TV critic Emily Barker reviews the long awaited revival of A Series of Unfortunate Events on NetflixWritten by Emily Barker on 7th February 2017
Kill The Revival
Are TV revivals being taken too far? TV critic Morgan Williams argues they might not be all they're cracked up to be
The wide use of online streaming has changed the face of television. The medium lends itself so to world building and the telling of complex, intricate stories, there’s no denying that. There are numerous examples of the benefits of online streaming as a vehicle for storytelling - what network would green-light a show revolving around the story of a trans-woman realising their true gender identity in middle age (Transparent)? Or even the often light-hearted but still hard-hitting Master of None, a show about an Indian-American actor’s life day-to-day? Around 70-90% of shows on network television have white male showrunners. Online streaming offers something else - a window into the stories that are barely ever told in visual media, a window into the lives we barely ever get to see.
However, there is, in my opinion, a definitive downside. As we enter the age of the revolutionary, we also stumble into that of the revival. This new trend was kicked off by Netflix’s revival of 2003 critic’s (and a personal) favourite, Arrested Development. Fans of the show were frantic with support. The show already had a rabid fanbase both from those who had seen it as it aired on television, and those who had discovered it post-cancellation. So basically… the show already had a guaranteed audience. This new lease of life given to Arrested Development meant that it could take its more complex and longer-term payoff jokes to a new level - often postponing entertainment indefinitely in favour of a ‘wait until episode seven where you’ll finally get this and have a mild chuckle about it’ approach. While this does eventually pay off, it is nowhere near as satisfying as its Fox broadcast counterpart. The show lost sight of what made it funny in the first place - bouncing its crazy ensemble cast off one another. It got too cocky, basically.
Then there’s the recent Gilmore Girls revival. The final season of the Gilmore Girls is heavily criticised by fans (just see what the folks over at the Gilmore Guys podcast have to say about it…) because the characters just became sort of… unrecognisable. What was with that artificial Luke and Lorelai drama? Why the hell is Lorelai suddenly married damp cloth Christopher? Why did they find a way to put the irritating Gigi back on our screens??? I’m just saying. There might be an actual reason why the Gilmore Girls got cancelled.
The difference between the Gilmore Girls and Arrested Development is this - while Arrested Development lost sight of what made it funny in the first place, Gilmore Girls had some cases of the same characters plodding through the same tired plot traps of ten years ago (why aren’t Luke and Lorelai communicating??? Why is the exact time and date of their wedding still an issue ten years later??) and others where they depart from the source material so completely that viewers have a hard time recognising them - Rory was so different there’s a fan theory circulating the internet that she wrote the Gilmore Girls series as an idealised version of her childhood, and she’s actually been ‘Revival Rory’ this whole time.
These Netflix revivals continuously fail to toe the line between recapturing the tone and building on the characters that have been left suspended in time for ten years or more. They rely on guaranteed audiences so they don’t really have to try too hard to make good, consistent content. Also in the case of the Gilmore Girls, there may have been an actual reason they were cancelled in the first place.
“These Netflix revivals continuously fail to toe the line between recapturing the tone and building on the characters that have been left suspended in time for ten years or more
However, this only applies to revivals. Black Mirror was recently acquired by Netflix, and produced what was perhaps its best series to date, with an elevated budget the series could really test the boundaries of modern television (I’m still obsessed with San Junipero you guys). As far as I’m concerned Netflix can acquire as many properties as it wants - as long as it’s not going to reboot them for cheap ratings a decade or so in the future. Like seriously what even is Full(er) House?? An alternate universe where the characters are doomed to relive their nineties-esque family problems forever?
It’s not just Netflix either - Yahoo has recently announced a reboot of Community - a show that hasn’t been funny since season three and can barely keep its cast together. I mean come on - the show’s been revived so many times that the tropes the show once made fun of have become its actual plot points - Abed jokes about Jeff becoming a professor? Seriously though, Yahoo lost $42 million on their Community reboot. Some of these revivals aren’t even generating cash. Twin Peaks has been scheduled for a comeback for some time but honestly? That show had barely enough content to fill season 2. What effect will a ten-year gap have on the volume and lest we forget, the quality of the content?
Netflix and other online streaming services have the potential to be this wonderland - a place where the shackles of modern network television no longer exist. It’s brought us some amazing originals - Orange is the New Black opened the eyes of audiences everywhere to the struggles of largely working class, black and Hispanic women and Bojack Horseman expresses things about depression in a way never seen before on modern TV. And a talking horse says them.
So I don’t hate Netflix, don’t get me wrong. Whatever they decide to revive next I’ll probably watch every season (I’ve seen you pop up on Netflix, Fresh Prince of Bel Air. I know what’s coming) but I no longer expect anything.
Let sleeping dogs lie, Netflix.
I do appreciate finally hearing Lorelai Gilmore say fuck though. That was wild.
Article by Morgan Williams