Like many people, I’m of divided mind about reboots, and they’re all the rage on TV these days. CBS, for example, picked Magnum PI to match up with their ongoing (and successful) Hawaii Five-0 reboot. But back in 2000, they also tried to reboot The Fugitive and it turned out to tank while a weird and nerdy procedural called CSI launched into the stratosphere. When is a reboot too much for a fanbase?
The aforementioned reboots of a pair of Hawaii based classics are shows I consider to be normal. They’re not super deep dramas, they don’t aim to change the world. They have a simple target, a goal of telling a story about police in Hawaii, or a PI in Hawaii, or a kid who hates guns and loves weird tech things in LA, and they give us a quirk of the week.
When we see a reboot of those shows, we simply expect the same stories and people, just modernized for ‘now.’ If CBS had gone ahead with Cagney & Lacey, I would have predicted they tackle
#MeToo and Black Lives Matter. The same idea, two women as police detectives working together, just told for 2018.
These are somewhat easy to sell, provided there’s been ‘enough’ time since the original. The biggest hurdles with these shows are when a big name star is beloved and being replaced. I mean, really, who can replace Tom Selleck?
Sci-Fi and Fantasy
Paradoxically, the more fantastical the world, the more used to reboots we are, and the more skeptical we are of them. If you talk to regular comic book readers, they may joke about how all you need to reboot is to kill off a Flash or have a witch make a wish, and now there’s a new equilibrium. The same goes for people who love stories of myth and legend. They go into the world expecting changes because they’ve learned that the interpretation of the story is much of why it’s so wonderful.
This is why we have reboots of shows like Charmed and even Sabrina the Teenaged Witch (coming soon on Netflix as Chilling Adventures of Sabrina), and they are generally more accepted. Even the possibility of a Buffy reboot is met with cautious hope, since we’ve already established the world is extremely mutable.
The Alternate Universe
If you’re a fan of fan fiction, you’re probably familiar with the concept of an AU, that is an Alternate Universe. They can be as simple as “Korra is barista and Asami is the stunning woman who orders the same drink every day” or as complicated as transporting the characters from The X-Files to Hogwarts as students.
The beauty of an AU is that there’s little time that needs to be spent with world building. Someone else has done it for you. You don’t have to explain that Mulder is a skeptic, or that Korra is sheltered an naive. Those things are understood because of their base worlds.
When Hollywood reboots or reinvents a show, they are literally creating an AU of their own work. But as an fan fic writer worth their salt knows, you can only stretch an AU so far before it becomes uninteresting and downright avoidable.
Have we gone too far?
The question today, when we look at the glut of reboots on the TV, is have we gone too far? One Day at a Time is a reinvention. Wynonna Earp is based on a comic book. Even Buffy is based on a movie. But those are all ‘reboots’ I would urge people to watch.
The answer is found when we look at the quality of the story being told. Telling an old story in a new way is why we had both Sherlock and Elementary on at the same time. It’s why House was well received. And really it illustrates the point that there are surprisingly few basic stories.
Kurt Vonnegut, back in 1965, wrote an essay on how classic stories like Cinderella all share the same basic ‘shape.’ Since then (and well before since even Aristotle argued about this) there have been studies done to determine the basic plots out there. There may be 6, 36, 7, or 20, but the outcome is much the same.
There are a limited number of stories to be told, and if retelling them with our favourite characters in a new AU works, I say let it work. After all, 10 Things I Hate About You is just another Shakespeare comedy.
What reboots are you looking forward to?