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Today's kids deserve better than the lazy reboots of 1980s and 1990s sitcoms

  • Television should be forward-looking, especially for programming aimed young people. Instead, TV executives keep going for nostalgic rethreads like the Punky Brewster, Saved by the Bell and Full House reboots. "It’s a question I’ve often asked since the recycling center that is the Hollywood boardroom started bringing back the kid-oriented sitcoms of my ’80s and ’90s childhood," says Judy Berman. "When Netflix revived Full House as Fuller House, I cringed at hokey gags like the one in which rebellious middle child Stephanie grows up to be a club DJ whose stage name DJ Tanner is lifted from the nickname of her older sister, Donna Jo 'DJ' Tanner. I wasn’t particularly curious about my favorite fictional high school sweethearts, but now I know who stayed together (Cory and Topanga from Boy Meets World, Zack and Kelly from Saved by the Bell) since I was a tween, and who went their separate ways (Darlene and David from Roseanne, Jessie and Slater from SBTB). And the onslaught continues, as media giants try to lure nostalgic viewers to newly launched streaming services by reanimating every viable piece of intellectual property they own. Next month, Emilio Estevez will return to the ’90s Mighty Ducks franchise in a Disney+ series. Nickelodeon is at work on a terrifying CGI Rugrats makeover, due out sometime this year. A 'serialized one-hour dramatic analogue' for The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air will join Punky and SBTB 2.0 on Peacock. Even for an industry that never met a hit title it wasn’t ready to remake, revive, reimagine or reboot, this constant harkening back to the shows people in their 30s and 40s watched as kids feels egregious. These incoherent shows pair the familiar faces of former child actors—whose characters, like so many of their old fans, are now usually parents—with the mischievous children and aspirational teen characters those fans’ offspring love to see. But the writers’ attempts at entertaining multiple generations at once always seem to result in strange tonal juxtapositions (see: a new SBTB that wants to preserve the original’s innocence and parody it, too) or moments of dissonance like the one in which we learn the status of Punky Brewster’s bikini line. Constructed to appeal to everyone, this is television that satisfies no one. And it’s not fair to the elementary and middle schoolers of today, who deserve stories written to reflect their world." As Berman notes, the TV that adults and children enjoy watching together are more modern than nostalgic. "I’m thinking of imaginative, experimental, radically empathetic cartoons like Adventure Time and Steven Universe; smart, socially aware teen dramas like Switched at Birth and The Fosters; and even gut renovations of classic family fare, like The Baby-Sitters Club, Party of Five and One Day at a Time, that center characters and themes that weren’t often represented on television three or four decades ago," says Berman. "As different as they are from what today’s adults watched when we got home from school, these shows do better than rehash our youth. They speak to what is happening in kids’ lives now and to everything timeless about childhood and adolescence. That’s more than you can say for a Punky who’s lost her power."

    TOPICS: Punky Brewster (2021 Series), Peacock, Fuller House, Saved by the Bell, Soleil Moon Frye, Kids TV, Revivals