That '70s Show

That ‘90s Show Needs To Avoid That ‘70s Show’s Timeline Mistake

That '70s Show has a notoriously confusing timeline, so while That '90s Show has similar constraints, it can't repeat the original's inconsistencies.

That ‘70s Show has a notably confusing timeline that That ‘90s Show needs to avoid repeating. Although That ‘70s Show’s timeline began in May 1976 and ended on New Year’s Eve 1979, the eight seasons’ time didn’t pass in an easy-to-follow direction. From various character inconsistencies to repeated events, That ‘70s Show’s confusing timeline became increasingly difficult to pinpoint as the sitcom progressed. With That ‘90s Show now being confined to the same circumstances of a short in-universe timeline, the sequel series must make it a priority to maintain a more consistent chronology.

That ‘90s Show picks up in the summer of 1995, a little over 15 years after That ‘70s Show’s timeline came to a close with the screen going to black as the clock struck midnight and a new decade began. Rather than an indirect spinoff like the canceled TV series That ‘80s Show, Netflix’s upcoming That ‘90s Show brings back old characters while paving the way for a new generation of Point Place teenagers exploring sex, drugs, and rock & roll. The synopsis of the series reveals that Eric and Donna’s teenage daughter, Leia, is staying with her grandparents Red (Kurtwood Smith) and Kitty Forman (Debra Jo Rupp) for the summer, which means reusing the Formans’ basement for That ‘90s Show’s teenage hangout spot.

While That ‘70s Show’s timeline has skipped over the 1980s, there’s a lot of ground to be covered in That ‘90s Show’s new decade. In both cases, the sitcoms begin a little over halfway through the decade, meaning the new cultural shifts and moods of the decade have already been well-established by the time the Forman-centric stories begin. However, while That ‘90s Show will be eager to cover some of the most infamous events of the 1990s within its series, it must avoid a frequent issue that the original ran into in terms of spacing out its chronology. That ‘70s Show is known for having an incredibly confusing timeline for the three-and-a-half year span of the era it covers, so That ‘90s Show’s challenge will be to avoid repeating these same mistakes.

That ‘70s Show’s Timeline Is Way Too Confusing

Although most series that extend multiple seasons enter issues with inconsistencies in their timelines, That ‘70s Show was under different circumstances by virtue of being confined to the years 1976 to 1979. While a four-season series could have covered the events with a realistic chronology, the show earned a respectable eight seasons, meaning the passing of time became quite muddled. In the larger picture, one year in That ‘70s Show’s timeline passes over two seasons, but this isn’t quite what makes the timeline confusing. For starters, the second episode of That ‘70s Show season 1 sees Eric Forman turn 17 in May 1976, but he doesn’t turn 18 until season 6 in 1978.

Additionally, every one year of the show saw two of the same holidays pass – That ‘70s Show featured five Christmas-themed episodes even though only four Decembers would have passed during the timeline. That ‘70s Show’s timeline also features in-universe errors in terms of the characters referencing how much time has passed, such as Eric mentioning in season 2 that it’s been a year since he and Donna first kissed, which took place in the pilot. To make it worse, That ’70s Show aired episodes out-of-order on multiple occasions, which only exacerbated its timeline mistakes. After years of having such a muddled chronology, That ‘70s Show began operating on a floating timeline, with fewer references to time passing toward the end of the series.

Why That ‘70s Show’s Timeline Is So Muddled

The most glaring inconsistencies for the original series’ confusing timeline come from the multiple That ’70s Show Halloween and Christmas episodes, which were largely included for fan enjoyment at home. Broadcasting weekly on cable, the airing of That ‘70s Show’s episodes often correlated with real-world holidays, so the sitcom would take advantage of these events by introducing holiday-themed installments every year, even if they didn’t make sense within the show’s timeline. While season 2’s Halloween episode aired in October 1999 and season 3’s aired in October 2000, both were set in October 1977 for That ‘70s Show. The series also may have underestimated exactly how popular it would be. After only 12 episodes into season 1, the series’ timeline transitioned from 1976 to 1977, leaving it with much less time to cover for the remainder of the series. As That ‘70s Show‘s seasons continued to be renewed, the timeline had to be adjusted to pass more slowly in order to extend the coverage of the 1970s for as long as possible.

That ‘90s Show’s Can’t Repeat That ‘70s’ Timeline Issues

That ‘90s Show is already in a position in which it must explain various timeline confusions since That ‘70s Show ended. With Leia apparently being a high schooler at the start of That ‘90s Show in the summer of 1995, it seems that Donna became pregnant almost immediately after Eric returned home on New Year’s Eve 1979 in the series finale. The original show’s timeline already makes fairly little sense with how many events occurred over such a short period of time, so at least That ‘90s Show has a 15-year gap to explain the many changes for That 70‘s Show‘s returning characters. That said, in moving forward with another tightly-confined timeline, That ’90s Show must take special care to amend the original’s problems by seeing a simpler progression of time.

Considering the series is based on covering the progression of the culture within a specific era, time is just as important a concept for That ‘90s Show as it was for That ‘70s Show. As such, the sequel series should take even more caution to accurately portray its chronology of events and cultural shifts of the late 1990s. Since the original show’s confusing timeline still gives many viewers grief today, That ‘90s Show can easily amend its mistakes by continuing to depict a few years’ time over the course of several seasons, but making sure to do so in better chronological order than That ’70s Show. While a muddled timeline doesn’t necessarily make or break a series, sitcoms like That ’70s Show and That ’90s Show that are specifically constrained by their timelines must make their chronology a priority.

That ‘90s Show Already Avoids The Original’s Biggest Timeline Errors

The synopsis for That ‘90s Show already puts it in a better position than the original for a more accurately depicted timeline. Since the series stipulates that it covers Leia staying with Red and Kitty for the summer, That ‘90s Show season 1 will likely only depict three months’ time, which means it will be able to draw out an entire seasons’ worth of drama without rushing a years’ worth of its timeline prematurely. Additionally, That ‘90s Show‘s decade coverage is already set up to be more extensive by beginning in the summer of 1995, which means there are still four years left in the show’s timeline to depict in future seasons.

Considering the multiple episodes of the same holiday within one in-universe year became the biggest culprit for That ‘70s Show’s timeline confusions, That ‘90s Show is already in an advantageous position to learn from such mistakes. By virtue of being a Netflix streaming show in which the seasons’ episodes drop at once, That ‘90s Show isn’t tied to the real-world timeline’s progressions of holidays when airing. As such, it doesn’t need to cater to the real world’s timeline in order to benefit from holiday-themed viewing in the same way that the original did. While an Independence Day celebration may be in order for Kitty and Red during That ‘90s Show’s summer setting, the creators don’t also need to include the complications of Halloween and Christmas to jumble the timeline. That said, That ‘90s Show doesn’t need to only cover one year of the 1990s per season – i.e., season 2 doesn’t have to pick up in 1996 – it just needs to maintain a consistent in-universe timeline that isn’t muddled by the same continuity errors of That ‘70s Show.

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