When America said goodbye to “That ‘70s Show” in 2006 after eight seasons, along with it went a legendary character: TV’s most cantankerous veteran, Red Forman.
But now Red’s back and ready to put his foot in the ass of a whole new generation. On Jan. 19, Netflix is set to debut “That ‘90s Show,” featuring Red’s return as a grandpa.
Kurtwood Smith, who plays the salty sailor with a backstory of Naval combat during World War II and the Korean War, is reprising the role after 17 years. But according to Smith, Red never left.
“To a certain extent, he’s never been gone,” Smith told Military Times. “He’s always been a part of me, but it’s great to be sharing him with others again.”
Smith, who is, in actuality, about as warm as a person can be, said he drew loose inspiration for the blunt character of Red from his stepfather, Bill, who was a World War II veteran. Unfortunately, Bill passed away shortly before the first episode of “That ‘70s Show” premiered and was unable to see Smith in the iconic role.
“There are so many times when I say lines, and I can hear his voice,” he noted. “He was never as hard on me as Red was on Eric, but he probably did call me a dumbass a few times here and there.”
Smith got the impression that his stepdad, as a result of his time serving in World War II, felt he had to prepare him for the harshness of the world, that it was going to be harder than he might imagine. Red, in a similar way, is something of a caricature of that.
One childhood memory of his stepfather struck Smith as particularly Red-like.
“I remember when he was trying to teach me how to swim, and it just didn’t go very well,” he said. “We were at this dam in Wisconsin, he took me back over to where my mother was sitting and said, ‘I can’t teach him how to swim. He’s got a lead ass.’”
It’s fitting then, that a character connected to such a father figure would find fame in a catchphrase as iconic as Red’s “my foot in your ass,” which he put into particular use with his son Eric (Topher Grace). It can’t be overstated how often he hurled some variation of an “ass”-related insult at every member of the cast over the course of eight seasons. There’s no doubt it was Red’s favorite word.
“There used to be a two-minute long video on YouTube of various cuts of me saying what I was going to do to people’s asses, and that was pretty hilarious when it kept going on and on and on,” Smith recalled with a laugh.
And Red always seems to find the most crucial comedic moments in which to insert the pack-animal insult.
“I remember the first time I said that [Eric] was a dumbass,” Smith noted.
It happened during an early scene of “That ‘70s Show,“ when Eric said that bad things happen to him because he’s unlucky.
“I said, ‘No, no, bad things don’t happen to you because you’re unlucky. Bad things happen to you because you’re a dumbass,’” Smith said. “It just brought the house down.”
But in the two decades that are meant to elapse between shows, it seems Red has softened. Eric and his long-term-girlfriend-turned-wife, Donna (Laura Prepon), had a baby: Red’s granddaughter Leia (Callie Haverda).
To some extent, Smith believes Red’s relationship with Eric stems from the time he spent in the Navy.
“I think being in the military, as Red was, he suffered a lot as did his attitude towards how you deal with young men. It probably came about more there than it did from anyplace else.”
And despite the fact that Red makes no apologies for his treatment of Eric, and certainly hasn’t changed much, he also isn’t going to be nearly as much of a hardass on his granddaughter.
“He does soften up a lot in the show,” Smith said. “Some of it has to do with age, and some of it has to do with just his life kind of being reinvigorated … although he doesn’t want to admit it.”
The premise of “That ‘90s Show” brings the whole gang back to Point Place, Wisconsin, where Leia will spend the summer with her grandparents, Red and Kitty (Debra Jo Rupp).
Despite how much Red protested in the ‘70s about having kids coming and going in and out of the basement, where they’d laze on the epochal, sagging, mustard-yellow couch (around which it’s implied by an always-artistic haze that they smoked marijuana), he grew to love them in his way. And it’s expected that will be the case within this nostalgic spinoff.
“It’s the same house with a few changes in furniture and a little bit of a redo in the kitchen,” Smith joked, “but we started from a good place, and here we go.”
“That ‘90s Show” is on Netflix starting Jan. 19.