Why Are TV Revivals So Determined to Be Depressing?
Why so serious?Photo Courtesy of HBO TV Features
(Editor’s Note: Spoilers below for the revivals of Gilmore Girls, Veronica Mars, Murphy Brown, and The L Word. But if you haven’t cared to watch these shows by now, you probably don’t care about spoilers!)
On this week’s premiere of NBC’s This is Us, Kevin (Justin Hartley) decides to do the revival of his comedy The Manny. I have to be honest: this fictional revival of a fictional show inside another TV show sounded so much better than the revivals and reboots we’ve been dealing with lately.
Let’s review: Did you know that getting older is awful? That your husband will die, your best friend will abandon you, you’ll need a hip replacement, your sex life will be non-existent (except if you are having an affair), you will become an entirely different person and you’ll be tragically out of touch with, well, everything—so out of touch that you’ve never even heard of Diwali? And Just Like That sure does. There are so many things wrong with this Sex and the City reboot; it’s embarrassing how the show just seems to be going through a checklist of current social issues (like when your mom tries to incorrectly use a term the kids say), but the most offensive aspect is how depressing the show seems to think aging is. This is a show that used to be about empowering women no matter what their life choices. It celebrated sex in a way that was so liberating for its viewers. As we’ve noted here at Paste, it’s like a bizarro version of The Golden Girls, devoid of humor or optimism. The original series was a comedy where dramatic things happened. Who knows what exactly this is? A slow march towards inevitable death? A meditation on arthritis? A treatise of how not to behave? Whatever it is, it’s decidedly not a comedy.
Fans of Sex and the City have accepted a lot over the show’s run and subsequent two movies. But And Just Like That is a bridge too far. It’s ruining whatever goodwill fans had left of the show, and forever imploding our memories of the beloved series. Steve and Miranda were once one of the show’s central couples and grand romances. Now? He’s an afterthought with hearing aids, cast aside and rarely even mentioned in favor of Miranda’s affair. The erosion of something we once held dear simply isn’t, for lack of a better word, nice. It’s really hard to understand what’s going on and what creatives are thinking? The last two years have been enormously difficult. I certainly naively believed that And Just Like That would provide a respite, an escape, a return to happier times. Instead it’s a depressing attestation that things only go downhill after 50. You think life right now is bad? You just wait.
I could go on and on, but, of course And Just Like That is not the only offender of this inexplicable underbelly of television revivals. There seems to be a determination to destroy our cherished memories of beloved shows. Why can’t shows let characters be happy? Why is no one adhering to the age-old adage “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” Or, more importantly, “Let sleeping dogs lie.”
As much as I enjoyed the 2019 season of Veronica Mars when it aired on Hulu, as I said in my review at the time, viewers were met with a depressed Veronica still dealing with the pain of her past and in the throes of a dysfunctional relationship with Logan (Jason Dohring). And just when we thought the show would give us a happy ending, he was killed off in the series’ final moments. Veronica and Logan can’t live happily ever after in our memories and now viewers have only the memory of a grieving, depressed Veronica driving out of Neptune and onto her next case.
There’s also the Gilmore Girls revival from Netflix, which trapped its two lead character in some sort of time warp where Rory (Alexis Bledel) acted like she was still 16 instead of in her early 30s, and then ended the series with Rory telling her mom she was pregnant as if this was a shocking, bad, and upsetting thing. When The L Word returned to Showtime, Bette (Jennifer Beals) and Tina (Laurel Holloman) were divorced. The Roseanne revival also took a depressing turn when Roseanne’s off screen behavior lead to the ABC comedy killing off the title character (after ironically reviving John Goodman’s Dan from the dead) and rebranding the show as The Conners.
There is also bizarre revisionist history among the revivals, often because the original showrunners return and want to undo any creative decisions made in their absence. When CBS’s Murphy Brown returned in 2018, suddenly Corky (Faith Ford) and Miles (Grant Shaud) not only were no longer married, but never even had been married because that was a plot point that had occurred after Diane English had originally departed the series. Even the Punky Brewster reboot on Peacock found Punky as the divorced mother of three living in the same apartment she grew up in. NBC’s Will & Grace revival also had them all living exactly as they were 11 years later, which is kind of depressing in and of itself, and it also broke up Grace (Debra Messing) and Leo (Harry Connick Jr.), not to mention erasing the daughter they had together.
There are so many revivals on the horizon that I’m getting nervous. Will Daphne and Niles still be together on Frasier? What ailment will befall Jonathan Rollins (Blair Underwood) on L.A. Law? Will Henry (Adam Scott) on Party Down be diagnosed with a terminal illness? (The show is from Veronica Mars showrunner Rob Thomas so I don’t think this is an outrageous suggestion.) Peacock has even decided to make Bel-Air, a reboot of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, a gritty drama.
This all simply has to stop. Come up with new ideas. Write new shows. But quit with the shallow nostalgia mining, and leave our cherished memories and characters alone.
Amy Amatangelo, the TV Gal®, is a Boston-based freelance writer and a member of the Television Critics Association. She wasn’t allowed to watch much TV as a child and now her parents have to live with this as her career. You can follow her on Twitter (@AmyTVGal).
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