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That Other '70s Show

The '70s The year is 1999, and an epic miniseries/marketing campaign called "The '60s" has successfully dumbed-down an entire tumultuous decade for easy consumption by Joe Sixpack and a nation of remote-brandishing couch jockeys: Vietnam, hippies, drugs, groovy clothes and classic rock -- that was the 1960s. The whole taco. Any other incidental "facts" you may have learned in school or from actually being there aren't really important enough to mention. Buy the "The '60s" soundtrack CD from the website and shut up.

Now, two years later, you've got "The '70s", another two-night, four-hour piece of revisionist TV history which "presents the fictional story of four friends played out against the backdrop of the politics and popular culture of the period," according to NBC. Don't forget the bitchin' soundtrack CD, available at www.nbc.com/70s.

The publicity shot pretty much sums up "The '70s" (and, as far as NBC's concerned, the actual '70s): good-looking Nixon Republican (Brad Rowe), good-looking feminist (Vinessa Shaw), good-looking Black Panther (Guy Torry), good-looking disco queen (Amy Smart). As a bonus, producer Denise Di Novi ("Message in a Bottle," "Practical Magic" -- yes, they both made her resume) has also thrown in Kent State, Watergate, Jonestown, the Trans-Alaska Pipeline and those disturbing happy-face symbols. Punk rock? Never happened. New Yawk punkers Blondie didn't really exist before their faux-disco hit (included on the now-ready-for-purchase soundtrack CD) "Heart of Glass," silly.

As it did with "The '60s", NBC wants to have it both ways: They push "The '70s" as a legit history lesson until someone calls 'em on it, then they fall back on the "fictional story ... played out against the backdrop of the politics and popular culture ... yadda yadda yadda" line.

What exactly is the "fictional story"? After college -- Kent State, natch -- the four good-looking friends wind up contentiously spread over the vast political/cultural spectrum of the 1970s and, by the end of the four hours, reconcile their differences after learning Valuable Life Lessons. Basically your average Saved By the Bell episode, but without the edgy presence of Screech.

The real entertainment value of "The '70s", unfortunately for Joe Sixpack and the non-media, comes in the miniseries' 82-page (!) press kit. Dim-bulb young actors expounding upon their roles always provides unintended comedy -- when they're talking about a decade they were barely born in, prepare thy knee for serious slappage.

Amy Smart, whose previous thespian credits include Felicity and "Varsity Blues," on the sounds of The Me Decade: "I've fallen in love with the music of the '70s -- the Bee Gees, Led Zeppelin, the Eagles, Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix," she says, blissfully unaware that both Joplin and Hendrix died in 1970. "I think the best music was made in the '70s, because there was so much passion and direction from all these singers. Nowadays, people do it for the money, and then it was just about the heart." (Regrettably, Ted Nugent's heartfelt '77 hit "Wang Dang Sweet Poontang" is not included on the soundtrack, which is in stores at this very moment.) "It's a little frustrating now. I feel like computers, TV and video games -- all this stuff is clouding our creativity." Shifting blame for your stunned-carp screen performance, Amy? How '90s.

Speaking of which, NBC has probably begun production on a The '90s miniseries, since the network has already shown their utter disinterest in the '80s by canceling the Reagan-era Freaks & Geeks and wisely diverting millions of dollars in Peacock money and weeks of on-air promotion toward four whole hours of "The '70s". No clouded creativity at NBC, nosiree.

And who can wait for The '00s? An airdate in spring 2004 seems about right: Haley Joel Osment as Elian Gonzalez in the Cute Cuban Kid Crisis! 'N Sync as popular boy-band the Backstreet Boys! The Backstreet Boys as popular boy-band 'N Sync! John Travolta and Hillary Swank as "Who Wants to Marry a Multimillionaire?" miscreants Rick and Darva! Lucy Liu as controversial Old Navy spokes-skank Lisa Ling! A randomly shaped block of cheese as President George W. Bush! Or President Al Gore! Doesn't matter! The soundtrack kicks!


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