Music

That ’90s Show Recap: Michael Kelso Would Never

That ‘90s Show

Boyfriend Day One

Season 1

Episode 7

Editor’s Rating

2 stars

Photo: PATRICK WYMORE/NETFLIX

For a moment, it’s tough to believe that even Red Forman would be particularly incensed about Leia getting pulled over in the car he just gifted her for a license-plate issue beyond her control, even with a licensed driver behind the wheel! But Red and Kitty explain themselves succinctly: The licensed driver is a Kelso. Fair enough! In the aftermath of the previous episode, Baby Kelso receives an immediate ban from the Forman residence, suddenly turning into what Leia would probably describe as her first long-distance relationship. (Ozzie does not offer any tips from his time with Etienne.)

It’s not long before Jay is on his way back — mostly at Nate’s urging because he misses his bro so bad; plus Kitty is at the dentist and Red is stuck at the DMV, temporarily clearing the coast. After pining for his beloved from the kitchen doorway, in mortal terror of an older man who he knows can kick his ass, Jay volunteers for a good deed to get in the older Formans’ graces: He’ll take Sherri’s place as Kitty’s designated post-dentist driver, so Sherri can continue her grocery shopping (stealing food from the Formans’ fridge). Kitty is far too zonked to be scandalized by the presence of a Kelso, and Gwen, along for the ride, loves this show tune-singing, risk-taking, tattoo-enthusiast version of her friend’s grandma.

Jay wants to stay firmly on task, but Gwen, whose feckless mom, Sherri, has nonetheless put her foot down about tattoos, sees an opening: In her current state (what did the dentist give her, exactly, for a procedure that has no external signs whatsoever?), Kitty will sign the release form allowing this riot grrrl to get some ink. She is also willing to “steal a boat and go to Vegas.”

But Gwen’s tat dreams are thwarted when the woman in front of her in line takes too long. Also, that woman is Kitty, who emerges from the tattoo shop with (pretty cute, TBH) ink of a kitty on her wrist, and then emerges from a post-dental slumber in absolute horror over what her zonked afternoon joyride hath wrought. She briefly attempts to hide the tattoo from Red, but he quickly finds out and blames Jay — who gracefully and maturely accepts responsibility in a way that illustrates why this new Kelso is kinda boring. “Michael Kelso would never have done that,” Kitty points out later, and, look, I’m not making a case for Kelso the Elder as a particularly iconic creation, but I’m also not watching a sequel sitcom to feel good about the way a wan imitation of a buffoonish character is so much nicer than his made-up dad. Red rescinds the Kelso ban, even after catching the kid hiding in Leia’s closet. He also makes up with Sherri, whose daddy issues he activated by blaming her for the tattoo misadventure. What a nice and not particularly funny situation!

Speaking of which: The handful of minutes left over in “Boyfriend Day One” are dedicated to an actual sorta story for Nate and Nikki. Nikki has been spending a lot of time with her SAT tutor — the show is a little ambiguous about how much older the other kids are than Leia — and Nate becomes sight-unseen jealous. Ozzie, using his extensive knowledge of daytime talk shows, convinces Nate that a confrontation or at least some surveillance is in order, so the two of them head down to catch a glimpse of the mysterious Trevor. In a not especially twisty development, the Notre Dame-bound Trevor is … quite handsome! (Is it just me, or have some sitcoms lost the concept of the comic turn?) The only real surprise is just how grown-up he looks, even by the standards of adults playing teenagers. Ozzie is smitten, and Nate is, as Ozzie points out, screwed. Trevor is hot, smart, and not in debt to Nikki over a matter of $70.

After a fantasy sequence outfitting Ozzie in Sally Jesse Raphael glasses in front of a daytime talk show crowd (the only crowd rowdier than the audience at a taping of That ’70s Show), Nate confesses his feelings of inadequacy to Nikki. Apparently, they’re not really jealousy so much as his weakly developed worry that Nikki will leave him behind as she achieves her way out of Point Place. She reassures him of her love while explicitly refusing to make any together-forever promises. While Nate purports to feel better enough for a butt squeeze, he’s clearly a bit shaken by Nikki’s pragmatic swerve over whether a couple of high-school sweethearts are in it for the long haul.

It’s not a bad question to pose on a show where two of the main characters are products of teenage romances that never died out, and it doubles as a signpost of several cultural differences between the ’70s and the ’90s, including the emphasis on higher education. But Nate trying not to become the “let’s bring him out” guy on a talk show over a newly introduced non-character doesn’t feel like an especially expressive way into that grace note. So mostly, we’re left with an episode that wants to be sincere more than it wants to be funny.

• In an episode surprisingly light on shenanigans, there is some good comic acting from Callie Haverda, verbal and physical, in the first scene: Leia’s misguided expressions of pride over cutely holding hands with her new boyfriend, followed by her desperate grip on his hand as Jay gets up to leave, dragging her behind him.

• ’90s reference watch: “There is no fate but what we make for ourselves,” Nikki says, quoting Terminator 2 (as Nate immediately points out). Also, Leia reads the late, lamented Sassy magazine! Sprechen sie “sassy”?

• Anachronism check: So far, the show has done a reasonably good job steering clear of obvious anachronisms, even on a micro level. Some inflections and phrases that slip into the dialogue are much more post-2005 than pre-2000, sure (I swear on a stack of AOL disks that hardly anyone was going “seriously?!” in 1995), but some of that is just the universal language of canned sitcom banter. That said, I’m pretty sure the term “tramp stamp” was not really a thing in ’95, and Freshly Inked agrees! Multiple sources attribute the term to an SNL sketch from May 2004, though searching for that sketch yields a lot of hits for a fake ad about lower-back tattoo removal that doesn’t actually use the term, so it’s hard to tell if this is just one of those received-wisdom things repeated without being fact-checked. In any event: Gotcha, Gwen! It’s fairly unlikely that you would say “tramp stamp”!

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