Welcome to a new Sitcom Tuesday! This week, we’re continuing our coverage on the best of That ’70s Show (1998-2006, FOX), which is available on DVD, Blu-ray, streaming, etc.!
That ’70s Show stars TOPHER GRACE as Eric Forman, LAURA PREPON as Donna Pinciotti, ASHTON KUTCHER as Michael Kelso, DANNY MASTERSON as Steven Hyde, MILA KUNIS as Jackie Burkhart, WILMER VALDERRAMA as Fez, KURTWOOD SMITH as Red Forman, DEBRA JO RUPP as Kitty Forman, and DON STARK as Bob Pinciotti.
Every season following the third is something of a transitional year, as That ‘70s Show continues to shed more of the superlative qualities that once made it so consistently, episodically rewarding. This was an active struggle in Four, as macro arcs for the characters competed against the series’ growing comedic pursuits, making for a year that was difficult to enjoy wholesale, especially because its chief problem was a general inability to satisfy for character on the “micro” weekly basis, where promises made regarding their individual growths weren’t quite fulfilled (or at least, not up to established standards), creating unevenness… Season Five, meanwhile, has less tension with story for it not only engages in macro arcs that are seemingly easier to like — the core couple has reunited and a new secondary duo has been created in Jackie/Hyde, an oppositional pair whose surprise union looks to freshen up a staling dynamic, à la Monica/Chandler on Friends — but it also doesn’t make as many promises of character growth, for while evolution, yes, remains a key need for all, and the pending graduation is a GREAT reminder of such, the main narrative concerns for Five (and every year after) are more uniquely predicated on stories that can provide comedy. In this regard, Five puts an end to Four’s dilemma — both in its selection of affable arcs and its refusal to fail episodically with character, because at this point, fewer promises made = fewer promises broken… Now, naturally, I do consider this something of a defeat, for although these new interests yield more episodic consistency — meaning, there’s less variance in Five’s hits and misses — the entire baseline is lower, for even as the series doesn’t completely abandon the notion of evolution for its teenage leads, it does give up on reinforcing their growth on a more exploratory weekly basis — as the Golden Age did so well — and instead confines its moves to the sweeping, soapy arcs, the kind that have to be balanced by big hahas and supported by character, but seldom are.
So, Five is a strange prospect because it creates its own “comeback” narrative, with arcs that themselves are more satisfying and heightened comedic interests that instill a more upbeat, positive energy — and we welcome both. Furthermore, the kids’ upcoming graduation subliminally supplies a sense of elevated nostalgia, for we know that this is a symbol of adulthood for these individuals, and every season following won’t be as youthfully buoyant as the first five. (There’s an “eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow…” undercurrent that makes Five special — a new dramatic peak…) And yet, looking beyond what the year does to improve on Four, its use of story — still multiple plots per episode, many of them more attached to arcs than the characters’ individual explorations (which could better fuel said arcs) — makes it so there are fewer episodic standouts. Frankly, most of what sticks out here — despite my efforts below — are the big Sweeps milestones in the broader relationships, which are soapy and less able to reinforce the ‘70s era, as that typically comes from smaller conflicts and personal details… Meanwhile, big story and big hahas also require broader depictions of the characters. Two examples? Eric, whose earlier fascination with Star Wars becomes a full-on extreme nerd obsession (marking so much of his humor now), and Kitty, whose menopause is a one-episode comedic reversal in behavior that the year nevertheless drags out for cheap laughs, pretending it’s an arc (even attempting to justify its inclusion with support from the introduction of her parents, played by two wonderful performers — Betty White and Tom Poston, who, like Marion Ross before them, don’t do anything but serve as a gimmick with character interests too far removed from the primary leads’ for us to take them emotionally seriously). And you see, none of this is as ideal as what we had in Seasons Two or Three… or heck, maybe even Four, for at least there the characters still felt believable and of the ‘70s.
As for growth, character evolutions are often synonymous now with arcs and tend to be confined to specific moments (usually Sweeps). For instance, Jackie and Hyde are now a couple, Kelso takes an interest in becoming a cop, and Fez finally loses his virginity. In this way, these characters are maturing. But it all comes as story and it’s only evident there — we don’t see it as much in casual dialogue or weekly subplots. The best example is Jackie/Hyde… I’ll preface this by asserting that the series has always told us Jackie/Kelso are NOT meant to be, and while I don’t think the show is ever as definitive about her and Hyde, because they’re opposites (as opposed to Jackie/Kelso), they’re theoretically more able to force change in each other. A serious romance with Jackie forces Hyde to be more vulnerable and in touch with his feelings; a serious romance with Hyde forces Jackie to be less self-involved and materialistic — more empathetic. In contrast, Jackie and Kelso reinforced each other’s flaws. Therefore, I personally think the Jackie/Hyde relationship is the best emotional pairing for each — it offers the most potential for growth… On a more surface level, though, the surprise of their coupling creates fresh story and shakes up a comfortable ensemble, and much like the aforementioned Monica/Chandler, they give ‘70s a romantic pair that’s finally serious enough to take some of the weight off Eric/Donna… However, just as last season wasted the opportunity for genuine character growth in Jackie by instead turning to a plot development — a clichéd triangle — this year does the same. With few episodes where Jackie/Hyde actively change each other (they’re all on the list) — and after a reveal of their relationship that doesn’t even maximize the Friends-ian slow-burn fun — the year decides that instead of using their personality differences as a source of drama, which would be the BEST way to make them grow, it’ll force them into a triangle with Kelso. This sparks several soapy moments that don’t play (featuring gimmicky guest star Jessica Simpson around February Sweeps and a terrible retaliatory cheating arc in May), spotlighting the problem when story overtakes character…
Sure, in the BIG PICTURE, the very existence of the Jackie/Hyde romance means they are evolving as people. Zooming in though, we don’t see enough of this change reflected within how they are used in regular story — they so seldom clash based on their personalities — so what’s the point? And, okay, perhaps some form of triangle with Kelso is necessary; Jackie having to choose between him and Hyde is maybe the ultimate symbol of her growth… Yet if this arc was more supported by their personality and less by plot mechanics, everything would be stronger — the characters, their arcs, these episodes… Meanwhile, if Jackie/Hyde have issues in Five, then Eric/Donna are in a league of their own… I go back and forth on this subject, for I think it’s possible to argue that, within the big plotty stuff, some maturation can be found. By letting Donna go last season, Eric learned his lesson about control and was giving her freedom. And in taking her freedom and realizing that she’d rather be with Eric, Donna learned hers: being with Eric and being who she wants isn’t mutually exclusive. This suggests that they have grown from their past mistakes — especially Donna, who now has a totally different point-of-view about her life. And yet, episodic story once again proves otherwise, for not only do gender-based issues remain (see: “The Crunge,” for one), Eric also immediately forces a commitment on her during a November Sweeps marriage proposal. She’s evolved enough to say “yes” — and we buy it — but Eric, our most important character, has he changed enough to be able to essentially do the same thing he did at the end of Three and have it not stem from his flaws and insecurities? Judging by the episodic fights they still have here, and his lack of clear-cut evolution in both this year and the prior, my answer is no. And this is actually a huge concern for the series, for if we don’t feel that the Eric/Donna reunion — which is now an engagement — is motivated, regardless of the affinity we still have for these characters, we’re not rooting for the series’ thesis, which is that Eric/Donna’s paired bliss is the primary sign of both characters’ emotional maturations; it’s supposed to be their happy ending.
Yet, beyond just doubting whether or not Eric deserves to be back with Donna — we maybe even start to root AGAINST them, for when episodes like “The Crunge” do more than just reiterate that they still have the same issues, but also depicts their romance as counterintuitive to each one’s individual success, we start to agree with Red and Kitty, who are opposed to the engagement. (“Don’t do it, folks!”) It’s a dilemma; these teens aren’t mature enough to get what they want, but rooting against characters we like is never fun… Now, to be fair, I think we’re still okay in Five — at least, in comparison to Seasons Six and Seven, which will ratchet up our fears that the series’ thesis is wrong for Eric/Donna. Why? Well, Topher Grace didn’t officially sign on board for Season Seven until early in Six, which means that Six… oh, we’ll get into it more next week. Here, it’s just important to know that the central relationship is going to increasingly feel like something of a trap — not just dogged by dubious character growth (as it is now), but existing as an actual hindrance for the pair going forward… I’m getting ahead of myself though; in Season Five, we have concerns, but the “comeback” high of seeing the pair back together, with an exciting new couple (Jackie/Hyde) in support, is intoxicating. And even though we’re down Leo, Laurie comes back for a bit, and the show’s heightened comic pursuits — bolstered by the nostalgia of this being “senior year” for most of the characters — makes this a more exciting collection of episodes than Four (or Six). Also, this is around the time where I start to be more forgiving of That ‘70s Show, as I suggested back in week one, for now (unlike Four), it’s clearly no longer capable of Golden Age excellence, so my standards lower, and this list is a reflection of that… On this note, while I’m not as high on Five as many fans are (I still think Four had more character concerns at heart), I’m going to enjoy it as best I can, and I have picked ten episodes that I think exemplify the year’s strongest.
01) Episode 104: “Going To California” (Aired: 09/17/02)
Eric goes to California to find Donna.
Written by Jeff Filgo & Jackie Filgo | Directed by David Trainer
Unfortunately, this is the first year where I don’t think there are ten truly stellar episodes based on our previously defined metrics. However, the series is still broadly enjoyable and it’s worth lowering our standards to make room, in this season, for shows that not only stand out, but stand out for mostly the right reasons, with few of the character issues discussed above in our seasonal commentary. Accordingly, I choose to feature this — the season premiere — mostly because I want this list to recognize the palpable excitement that underscores the beginning of the year, where Eric/Donna finally reconcile (following a finale that denied what we thought was inevitable) and we’re first privy to the existence of a shocking, but electric new couple in the form of Jackie/Hyde. So, Season Five opens in full “comeback” mode, and though this opener has some big gaudy arc stuff that I don’t like — specifically, it has on-location scenes that offer poor comedic timing, the awful gimmick that is Jessica Simpson (whose February Sweeps return, while a better showcase for her in particular, is just as lamentable with regard to how character exploration is subjugated in favor of the mechanics of macro story arcs), and the basic problem of Eric and Donna getting back together… even though Eric hasn’t maybe earned it — it’s all a more iconic showcase than the year’s sophomore entry, which lamely nips the excitement of Jackie/Hyde’s novelty in the figurative bud, and without the necessary comedic spark, thereby deflating the season’s initial and worth-noting burst of energy.
02) Episode 107: “Heartbreaker” [a.k.a. “Kitty’s Parents Come To Visit”] (Aired: 10/29/02)
Kitty plans to announce her pregnancy to her parents.
Written by Kristin Newman | Directed by David Trainer
Again, this isn’t one I’d EVER consider putting on a list of favorites, but because Season Five has room, this notable outing that introduces Betty White and Tom Poston as Kitty’s parents feels quite discussion-worthy. First, it closely follows the events of the previous half-hour, a jokier teleplay credited to Will Forte that nevertheless suffers from some of its story requests — namely we’re supposed to believe that Kitty is truly pregnant and be happy about it — and culminates in Kelso’s discovery of Jackie and Hyde. I think the year could have had more fun and maximized the initial exploration of this relationship (how it started, who finds out about it, and when, etc.), but I appreciate that it doesn’t cop out of showing this inevitable character combustion with Kelso… As for the A-story with Kitty — whose initial reveal of her menopause is both comedic and a relief (it’s only when the year tries to turn it into a full-blown arc for the character that it chafes, for it’s basically a one-joke notion: a personality inversion convenient for easy laughs) — I think it’s more memorable than anything else. Meanwhile, her parents, whose relationship is generally well-defined, re still a dastardly gimmick, but they reinforce the ’70s setting with a wink (I’d rather it do it earnestly, but, c’est la Season Five), and even though I maintain that we don’t really care about them, for their influence on Kitty is only relevant to us because of Kitty’s influence on Eric, making note of their inclusion allows us to discuss how Five tries to disguise its character-undermining qualities.
03) Episode 109: “Over The Hills And Far Away” (Aired: 11/19/02)
The Formans take the guys on a weekend college visit.
Written by Bryan Moore & Chris Peterson | Directed by David Trainer
Although I seldom see this offering singled out even among this year’s output, “Over The Hills And Far Away” is one of only a few in Five that use arc-based story in a most effective way. With the teens’ (minus Jackie’s) upcoming graduation looming, there are a handful of entries here that take their premises (and, yes, they are Victories In Premise — led by their ideas) from the ensuing momentum. This is wise though because, as noted above, graduation is an external symbol that these characters are growing up, and it’s a boon to the show’s sense of nostalgia, which is benefited by the specific ’70s setting and, when effectively used in story, can help remind everyone of where and what the series is supposed to be. Thus, when this show gives us our first real indication that these characters’ lives are soon going to change, it’s an inherently exciting prospect — especially because the series’ calendar has been notoriously strange and slow for the past four seasons!… However, this isn’t just a triumph based on its concept; it’s a triumph because its concept is both smart — it allows for many group scenes, as the Formans take all four of the teenage boys on a weekend away, leading to great character interactions for all — and allows for genuine, motivated drama within it, as the future threatens the status quo of both couples, including the newly created Jackie/Hyde, whose conflict — “good to know” — is EXACTLY the kind of episodic story that explains their differences and ultimately grows them individually as they start to bridge that emotional divide. A smart one.
04) Episode 111: “Thank You” (Aired: 12/03/02)
Eric and Donna’s plans to announce their engagement at Thanksgiving are derailed.
Written by Dean Batali | Directed by David Trainer
Following the dreadfully misguided decision to have Eric and Donna become engaged in the previous episode (even though Eric doesn’t deserve it and at this point we’re not yet sure if they’re ready for it), this belated Thanksgiving show continues the narrative through line but finds a logical reason to delay movement (until the next Sweeps), courtesy of a situational problem: Eric’s lie to Red about his grade in math, which is revealed by a drunken Fez (it’s a bit contrived, I think, but the comedic unpredictably of the moment can be enjoyed as such), yet sparked by the main premise-based conflict, in which Kelso brings Eric’s math teacher as his date to the Thanksgiving dinner. The rest of this holiday show, which is all about the entire cast being together at the same place and time, is figurative “dressing,” aided by the return appearances of Poston and White as Kitty’s folks (it’s the only time in which they appear and they’re not bogged down in overly plot-based concerns), AND Lisa Robin Kelly as Laurie, whom we haven’t seen since her abrupt departure in mid-Season Three, back when the show first started to see a slight decline in its quality. Her return is naturally noteworthy, and while she doesn’t get much to do, there’s so much going on here — with all the characters interacting — that her re-addition is almost seamless. And with a jokey teleplay that simply seems to be enjoying the fun of the situation and the opportunity to have all these characters together at once, “Thank You” is just an entry too memorable to pretend isn’t one of Five’s standouts.
05) Episode 112: “Black Dog” [a.k.a. “Ow, My Eye!”] (Aired: 12/10/02)
Jackie’s father is arrested and Kelso accidentally shoots Hyde.
Written by Mark Hudis | Directed by David Trainer
This is a surprisingly popular installment that I’ve tended to gloss over, for the very thing that most drives its appeal is the story with Kelso and Hyde, as the pair’s continued rivalry (based, of course, on Jackie) takes a situationally violent turn when the moron accidentally shoots the punk. Honestly, I’ve always found the conflict so circumstantial and unlike anything that was likely to happen; that’s why I’ve tended to avoid it. Today, it’s still not a favorite, but I appreciate the emotional murkiness of this scenario (which arises from what’s going on with the characters), and think it uses both Hyde and Kelso’s personalities to its advantage… Meanwhile, there’s a lot going on elsewhere — too much, maybe — including further progression in Fez’s arc with Nina (Joanna Canton), his girlfriend at the DMV where he also works — and a Jackie/Hyde story that sort of gets it right about how their individual differences make them prone to conflict (her father has been arrested and he doesn’t know how best to comfort her), but actually is instead used more to involve Eric/Donna and Red/Kitty, as the men and women give contrasting advice. It’s easy and feels like something we’ve already seen, but it’s worth noting because Eric seems to recognize that he needed to give Donna space after their split, while Donna, who doubted Eric, really needed him closer. This simultaneously suggests mutual awareness of the problem while also revealing how they’re still always going to see this differently (and perhaps that’s an unavoidable gender problem). In the context of analyzing if Eric and Donna earned this current reunion, “Black Dog” fascinatingly makes both arguments.
06) Episode 113: “The Crunge” [a.k.a. “The S.A.T.s”] (Aired: 12/17/02)
Eric is shocked to get the worst SAT score of the entire group.
Written by Dave Schiff | Directed by David Trainer
Referenced above in my seasonal commentary as being a troubling showcase for Eric/Donna, “The Crunge” is more than just a case study of what’s going on with the central couple: it’s a case study of the year. You see, with a jokey teleplay built around a premise that’s easily comedic and symptomatic of larger evolutions within the show, but maybe not smart for the characters and their own personal growths, “The Crunge” is the best and worst of what Season Five has to offer. While we can celebrate the laugh-driven concept, where everybody does better on the SATs than Eric, and acknowledge what this narrative means as these teens careen to their post-graduation futures (it’s a play towards nostalgia and a welcome recognition of large-scale movement), we also have to raise objections about what’s being sacrificed in the process — namely, the lead, Eric, whose arc has so far been synonymous with the show’s. Having him all of a sudden be depicted as the most intellectually troubled is good for hahas, but not so good with regard to consistency, and even if we do choose to buy it — and believe the proposed reason for his failure, Donna — this presents a BIG dilemma: if Donna is a liability to Eric being the best version of himself possible, then how can we root for Eric and Donna to be together, which is still what the show wants (regardless of its complicated position on if/when they should be married) because we’ve been promised that they’re meant-to-be? Additionally, when this story addresses Eric’s need to be smarter than Donna (to be “the man”), it’s a definite indication that not enough has changed within him since their big breakup. So, “The Crunge” is one of the most flawed outings on this list — too funny to ignore (and better written than other just-for-laugh A-stories, like “You Shook Me”‘s), but totally endemic of the growth issues Eric/Donna had going into the season and the new ones they have now. It’s Season Five in a nutshell.
07) Episode 114: “The Girl I Love” [a.k.a. “Dinner With Nina”] (Aired: 01/07/03)
Kitty and the girls decide to throw a couples dinner party to meet Nina.
Written by Gregg Mettler | Directed by David Trainer
I hate to keep qualifying my enjoyment of the offerings chosen to represent the best of Season Five, but the quest for quality is ruthless, and it’s just unavoidably true that, although “The Girl I Love” essentially constructs itself like a classic excursion from the Golden Age, the overall series baseline during this era is such that it’s still nowhere near as satisfying. For with a premise that gets a majority of the cast together at the same time and place — during a dinner party that Kitty is throwing in honor of Fez and his new girlfriend Nina — and explicitly fosters a battle-of-the-sexes conflict that helps explore known issues between the primary couples, including the newly minted Jackie/Hyde (who have a somewhat believable clash), while reinforcing this ’70s era to a degree seldom seen this year, this seems like a classic. It even goes the extra mile too, with a Golden Age-esque Battle Of The Network Stars fantasy parody with Jamie Farr… And yet, because there’s been such trouble depicting the characters well within episodic story this year, and since the show has started getting used to prioritizing plot over the smart usage of its characters, it’s simply too easy for a script to NOT do enough with the characterizations to justify the foolish things they do. That is, there’s a sense within this outing that conflict is happening for the sake of conflict, and though everything theoretically fits what we know of the characters, the practical application of it is wonky… and in this case, it even starts to inhibit the humor. Thus, this is a good show on paper (and that’s the reason it’s here), but it’s less so in practice, showing not so much narratively why Five is a descent, but more aesthetically why…
08) Episode 115: “Misty Mountain Hop” [a.k.a. “Jackie’s Cabin”] (Aired: 01/22/03)
Hyde, Kelso, and Fez are caught up at Jackie’s cabin, which the Formans have come to clean.
Written by Dave Schiff | Directed by David Trainer
Finally, a well-liked episode that I’m able to appreciate in full, too! For while it essentially separates Eric/Donna into a subplot off-shoot of the main story that’s trivial and acquits neither well (they argue just because they have to, not because any real character flaws or insecurities motivate it), the nature of their use this season almost makes it more favorable to NOT see them very much in heavy story. (This will become more and more true over the next few years; because it’s hard to root for Eric/Donna right now, it’s just easiest if we see less of them…) Fortunately, there’s enough with the rest of the characters to pick up the slack, especially Jackie/Hyde, who once again have a story built upon their differences — and the circumstance that’s forcing Jackie to grow: her father being jailed — and showcases maturation for both. It’s special in this regard, for the rest of the season is more interested in further exploiting a triangle with Kelso that isn’t totally starved of character value, but is used to propel soapy story developments that generally disqualify most of their corresponding entries from being highlighted. (Plus, the last half of the season opens up the Eric/Donna engagement arc, as the parents find out about it, which makes it even HARDER to keep rooting for what these two characters want, so that’s another reason why this list is more skewed to Five’s first half — it just poses fewer character concerns.) Also, the ganja stuff with the guys is senior year nostalgia-inducing silliness — quintessential That ’70s Show, even without Eric.
09) Episode 124: “Trampled Under Foot” [a.k.a. “Fez Gets Dumped”] (Aired: 04/09/03)
The group looks to add a new member as Fez gets dumped for being too “needy.”
Written by Philip Stark | Directed by David Trainer
Within a sea of semi-serialized scripts that concern themselves with either the misbegotten Eric/Donna engagement storyline or the unideal triangle starting to re-form with Hyde/Jackie/Kelso, this smart ensemble show — with only two stories (instead of three of four, as is this season’s norm) — serves not only as a reminder to the audience that graduation is looming, courtesy of the group’s general “senior year” ready-for-a-change attitude, but also as a subliminal insistence that even though most of these characters will be leaving high school, and therefore seemingly maturing, the status quo of the series is going to stay the same. Contrary to what the group wants in this half-hour (even Kitty, whose subplot with Lance Crawford is the broadest part of the affair — but because it’s narratively connected, I think it works fine), there will be no new members added to the group. Naturally, graduation will change things whether the show likes it or not, because the creep towards adulthood does infringe upon the series’ embedded nostalgia and it does force the show to more acutely focus on growth. But this outing still gets points for accurately showing where the characters are at this point — they’re so close to a change that they almost feel themselves like they’re in a rut (see: “car that runs on water” gag) — and this show also smartly puts them all together at the same place and time… Additionally, while I briefly considered using this spot to single out a below-mentioned segment that introduces several of the following year’s growth-giving arcs, this one is MUCH funnier, even in the subplot where Fez gets dumped by Nina — an ordinary end to a so-so storyline that shines here because it yields a trip to his bedroom and a wonderful Six Million Dollar Man fantasy that’s both ideal for character and a noble reflection of the ’70s!
10) Episode 128: “Celebration Day” [a.k.a. “Graduation”] (Aired: 05/14/03)
The gang goes on a group camping trip the night before graduation.
Written by Gregg Mettler | Directed by David Trainer
My choice for the season’s Most Valuable Episode (MVE), “Celebration Day” is an unusual selection given my established tastes. As many of you know, I tend to avoid big development shows because of how they treat character (too often it’s undermined in deference to whatever preordained plot mechanics the show has dreamed into being), and that’s why I seldom highlight season finales or even the entries leading up to them. (To wit, you’ll notice that I chose NOT to entertain any of the outings right before this one for that very reason: too many soapy plot developments; not enough earned character moments and comedy derived accordingly… ) However, if you’ve been following this blog regularly, you’ll notice that one of the recurring elements that comes up here is the idea of a “Peak”: a height that’s reached and then unreached. Now, we’ve already covered when the show was at its best — we even called it the “Peak Golden Age” — but there’s nevertheless a height of a different kind, a dramatic apex embodied by the culmination of many things, or more precisely, the end of them. A lot of this has to do with graduation — a theme lurking throughout the year, representing to these characters, and to everyone watching, a move towards adulthood. And with nostalgia being a currency that’s helped fuel our investment in the show and its core relationships, the idea of “growing up” (inherently associated with ‘graduation”) is a difficult one, for now these characters are adults and the show’s youthful joie de vivre will have to mature as a result, making “Celebration Day” a probable end to so much of ‘70s intrinsic charm — now it’ll have to rely even MORE on character (and as we’ve been seeing, that doesn’t seem like it’ll bode well)… Yet speaking of character, this one is exciting in that way too, for while the Eric/Donna stupidity is not in the fore, the unideal-but-somewhat necessary triangle with Jackie and her two beaus comes to a head, and it’s a crucial moment for her development as a character, given what each individual means to her… At the same time, we have the return of Laurie, and even though she’s used for the sake of a story-driven arc with Fez, her inclusion is additive — meaning that the show is not just shedding what was, but gaining new things that will help it go forward. And ultimately, with a story that gets all the teens together at the same time and place again — a camping trip — “Celebration Day” carries with it so much joy, as the characters, and the show, have essentially reached the pinnacle of emotional existence. From here, it’s a lot less fun…
Other notable episodes that merit mention include: “When The Levee Breaks” [a.k.a. “Eric And Donna Play House”], a vital but unintelligent Eric/Donna show that climaxes in Red’s discovery of their engagement (although there is some fun stuff with Fenton, the flamboyant ring seller who’s usually good for a few laughs), “Whole Lotta Love” [a.k.a. “The Silent Treatment”], where Fez FINALLY loses his virginity (a huge milestone for him), “Hey, Hey, What Can I Do?” [a.k.a. “Job Fair”], which uses the job fair structure to introduce Kelso’s cop ambitions, Hyde’s new job working with Roy (Jim Gaffigan) in the hotel kitchen, and Eric’s plan to work while Donna goes to school — making it a show of growth via big story, and “Immigrant Song” [a.k.a. “Fez Gets Busted”], which does what it can comedically amidst some story-driven maneuvers that inevitably keep the teleplay from shining as bright.
Of more Honorable Mention quality, meanwhile, are “Bring It On Home” [a.k.a. “Jackie’s In The House”] and “No Quarter” [a.k.a. “Jackie Moves In”], which are fun only for the comedy that comes from Jackie living with Donna, and “The Battle Of Evermore” [a.k.a. “Pioneer Days”], which attempts but fails to uses a premise-driven situation to grapple with the central Eric/Red drama alongside a subplot that answers Leo’s mysterious disappearance (and it features memorable guest stars Bobcat Goldthwait, Seth Green, and Fred Willard). Also, again, I’ll reiterate that the two mid-season episodes with Jessica Simpson’s return (and Betty White’s) are notable, but hard to fully enjoy because of their general relationship between character and story, despite a handful of amusing, likable moments.
*** The MVE Award for the Best Episode from Season Five of That ’70s Show goes to…
Come back next week for Season Six! Stay tuned tomorrow for a new Wildcard Wednesday!