This period sitcom aired on Fox from 1998 to 2006, tracking a group of teens in a fictional Wisconsin town in the 1970s. The series normalized pot use among young people; the group of friends who regularly imbibed weren’t all burnouts or degenerates – well, some of them were – but mostly they were harmless adolescents. One or two were nerds, a couple were ambitious and several were content to just get high and sit around. Topher Grace played Eric Forman, the skinny “Star Wars”-loving protagonist who had full reign of his parents’ basement – aka the group’s sacred hangout spot. Rounding out the cast were Danny Masterson as stoner Hyde, Ashton Kutcher as lovable idiot Kelso, Mila Kunis as snobby Jackie, Laura Prepon as girl-next-door Donna, and Wilmer Valderrama as the perverted foreign exchange student Fez. Eric’s parents Red and Kitty (Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp) gave two of the show’s standout comedic performances; Red was a gruff Vietnam vet (who regularly threatened to put his foot in someone’s ass), and Kitty was a sweet, bubbly, high-functioning alcoholic.
The show’s production design flawlessly embraced a ’70s aesthetic; lime-green armchairs, psychedelic flowered patterning, wall-to-wall carpeting. The series even had a signature technical move: the circular camera setup, famous for illustrating how the kids got high without ever showing the drugs. After school, they all sat at a table and passed a joint around – but the camera only captured clouds of smoke and their drug-induced witticisms (“They want to kill rock ’n’ roll because they know it makes us horny, man!”)
The strength of “That ’70s Show” wasn’t in the demonstration of how outdated or cheesy the foregone decade seems now; the narrative focused on depicting all the innocent, supercharged moments teenagers experience, and imbue with monumental importance, before they’ve had a chance to go out and begin their real lives. Climbing the local water tower and painting a giant pot leaf on it, falling for your best friend, getting into trouble with your parents or losing your virginity; these adolescent adventures are universal, not specific to ’70s America. “That ’70s Show” portrayed teens hanging out accurately, without any heavy moralizing.
— Anya Jaremko-Greenwold