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Reviewed by Will Harris
t’s a testament to the consistent quality of “That ‘70s Show” that the series wrapped up its eight-season run in the spring of 2006 with a higher average rating for the year than it had during its inaugural season, but despite staying the course from a Nielsen perspective, all but the most oblivious viewers must’ve known that the end was near when Eric Foreman (Topher Grace) departed for a teaching job in Africa at the end of Season Seven.
It’s a rare sitcom that can survive the loss of one of its major players, but given the formidability of the “’70s” ensemble, they might actually have been able to pull it off, if the early episodes of Season Eight hadn’t found Michael Kelso (Ashton Kutcher) being thrown off the Point Place police force and leaving town in order to take a job as a security officer at a gentleman’s club in Chicago. Granted, it gave Bruce Willis a great guest-starring appearance as Vic, the club’s sleazy owner, but when Kutcher bid the series adieu, the death knell of the show was officially audible to everyone.
Still, “That ‘70s Show” wasn’t willing to go out without a fight. To help give the show a testosterone injection, the Eric/Michael void was quickly filled when Hyde (Danny Masterson) hired Randy Pearson (Josh Meyers, brother to “SNL” star Seth Meyers) to work at the record store. Similarly, Leo (Tommy Chong) shifted to series-regular status. Eric’s departure meant that Donna (Laura Prepon) first had to deal with the horrors of maintaining a long-distance relationship, and when Eric broke up with her by way of a “Dear Donna” letter, she was able to run into the arms of Randy and his beautifully blow-dried hair. Meanwhile, Jackie (Mila Kunis) has given up on Michael, but just as she’s ready to get back together with Hyde, he discovers that, when he was in Las Vegas, he accidentally got drunk and married a stripper. Inevitably, Jackie decides that she’s fallen in love with Fez (Wilmer Valderrama), but he’s too busy courting every other loose woman in Point Place to notice. Elsewhere, Red Foreman (Kurtwood Smith) is learning to live with retirement, while Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp) is battling through her son’s absence and trying to deny that his relationship with Donna is over for good.
In addition to these ongoing plot threads, there are some enjoyable one-off episodes, most of which revolve around well-utilized guest appearances. Barry Williams and Christopher Knight (a.k.a. Greg and Peter from “The Brady Bunch”) have fun playing a gay couple, especially when one of them delivers the line, “Would you believe some people think we’re brothers?” Tom Bosley turns up as a therapist, Don Knotts makes his final television appearance, playing a Mr. Furley-inspired landlord when Fez imagines his life as a cheesy sitcom, while Gavin McLeod, Dick Van Patten, and Steve Landesberg all pop up as some of Red’s buddies. Mary Tyler Moore even shows up for a three-episode stint as a complete bitch of a TV newswoman, and the writers took full advantage of the fact that McLeod also appeared in one of those episodes, teaming them for the closing-credit sequence. She yells at him, and he storms off, saying that he’s quitting and going to buy a boat, adding, “I love boats.”
Appropriately, the final episode ends on “That ‘70s Show” ends on Dec. 31, 1979, at 11:59:59 p.m., cutting to the shot of that familiar Wisconsin license plate before we ever see the ‘80s begin. It’s a merciful conclusion for those of us who have already suffered through those few episodes of the short-lived “That ‘80s Show,” but it’s a thoughtful finale, with both Grace and Kutcher making room in their schedules to reprise their respective roles one last time. (Perhaps not coincidentally, Meyers is almost completely MIA from the episode.) It’s as happy an ending as can be managed, with the Foremans abandoning their plan to move and deciding to stay in Point Place, Jackie and Fez finally getting together, Hyde’s dad giving him the record store, and, although it’s not 100 percent confirmed, we’re given the impression that Eric and Donna are probably going to get back together. Hooray!
Given the loss of such major cast members, Season Eight of “That ‘70s Show” was never going to be up to par with earlier seasons of the show, but give the producers their due: they did a more than acceptable job of keeping things entertaining until the series crossed the finish line.
Special Features: The stars of the show can’t be bothered to show up to do commentaries anymore, but thank goodness for David Trainer, who directed every single episode of the series, and doesn’t mind talking about a few of them from Season Eight. Trainer also offers up a backstage tour of the set for a featurette, and although they didn’t do commentary, the various cast members did sit down for new interviews during the final week of shooting on the show. Additionally, Chong and Meyers score individual segments to chat about their respective characters.