With the return of the CW’s Dynasty this month, our attention is once again drawn to the current culture sweeping through Hollywood: the reboot. Once considered a rarity, the concept of ‘rebooting’ a film or television programme often means recreating characters, locations - even storylines - and presenting them to a contemporary audience.
Some of the criticism of reboots is certainly valid – do execs assume that the original incarnation cannot be watched and appreciated today? However, there is also a strong case for bringing back a show that may still be culturally relevant, albeit in a different way. In the case of Dynasty, whilst it might be fun to see Joan Collins somehow manage to throw someone down a flight of stairs in the 80s classic, class and wealth dynamics in the US have shifted substantially in the past thirty years – but are still very much present. Enter the reboot.
Unfortunately, the narrative of the reboot phenomena is somewhat confused by ‘the revival’. A revival tends to continue to be set in the world laid out in the respective original series and carry over characters, exploring them at a later stage in their lives. This is also becoming a popular format, particularly for platforms such as Netflix and Hulu, both of which have a lot to gain by bringing back old favourites, such as the much-loved Arrested Development and the recently announced fourth season of Veronica Mars. With the latter, Hulu has revived the series a full twelve years after the original run was cancelled, and five years after the fan-funded movie was released. Whilst validly suggesting that fan audiences have an inability to let things go, critics argued that we’re entering an age where ‘nothing ever dies in TV’, a criticism also aimed at Netflix’s revival of Gilmore Girls.
The third way to desperately cling on to a beloved series is informally known as a ‘revamp’, this incorporates elements of the previous two methods. In certain cases, this provides a long running show with a much-needed adrenaline shot to keep the old fans interested and potentially draw in new viewers. Take the latest series of Doctor Who – the basic elements of the show remain a constant, but a fresh take in tone, direction and character dynamics proved to be a huge success, with Jodie Whittaker’s Doctor bringing in almost 9 million viewers. In many other cases, the lack of familiar characters and a changed premise proves to be a show’s downfall, such as Scrubs or Once Upon a Time, both of which were swiftly cancelled after their revamps proved to be unpopular and unnecessary.
The lines between the three techniques are increasingly blurring, with the negative buzz surrounding them driving the powers that be to avoid the terms altogether. With the world of television ever-expanding, the search for original content is becoming increasingly harder, with too many production companies and networks relying on reboots, revivals and revamps to save them. That being said, we can’t help what we fall in love with, and for the most part, we can tolerate a reboot for the sake of nostalgia. Until they reboot Friends. Then we’re having words.