That Postmoderny Show

“Saint’s Day”: Eric is disappointed when none of his friends will help him celebrate his Saint’s Day. They point out that the whole idea of a Saint’s Day is pretty stupid, and that at any rate, he is not Catholic. He vows to develop an affectation that will make the gang think he is interesting, although he does not phrase it that way, because when he says it out loud it sounds bad.

“Kitty in Trouble”: Kitty’s alcoholism reaches a new low when she vomits down her new frock at her own birthday party. Although her children are embarrassed by her, her husband seethingly resents her and her friends have all abandoned her, no one says anything, because she’s had a hard life.

“The President Comes to Town”: When President Ford comes to visit Point Place, Red is unable to articulate the rage he feels at having been laid off after decades of service at the plant. His anger grows when he senses that he is the victim of selfish, top-driven economic policies, but lacks the education to put his resentment into a framework of coherent language.

“Rock ‘n’ Roll Show”: The gang sneaks out of town in Red’s new Corvette to see a band play in a nearby town. The band’s future history provokes in viewers a sense of wry irony, but the gang, of course, are oblivious to of this. The leader of the band appears as himself, his aging, weather-lined, sunken face providing an upsetting shock to those who tune in to see him desperately conjuring his younger days of as-yet-unsquandered pontential. No one sleeps well after this episode.

“The Promise Ring”: Jokes are made at the expense of Fez’s foreign origins, Jackie’s selfishness and stupidity, and Laurie’s promiscuity and hair color, but the implied wink that tells us they are in on it makes it okay. Meanwhile, viewers are left wondering why Donna, who is supposed to be a brilliant writer, can’t seem to string two sentences together, and why Eric, who is supposed to be kind and caring, often comes across as a sexist Neanderthal.

“Pseudoreference”: Actors, music, and cultural touchstones appear with very little connection to the plot of the show, and we are expected to laugh at them, even though they aren’t funny. It’s supposed to amuse us simply by virtue of our being able to remember it, I suppose, but that answers nothing. Is comedy nothing more than a function of recognition? Where is the class conflict from which All in the Family drew so much of its effectiveness? Why does Bob speak in a New York accent when he is supposed to live in eastern Wisconsin? Kelso, not surprisingly, finds the whole thing terribly confusing; surprisingly, so does the audience.

“Shady Lane”: Forgetting the show is on altogether, the viewer spends a half an hour playing with his young son and listening to a Pavement record. Reflecting on the fact that someday, his son will find Pavement as distant and whimsical as he finds the Starland Vocal Band, he finally remembers that That ’70s Show is on, but doesn’t care that he missed it and, in less than two seconds, is considering an upcoming business trip to San Bernardino.

“Donna’s Choice”: The writer of this episode, who is going through a particularly ugly divorce which he is unable to refrain from discussing with the other staff members, pens an episode in which the female lead comes across rather shamefully like the thankless, greedy cartoon harpy he imagines his wife to be. Several of the other writers and producers exchange uncomfortable glances during the pitch meeting, but it’s a good plot, so they greenlight it and tone down the misogyny in rewrite.

“The Stash”: A group of students at the University of Maryland gather in the commons to watch this episode. They pretend they’re watching it to make fun of it, but like most of their friends, they feel uneasy and slightly afraid when there isn’t a television on, so they’ll basically watch anything. They exchange knowing sneers whenever marijuana is referenced, and each of them thinks of himself as being like Hyde. One of them will later serve several years of a sentence for dealing drugs, but the rest of them will have all forgotten his name and will only call him ‘the black guy we used to hang out with’.

“Tea Party”: After nine seasons, the show finally comes to an end with an oddly bleak, disjointed episode. It seems to want to suggest a political and cultural sea change, and a few attentive viewers (although they would never admit to being such) detect the presence of an unfashionably subversive political tone, but before anything can be written or said about it, there is a terrible catastrophe in the news and every forgets all about it. Its director secretly resents all the people who died that day because they kept him from being lauded for the beautiful thing he tried to give the world, but he cannot say anything.

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