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TV Review: 'That '80s Show' tries too hard to capture decade

Wednesday, January 23, 2002

By Rob Owen, Post-Gazette TV Editor

Who needs originality when you have a photocopy machine?

Inspired and created by the producers of the Fox hit "That '70s Show," "That '80s Show" assembles a similar gang of friends in another decade.

To be fair, it's not quite as derivative as expected, and it's possible "That '80s Show" will improve. But tonight's premiere (at 8 on WPGH) is crammed with too many '80s allusions: music, wine coolers, "Dynasty," "Miami Vice," etc. It's as if the producers thought this would be their only shot and they had to toss in as many time-period jokes as possible.

"That '80s Show"

When: 8 tonight on Fox.

Starring: Glenn Howerton, Tinsley Grimes, Margaret Smith


Set in 1984 San Diego, "That '80s Show" follows the exploits of a group of twentysomethings, including siblings Corey (Glenn Howerton) and Katie (Tinsley Grimes).

Corey is this show's Eric Forman (the character played by Topher Grace on "That '70s Show"), the everyman protagonist. He's just broken up with Sophia (Brittany Daniel), a girl Corey's sister and father (Geoff Pierson) think is a lesbian.

"She's not a lesbian; she's bisexual," Corey says. "She's like a vegetarian who likes turkey every now and then."

Corey works at Permanent Records, run by the crusty Margaret (Margaret Smith), who apparently slept with every guy in a band in the '70s. Corey and new punk co-worker Tuesday (Chyler Leigh) butt heads at first, but their love-hate relationship is clearly headed more in the love direction.

Unlike "That '70s Show," whose teen-age characters displayed an early bond, their '80s counterparts are a more disparate bunch.

As for acting, the standout is Smith, whose sarcastic jibes and deadpan demeanor contrast nicely with the shiny happy young people who surround her. Among the young'uns, Grimes gives Katie a gleeful streak that's endearing.

Creators Terry Turner, Mark Brazill and Linda Wallem, who wrote tonight's premiere, love their '80s references, but they've actually created a show whose lead characters do little to reflect the mainstream of '80s life in America. Corey is a struggling musician who works in a record store and refuses to become a "corporate droid," which is sort of what the '80s were all about. Only Corey's best friend, Roger (Eddie Shin), epitomizes the Reagan era as a conservative capitalist.

"I know these are both power ties, but which one says, 'I'll crush you in a hostile takeover?' " Roger asks.

As for the whole lesbian chic story involving Sophia, isn't that more of a '90s thing?

As TV sitcoms go, "That '80s Show" is better than some '80s era relics ("My Two Dads," anyone?), but it's not as sophisticated as one would hope.

You can reach Rob Owen at rowen@post-gazette.com Post questions or comments to www.post-gazette.com/tv under TV Forum.

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