Revenge of the Remakes: That ’70s Show vs. Days Like These

Before embarking on this project, I had no idea that there was a That ’70s Show remake. I had, coincidentally, started rewatching it on my own (it’s great as background noise, especially when folding laundry). As I am wont to do, I went on the show’s Wikipedia page and saw that, in addition to the ill-fated That ’80s Show spin-off, there was also a British remake called Days Like These. I immediately set to work finding a way to watch the pilot.

That ’70s Show will always hold a special place in my heart. And by “special,” I mean complicated: I was raised on music from that era, so the references (and fashion) are in my wheelhouse. But the show hits a little too close to home at times. My mother grew up in small-town Wisconsin in the late ‘70s, too. So, no, I don’t want to think too hard about realism in the world of the show. 

That ’70s Show ran for eight seasons on Fox, from 1998 to 2006. It boasts a cast of actors we still see on our TVs today and launched the careers of Topher Grace, Laura Prepon, Wilmer Vladerrama, Ashton Kutcher, and Mila Kunis. The show tackled musical, political, sexual, and teenage culture of the ’70s in a relatable and amusing way. It was nominated for a total of 16 Primetime Emmy Awards as well as a handful of Teen Choice Awards (I’m looking at you, Ashton Kutcher). Conversely, Days Like These has no recognizable names in the cast, and did not have the longevity of its American counterpart. While 13 episodes were produced, only 10 aired on ITV in 1999.

The Faceoff

The pilot of That ’70s Show does a good job of introducing the central characters and relationships. There were also a lot of bold stylistic choices, such as the POV scene when Eric is high and has to speak with his parents, when the kids imagine what their parents are saying about them, and the odd bumpers between scenes. While they seem dated now, at the time the show aired, I’m sure that they were a cool addition. At least I hope so.

Now, That ’70s Show has never been given reverence like some other sitcoms have. And, to an extent, I understand why. It’s certainly not the smartest show on TV. But I have to give credit where credit is due: I love the set decoration. Again, this is me drawing on personal experience, but parts of the Foreman home, especially the basement, look just like pictures from my mom’s childhood. Too often when movies and TV shows are set in a different decade, they pick only the most extreme bits of that time period to reproduce. This felt much more real. Costumes were great too – I just inherited some of my mom’s old prom dresses and I’ve definitely seen Jackie wear at least one or two of them.

Watching That ’70s Show was pure fun, mostly because it was relatable: it showed that being a teen in the ’70s was pretty similar to being a teen in the early 2000s, or even now (just without the internet). Unfortunately, Days Like These didn’t have quite as easy of a time getting their message across.

Like other remakes I’ve watched, Days Like These used the exact same script with minor changes to character and location names. In addition to jumping across the pond, they also changed the episode title from “That ’70s Pilot” to “Batteries Not Included.” Because British shows often have longer runtimes than their American counterparts, there was also an additional scene between Jackie and Donna in the bathroom. That was probably the most welcome part of Days Like These because it allowed us a glimpse into those two characters. Sure, it doesn’t even come close to passing the Bechdel Test, but it was nice to see a foundation for Jackie and Donna’s friendship – and extra screentime for the girls – so early on.

I know I’ve said this before, but I just don’t understand remakes that use the same script for the new pilot. If you’re trying to make a point that the remake is necessary, prove it by adding some fantastic new element. In this case, using the same script was basically a shot in the foot. While the American original was smooth sailing, the British remake felt oddly paced, awkward, and not funny. Lines that were hilarious in the original were unfunny and clumsy in the remake.

And the winner is…

Well, That ‘70s Show certainly isn’t groundbreaking television. It’s not the sort of show that wins all the prestigious awards. But it is a good, fun, nostalgic time that I can always go back to for easy watching. Days Like These, on the other hand… well, I’ll give them props for trying. But that’s about the nicest thing I can say. That ’70s Show is the clear winner in this battle of the remakes.

Let us know what you think about the shows in the comments. Check back next time when I watch The Good Doctor!