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That 70s Show | Season Two | review | dvd | Lollipop

That '70s Show: Season Two

20th Century Fox Home Entertainment
By Brian Varney

I normally go out of my way to avoid network sitcoms. Although there have been some good ones over the years, the majority of them simply suck. And it often seems that the worse the show, the more popular it is. How else can the vast popularity of Friends or Everybody Loves Raymond be explained? In any case, while avoiding sitcoms in general will make your life less painful, it can also cause you to miss the occasional gem that manages to avoid the suck filters through which all product shown on TV must pass, and That '70s Show is just such an exception.

I've managed to see both the first season and now the second on DVD, and the more I watch, the more I regret not having seen these the first time around. You see, in what is perhaps the most amazing turn of all, I actually like the characters on this show, and I'm interested to see what happens to them in the five seasons following this one. When I think of other sitcoms I've liked in the past, say Cheers, I can't think of a single character whose ultimate fate interests me in the slightest. Cheers was all about the laughs, and that's fine as long as the jokes are funny.

That '70s Show has something more. It has funny jokes, yes, but it manages to involve you emotionally without dulling the humor, and that's pretty impressive. The potential exists for the show to quickly spin off into soap-opera land, but that's never in danger of happening during this season, even in such ready-made situations as Jackie breaking up with Kelso, spurning the advances of Fez, and ultimately falling for Hyde. It's a delicate balance, but it never wavers.

However, all that aside, it's still the humor that reigns supreme and keeps me coming back. The jokes themselves are consistently funny, but the playful sensibility that includes the liberal use of fantasy sequences and riffs on other genres keeps the laughs coming as well. In a particularly memorable episode entitled "Halloween," the gang decides to visit the remains of their burned-down old elementary school where they discover that bogeyman most feared by any conscientious student, their "permanent records," at which point the episode becomes a sort of teen horror-flick. Other fantasy sequences pay tribute to TV shows like All in the Family and Charlie's Angels, with the characters taking on the familiar roles to hilarious effect.

I honestly don't know how long the show's producers will be able to maintain this delicate balance of emotional involvement and flippant humor (again, remember that I haven't seen any of the other seasons). Part of me is waiting for it all to crash into rubble, while another part watches, transfixed, hoping the other part is wrong.


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