‘That 90s Show’ figures itself out late in the season

Arts & Entertainment

For about six episodes, “That 90s Show” is a little too close to a Disney Channel sitcom for comfort. The kids in the show are meant to be around 15 or 16 years old but feel even younger than that, as if they’re trying to appeal to tweens. By the way, do people still use the term “tweens?”

For way too long, the show stumbles around trying to find its groove and it’s a little hard to sit through. But by around Episode 7, “90s Show” figures out what it needs to be and the way the season ends is way better than the way it starts.

A sequel/soft reboot of the popular sitcom “That 70s Show,” “90s Show” is set in 1995 and catches us up with Red and Kitty Forman (Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp). The Formans are enjoying their golden years when their granddaughter Leia (Callie Haverda) comes to stay with them over the summer.

Leia soon becomes friends with the next-door neighbor’s kid, Gwen (Ashley Aufderheide), who bonds with a new group of friends and negotiates her first relationship with Jay Kelso (Mace Coronel). As the show unspools, beloved characters from “70s Show” make appearances, Kitty and Red deal with having teenagers in their home again and the Leia’s’ newly-formed friendships are tested.

Bringing a bunch of kids back into the Forman home after years of them being empty nesters is a good idea. It lets us see how Red and Kitty react to the culture and trends of the time. We get to see how they’ve changed over the years or if they’ve even changed at all.

For much of the season, Red and Kitty are the only reason to keep watching. Smith and Rupp are fantastic as always and most of the time, it’s easy to lose interest when they aren’t onscreen.

That’s because throughout the early episodes, the kids in the show are written as cliches rather than real characters. Leia the awkward geek. Gwen is the devil-may-care wild child. Nate (Maxwell Acee Donovon) and Nikki (Sam Morelos) are the dumb jock/smart girl couple, Jay is the ladykiller and Ozzie (Reyn Doi) is the sassy kid.

Worse, they come off as preteens playing as teens because their performances are so overblown and overdramatic. It’s pretty annoying and feels way too close to a Disney Channel sitcom. I know these kids are just that: kids dealing with life events kids go through. But “That 70s Show” did the same thing and did it in a way that was relatable to people who left their teen years long ago.

But something happens about seven episodes into the season. The kids stop feeling like cliches and start to feel like actual young people. Watching Leia negotiate the ups and downs of love and finally finding a place where she fits begins to hit home. The cast seems to settle into their characters a bit and the writers finally find what the show needs to be. By the end of the season, I was enjoying it to the point that when the season finale ended, I was kind of bummed.

It may have taken too long for my liking, but “The 90s Show” finds its way in the end. It’s better for a show to find itself late than to not find itself at all. Here’s hoping the show does well enough to get another season because I really want to see what happens when Leia returns to Point Place.

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