That 70s Show: The Complete Series (Blu-ray)Gordon Sullivan
Be Groovy. Be Very Groovy.
Back in 2008, we suddenly because as far away, historically, from the start of The Wonder Years as The Wonder Years was from its starting place in 2968. Sometime in 2010, we approached the moment in which we were as far away as Dazed And Confused was from the Bicentennial when it was released. It will only be a few years (2020, to be exact) until we’re at the same place with That ’70s Show, which started in 1998, 22 years away from its opening in 1976. Aside from making viewers feel old, this little tidbit should also suggest that the show, which launched several careers, should have received its definitive presentation already. That feeling doubles when we take into account the fact that this is the second release of the complete series on Blu-ray. It’s a mixed improvement over the previous release, and still short of definitive.
That ’70s Show opens in May of 1976, in a suburb of Green Bay, Wisconsin, where six teenagers spend the latter half of the 1970s getting into sitcom-worthy hijinks and living through the best and worst the 1970s have to offer.
The 90s will forever be the decade of Friends and Seinfeld in terms of sitcom titans. They also represent twin poles of what a sitcom could do or be. Friends ruled the airwaves by creating a NYC that did not, by any stretch of the imagination, exist. But the stories of a few friends living the dream (or not) in the big city appealed to a wide part of the viewership because most people either wanted to be part of the Freinds group, or knew people like that. Sienfeld, in contrast, took place in an equally-imaginary NYC, but it’s willingness to be weird and off-putting, with characters unlike anyone viewers were likely to know.
That ’70s Show seems to have learned a bit from both camps. The very concept of a show that takes place two decades in the past, with all the attendant meta-commentary of using pop culture trends and calling out previous sitcoms, smacks of a Seinfeldian “episode about nothing” vibe. On the other side, though, That 70s Show swings for the likability-style fences of Friends. We all know somebody who is like one of the characters on the show.
That, ultimately, is what That 70s Show stakes its legacy on. Rarely has such a likeable bunch of actors been assembled for a sitcom. Even when the show’s plots meander or the jokes fall flat, there’s something enjoyable about hanging out with these characters, and that’s a rare feat for a sitcom to achieve. The fact that more of That 70s Show‘s actors have gone on to post-show fame than Seinfeld and Friends combined (depending, of course, how you measure it – but at least Kutcher and Kunis have become A-listers, whereas only Aniston has been able to open a movie herself between her 90s castmates).
Fans have already had multiple opportunities to own That 70s Show. There were releases of all eight seasons on DVD, followed by the first two seasons on Blu-ray before a full-series box set on Blu-ray. Mill Creek Entertainment has been responsible for the show on Blu-ray so far, and this release is their second attempt at a complete run of the series.
Theoretically, this set’s presentation should be a bit stronger. We’ve got 200 episodes spread over 16 discs, which is a decent amount of room for the 1.78:1/1080p AVC-encoded transfers. We also get a slight upgrade in that one episode (“The Kids Are Alright”) has been sourced from an NTSC rather than a PAL master. Two minor episode image updates have been made as well. Overall, however, the show looks about the same, and that’s not a bad thing. Detail is pretty strong, with 70s patterns coming through with a lot of nuance. Colors can verge on oversaturation, but overall keep the period entails looking appropriate. As with most sitcoms, the show is generally pretty bright, so black levels never really get tested. Yes, super fans might wish for a complete remastering from the original negatives, but overall the show looks good here. The set’s DTS-HD 5.1 audio tracks are equally good. Though everyone remembers the fashion of the 1970s, the sounds of the era are just as important for conjuring the show’s atmosphere. Dialogue stays clean and clear from the front, while the surrounds get used for things like audience laughter. The songs that appear sound rich and detailed as well, as does the show’s own score.
This set keeps the previous audio commentary tracks, but loses the two discs of video-based extras.
That ’70s Show doesn’t re-define the sitcom formula. It’s a solid product of its time and place, but it trades a lot on nostalgia to push both comedic and sympathetic buttons. If you’re not particularly fond of the actors (I, for instance, have never been particularly thrilled by Topher Grace) then the appeal of the show will drop proportionally.
That ’70s Show is a solid example of what a decent sitcom can accomplish. It’s got its share of laughs and more than a few moments of well-earned poignancy. This Blu-ray set is a fine way to own the show, but if you’ve already got the previous set there’s no reason to switch. In fact, the disappearance of the two discs of extras makes the previous set preferable to fans.