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That ’90s Show review: Weed, free beer and, er, Alanis Morissette

Netflix’s reboot of the flimsy sitcom That ‘70s Show features creaky gags, gales of canned laughter and a certain rickety charm

Nineties nostalgia is in the air. The Britpop fiftysomethings Blur play Dublin this summer. Cassette tapes – those sure-to-unravel horrors from the distant past – are a hit with Gen Z. The Spice Girls are far trendier today than they were in 1996. Try not to think about it too deeply, but a Wayne’s World revival can’t be far away.

All of which makes it the perfect moment for Netflix to reboot the flimsy sitcom That ’70s Show, which has now been aged up as That ’90s Show (streaming on Netflix from today). It brings back such favourites from the 1998-2006 original as Topher Grace, Ashton Kutcher, Laura Prepon and Mila Kunis. And it asks us to pretend that the short-lived That ’80s Show, which ran in 2002, never existed.

That ’70s Show traded on Gen X’s obsession with the 1970s – a trend that elsewhere manifested in the popularity of retro sneakers, Adidas zip-ups and violent art-house cinema, among other things. The synergy between the two decades was writ large in films such as Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused, his 1993 love letter to the late 1970s. Watched today, it lands like the most 1990s artefact ever created.

None of which has much of anything to do with That ’90s Show. It’s an enjoyably undemanding revival of the three-camera sitcom format that, fittingly, had its last great pop-culture moment 30 years ago, with Friends.


It brings back Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp as the Wisconsin householders Red and Kitty Forman. Twenty years have elapsed in the universe of the show – but Kurt is as grumpy as ever. This time, however, the subject of his ire and frustration isn’t his nerdy teen son, Eric (Grace), but his granddaughter, Leia (Callie Haverda).

She visits the Formans along with her father and mother (Prepon) and is soon hanging out with the edgy girl next door, Gwen (Ashley Aufderheide).

Gwen is styled as a rebellious riot grrrl, but she is introduced listening to Alanis Morissette – who, as any self-respecting riot grrrl would have told you at the time, was a mainstream facsimile of indie angst. Quicker than you can say “What, no Bikini Kill?” they’re best pals and Leia has a new family of friends – one that also includes Jay (Mace Coronel), Ozzie (Reyn Doi) and Nate (Maxwell Donovan).

Jay is the son of the characters played by Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis, who pop up for a cameo. But the focus is the 1990s kids. They are soon getting into the kind of scrapes – smoking weed, scoring free beer – that will be familiar to fans of the original series.

You know what you’re getting with a three-camera sitcom. Creaky gag is followed by creaky gag: there are more signposts in the pilot than in an Irish bar in Boston. Canned laughter comes howling through like a Valkyrie chorus in a Wagner opera. Morissette aside, though, actual 1990s references are at a minimum. Were it not for the absence of hand-held devices and social media, this could be set in the present day.

Yet there’s no denying the rickety charm of That ’90s Show. It is neither clever nor particularly true to the decade from which it takes its name. Still, each half-hour episode clips by. You might even briefly stop looking at your phone and lose yourself in the clunky comedy. And that, surely, is the most 1990s thing of all.