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Commentary: My kingdom for an original idea: On Hollywood’s remakes, revivals and reboots

New York Daily News logo New York Daily News 3/4/2021 Kate Feldman, New York Daily News
Rebecca Breeds standing in front of a palm tree: Rebecca Breeds plays Clarice Starling in the CBS procedural“ Clarice.”. © Brooke Palmer/CBS ENTERTAINMENT/TNS Rebecca Breeds plays Clarice Starling in the CBS procedural“ Clarice.”.

I will watch Paramount+’s “Love Story” remake because I am an easy mark, both for sappy romance and for Josh Schwartz and Stephanie Savage collaborations. But I don’t know why it exists.

I’ve asked “why” about a lot of shows recently, and they almost all have something in common: we’ve seen them before.

Everything these days is an existing intellectual property or IP. It’s a remake or a revival or a reboot. Sometimes it’s been off the air since George W. Bush was in office, like “Frasier” and “Sex and the City.” Sometimes it’s barely been a year, like “Criminal Minds.” Sometimes it’s been decades, like “One Day at a Time.”

But nothing stays dead.

For the most part, the shows fall into three categories: film or book adaptations, remakes/revivals/reboots and those that are spun off from familiar brand names for no discernible reason.

Let’s start with the adaptations. Book adaptations have always been an easy hunting ground for writers, pulling from the bookshelves for already successful stories with fully formed characters and plots. This strategy has given us some of the best shows of the past decade, from “Game of Thrones” to “Hannibal,” and some in the middle, like “Pretty Little Liars” and “Orange is the New Black.” It puts images to beautifully painted words, growing storylines and personalities, sometimes past the point where the author went. It’s the same strategy that, this year alone, will bring us Liane Moriarty’s “Nine Perfect Strangers,” Sarah Vaughan’s “Anatomy of a Scandal” and Sally Rooney’s “Conversations with Friends.”

Matthew Rhys wearing a suit and hat: Matthew Rhys in the title role of HBO's " Perry Mason." © Warner Media/HBO/TNS/TNS Matthew Rhys in the title role of HBO's " Perry Mason."

Recently, the movie-to-series trend has become more popular after years of films being used to wrap-up shows. “Cobra Kai,” particularly after moving from YouTube to Netflix, has been a revelation, while what feels like half of Paramount+’s recent unveiling was pulled from the library, with remakes of “Love Story,” “Flashdance,” “Grease,” “The Italian Job,” “The Man Who Fell To Earth” and “The Parallax View.”

Some of these adaptations flourished after moving past their inspiration while some have struggled to keep up the plot, but for the most part, they’ve been picked because they already worked before and now have room to grow.

Then we move to the most obvious category: those that have existed before and will exist again. This is where you find your nostalgia bait, your “‘Sex and the City’ but all grown up,” your “‘Dexter’ but not a lumberjack anymore,” your “I swear ‘Criminal Minds’ just ended literally last year but I don’t know, I guess you can call it a comeback.” This is where Hollywood is relying on your belief that things were better before and that putting Frasier Crane back on your television screen will make things good again.

The nostalgia angle is more transparent than the others, and maybe a bit more crude, but it works. They keep doing it because we keep watching. And anyway, has anything actually gotten better since Frasier Crane was last on your television screen?

Now we come to the last choice, the most baffling of all: the stories that live in familiar worlds simply because they can. HBO’s “Perry Mason” may be the best example here, though surely not the only. Matthew Rhys could have just as easily been a completely new private investigator, with new sidekicks and new villains, without losing anything; in fact, it probably would have been a better story if it had been allowed to start fresh. CBS’ “Clarice” could have invented another trauma-riddled FBI agent instead of awkwardly dancing around Hannibal Lecter’s name. Sarah Paulson could have played any old nurse at any old asylum with any old inappropriate relationship with her foster brother, rather than filling in the blanks for Nurse Ratched.

The best show of 2020 was “I May Destroy You,” pulled from Micaela Coel’s own experiences with sexual assault. A year before that, it was Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s “Fleabag,” a creative masterpiece about the struggles of existing. Each was similar and different in beautiful ways, but particularly in their originality. It wasn’t so much that we hadn’t seen these characters before, but that we hadn’t seen these ideas before.

I will watch the new “Pretty Little Liars” and the new “Gossip Girl” and even the new “Sex and the City.” I’ll watch every “Gilmore Girls” and “Veronica Mars” they give me. If that makes me part of the problem, so be it. But I still want more. I want creative. I want original.

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