Every once in a while, television produces a gem. In the case of the new NBC mini-series, The 70s, it’s more of a rhinestone.
The follow-up to last year’s The 60’s, the two-part series that shows the history of the decade through the experiences of four friends who spend their twentysomething years in the land of disco. Added to the story of these four are the television news clips of the great events of the day spliced into the footage.
All four have brushes with great historical events, starting with the killing of protesters on the campus of Kent State, where the four go to college. From there, they all go their separate ways, keeping in touch through either random visits or postcards.
As a made-for-television event, it seems natural that the writing is miserable. Throughout the first episode, the four characters fall into the TV trap of being archetypes rather than real people. Byron, played by Brad Rowe, is the well-bred Republican who is willing to do whatever it takes to succeed in politics. When he gets a job on Nixon’s re-election committee, he quits law school at Columbia and soon becomes wrapped up in the Watergate scandal.
Dexter (Guy Torry), scarred by the shootings at Kent State, dodges the draft and moves to Los Angeles. In L.A., he opens a movie theater that becomes a center of the African-American movement. Dexter soon becomes a Black Panther and is stabbed in the back by his newfound friends. As the series progresses through the years, however, Torry isn’t convincing as someone who is older than 19 years old.
Bryon’s sister, Christy (Amy Smart), is the wanderer of the group. Since she is beautiful, she tries modeling and falls for a record producer. She is into drugs from the beginning and relishes in the party atmosphere. She was the kind of girl who would fall for the line What’s your sign? When tragedy befalls her producer, she leaves for California to find herself.
Eileen, who is by far the most believable character, is the empowered woman. She joins the women’s movement and is in constant struggle to be hired in what, until the 1970s, had been considered men’s jobs. She takes a job as a secretary with hopes of advancing at an advertising agency. When her boss hires an unqualified man over her for the coveted position of art director, she sues them on the basis of gender discrimination. This is where the mini-series picks up.
The best parts of this series come in the second episode when the writers actually get away from the historical survey of the 1970s and focus on the relationships between the four friends, their families and the way change affects them.
In the second episode, the story does not focus on major historical events but instead looks at how those historical movements shaped the everyday lives of the people living in the 1970s. Some of these scenes are very powerful, such as when a fiftysomething secretary testifies during the trial about women’s rights.
The music in this series is incredible. The music is a historical survey in itself, with songs from Al Green to Bob Marley to Cat Stevens to Kool & The Gang to Bachman-Turner Overdrive. The list goes on and on. For a fan of 1970s music, this series is worth checking out.
This mini-series is particularly interesting for college students. It deals with the way times change and how old friends deal with those changes. While they are trapped in the 1970s, the group dynamics could easily take place today. The 70s explores a period in people’s lives that has not been very developed by Hollywood, and the mini-series does a good job at portraying it.
The 70s suffers from the constraints of television. Relationships and tense moments are not fully developed because the scenes are so short. From the outset, however, you can relate to the characters, and this is what carries the series. It also comes equipped with an all-too-happy ending. But hey – that’s television.
The 70s airs Sunday and Monday at 9 p.m. on NBC.