Recap of that ’90s show: Same thing we did last week

Photo: Vulture; Photo: Patrick Wymore/Netflix

In recent days, leading up to the collapse of network television, it was considered more or less gospel that sitcom pilots were often not especially good and that the second episodes of sitcoms would essentially reiterate the central conflict of the pilot. There is some utility to this trend, though not necessarily guaranteed quality: it makes it easier for viewers who join late, and presumably allows the show to make a fuller version of that conflict without the burden of character introductions. (This is the truest version of the frequent hype that the entire first seasons of many classic sitcoms can be skipped. Not so! Parks and Recreation it’s good for episode six! 30 rock it’s great for episode four!)

With streaming shows, even those that directly or directly mimic their network ancestors, there is a danger of simply rolling out the pilot throughout the entire world. whole first season (especially dangerous when the first season may only have eight or ten episodes). So while there’s nothing inherently wrong with the fact that the second episode of that 90s show picks up exactly where the pilot leaves off (and, as a preview, the third picks up more or less immediately after the second), points to a certain silliness of the show’s episodic premises. That’s particularly true of “Free Leia,” which has room to develop its comic conflict and quickly squanders it like it’s an episode of She-Hulk: Lawyer or something.

The episode begins with Leia’s initiation into the world of marijuana and the show into the circular chamber tradition, in which the cast members sit together as the camera pans for a series of quick banter and assorted silliness. Leia’s inability to comply with Raisin Bran’s drugged request of her new friends sends her into a spiral of insecurity: will she be able to impress these kids, or will she quickly condemn herself to outcast status in another state? (Red and Kitty try to counsel her, but it’s hard to get the message of goodwill from her when they appear to Leia as Donkey Kong-like video game characters inspired by Nikki’s musings on the misleading non-donkey name.)

With no way to sneak more barrels or weed into her grandparents’ house, Leia agrees to Kitty’s suggestion of a movie night, hoping to find at least one VHS tape to fake some coolness on. At the video store, where Jay seemingly inadvertently works when his new friend has spent years hanging around the shelves indecisively, Leia approaches Jay for a recommendation. (Even Kitty acknowledges her favorite choice of Set Willy free as “idiot town”.) They arrive at the Jay-approved, Leia-invisible office workers (The perfect choice for the summer of 1995!), but the tape has been MIA for weeks. So Leia, in her fervor to rent something cool, takes a look at the address of the delinquent customer and goes to look for the movie.

no need to be obsessive that 70s show fan guessing that the Point Place resident most likely to mess around returning a videotape is Leo (Tommy Chong), whom Kitty amusingly/disturbingly describes as “the usual: an older guy who used to hang out with your dad and his friends when they were teenagers.” Leo’s baffled gimmick thinned out and then wore thin as the original series progressed, but it’s true that they use it well here. Mistaking Kitty and Leia for trick-or-treating cops (?), however, he provides the desired tape. But when Leia puts it in the VCR for movie night, she discovers that Leo has accidentally hit it with his Real world hearing. Between the dry, dry Raisin Bran that Leia has served as a snack and the lack of a promised cool movie, she freaks out and bolts. Gwen follows her, Leia confesses her impostor syndrome, Gwen assures her that she likes her and that the others will follow her, and that the inventors of a game called StickStick I don’t have much of a leg to stand on, coolness wise.

The bones in this story are funny and charming; There’s enormous appeal to video store kids in the idea of ​​chasing down a particular print of a movie whose significance may have been distorted by youthful nerves about impressing cool new friends. (Do I have an unpublished fictional manuscript involving this very activity? Possibly!) But all this episode really provides are the bones: a couple of hilarious video store farce scenes, a rushed non-conflict that doesn’t let no doubt that Leia’s friends really don’t care about her silliness, and an equally quick resolution. This is what brings to mind she hulk– Little comedic escalation, no real payoff, and the general feeling that the people making the show are reconstructing a sitcom episode from memory rather than for inspiration.

That obligatory sentiment informs the adult side of the episode as well, which introduces a kooky neighbor character: Sherri (Andrea Anders), the mother of Gwen and Nate, and clearly intended as a single-mom riff on Midge (Tanya Roberts), Donna . mom from the original series. Anders is fine, playing with a native Wisconsin accent, but there’s not much of a story to this B-story: Sherri introduces herself to Red and Kitty, reveals she’s dating a guy she’s trying to dump, then reveals to us that the boy is…Fez! So the episode ends. It’s set up for a running plot that no one really needs in a story about teenagers hanging out on summer vacation. Leia’s friends are all in the basement, waiting for her character development or at least her laugh lines; Why is the show so distracted by the looming presence of Fez? It’s moves like these that make “Free Leia” feel less like a summer rerun of the pilot and more like the show is already serving up leftovers.

• It might not be fair game to criticize the C-story of a 25-minute sitcom episode, but “Nate covets Red’s old shirts and then Red gives him one” isn’t exactly an all-time subplot. Then again, it’s kind of cute to see the gang fawning over Red’s closet full of old work shirts.

• I love Leia’s runner who tries to show her familiarity with office workers when referring to his sexual attraction to Kevin Smith.

• As someone with a bit of nostalgia for Cheech & Chong and an affection for Cheech Marin primarily because of his work as a character actor, I wasn’t particularly thrilled to see Tommy Chong here again. (Bring back Kevin Macdonald in his place!) But I have to admit, Leo’s fun fact for his Real world The audition got me: “I’ve fallen off three roller coasters… four if you count the fourth.”

• Reference clock of the 90s: Kitty and Ozzie name check party of five Y grace under fire while lamenting the exhaustion of summer reruns. And the gang really watch Set Willy free with better results than poor Homer Simpson. Also as a ruthless reader of on-screen video store shelves, I can report that the titles lining the Point Place store are fairly accurate for the time, erring on the side of slightly old (new releases than in actually circulated at the end of 1994) instead of too new

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