Reboots and spin-offs are the industry’s favorite gamble, and while I admittedly enjoy the nostalgia wave every now and then, it’s time for a reckoning to be made. Leave the original theme songs alone and just choose new [cuss redacted] ones!
The most recent show to fall to this tacky (and arguably lazy) production choice is Netflix’s That ’90s Show, in which Cheap Trick’s iconic anthem “In the Street”(Opens in a new window) is morphed into a ’90s capsule through a grunge remix and VCR montage. Yes, remixing it into a more ’90s sound is perhaps admirable, but “In the Street” exclusively belongs to Eric (Topher Grace), Donna (Laura Prepon), Kelso (Ashton Kutcher), Jackie (Mila Kunis), Fez (Wilmer Valderrama), and Hyde (Danny Masterson). And it deserves to still be their song. Before you call me dramatic, let me make my case.
In the world of sitcoms, a single theme song can help boost a show’s popularity, longevity, and memorability. You may not remember an exact episode of The Golden Girls, but you’ll always be on the verge of erupting into “Thank You for Being a Friend” if someone dares play the first note. (And then you’ll inevitably say, “We should rewatch The Golden Girls.”) I can say the same thing about Friends, The Big Bang Theory, or How I Met Your Mother. One second of The Rembrandts’ “I’ll Be There for You,” and suddenly you’re clapping to the beat.
Every cameo in ‘That ’90s Show,’ ranked
These shows may have had their ups and downs, but their theme songs have remained iconic. In part, this is because they’re objectively great and catchy songs. It’s also because we’ve grown up with them. In a pre “skip intro” era, we spent seasons upon seasons listening to these same theme songs play as our characters frolicked around a fountain or mucked around a bar with pictures to prove it. Sitcom theme songs were long. The problem with That ’90s Show is that it sets itself up as a sitcom, but still adheres to Netflix’s binge model — which feels kind of awkward. You aren’t incentivized to watch the intro, and when you do, it sucks because it’s so short.
Part of the joy in watching old sitcom intros was seeing your favorite ragtag gang doing what they did along to whatever iconic music you associated with them — even if the experience lasted for the frightfully long time of a whole minute. In That ’70s Show, it was watching Eric pick up his friends in his Vista Cruiser with everyone singing along to “In the Street.” But in That ’90s Show, we get an abruptly rushed rendition of the song (that isn’t particularly good, whoops) and a sequence of Leia (Callie Haverda) filming her friends that ends before you know it. Apart from the awkward length, if we’re considering how imprinted a theme song is in a sitcom’s DNA (think back to my Golden Girls and Friends argument), then watching it be used with a new group of faces feels wrong and kind of invasive.
It’s sort of like “Hey??? What are you all doing here?” Which makes sense, because you’ve linked a specific set of chords to a specific set of comfort characters. It feels like producers are almost setting up reboots to fail by relying on nostalgia instead of working with what they have. In That ’90s Show‘s finale, for example, we watch a great montage to Kim Wilde’s “Kids in America” while Leia reminiscences over a summer where things finally felt fun. That could have easily been the show’s opening track and scene. It’s an anthem. It’s an ode to youth. It perfectly hones That ’90s Show‘s tone while introducing us to its new generation. And it’s what they deserve.
I guess what I’m trying to say is that if you’ve already dedicated an entire show to imagining a new moment in time for a new set of characters, it’s OK to keep imagining and creating something that exists alongside the canon they’re a part of, as opposed to eclipsing it. And the easiest way to do that, in my opinion, is changing the theme song completely to mark the beginning of a new era. It’s kind of like an anime show with a thousand episodes that keeps switching its theme song to match a new arc. That ’90s Show has something to learn from One Piece.