A Look Back On The Kids Are Alright (1998-2005)
From Ira Members for Nostalgia Monthly Digital, August 2019
Guest post by @MNM041 with assistance from Mr. Harris Syed, @Plateosaurus, @ajm8888 and @TheMolluskLingers
This but more of a dramedy
Set in the mood ring and polyester decade known as the 1970s, The Kids Are Alright
is a retro-hip dramedy about an eclectic group of friends on the verge of adulthood “The Circle”. The group lives in the suburbs of Wisconsin, where they yearn for independence amid the growing pains of becoming adults in an increasingly crazy world. The show was created by the Turner siblings (no relation to Ted Turner) and Mark Brazill and the show's title of course comes from The Kids Are Alright
by The Who, which is also played in a couple of episodes by the characters in-universe. The series began as a spec script for a sitcom, but was retooled later due to the success of Roseanne Barr's series Blue Collar. The show would premiere on the Paramount-Fox Network (PFN) on August 23, 1998 and became famous for addressing social issues of the 1970s such as the changing sexual attitudes, generational conflicts, the economic hardships of the recession, mistrust of the American government, and underage drinking/teenage drug use. The series also highlighted developments in fashion trends, the entertainment industry, including the television remote ("the clicker"), reruns of ‘50s shows, VCR, and cable TV; classic video games Pong and Space Invaders; the cassette tape and Disco; MAD Magazine
; and Eric's obsession with Star Wars
. The show has sometimes been compared to a more serious version of Happy Days
, which was similarly set 20 years before the time in which it aired.
The show was very much one about the disillusionment of the youth of America, with main characters who were all old enough to recognize the problems plaguing the country and the world, but too young to really do anything about it. The main cast all dealt with this disillusionment, all trying to make the most of the hand they were given, all while the kids must watch as the world they'll one day inherit gets crazier and crazier. This results in the kids partaking in any act of youthful rebellion they can think of from drugs and raucous parties to sneaking out to attend concerts (with bands like The Clash and The Dead Kennedys getting particular mentions). The show also got surprisingly political at times, being set against the backdrop of Vietnam War protests and the Watergate scandal, and bringing various social subjects from the time seemingly wanting to highlight how little has changed and that in some cases, what has changed isn't enough.
The Kids Are Alright
starred Topher Grace as Eric Greensboro, Lisa Robin Kelly as Laurie Hartman, Mila Kunis as Jackie Burkhart, Ashton Kutcher as Michael Kelso, Wilmer Valderrama as Fez, Laura Prepon as Donna Pinciotti, Amy Dumas as Marcy Pearson and James Van Der Beek as Steven Hyde, with Debra Jo Rupp, Kurtwood Smith, Don Stark, Tanya Roberts and Russell Means, as Kitty Greensboro, Richard "Reef" Greensboro, Midge Pinciotti, Bob Pinciotti and Theo Chingkwake respectively. Despite the presence of the adults, the show’s main focus was on the teenagers who were part of “The Circle”.
Among the members of “The Circle”, Eric was very much the audience surrogate in the early days, a trait that did remain throughout, though his dorkier traits were infused in order to make him feel distinct from the rest of the group. Eric is a nice person, physically slight and somewhat clumsy. He has a fast wit with a very deadpan sense of humor. He is best friends with Steven Hyde, a rebellious anti-establishment type from a severely broken home who uses humor to cope with the trauma of his life. Then there was Laurie, Eric's often manipulative and dishonest twin sister, who enjoys tormenting Eric and manipulating her parents, his neighbor and his would-be love interest Donna, who is tall, intelligent, good-looking and athletic, with everything going for her in life. After Eric and Hyde, there was Jackie who was the youngest member of the group and starts the series as the pretty, spoiled rich, selfish, oftentimes annoying immature girl. She likes to give seemingly thoughtless and superficial advice, which occasionally turns out to be correct. Then there was Kelso, who is introduced as the dumb pretty boy of the group, who seemingly hopes to coast through life on his good looks, but is revealed to have hidden depths to him like everyone else in the cast. Then there is Fez, a Latin-accented foreign exchange student who throughout the series is working various odd jobs (including occasionally selling weed in season one) between classes so he could send money back home to his family. By his own admission, he was hoping to achieve his own American dream when he first came, and "quickly realized I wasn't white enough." And out of everyone in The Circle, Marcy was the most outspoken activist amongst the group, even more anti-authority than Hyde as she would frequently discuss controversial topics much to the bemusement and occasional discomfort of her friends. While Marcy was initially written as a generic drug dealer, when it was decided that the showrunners wanted to do more with her, she quickly became a social activist. Funnily enough, as the drug dealer aspects were phased out of Marcy and Fez, it became a running joke that they were the only two in the group that didn't smoke. All in all, each member of The Circle had their inner demons and unique quirks in spite of these demons.
As for the adults, the two that had the most focus were "Reef" Greensboro, a deeply conservative Navy combat veteran, who served in World War II and the Korean War and his wife Kitty. Reef is frequently hard on Eric and casually insults him, often calling him “dumbass”. Despite his mean exterior, Reef also displays a soft side. His hobbies include working with his power tools, drinking beer (not that he’ll refrain if asked), watching television, reading the newspaper, hunting and fishing. Kitty is a cheerful, doting mother, but can also be assertive when pushed. A nurse by profession, she drinks heavily and is a former smoker who suffers major mood swings. There were also Donna's parents Midge and Bob, the former being a dissatisfied housewife and the latter who is a self-described “veteran of foreign wars". Midge and Bob’s marriage would slowly dissolve over the course of the show. On the lighter side, there was Theo, a hippie and the owner of a Foto Hut at which Hyde once worked. Theo is an Army veteran who served in World War II, where he was awarded a Purple Heart. Despite polar opposite personalities, Reef and Theo always tended to be respectful of each other due to the fact that they both served in the same conflict.
When the show originally began, the main friend group weren't really friends, they were just classmates who saw each other a lot, in some cases more than they'd like. Hell, Eric only meets Marcy because his parents were worried about her hanging out with his sister, thinking she was a drug dealer. Their only real connection is a shared anxiety over their rapidly approaching maturity as the world their generation was about to inherit seemed to stop making sense. Over time, The Circle would develop genuine bonds with each other which eventually got to the point where they would frequently meet and participate in leisurely activities when they weren’t in school. A lot of times, this meant smoking pot though The Circle would do plenty of other activities.
The core dynamic of The Circle shifted and changed a lot from the initial drafts of the show. For example, Marcy was really supposed to just be in the pilot, but producers really liked the performance of Amy Dumas, who was initially brought on as stuntwoman for scenes involving characters falling off the water tower, and the creators decided to expand upon her character, leading her to continue playing Marcy for the series’ entire run. Much of the group’s dynamic came about in a similar manner with a lot of trial and error in the first and second seasons before “The Circle” really became what we all know and love. Once it got there, the show really came into its own with the chemistry between the group being cited as part of the reason the show worked as well as it did.
Despite the sometimes drug fueled antics of the show, the behind the scenes was surprisingly free of actual drugs, as the series began around the time the entertainment industry was in the midst of cleaning up it's act after some high-profile actors successfully gave up on drugs after some brief brushes with death and their subsequent recoveries such as River Phoenix and Chris Farley (of which Farley would later make an appearance on the show towards the end, playing Hyde's father).
The cast of the show frequently joked about the fact that, with the exception of Mila Kunis (who lied about her age to get cast), none of them had any business playing high school students. Lisa Robin Kelly in particular joking, "There were scenes where we'd be standing next to Mila or even just a random high school aged extra, and I swear we look like we're the teachers going through a midlife crisis."
The show was aided by the very natural chemistry the cast had with each other, with the eight actors playing the main characters
One of the most iconic things in the show was Eric’s “Aztec Gold” 1969 Plymouth Fury. Many of the show's episodes featured Eric and the rest of the kids in or around the Plymouth Fury, handed down to Eric by Reef. For the majority of the show, the show's introduction showed the cast inside the Plymouth Fury. The particular car was bought by Wilmer Valderrama at the show's conclusion from Carsey-Werner for "no more than" $700 US Dollars. In June 2007, the show's Plymouth Fury was named second-greatest television car ever by MSN Autos.
In one of the show's major running gags, Reef often threatens to punish Eric with many variations of the catchphrase, "Shove it up your ass" or more generally "Shoving *whatever* up your ass." For example, in "Kitty and Eric's Night Out", Reef mistakenly thinks Eric offended Kitty, so Reef says, "Shove your car up your ass!" In "Neighborly Love", Eric tries to get out of something by claiming he's sleepwalking and Reef says, "And I'm about to be sleep-shoving nyquil yp your ass", and, in "Prank Day", Eric tries to explain away a prank gone "horribly, horribly wrong" Reef says, "Well, I have a prank, too. One where my fist doesn't plow up your ass. Let's hope it doesn't go horribly, horribly wrong!" Several of the running gags were shown in edited clips for the series finale. To a lesser extent, Reef would be accused of being related to narcotics despite being vehemently anti-drugs, right down his nickname is very similar to Reefer and his surname invokes the color of it (“The reef is of the coral kind, Einstein!”). There was also Reef's tendency to call Eric a dumbass though in a reference to the famous 1970s sitcom Sanford and Son
, Reef would try to censor himself by saying "dummy" instead if he and Eric were around someone Reef wasn't comfortable with swearing around (young children, clergymen, etc). This joke reached its logical endpoint in the show's final season by having a character played by Sanford and Son
star Demond Wilson call Eric a dumbass.
The show also included other notable running gags and catchphrases throughout much of its run. For instance, Fez's country of origin remained a mystery. Sometimes, Fez is about to disclose where he is from, or at least hint at it, but something happens to prevent him from doing so, like someone entering the room as seen in "Stolen Car", or simply because Fez is rambling like in "Love of My Life". Later on in the series, he jokes, "What differences does it make, most of the people in this town couldn't even find it on a map." Eventually, the finale reveals he's from Venezuela, which is also where his actor Wilmer Valderrama is from. Similarly, Fez's real name also was not revealed for the longest time. Even Fez just stood for F.E.S., Foreign Exchange Student. Reef often calls Fez by some exotic foreign names when he is speaking directly to him, including Tarzan a few times. Though in the finale, we eventually learn that his name is Carlos Madrigal. Both of these revelations come courtesy of Marcy, who is revealed to be the only one out of the group that knew either of these facts, much to her confusion. Another was someone, usually Kelso, falls off the Water Tower, yet somehow always ends up being fine. A few episodes instead had another person besides Kelso being flung up instead. For Marcy, her constant social activism is also a notable recurring bit, with her seemingly hyper fixating on whatever issue the writers could come up with. Marcy along with Fez were both often suspected of carrying drugs on them, despite the fact that they are actually the only characters out of the main group who are never shown doing any. Funnily enough, Reef never once suspected either of them, save for once during the pilot with Marcy. Reef also never suspected Laurie of it, though more often than not, she actually would have some kind of drugs on her, typically pot. Last but definitely not the least was Eric's attempted "secret" money stash locations are known by everyone, such as the CandyLand box, as famously, the cast started trying to get each other to break character by sneaking unexpected items into these places.
Naturally, drugs played a large role in a lot of episodes given the time period the show is set, with themes of addiction and using drugs to escape reality being present throughout. Be it pot, heroin or even just the bottle, many of the characters had vices and a lot of the time, it was something destructive and it wasn’t easy overcoming them as they needed help. Even older characters like Red or Theo often need something to help get them through the day when life is perpetually beating down on them. That said, most of the characters were able to overcome their vices in the final season even if they didn’t always make it in one piece.
Over the course of its run, the series was a consistent performer for PFN, becoming one of their signature shows along with Final Girl: The Series
, No Worries
, The X-Files
, Salem Falls
, Star Trek: Envoy
, and Lysia of Amazonia
. Its eight seasons, consisting of 200 episodes spanning from 1998 to 2005, made it PFN’s longest running live-action comedy ever surpassing Honey, I’m Home!
. That said, it didn't have the same ratings success, and was nearly cancelled; nonetheless, it enjoyed favorable critical reviews and a small but dedicated fanbase that kept the show on the air. Aside from PFN, The Kids Are Alright
would also air on the teen-oriented Vixx given the cast and target demographics starting with the third season, after which it slowly became one of the most watched shows on that network.
This but actually good
The Kids Are Alright was successful enough to warrant both a spin-off and a British remake. The British remake, titled Days Like These
, would air on ITV in 1999 and used many of the same names (Eric and Kitty Greensboro), or slight alterations (Donna Palmer instead of Donna Pinciotti, Jackie Burget instead of Jackie Burkhart, etc.). The show would star Max Wrottesley as Eric, Rhona Mitra as Donna, Harry Peacock as Steven Jones, James Cartlon as Michael McGuire, Emma Pierson as Jackie Burget, Jamie Beck as Torbjørn Rasmussen (Fez), Olivia Hussey as Kitty Greensboro, Tim Curry as Ron Greensboro, Amanda Abbington as Laura Greensboro, Sara Sockbridge as Midge Palmer and Steve Seen as Bob Palmer. While the series initially started out simply remaking episodes of the mother show, it would eventually find its own footing and went off in a completely new direction separate from The Kids Are Alright
, lasting until 2003, all the while exploring the lives of youth in 1970s Britain.
This but actually something of quality.
Of course, you can’t talk about The Kids Are Alright without mentioning the sequel series set in the 1980s, Don't You Want Me?
 which ran for five seasons from 2003 to 2007. The series was greenlit shortly after the resounding success of the first three seasons of The Kids Are Alright
. While focusing on a different cast, Don’t You Want Me
frequently called back to its predecessor in many ways such as references to specific characters or events from that show. Centering around the employees of a record shop owned by Hyde, the show satirized the Reagan-dominated ‘80s, while the characters from the parent show take on the roles of the adults. Many elements from its parent show would end up being carried over into Don't You Want Me? sometimes with new twists being added.
The new cast included struggling musician Corey Howard (Glenn Howerton), his valley girl environmentalist sister Katie (Tinsley Grimes), punk rocker June Tuesday (Chyler Leigh), Corey's best friend and wannabe yuppie Roger Park (Eddie Shin), Corey's bisexual ex-girlfriend Sophia Bates (Brittany Daniel), Canadian foreign exchange student Owen Milligan (Joshua Jackson) and former farm girl, Annie Lewis (Patricia Stratigeas). Aside from the principal cast, the show had guest appearances from other actors in minor or small but crucial roles ranging from a single episode to an entire arc such as Rob McElhenney, Thuy Trang, Michael K. Williams, Mark Ralston, Tom Franco, Jason David Frank, Brittany Murphy, Keith Szarabaijka, Morgan Fairchild, Vanessa Johansson and D.C. Douglas.
While the showrunners admit that Don’t You Want Me initially had trouble finding its footing, it was able to find a voice that, while distinct, still appealed to fans of The Kids Are Alright. For instance, Hyde ends up becoming something of a surrogate big brother figure to Corey, often trying to help him with advice that would probably go better if it was ever interpreted the right way, and other characters from The Kids Are Alright would make guest appearances every so often. It also similarly touched on issues related to the 1980s, such as the AIDS epidemic, the effects and fallout of Reaganomics, the War On Drugs, and anti-Asian racism, especially Japan bashing (addressed through Roger Park, who is frequently mistaken as Japanese). It would also receive praise from the LGBTQ community for its representation, particularly with the characters of Sophia (and later Katie, as the two would end up getting together by the third season). Famously, Don't You Want Me? was one of the first large-scale works to appeal to 80’s nostalgia, a major trend of the 2000s and 2010s However, Don't You Want Me?
stood in contrast to it's parent show, at first seeming to revel in a rose-tinted view of the 1980s, only for the show to slowly peak back the layers of problems that were prevalent during that decade, with the disillusionment much of the main cast goes through being a driving force for much of their development later on in the show.
On a final note, the network considered adding a final series set in the 90’s and focusing on Eric’s family, tentatively titled Smells Like Teen Spirit
after the Nirvana song. However, the creators of the show turned down such a work, feeling the whole franchise had run its course and it was too recent, and was canceled. However, insider rumors are spreading that at the very least the concept of a 90’s-set series much like it is in the pipeline. Some have speculated it will be the basis for a reunion special between the shows for direct viewing, but neither idea has been confirmed. Humorously, when rumors of this leaked, WB’s sketch series The MAD Show
would create a sketch where the franchise continued on into the present and into the then future of the 2010’s, creating a universe-shattering paradox.
The Kids Are Alright and many of the shows that came from it have enjoyed an enduring fanbase over the years, mostly due to its memorable characters and clever writing, as well as their commentary on the decades that they take place in, with many glad that the shows managed to end on high notes. Both thoughtful critiques and loving celebrations of all things related to those decades, the shows ironically became timelines by dating themselves.
It was one of the shows which looked at the traditional sitcom families and the conventions associated with them, and flipped them on their head, while also exploring ups and downs of the '70s and '80s. The Kids Are Alright
epitomized the belief that you're not cursed to make the same mistakes as the people who came before you and that you're not alone in feeling like you don't know your place in the world, and that no matter how screwed up the world feels, you still have the choice of what you wanna do with yourself, and how you deal with what the world throws at you. To this very day, many people who grew up in the ‘90s cite The Kids Are Alright as one of their favorite shows of all time and its messages still resonate over 20 years after its premiere on PFN.
 The show was called its OTL title because test audiences kept calling it That 70’s Show
and the creators liked how it sounded (not to mention avoiding any licensing fees). Here, the creators are able to license the name of a popular song from the seventies like they originally intended.
 Aside from the fact that her character's surname is different like her family, her character is noticeably aged down, as Lisa Robin Kelly is part of the main ensemble since Laurie is the seventh teenager here (which was the original intent IOTL) and her miscarriage is butterflied, as the specifics that led to that pregnancy likely didn't happen, which means her later issues and eventual death will not happen. Laurie being part of the main ensemble also means that Kelly will not leave the show after the third season and won’t be replaced by Christina Moore.
 Most people who have heard of her probably know her as Lita. Since WWF went under, she ended up going into acting instead. Additionally, Amy’s Marcy is an original-to-TTL character that shares her surname with OTL’s Randy Pearson who doesn’t exist. Similar to Randy, Marcy shares superficial qualities with various people in the group.
 Due to the Anita Hill case, Danny Masterson's career doesn't take off since he commits sexual assault against three women a decade early, and here James Van Der Beek, who never played Dawson Leery of Dawson's Creek
because the show was butterflied, plays Hyde instead. As a result, The Kids Are Alright
ends up being his big break.
 Leo/Theo is played by a different actor and is also made a Lakota Native American. While still a hippie/stoner character those tendencies are largely toned down with the character nowhere near as dumb.
 This happened in real life too, and I just figured it could still happen since a lot of the same people are involved behind the scenes.
 Eric’s car was the Plymouth Cruiser but it’s changed to a Plymouth Fury
due to production butterflies.
 This episode was called Eric's Hot Cousin
in OTL and the lead author fior this post changed it for two reasons. 1. This episode and similar episodes of other shows, don't feel like something like that would fly in post Anita Hill America. 2. I hate that weird trope with absolute burning passion.
 The Kids Are Alright
’s OTL counterpart That 70s Show had the home country of Fez kept a complete mystery. This is not the case here with Fez revealed to be Venezuelan just like his actor.
 In OTL, this was the name of Wilmer Valderrama's character in From Dusk Till Dawn: The Series
 Think of the character of Marcy being somewhat akin to Britta from Community, except it doesn't become a running joke that she's the worst.
 Slight retcon to the "As If!" post courtesy of its co-author: "No Worries is actually the second highest rated show on PFN behind only Final Girl
since the mention of Tank Girl
(the animated show) was back when this show was meant to be on Vixx before it was changed mid-development”.
 Aside from the show being a success ITTL, the cast is slightly different as well such as different actors and an analogue to Laura Greensboro.
 OTL’s version of DLT was not very good and only lasted one season (or series as the Brits call them).
 IOTL, That 80’s Show
was an infamous failure, one that felt completely divorced from what it was supposed to be a spin-off of. Here, the writing is notably better, it's better connected to its parent show, and the 80s setting isn't just used as a gimmick (a major flaw of OTL’s T80S), which ends up helping the show in the long run and it gets more seasons.
 Since Dawson’s Creek
never existed due to the failure of Killing Mrs. Tingle, Joshua Jackson gets a different breakout role in this show much like his co-star Van Der Beek.
 You probably know her better as Trish Stratus but since the WWF collapsed prior to her debut, like Amy Dumas, she goes into acting by starting off as a fitness model before she is discovered by a talent agent who convinces her to enter show business and nabs some bit parts in some films or television shows before being cast as Annie Lewis.
 IOTL, Tom has acted in films and TV shows but never became as prominent as his brothers James and Dave, being mostly known as the curator of an art gallery in Berkeley, California. Here, he will become more well known in acting circles as he'll appear in more notable films and TV shows though as more of a Poor Man's Substitute
to Dave and James (in that order ITTL) and a character actor rather than a bankable leading man, at least initially.
 Rest in peace, Green Ranger. ITTL, his appearances here lead Jason David Frank to get a big break that leads to him getting bigger roles.
 Since No Worries received a reunion special movie in 2015 titled No Worries: All Grown Up, Murphy will not have a drug overdose and live long enough to participate in this movie along with the rest of the cast since her OTL death is well into the Fiction Zone.
 Scarlett Johansson’s older sister who does films almost nobody but the most curious has ever heard of and is nowhere near as famous as her. ITTL, she was cast as Sabe in Star Wars Episode I: A Darkness Rising
because of her connections to her younger siblings as Vanessa went into acting much sooner after learning Scarlett would audition for Annie, leading her to nab supporting/bit parts before A Darkness Rising
, making her better known than just “Scarlett Johansson’s older sibling”.
 Because Don’t You Want Me
lasted longer and was more successful than That 80s Show
, the show’s writers will create original-to-TTL characters.
 That said, 80’s nostalgia will not be the defining nostalgic decade for the latter era. Stay tuned for what is.
 Much like this hilarious sketch about VH1 from OTL’s equivalent of The MAD Show, MADTv.
MADtv - VH1's I Love the 00's (Parody)
 Since Don’t You Want Me?
and Days Like These
were actually good, those shows naturally get better endings than OTL, and Topher Grace doesn’t end up leaving The Kids Are Alright
, thus meaning that the changes that resulted in a bad finale season are butterflied.
Back in after being taken down, much different the the previois one. This good, @Geekhis Khan