Don’t you miss the good old days, when most of what played on screens was new — characters you’d never met played out stories you’d never heard and did things no one expected? Sometimes, something familiar did pop up. A show telecast before was shown in a rerun; an old movie released in a sharper print was a remaster; a new chapter to an old story was a sequel; a side character or subplot getting its own story was a spinoff.
It’s murkier today. So here’s your guide to what’s going on when all our shows, series, films and games are starting to look like something we’ve seen before.
If it is… roughly the same plot, the same characters (perhaps played by different actors) and the same pace and format, with perhaps a few updates to time and place…Then it’s a REMAKE Case in point: The Swedish and American versions of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (2009; 2011); all four versions of A Star Is Born (1937, 1954, 1976, 2018); the Hong Kong film Infernal Affairs (2002) and Martin Scorsese’s remake, The Departed (2006); those haunting Japanese horror films and their insipid Hollywood cousins; Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) recreated shot-for-shot by Gus Van Sant (1998); the guys in Ocean’s Eleven (2001) walking in the dapper footsteps of Ocean’s 11 (1960); and a Dune (2021) far less corny than the 1984 film. Coming up: Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story, in 2022, and The Bodyguard, in 2024.
If it is… a baggage-free back-to-square-one look at a story that’s already progressed over other films and series, so a new cast offers a fresh look at an old beginning… Then it’s a REBOOT Case in point: The Amazing Spider-Man films (2012; 2014) and the more recent ones (2016, 2019, 2021). The Batman tales that have been retold with Michael Keaton, Val Kilmer, and Christian Bale. Every new actor that plays James Bond reboots the 007 story in some way too. On TV later this year, when the new Gossip Girl restarts the same premise eight years after the events of the old series, with a new generation of kids, it’s a reboot too, with the new characters falling into the same old patterns.
If it is… a long-delayed continuation of a story you thought had ended, with largely the same cast playing the same characters but acknowledging the passage of time, like an epilogue tacked on to the tale… Then it’s a REVIVAL
Case in point: The delayed additional seasons of Will & Grace (2017-2020), Arrested Development (2013-2019) and Full House’s recent Fuller House (2016-2020). Also, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life (2016). Revivals have roots in musical theatre, where new casts periodically revive old favourites. Coming up on screens: revivals of Sex and the City (minus Samantha), Dexter (now a lumberjack) and Frasier (even richer and more crotchety).
If it is… a one-off non-scripted gathering that’s part talk-show, part game-show, part fashion-show, part confessional, part interview and part nostalgia… Then it’s a REUNION Case in point: Friends: The Reunion (2021).
If it is… a remake that twists the original tale, maybe telling it from a different character’s perspective, switching up the gender or race dynamic, making it darker or cheesier… Then it’s a REIMAGINING Case in point: Queer Eye (2018), which built on the fashion-driven 2003 show by throwing in warmer, more holistic makeovers. Most of Disney’s newer remakes, including Cruella (2021), Cinderella (2021) and Maleficent (2014), break away from the villainess, white-knight, evil-stepmother clichés. The upcoming Bewitched plans to set the witch-wife story within an interracial family featuring a black single mother. And How I Met Your Father flips the Ted Mosby tale about finding love.
If it is… a movie that was widely watched and disliked, so the producers went back to the director they fired, got him to take his original footage, shoot some more, edit it as he had wanted to in the first place, and release an alternative version… Then it’s a RECUT Case in point: Zack Snyder’s Justice League (2021) was a longer, more dramatic version of the 2017 film panned by fans.
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