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What’s Streaming This Week: That ’90s Show rolls back the years as dumbasses return to the fold

Plenty of belly laughs in nostalgic sitcom while Break Point is a bit of a slog and The Chemistry of Death is a scrappy thriller

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Returning favourites: Debra Jo Rupp as Kitty and Kurtwood Smith as Red in That ‘90s Show. Photo by Patrick Wymore/Netflix

Returning favourites: Debra Jo Rupp as Kitty and Kurtwood Smith as Red in That ‘90s Show. Photo by Patrick Wymore/Netflix

Returning favourites: Debra Jo Rupp as Kitty and Kurtwood Smith as Red in That ‘90s Show. Photo by Patrick Wymore/Netflix

When, you might ask, does a popular sitcom become a caricature of itself? That ’90s Show (Netflix) doesn’t care.

The show that spawned it was a hit in the 2000s. A hammy yet humorous depiction of teenage life in 1970s Wisconsin, That ’70s Show ran for eight seasons and launched at least half a dozen careers. There is every chance that this glossy, good-natured update will follow suit. Nostalgia sells, baby — and television has begun to eat itself.

You may remember the important bits from the original. Eric Forman (Topher Grace) was in love with his neighbour, Donna Pinciotti (Laura Prepon). Their mate Jackie Burkhart (Mila Kunis) was forever banging heads with her dopey fella, Michael Kelso (Ashton Kutcher).

Foreign exchange student buddy ‘Fez’ (Wilmer Valderrama) occasionally said something funny, but most of the joy stemmed from Eric disobeying his grumpy old man, Red (Kurtwood Smith), and his wacky mum, Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp).

Indeed, That ’70s Show coasted by on the chemistry and comic timing of its impeccable cast. That’s exactly what’s happening in this odd yet oddly watchable continuation.

“All the dumbasses were gone,” Red says to Kitty, meaning that their son Eric and his wise-cracking crew of salty, stoner misfits. They were supposed to have left the building. Like, a long, long time ago. And they did. But the teenage dumbasses of yesteryear have teenage dumbasses of their own now, and guess what? They want in on Red’s basement.

There are old-fashioned belly laughs: the show was filmed in front of a live audience and comes with bonus canned chuckles. There are lots of innuendos. But brush aside the inconsequential pop culture nods and you’ll discover something resembling a heart.

Most of the original players feature — Smith and Rupp as series regulars, others in a cameo capacity. There is, I’ll admit, a sense that everyone involved signed up for the right reason: to have a laugh with old friends. An obvious omission is Danny Masterson’s Hyde, but that’s to be expected (the actor is awaiting a retrial on numerous rape charges).

Moving swiftly along, an enormous amount of charm and goodwill propels this warmly anticipated revival — so much so, that it makes it impossible to dislike. The year is 1995 and our old pals Eric and Donna are now married and living in Chicago with their teenage daughter, Leia (Callie Haverda). The youngster takes after her dad: she’s weird, socially awkward and a bit of a nerd. She also wants to stay at grandma and grandpa’s Point Place residence for the summer. Why? Well, look at the neighbours.

They include Gwen (Ashley Aufderheide), the awesome riot grrrl next door, and Jay (Mace Coronel), Jackie and Michael’s himbo offspring. Kitty is chuffed to have a full house again — Red, not so much. Dumbass shenanigans ensue.

Leia falls for Jay. The gang finds Eric’s old weed stash in the basement. Leia attends a local rave. The show’s cosy brand of carefully calibrated wokeness eventually clashes with a peculiar plotline that involves Leia trying to kiss boys without their consent.

Missteps aside, That ’90s Show just about retains its dignity. Smith and Rupp are a hoot, and together, these loveable screen veterans share all the best lines and the biggest laughs. Without them — and without the involvement of newcomer Reyn Doi as the gang’s sarcastic gay friend Ozzie — it would be a poorer show.

Meanwhile, Break Point (Netflix) is hard work. It’s supposed to be a documentary series about tennis, and its new stars, and the pressures of competing in Grand Slam tournaments.

Based on the opening instalment, however, it doesn’t seem all that interested in the sport itself. It invites us into the world of tennis’s celebrated ‘bad boy’, Australian player Nick Kyrgios. Alas, it struggles to deliver anything in the way of coherent analysis. 

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What we get instead is a sketchy, superficial reality TV profile that’s all frenzied match clips and watery one-liners. As ever, Kyrgios is difficult to warm to, and those famous tantrums on the court leave a sour aftertaste. Hard pass.

To the moody British countryside for The Chemistry of Death (Paramount+), a scrappy, sleepy crime thriller, based on the books by Simon Beckett. Meet Dr David Hunter (Harry Treadaway) a former forensics anthropologist-turned-small-town GP. Why did he start over?

That’s for us to find out. When a mutilated body is found in the woods, the twitchy doc with a tragic past is called into action. Think House meets True Detective, but not nearly as fun as that sounds.​


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