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Thursday, July 29, 2021

Reboots and reimaginations

In a world of rapid progression, TV can’t seem to let go of the past

It’s safe to say that television has changed a lot in the past 50 years. Gone are the days of flipping through channels or watching tacky game shows because there is nothing else on. Television has evolved from black and white consoles to high definition, from the introduction of TiVo allowing viewers to record live broadcasts to streaming sites offering endless viewing options at the click of a button.

Viewers themselves have changed as well. They are more picky and demand more from the content they choose to watch. There is a move toward increasingly niche and specific programming in the market because viewers can watch whatever they want whenever they want. The world the viewer is living in has changed as well. The social and political climate is vastly different than it was even a decade ago and would be almost unrecognizable to viewers of the past.

So, why is it that television shows from decades ago are suddenly being rebooted, recreated and reimagined? What is it about old shows that our rapidly progressing world can’t let go of? There are so many changes in television, yet, especially in the past few years, more and more reboots are on the rise.

“Will and Grace,” originally running from 1998 to 2005, returned with its original cast in 2017. That same year, the 1980s soap opera “Dynasty” was recreated for The CW and Netflix. “Fuller House,” a continuation of “Full House,” set when the children of the Tanner family are grown up, has been airing on Netflix since 2016 and has been renewed for a fourth season.

It’s hard to pinpoint exactly why these reboots began and what makes them so successful. Before a racist tweet by lead actress Roseanne Barr got the show cancelled, the reboot of the the classic 90s sitcom “Roseanne” set records for the ratings the premiere received. Fans still couldn’t let go of the Conner family, and “The Conners” continued on ABC without Barr. These shows are attracting viewers and getting renewed for more seasons to come in 2019. They are not one-hit wonders, not some fleeting moments for fans to get their fix of nostalgia. These shows have staying power, and until the next greatest thing in television comes along, there will only be more to come.

This could be because nostalgia is a powerful tool. With all the anxiety in the world, people have always found comfort in reruns. Now, people get to see that their favorite characters have survived and that their original quirks and charms have endured the hardships of the times. This lets the viewer feel like they can make it through as well. With so many shows on air, it is nice to see a familiar name. The New York Times likens the appeal of recreating old shows to that of a high school reunion — it is nice to know where everyone’s favorite characters have ended up.  

There is also greater opportunity to take ideas, characters and storylines further due to advances in technology and the concept of streaming. For example, Netflix launched a readaptation of “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” called “The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina,” which aired in 2018. The newer format allowed for an edgier Sabrina, with more realistic looking magical powers. Similarly, the age of streaming allowed for a revival of overly niche shows that simply could not survive on network television. The 2003 sitcom “Arrested Development” was cancelled by Fox after only three seasons due to ratings; despite that, the show generated a cult following and gained critical acclaim. The show’s episodes have found even more success as viewers watch seasons with streaming services. With so many subtle jokes and running gags, the show just works better in the era of binge watching. In 2013, Netflix gave the show a chance to finish telling its story from where Fox had cut it off by picking it up for a fourth season.

Certain shows are also able to grow beyond their original limitations due to today’s social and political climate. For example, the 1975 sitcom “One Day at a Time” was readapted in 2017 with an all Latino/a cast. While the show is still a multi-camera sitcom with a laugh track and 30-minute episodes, that’s pretty much the only thing old-fashioned about this remake. Not only does the show have more cultural representation than the original, but it also has an LGBTQ character and speaks to topics such as mental illness and sexism. The reboot took the format of the original show — the struggles of a single mother raising two children — and expanded it to be more relatable to a modern audience.

Similarly, the reality TV show “Queer Eye” was rebooted in 2017 on Netflix. The show originally aired in 2003 and was titled “Queer Eye for the Straight Guy.” The two shows have a similar premise of a “fab five” group of gay men with expertise in different aspects of culture, fashion and food who perform makeovers on people in need. While the original show focused mainly on making over straight men, however, the new adaptation has expanded to set its sights on helping anyone in need of a confidence boost. While the original series has faced some criticism for adhering to stereotypes of certain sexualities, the revival has worked to patch up those issues. Also, in a more modern era, the new show can focus more on gaining true acceptance of all spectrums of humanity. Because the original Fab Five fought to normalize the LGBTQ community for its viewers, the reboot has the opportunity to truly humanize and nuance the ideas of sexuality.

Overall, television reboots of old shows from different decades are not inherently bad things. While some have criticized the market for lacking creativity in storytelling, the temptation to recreate old favorites with modern technology and ideas is understandable. With all the creative progress and advances that have taken place within the past few years, it makes sense to take advantage of a chance to go back and improve upon a work that was once limited.

Written By: Alyssa Ilsley — arts@theaggie.org

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