Everyone grows up loving some show or another as a child. It’s what you rushed home from school or woke up way too early on a weekend morning to watch, what you ate all your veggies for, the one bit of entertainment that you swore was the greatest thing ever made in life. This warm and fuzzy feeling becomes a dangerous temptation when we grow up.
As both the consumers and creators in power, we long for the adolescent joy of seeing a truck flip over and explode like on The A-Team or discover new frontiers like Star Trek – and there’s nothing inherently wrong with that. The problem lies in what is chosen for the remake treatment and the execution thereof. Yet, no matter how risky or foolhardy a decision it is, I know that some executive/producer/writer type sits in devious contemplation planning his or her next big ‘reboot’. So, to save us all some heartache, please, please pay attention to what I’m about to write. It could mean the difference between triumph and epic fail.
Where most shows initially go wrong is in what I like to call the “nostalgia vs. quality” department. How much of your love for the show is based on how good it was or how good you remember it being? Just because something blew our minds when we were kids doesn’t mean it stands the test of time. Most programs getting the update treatment were originally great concepts nestled in the warm blankets of campiness. The more fantastic the concept, the higher the camp factor. When developing a modern version, it’s important that the essential spirit of the show is alive and balanced with whatever level of cheesiness may be necessary.
Let’s take Battlestar Galactica, for example. The original certainly was a bit over the top but, at its core, told a grim story. While there are some unhappy purists out there, Ronald D. Moore, David Eick and company decided to strip the show of its cheese and make BSG into a straight-up drama. That allowed them to add complex layers to a premise that was watered down for family consumption and give us a truly terrific and engrossing experience.
Ironically, The Bionic Woman did not fare so well when given the same treatment. The main problem was that it started out entirely too serious and angsty. While the core of the show was solid, the tone wasn’t quite right out of the gate. Jaime Sommers is basically a superhero and superheroes are supposed to have rollicking adventures, not chase after their mewly, petulant little sisters. The audience was looking for a sort of Alias/Xena hybrid, which is most likely why Jaime’s nemesis played so much better. Sure, Sarah Corvus was a little crazy, but she was also adventurous and charismatic as hell (kudos to Katee Sackoff for stealing the show).
There are a few instances in which nostalgia can overshadow content. In these more-delicate-than-usual circumstances, it’s important to identify which elements are malleable and which should never, ever be mucked about with. I’m looking at you Knight Rider and Flash Gordon. Yes, you sucked us all in what with your fancy nano-tech car, pretty leads and cameos by David Hasselhoff.
However, what’s with all the deep intrigue and government involvement? While I don’t mind threading plot points through the season, the show is supposed to be about a young loner on a crusade to champion the cause of the innocent, the helpless, and the powerless in a world of criminals that operate above the law. I hear they’re readjusting the current edition to sync up with the original, including an appearance by KARR, so all may be forgiven.
As for Flash Gordon, there was actually a nice camp-to-legitimate-storyline ratio. The only problem is they made the most iconic character unrecognizable. Yep, I’m talking about Ming. I’m not saying he had to look exactly like the comic strip (well…maybe at least the eyebrows and a goatee) but he needed some gravitas. I shouldn’t be yawning when the big bad kills an innocent bystander.
I find the most successful way to relight that childhood fire is to find shows that took some of the things we loved most about TV growing up and reinvented them. Loved The A-Team? Try Leverage and Burn Notice (which also has a touch of MacGyver, what with the whipping up of homemade spy gadgets every episode). Loved Simon & Simon? Then Psych is the show for you. Everything from Bones to Chuck to the Stargate incarnations have attributes that can inspire that same sense of awe you felt back in the day.
So Mr/Ms TV Exec/Producer/Writer, unless you absolutely know that remake you’re plotting is going to be worth it, if you have any love for us or that little kid that still lives inside of you, for the love of all that’s crisp and tasty in the world, don’t do it.
19th January 2009