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Friday, August 26, 2011

TGIF: That '70s Show

Who here remembers the 1970s?  I'm sure that I have quite a few regular readers of this blog who were either born in the 1970s or grew up during the 1970s. 

It was a decade where disco was king, and everyone tried to mimic the same moves John Travolta did on that multicoloured floor of lights.

It was a decade where gas shortages were in the news, and long lines of cars could be seen at gas stations and convenience stores for miles.

It was a decade where women embraced feminism, and you could see hundreds of women burning their bras as a form of protest.

Yes, the 1970s were a decade of great change.  People showed off their mood rings and pet rocks, embraced the 8-track-tape and Betamax, and wore bell bottoms and feathered hair.

It was a decade that I completely missed out on.

Having been born in 1981, I was unable to experience the 1970s.  I had older sisters and cousins who were born in that time period, who managed to experience some of the decade, but I could only read about it in books, or watch television shows made in the 1970s to fully understand what they were like.

It really wasn't until 1998 came around that a television show came along that showed all of us who missed the 1970s a general idea of what living in that decade really was like.

That '70s Show premiered on the FOX television network on August 23, 1998, and ran until May 18, 2006.  The show was centered around six high school aged students in Point Place, Wisconsin, and was set in the time period between May 1976 and January 1980. 

From left to right, the kids of That '70s Show are Michael Kelso, Eric Forman, Steven Hyde, Donna Pinciotti, Fez, and Jackie Burkhart.  Other characters include Eric's parents, Red and Kitty (Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp), Eric's sister (Lisa Robin Kelly), Donna's parents Bob and Midge (Don Stark and Tanya Roberts), Leo (Tommy Chong), and Randy (Josh Meyers).

Just for this blog entry, I'm going to focus on the kids of the show, since they were the real stars of the show.

Like any high school group shown on various television sitcoms over the years, each person in the group had their own distinctive personality.  Some members of the group got into trouble and the others had to bail them out.  Some members dated each other within the group, or slept with others in the group, which had the tendency to make things a bit awkward, especially if the relationship fizzled.  Sometimes, the events of the 1970s would have profound effects on one member of the group, and those effects could spill over into the rest of the circle.

Speaking of circles... of the recurring gags of the series involved some members of the group in the basement of Eric's house (one of the main hangouts for the young cast of the series) in a circle formation.  The scenes were one of the main ways that the group would update each other on various problems or issues that they were experiencing.  Usually, the groups would include the males of the group, but on rare instances, Donna and Jackie would take part in the discussion as well.  The camera would be present in the center of the circle, and would focus on the character currently speaking.  When it came time for the next person to speak, the camera would turn towards the next person. 

Oh, yeah...there's one minor detail that I should add.  You may have noticed a distinct haze in the background of these circle scenes.  Although you never saw any of the characters in the show visually smoking up, the haze was meant to simulate the effect one might notice if they walked in on a group of people smoking up.  I mean, if you watched the clip of the circle that I posted, you may note that the smoke seemed the thickest around Kelso, and well...if you saw the way that Kelso acted in the circle, it makes a lot of sense!

Another gimmick that the show used quite often was the split-screen technology.  Split-screen technology is used when you have two or more characters talking to each other via telephone, or in recent shows, online.  It had been previously used in shows like Three's Company (when characters talked with Suzanne Somers during her publicized conflict dispute with showrunners and producers), and on The View (the argument between Rosie O'Donnell and Elisabeth Hasselbeck, which prompted Rosie to leave the program two months early).

On That '70s Show, the split-screen gimmick was used quite often, to move the storyline of each episode along.

At any rate, the show managed to be a huge hit on FOX.  Here's a little bit of trivia for you.  Of all the programs that debuted in 1998 on the FOX network, That '70s Show was the ONLY one to last longer than one season, airing exactly 200 episodes during its whole run.  Although the show went through some cast changes (including Topher Grace and Ashton Kutcher leaving the series at the beginning of the show's final season), it still kept the humour and the jokes going at full force, which I certainly appreciated.

So, I guess this is the point in the blog where we talk about the main cast of the program.  As always, I'll describe the cast briefly, and see if I can relate to any of these characters (despite them living in a time period that I completely missed).  We'll begin with...

Eric Forman
played by Topher Grace (1998-2005; 2006)

Of all the characters that appear in That '70s Show, I think I am the most like Eric.  Overprotective mother?  We both have them.  Easily agitated father?  Yep, we both have them.  Strained and prickly relationships with an older sibling?  Well...okay, we differ on that one, as I actually have a somewhat decent relationship with mine.  I imagine that had we been born without the age difference, we probably wouldn't get along. 
That being said, Eric had a rather central role in the series for the first seven seasons, and even made a memorable appearance at the series finale.

Eric's personality was quite a bit like mine as well.  Aside from the whole experimentation with marijuana with my closest circle of friends, Eric and I are quite a lot alike.  Eric's basically a good kid with a sense of humour that is peppered with sarcasm and acerbic wit.  This is probably a good thing for him to have, as his physical attributes leave little to be desired.  He has been described as geeky, scrawny, and physically weak, and has been given the nicknames of Zitty Stardust, Foreplay, and Dumbass by his friends and family.  Compare that with me.  I'm probably the biggest geek that most people could ever know (which I proudly own up to, by the way).  When I was younger, I ran away from physical fights, and did a crappy job of trying to defend myself against people who used to beat me up. 

That said, Eric could find the strength to stand up to bullies and family members if provoked enough.  He threatened Casey Kelso with violence if he ever hurt Donna, he stood up to his parents when they tried to interfere in his plans to marry Donna, and has even punched out a couple of people during the show's run. 

Within the main group, Eric's best friend was Hyde, and it was Eric who convinced his parents to let Hyde move in with them when his mother abandoned him.  The person in the group who Eric seems to dislike the most is Jackie, although they manage to put their differences aside in later season.  And then there's his on-off romance with Donna, which seemingly ends in season seven as Eric decides to go to Africa for a year (kicking off Topher Grace leaving the series).  But he returns to the show on the series finale where he sees Donna one final time.

Jackie Burkhart
played by Mila Kunis (1998-2006)

Jackie is the youngest member of the group (as well as the show, as Mila Kunis was barely fifteen when she was cast on the program), and has probably one of the most prickly personalities of the core six.  When you consider that one of her nicknames on the show was 'Little Red Riding Bitch', it's a clear indicator of what kind of personality she had.

You know those people who you may encounter that would give you unsolicited advice on something that ends up being thoughtless or superficial in nature, but ends up being correct?  That was Jackie in a nutshell.  She was portrayed as spoiled and stuck-up, with a hint of narcissism mixed in for bad measure.  That said, at least you could say that any intention that she had was good. 

Still, there's a lot more to Jackie than her conceit and her constant drive to be voted Most Popular or have the best legs.  It ends up that the reason why she acted so conceited was a defense mechanism of sorts to prevent herself from getting hurt.  Her home life was a bit tumultuous as well, with her father in prison and her mother abandoning her.  She also has issues with insecurity, as the only reason she feels like she is a part of Eric's group is because of her relationship with Michael Kelso.  What Jackie didn't initially realize was that her defense mechanism of conceit ended up sabotaging prospective friendships.  All I'll say to that is that I can probably say the same thing about myself (at least during those awkward middle school years anyways).

By the end of the series, Jackie managed to prove herself to the others, and really began to be accepted by the group as more than just the girlfriend of one of the gang.  Though, it's interesting to note that she had relationships with three of the four men in the group (first Kelso, then Hyde, and finally Fez).  She also looked up to Donna as a big sister, and had a rather unique bond with Eric's father, Red.

Michael Kelso
played by Ashton Kutcher (1998-2005; 2006)

Oh, Kelso, Kelso, Kelso...what a man-bimbo you were.

As if he was a combination of Reggie Mantle and Big Moose from Archie comics, Reggie was vapid, shallow, and according to a lot of people, a little bit stupid.  Probably why he ended up dating Jackie at the beginning of the series, as back in those days, Jackie was a traditionalist who mistakenly believed that she needed a man to make her happy, and, well...Kelso was it. 

There is a trait that Kelso and I both share though.  Two actually.  He and I were both sensitive people, and we both had nicknames that we both despised in high school.  First, let's talk about the sensitivity issue.  Before I found my inner strength and started standing up to people, I used to take abuse and jeers and cheers from classmates, and it affected me in a negative manner.  Kelso was basically the same way.  He took the negative comments that the gang made personally when he wore a Fonzie style leather jacket.  He's also surprisingly mature when it comes to how he handled relationships.  Despite cheating on Jackie once, in all subsequent relationships he had, he never cheated on his partner at all after that one time.  When Kelso became a father during season seven, he accepted his responsibility and moved away from Point Place to fulfill his responsibilities (effectively setting the stage for Ashton Kutcher's exit in season eight).

Oh, and the nickname?  The one I was saddled with was 'Turkey', which was taken from the first part of my real last name.  I hated the nickname with a passion, and it seemed the more I voiced my disapproval, the more kids called me it, even going so far as carving it into my locker with a compass from a mathematics kit.  Real mature.  As it turned out, Kelso's embarrassing nickname also originated in high school.  Offscreen, he was in the cafeteria when he slipped on some mashed potatoes and slid right into a pole, earning him the less than affectionate nickname of 'Tater Nuts'.

Kelso's intelligence is also downplayed.  Of course, he gives off the impression that he is a bumbling idiot, but when given the right incentive (money, beer, sex, etc), he displays intelligence beyond belief.  He earned a respectable 1030 on his SAT's, and has a great deal of practical knowledge (yet lacks the ambition to show it off in most cases).  Kelso has also dated a lot of people on the show, but the two that are most notable are Jackie and Eric's sister, Laurie.

Steven Hyde
played by Danny Masterson (1998-2006)

Introduced as Eric Forman's best friend, Hyde's background is probably one of the most dysfunctional.  With an absentee father, and a mother who abandoned him, Hyde is taken in by the Forman family, effectively making Hyde a foster brother to Eric.  The friendship between Eric and Hyde is probably the friendship that is the strongest of all the friendships within the show.

Hyde worked at a Foto Hut where he befriended his boss Leo.  Although the friendship was tested over the years (including one instance in which Hyde told off Leo for not doing his job, despite being his supervisor), the friendship seemed to have survived.

What's interesting about Hyde is that Eric's father, Red, seemed to be more accepting of Hyde as a son, rather than Eric, because Hyde had all of the qualities that Eric lacked, which was more masculinity, and less showing of his emotions, a contrast of the 'New-Age' phonomenon of the 1970s.  Later in the series, we meet Hyde's real father, who surprisingly enough happens to be African-American (making Hyde biracial).  At the end of the series, Hyde becomes the manager of a record store within a chain that his father once owned.

I actually think that Hyde was probably one of my favourite characters in the whole show because he also had a lot in common with me.  He shunned organized religion, as I have a tendency to do myself (which doesn't mean that I don't believe in God, but that's another topic altogether).  He doesn't rush into relationships at all (his only serious one on the show was with Jackie).  While at first he was rebellious and had a 'me against the world' attitude towards life, when he moved into the Forman residence, he lost his rebellious streak, and actually pitched in with chores and the like.  He had high respect for the Formans, probably because they refused to give up on him, unlike his own family.

Perhaps the one thing I liked best about Hyde was the fact that he always put his friendships first above material possessions and needs.  It takes a real mature and secure person to be able to do that, and I think that's why Hyde became my favourite person on the whole show.

Donna Pinciotti
played by Laura Prepon (1998-2006)

Donna is a tomboyish type girl, who spent most of the series being Eric's love interest.  Unlike Jackie, she embraced the idea of feminism, and was extremely confident and strong in her opinions.  Sometimes though, she could take it to the extreme, misleading people into thinking she was arrogant or self-righteous.

She rejects almost all articles that showcase extreme femininity, such as lipstick, skirts, jewelry, and dresses, although on special occasions she will glam it up.  After her wedding with Eric was called off, she even dyed her hair blonde (actress Laura Prepon had dyed it for a movie role that she filmed in between seasons seven and eight).

Although Hyde had expressed feelings for Donna early in the series, Donna's main love interest was Eric, and they had an on-again, off-again romance for most of the series run.  Her best friend (some might say frenemy) is Jackie, and although Jackie can be abrasive with Donna, Donna can give it right back to her.

Despite Donna's confidence, she does have some insecurities, largely stemming from her parents rocky relationship, and subsequent split from each other (which is how the show explained the departure of Tanya Roberts).  Donna believed that she had the hardest life out of the whole group, but Hyde reminded her that his life was the same way, and yet he never complained about it, reassessing Donna's own feelings about herself.  She also had trust issues with Eric, and in one episode, she thinks he is cheating on her when she finds a mysterious pair of panties in his car (which turned out to belong to her mother, when she and Bob had...relations in the car).

played by Wilmer Valderrama

Finally (and I'll wrap this up here, as this blog entry is getting incredibly long), we have foreign exchange student Fez, from...well, actually, we have no idea what country he's from.  In a recurring gag, everytime Fez tries to tell where he's from, he keeps getting interrupted.  It worked kind of the same way as the gag on The Simpsons, when people try to explain where Springfield is located.

Fez isn't exactly Fez's real name.  It's a nickname that is derived from the term 'foreign exchange student'.  The gang do know his real name, but we never hear it, as they claim that they don't have any idea how it is pronounced.

Fez develops friendships with Hyde and Eric on the show, but his best friend is Kelso.  He had deep admiration for Donna, and has a lot of affection towards her, but nothing romantic developed between them.  His relationship with Jackie was one that was slow-going at first.  He had been enamored with Jackie since the beginning of the show, but since she was already committed to Kelso at the time, nothing ever came out of least initially.  In the last season, after Kelso left, Jackie and Fez moved in together, where Jackie soon started developing feelings for Fez.  Fex, rebuffed her affections, telling Jackie that he didn't want to be her last resort.  This prompted Jackie to seek out revenge on Fez, and Fez retaliated by dying Jackie's hair green, telling her that she now looked as ugly on the outside as she was inside.  Jackie was deeply hurt by this and moved out.  Fez realized that he was hard on her, and that he really did want to be with her, but when he tried to apologize, Jackie refused to hear it.  It wasn't until the end of the series before Jackie and Fez began to reciprocate their feelings for one another.

Fez was a bit awkward in the early years with women, and had very little success in his romantic life.  In fact, he was the last of his friends to lose his virginity (gee, this sounds very strangely on par with my own experience with love and romance, I have to say, but again, that's another blog entry for another day).  By the end of the series, he almost becomes a regular womanizer, often experiencing situations that the other three male leads never really did.

Still, Fez's friends were there for him when he needed them.  In one case, when Fez was threatened with deportation after being arrested for vandalism, Eric's sister, Laurie decided to marry Fez to keep him in the country!  The marriage was obviously one of convenience, and once the ceremony happened, the two went on their separate ways, and the marriage was presumably annulled.  Still, you have to hand it to Fez for having such a personality that people would want to keep him around...even if he doesn't quite grasp American culture quite the way the others did.


  1. Great article. I was born in 1964 ( the year the monkeys won the war) - that was what we '64's always

    That show was so a Canadian anyways, but cute. Maybe I was so protected on the burbs or I refuse to listen to my aunt and uncles stories of debauchery that occurred with my parents at parties...I guess I was in a bubble with my new Mickey mouse club, bewitched and Mork and mindy that I refused to notice that pot, cigs and other fancy things were so prevalent around me.

  2. Nice to hear a perspective from someone who grew up during the seventies. I missed them by two years. LOL!

    I imagine that because you were a child yourself when the seventies went on, you may not have been exposed to some of the more adult things of the decade. I know growing up in the eighties, there was a lot more to that decade than Rubix Cubes and Claymation. :)