I’m a relative newcomer to the That ‘70s Show phenomenon. So when I sat down to watch its sixth season, I expected to fondly re-live some of the strange cultural oddities of my high school years. Yep, I’m a child of the ‘70s. And while such clues as clothing styles, car makes, and household décor were dead giveaways about the program’s era, little of the dialogue revealed this program’s time period.
At first, this disconnect was disappointing, especially since all of season six’s individual episodes are named after The Who songs – a truly iconic band from that decade. In other words, I expected the show to be hipper than it really was. But after a half decade, this program had become just another sitcom – albeit, one with a specific decade named in its title.
Another thing that bothered me—the newbie—was how unlikable the characters are. Like Seinfeld before it, this is a show where you never feel sorry or sad about anyone onscreen. Instead, it’s all about the jokes. Thus, each episode stands or falls on the quality of the writing. The writing is okay, but rarely great.
Overall, the program is built around Eric Forman, his friends, and his family. By now he has graduated from high school and is asked to help support the family after a heart condition puts his dad, Red, out of work. Like Jerry Seinfeld, Forman is surrounded by some zany friends: Steven Hyde is the perpetually cool stoner; Michael Kelso, the dumb, but loveable, lady’s man; and Fez, the undersexed, clueless hanger-on.
Their girlfriends are of the same calliber. Steven’s honey is Jackie Burkhart, a cold and self-centered chick, while Eric’s girlfriend and eventually fiancée, Donna Pinciotti, is about the only character with her head on straight most of the time. Lastly, Eric’s parents are hardly the model kind. His mom, Kitty, has a drinking problem, and his dad is a commie-hating perpetual grumbler, forever wanting to put his foot into somebody’s ass.
Eric’s engagement to Donna is the season’s biggest plot development. Donna gives up going to college to stay in a small town (Point Place, Wisconsin) with Eric, where she works as a radio DJ. Eric and Donna’s road to the altar includes pre-marital counseling, on the episode “Baby Don’t You Do It”. During “Do You Think It’s Alright”, Eric painfully assists Donna with putting together a wedding gift registration.
The funniest show of the season is “Sparks”. First, Red gets drunk and wastes his wedding gift money on a canoe, which he gives to Steven, Fez, and Kelso. This trio then uses the boat for a little extreme sports action, such as sliding down a steep and rocky hill and pulling it behind a car. Of course, the brave, bold, and foolish Kelso is always the test dummy pilot on these doomed missions. Funnier still, however, is when Eric accidentally rips Donna’s wedding dress while sneakily peeking at it before the wedding. In a hilarious bit of slapstick, he also stains it and discolors it in the dryer.
Kelso also has an eventful sixth season. He learns that a hot girl he banged at a rock concert is pregnant with his child. She, Brooke, is a librarian and way out of his intellectual league. But he nevertheless makes a valiant effort to win her heart in order to be there for his child, once the little one arrives. Furthermore, Kelso joins the police academy. And despite not being anything close to officer material, he sticks with the program like a true trouper.
There isn’t much in the way of extras on this set. There are promo spots and commentaries and a summary called “Six Minutes of Season Six”, but except for interview flashbacks with Kurtwood Smith (who plays Red), and Debra Jo Rupp, the lush that is Kitty, there’s not a whole lot of additional footage.
If you’re too young to remember the ‘70s, you won’t learn anything about that decade from watching this program’s sixth season. Additionally, you will not get any warm and fuzzies from the characters in this series. But when the writing is good, and it’s especially good on “Sparks”, That ‘70s Show can be laugh-out-loud funny.