We're going back to Wisconsin with That '90s Show on Netflix, an ode to familiar and traditional sitcom beats, but the new series can't escape the lofty task of living up to the reputation of That '70s Show.
For fans of That '70s Show who have an expectation of what this world should look like (even 17 years later) and are apprehensive about this new series living up to the legacy of its predecessor, Debra Jo Rupp and Kurtwood Smith, who play Kitty and Red Forman, want to ease your minds.
“Welcome back to Point Place,” Rupp told Yahoo Canada. “It's still the same small town, it's still inhabited by most of the people and it's just an extension of That ‘70s Show. Life moves on and 17 years later, welcome home.”
“You come back and it's like, ah we're back home,” Smith added.
That feeling that we're "back home" is definitely strong right from the outset of the show, with a clear effort to have as many touchstones to the original series as possible.
Even the furniture from Kitty and Red's That '70s Show living room remains, but now as the new basement furniture. The iconic kitchen looks, basically, the same as well, but as Rupp highlights, it's a bit bigger, which pleased the actor.
What is 'That '90s Show' about?
That '90s Show begins on July 3, 1995. Eric Forman (Topher Grace) returns to his parents' home with his wife Donna (Laura Prepon) and 14-year-old daughter Leia (Callie Haverda), who will end up spending the summer with her grandparents. Leia is similar to Eric in That '70s Show, specifically having some of those traditional sitcom "nerd" character elements.
When Leia arrives in Point Place, her grandparents' neighbours catch her attention. She hears someone blasting Alanis Morissette's "You Oughta Know," which intrigues her to the point where she climbs up to the window of the house next door to see what's going on.
That's when Leia mets Gwen (Ashley Aufderheide), who has this kind of watered down riot grrrl energy, and becomes Leia's first friend in Point Place.
“Honestly, what I do to get into character is kind of obscure and strange,” Ashley Aufderheide revealed. “I basically go in the car and I drive to like a parking lot, and I just sit by myself.”
“I remember for the audition, I had to sing 'Seether' by Veruca Salt and I totally just jammed out in the car for so long. So I sort of just sit by myself and think, OK how is Gwen going to feel about this? How would she react for this? And then once I'm in costume and I have the eyeliner on, and the nose ring and the whole outfit, I feel so in character… She's just so grunge and like a rebel, and it's so cool.”
Through Gwen, Leia meets the rest of the That '90s Show crew of teens. Nate (Maxwell Acee Donovan) is Gwen's stepbrother who is dating Nikki (Sam Morelos). Nate's best friend is Jay (Mace Coronel), who is actually the teenage son of Ashton Kutcher and Mila Kunis' characters from That '70s Show, Michael Kelso and Jackie Burkhart. There is also Ozzie (Reyn Doi), a witty queer teen with the best one-liners.
This new group of friends will spend most of the summer (you guessed it) in Kitty and Red's basement, finding "the stash" from the '70s, trying to get their hands on a beer keg and getting up to other teenage antics.
Meanwhile, Kitty is loving having a bunch of teens in her house again, while Red isn't as enthused. The couple is also trying to adapt to 1995, including a hysterical scene where Ozzie tries to set up a new computer for Kitty and Red.
That '90s Show is still very much using the same structure as the original series, including a slew of familiar guests stars like Kutcher and Kunis, Wilmer Valderrama as Fez, Don Stark as Donna's father Bob, Tommy Chong as Leo, and more.
'I try to really make this character his own thing'
For Mace Coronel, who plays Jay Kelso, he has to contend with the fact that That '70s Show fans will have an expectation for who this character is, based on who his parents are, but the actor stressed that he wants Jay to stand on his own.
“I'm not the audience and I don't really know what they're going to say, hopefully good things,” Coronel said. “I try to really make this character his own thing.”
What's clear for That '90s Show, much like That '70s Show, is that you need to buy into this group of friends for the series to actually work. The cast highlighted that they all, even surprisingly for them, built a friendship quite easily.
“I think it was a lot easier than I thought it would be because day one on set, we just fell into this natural rhythm of being friends,” Sam Morelos said. “Also, because we're all the same age, and we all liked the same things and we all kind of had the same sense of humour, we quickly fell into a friend group.”
Maxwell Acee Donovan echoed Morelos' comments, but added that the bond they have was particularly helpful when playing out the ebbs and flows of the romances in That '90s Show.
“It was just so incredible to get to bond with everybody and we were all together for so long on set that it was really a family, pretty early on,” Donovan said. “That was something I'm very grateful for and then there was never any awkwardness in those scenes, which I was also grateful for.”
Back to the familiar
For anyone who watched That '70s Show, while it originally aired or during reruns, there's no denying there's an excitement to seeing Kitty and Red together again. That partnership is still as endearing as it always has been. It's just comforting to watch.
For Rupp and Smith, while the characters may have come back to them quickly, they still had to establish a relationship with this new group of teens.
“With ‘70s Show you had to get to know them,” Rupp said. “So here in ‘90 Show it's the same thing, we had to get to know them.”
“We know our granddaughter, but she's now making friends, this is a whole new group of people that she has brought into the fold. ... So this is kind of fun getting to know new people now, and Red and Kitty are expanding their worlds a little bit, which Kitty is desperate for and Red is just Red.”
“He was so happy in his retirement where he could just sit around and read his newspaper, and go out to the garage once in a while,” Smith added. “Try to raise a little tiny tomatoes [and now he's got] these little monsters invading his house and stealing his shirts.”
That '90s Show isn't revolutionary and the first season alone won't become part of the cultural zeitgeist, like That '70s Show was able to achieve by the end of its run, but it's a comforting show to watch. It's like getting a big hug from the familiar and the nostalgic, paired with a few laughs, and to be honest, that's kind of all we really need.