Monday, 23 September 2019

Gratuitous Lists: Ten Shows That Should Be Rebooted

We live in the age of reboots. It feels like we can’t go a week or three without someone announcing a remake of a beloved, older property. From Ghostbusters (twice!) to Gremlins to Charmed to a third iteration of Battlestar Galactica, reboots are all the rage, many of them unnecessary or premature. 

But what about franchises that have been left fallow which should be rebooted, where a new version would be welcome because the original is very old, or because it was cancelled ahead of time, or because it never got enough recognition in its time? Here are ten shows which I think could rise again and be done interestingly.

Note that by the term reboot, I mean "a relaunch of an older franchise in a new form." This can be either a continuation of the original series but in a new viewer-friendly format – such as the 2005 Doctor Who and 2017 Star Trek “reboots,” and Sam Esmail’s recently-announced Battlestar relaunch – or a complete, from scratch remake of the original, such as Ronald D. Moore’s Battlestar Galactica or the recent version of Charmed. Or even the rare franchise which attempts both (such as, arguably, J.J. Abrams’ 2009 take on Star Trek).


Space: Above and Beyond

Originally airing for just a single season in 1995-96, this space opera series focused on the Wildcards, the 58th Squadron of the United States Marine Corps Space Aviator Cavalry, as they engaged in warfare with the alien “Chigs.” Set in 2063, the series depicts a human race who is on the ropes, their extrasolar colonies destroyed and their fleets forced back to the Solar system. It also doesn’t help that humanity also has an ambiguous relationship with the Silicates, humanoid artificial intelligences who have rebelled against their creators, and “In Vitroes,” genetically-engineered humans grown in tanks to help fight both the Silicates and the Chigs.

Space: Above and Beyond wears its influences on its sleeves – particularly the Wing Commander video game series – and, it has to be said, left much to be desired in terms of writing, acting and worldbuilding, particularly the fact that the main characters are simultaneously both elite fighter pilots and experienced ground combat troops. But there are some very good ideas in the show, with the murky three-way relationship between the humans, Silicates and “tanks” providing some interesting drama and contrasted against the alien invaders. Coming from some of the same creative team as The X-Files, the show also started exploring murky conspiracies which added some interesting depth to the show just before it ended on a huge cliffhanger. You’re also not going to forget the appearance of David Duchovny as an android pool shark in a hurry.

Some may feel that the revamped Battlestar Galactica has rendered a Space: Above and Beyond reboot pointless, as that show had a far superior grip on the nuances of space fighter pilots and where the desperate premise gave a better grounding for the idea of the pilots as multi-purpose troops, but there’s something interesting of the purity of a show which focuses so much on humans versus aliens, but has some added complexity to spice things up.


Ultraviolet

This Channel 4 mini-series aired in 1998 to immense critical acclaim and limited viewing figures, but has enjoyed a cult audience to this very day for several reasons. One of them is that it provided the first major role for Idris Elba, who plays supporting character Vaughn. Another is that it took the slightly barmy premise – vampires are real and such a threat to society that a secret government taskforce has spend decades hunting them – and treated it with earnest seriousness. The result is something that feels closer to The X-Files or a spy thriller than a traditional horror series or Buffy, with fantastic writing and direction from Joe Ahearne.

The cast was exceptional, with a pre-Pirates of the Caribbean Jack Davenport and a pre-True Blood Stephen Moyer leading a spectacular roster also including Elba, Susannah Harker and the fantastic Philip Quast (as the morally ambiguous leader of the taskforce), and with the vampires treated more like a disease or force of nature than forces of handsome temptation…at least until the last two episodes, which do much to make the premise and the nature of the enemy more questionable. An attempted American reboot of the show in 2000 failed to go beyond a pilot, although it did introduce Elba to American casting producers and set the scene for his casting in The Wire two years later.

This feels particularly ripe for a reboot. We’ve had a whole string of slightly campy and funny vampire shows in the last decade or so, but nothing with the menacing energy and total conviction that Ultraviolet had, and it’d be interesting to see it go beyond the first season into the more apocalyptic tone the series seemed to be setting up at the end.


Firefly

I mean, no list like this is going to be remotely complete without at least mentioning the great “missed opportunity” of 2000s space operas, Firefly. Joss Whedon’s much-admired (if thematically-challenged; why are we rooting for the Space Confederates again?) space western lasted only 14 episodes in 2002 before Fox managed to kill it through a combination of corporate politics and inept scheduling, but immense DVD sales saw it brought back as the moderately successful movie Serenity in 2005. Comics, a roleplaying game and a very successful board game have kept the name alive, with both Fox and several streaming services saying they’d be happy to consider a new iteration of the series.

Whedon himself is busy at HBO with a new project, The Nevers, and most of the cast is in demand elsewhere, so this is probably off the cards for a few more years, but it’d be interesting to revisit the ‘Verse. A remake seems unnecessary, given that the original cast was mostly pretty young when they made it (Jewel Staite and Summer Glau are still only in their 30s, Morena Baccarin only recently turned 40), so a relaunch sent 15-20 years after the events of Serenity with a presumably very different ‘Verse in play would be the way to go, perhaps a “getting the crew back together” story when a new threat arises. Moreso than a lot of the shows on this list, there's unfinished business here.


American Gothic

No, not the weak-arsed 2016 show, but the terrifying semi-supernatural drama which aired for one, memorable season in 1995-96. Created and written by Shaun Cassidy, produced by Sam Raimi and starring a frankly disturbing Gary Cole (keen to fight back against his “cuddly dude” image from Midnight Caller), who may or may not be the devil, or a servant of the same, American Gothic was a glorious mash-up of Southern Americana and Stephen King on steroids.

Cole played Sheriff Lucas Buck, the seemingly easy-going sheriff of Trinity, South Carolina who collects favours from the townsfolk in return for his help, and then collects in a brutal and often-unexpected fashion. As the season continues, the serialised story evolves into a war for the soul of Caleb Temple (Lucas Black), a young orphan boy with unusual powers. Buck tempts him towards evil, but reporter Gail Emory (Paige Turco) and Dr. Matt Crower (Jake Weber) try to keep him on the side of good. The townsfolk find themselves caught up in the struggle, which starts as a slow-burning, subtle struggle before becoming more apocalyptic as the season goes on.

Way ahead of its time, some of American Gothic’s Southern-drenched horror atmosphere resurfaced in HBO’s True Blood, although that show arguably overdid the camp and humour to negate much of the dramatic impact of the premise. If someone brought back American Gothic with just the right tone, this could be a huge hit.


Dark Skies

As The X-Files ground its way through the 1990s and it became increasingly clear that the writers were making stuff upon the fly with no pre-planning, fans began to wonder what would happen if it had been written by Babylon 5 creator J. Michael Straczynski, famed for his mastery of foreshadowing and setting up plot points years ahead of time to make a much more cohesive storyline.

Dark Skies attempted to answer that question. Written by occasional Straczynski collaborator Bryce Zabel (along with Brent Friedman), the show had a pre-planned five-season arc that was going to unfold across decades. The first season spans almost a full ten years, from 1961 to 1969, and focuses on FBI agent John Loengard (Eric Close) and his wife Kimberly Sayers (Megan Ward) as they uncover evidence that the Roswell incident was real, and the beginning of a clandestine alien attack on Earth by the so-called “Greys.” Top-secret US agency Majestic-12 was formed to fight against the alien invaders, led by Frank Bach (a magnificent J.T. Walsh), but the long war has made the organisation ruthless and paranoid, trampling over civil rights and the Constitution.

As the season progressed, it pitted Loengard and Sayers against the aliens, their possessed human slaves and into an ambiguous relationship with Majestic-12, sometimes as allies and sometimes as enemies. Halfway through the season there was something of a rejig of the premise, with Kimberly being taken over the aliens and it being revealed that the Greys are just a front, with the real enemy being a parasitic species called the Ganglions, who have taken control of most of the Greys and use them as slaves. Towards the end of the season there was also an unexpected alliance formed between Majestic-12 and its Russian counterpart, with Juliet Stuart (a pre-Voyager Jeri Ryan) joining the team as a liaison, and the intriguing hint that the Cold War was actually just a feint created by the US and Soviet governments to believe that humanity was weaker than it really was.

The plan for future seasons was fascinating, with the second season expected to cover the period 1970-76, the third season 1977-86 and the fourth season in 1987-99, culminating with a full-scale Ganglion invasion. The fifth season, set in real-time (2000-01) would have depicted the fight back against the invaders. Obviously, these never happened.

With its rich period detail and a much greater sense of narrative direction than The X-Files, it’s a shame that the show was dismissed as just a knock-off. A remake of the same premise now would be extremely interesting.


Babylon 5
Speaking of Babylon 5, it’s entirely possible that J. Michael Straczynski’s own magnum opus, which aired five seasons from 1993 to 1998, could be due a reassessment. With its complex, rich five-year storyline and its cast of impressive, flawed protagonists, Babylon 5 certainly felt at least twenty years ahead of its time and was seriously underrated during its time on the air.

Some may argue that remaking Babylon 5 is redundant: the show completed its storyline (unlike most of the shows mentioned here) and aired 110 episodes, seven TV movies and half a season of a spin-off before wrapping up. B5 has also been influential on the current run of space operas, particularly The Expanse (Daniel Abraham has acknowledged his huge love of the show). But whilst that’s true, it’s also true that getting modern audiences to watch the original series is increasingly difficult. There’s no sign that Warner Brothers are interested in a HD remaster, and in many respects the show has not aged as well as it might have done. The first and last seasons are both very rough, and the guest cast could be particularly ropey. The original cast was, of course, fantastic but a sadly astonishing number have passed away very young, making a sequel series or continuation almost impossible to consider.

At its heart Babylon 5 was an epic space opera custom-designed for the small screen. A reboot handled in the right, respectful way (with Straczynski’s involvement and reusing the original cast in new roles where appropriate) could become the Game of Thrones of science fiction (and it’s worth nothing that George R.R. Martin was a huge fan of Babylon 5). Unfortunately, it sounds like Warner Brothers are not interested in the idea, at least for now.


Macross/Robotech

Back in 1982, Studio Nue and Shōji Kawamori created a hugely influential animated show: Super Dimension Fortress Macross. The show depicted an alien spacecraft crash-landing on Earth in the South Pacific, alerting the planet (then on the cusp of a Third World War) of the existence of possibly hostile alien life. Humanity rebuilt the starship, the Super Dimensional Fortress (or SDF-1), but when they reactivated the hyperdrive, they gave away the ship’s position to the Zentraedi, who were searching for it. After a pitched battle, the SDF-1’s hyperdrive misfired, delivering it (and 70,000 refugees from a nearby island) to the orbit of Pluto. With the hyperdrive apparently burned out, the ship had to head back to Earth on normal rocket power, which took two years.

During this period the crew fought numerous battles with the Zentraedi, who wanted to capture the ship intact and thus were constantly fighting with one hand tied behind their backs. The story featured both soap-opera-ish developments among the humans of the SDF-1 and within the Zentraedi fleet, as well as epic battles and huge revelations about the nature of the fortress, humanity and the aliens. A final pitched battle sees Earth mostly destroyed and the surviving humans and Zentraedi forced to work together to survive in the aftermath.

In 1985 the series was bought by Harmony Gold in the USA, but they deemed it too short for syndication. It was combined with two other unrelated-but-similar-looking shows (Super Dimension Cavalry Southern Cross and Genesis Climber Mospeada) to create a whole new show, Robotech. Drawing mostly on the Macross material for its backstory, Robotech expands the storyline to some thirty years after the original series, giving the Zentraedi a new master race (the Robotech Masters) and their own nemeses (the Invid) and exploring further conflicts with these two races. There was also an aborted spin-off, The Sentinels, depicting the original Macross characters taking the fight into space (and explaining their absence from the other series).

Macross itself also gained a large number of spin-off series in Japan, including the non-canonical Macross II, the prequel series Macross Zero and various sequels, including Macross Plus, Macross 7 and Macross Delta. Due to legal disputes between the Japanese companies and Harmony Gold, these latter series have not been released in the west. However, thanks to a new deal signed between the companies in 2019, there are plans to perhaps remedy this.

Both Macross and Robotech have their hardcore fans, and of course modern anime fans consider it sacrilege to rewrite and re-edit original Japanese material, so any reboot of the series would likely be contentious, whether it was a redoing of Macross or Robotech. But given Netflix’s success with relaunching Voltron and given the end of the long-running legal dispute between the US and Japanese creators, this project must be on their radar. With the much-mooted live-action version of Robotech apparently on the backburner (having gone through two directors in rapid succession), it might be time to see the SDF-1 and its crew back on the small screen again.


Rome

HBO’s epic retelling of the story of the fall of the Roman Republic and the rise of the Roman Empire to replace it was one of the most lavish TV shows ever made, with colossal sets, rich costuming and fantastic casting. It feels very much like a practice run for Game of Thrones, sharing a lot of DNA with the latter show in terms of brutal writing, graphic violence and, if anything, even more sex.

It was also short and curtailed. HBO aired two seasons in 2005 and 2007, but were left high and dry when the BBC bailed on cofunding a third season. HBO panicked at the show’s huge budget and dropped it, only to later recant after huge DVD sales and increased viewing figures through the second season’s run. By the time HBO felt ready to remount it, the moment had passed and the in-demand cast (including Kevin McKidd, James Purefoy and Polly Walker) had scattered to numerous other projects.

There are various options for a rebooting of the show. One idea might be to simply remake the original with a new cast (and perhaps a bit more fidelity to actual history, such as using Clodia rather than Atia and depicting the Battle of Philippi as the complex, multi-week campaign it really was), since the stories of Julius Caesar, Augustus, Mark Antony and Cleopatra are of course timeless.

A more interesting idea might be to pursue the notion that HBO themselves had five or six years ago which never took off. The original Rome was going to have a time-jump in the fourth season to the time of Jesus, with the descendants of Timon (Atia’s Jewish hatchet-man in the original show) playing a key role in events. However, after the show was cancelled HBO instead considered a fresh adaptation of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius and Claudius the God, previously adapted as a prestige BBC mini-series in the 1970s. Using the Rome sets (most of which are still standing in Italy, although some were damaged by fire in 2007), the story could be rejigged as a Rome sequel, with many characters returning in their later years of life.


UFO

In 1970, Gerry Anderson was best-known as the creator of a series of puppet shows for kids with insanely elaborate production views: Fireball XL5, Stingray, Thunderbirds and Captain Scarlet and the Mysterons (among many others). UFO was his first live-action project, combining real actors with his trademark elaborate sets and visual effects, courtesy of the late, great Derek Meddings.

UFO remains an outlier among Anderson’s work. It was adult, strange, paranoid, dark, grim and occasionally barking mad. If Anderson’s other shows (excepting maybe Captain Scarlet) reflected the colourful, optimistic tone of the 1960s, UFO reflected the dark side, musing on drug abuse, the PTSD of war and the paranoia that comes from fighting a secret war against an alien infiltration force.

The premise is that Earth is under attack by alien forces. Under great secrecy, an international organisation named SHADO (Supreme Headquarters, Alien Defence Organisation) is established to defend the planet. The defence network consists of Interceptors, space fighters launched from Earth’s moon; Skydiver, a sub-launched aerial combat craft; and rapid-response ground troops deployed from APCs. The series mostly follows operations from SHADO HQ (hidden under a film studio), where Colonel Straker (Ed Bishop) masterminds the fight against the aliens. Other characters include Colonel Foster (Michael Billington), SHADO’s newest recruit; Lt. Ellis (Gabrielle Drake), Moonbase commander; Colonel Freeman (George Sewell), SHADO’s second in command; Colonel Lake (Wanda Ventham), SHADO’s computer specialist; and Captain Carlin (Peter Gordeno), the principle Skydiver pilot.

If this all sounds a bit familiar, this may be because Julian Gollop “borrowed” elements of the premise for his 1993 video game UFO: Enemy Unknown (released as X-COM: UFO Defense in the US), which kick-started the X-COM video game franchise. This series was relaunched in 2012 with a new game, XCOM: Enemy Unknown, and continues today.

UFO was way ahead of its time in being dark, rather pitiless in how it killed off characters and rather realistic in how characters were promoted, reassigned or fired, with the cast moving around a lot in roles in a mere 26 episodes. As the show drew to a close, there were interesting revelations about the nature of the aliens and hints that some of the aliens wanted peace. A modern reboot of the show could be very interesting. 


Blake’s 7

At the top of almost every SF fan’s wishlist for a show to be rebooted is Blake’s 7. Created by Doctor Who writer (and creator of the Daleks) Terry Nation, the show ran for four seasons on the BBC in 1978-81. At its height it was – briefly – the biggest show on UK television, even defeating the super-popular soap opera Coronation Street in a ratings war (albeit for the series finale). This was remarkable given that Blake’s 7 was an unabashed, low-budget space opera, complete with wobbly plastic spaceships, even more wobbly sets and rudimentary visual effects.

What made Blake’s 7 work was its utter ruthlessness. The show started off with idealistic crusader Roj Blake (Gareth Thomas) and amoral computer genius Kerr Avon (Paul Darrow) joining forces after being imprisoned by the totalitarian Terran Federation, a blatantly evil version of Star Trek’s Federation (to the unsubtle extent of the Federation’s symbol being the Star Trek symbol turned all the way to the extreme right). Avon and Blake escape with a motley crew of criminals and chancers, find an advanced alien starship called the Liberator and then embark on a war of retribution against the Federation. So far, so Robin Hood.

However, the show had no truck with black and white hats and clearly-drawn lines of good and evil. Blake starts off as a hero, but becomes morally compromised as he becomes more and more willing to accept civilian casualties as “justified” in the battle to pull down the Federation. At a key moment in the series, he is asked if he can accept the hundreds of thousands and probably many millions of deaths that will result from destroying the Federation’s central control computer on Earth, disrupting food and water supplies. Blake says, rather quickly, yes, “because it’s the only way I’ll know I was right.” The moral lines become even more confused when a hostile alien race from Andromeda invades the Federation at the end of Season 2, forcing Blake into an alliance of convenience with his enemies to ensure that humanity is not just wiped out altogether.

In Season 3, Blake disappears and Avon takes control of the Liberator. Initially planning to use the ship for his own selfish ends, Avon constantly finds himself drawn into idealistic struggles and loses his own sense of identity, becoming a hero against his better instincts and loathing himself for it, as he knows he is a fraud. By Season 4, Avon is clearly suffering from paranoia and possibly a personality disorder as he can no longer determine his own motivations. The series ended with what is arguably still the most shocking finale of all time, as the entire regular cast is brutally gunned down by Federation troops, just before Avon – having just murdered a returned Blake after mistaking him for a traitor – makes a futile last stand of his own, leaving his fate ambiguous.

In truth, that finale was more of a happy accident. Another season was planned, which would open with the revelation that the crew had only been stunned and imprisoned, not killed, but the BBC decided to cancel the show on a high, leaving the bloodbath finale as the show’s last word.

Plans for a relaunch have abounded for years, including a Sky One project a few years ago that seemed to fundamentally misunderstand everything about the show and was fortunately abandoned in the planning stages. Many of the relaunch plans revolved around a “next generation” story where a band of new rebels arises, inspired by the legend of Blake and Avon. Paul Darrow would have returned, sometimes in a mentorship role to the new heroes and sometimes as an enemy, having ascended to high office within the Federation. However, the sad passing of Paul Darrow earlier this year seems to have put paid to such talk, making a full remake more likely.

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4 comments:

Unknown said...

I would love to see a modern Blake’s 7 and of course some continuation of Firefly.

But for my money, we need a Dresden Files reboot stat. Not because the short-lived Syfy show was any good (far from it). But the source material is not only wonderfully entertaining, those books were practically made for prestige genre TV. Very few tweaks would be needed to translate Butcher’s stories into a long-running HBO or Amazon series. And these days, they’d finally have the budget and special effects to make that world work.

Han said...

Watched and loved several of your examples over the years (Space: A&B, Firefly, Dark Skies, Rome), and to your list, I'd suggest also Roar (short-lived Heath Ledger show), and Sliders (would love to see it done with today's resources and the writing of prestige TV), among others.

Unknown said...

Blakes 7 definitely.

For Rome, I'd like a series set between the end of Season 2, and the start of I, Claudius, especially to see how matters were resolved between Atia and Livia.

Sean Fear

alibaba said...

I've recently re-watched UFO and it is, as you say, absolutely bat-shit crazy in places. Ed Straker's hallucinations of himself as an actor in UFO (where a chase occurs through the UFO backlots and sets) comes to mind...