The Retrospective Franchise Destructor

Are you sick of having your happy memories of TV shows and movies ruined by ill-advised follow-ups? Jeff is, and he’s not taking it any more…

The Retrospective Franchise Destructor

On the 25th December 2003, I watched an episode of a show I had loved for over 20 years. Entitled Sleepless In Peckham, it featured two squabbling but loveable brothers whose comic mishaps had seen me follow them to Hull, Margate, Miami and, of course, Peckham. Little did I know when I sat down to watch it, but it would be the last time I would ever view an episode of Only Fools And Horses. While little known outside the UK, Only Fools And Horses is undeniably one of the most famous and well-watched shows our little islands ever produced. And I cannot watch it now.

Only Fools And Horses, unfortunately, would be one of the highest profile casualties of The RFD factor, aka The Retrospective Franchise Destructor.

The RFD occurs when the latest series or entry in a franchise ruins the memory of its previous chapters. For me, as a lifelong Only Fools And Horses fan, the decision of John Sullivan, David Jason and co to bring back the series for three more Christmas episodes (between 2001-2003) following the more than acceptable 1996 mini-series finale when the Trotters became millionaires and walked off, literally, into the sunset, reeked of desperation and wringing the last droplets of success from a once great series.

Anyone who watched the final three specials will be able to confirm there is a rushedness, a tiredness and lack of ideas about them, compared to the former episodes. There are no standout comedy moments from the three episodes, whereas the previous ‘finale series’ had at least one per episode: Batman and Robin, Del Boy crying in front of Cassandra post miscarriage (no really! It was funny!) or the two brothers fainting on discovering how much money they have made.

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As a consequence, I find it very hard to watch Only Fools And Horses post-2003 as, in a way, I feel cheated. No more Jolly Boys Outing, no more Slater, no more “Alright, Dave” all because these episodes tarnished the memory of what went before. And that was before The Green Green Fecking Grass reared its tired, unfunny head!

However, Only Fools And Horses is not alone. Red Dwarf began a humble low budget life on BBC2. After an indifferent first series, it started to get into its stride in series two before finally hitting the ground running with series three onwards until it hit the heights of comedy genius with series six. At this time, it had consolidated its position as one of the crown jewels of BBC comedy. It looked like nothing could go wrong. And then came Red Dwarf VII. Rimmer is barely there, the budget is up, but the jokes are down and the writing team, so successful for six years, decide to allow freelancers to write a few episodes. The RFD Factor strikes!

Even Doctor Who has suffered. Let’s be honest, Who never had a huge budget, and even the best stories look seriously cheap (Tomb Of The Cybermen‘s cling film-covered ice tombs, rag doll cybermen, studio/cave floors etc), but compare the old series to Russell T Davies’s brand spanking new version, with tight plots, character development and…and…okay, yes, overblown finales that make no sense, and there are few stories of the old Who that still make the re-watchable grade. Take a bow Talons Of Weng Chiang, Robots Of Death, City Of Death, Caves Of Androzani,etc.

But it’s not just TV series. Look at the films. Batman, when it came out in 1989, was superb. A bleak vision of an anti-hero brilliantly portrayed by Michael Keaton, versus The Joker played by Jack Nicholson in a part he was born for! Hmm. Looking back now, compared to Nolan’s vision, it’s not exactly dark, is it? Nicholson seems pantomime compared to Ledger, who genuinely portrayed menace in his character.

I find Batman hard to watch now, but not impossible. However, there was a time it held the benchmark for me as to how a good superhero movie should be. Now, post-Nolan, the RFD strikes. (However, you could argue Schumacher’s rubber-encased bat buttocks and nipples did most of the damage years earlier.)

RoboCop is surely one of the best and most quotable movies of the 1980s. Do I really need highlight when the RFD struck? RoboCop, on jet pack, robot ninjas, Larry Sander’s manager?

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Indiana Jones. No. Seriously. Can you still look at The Last Crusade as Marcus, Sallah, Henry Jones Sr and Indy ride off into the sunset, content that it was a fantastic series, when you know the saucer men are coming in 2008?

Another Spielberg-initiated franchise, Jaws, is also a serious offender. Now, obviously, the original is fantastic, but I have to say I always used to enjoy the original sequel, Jaws 2. However, it was the horrific Jaws: The Revenge that has ruined Jaws 2 for me.

Jaws: The Revenge is ridiculous on so many levels (a shark with a vendetta that follows a family across the world?), but it’s the first five minutes that gets me. Sean Brody is eaten in the opening reel. However, in Jaws 2, at least five people die trying to save him as a child. What a waste of life! I watch Jaws 2 now and am thinking, “Leave him for Christ sake! He’s destined to be shark food anyway!” The RFD strikes!

However, there can occasionally be hope. Sometimes the original instalment in a franchise can be exempt from the RFD factor. Superman The Movie (1978) is still watchable now, despite an absolutely awful Superman Returns (Crystal Island from the sea? Really, Bryan Singer? That’s the best you can do? Jeez, why not throw in a Superkid who .Oh.) because the overblown 2007 follow-up showed just how well worked, well managed, well acted and well plotted the 1978 original was. Having said that, this only stands if the casual viewer has been blessed in that they haven’t seen Superman IV: A Quest For Peace.

So, what is the answer? Just accept that these things will happen? That creative executives are too lazy to endorse initiative and new ideas when there is a cash cow to be milked until its proverbial teats are red raw?

How many Saw movies must we endure before the fantastic original with its superb final twist is completely forgotten?

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With remakes of The Planet Of The Apes being filmed and the world awaiting a follow up to Tron, fans of the originals may want to rewatch them now whilst they are still well thought of. The RFD could be waiting to strike.