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That '90s Show Part 2 Brings Half-Baked Fun to the Basement

Despite the promising young cast, Netflix's teen sitcom won't let us get to know the new generation.
  • That '90s Show (Photo: Netflix)
    That '90s Show (Photo: Netflix)

    Gather around the circle, everyone — the Forman basement is opening its doors again. Season 2 of That ’90s Show, which is officially titled “Part 2,” premieres June 27 on Netflix, with a slight catch. This season will be split into two installments, with the second half (“Part 3”) slated to debut on October 24. 

    A sequel to That ’70s Show, the teen sitcom begins in 1995 and centers on Eric (Topher Grace) and Donna’s (Laura Prepon) teenage daughter Leia (Callie Haverda) as she spends summers at her grandparents’ house in good old Point Place, Wisconsin. 

    While in Point Place, Leia strikes up a romance with Jay (Mace Coronel), Jackie (Mila Kunis) and Kelso’s (Ashton Kutcher) charming son, and forms a tight-knit friend group that includes the rebellious Gwen (Ashley Aufderheide) and her half-brother Nate (Maxwell Acee Donovan), Nate’s girlfriend Nikki (Sam Morelos), and openly gay computer prodigy Ozzie (Reyn Doi). Debra Jo Rupp and Kurtwood Smith reprise their roles as Kitty and Red, respectively; Prepon also has a recurring role.

    The sophomore season takes place in the summer of 1996, picking up roughly a year after the events of the Season 1 finale “Kids in America," which saw a major shakeup in the group’s relationships. After Jay broke up with Leia over not wanting to do a long distance relationship, she unexpectedly found a source of comfort in Nate, who was reeling from a disagreement with Nikki. Just when Leia and Nate were about to kiss, Gwen walked in and was more than a little shocked. However, Leia and Jay then reconciled, leaving this super awkward (and potentially explosive) secret just lingering between her, Nate, and Gwen. 

    Overall, Season 2 of That ’90s Show is like cotton candy — it’s fun, light, and easy to digest. The sitcom serves as the perfect palette cleanser between this summer’s more stressful fare like FX’s The Bear and HBO’s House of the Dragon, providing a hearty dose of nostalgia for its predecessor while also being pretty entertaining in its own right. But the show’s biggest flaw is that, even two seasons in, most of the characters and relationships still feel woefully underdeveloped. 

    It’s not entirely fair to compare That ’90s Show to the original series, which ran for eight seasons and averaged about 25 episodes per season. Part 1 of Season 2 is even shorter than the first season, clocking in at just eight short episodes. As talented as the young cast is, it’s difficult to feel truly invested in their characters’ drama when we’re still just getting to know this new generation. If we barely know anything about who Leia is as a person (other than her awesome, very fitting name), who cares if she picks Jay or Nate?

    Season 2 does take some steps to remedy this issue. Aside from the initial fallout and classic teen angst over Leia and Nate’s almost kiss, That ’90s Show largely hits pause when it comes to the love triangle or whatever it is that’s building up between the teens. This is a wise decision — no matter which direction the show eventually goes in with couples, it’s necessary to build a solid foundation to get viewers invested first. The new season also spends a considerable amount of time on Leia and Jay’s dynamic, making the relationship feel more genuine and earned. Their romance is sweet and believable, if a little dull at times. 

    While That ’90s Show boasts a more diverse cast than the original series, it often still underutilizes its characters of color. This season offers somewhat of an improvement on that front. Gwen in particular gets more time to shine — Episode 6 (“I Can See Clearly Now”) centers her experience as the only Black member of the friend group and also acknowledges that her white mother and half-brother don’t have to deal with the same discrimination she faces. 

    It’s disappointing to see Ozzie, aside from chiming in with snarky one-liners, take more of a backseat, although the show does make a point to acknowledge the loneliness he feels being one of the very few openly gay teens in a small town in the ’90s. But Nikki is the most underutilized member of the friend group. Morelos clearly has talent, and it’s refreshing to see Filipino representation on TV, but the majority of her storylines still center her on-and-off relationship with Nate. While we learn a little more about her this season, her home life and larger backstory remain largely still unexplored.

    This season is notably much lighter on the OG cast cameos, which isn’t exactly surprising given the Danny Masterson verdict and the very public backlash Kunis and Kutcher received over their letters of support for him (it should be noted that Rupp and Smith also wrote letters). Still, there are a few fun guest stars in the mix. As far as the adult characters go, Kitty continues to steal the show, successfully striking a balance between navigating her own drama and being the world’s most supportive grandma to Leia and her entire friend group. 

    Ultimately, what That ’90s Show really needs is more time to find its footing. With its promising cast and undeniably fun atmosphere, the series has already established itself as one of the stronger sitcom sequels. However, the show could be as good (or even better than) the original if it just took a beat to slow down, breathe, and let us get to truly know the characters before throwing them into any more CW-esque love triangles.

    That ’90s Show Part 2 premieres June 27 on Netflix. Join the discussion about the show in our forums

    Kelly Martinez is a TV Reporter based in Los Angeles. Her previous work can be found at BuzzFeed and People Magazine, among other outlets. She enjoys reading, spending time with her cat, and explaining the plot of Riverdale to people.

    TOPICS: That '90s Show, Netflix, Callie Haverda, Debra Jo Rupp, Kurtwood Smith, Laura Prepon, Mace Coronel, Reyn Doi, Topher Grace