Everywhere you turn, there’s a hit series or film from decades past coming back to the small screen. Just this week, early ’90s mind-trip Twin Peaks returned after a 26-year absence to explain what became of Agent Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan). Answer: he’s just been hanging in the Black Lodge listening to people talk funny.
And there’s more to come, with everything from Roseanne (ignoring the original series’ ending!) to Lost in Space (with Parker Posey!) coming back to TV. But just because something was popular or successful once, doesn’t mean it needs to be resuscitated and thrown back on air.
For every Fargo, the critically acclaimed TV spin on the classic Coen brothers film, there’s the totally unnecessary resurrection of Prison Break, which literally brought its main character back to life for more escapades. When going back to the well, here are a few guidelines to consider...
DO take the spirit of the original and turn it into something new
When a TV version of Fargo was announced, many questioned the sense of remaking such a perfect cinematic creation. And that’s where series creator Noah Hawley was clever – he didn’t retell or reboot the same story, he concocted a new tale of small-town crime which used the movie’s tone and quirks as its guide.
Similarly, Netflix’s continuation of critically beloved comedy Arrested Development didn’t just offer up the same half-hour servings of Bluth family dysfunction. Instead, an elaborate 15-part tapestry of running jokes and shifting perspectives was woven. The jury is divided on how successful that was, but points for trying something different.
DON’T just rehash the original
“I know. This time, instead of Michael busting Lincoln out of jail, Lincoln can be on the outside, helping to free Michael.”
“Didn’t that happen in season three?”
“Oh, no one will remember that.”
When Prison Break returned this year, Michael (Wentworth Miller) was revealed to be alive and in jail in Yemen. Brother Lincoln (Dominic Purcell) spearheads the effort to get him out. Same story, different country.
Meanwhile, several recent movie-to-TV revivals haven’t strayed far from the source material. Training Day was a watered down rehash of the Denzel Washington film; Lethal Weapon lucked out in casting a duo with as much chemistry as Damon Wayans and Clayne Crawford, but they’re still just another mismatched buddy cop pairing; and Frequency swapped out Jim Caviezel for Peyton List and covered basically the same territory.
DO have a great story
You could pretty much revive anything if you tried hard enough – and had a big enough cheque book to lure back reluctant former stars. But then what? Like any film or series, a revamp needs a story to tell. It’s unclear just what the story is in the new season of Twin Peaks, but it certainly feels like it’s building to something. In the first four episodes, Dale Cooper (Kyle MacLachlan) has been freed from the Black Lodge, Matthew Lillard has been accused of one of the most gruesome murders seen on TV and the little girl from The Nanny was obliterated while watching a mysterious clear box. It might not make sense, but it’s definitely intriguing.
DON’T just go on a nostalgia trip
Perhaps it’s unfair to categorise the Netflix continuation of Gilmore Girls in this way, but a long-awaited wedding and a shock twist (which could’ve all occurred in a webisode) aside, a stroll down memory lane was pretty much what it was. We got to see all the old faces we loved and loved to hate, including oh-so-busy Melissa McCarthy as Sookie. The Gilmore girls fast-talked, drank coffee, squabbled and made up. But what actually happened?
DO have a reason to bring the show/film back to the screen now
The X-Files creator Chris Carter made the case that the seminal sci-fi series was more relevant now than ever, thanks to the pervasive distrust of government at present. As usual, however, the revived show’s conspiracy theory storyline raised more questions than it resolved.
Will & Grace isn’t quite back on air, but it’s already made its presence felt with a couple of viral videos – and 2017 does feel like the right time for the trail-blazing sitcom to return. Debra Messing (Grace) agrees. “Will & Grace has always been political. It’s always dealt with what is happening in our culture and in our country. It’s absolutely going to be addressing in real time what’s happening,” she says.
DON’T be afraid of recasting
Could anyone really deal with Jack Bauer (Kiefer Sutherland) scowling his way through another day’s worth of violence, torture and mole unmasking? And yet the concept of a show about counter-terrorism has never been so relevant (see above point). When 24 returned (as 24: Legacy), it did so with a new Energizer rabbit-style operative, Eric Carter (Corey Hawkins), who proved just as indestructible as Bauer. The show was a bit same old, but the fresh blood helped.
Not all recasts work, however, especially when the original character is as iconic as Richard Dean Anderson’s MacGyver – a man whose knack for getting himself out of scrapes with paper clips, duct tape and chewing gum was legendary. Those shoes have proved too big for Lucas Till to fill.
DO pick something you have a hope of equalling if not bettering
The Exorcist is to horror movies what The Godfather is to, well, movies – and so transferring it to the small screen was only ever going to come up short. Why not choose a film that bombed at the box office? Something like 2001’s Wet Hot American Summer, which even its cult following would have to admit didn’t set the bar that high. Even more genius: gathering back the movie’s now much more famous cast to play younger versions of their characters in a prequel series.
DON’T overshadow your next generation characters with their more familiar forebears
From Dallas to Full House to Boy Meets World, one iteration of the TV revival has consisted of continuing the story by focussing on the children of original characters. Inevitably, the original stars are present in some capacity but sometimes their characters are so larger-than-life they prevent the new generation from coming into their own. This was true of the short-lived second coming of Melrose Place, which resorted to Primetime Soap 101 by recruiting Heather Locklear to turn things around. But while Aaron Spelling’s secret weapon had been crucial to the success of the ’90s phenomenon, her presence in the reboot just emphasised the point that no one cared enough about the younger residents of the apartment block. 90210, the revamp of Beverly Hills, 90210, did a much better job of keeping the original stars in their place.
Watch season 3 of Fargo on Wednesdays at 8:30pm. Missed the last episode? Watch it right here at SBS On Demand: