TV reboots face a huge challenge in adapting to changed times while keeping to the essence of the original. So are they destined to flop?
We’re not often granted second chances in life. An opportunity for a re do or a re run is like an unfulfilled wish, a yearning that lingers in our hearts and minds. In TV land, it’s a different matter. Consider the raft of long dormant TV shows that are making a (welcome or unwelcome) return to our screens. With the second season of post-Sex and the City revival, And Just Like That, filming now, it’s one of many shows getting another go.
So popular has the notion of the revived, or rebooted, series become, it’s inspired a spoof on the topic in the form of Hulu’s series Reboot about the efforts to resurrect an 80s sitcom.
Remake, revival, reboot — what’s old is new again in the fictional world of TV. However, reaching back into the old dress-up box is a fraught and risky creative exercise. And Just Like That was mostly welcomed by the legions of devoted fans of SATC, which The Broad includes herself among. But as the first rebooted series went on, it gathered critics of different persuasions who decried it’s lack of humour and biting social critique and the uncomfortable experience of not finding this club of privileged ladies all that funny or shocking.
Is Gen X to blame?
Also on the list of re-made series is Night Court, Scooby-Doo spin-off-cum-reboot Velma and That 90s Show, to name a few. It’s stating the obvious to note that, while shows end for all sorts of reasons, sometimes prematurely, longing for a remake usually needs to be left as just that. A way to retain your love of a show while remembering it in its prime. Watching a reboot can be like reconnecting with old friends or returning to a childhood haunt, somehow it never quite lives up to your remembered version of that person or place.
As Gen X spans TV across the 70s, 80s and 90s, it’s rich pickings for shows that can be brought back to life. Occasionally, like with a series such as Netflix’s Lost in Space, TV makers can take the bones of the original and have them inhabit much different characters and storylines and it largely works. It’s taken the essence of the original idea — a family marooned in outer space — and giving it currency today with some major time-appropriate updates.
A very Fawlty remake?
On the other hand, remaking a series like Fawlty Towers would seem to present some major challenges and it’s hard not to wonder if John Cleese’s personal war on cancel culture isn’t playing into the push to return Basil Fawlty and co to our screens. With his daughter Camilla Cleese in the series, perhaps there’s a way of making it updated while retaining the elements of high farce that audiences enjoyed. This writer was not much of a fan and remains skeptical, to say the least, that a remake can blend that style of humour with different sensibilities.
The creative conundrum
To state the bleedingly obvious, the world changes after a TV show screens its credits for the very last time. In that time, our tastes have changed and perhaps our sensibilities have changed as we lived more and understood experiences from different perspectives. Hopefully our point of view has deepened. As hard as it can be, perhaps old shows are best left to reruns or DVD collections where we can indulge our sense of nostalgia with a trip back in time, while ignoring the sometimes jarring experience of noticing things that don’t sit so easily with us today.
There’s a creative conundrum TV makers face when tackling a reboot. TV shows, whether they’re explicit about it or not, are a product of their time and place — the worries and angst in the world at the time, the political climate and the social and societal conventions. To attempt to retain the essence of an original series, with its mores set in a fictional world, seems to result in a jarring, tone deaf doppelganger in the form of the reboot. To adapt to the new world risks losing the spark and even damaging the original by showing up all the ways it’s passed its cultural use-by date.
We’re probably not done yet with reboots, so perhaps some savvy creatives will find a way to deliver us that dose of nostalgic familiarity from a TV show we loved without engendering too much of a cultural cringe.
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