Who Was the Best Character on That '70s Show?
This hit TV show reverberated the 1970s until you were ready to shout, “I can dig it, man!”
The characters of That ’70s Show took you on a joyride that never ran out of gas. Any good TV situation comedy has well-rounded, memorable characters, and That ‘70s Show certainly had some of the greatest in recent years - if not all time. Who can forget Kelso, Hyde, Fez, Jackie, Leo and Red?
The rest of the show wasn't half bad either. Can you recall such running gags as The Circle and the Stupid Helmet, as well as those shared dream sequences and imaginative scene transitions? And don’t forget the rousing introduction when all the cast members scream: “WE’RE ALL ALRIGHT!”
Then, Hyde yells, "HELLO, WISCONSIN!"
The timeframe of the show was from 1976 to 1980, highlighting the lives of seemingly typical folks in America’s Heartland - Point Place, Wisconsin to be exact. These personalities represented archetypes of the 1970s, the so-called Me Decade and its party-hardy ethos, anything goes attire and anti-authoritarian chic. It was the time of Tricky Dick Nixon (“I’m not a crook!”), David Bowie strutting his androgynous glam, as well as oil embargoes, mindless hedonism and not-so-safe sex.
On the air from 1998 to 2006, That ‘70s Show exemplified life in a decade that may have shown the most change of any decade in the twentieth century. Life styles and morals were changing fast - but old school ideals wouldn’t be uprooted without a fight. In All in the Family, perhaps the greatest sit-com of the 1970s, Archie Bunker, the quintessential working class bigot, always had his say, with the predictable hilarious results. And That ‘70s Show riffed on the same concept over and over.
This list comprises the 12 best regular characters on a show that wouldn’t let you forget the 1970s, a decade that was as good as Led Zeppelin, but as bad as Disco.
So let’s start the countdown to see Who Was the Best Character on That ‘70s Show?
12. Tanya Roberts plays Midge Pinciotti
Midge is the neighborhood middle-aged foxy lady who’s married to Bob Pinciotti, and together they comprise the neighborhood liberated couple. At times, Midge seems dim-witted, though she’s a kind woman who eventually develops some of the feminist ideals of the era. Understandably, the teenage boys on the show often have coming-of-age fantasies about Midge, the buxom, leggy blonde. After the third season, Midge leaves her husband Bob, who does what he can to get her back. During the sixth and seventh seasons, the couple tries to reconcile and but can’t quite rekindle the magic.
11. Tommy Chong plays Leo Chingkwake
Of course a program about the 1970s has to have a throwback to the Peace and Love decade - the 1960s – from wince the ‘70s sprang like a rambunctious kid. That guy is the classic, pot-smoking, hippy-dippy type, Leo Chingkwake, played by Tommy Chong, who began his career with the comedy team of Cheech and Chong, which produced its first album in 1971. Who can recall the 1970s without picturing this counter culture duo? Naturally, Leo seems stoned all the time or, with a name like Chingkwake, maybe he’s just from another planet - or at least, another continent! On some episodes of the show, Leo owns a Photo Hut - a dopey guy like him actually owns something? – but he’s too busy playing board games to do much work, and whenever he does work he always screws things up. It was a masterstroke to put Chong on this show. This bridge from the Swinging Sixties just had to be there.
10. Don Stark plays Bob Pinciotti
Don Stark portrays a middle-aged man who does what he can to look young and be as hip as the kids. As Don tries to look young, he likes to walk around the house nearly nude - and with no underwear. Perhaps the main thing Don does to appear younger is wear a toupee - and you can’t even tell. (The one time Bob rips off the rug, his “bald with a fringe” resembles Bozo the Clown.) Bob Pinciotti and his wife Midge comprise an “anything goes” couple, particularly in relation to the nearby Forman family. In one episode, the Pinciottis throw a nudist party - purposely excluding the decidedly square Forman family, that is. During the third season, Bob and Midge split up, and thereafter Bob pines away about his lost love until Reginald “Red” Forman is ready to kick his butt into Lake Michigan.
9. Lisa Robin Kelly plays Laurie Forman
Lisa Robin Kelly is Laurie Forman, Eric Forman’s elder sister. This typical dumb blonde, if you will, is also the neighborhood loose chick, with whom just every guy seems to have had his way at some time or another. Laurie’s promiscuity is often mocked by other characters, particularly Eric and his girlfriend, Donna Pinciotti. Laurie is also coquettish and manipulative and loves to torment Eric, who thinks she’s evil incarnate. In season five, Laurie and Fez get married to keep Fez from being deported. In season six, Kelly leaves the show and is thereafter portrayed by actress Christina Moore.
8. Kurtwood Smith plays Reginald “Red” Forman
Every program such as That ‘70s Show needs a tough guy and Red Forman certainly fits the bill. Veteran of two wars – World War Two and Korea – Red seemingly takes no crap from anyone and dishes out plenty, calling anybody who pisses him off a “dumb ass,” his favorite epithet. Or, when angry, he’ll cry, “You morons just hung vacancy signs on your asses and my foot's looking for a room. “ Moreover, Red is an outdoorsy man’s man who doesn’t show his feelings openly, though in an episode or two he displays a sensitive side. Red always opts for the conventional way of dealing with issues; he’s the true anti-hippie. His manliness overbearing, Red has a difficult time accepting his son, Eric Forman, because Eric is wimpy, bad at sports and lacks self-confidence – he’s everything Red isn’t. So Red always tries to get Eric to measure up to his expectations and make him proud, but Eric seems to drops the ball every time.
7. Debra Jo Rupp plays Kitty Forman
Debra Jo Rupp is Red’s wife, Kitty Forman, a doting, cheerful woman the neighborhood kids look up to. Kitty is a nurse yet smokes and drinks. Sometimes, when Kitty finds herself in an awkward situation, she blurts out a nervous, dry cackle, perhaps the finniest laugh on the show. Both Red and Kitty are often bewildered by what the neighborhood kids are doing, though Kitty is willing to speak with them in a confidential way – even about sexual matters, if they come to her for advice. And, as Red is generally disappointed with his children, Kitty thinks Laurie is a freeloader and needs to find a nice responsible man with whom she can settle down. Also, Kitty sometimes suffers mood swings because of menopause, getting pissed at the slightest annoyance, such as a TV remote that doesn’t click.
6. Laura Prepon plays Donna Pinciotti
Perhaps the most level-headed kid (or young adult) on the show is Laura Prepon’s character of Donna Pinciotti, daughter of Bob and Midge. Donna is intelligent and a feminist like her mother, Midge. Donna has a long-time romantic relationship with Eric Forman, and they become engaged at one point, though never marry. (Eric leaves the show at the end of the seventh season.) As for her female friends, Donna doesn’t like Jackie Burkhart’s flighty attitude at first, but eventually they become good friends, often swapping advice and/or gossip about their romances and friendships. Donna reunites with Eric Forman at the series finale on May 18, 2006.
5. Danny Masterson plays Steven Hyde
Steven Hyde is the smartest of the teenagers. He also has lots of wisdom for such a young guy. This wisdom comes from dealing with the troubles of a broken home. Before the end of the first season, Hyde’s mother abandons him, and then the Forman family takes him in, making Hyde a foster child. Eventually Hyde becomes Eric Forman’s best friend. Rebellious, anti-authoritarian and street savvy, Hyde impresses his friends, who often ask his advice. Seemingly an odd couple, Hyde and Jackie nevertheless date for three seasons. Hyde is so freaked out about having a close relationship with a woman that he refuses to call Jackie his girlfriend. In the final season, Hyde marries an exotic dancer, but soon learns that she’s married to someone else, so the marriage isn’t legal. In the seventh season, Hyde meets his biological father, an African-American businessman played by Tim Reid. This makes Hyde half black, though he certainly doesn’t look it. At the end of the show, Hyde’s father then makes Hyde the manager of a record store, Grooves, which he opens in Point Place.
4. Ashton Kutcher plays Michael Kelso
Michael Kelso is the vacuous Adonis who plans to cruise through life’s relying on his good looks. Throughout the early years of the show he dates Jackie Burkhart, who has a similar personality, so they seem made for each other. Kelso seldom does anything right, and when he does, it’s usually by accident. During season seven, Kelso fathers a baby girl named Betsy. During season eight, when the show is preparing to end, Kelso gets a job as a security guard at the Playboy Club in Chicago. Again, this situation seems perfect for Kelso, as security guards don’t have to be Einstein. He also enters the police academy but flunks out. In general, when a silly, vapid remark seems appropriate, Kelso never disappoints.
3. Topher Grace plays Eric Forman
Eric Forman is a polite, nerdy young man armed with a quick, sarcastic wit, and is perhaps the equal of Hyde in this regard. Throughout the show’s run, Eric dates neighbor Donna Pinciotti, though they break up for awhile, eventually reconciling. This relationship makes great sense, since their temperaments and sensibilities are well-aligned. As for Eric’s relationship with his father, Red never seems satisfied with him, often calling him a dumb ass or idiot – for great comedic effect, of course - though Red is critical of just about anybody who doesn’t fit his middle class machismo. When comparing himself to his father, Eric considers his father a tiger, while he’s a “duck.” In spite of his struggles, Eric seems poised for greatness with women and life in general, but he has a long ways to go. However, with enough self-assurance, you’d think Eric could become CEO of a company like IBM.
2. Mila Kunis plays Jackie Burkhart
The main female heartthrob on the show is Jackie Burkhart, the spoiled, self-centered rich chick, who eventually dates most of the male stars on the show. First, this petite, dark-eyed brunette vixen dates Kelso, the pretty boy, for multiple seasons. This superficial duo appears perfect for each other. Then Jackie dates Hyde, but his reluctance to give her everything he has often leaves Jackie tearfully frustrated. Finally, in the eighth season, Jackie dates Fez, the odd foreign exchange student who’s been in love with her since the first season. Most women find Jackie a threat because she’s so pretty, sexy and manipulative, particularly with men, wrapping them around her little finger, as the saying goes. But, as the series progresses and Jackie becomes more considerate and sweet, she and Donna Pinciotti strike up a lasting friendship. Nevertheless, Jackie Burkhart remains the heartbreaker who always keeps you wondering what she’ll do to get her way.
A typical exchange with Jackie goes like this:
Jackie: Well, I'm not going to sit around moping. I'm going to do what every woman does when they hit rock bottom.
Fez: You’re going to have sex with me?
Jackie: No, I'm going to go out and meet some boys. And crush their hearts one by one.
1. Wilmer Valderrama plays Fez
Fez is the show’s foreign exchange student, for which an abbreviation would be F.E.S., but the producers must have preferred F.E.Z. Fez’s country of origin is never stated, a continual joke on the program, though he seems Latin and certainly looks it too; however, you never hear him speak Spanish. Fez is definitely an odd guy; he sneaks candy and is obsessed with sex and girlie magazines. On one show, Fez tells Kelso that while swimming at the public pool he saw “one and a half boobies.” And when excited about his first sexual encounter, he exults, “We’re going to do it!” Not lacking in good looks, Fez is nevertheless painfully shy and diffident with women, though he eventually gets it together, becoming downright debonair and gallant. In fact, by the end of the show, Fez becomes a ladies’ man - one who can sing and dance too! Throughout the run of the show, you never know for sure what Fez is going to do, and by the end of the show, when he gets the hang of being the hip American guy, you’re not surprised to see him become the cast member most likely to become a movie star. Fez does what all great characters do – he grows with the show. Clearly, Fez was the best character on That ‘70s Show.
That ‘70s Show may be the best period sit-com of all time; its production was topnotch and the writing without peer. Yet its characterizations stand out as the primary reason the show lasted as long as it did and was shown throughout the world. Certainly its reruns will appear on TV for a very long time. And one day will there be a That ‘70s Show, the movie? For-sho!
Please leave a comment and tell me which character you think was the best.
Check out this story about the 1970s . . .
- Disco Demolition Night Rocks Chicago
This article is about Disco Demolition Night in Chicago, July 1979. The story will keep you laughing until the cops crash the party!
© 2010 Kelley Marks