There's an episode of "Seinfeld" where George tries "going out on a high note" in everyday life, getting out of conversations or in the midst of business meetings after a joke like he's stepping off stage. "That 70's Show" should have followed the same advice, as what was a wonderfully entertaining series for 5 or 6 seasons started to derail after the series "Jumped the Shark" in the 7th season by having what one could certainly consider the main character leave.
For those unfamiliar with the show, it involves a group of teenagers living in Point Place, Wisconsin in 1976. Leading the group, seemingly by default, is Eric Foreman (Topher Grace), a shrimpy, good-hearted kid that manages to attract the attention of his attractive next-door neighbor, Donna (Laura Prepon). Joining the two are: vain idiot Kelso (Ashton Kutcher), paranoid Hyde (Danny Masterson), spoiled Jackie (Mila Kunis) and foreign exchange student Fez (Wilmer Valderrama). Also featured are Eric's parents - the nervous Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp) and the rage-a-holic Red (the brilliant Kurtwood Smith) and Donna's parents, Bob and Midge (Don Stark and Tanya Roberts.)
The show chronicles the lives of the kids, with the romance between Donna and Eric remaining the core of the show. Superbly played by the two actors, the romantic angle of the series became unfocused and got off track, but Grace and Prepon have always had terrific chemistry even when the question of will they or won't they be together became tedious. Kutcher's idiotic character could have become old after a few seasons, but Kelso continually reaches new and funny heights of stupidity. The actor's delivery has never really been as good as it has in this series, either. Masterson, Valderama, Kunis and others provide good supporting efforts, as well.
By the time season 7 came around, "That 70's Show" was on its last legs and had started to slow its timeline down considerably (the events of the series started in the mid-70's and while the early seasons covered about a year, once the series got later in its run, the timeframe shortened quite a bit, making the characters stuck - seemingly almost "Twilight Zone"-esque - in the 70's.
Late in the 7th season, Eric finds out that his college money is gone, so he has to find out how to fund his education. The character then decides in "2000 Light Years From Home" to go teach in Africa. Keep in mind, the decision itself is not a bad one. However, the decision doesn't feel organic to the character, and it seems like it was pulled out of a hat by the writers because no one could agree how to get Grace's character out of the series. The potentially interesting season arc of Eric trying to find his way isn't developed in a compelling way throughout the season and to have it end as randomly as it does is too bad, given how enjoyable the show was in its prime.
The 8th season - a slightly shortened season that sees Ashton Kutcher leave a few episodes in - really pushes the series even further past the point when it should have said farewell. Cast addition Josh Meyers (from "Mad TV") is a disaster, as he's impressively unfunny in the role of Randy, who apparently is supposed to be some sort of placeholder for the departed Grace. The choice of having Randy start some sort of relationship with Donna in season 8 is as dismal as one might predict. Hyde's new girlfriend, Samantha (Judy Tylor) also makes little impression, as well.
While Grace left on a ridiculous note in the previous season, at least they got Kutcher's departure right for the character: he leaves Jackie when Kelso gets an offer to be a bouncer at the Playboy Club in Chicago (as he is being thrown out of the club, he thinks, "I could do this!") His new boss is played in a guest role by Bruce Willis. The only problem? Jackie didn't know Kelso was going to propose until Fez leaked the news - and even she gets second thoughts.
Once Kutcher leaves, the series flounders further, as it appears clear that the cast is aware that the show's remaining time is dwindling, and while the performances aren't bad, they have the tone of a cast that is passing the remaining time. The writing is okay, as a few episodes reach par ("Fun It", where the gang steals a mascot from a local burger joint is an example), but there's some plot lines that just don't work, such as Donna's relationship with Randy and the continuation of Jackie and Fez. Hyde's relationship with Samantha's also a non-event. What still works here is Kitty and Red's relationship, but by this point the majority of the show's other threads have grown tired.
Looking back, I still am fond of "That 70's Show" overall (especially seasons 1, 3,4 and 5, as well as a bit of 6), but the series clearly made a mistake going on as long as it has, and the show should really have ended after the 7th season when Grace's character exited stage left.
182. 8- 1 2 Nov 05 Bohemian Rhapsody
183. 8- 2 2 Nov 05 Somebody to Love
184. 8- 3 9 Nov 05 You're My Best Friend
185. 8- 4 16 Nov 05 Misfire
186. 8- 5 30 Nov 05 Stone Cold Crazy
187. 8- 6 7 Dec 05 Long Away
188. 8- 7 14 Dec 05 Fun It
189. 8- 8 12 Jan 06 Good Company
190. 8- 9 19 Jan 06 Who Needs You
191. 8-10 26 Jan 06 Sweet Lady
192. 8-11 2 Feb 06 Good Old Fashioned Lover Boy
193. 8-12 9 Feb 06 Killer Queen
194. 8-13 16 Mar 06 Spread Your Wings
195. 8-14 23 Mar 06 Son And Daughter
196. 8-15 13 Apr 06 Keep Yourself Alive
197. 8-16 27 Apr 06 My Fairy King
198. 8-17 27 Apr 06 Crazy Little Thing Called Love
199. 8-18 4 May 06 We Will Rock You
200. 8-19 4 May 06 Sheer Heart Attack
201. 8-20 11 May 06 Leaving Home Ain't Easy
203. 8-21 18 May 06 Love Of My Life
204. 8-22 18 May 06 That 70s Finale
VIDEO: "That 70's Show" is presented in its original 1.33:1 full-frame aspect ratio on this release from Fox. The picture quality does show a few minor faults, but it's often equal to broadcast quality and sometimes looks slightly better than that. Sharpness and detail are often very good, and the picture looked consistently a bit better-defined than the first season set.
Some slight traces of pixelation appeared in a few scenes, but they did not cause distraction. No edge enhancement was noticed, nor were any flaws with the source material. Colors appeared well-saturated, accurate and without any concerns. Although not quite flawless, these episodes looked very good.
SOUND: The show's 2.0 soundtrack sounds perfectly fine, with clean, clear-sounding dialogue and music.
EXTRAS: Episode promos, retrospective featurette, Tommy Chong featurette, Josh Meyers featurette, "Season 8 in 8 Minutes" featurette and set tour featurette.
Director David Trainer offers commentary for: "Keep Yourself Alive", "We Will Rock You", "That 70's Finale" and "Bohemian Rhapsody". As with past tracks, Trainer does leave some patches of silence, but contributes a mostly informative and interesting track, discussing working with the actors and different challenges and changes to presenting the episode's story.
Final Thoughts: Looking back, I still am fond of "That 70's Show" overall (especially seasons 1, 3,4 and 5, as well as a bit of 6), but the series clearly made a mistake going on as long as it did, and the show should really have ended after the 7th season when Grace's character exited stage left. Those who have the prior seasons and are looking to complete their collection should pick up this set, which offers fine audio/video quality, as well as the usual set of supplements.