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.
Who's ready for another 90's reboot?
Network execs have always loved been bringing back successful shows from the past. Built-in audience, the pull of nostalgia, and showrunners who "know what works" are a potent combination. Still, the failure rate is tremendously high. Murphy Brown, anyone?
This week's entrant arrives Thursday on Paramount+. It's Mike Judge's Beavis and Butt-Head. Heh heh.
I believe in Beavis and Butt-Head, and I believe in Mike Judge. Mike has a good feel for what works and has been down this road before with his recent film Beavis and Butt-Head Do The Universe, which wowed critics with a whopping 96% score on the tomatometer.
Point being: Mike doesn't need my help. Nor do the execs who greenlit this revival. But other network executives do. So here's a simple revival/reboot/reimagining checklist to guarantee success.
Leverage Your Title
Don't get cute with the name of the franchise you're bringing back. The only excuse is if you don't have the rights (Cobra Kai vs. The Karate Kid). Have a field day with the episode titles but leave the main one alone whenever possible.
Mike Judge's Beavis and Butt-Head - Names are in the title. Check.
Stay True To The Original Story
So many of these reboots take established characters and foist them into new worlds. Big mistake. We want to see our old favorites in relatable situations. Yes, this can be complicated by the fact that the actors may be decades older.
Mike Judge's Beavis and Butt-Head - Animated characters don't age. Check.
Never Lose Focus On The Main Characters
It's tempting to write in a new family member, friend, villain or protagonist that wasn't in the original. That's fine, as long as they are minor characters. The "A story" must evolve around the returning stars. We are here to see them, not their new cousin, boss or curious neighbor.
Mike Judge's Beavis and Butt-Head - Won't be a problem with these two. Check.
Refer To The Past But Don't Dwell On It
This is a tricky one. The right balance is critical to the success of the show. Casual nods and smart references go a long way. Let the audience fondly remember what happened. Leave breadcrumbs, not the whole loaf.
Mike Judge's Beavis and Butt-Head - This is a challenge because everyone loves old references. But there's so much new stuff to mock that I think this duo can handle it. Check.
Don't Count On Callbacks (And Make Sure They're a Surprise)
One of the best parts of any reboot is seeing how the cast has aged. Another delight is when a minor character shows up in a plot twist. Use these wisely and sparingly. Don't worry about getting obscure… we'll remember who they are or search the internet and pretend to. But every episode can't depend on a callback. Tease us to please us.
Mike Judge's Beavis and Butt-Head - Stewart is coming back, but in a cool way. I'm sure we'll see a t-shirt or two that we recognize. Check.
Make Fun Of Yourself
Let us know that you're in on the joke. Whether it's a drama or comedy, don't take yourself too seriously. We all know why you're back, and it's always funny to reference why. It's an immediate bond that eases the return of an old favorite.
Mike Judge's Beavis and Butt-Head - Expect plenty of self-referential humor. Check.
All revivals, even animated ones, face challenges. Mike Judge is a very smart, funny guy. He gets it. Beavis and Butt-Head could have remained on MTV over the past three decades and wouldn't have missed a beat. I look forward to seeing this version of this cynical duo.
Here's what else is worth watching this week…
Reservation Dogs (FX on Hulu)
Season 2 premieres Wednesday, August 3rd
When this comedy premiered last year, many reviews focused on its all-indigenous cast and writing/directing staff. What sometimes got overlooked was the originality of this show centered around a Native American reservation in Oklahoma.
The second season arrives with lofty expectations, and the first two episodes live up to the challenge. The wit has always been dry, the stories get deeper as the characters continue to deal with the fallout of Daniel's suicide.
The Sandman (Netflix)
Friday, August 5th
The long-awaited Neil Gaiman adaptation arrives after years of hype. Following the Lord of Dreams on his cosmic trail dealing with personifications of emotions like Death and Despair is difficult to translate on to any screen.
An epic story needs an epic cast, and you'll recognize quite a few fantasy heroes in this one, including two Game of Thrones favorites. The drama is ambitious and fully committed to its land of fantasy. The story is tough to follow, but the ride is a beautiful one. Watch trailer.
All Or Nothing: Arsenal (Amazon)
Thursday, August 4th
Why not take the HBO Hard Knocks formula and apply it to other sports? This season profiles the football (soccer in the U.S.) team Arsenal with behind-the-scenes access to the intensity of the biggest sport in Britain. Watch trailer.
THIS WEEK'S STIHTGT!
(Shows That I Hope To Get To!)
Industry (HBO) - It's season two and a two-year time jump for the young bankers battling their way through a London investment firm. Monday at 9:00 PM ET.
My Life As A Rolling Stone (Epix) - A weekly series profiling each member of arguably the world's greatest rock and roll band. Guess who the first episode is about? Sunday.
(Really Good Shows You May Have Missed)
This Week's Pick: House of Cards (Netflix) - Kevin Spacey has become better known for his off-screen work, but before his scandal he starred in this well written political thriller. The Underwoods are a ruthless couple willing to do anything to climb the D.C. ladder. Robin Wright and Michael Kelly are fantastic throughout, while Mahershala Ali, Kate Mara and Corey Stoll shine in Season 1.
Mr. Show (HBO Max, Hulu)
Downton Abbey (Peacock)
Banshee (HBO Max)
Police Squad! (Prime Video)
Party Down (Starz)
The Great (Hulu)
Magic City (Peacock)
For All Mankind (Apple TV+)
Abbott Elementary (ABC)
Luther (HBO Max)
Downton Abbey (Netflix)
The Good Wife (Paramount+)
Freaks & Geeks (Hulu)
Patriot (Prime Video Prime Video)
Battlestar Galactica (Peacock)
The Split (Prime Video)
Halt and Catch Fire (AMC+)
If you love or hate my picks, I'd love to hear from you.
Get vaccinated. Get a booster (or two). Stay healthy and safe!
Jon Hein is the creator of "Jump the Shark" and author of three books. Follow him @jonhein on Twitter.
TOPICS: Mike Judge's Beavis and Butt-Head, Paramount+, All or Nothing: Arsenal, Reservation Dogs, The Sandman, Mike Judge