Depending on the season, the opening credits sequences for Night Court and That ’70s Show ran between 30 and 40 seconds. Their new legacy sequels – NBC’s Night Court and Netflix That ‘90s Show – use intros that last around 15 seconds, with updated versions of well-known theme songs that are either much less complicated (Night Court) or strongly accelerated (That ‘90s Show).
On the one hand, this should not be a surprise. Sitcom credits have gotten drastically shorter since then That ‘70s Show debuted 25 years ago, mainly on broadcast network TV, where advertisement breaks remain eaten in time for the actual content of each episode. However, in both cases something feels off, in a way that carries over to most of what follows after the familiar guitar riffs. Each centers around children of the main characters from the originals, and each brings back some familiar faces in supporting roles, but none feel quite right.
Let’s start with That ‘90s Show, which just premiered its first season on Netflix. This one has the involvement of ‘70s Show creators Bonnie and Terry Turner, plus their daughter Lindsey Turner, although the showrunner and head writer is Gregg Mettler, who wrote for many years for the original series. The series begins in the summer of 1995, about 18 years since the beginning of the series. Our protagonist this time is Leia Forman (Callie Haverda), daughter of Eric (Topher Grace) and Donna (Laura Prepon), and granddaughter of Red (Kurtwood Smith) and Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp). Frustrated and lonely after a lifetime of being a good girl, she decides to spend the summer at Red and Kitty’s so they can finally have friends and experience some adolescent rebellion. Her new crew includes neighbors Gwen (Ashley Aufderheide) and Nate (Maxwell Acee Donovan), Nate’s smart girlfriend Nikki (Sam Morelos), the sarcastic and semi-closed Ozzie (Reyn Doi), and Jay (Mace Coronel) — aka. the son of Kelso (Ashton Kutcher) and Jackie (Mila Kunis), who keep getting divorced and remarried every few years.
The kids from the original show are recurring players at best — Grace, Kutcher, and Kunis are only in the premiere, and Prepon and Wilmer Valderrama appear in a few extra episodes – that makes a good degree of sense. The focus is on this next generation, plus Smith and Rupp were always the most reliable laughs of the original show, and still have those muscles in top form all these years later. But the new kids are largely forgettable, with Ashley Aufderheide the only one whose facility with verbal or physical comedy seems anywhere in the ballpark of the old group. Because while That‘ 70s Show
was never a great comedy, his young ensemble was quite remarkable. Grace never turned out to be the next Michael J. Fox, career-wise, but his timing and delivery were always impeccable, and Kutcher, Kunis and the others brought a lot more than what was necessarily on the page. No one is actively bad this time, but no one raises some pretty lame punchlines either. Every now and then Smith will go with a good rant – “Down in Hell, there’s this room on the way back where the Devil shoves fire in your mouth,” explains Red. “That’s the DMV!” – but not often enough.
Danny Masterson is, thankfully, nowhere to be seen, nor is Hyde ever mentioned. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F36HBFGxWkg The studio audience, meanwhile – or, perhaps, recordings of the studio audience ofThat ‘ 70s Show– goes wild when someone from the original show shows up, whether it’s a full cast member like Valderrama, a recurring player like Don Stark or Tommy Chong, or even an actor whose presence I’m embargoed from mentioning, but who appeared a total of six times, and who is much better known for later work. But the applause of the audience is only occasionally rewarded by all the comebacks. Grace, in particular, seems to have forgotten everything he knows about acting in a multi-cam sitcom after years in movies and now two and a half seasons on ABC’s single-cam
or he’s just doing the cameo out of a sense of obligation. RelatedThe former seems more likely, simply because multi-cam has largely fallen out of fashion outside of Disney Channel and Nick sitcoms for kids and tweens. The vast majority of comedies on cable and streaming are single-cam — some pure comedies like What we do in the Shadows others blends of humor and pathos like Reservation Dogs — and broadcast network TV is experiencing something of a sitcom renaissance itself, with two real hits in Abbott Elementaryand Ghosts both of them single-cam . There just aren’t many people, as writers or as actors, who are still well and truly practiced at slinging set-ups and punchlines on a stage in front of a live studio audience. That Smith, Rupp and some of the other adults can still do it is impressive, and there are occasional inspired bits, like a stone Leia imagining her grandparents as 8-bit video game characters, or a Beverly Hills, 90210parody with one of the original actors in a deliberately bad wig. It’s just not enough to keep That
‘ 90s Show of the feeling that it is presented in a foreign language that only a few people involved can speak fluently, instead of sounding out the words phonetically. That said, it seems there is still an appetite for the form from the public. Tuesday evening series premiere of Night Court was NBC’s most-watched comedy debut since the return of
Caroline in town revival far behind? NIGHT COURT – “Pilot” Episode 101 – Pictured: (l-r) Melissa Rauch as Abby Stone, John Larroquette as Dan Fielding Jordin Althaus/NBC/Warner Bros.The two main actors on Night Courtare themselves well versed in the rhythms of multi-cam. Star and executive producer Melissa Rauch spent a decade as Bernadette
The Big Bang theory
and John Larroquette won four Emmys for his role on the original
, and spent four more seasons on his own self-titled NBC sitcom. They are, not coincidentally, the main reasons to watch the follow-up series, which has occasional moments, and one pretty good episode (the fifth, set on the night a blood moon brings a particular madman to court) that’ t really evokes the anarchic feel of the Harry Anderson-led version. Rauch, using her normal speaking voice instead of Bernadette’s high-pitched whistle, is Abby Stone, daughter of Anderson’s Harry. After growing up and working upstate, she’s moved to New York to preside over her father’s old courtroom, and recruits Larroquette’s misanthropic ex-prosecutor Dan Fielding to return to work, this time representing the defendants. It’s a reasonable setup. Dan had to be significantly transformed from the misogynist user of women he was in the eighties and nineties, and if it feels like a new character for the most part, Larroquette remains incredibly well suited to the specific demands and challenges of multi-cam. Rauch, meanwhile, is gregarious and enthusiastic enough to call Anderson. She is unfortunately hampered by the fact that Dan is no longer the only character who doesn’t want to be there. Both court clerk Neil (Kapil Talwalkar) and prosecutor (India de Beaufort) clearly have their sights set on better things, leaving Sheriff Gurgs (Lacretta) as the only character other than Abby who seems to truly enjoy herself in this setting.https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MEOeJEFKs0E Half of the old show was the feeling that this was all a ridiculous party that the viewer got to visit once a week. Without, say, the presence of a cheerful hype man like the late Charles Robinson as Harry’s clerk Mac, that infectious spirit is absent. So if things get more cartoonish – say, Neil dressing up as an extra out
in a failed attempt to love Abby’s mother ( Murphy Brown alum Faith Ford, also demonstrating well-honed multi-cam chops in a guest appearance) – it feels stupid in a way that it would not have 30-plus years ago. Trending Multi-cam was a hard, unforgiving beast to tame even in the nineties when there were so many. It is even more difficult now that the format is so much smaller. Credit these two for at least offering real ties to the originals – as opposed to the deservedly short-lived, completely unrelated
That ’80s Show — but like most of the revival and reboot trend that has consumed TV in the last decade, they exist much more to exploit a familiar brand than because they’re good enough to exist on their own merits. But, hey, at least one in the Night Court pilot had to say, “Maybe I really am Gary Buttmouth!” The first season of
That ’90s Show is now streaming on Netflix; I have seen all 10 episodes. Night Court airs Tuesdays on NBC; I have seen the first six episodes.