TV Revivals in the New Golden Age

Have we all collectively lost our minds?

I’ve noticed a growing trend recently of event television series that reunite the cast and writers of long-ended shows for a “revival.” I’m not talking about remakes, but true sequels with a limited run of episodes continuing the show’s story many years later, or else featuring a new cast (sometimes the children of the original characters).

We already have an impressive list from the last three years, with Heroes: Reborn and 24: Live Another Day, new seasons of Arrested Development and The X-Files, and even a sequel to the 90s sitcom Boy Meets World, titled Girl Meets World. This year, developers have confirmed follow-ups to 80’s science fiction drama Twin Peaks, HBO’s Deadwood, the classic BBC series Are you Being Served?, Prison Break, and Gilmore Girls. Perhaps the most stunning example debuted last month with Netflix’s Fuller House.

These kinds of series are made possible with two things: first, a loyal fanbase, and second, mass streaming services like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu. In our new Age of Information, fans of even the most obscure cult show can stay connected through the Internet and keep interest alive. Meanwhile, the services, motivated to stay ahead of their competition and provide original content, are always bidding on the most attractive and marketable shows. This easy access to dozens of classic series has contributed to higher demands for throwback series, which from a business standpoint are guaranteed at least a portion of the original’s pre-existing audience.

Not every series I’ve mentioned premiered through a video on demand service, but this phenomenon translates to more potential buyers for independent projects made for select audiences. The risk is just comparatively less selling to independent distributors than pitching a brand new pilot for broadcast television. And this definitely applies to revival series. Case in point—last year, a Kickstarter campaign raised over six million dollars to produce fourteen new episodes of Mystery Science Theatre 3000. And after being cancelled in 2014, NBC’s Community released their sixth season on (now defunct) Yahoo! Screen.

To add to this equation, more independent and A-list filmmakers are flocking to television than ever before. The giants of television’s last decade have been critical darlings like The Sopranos, The Wire, and Breaking Bad, which featured high-quality, serialized stories and often offered more compelling entertainment than cinema—which seems to be ruled more by “franchise syndrome” and blockbusters every year.

Now, with new mediums of distribution, creators can film episodes at their own pace and release them all at once, allowing for more creative control. For example, it is hard to imagine pitching a show ten years ago like Netflix’s Bojack Horseman, which is an MA-rated cartoon about a middle-aged anthropomorphic horse sitcom actor going through a midlife crisis—quite a specialized audience if there ever was one. I would argue that our recent influx of so many superhero shows is also connected to this newfound appreciation of niche audiences.

But I digress. What I find unsettling is that with this new precedent, it is easier than ever to pitch a revival of any show, from any time, raise the funds for it, and find a producer to put it online. It’s basically Open Season.

There is great appeal in series like Fuller House. Merriam-Webster defines nostalgia as “pleasure and sadness…caused by remembering something from the past and wishing…you could experience it again.” For fans of shows like Gilmore Girls, whose finale was widely seen as disappointing, it may be argued that a revival is important for bringing the series to a proper, satisfying conclusion.

The problem with these series is that so often, they just don’t work. While some shows, such as the CSI, NCIS, and Star Trek spinoffs have found popularity through original content, shows that rely on nostalgia or weak ties to the original inevitably fail. Ever heard of AfterMASH or the Friends spinoff Joey? They each lasted only two seasons.

Launching a revival series also assumes you can get the original actors to come back in the first place, and that they can all schedule to be in scenes together. After enough time, one has to wonder who the story’s intended audience even is: the new generation, or the old?

I think the desire to hear your favorite character say their catchphrase one more time is understandable, but this revival trend says less about newfound opportunities and more about our inability as a culture to move on. Every culture has heroes and legends, but by not allowing our stories to end, we reveal an inability to make peace with our past, or forge new directions for the future.

To conclude this sad state of the union: we have streaming everywhere, more shows than we can watch, higher quality, and more creative opportunity than ever before. But if this is  truly the new golden age of television, it should not be defined by the pursuit of profit or creators further saturating the pool with endlessly rehashed fanservice.

And for all this talk, there’s still no Firefly revival? I rest my case.