The character brings a new perspective to a franchise that didn’t exactly portray gay characters in a welcome light previously…
By Matthew Creith
That ‘70s Show ran for eight seasons and made household names out of its young cast. Original creators Bonnie Turner, Terry Turner, and Mark Brazill generated lightning in a bottle when Topher Grace, Mila Kunis, Ashton Kutcher, Laura Prepon, and Wilmer Valderrama became famous faces of the period teen sitcom. The show depicted the personal lives of a group of teenagers living in a fictional Wisconsin town in the 1970s, bolstered by its usage of nostalgia and comedic elements.
Since the series went off the air in 2006, fans of That ‘70s Show have been looking for other television shows to satisfy their comedy series needs. Now, Netflix is running with the trend of rebooting classic television shows from the 1990s and 2000s, releasing the spin-off That ‘90s Show this week. However, one thing is entirely different from the show’s predecessor: gay representation is at the forefront.
A character named Ozzie appears as one of the main members of the young cast in That ‘90s Show. He brings a new perspective to a franchise that didn’t exactly portray gay characters in a welcome light previously. Ozzie is played by actor Reyn Doi and can be seen as an outlier much to the same degree that Wilmer Valderrama’s Fez was in That ‘70s Show.
Ozzie is a sassy, insightful, and judgmental queen who fits the bill of a rebellious kid of the 1990s. A notable member of the new basement crew of six teenagers in That ‘90s Show, Ozzie is also Asian, which helps define the spin-off into a more diverse era of television that lacked in That ‘70s Show. Ozzie is also openly gay, at least with his friends and those he personally trusts to be open with. This is a departure from That ‘70s Show, which, while it depicted the 1970s in a bright light, fell short of giving queer representation its due.
That ‘70s Show did have a gay character for a brief moment named Buddy Morgan, portrayed on the series by Joseph-Gordon Levitt. Buddy appeared in the first season episode, “Eric’s Buddy,” and was introduced as a new friend to Eric Foreman (Topher Grace). Buddy came from a wealthy family in town, dressed nice, and was popular in high school. He was not out of the closet but divulged his sexuality to Eric when he attempted to kiss him alone in a car. Eric, flabbergasted, turns Buddy’s advances down, and the two agree to be friends. The character is never seen on the series again despite the fact that it was initially intended for him to be a recurring fixture of That ‘70s Show.
Gay characters did not often appear on television shows like That ‘70s Show in the late 1990s to early 2000s, and another openly gay character wasn’t seen on the series until later in its eighth season. For a show that surrounded itself in free love and the passion of the 1970s, it lacked the gay characters needed to support that idea. Viewers in the 1990s were mixed in their reception to Levitt’s performance as Buddy, amounting to the show’s creators nixing his storyline arc from future episodes.
Now, with Ozzie’s presence on That ‘90s Show, viewers in the 21st century get the chance to watch an openly gay character in a new light. Ironically, Ozzie lives precisely in the time when That ‘70s Show was first produced in the 1990s when gay representation was not as vibrant and prolific as it is in today’s television climate.
But Ozzie is steadfast in his resolve, sarcastic in his tone, and impatient when it comes to needing those around him to accept who he is. It’s a giant leap forward for a franchise that desperately needs to be a bit relevant as it competes with other nostalgic sitcoms rebooting in recent years. The eclectic young cast shows a different side to Point Place, Wisconsin, with some of That ‘70s Show’s original stars returning in guest appearances.
Ozzie leads the charge for a welcome change in representation, whether he means to or not. His character goes through some interesting moments in the series’ first season, resulting in his need to come out to an unlikely older source. While Ozzie is just one of many characters in That ‘90s Show, it’s his ability to stay present in the moment as an openly gay character that redeems the franchise with a new perspective.
That ’90s Show is set to premiere on Netflix on January 19, 2023.