With a new year upon us, thoughts turn to fresh starts and new horizons. However, what will be dramatically different for us in 2013 than in 2012? Most people’s lives are likely to stay very similar to how they are now. The trick is to make everything old new again. It’s a feat our pop culture seems quite dedicated to, especially as of late.
I refer, of course, to reboots and remakes of television series. In this day and age, we cannot leave well enough alone, or commit just to original ideas. So many television shows are new incarnations of old ones, or based on movies or other material, that it seems like they outnumber the fresh concepts. Sometimes this can be bad, and other times, it’s so well done that one can’t complain.
Sci-fi seems to be the biggest beneficiary of good remakes. Battlestar Galactica springs to mind as a top notch effort, a show that took a poorly executed concept from decades ago (so I’ve heard, I haven’t actually got around to watching the original), and managed to make it a grand political, religious, war-intensive, philosophical thriller. Interweaving the things that our society hinges on, and seeing them laid bare, with the trappings of B.S. stripped away, it is a true triumph.
Doctor Who, Star Trek, and Stargate also have found new lives, continually updating themselves to stay up with the current trends. The first two of these three had some pretty solid stories in the old days, but the technology just wasn’t advanced enough to satisfyingly portray them. Now, not only have the special effects gotten better, but so has the depth and complexity of the tales. Dark sells better these days, and so the optimism gives ways to dystopia.
Next up in this category: Star Wars should soon get a long-awaited, live-action small screen adaptation.
Fantasy is right up there with the sci-fi. Once Upon a Time has shown us what can be done with children’s stories when they are reinterpreted with a fresh eye and a creative wit. It helps that it is starting to feel a lot like Lost, which it borrows from almost as heavily as the source material. Buffy the Vampire Slayer, arguably one of the best television shows of all time, has its roots in a crappy film. These are the types of shows that give rebooting a good name.
And then there’s Game of Thrones. Previously a book series, this epic tale has capitalized on the Lord of the Rings‘ success, and taken the genre to a new level. It’s the amount of characters, mixed with the willingness to take risks in storytelling, throwing stereotypes out the window, performed by an all-around amazing cast, that makes this one soar.
Sadly, Mockingbird Lane failed to join this list. Despite a wonderful cast and stunning visuals, the characters just weren’t good enough to earn a pick-up. The concept was solid enough, making a goofy comedy into an hour-long drama, but the execution, which sold itself short, going for the easy path, rather than breaking new ground, is what killed it.
Staying in a similar vein, superheroes are still the rage. Even after the ill-fated Heroes, they continue to be attempted over and over again, taking their roots from popular comics. Smallville is the biggest so far, and is about two-thirds good, amid some terrible arcs. But Arrow shows promise as a suitable CW replacement, with many critics calling it one of the best freshman shows of this past fall. Both of these took liberties from the original stories, but stay close enough to convention to be accessible for general audiences who haven’t read the books.
Of course, if one really wants to look at comic adaptation done right, look no further than The Walking Dead. The genius of the show, in which the creator of the comics also helps with the TV series, is that both incarnations embrace their medium fully. What works on the page won’t necessarily translate to the screen, and the writers have been brilliant about making those distinctions, while keeping the premise at heart. Plus, killing characters off at different points and in different ways keeps viewers guessing, and makes the show its own unique experience.
We Americans sometimes look across the pond for inspiration. One of the best examples of a remake here that made the premise its own is The Office, finally bowing out this spring after a long, mostly enjoyable run. Similarly, Ugly Betty took a Mexican telenovela and turned it into something great in English.
Being Human is doing its own thing, in a good way, and Homeland and The Killing do for drama what The Office does for comedy. All of these owe American ignorance of other cultures for their praise. After all, if the original is good, why remake it? Except, many of us still refuse to watch the originals, especially if we have to do it with subtitles. This seems a glaring flaw in our national makeup, but one not likely to be corrected anytime soon. As long as our versions are as good as those I’ve just mentioned, and not another failed attempt at Coupling, we’re OK.
CBS’s Elementary has been an interesting experiment this year. In a landscape so flooded with current Sherlock Holmes iterations, this one still manages to be different than its peers, and entertaining. I have a few complaints, but overall, it’s been a pretty solid fall run.
The pitfall Elementary must avoid is sticking too close to its crime procedural set up. After all, aren’t all the CSIs and NCISs just remakes of themselves? Hawaii Five-0 is also in this category, though I hear that the new episodes remain pretty decent; I gave up because crimes of the week usually get pretty boring, pretty quickly.
I could say the same thing about medical dramas, except, for some reason, these tend to be more character-driven. Maybe Grey’s Anatomy owes its roots to ER, but if they’re both good, why complain? (Disclosure: I did not watch ER).
One tactic I applaud is continuing a previous series. Perhaps Dallas was ready to end after spending the better part of two decades on the air (I don’t know for sure, I was too young to watch), but I am glad they brought it back now, as it was a highlight of last summer. I cannot wait for Arrested Development to make its highly anticipated return on Netflix. I wish more shows would do this, calling back the cast members who made the show special in the first place, rather than trying to completely revamp itself, a la 90210.
I think, again, we could learn from the British. Obviously, its Doctor Who is a continuation, and a very, very good one at that. But it’s far from the first time they made new episodes of a series that was over and done with. Absolutely Fabulous had new entries last year. Sure, we occasionally get a TV movie, like we used to with The Waltons and The Brady Bunch continuations, but mostly, nowadays, once a show is over here, it’s over. Why? This doesn’t make sense to me.
I’ve mostly listed the good shows, but I’ll give you a few of the recent bad here, without too much explanation, as they don’t deserve it: The Bionic Woman, Charlie’s Angels, Melrose Place, Free Agents, Eastwick, V, Flash Gordon, Skins, American Gladiators, Crusoe, Kath & Kim, Knight Rider. These are some of the many reasons folks argue against a reboot.
It’s pretty clear that reboots and remakes are not going away anytime soon. And I don’t necessarily want them to, not when there are so many great ones to list above, including some of my favorite programs on television. I guess, the point is, when considering a reboot, those in the creative industry should ruminate more fully on what has worked and what has not. If it’s obvious to the fans the reasons some of these shows soar and some flop, it should also be apparent to execs. There are lessons to be learned. Take them to heart, and we’ll all be happier.
After all, we do not want a new Gilligan’s Island on the fall 2013 slate. Unless there’s a smoke monster.