After years of selling ourselves short, the “Children of the “80s” have been avenged. Unfortunately, amidst a barrage of “Remember the “80s” time warps in the media, “That “80s Show” fails to incorporate any life into the decade we so fondly remember. While decidedly decadent in “80s fashion and psychology, the show refuses to move past its own fascination with site gags and clichd dialogue.
Premiering last Wednesday to high ratings among those who lived through the decade, but amidst a bevy of harsh reviews, “That “80s Show” is a mere illusion of a great premise. Set in San Diego circa 1984, the show centers around a group of twenty-somethings instead of the teen angst of Eric Forman and crew from its predecessor, “That “70s Show.” Corey (newcomer Glenn Howerton) is a 22-year-old aspiring musician who insists the corporate greed of the “80s is definitely not for this philosophy major. That leaves working for minimum wage at the local record store, Permanent Record, where Corey tends to live vicariously through his hipster boss Margaret (comedian Margaret Smith), who likes to recall her wandering days with the likes of Jim Morrison. Margaret offers Corey a tinge of hope in the world of corporate drones.
As if his life couldn”t get any worse, the newly bisexual and Madonna look-alike, Sophie (Brittany Daniel, one-time vamp on “Dawson”s Creek”), has just broken up with Corey to pursue “other” interests namely his sister Katie (Tinsley Grimes, “Never Been Kissed”). If you”re scratching your head now, it gets worse. Corey”s best friend is Roger (Eddie Shin), the yuppie horn dog who lives in the guesthouse and prays to the corporate-loving Ronnie Reagan. When not obsessing over hostile takeovers, Roger is content playing drinking games to the “80s powerhouse primetime soap, “Dynasty.” All that”s left in this character cut-out hell hole is the so-called “parental,” R.T. (Geoff Pierson, “Unhappily Ever After”), who takes his fashion cues from “Miami Vice” and his business sense from what will soon be infomercial heaven.
The premiere showed why the show will be lucky to last for more than three weeks. It overuses a laugh track, even when nothing funny appears on screen. Sure, watching the characters dance at their local nightclub is funny (when was the last time you saw someone do the Robot?), but it”s only worth a giggle or two. The jokes are heavily overplayed and the dialogue is mediocre at best. The instant love-hate vibe between Corey and his new co-worker, the punk Tuesday (Chyler Leigh, “Not Another Teen Movie”), is dull and too simple. However, the tension between the two is the only spark this show has to offer.
Surprisingly, Tuesday is the only character that has any depth, even though most of that depth revolves around her changing her hairstyle from a punked-out Mohawk to something a little more girlish. Sophie”s bisexual tendencies are downplayed after she shares her first on-screen kiss with Katie, leaving any chance of exploring her sexual identity in the toilet. Meanwhile, Katie is vapid and usually seems to be in a drunken stupor, or just plain schizophrenic, when she delivers her calculated off-the-cuff remarks. The only fun Katie has is singing along to Pat Benatar”s “Love is a Battlefield.”
The music is a saving grace for this disastrous show. Snippets of Duran Duran, Black Flag and The Godfathers play throughout the episode, but most of these “classics” are best heard on any “80s compilation CD. Aside from the music, the chintzy idea of using record album covers to denote a change of scene almost works, if not for the searing Day-Glo coloring that makes you want to look away from the bright light.
Even though we were definitely due for an “80s massive attack, “That “80s Show” would have been better if it starred a monkey in parachute pants and Alf in leg-warmers. Guess we better stick with reliving the old days with John Hughes.