In the last decade or so, the silver and small screens alike have been saturated with remakes. From beloved sitcoms like Fuller House to remakes of remakes like the upcoming Mummy film, Hollywood studios can’t seem to get enough of updating already adored shows, films, and franchises.
And I’m sick of it.
I get it. I really do. Showrunners and directors are capitalizing on my generation’s (yes, those Millennials adults on the internet seem to hate so much) collective nostalgic personality. Eighties and nineties babies grew up in a time of rapid technological and cultural growth; many of us remember growing up with VCRs and flip phones and graduated to DVD players and smartphones as teens. We groan at our ’90s and ’00s fashion tastes compared to our current ones and reminisce about summers playing outside until sunset with our friends before we could spend hours inside waiting for our YouTube videos to buffer. And of course, we remember fondly all of the shows and movies we watched growing up, even if some of those gems predated our birth (gotta love cable TV reruns).
I will preface my critique of remakes with an acknowledgment that there are exceptions to the cursed remake trend: any remake of a Marvel or DC film (now with the juggernaut studios that each respective enterprise has) is generally good and acceptable, and long-awaited sequels like Star Wars or Jurassic World can be enjoyable precisely because they are fresh continuations of dated treasures. (Also Ghostbusters was not that bad, just throwing that out there for fanboys.)
But for almost anything else, remakes fall short of the magic of the originals. This is because remaking most classic series or movies entails that those films, in a way, are de-contextualized and re-manufactured with today’s industry trends and cultural norms. And the act of doing that, in and of itself, will doom these remakes to fail.
I write this post with several recent/upcoming remakes in mind. The first and most obvious one is the Dirty Dancing remake that premiered on this past week on ABC. This version was a made-for-TV movie. We can stop right there. How many made-for-TV movies are on your top ten list?
There has been much written even in a matter of days about how bad this version of the 1987 Patrick Swayze/Jennifer Grey classic was, but without even reading them all I can say what the common theme was; this version did not have the same charm as the original. It was stiff and forced, and made changes to original format and storyline that made the new one feel….inauthentic. The 1987 version made the world swoon because it was befitting of the period in which it premiered. You love Dirty Dancing now because it is so obviously dated, but still timeless. You love it because of its dated charm, not in spite of it.
Another remake on the horizon is Roseanne. Although it will be a reboot rather than a remake of the old series, it will still feel present with the times because, well, we’re in the present. Even though the ending of the series left many fans upset, I still don’t believe that it warrants a new perspective on the Connor family, even if the original cast is on board. Roseanne in particular is an interesting case of a remake. I liked the series growing up, as it was a representation that, at the time, felt different than other sitcoms I was used to seeing. One of the main reasons Roseanne stuck with audiences is because it offered a narrative that countered the typical white, perfect, middle to upper-middle class nuclear family that had dominated television screens for decades prior to its debut. It presented a blue-collar, working class, semi-miserable white family that had children who talked back and a matriarch that wasn’t afraid to stand down to her husband. The two leads, Roseanne Barr and John Goodman, were also fat, which was another representation of whiteness that was subversive in the ’90s (despite it being more normal on black sitcoms). America — or more precisely, white America — was ready for a white working class narrative, and the show’s popularity made sense in an era of Democrat Bill Clinton, the good ol’ Southern boy that became a politician, as President.
But since Roseanne’s rise and end, and perhaps because of it, the visibility of the white working class has increased. The landscape of America has changed culturally and politically. And audiences crave more diverse representations on television, those which include more people of color, LGBT people, and women to name a few. Roseanne was diverse for its time. Television simply doesn’t need its narrative anymore.
Back on the film side, Halloween, my favorite film franchise of all time, is also supposedly getting a remake. The Rob Zombie films of the ’00s were okay, albeit unnecessarily gruesome in parts. But even though this new iteration has the approval of the film’s original director John Carpenter, it still won’t work in 2017. The original film is almost 40 years old, having hit theaters in 1978. It arguably pioneered the slasher genre. With its famously low budget and simplistic scares, it somehow became one of the most commercially successful franchises of its generation of horror films. Halloween’s success rested on its understated production. It was scary without gore; it was a suspenseful story rather than a horrific one. We may scoff at the slasher formula today because it’s been done to death, but for its time, Halloween was hella scary because there had simply not been a film like it before to that point. Therefore, to attempt to add big budgets, special effects, and hitting-you-over-the-head violent death scenes to Halloween would be taking away what made the original film fantastically fearsome. And with the way the genre has evolved, to not do these things would be difficult for filmmakers today and expect the film to break even in profits.
Lastly, let us not forget the trainwreck that was the 2016 made-for-TV production of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Starring Laverne Cox as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, this production failed to hit with fans of the cult classic. The consensus was that it tried too hard to recreate the quirkiness of the 1975 Tim Curry film. But that’s the thing — you can’t just try to be camp. The very nature of camp assumes that the object, be it a piece of media or clothing, is cheeky without having to try. Campiness is as effortless as it is over-the-top. (See: Susan Sontag’s “Notes on Camp.”) The original movie was so strange, so absurd, and so kitschy in part because it was everything you loved about 1970s humor, science fiction, and taboo. Now, with drag culture having gone mainstream and Broadway shows like Kinky Boots putting butts in seats, by the time Rocky Horror premiered on FOX, camp had become much less shocking to the senses. The TV musical production became part of a landscape where it is the norm to have a self-awareness of your own exaggerated performance. The ’70s was a period when being “meta” wasn’t a trend, when being campy wasn’t cool. That’s why Rocky Horror worked back then, and doesn’t now.
To love a piece of media means loving it for everything it is and is not. But to love an old television series or movie doesn’t mean that you want that media text to be brought back to life. Sometimes, loving something means letting it be exactly what it was, forever. That was, after all, the way it was when you first fell in love with it. You can’t force something to be magic again, otherwise it wouldn’t be called magic in the first place.