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In Praise of TV Reboots: Three Shows That Got it Right

Turns out you can go home again. PLUS: This week’s picks.
  • The cast oi Syfy's Battlestar Galactica, circa 2009.
    The cast oi Syfy's Battlestar Galactica, circa 2009.

    Jon Hein knows TV. In the late 1990s, he coined the phrase "Jump the Shark" when he founded the site of the same name. Since then, he's written about television everywhere from The New York Times to TV Guide. In his column for Primetimer, he shares his thoughts on what's new and good on TV and the shows on his radar for the coming week.

    Reboots are everywhere. And they're not going to stop coming.

    Full House got fuller on Netflix. Lizzie McGuire and Punky Brewster are all grown up and want to show their faces. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air plans to return as a gritty drama.

    Most reboots reek of laziness and banking on nostalgic emotion. The great Sade once sang, "it's never as good as the first time" although she wasn't referring to TV.

    But a successful reboot can happen and actually be done quite well. The writing is the key. We all want to embrace familiar characters, but not feel as if we're being played.

    Just the title of an old TV show is a powerful thing. It's exciting to revisit characters you fell in love with long ago and see sets you wished you could have lived in. Television freezes those shows in time, but when you go back years later, the actors have thawed out. Times have changed. It's not the way it was.

    Show creators have their work cut out for them, but it doesn't always have to be a disaster. The great ones rise to the challenge.

    Battlestar Galactica (2004)

    First, a confession: I didn't really care all that much for the 1978 original. The guy from Bonanza was now a Commander in a futuristic outer space drama trying to capitalize on Star Wars mania? The Cylons were interesting bad guys, but the effects and most of the plot were a joke. I was 11 years old and this should have been right up my alley. It wasn't.

    When Syfy (then The SciFi Channel) announced a reboot of the Adama gang, I was stupefied. They must have got the rights on the cheap. This reboot immediately dug itself into a deeper hole announcing that the memorable male character of Starbuck was now going to be female. This prompted a full scale geek freakout on stunt casting before seeing a single frame of the new show.

    What we missed was that Ronald D. Moore was in charge, the guy who wrote some of the best Star Trek: The Next Generation and Star Trek: Deep Space 9 episodes. He knew how to create believable drama in outer space that didn't feel overly preachy and put entertainment first.

    Moore combined sexiness, special effects and good storytelling into a program many approached skeptically. Forget the sci-fi genre, Battlestar Galactica is one of the best dramas I've seen over the past 20 years. The stories are powerful and the acting is top notch. It made me forget the cheesiness of the first time around. NBC's Peacock streaming service plans to reboot the series yet again, with Mr Robot creator Sam Esmail in the producer's chair. Here's wishing them luck.

    Fargo (2014)

    It's one thing to top an old show that was pretty good in the first place. How about a beloved Coen Brothers comedy that won the Oscar for Best Screenplay?

    Like many, I went into the new take on Fargo in full cynical mode. Who would have the audacity to mess with this quirky award winning film? The Coen Brothers aren't writing it? What exactly can be done with Fargo?

    Billy Bob Thornton answered all of those questions, leading the way during a fabulous first season. The next season goes back to 1979 with a different cast and location. Season three switches everything up again. Yet creator Noah Hawley makes these seasons feel like different chapters in a novel you just can't put down.

    The fourth season is just around the corner, and I have no idea what to expect plot-wise. I do expect Chris Rock and company to be in one heck of a predicament on one of the best dramas on television.

    Battlestar. Fargo. It can be done. One of my picks this week shows how it can be done it right in a different kind of way. My other pick is an event best remembered for its past.

    THIS WEEK'S PICKS

    Cobra Kai (NETFLIX)
    Thursday, August 27 (Seasons 1 & 2)

    Some classic films should remain untouched. The Karate Kid belongs on that list. I was a big fan of Daniel-san taking on Johnny Lawrence and the bullies in his new Southern California home leading to the infamous crane kick at the All Valley Karate Tournament.

    In Cobra Kai, the name of the evil dojo that shows no mercy, Daniel Larusso (Ralph Macchio) and Johnny Lawrence (William Zabka) are all grown up, but their adult lives naturally end up conflicting with one another. Their characters are multi-dimensional, and it's surprisingly not so easy to decide who to root for here.

    The creators mix in a ton of nostalgia from the first film and sequels in the right amounts. The lighthearted tone of the original is all over this series. You can tell it was created by Karate Kid fans. Pat Morita is commemorated affectionately. Flashbacks use just enough footage from the film to bring you back, but not keep you there.

    New teens on the block play out the current drama, but the senseis are the touchstones of this sweet, funny and tremendously entertaining return to SoCal karate.

    Originally a YouTube Original, Netflix snapped up the first two seasons and will be premiering a third one shortly. Household chores will never be the same.

    The 2020 MTV Video Music Awards (MTV)
    Sunday, August 30th 8pm ET / 5pm PT

    Britney and Madonna. The Lady Gaga meat dress. Miley twerking

    There was a time when this awards show created news instead of simply celebrating past accomplishments. The MTV Video Music Awards were must see TV — something outrageous and headline making was going to happen, it was just a matter of who did it.

    Those days are long gone. The VMAs are as significant as music videos are these days. No one really cares. Everyone is there for show and to manufacture those aforementioned moments. Maybe that's the way it has always been and the audience has just grown more cynical.

    Add the pandemic into the mix and plans to broadcast the show from various locations outdoors in New York City, and at least there’s something a curiosity factor going into this year’s show. Still, here’s betting it’ll pale in comparison to the days when we all wanted our MTV.

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    If there's quality TV that I'm missing, please let me know.

    Wear a mask. Stay healthy, cool and safe.

    Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.

    TOPICS: Cobra Kai, Battlestar Galactica (2004), Fargo, MTV Video Music Awards, Revivals