I've been steadily binge-watching That 70s Show in my every spare minute over the past few weeks, skipping around seasons based on library availability (4, 3, 1, 2, a quarter of 5 before I had to give it back), and right now I have season 8 because it was the only thing there and frankly I could not bear the idea of being without this show in case I got some free time before I could check another set out. I had been putting it off in faint dread, but...you know what? It's not that bad.
For instance, I know we are all mad that Jackie and Hyde broke up and stayed that way. But Samantha the Stripper Wife? Secretly delightful! (SHUT UP, LARRY) As sigh-worthy as that is from an invested-in-characters-and-storyline perspective, if a comedy's purpose is to be funny, then they got quite a few laughs from me out of it. I also love that Kitty got a mini hair makeover, and I'm sorry, but the episode where they steal Fatso the Clown is somehow one of my favorites in the whole series. Plus, Mary Tyler Moore as Christine St. George? That's glorious. I only wish it had lasted longer.
One of the few general themes I can't stand is Fez -- he's always been my least favorite character, but in this season he's somehow both sleazier and more flamboyant than ever before, and both of them are equally grating. The change from how relatively sweet and charming he is in season 1 (or even up to season 4, at least) is nothing short of tragic. Him and Jackie being roommates? Also gross and unpleasant.
Another thing that deeply pains me is whenever Red references cleaning out (or even literally throwing away) Eric's "toys" while he's gone and I'm just like NOOOOOO THOSE ARE GOING TO BE WORTH SO MUCH MONEY IN 20 or 30 YEARS WHAT ARE YOU DOING! Plus a little side of ERIC HOW DID YOU NOT PUT YOUR THINGS INTO SAFEKEEPING AFTER A LIFETIME OF SEEING RED'S DISDAIN FOR BOY DOLLS AND SCI-FI. Donna's safety net of a house was right there!
I almost stopped watching a few episodes in when they had Off Screen Eric randomly dump Donna in a letter, the long-dormant fires of my anti-Topher-Grace feelings coming back to life* as my shipper heart hurt. I remember the series finale, so it's not like I forgot that had happened, but I think I had also sort of...repressed it, because until I started watching the series on DVD, I had never realized how on-and-off they were. I am not a fan of on-and-off couples who are meant to represent true love! (Unlike, say, Kelso and Jackie, who were just hilarious about it.) And that was a mean blow to shippers everywhere after having previously suffered a whole year's breakup.
*these feelings have intensified after watching the E! True Hollywood Story about the show and confirming he basically got too big for his britches and flounced off in a cloud of overestimating his own greatness
BUT THEN. It turns out Randy is charming. So, so charming. I have always remembered him being charming and likable and roughly 60% of the reason season 8 was still watchable, but man, he has dialed the charm up to 111 in this rewatch. If Eric was the boy next door, Randy is the boy next door on god hormones: packing a gun show on his arms and sporting the most amazing, touchable hair that has ever been sported, all while being like twenty-seven times more put-together, easygoing, sensitive and what's the word...less a pervy little horndog...than Eric at his best. So I mean, I'm never really going to not root for Eric and Donna to complete that soulmate-next-door story (especially given how much I love the Foremans treating her like their own daughter)...but if ever there was a ship I wanted to be that couple who only reunites 20 years in the future, it is THIS ONE.
Or at the very least, I want her to date Randy for about five straight seasons, instead of the piddly half of one we got. They did a MAGNIFICENT job of building up their UST, with the letting Donna have her mourning period and Randy never putting so much as a toe out of line until she comes to him first, and all in all just being the best runner-up OTP that has been presented to a character on a sitcom. Like he didn't even bat an eyelash when she tried to break up with him after like two dates on "I"m not ready" claims, focusing instead on whatever would make her comfortable, that's how good he is. That whole transition was handled so perfectly I'm actually scared to go back to where I left off in season 5, just in case I can't stand the sight of Eric's face -- much less Kelso's aggressively overenthusiastic idiocy with no calm and charming Randy to balance it out. And I love Kelso and his aggressive idiocy!
Alas, now I am approaching the part where Jackie develops creepy and unnatural feelings for Fez, a/k/a the reason I and everyone else remember season 8 sucking as hard as it did, and this party has taken a real sad downturn, so I'm going to take a short break and totally not count the number of episodes were my heart is broken as Randy disappears forever. Especially since I can't remember if/how his relationship with Donna actually ends; don't tell me 'cause it hurts.
P.S. How in the hell did I not recognize him as Josh Meyers? And more importantly, why is Josh Meyers so tragically un-hot with short hair?
Luckily I get to pick season 5 up again as soon as I'm ready. And even I was and still am super irrationally upset that they forced Donna into Catholic school for senior year, thus ruining the rest of her life as she is invited back to reunions and marked down as alumni at the wrong school (I'm sorry, but this concept is like my worst nightmare -- being cut off from your hometown school's records and news updates), and I'm not a big fan of Kitty being permanently turned into a boozehound with a temperament that was never quite the same after menopause, season 5 also heralds the glorious era of wrong-but-super-hot and/or dirty-hot Hyde/Jackie. I look forward to getting more of that. I'm also clinging to the hope that maybe I've just forgotten them letting Donna transfer back to the normal high school for second semester. A girl can dream!
...actually, now that I'm here, can I do an overview of all those other seasons I've watched? I liked reading back my thoughts on season 4 and now I want a complete set of Rainbow Stevie's Repeat Musings.
This show had a magnificent first season. I almost never feel that way about first seasons of long-running sitcoms after I go back to them. I always approach them to find that the whole tone of the show I know and love feels wrong, awkward and off-pace, stumbling around in the dark with no clear sense of the characters yet. I actually dreaded starting it.
But amazingly, other than the inevitable slight awkwardness of the pilot (and even that was very good), it clicked into place instantly. INSTANTLY. I've always thought the one where Eric streaks in front of President Ford was one of the great classics, and come to find out? That's episode THREE. Even episode 2, Eric's "surprise" birthday party, is something I assumed had happened way later in the established series. And the successes keep hitting all the way through the year.
Long-term favorites I was surprised to discover happened so early include the following:
-Battle of the Sexists (Donna kick's Eric's ass at all competitions, has first baby steps into conflict between traditional gender roles and being a strong, indepedent woman. Have I ever mentioned how much I love the way they explored feminism and women's lib with her? If I'd grown up in the 70s, I'd be a vocal feminist too.)
-Eric's Burger Job ("Welcome to Fatso Burger...")
-Eric's Buddy (what up, gay Joseph Gordon-Levitt! It is possible this is where the seed of my affection for the crush-on-your-straight-friend trope began)
-Ski Trip (comma, Kelso is not invited on the, but catches a lift from a super sketchy truck driver while the lovebirds get no privacy because Jackie won't stop crying and Fez is off making snow angels in his underwear. I definitely remember middle-school-age me not knowing exactly what they were talking about in the truck, but that it seemed scandalously naughty and therefore delightful. Also, we're only up to episode 13 here, wow)
-The Pill (and Bob's reaction when he picks it up) (and Eric flattening himself in terror upon seeing said reaction) (I'm not sure if it's a good or a bad thing that "Ortho Try-Cyclin" instantly stuck in my head as a new vocab word forever)
-Career Day (featuring Katey Sagall as Hyde's mother, Lunchlady Edna)
-Punk Chick (Hyde and his perfect match, a/k/a "Mother of God, I DO love you!" although to be fair, this is #22 and the season isn't over, so they're pretty well established by this point)
-Hyde Moves In (the first of many sweet episodes where the foster parenting of Steven takes center stage. Honestly, him moving into the basement and basically becoming an adopted son is one of my favorite things about the entire series.)
-The Good Son (swingers party! bowling ball through the TV!)
Generally speaking, I was also surprised to learn that Red's hours being cut back at "the plant" has been in place from the very beginning, losing his job entirely by the end of the season. I always assumed he had at least half a year to a full year there before he started his series of odd jobs and career rebuilding.
Also, I definitely forgot how much I love Original Recipe Laurie (attempting to recast her was one of the worst decisions this show ever made -- few people have the ability to wear so much contempt in a sneer, or in fact actually look like the devil, as Lisa Robin Kelly did) and her and Eric's ferocious verbal put-down wars. See, THAT'S what siblings who hate each other REALLY look like!
General themes I enjoyed, mostly:
The parents accidentally eating the "special brownies" at the garage sale and Red selling the Vista Cruiser under the influence. "I sold it to a guy named...Peter. Peter...Cottontail. Hippity, hoppity, hippity, hoppity, Eas-ter's on its wayyyy!"
Laurie hooking up with her teacher
When they find the permanent records in their burned-out elementaryschool.
Kelso and Laurie sneaking around, Hyde using this knowledge for his own amusement.
Kelso's Pageant Boy fantasies
"Donna told me I loved her and I told her I loved cake," which I will continue to cherish as proof that I could have said something dumber the first time I heard those words directed at me. Probably. Shut up.
Donna's eagerness to sneak into Eric's room and have sleepovers which involve sleeping. What up, homegirl! Get those priorities straight, high five!
I will also never forget the imagery of Eric fiddling around with the metaphorical padlock on Donna's bra. I first saw that when I was like 13, and let me tell you dude...I still feel your pain! I cannot unhook my own bra at least 90% of the time. I just can't. It's a struggle that inevitably ends with me choosing to stretch the band out instead.
(though that said, I had never seen the episode where they sleep together for the first time, and I gotta say? Super duper unsatisfying, even by dumb sitcom standards)
Eric and Donna getting caught by patrol in the backseat of the Vista Cruiser (Eric's plan of saying GO AWAY in an authoritative tone, shockingly, does not prevent them rounded up and dropped off at home). Also Kitty's dream with baby Eric.
Kitty: Say 'Ma-ma.'
Baby Eric: Sex with - Don-na.
Kitty: No, baby, no!
Baby Eric: Yes!
Kitty, abruptly waking up: Slut.
Jackie's crush on Hyde. See, that's just adorable. Aren't you glad you decided to revisit that later? Frankly I don't think it's possible for us all not to coo when he takes the rap for her pot, either.
Continued from s.1, I'm torn by how much I like the theme of Bob and Midge fighting over her women's lib studies. On the one hand, I absolutely love the fact that she's more naive and gullible than Kelso, probably would have been happy as a homemaker forever a few decades earlier, and is pretty much totally in over her head with this stuff, yet I love that they DID get her involved with this stuff and showed how important it was. (it also dovetailed nicely with her eventual exit from the show) I just think they really got the flavor of 2nd wave feminism down exactly right, complete with having Bob's clueless perspective of "but...you woman. Woman make sandwich. Good formula. Why change?"
(It's possible I enjoy Bob and his dopey happiness/improbable financial succes a ridiculous amount)
On the other hand, turns out I really do not like the period of teen rebellion it sent Donna into, since I've always really admired her ability to raise herself into a model student/put-together young adult in spite of her terrible/practically nonexistent parenting. This tarnishes that images.
Eric running over Mr. Bonkers is definitely on the list of Worst Things This Show Has Ever Done. I'm still bothered that Donna got more upset about the lying than about the actual killing of her cat. I don't care if it was an accident, what kind of dumbass doesn't look before he gets in the car. Shun his ass for two weeks minimum.
Oh, and I really enjoy everything about Price Mart. Just throwing that out there.
I think I like this one a bit more than season 2 overall. More and better individual episode standouts, and I really like how solid Eric and Donna's relationship is all year, provided you ignore the foreshadowing in their mini-conflicts that lead up to the finale. It's by far their most satisfying year of the series. Ergo, this is going to be a purely positive list of things I love:
Crazy Caroline and her psychotic screeching is one of my favorite recurring guest stars ever. Everything from her initial meet, to admitting she chokes herself, to stalking Fez and Donna throughout their fake relationship is perfect. Plus there's that iconic quote: "I will scratch your big, DUMB, EYES OUT! Got it?" (I know the feeling. I feel it often with bad shoppers at work.)
I love when Donna finagles herself into a job at the radio station. That, too, is one of the best future-shaping choices the show has ever made. I love basically every episode that takes place there, though none moreso than the one where Eric imagines her meeting Alice Cooper and turning into a slutty groupie.
The one where Donna finds Eric's Playboy stash and storms out.
The one where she finds a random pair of panties in the car (no wonder she's suspicious!), not least because the "panties! Glorious panties!" dream sequence is one of the funniest things on the series.
The one where Eric and Donna cut each other off over a disagreement on their history assignment. So much funnier to watch them try to break each other than that gross time How I Met Your Mother tried to do with Marshall and Lily at brunch.
The rival barbecues
ICE SHACK + The Newlyweds Game, as sabotaged by Fez...to no avail. (interjection: it is so much less fun to watch Fez get continually shot down knowing he gets the girl in the end. YOU CAN'T MOSBY YOUR WAY INTO LOVE, PEOPLE.)
Laure's one and only earnest endeavor to apply herself to something besides men by going to beauty school - so many good times
Eric and Donna trying to have a romantic weekend at a hotel, only for Donna to get drunk and them to run into Eric's parents next door. (iconic line: "Hello Mommy? I'M SAD!")
Eric trying to make a move he saw in an X-rated movie, to Donna's continuing disgust. It's still bugging me, I wanna know what he tried.
"YOU FORGOT YOUR MOTHER'S BIRTHDAY." Classic.
Kelso trying to buy Leo's car: "It's an El Camino! That's Spanish for...The Camino!"
Jackie testing Kelso to see if he's worth dating again . Especially when it comes to the egg-baby, which Hyde promptly whips against the wall upon learning of the importance of its safety. (I love that Kelso still saves it by claiming the lack of a pencil dot on the replacement egg is due to him giving it a gentle bath)
Holy Craps!: as everyone ruins a church fundraiser for selfish purposes, and Eric is given a vision of 80-pound bald future self while Donna chain-smokes and eats ("WHO ATE THE LAST DONUT?" / "...you ate the first 11!")
Canadian Road Trip ("What are you doing in Canada, eh?" / "What are YOU doing in Canada?" + "I even made up a song about it! My green card, in my right shoe, something something, right shoe...")
Eric's Drunken Tattoo, a/k/a Woodstock rather than the word "Donna," a/k/a "Cheer up, Kurt Hummel, your tattoo could have been worse. You could have ended up with a little yellow bird on your ass."
And with that, I think I've successfully tricked myself back into liking their teenage dream of a relationship in all its earnest, silly, young-love enthusiasm. Bring me season 5, library pages.