Like most (somewhat) well-adjusted adults, I find it difficult to resist the warm, safe pull of nostalgia. While I’d only seen a snippet of That ’70s Show before, That ’90s Show called to me. A group of kids hanging out in the ’90s, when I was born, was right up my alley. Plus, as someone who would really benefit from not having their cellphone glued to them, it was a thrilling prospect to see kids hanging out without texting or TikTok. (This may be the oldest I’ve ever sounded.)
I was most pleased to discover that That ’90s Show has the look and feel of a classic sitcom, right down to the studio audience laughing along. In an era of prestige TV, it’s nice to kick back and relax with a show that has no intention of sweeping the Emmys. That’s exactly what That ’90s Show provides, and it does it with a charming cast of kids.
There’s one kid I couldn’t get enough of, and that’s Ozzie (Reyn Doi). I clicked with Ozzie immediately, from the moment he says he got detention for telling his math teacher that his wife was having an affair. Ozzie is openly gay among his supportive friends from the jump, which is par for the course these days. But it still feels exciting for a ’90s-set show, especially one in a small town.
He’s even in a relationship, albeit with a Canadian boy named Etienne that none of Ozzie’s friends have ever actually met. In a nice twist on the old partner-from-Canada trope, Etienne really does exist, even if we never see him. (As a Canadian, I ask, how dare they use this trope?) The pair met at a performance of The Phantom of the Opera. This is, quite literally, the gay agenda.
Ozzie’s sexual orientation doesn’t define his character, though. Sure, his friends know he’s gay, but his cutting wit and playful repartee are what really make him a trusted part of the circle. He also knows how to make things more interesting in humdrum Point Place, Wisconsin: In one episode, Ozzie embarks on a very silly quest to get pot from an old guy’s coat. In another, he organizes a clandestine trip to an out-of-town rave—and, in true sitcom fashion, Ozzie gets left behind.
Halfway through the season, I had basically turned into Homer Simpson pitching Poochie to the creator of Itchy & Scratchy. More Ozzie, please! It came as no surprise to me that Episode 5, which focuses on Ozzie’s coming out, is the best of the season. It’s a lovely episode that manages to feel fresh among coming-out stories, offering genuine insight into the challenges of revealing your authentic self without sacrificing the sitcom tropes the show abounds in.
The episode opens with a situation guaranteed to make me laugh: Ozzie is teaching his friend Leia (Callie Haverda)’s grandma, Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp), how to use the Formans’ new computer. The technological divide is easy to mine for humor, because we’ve all been there—who hasn’t tried to help their mom set up her phone? Anything that reminds me of the computer therapy sketch from Inside Amy Schumer always works for me too. But the scene is an important one, as it establishes the surprising bond between Ozzie and Kitty.
There’s something magical about the relationship between gay boys and our grandmas. While Kitty and Ozzie aren’t related, Kitty is very much the matriarch of the show; since the kids spend all of their time in her basement, it’s only natural that the two would find kinship in each other. Kitty doesn’t know Ozzie is gay, but he’s going to change that, announcing to Leia that he’s going to come out to Kitty.
When Leia’s surprised that he’s not out to anyone yet, Ozzie reminds her that he’s a kid in small-town Wisconsin. Coming out isn’t always easy in a place like Point Place. In typical, heartening sitcom fashion, Leia tries to relate to Ozzie, telling him she had to tell her parents something equally difficult: that she wanted to switch instruments. That is, of course, not even remotely the same, but what’s a good sitcom without some misguided advice?
It turns out that Ozzie, like many queer people, has spent an awfully long time planning his coming out. In fact, Ozzie has probably spent even more time than most. Telling Kitty is “step seven in my 16-step coming out plan,” he says to Leia.
In this intricate plan lies step six, which is one of the funniest things I’ve seen: coming out to strangers Ozzie will never see again. The episode launches into a spectacular montage, where Ozzie comes out to someone who dialed the wrong number, the pizza delivery woman, and the man operating a bungee jump, to whom Ozzie screams, “I’m gay!” “I told him again when I came back up,” Ozzie assures us.
I laughed so hard, I ended up cackling louder than the laugh track—which is no small feat, considering it screamed like a banshee whenever one of the original That ’70s Show cast members made an appearance. And if we didn’t live in an increasingly contactless world, you’d better believe I’ll be adding Ozzie’s “keep the change, I’m gay” to my lexicon. The absurd scene works because it’s grounded in a very real context: Coming out is really freaking hard, and you’ve gotta start somewhere!
Ozzie is then ready to move onto the next step in his 16-step plan by telling Kitty. (I really, really want to know the other steps, but That ‘90s Show keeps them a mystery.) Because this is a TV show, something is bound to go wrong. And it does! Before Ozzie has the chance to tell Kitty, he’s interrupted by Donna (Laura Prepon), Leia’s mother, panicked that her daughter might be ready to have sex. Leia’s accidentally spun a web of lies, and she continues tangling it to protect Ozzie from not having to come out before he’s ready. It’s a classic last-second sitcom diversion, but it does great work in establishing Leia and Ozzie’s friendship, helping raise the stakes for his eventual admission.
Ozzie finally gets his chance when he’s back to teaching Kitty how to use email. He’s emailed her his coming out letter, as he’s too nervous to say it himself. But instead of opening the email, Kitty restarts the computer—and this is the ’90s, so it’s gonna take a while. Fed up but ready, Ozzie tells Kitty face-to-face both that he’s gay and that he has a Canadian boyfriend.
After a pause, Kitty responds with the very sitcom-y “I don’t know how to feel about this.” Ozzie’s taken aback–but it’s just a misunderstanding, as Kitty is concerned with him having a Canadian boyfriend, because her friend married a Canadian and he stole her car. (By that point, my Canadian slander meter was truly maxed out.)
But Kitty has no problem with Ozzie being gay, bringing him in for a warm, loving embrace. Kitty then says the words that should be replicated by parents whose kids come out to them: “You just made me feel really special.” It’s a perfect moment for both Kitty and Ozzie; their relationship can continue to thrive, and Ozzie can be his true self around her without reservation. It’s a perfect conclusion to a truly lovely episode of television.
I didn’t have the courage to come out to my own grandmother before she passed, but thankfully, my parents did that for me. I should have never been worried, as she continued to accept and support me until she left this Earth. I cried in relief when Kitty did the same for Ozzie, even though I couldn’t imagine That ’90s Show ever going down a different path. I hope Ozzie, and all the other kids like him out there, will find that same courage to come out to their own grandparents and be loved for who they are. Even if they have to tell a few random retail workers first.