Originally published November 5, 2021 on radiofodder.com
The highly anticipated airing of the Friends reunion in May 2021 was a typified response to why we’re never ‘on a break’ from our favourite shows. Plunged into a world-wide pandemic, viewers confined at home sought comfort in binging reruns of old sitcoms. Economising on these sentiments, producers saw an opportunity to deliver a long-awaited dose of nostalgia whilst also attempting to cash in on an old success—the result? A redundant recollection of the old, quashing hopes of introducing a new series and following the next phase of these characters’ lives.
This trend continued as many booked a retreat down memory lane during the hiatus from normal life. Boarding the reunion wagon were cast members from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, Frasier, Scrubs,and All My Children. Disney and Nickelodeon stars similarly followed suit to satiate fandom obsessions.
I’ve been trying to grapple with this concept of remixes, remakes, and reappearances. It led me to question whether this is ultimately a service provided by the entertainment industry to quench our nostalgia or simply an indication that they are at a loss for new ideas and need content that will continue to sell as big as these classics?
The closest thing we have to a time machine is the entertainment industry. The industry saw a need for nostalgia, organised a trip down memory lane and sought to reunite the visceral cord of memories and feelings we attach to our favourite shows. This trip didn’t end with reunions, we had reboots of Gossip Girl, iCarly, MacGyver as well as many notable pre-pandemic releases.
More examples can be elicited from Disney, wherein it introduced its 14th live-action remake, Cruella, to its spree of re-imagined cartoon classics, an amateur reimagination of a hot head whose mild traits and tolerance of dogs leave the villainess unrecognisable. The music industry itself seems to have hopped on a remix roulette, from ‘Rasputin’ by Majestic, Boney M., Elton John’s remixed song ‘Sacrifice’ with Dua Lipa, now changed to ‘Cold Heart’ and Clean Bandit’s remix of Whitney Huston’s ‘How Will I Know’. To younger listeners, the remixes are welcomed and platforms like Tik Tok have advocated this reintroduction of old classics to suit a contemporary taste. Remakes are thus encouraged where they don’t compromise the quiddity of the original.
Yes, remakes have been occurring for decades, but the recent surge owes to more fan gatherings at home. The pandemic created an intrinsic need for nostalgia, to rely upon those feelings of comfort and a sense of normalcy. Whilst difficult to accomplish in person, TV shows, movies, and music are now a socially distanced way of returning to the familiar. They’ve kept us company in isolation.
The Daily Mail, Drama Quarterly TV, and arts writer, Nicole Lampert, divulges that “in a TV landscape…these are a way of easily ensuring great ratings.” It’s monetarily beneficial for producers who “don’t have to go to the expense or risk of a new series but can ride that nostalgia wave.”
This is by far no mean feat. There are limits to how far remakes can stretch. TV producer and entertainment journalist Simon Thompson, describes them as “a bit like the showbiz version of Schrodinger’s cat.”
“Shows are associated with a moment in time, in pop culture, in careers and in lives—theirs and ours” he says, “Also, once it is done, what then? You can’t do it again. You basically get one shot.”
So why ruin a classic?
Executive editor of Indie Wire, Michael Schneider asked: “Anyone else getting the sense that broadcast TV is embarking on its Farewell Tour by playing all the hits one last time?”
It’s very rare that a remake outranks an original production, providing instead a poor and redundant attempt at imitation. But that’s not to say this has never happened. Although subjective, the US version of The Office received a larger fan following than its UK original, Doctor Who only gets better with age, and movies like Sabrina (1995), Batman Begins (2005) and Ocean’s Eleven (2001) were praised for their relatability, deep storylines, and special effects.
These remakes make for rare examples that have resulted in success, primarily because they allowed their audience enough time to exhaust their viewing experience of the original. These latest attempts resonate with contemporary viewers, appear more relatable, stay true to the essence of the original but take wise steps when introducing any additions.
Notably, today producers face the challenge of uncertainty over whether a show’s storyline, characters and concepts will work as well as they did previously. A show, much like us, must grow and adapt to its times, relatability here is key. Will it coincide with our current mindset and values? Will it question and challenge current social issues? A film like Gone with the Wind’s legacy is forever tainted. Its subjugation of the crippling effects of slavery and its role in the Blaxploitation-era diminishes its relatability as values we would no longer stand for. This film is very much a product of its time, with attitudes that would not resonate today.
Ultimately, remakes are about creating something that’s worth watching and making the most of our technological advancement with new insights, and staying true to the essence of the story.
Historically, fans have been quick to kvetch the attempts at reboots and remakes. Protecting the legacy of a show is of vital importance, lest producers damage the heritage and sentiments associated with the original production. Echoing Thompson’s thought, it is “a responsibility, almost a duty of care” to not disappoint die-hard fans.