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Television Review

'That '80s Show': Nostalgia Only Goes So Far

January 23, 2002|JOSH FRIEDMAN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

In the tradition of "Return to the Blue Lagoon," Thursday Night Football and "Saved by the Bell: The New Class" comes "That '80s Show"--not exactly a sequel, but an attempt to parlay the dubious achievements of the original into a franchise.

From the creators of "That '70s Show," the '80s version, which premieres at 8 tonight on Fox, has a different cast but employs the same basic formula: semi-dysfunctional family, throwaway gags, retro tunes, loud clothes and louder laugh track.

The show focuses on a group of twentysomethings living in San Diego circa 1984: the creative soul Corey (Glenn Howerton); his slacker sister Katie (Tinsley Grimes); his best friend, the eager Reaganite Roger (Eddie Shin); their glamorous pal Sophia (Brittany Daniel); and the snarling punker Tuesday (Chyler Leigh), who works with Corey at the local music shop Permanent Record.

Also on the scene are Corey and Katie's marketing whiz of a dad, R.T. (Geoff Pierson), who is about to ride the fitness wave with his Gut Whacker gizmo, and the record shop boss Margaret (Margaret Smith), a weary Summer of Love survivor.

In tonight's debut, the struggling songwriter Corey fails at love when Sophia abruptly dumps him to make a play for his sister, and fails just as badly in the business world when his father's firm briefly hires him to write pitch lines. Back at the record shop, opposites repel when the tender Corey meets the spike-haired new hire Tuesday, so stay tuned for a potential fiery flirtation in the style of "The Breakfast Club."

Though the writers toy with the theme of capitalism run amok, "That '80s Show" is at its best when all it does is affectionately mock those days when neckties were thin and portable phones were large. Shin, whose character takes himself way too seriously, provides tonight's funniest moments--first, when robot dancing to the Talking Heads and, later, leading a frenzied session of "Dynasty" shots, the couch potato drinking game (you take a swig whenever one of the nighttime soap's characters gets slapped). Shin, whose Roger is reminiscent of Michael J. Fox on "Family Ties," appears to be the standout in a capable ensemble.

"That '80s Show" has its moments, but it's a bit like a school reunion: The nostalgic fun is intermittent.

*

"That '80s Show" premieres at 8 tonight on Fox. The network has rated it TV-PG-DLS (may be inappropriate for young children, with additional advisories for suggestive dialogue, coarse language and sexual situations).

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