The past week saw two major debuts of “throwback” themed TV shows; “Night Court” on NBC on Tuesday, and “That ’90s Show” hit Netflix on Tuesday. Having been a fan of both shows, I took some time to compare and contrast the two – and see which might have a future.
Both welcome new members to the cast to bring some dynamics of the show into the present. In “That 90s Show,” Callie Haverda as Leia Forman, Eric and Donna’s 15 year old daughter who wants to spend the summer with her grandparents, Red and Kitty. “Night Court,” meanwhile, welcomes “Big Bang Theory” alum Melissa Rauch as Judge Harry Stone’s daughter, taking the Night Court bench. By having major members of the supporting cast in both shows – Kurtwood Smith and Debra Jo Rupp as The Formans, and John Laroquette back as Dan Fielding – both shows have “the spirit” of the original. “That 90s Show” was PACKED with cameos of the original cast in the first two episode, with Topher Grace, Laura Prepon, Wilmer Valderama, Ashton Kutcher, and Mila Kunis all reprising their original roles. Kutcher and Kunis’ appearance was a perfect surprise.
Meanwhile, “Night Court” weaves in themes of Dan Fielding’s narcisissm into a new cast with relative ease. Since Harry Anderson and Markie Post have both passed, the number of cameos will certainly remain less. But the show definitely brought a few chuckles, especially with a bird infestation.
NBC also reported record ratings for “Night Court’s” Tuesday night debut, with the highest numbers of any comedy on the network in the last five years. (Not that NBC’s comedies over the past five years have been ANYTHING compared to the days of Night Court’s original airings.)
From a personal perspective, I found “Night Court” to be living a bit more in the here and now; the concepts, characters, and ideas seemed like they have long term legs for the series to develop into another substantive hit on television. “That 90s Show,” for me, seemed to be a little bit stuck in between wanting to give Eric and Donna’s daughter Leia her own storyline, and updating all of us with the original series. That will likely evolve as the season goes on (I only made it through the first two episodes to start.)
What’s the long-term prognosis for both? That certainly remains to be seen. But both have the spirit of the originals that fans will love. To survive, they’ll need to carry out their own storylines beyond just nods to the past. That’s in the hands of the writers now.
Having said that, was it nice to see both of them back on TV? Sure was.
And even as another year passes and we enter 2023, one thing is for sure: Throwback TV is here to stay.