Photo: PATRICK WYMORE/NETFLIX
More than a third of the way through this season of that 90s show, it feels more and more like the younger cast is divided between the haves and the have-nots: those with clearly defined personalities and those who don’t have much to do. The opening scene of “Rave” divides these two groups clearly and fwooshes the frame back and forth between them. On the “rich” side, there’s the eager, lovesick, ditzy Leia who gets advice again from Gwen and Ozzie; about the “poor,” Jay discusses the same topic—his non-relationship with Leia—with his semi-changeable brother Nate and Nate’s girlfriend Nikki, whose sardonic reactions differ from Gwen’s only by a slight degree of cynicism. (In that 70s show In terms, she really does read as Chill Jackie, though it’s hard to see exactly what she sees in Nate other than his flexibility and willingness to carry a pager in case he needs “emergency gum”.) Both factions actually end up in the same page, culminating in a cute split screen during which both Leia and Jay are simultaneously told to wait for the other to make the first real move.
Easier said than done on either side of the split screen, and Leia’s lack of confidence in exactly what Jay is feeling is mirrored by the show’s lack of confidence in who exactly Jay is. For now, he seems to have landed on a ’90s-style player, which means a more false-sensitive, guitar-playing operator who gently manipulates his louder, goofier father, played by Ashton Kutcher. That’s a potentially cool idea, exploring the ways this archetype had changed its aesthetic by 1995. But the show played out Jay’s possibly genuine sensibilities so early and kept her seedier tendencies so light that her secretive, suave side only registers. like a deepening of his character if you think of him as an extension of Kutcher’s Kelso. These kids really shouldn’t be making that connection, even if Nikki describes Jay as “from Point Place Kelsos? The horniest family in town?
He doesn’t do Mace Coronel many favors as a performer, either. He bravely engages in some Kutcher-style himbo antics when he covers himself in oil and tries to seduce Leia, slipping on the hood of a car and barely able to hold on to her guitar. But he’s not virtuoso enough to make a real mark, and Jay ends up coming off as realistic in all the wrong ways: he’s not especially interesting, even as a comic goofball.
The rest of the episode features Leia and Jay trying to get what they want. Seinfeld referred to as “mano” in their pre-relationship, goaded by their respective teams. Here, too, the imbalance is revealed: Gwen wants to help Leia because she’s her new best friend, and Ozzie seems genuinely uncaring, while Nikki wants to help Jay stop dating her and Nate. But doesn’t Jay get tons of girls? Why is this a problem now? It’s not like Nate and Jay stop being the best brothers if Jay gets another girlfriend. Sam Morelos plays his cool manipulative scenes well enough, but no one seems very interested, and not in a disgruntled ’90s slacker way.
It might also be a little early for some Wisconsin teens to get into the rave scene, but go with it, to turn down Nikki’s offer of date night tickets to batman forever, Leia and Gwen agree that they have other plans: going to the Milwaukee warehouse rave that Ozzie is dying to attend. Leia even lies to Red and Kitty to make it happen. Sadly, Ozzie gets Home alone‘d, and instead of facing the crooks, she has to deal with a good-cop-bad-cop interrogation by Kitty and Red. Kitty’s link to Leia over celebrity pasta names (Marky Markaroni, Rigatoni Danza , etc.) has convinced her (somewhat nonsensically) that her granddaughter would never lie to her, to which she is outraged to discover that this is not the case.
At the rave, Leia and Jay agree to stop messing around and reveal their feelings on the count of three, but it’s a trick, so she gives up her “I like you” without him doing the same, and he goes back to normal. games, meaning really silly dances while Leia tries to make Jay jealous. Before the two can meet, Red intercepts Leia and takes her home. Kitty has the pleasure of reading a teenager the riot act, while Red becomes the “I’m glad you’re safe” (grandpa) dad for once.
Later, apparently chastened by Leia’s semi-rejection, Jay offers a count-to-three reconciliation, during which the two will talk about their true feelings. But this time, Leia says that they should just be friends just as Jay confesses his attraction to her. He then confides in Gwen, “I Kelso’d the Kelso.” It was a sneaky move and a satisfyingly goofy ending to an episode that, despite its weak characterization of half the cast, is at least strong in bonafide sitcom. The game is fine; they’re the players who could use a little tweaking.
• On behalf of your favorite middle-aged media types, please swoon over Ozzie learning about local cultural events through what appears to be an alternative weekly, even if most of those events are cheese fests.
• Although used largely to question whether Leia believes in Gwen’s riot-grrrl ideals (which she later reveals she just skimmed), Leia’s statement “I want to be a feminist…in college” is quite authentic 90’s. -youthful feeling.
• It’s fun to consider how some of this dialogue would play out in the single-camera format we’ve become accustomed to since the days of That 70’s Show. Some of the lines relating to Jay Kelso’s experiences have a nice, non-sticky specificity, like Gwen’s comparison between Leia and Jay (“You just had your first kiss; Jay had sex in a lake”) and a retelling of the experiences of the previous year. Jay-related end-of-summer heartbreaks (“I’ve never seen so many Jennifers crying at the same entrance”). Nate’s message about Nikki’s dad’s old pager forcing him to give out medical advice is on a sillier record, but he made me laugh.
• Reference clock of the 90s: The cultural references are quite extensive in this installment: the not especially nineties Law (original recipe, but still, it’s about to enter its sixth season!); batman forever, the biggest movie of the summer of 1995; and the murderous Menendez brothers (whose mother was nicknamed Kitty!), which, frankly, wasn’t such a topical event in ’95.
• Assuming it’s been at least a week or two since the pilot, other movies Jay and Leia might have been tricked into seeing on a date by their friends include apollo 13 (presumably Eric already dragged his daughter excited for Space Camp), Species (if Nate and Jay were left alone), or Nine months (the compromise choice no one would be happy with). On the other hand, Leia emits more Indian in the closet vibes.