It was either title it that or reboot it and toot it. But I’m digressing before I even begin. The state of television in the past few years has been bifurcated from the old network (cable and regular) state into a war between that and the new binge-tastic mode proffered by Netflix, Hulu, Amazon and the like. Weirdly, both sides have employed a similar strategy for some of their programs – bring back the old shit.
I don’t think it started with Arrested Development, but it was easily the earliest/biggest harbinger of the trend. After three (hilarious) years on Fox in the early 2000s, the show was prematurely canceled in 2006. Seven years later, season 4 debuted on Netflix, with the original cast, although contracts and actor schedules shifted the format significantly: each episode focused on one of the characters, with others popping in peripherally. The gifted ensemble wasn’t sharing many scenes together and while the smart writing and deft acting was enough to make it enjoyable, it was missing a bit of the magic that made the first three seasons incredible. For a show that had a too soon death, the resurrection was welcome in whatever format it took. We’re still waiting for the fifth season, fifteen years after the show premiered.
Charmed, a WB show from the late 90s is the latest to get a comeback. This time with a new cast and seemingly no connection to the original save the name. I didn’t watch the show and don’t have that much of an opinion on its return. It is an example of the wrong way to do it, I think. What’s the point of trading on nostalgia if you alienate the most fervent fans of the original? Shows like 90210 and Dallas were able to trade on the nostalgia factor while still putting the focus on new characters tangentially connected to the originals. With so many reboots in the works, I’m going to share some thoughts on ones that have aired and ones yet to come.
Netflix was also responsible for bringing back this WB favorite. The original creator (Amy Sherman-Palladino) was the creative force behind the show for six years until she was unable to reach a deal for a seventh and final season. Though she was behind the lackluster sixth season, the seventh came across as poor fan fiction. The original series finale was actually pretty decent given how mediocre the rest of the season was. But AS-P had promised long before that she had the final four words of the series in mind from the beginning and no successor could deliver that.
The biggest hook for the comeback was to finally learn those words. Nine years after Gilmore Girls left the air we got four 90 minute episodes from AS-P, with the original cast save for patriarch Edward Hermann who had passed away in the interim. His character’s passing was the catalyst for the show’s return, and it was great way to reintroduce us to the town of Star’s Hollow and what the characters had been up to in the decade since we last saw them. Still, each episode felt overstuffed with filler and characters that mattered little, an entire musical segment was interminable in one of the segments. As good as it was to see the characters again, as they were meant to sound, and finally learn those final words, it was still enjoyable more for the nostalgia of the original series, then the actual merits of the movies. It was a good to close it out in a more honest way, and even though it ended on a bit of a cliffhanger, I really hope the series stays gone. The threat of hurting the entire legacy gets stronger with each return.
One of the more surprising returns, given how over it the stars seemed at the end of the original 9-year run in 2002. There was one more movie in 2008 (in 1998, the first movie came out in between seasons), and in 2016, original stars David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson returned for a six-episode season. Earlier this year the 11th season began.
The original series was probably the biggest series to be in this conversation. It had won several Emmy’s, had a nice long run, and was both a cult hit and cultural phenomenon. The original series waffled between two types of episodes – standalone “monster-of-the-week” installments or deeper segments dealing with the overall mythology the series introduced early on. While the labyrinthine mythology is what drew the show a legion of fans, arguably it was the monster episodes that were always the strongest. Before the show went off the air, the mythology become too dense and ridiculous, the original characters had evolved to the point where Anderson’s skeptic Scully was now the believer like Duchovny’s Mulder originally was, and she was surrounded by new partners as Duchovny was mostly absent. The 2008 movie was a standalone story, but was neither exciting nor particularly interesting.
In season 10, modernity had lowered the impact of the mythology. In a post-LOST world, audiences were wary of the tricks of stretching conspiracy and mystery too thin. Only one episode, the standalone one naturally, seemed to have any of the spark of the original. When season 11 came, I didn’t bother to tune in. I’ll catch up at some point, but as Anderson has publically said she’s done with the series (a claim she has made before though), I do hope this show also returns to being of the past. Original creator Chris Carter has not evolved in the years since the show originally premiered and his brand of storytelling comes off a lot weaker given the golden age of TV we are currently living in.
Will & Grace
Another surprising return, given how starkly drawn the ending of the show was in 2006 (it covered the next twenty years of the characters’ lives), Will and Grace came back for a ninth year in 2017 and has already been renewed for another season. The original series was refreshing in its first few years, the characters were strong, funny, and had amazing chemistry with each other. The writing was sharp and topical, and had the ability to shift into more dramatic territory without feeling out of place or unwarranted. But somewhere around the fifth season, the nature of the show had evolved. The characters were merely caricatures, the jokes were broader and hammered on exhaustively, and the writing was pedestrian, beyond ridiculous, and relied mostly on snappy insults than the nuanced humor it was originally built on. The return did away with the finale completely, and returned the characters to the status quo it was originally built on. The humor was back to the broad nature of the show’s later years, but audiences are responding, so doubtful it will try and change now. It’s just clearly not the show for me. Big Bang Theory doesn’t work for me either, but that’s been on the air for far too long relying on the weakest tenets of humor.
It hasn’t debuted yet, but Roseanne returns in March. The original series ran for nine seasons, at least four of which there’s an argument it was the best thing on TV. For my money, no sitcom has ever achieved the balance of reality and humor that Roseanne did in its heyday, mining laughs from death, domestic abuse, periods, and power outages, and everything in between. It also had the greatest separation from the heights of its middle years to the lows of its final season, when the show destroyed the original premise it was built on and the central blue-collar Connor family won the lottery and became unrecognizable versions of themselves. The series finale, one of the most confounding in history, attempted to undo the atrocity of the ninth season by an even worse mistake of trying to rewrite the entire history of the show. If this return manages to recapture some of the magic of the good years, while also righting the finale wrongs, I’ll accept it. It looks like it will go back to the heart and spirit the show was built on even if Trump-supporting Roseanne Barr is putting her political beliefs on Roseanne Connor. It feels false to me, Roseanne Connor was always a liberal at heart, and always portrayed as calling bullshit wherever she saw it, but especially on authority. But I at least have hope.
This was my favorite show as a kid, and directly responsible for my obsession with television. And yet, I can’t think of anything I would want less than to see it have another go around, save for a reboot of Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I don’t know anyone that is as enamored of L.A. Law as I am. It was a show that won four Emmy’s as best drama, but the big hair and shoulderpads of the late 80s/early 90s run didn’t age well. And while the show has a rich history to draw from, I can’t imagine anyone would actually do it justice. Original creator Stephen Bochco is on board, but as much as he was responsible for introducing the world to the slick downtown LA firm, it was David E. Kelley that gave it a unique identity and made it the powerhouse it was. But even Kelley has become a pale imitation of himself, and he’s busy making an unnecessary second season of Big Little Lies. There’s no word if any of the original cast will be a part of this, and really, it’s been in development for over a year. Please, let it go. Some things are better left undisturbed.
Some other reboots are being bandied about right now. Party of Five, which would follow the Charmed path of trading on the name but featuring a new cast and characters. The first series was a guilty pleasure, but I doubt any reboot would hold any interest. Mad About You, is another inexplicable return, a decent show with a decent run, and one that has no reason to return other than to give Paul Reiser and Helen Hunt a paycheck and something to do. Magnum PI, Twilight Zone, and Cagney and Lacey have also been mentioned. Given its anthology nature, Twilight Zone could work, especially with Jordan Peele being behind it, but the others just seem like paycheck grabs and name trades. Has it ever worked? I mean, I guess the new MacGyver is still a thing, so what do I know?