That ’70s Show: Season 4
May 12, 2006
Initially disregarded as a lame Dazed and Confused (1993) knock-off, That ‘70s Show has survived for more seasons than anyone thought possible and helped launch the careers of Topher Grace and, to a lesser degree, Ashton Kutcher. To the show’s credit, it doesn’t solely rely on the kitschy décor and fashion sense of the decade for cheap laughs. Although, they do sneak in some cool artifacts, like the mousetrap game. Instead, That ‘70s Show adheres strictly to standard sitcom conventions.
Originally called Teenage Wasteland, That ‘70s show is a sitcom about the lives of a group of teenagers living in Wisconsin during the late 1970s. Eric (Grace) is the everyman who is unlucky with girls; Kelso (Kutcher) is the not-too-bright jock/ladies man; Hyde (Masterson) is the sarcastic practical joker and stoner; Donna (Prepon) is the sexy tomboy; Jackie (Kunis) is the vain, rich girl; and Fez (Valderrama) is the borderline geek from another country whose full name nobody can pronounce. As the season begins, Donna and Eric have broken up leaving him depressed and their friends torn between whom they should hang out with.
Some of the season’s highlights include the episode “Tornado Prom” where the format of the show is played around with a little bit. Jackie passes out during a tornado warning and dreams that all of her friends are characters from The Wizard of Oz (1939). One of the funniest episodes of the season is “Class Picture” where the gang reminisces about how they first met each other including the times that Hyde beat up Kelso while he cries out, “My eye!” Everyone ends up telling the most embarrassing and funny stories about each other in this thoroughly enjoyable episode.
One of the show’s reoccurring motifs is dream sequences demonstrating the colourful imaginations of the characters and the 360-degree scenes (also known as the Circle) that usually illustrate the teens smoking pot in Eric’s basement. As they talk about whatever comes to mind, the camera moves in a circle stopping on each character as they address the camera directly. It became a clever way to show them getting high without actually showing them lighting up with only puffs of smoke in the background as an obvious reference.
The cast has a good chemistry together – by the fourth season they ought to. The diversity of the actors accounts for a large part of the show’s appeal with Grace and Kutcher drawing the teenage demographic and established veteran actors like Kurtwood Smith appealing to an older generation who may also watch for nostalgic reasons – a trip down memory lane evokes simpler times. Smith is the show’s secret weapon as Eric’s gruff, no-nonsense father, Red. He gets some great zingers with his dry, sarcastic remarks. The appeal of these characters is that they are archetypes that anyone can relate to. We’ve all known or been a jock or a geek or the popular kid.
While That ‘70s Show is hardly groundbreaking television it is very entertaining and quite funny, which is all you really want from a show like this. 20th Century Fox has presented a solid set with a nice, if not modest, collection of extras that fans of the show will no doubt enjoy.
The first disc features an audio commentary on “Eric’s Depression” by director David Trainer. He does a good job dissecting this particular episode. For example, he points out that there is the main story – Eric’s depression over being dumped by Donna – and the counter-story – the gang going to Funland. He praises Topher Grace’s performance and his ability to convincingly convey depression.
The third disc features a commentary on “Class Picture” again by Trainer. He points out that this episode re-establishes the core relationships between the characters. Also, the show very rarely took place in a class room. He also points out that the show always returns to the notion that Eric is the butt of the gang’s jokes.
Disc four features the bulk of the set’s extras. Trainer returns one more time for a commentary on the episode “Hyde’s Birthday.” He talks about Hyde, his backstory and how it informs the character’s behaviour. He tends to describe what we are seeing on this track.
“Season 4 in 4 Minutes” condenses the season into a highlight reel.
“Making Company: David Trainer on Directing ‘That ‘70s Show’.” What he loves about making the show is the sense of company, working with a group of people that gets a long and loves what they are doing. He talks about what makes the show work.
“A ‘70s Flashback: Laura Prepon” features the actress talking about how she grew up on the show and how she got the role. Prepon also talks about the relationship between Donna and Eric and gets quite emotional when talking about the end of the show.
“A ‘70s Flashback: Mila Kunis” is similar to Prepon’s extra that mixes interview soundbites with lots of clips from the show. She talks about her character and how Jackie is nothing like she is in real life.