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Among the Living

by on July 22, 2010

The dead walk among us. While the practice has been occurring since the late 80’s with the Jetsons, the idea of reanimating a canceled show has become more common since the last decade.
Some examples roaming the earth today are Family Guy and Futurama.
There are more on the way as well, like the return of Mike Judge’s MTV classic Beavis and Butt-head more than a full decade after its “final” episode.
Never before has it been so good to be canceled. But do these shows hold up to their original runs?

Sometimes. Just like how a zombie tends to look paler and have different tastes than you and I, revivals tend to not quite come out “right”. With that said, I don’t really expect revivals to come out the same way as they came in, mainly because recreating something perfectly is like catching lightning in a bottle: it can’t be done. The only constant is change, and the circumstances and environment in which certain shows are created never seem to stay static for long. Talent and production crews can move on to other projects, retire, or die. The network can also change, and that can mean changes for the source material as well. For example, there’s the disappointing Ren and Stimpy Adult Party Cartoon on Spike. When a network targeted at adult males gave creator John Kricfalusi no content restrictions on what was once a childrens’ cartoon on Nickelodeon, the result was an overly raunchy mess that looked very jarring compared to the original episodes. Beavis and Butt-head may not receive too warm a welcome from its original network either, as MTV has become less welcoming of animation or music-related programming since the turn of the millennium. As Beavis and Butt-head is both, let’s hope MTV’s initial support doesn’t run out too soon.

For the most part though, I don’t think that most revivals have been too bad. Futurama has had a rocky start, but has since returned to the witty and heartfelt feel of the first four seasons. Ed, Edd, n Eddy‘s post-cancellation episodes and specials brought new settings, crisper animation, and more character development without losing quality. And while I may get some flak for saying it, Family Guy is still a funny (and almost underrated) show, despite its faults.

A big reason why companies take the economic risk of un-canceling programs is due to the built-in audience it creates. For a show like Futurama, there’s no need to shop around for audiences and focus groups that will like it. The network executives already know that anyone who liked Futurama on Fox will continue to like Futurama on Comedy Central. The only drawback of that principle is that if a show was niche way back when, then a show will be niche now. Either way, I’m not much of a fan of the idea of revivals and what it means for entertainment in general.

Revivals are just individual trees in the forest of the major problem the entertainment industry is going through: creative bankruptcy. These days, you are more likely than ever to watch a movie or show that is based off of an older property in some form (be it a remake, revival, adaptation, sequel, or spin-off) instead of an original idea. Out of the top ten highest-grossing movies of 2009, only four were original properties. In a world where everything from the Smurfs  to Monopoly  is being “re-envisioned”, very few new ideas are being put out there for the audience to enjoy. It’s unnecessary, dangerous for creativity in the industry, and it’s just plain lazy. After all, why bother looking through original screenplays and pitches when someone can just dust off an old 80’s cartoon off the shelf and get the same financial result?

What will future generations be adapting and remaking from our time? Will we be making remakes of remakes? The entertainment industry of days past, the one we continually keep referring back to, didn’t have as big of an obsession with the entertainment that came before them as we do today. They just created. And we need to create too, make properties of our own for some future Michael Bay to add explosions to. Future generations will be proud.

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