Joseph Gordon-Levitt Helped ‘That ‘70s Show’ Beat ‘Dawson's Creek’ to This "Romantic’ Milestone
Even those with fond memories of the sitcom probably wouldn’t associate the nostalgic That ‘70s Show with groundbreaking social commentary — so, when it came time to make a “statement,” they had to get help from a Buddy.
In 1998, and at the height of the popularity of his breakout series 3rd Rock from the Sun, wunderkind Joseph Gordon-Levitt agreed to appear in the first season of a new up-and-coming multicam sitcom about a bunch of teenage stoners in 1976 Wisconsin. In the fittingly titled That ‘70s Show episode “Eric’s Buddy,” Gordon-Levitt played Eric Forman’s fashionable, friendly and well-groomed lab partner named Buddy whose wealth, popularity and hot rod (heh) enticed Forman into forming a close relationship. Perhaps, even, too close.
In the episode’s climax (heh heh), Buddy plants a kiss squarely on his new “friend’s” lips, making history in the process. Forman and Buddy’s kiss was the very first scripted smooch between two men on an American television show, though Dawson’s Creek is often incorrectly credited with the accolade for an episode aired in 2000. Well, Dawson’s Creek didn’t have the first guy-on-guy kiss, and That ‘70s Show needed us to know that Forman definitely, totally, indisputably isn’t gay.
The inconsistency in the record-keeping is due to the fact that, in the aforementioned Dawson’s Creek episode, both characters involved in the smooch, Jack McPhee and Ethan Brody, are very explicitly into it and into each other. Gordon-Levitt’s Buddy may have been the first gay character on television to kiss a man, but Forman wasn’t willing to make LGBTQ+ history with him. What follows after the kiss in “Eric’s Buddy” has been criticized by some cultural critics interested in the subject of the first gay men’s kiss as very literally homophobic — everything about the kiss and its fallout are played for uproarious laughs as Forman flounders in hysteria at the thought that someone would think he’s homosexual, and he even vaguely outs Buddy to the basement gang.
Ultimately, however, the episode ends on a note of understanding, as Forman tells Buddy that, though he may be straight, he’ll continue to be Buddy’s friend — even though Gordon-Levitt would never appear in another episode of That ‘70s Show. Despite his initially angry reaction to the kiss, Forman doesn’t degrade Buddy or put him down for his sexuality, which, though it has a distinct lack of romance, makes the first all-male kiss in scripted TV history at least a baby step toward progress.
Too bad it left a bad taste in Forman’s mouth (heh heh heh).