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You Can See That Again: How TV Shows Become the Hot New Way to Reboot Movie Franchises

Remake Vs TV Adaptation RoboCop Hannibal
MGM / NBC

We’ve all heard the casual moans of fan communities that Hollywood never comes up with anything original anymore, settling into the familiar patterns of sequels, remakes, and adaptations of familiar properties to cash in on brand recognition. And while remakes have become subtly accepted as a chance for a new take on dormant properties, the recent ‘RoboCoptrailer reminded us just how much passions can strain in the dissection of beloved classics.

And yet, it almost seems as if a more subtle trend has crept into TV prominence in recent years, wherein recognizable properties are given the TV treatment, either to retell a classic tale in a larger scale in the vein of NBC’s ‘Hannibal,’ or simply cash in on a name with little-to-no association with its origin (cough, ‘Anger Management’). Recent news revealed that FX would look to adapt ‘American Psycho’ as a sequel series of sorts, with FOX eying a similar treatment for 2004’s ‘Man on Fire,’ amid dozens of other developments for the small screen ranging from ‘Westworld’ to the current ‘Wizard of Oz’ race.

The recent influx certainly got us thinking: is one remake more acceptable than the other? What is it about a film remake that gets fans and critics alike up in arms, while TV reinvention of a property seems to get such an easier pass?

Granted TV has endured some truly terrible movie-adapted TV series in the last 20 years, but have more universally accepted renditions like ‘Hannibal,’ the most recent ‘Friday Night Lights,’ or even reaching as far back as ‘Buffy the Vampire Slayer’ given TV free reign to experiment with otherwise dormant properties?

Confession time: I have never seen the original ‘RoboCop’ [Ed. note: we are working to remedy this post-haste.], nor some of the other iconic films that have been given the big-budget remake treatment in recent years. I’m a TV guy. Find me at a party, and I’ll talk your ear off about everything going on across the TV landscape, but only half-heartedly pretend to have heard of Cary Fukunaga, or understand the nuance of Paul Verhoeven’s original vision of satirizing fascism. I remember ‘RoboCop’ as an action figure, or a bizarre video game mixing franchises with ‘Terminator.’ It’s simply a causal outcome of my upbringing: I never had the reason or circumstance to go back and watch certain classic films, or TV series, for that matter.

Having seen the photos in recent months (partly intrigued to see ‘The Killing’’s excellent Joel Kinnaman take off in the manner he deserves), I followed the ‘RoboCop’ remake enough to hear the arguments back and forth, at least until the recent trailer release, wherein the negative response far outweighed the praise. I didn’t quite understand. I saw a sleek, passable update of a classic character, whose pristine re-imagining only escalated my interest in seeing than film, rather than reinforce the idea that something had been lost in translation. I don’t intend to see the original ‘RoboCop’ before the remake anymore, not wanting to lose that open mindedness.

Perhaps José Padilha’s remake has eschewed the major cultural commentary for something more straight-laced, perhaps Joel Kinnaman’s Alex Murphy does a disservice to memories of Peter Weller’s awakening automaton, but I’d rather not know just yet, and in that I believe the remake has done its job. My interest has expanded, and an otherwise dormant franchise has a chance to draw in generations of new viewers to either side of the canon. Perhaps a young child finds a new action figure to play with that guides him (or her) to a life in the movies, perhaps an older fan who fell through the cracks finds reason to go back and discover the original vision; I’ve never believed in the same brand of vitriol that tends to emerge from the current generation of remakes, nor do I think they should necessarily diminish the value of their predecessors, or “violate anyone’s childhoods.”

So where then do we draw that line, between an affront to the franchise, and a bold new reimagining? Does the modern Hollywood machine suck the intelligence out of its blockbuster remakes, in a way that TV finds more time to explore? Not necessarily. We can point to more recent examples such as Karl Urban’s ‘Dredd’ that took precisely the opposite path, even if it’s proven difficult to get a potential sequel off the ground. TV isn’t a safe haven for the re-imagined either, considering ‘Total Recall’ itself once emerged on as ‘Total Recall: 2070,’ among a dozen other failed attempts that barely merit mention.

And yet, it’s no secret in recent years that TV has become an arguably more dominant force for discussion and discourse, its ongoing nature and episodic digression keeping conversation alive for years at a time. Even Comic-Con, San Diego’s controversial mecca of all things “geek culture” has become an event that devotes far more panels (if not hall space) to the small screen than its silver counterpart. An army of movie buffs could talk your ear off to the contrary, perhaps, but it certainly feels as if TV has become a more welcome and accessible medium for the fan, artist, and actor alike.

Consider the mammoth list of TV’s current movie-adapted properties, including ‘Hannibal,’ ‘Bates Motel,’ ‘Parenthood’, and such upcoming reinventions of ‘Bad Teacher,’ ‘Fargo,’ ‘About A Boy,’ ’12 Monkeys,’ ‘Dominion (Legion)’, ‘Outbreak,’ ‘Rambo,’ ‘Scream,’ ‘Westworld,’ ‘The Exorcist,’ ‘Gangs of New York,’ ‘Dusk Till Dawn,’ ‘El Mariachi,’ ‘Reality Bites,’ and even to an extent, Marvel’s ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D..’ I’ll often find myself writing stories of each for days on end, only to forget months later they were ever announced, whereas a brief glimpse over the fence at the movies side of things will yield continued debates of Batfleck or RoboCop’s human hand.

And that isn’t to say that movies are by any means a more petty collection of fans, but merely that our fervent adoration and adamant reverence for the immortal cinema makes it far more difficult to ascribe good will toward any new iteration of a franchise. Put a butt-chinned A-lister under the cowl, and the internet will rightly lose its mind; announce that an altogether different Batman could become the subject of an ongoing live-action TV series, and you’ll find much more open dialogue.

Is TV a safer means to stoke the fires of a franchise then, or less in the spotlight to draw such ire? Does continuity with a filmic predecessor affect our judgement, as ‘Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.’ will come to be regarded in the coming years? Hard to say. With properties as dormant or distant from their predecessors as ‘Bates Motel’ or ‘Hannibal,’ audiences are more likely to accept the dissociation and continue their investment with a familiar story. The movies of late seem to be far less forgiving, and perhaps undeserving of such skepticism.

I’ll accept whatever criticism comes my way for never making the distinct effort to sit down and evaluate the original ‘RoboCop’ before plunking down $13 for the remake, but I’d much prefer the thrill of discovering a new universe than keep it beholden to what came before.

Our understanding of all human life and history emerges from the cradle in exactly the same fashion, so why should appreciation of the arts prove any different? Why should a Hollywood remake endure so much more scrutiny than a TV adaptation, if our interest in a good story expands all the same?

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