we see a program that is breezy good-natured fun. It probably could have been disparaged as just a retread of the Happy Days formula. Yeah, it laid the "idealized nostalgia trip" on pretty thick. But thanks to the cast and creative team, it had an offbeat, lovable charm. The characters were nailed from day one, and the show looked just like how most of us remember the '70s. They throw in references to familiar '70s fads like streaking, disco, drive-ins, Star Wars, punk rock, 8-track tapes, platforms, and pukka shells. Part of the fun is spotting all the '70s references. Even more fun is finding the anachronisms—they were as bad as Happy Days in showing several things ahead of their time setting. Still, at its core, the show was about coming to terms with yourself as a teenager. The genius was that no matter what decade you grew up in, it hit all the right touchstones of high school.
In the first season the show experimented with some really cool transition elements. Lava lamps and Dallas Cowboy cheerleaders led into some scenes, and others were introduced by the characters saying something very '70s (like Fez explaining his leisure suit was for more serious business). This was also the season Donna had two sisters. You never get to see the older one, but in one episode Tina (the youngest) shows up. Cameos are made by '70s icons like former Partridge Danny Bonaduce, disco queen Gloria Gaynor, Brady girl Eve "Jan" Plumb, and Happy Days mom Marion Ross. Also along for the ride this first season are The Rock (stretching his acting chops as a wrestler), and Married With Children/Futurama alum Katey Sagal as Hyde's lunch lady mom (who made me almost cry from laughing with one off-screen line in "Prom Night").
This first season of That '70s Show also went into some brave territory. There are episodes about false pregnancies and "the pill" which took me back to some high school scares I probably needed to laugh at. One episode called "Eric's Buddy" was highly praised by GLADD because it portrayed homosexuality as no big deal. The show never turns maudlin or preachy, but it definitely doesn't sugar coat things too much when it has a real issue to deal with. One thing that always shocked me in the first season was the casual use of marijuana. Several sequences involved the gang huddling in Eric's basement and passing an unseen joint around a circle. Later, censors would demand that most of the smoke be removed from these scenes, but here in season one it looks like the real deal (smoke and all). What was cool about those scenes (apart from being hilarious) was how they gave the kids a realistic edge. Here were basically good kids who did well in school doing something few teenagers did on television. And just imagine, nobody ever wrecked a car or suffered some horrible pious fate because of it. Good kids can do bad things and not suffer. Yeah! Someone finally got teenagers.
The picture is pretty good. By transferring the show to DVD the colors seem even more saturated and outrageous. It's not an earth-shattering overhaul, but one that is probably better than the broadcasts I saw back in the day. You get the obligatory Dolby surround mix that all Fox sets seem to get. They have never heard of 5.1 or DTS, so don't get your hopes up. That '70s Show is showcased in a very appropriate stereo that dominated the seventies. At least its not 8-track. Packaging includes a yellow cardboard slipcase holding four Amray cases for the individual discs. They did a nice job with all the '70s color schemes.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
Again we face the dilemma of television on DVD. With this show in endless reruns the makers of the set probably needed to up the ante with some special features. Well, they don't. We get the obligatory "making of" spotlight and a montage of promos. (Mmmm…promos! Be still my heart.) They also include a trivia feature where the cast answers the questions two seconds after delivering them to the viewer. Oddly enough Amazon lists "first auditions" and a Cheap Trick video as among the special features—where's that stuff?!??! It's pretty sparse. Really sparse. Why should they expect fans to fork over nearly forty dollars just to own a show that's almost always still on? At least throw me a packet of Tang or something. Commentaries would have been nice, too.
With solid presentation but weak extras, it's still a pretty nice set. That '70s Show—Season One will be a great gift for the show's fans, but others may see it as a pointless purchase, since syndication allows free viewings without the cash investment. There's certainly nothing wrong with the show. It's cute and has a dynamite ensemble that includes many talented performers who make it "all alright."
Guilty of that same sappy generic nostalgia Happy Days started in sitcoms, but a likable cast and some daring flaunting of illegal activities made it all a little hipper. The Fox DVD production team should be forced to wear pukkas and platforms until they cough up some extras, man. Don't bogart the good stuff, dude. Pass me some deleted scenes or commentaries next time and I'll forget about syndication.
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• "Hello Wisconsin!" Season One Overview
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