Risking the Reboot: Is It Worth It?

by Rachel Feinberg

Photo via Vulture and Photos by Everrett Collection and HBO Max

With the rapid increase in original content from streaming giants like Netflix and Hulu it’s now harder than ever to come up with a unique idea for a TV show. So naturally, it makes sense that these companies would realize there was an untapped market that wouldn’t even require them to start from scratch. Netflix alone has rebooted or revived over a dozen series in the last five years, and now many others have begun to follow their lead.

So is it worth the risk to potentially ruin the reputation of any already successful series by bringing it back? It would certainly seem so based on how popular reboots are becoming, but as an avid watcher of TV I’ve picked up on a few general right and wrong moves shows have made in their reboot attempts.

By far the most important thing to avoid in a reboot is trying to make a carbon copy of the original show. It doesn’t matter if the original characters are returning or the reboot is starting fresh (or if there’s a mix of both), audiences need new stories to get hooked on. In the case of the hit sitcom Arrested Development, Netflix’s attempt to revive it fell flat specifically for this reason. The original show ran for three seasons from 2003–2006 on Fox with a fourth being made by Netflix in 2013. Though they took a different approach to the original format by having each episode focus on a specific character, they essentially just tried to pick up where the show left off. Despite the lackluster response to Arrested Development’s revival Netflix ordered a fifth season and just ahead of its release they “remixed” season 4, recutting it to follow the traditional method of showing multiple characters and storylines occurring simultaneously in each episode. But the end result wasn’t much better, and the majority of fans and critics alike felt Arrested Development’s reputation was permanently ruined by the revival.

Photo via Netflix

That’s why it’s important to have a new premise, regardless of how the reboot is being done. If a show is coming back after several years off the air, there needs to be a reason for the audience to come back too. Take the Paramount+ reboot of beloved kids show iCarly for example. Many of the main cast from the original series returned with a few new characters joining them, but the show’s 78% audience rating on Rotten Tomatoes can largely be attributed to the fresh twist it put on the original’s successful formula.

It can be especially tricky to reboot a show where the returning actors have aged significantly since the first run, though iCarly took advantage of the opportunity to mature their characters and subject matter rather than stick to the kid-friendly format (like Netflix did with their subpar sequel to Full House). What resulted was a mix of new depth to beloved characters as well as an appropriate amount of nostalgia, allowing the audience of former kids to feel like a show they once loved grew up with them.

Photos via IMDB

Another key component of many successful reboots is increased diversity and inclusion. This is especially important considering the strong push for better media representation we’ve seen over the last several years, and thankfully it seems like most new shows and movies are becoming more reflective of today’s society. In 2017 Netflix revived the CBS sitcom One Day at a Time, though this time around it centered on a Cuban-American family. Netflix received praise not just for the show’s focus on Latino culture, but also for discussing the issues Latinos all over the country were facing at the time with the election. One of the most recent reboots to come out is HBOMax’s revival of Gossip Girl, a show that originally focused on the lives of attractive, privileged, upper-class high school students in the Upper East Side. The series ran from 2007–2012 on The CW, and while it didn’t receive much criticism back then, its continued popularity over the years has led to discussions on its major lack of diversity. The creators behind the OG GG have since spoken about their regrets in having the main cast feature only white, cisgender, heterosexual characters, and HBOMax’s iteration of the teen drama is not making the same mistakes.

While it wouldn’t be Gossip Girl without a group of rich, uppity teenagers, this time around the teenagers look quite different from the old ones as well as each other. This group of friends is made up of different races, ethnicities, sexualities and gender identities much like the ones you’d actually see walking around NYC today. And the best part is, the show draws little to no attention to it. In cases of series like One Day at a Time or Netflix’s reboot of reality show Queer Eye where the topic of the show surrounds specific identities, it makes sense that the content would more overtly discuss these things, but the idea of “casual representation” is just as important. There is one storyline involving a character questioning his sexuality, but it isn’t the only thing about him, and the identities of the other characters aren’t highlighted as their defining characteristics either — they just are.

As viewers, everyone looks for something different in a show, therefore there are plenty of ways a network or production company can go about rebooting a show. But if reboots are going to continue coming (and there seems to be a strong indication that they will), it’s in everyone’s best interest to make sure they’re being done the right way.

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