That Retro Show: The Return of Velma, Willow and ‘Hanging Out’ in the Basement
Streaming services, cable TV and Primetime television are fighting for your viewership now more than ever. UNBINGED is here to help you weed through it all, with reviews of the latest shows that highlight what we love, what we hate and what we love to hate-watch, too. As a new year of entertainment gets underway, TV is once again looking back. Revamps, rehashes, and remakes are nothing new, of course. When done right, they’re an easy win for networks, streaming services and the audience. But if done wrong, they become the ire of fans who feel like their memories have been toyed with, and they have no qualms sharing these feelings on social media. This month, we review That 90’s Show, Velma and Willow, a trio of shows that have had their moments as a trending topics for bringing back classic characters with very mixed results.
That ’90s Show (Netflix)
Back for more 420 humor, bedroom rock posters of yore and 30-year-old pop culture references, That (change decade here) Show returns to the fictional suburb of Point Place, Wisconsin where the Foreman family’s basement is once again crawling with stoned teens looking for something to do, now some 20 after their parents did it.
The follow-up series to That 70’s Show follows the exploits of Leia Foreman (Callie Haverda), daughter of Eric and Donna, as she spends the summer with her grandparents Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp) and Red (Kurtwood Smith). She quickly gathers a group of confidants that include Gwen (Ashley Aufderheide), Ozzie (Reyn Doi), couple Nikki (Sam Morelos) and Nate (Maxwell Acee Donovan), and even a Kelso of her very own (Mace Coronel). Soon enough, they are going to raves, wearing flannels, and doing all the things writers born in 1989 think 90’s kids did.
Most of the gags come from fatigued retro references– one after another after another. Yeah, the original show followed much of the same format, but there was a hilarity in the writing and delivery that’s notably lacking here. Maybe it’s because ’70s wasn’t aiming for a family-friendly audience the way this Netflix series seems to be. In the original series, the writing took more risks, so the banter felt less forced.
Though lacking the sharp wit of the original, this one is still a fun binge, mostly due to the efforts of the original cast. It’s nice to catch up with most of the gang again. Seeing Eric (Topher Grace) and Donna (Laura Prepon) married with child, Kelso (Ashton Kutcher) and Jackie (Mila Kunis) become bickering yuppie scum, and Fez and Leo (Tommy Chong) are still doing their thang, will take fans to a happy place. And Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp) and Red (Kurtwood Smith) steal the show, reprising the chemistry and quirks of old, and keeping things interesting even when the grandkids’ storylines get tedious.
At times, That ’90s Show is reminiscent of a Disney+ series. It doesn’t live up to the standards of its predecessor, but the PG-rated antics might be amusing to younger audiences, unaware of the salacious humor its forebear did so well. Fans of the original will want to tune in to see what happened to old friends, and the answer is simple: they grew up. By the way so did we– don’t be surprised to find yourself relating a bit too much to ol’ Red’s point of view about the kids these days. That’s scary.
Velma (HBO Max)
Velma is yet another update to the Scooby-Doo gang, only this time sans the talking Great Dane, the Mystery Machine, or anything remotely charming, interesting, or humorous about it. In the 70’s cartoon’s place, we are left with a mean-spirited, deplorable attempt to modernize a beloved property for an adult audience that fails on every level.
There are porn parodies featuring the Scooby Gang that are funnier than Velma. There are inadvertent cellphone videos inside of purses and pockets that are funnier than Velma. There are traffic accident videos that are funnier than Velma. Yes, the only thing actually comical about Velma is that someone thought it would be enjoyed by others.
When a serial killer runs amok thru Crystal Cove High School, Velma (voiced by exec producer Mindy Kaling) must prove her innocence against incompetent cops, accusations by former bestie Daphne (Constance Wu) and Daph’s boytoy, highbrow snob Fred (Glenn Howerton). Unlike early remakes of Scooby-Doo which kept the crux of the characters intact, Velma completely eradicates everything familiar and endearing about the Scooby Gang. Brilliant Velma is now an oversexed basket case, Daphne is a drug-dealing mean girl, Fred is a teenage manbaby, and Norville (the “new and improved” Shaggy) borders on incel mentality.
Velma begs the question: who is this for? The answer is no one. This is for no one. It isn’t for Scooby-Doo fans (who wants to see their Saturday morning superstars broken down into lecherous assholes?) It’s not for animation fans, as the style is a lazy man’s version of the classic cartoons that once flooded Nickelodeon and Disney Channel in the early aughts. If the gratuitous sex jokes (involving minors, no less) and violence don’t keep the kids away, the atrocious writing will definitely keep grown-ups at a distance.
Poking fun at cherished characters and their tropes, the show fails so spectacularly hard that it is difficult to watch. Thanks to the craven actions of all its characters, there is nothing appealing about Velma for fans of Scooby or otherwise. It’s an empty shell of a farce that’s not clever or engrossing. Just gross. How Kaling thought she could get away with a remake minus the sleuthing, silliness, ghouls and “meddling kids” that made it a joy really is a mystery.
Disney once again attempts to capture the hearts and minds of 80’s kids looking to relive their childhood by capitalizing on a title that gives ‘em the warm fuzzies. It worked with Mandalorian and Hocus Pocus, but sadly, with Willow the magic is lacking.
Originally directed by Ron Howard and starring Warwick Davis, Val Kilmer, and Joanne Whalley, Willow was the story of a powerful wizard who attempted to save his world by rescuing its savior, a baby named Elora Danan. Though it’s remembered fondly by some, Willow didn’t leave a big impact on pop culture. It lacked the kind of poignant moments and humorous references that people like to relive on Twitter these days. There were no moments of Artax sinking in the swamp to rally behind.
Howard’s films were never edgy enough to create long-lasting childhood trauma or inspirations, unless you count Cocoon. Regardless, the film was sort of sweet, and it found a fanbase over the years. The new version bears little resemblance to the film beyond the general aesthetic and a handful of characters, and that doesn’t help matters.
Evil forces have kidnapped Queen Sorsha’s (Whalley) son, Airk (Dempsey Bryk) and it’s up to his sister Kit (Ruby Cruz) and her ragtag group of misfits (Erin Kellyman, Tony Revolori, Amar Chadha-Patel), including a grown up Elora (Ellie Bamber), to get him back. They go on a journey, fight evil, encounter old friends, and meet new foes.
Much of the story and the characters within it are a jumbled mess of ancient lore and modern themes with a tone that can only be described as chaotic. Little of this world makes any sense. Though the story itself is somewhat sound in its structure, the dialogue is often dreadful with jarring tonal shifts. Some actors speak in a modern dialect while others seem to have gotten different production notes. Meanwhile, characters use little logic in their decision making process and magic itself seems to come and go regardless of experience or ability.
Willow’s fantasy realm is filled with disproportionate contemporary sensibilities and inconsistent rules, and its Spotify ’80s hits playlist only makes things matters worse. Ultimately, the heart of the original movie is missing, which wasn’t strong enough to give it lasting appeal to begin with.
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