Surveying the Limitations of Rebooted Franchises

Surveying the Limitations of Rebooted Franchises

You Can’t Go Home Again.

That was the name of author Tom Wolfe’s famed novel in 1940 and those five words quickly became a lesson to anyone thinking that they can repeat the past. It cannot be done successfully, Wolfe argued, and one need look no farther to prove it than 2021’s misguided attempts at reboot three beloved TV franchises from the aughts—"Dexter," "The Sopranos," and "Sex and the City."

Clyde Phillips, David Chase, and Michael Patrick King, respectively, rebooted their greatest successes, apparently unable to leave well enough alone. They thought they could “go home again” and capture lightning in a bottle twice, but their secondary efforts were pale imitations of their predecessors. Hurting their efforts most egregiously? All three of the returns were missing the verve, edge and focus that the original series had. Instead, such crucial qualities were replaced by labored and misguided attempts at course-correction, moralizing the material that belied its main characters and very premises.

By sanding off the edges, these new versions wholly sacrificed most of the fun and audacity that made the originals so popular in the first place.

I knew "Dexter: New Blood" was in trouble the moment the Showtime reboot started without a credit sequence. You’ll remember the cheeky and Emmy Award-winning original where serial killer Dexter Morgan was shown starting his morning with a routine that made slicing breakfast ham and tying shoe laces look like violent acts. The new show had merely a title card that literally and figuratively froze, echoing the show’s new location of wintry upstate New York. That blunder stopped the show cold in its tracks before it had barely begun.

The reboot, now just a few episodes away from completing its 10-hour run, only got worse from there. Dexter (Michael C. Hall) has turned into a dull and boring model citizen. He’s even dating the town sheriff! And Phillips is asking the audience to believe all that, as well as the fact that the once prolific serial killer would stagnate for over a decade and not kill a soul. To add insult to it all, the main storyline now concerned the return of Dexter’s abandoned son. The new blood, if you will, has grown up to become a sulking, violent teenager whom Dexter desperately wants to father.

Are we having fun yet?

Add a shrill Jennifer Carpenter to the mix, returning as the ghost of dead sister, Deb, to hector Dex, and it all makes for one cringeworthy return.

How did a show with a serial killer protagonist turn into such homogenized, hard-to-swallow muck? Were the powers that be convinced that woke audiences today wouldn’t accept a sociopathic lead like before?

It would seem so.

It would also seem that the same attack of consciousness plagued Chase as he revisited his antihero, Tony Soprano, for a prequel movie to his titular HBO series. In The Many Saints of New Jersey, Chase has turned Tony’s origins story into a treacly teenager coming-of-age saga with a naïve Tony schlepping about with bad bangs and tight jean jackets.

What fan of "The Sopranos" wants to see the character like that? Perhaps an even better question is why tell such an origins story to begin with?

When we know the outcome of a character, and indeed, Tony was offed at the end of the run of "The Sopranos," how much can be gleamed by telling an audience how it all started? Wouldn’t the more interesting story have concerned the power struggle to replace Tony after his assassination in that diner? How did the brilliant Chase get this so wrong?

Maybe there’s a pervasive feeling coursing through Tinsel Town where artists feel the need to counter all the debauchery plaguing our current times. Racist police, sexist state governments trying to control women’s bodies, those who planned a coup of our nation’s government being served subpoenas rather than being arrested, the antivaxxers ruining a return to normal for everyone—we live in selfish and stridently immoral times and not enough is being done about it.

Still, it’s not Hollywood’s responsibility to counter such horrors by turning classic antihero characters into wimpy, watered-down do-gooders. Are writers sacrificing storytelling integrity to inject too much morality into the American mix?

Even the reboot of "Sex and the City," entitled "And Just Like That," so far seems unwilling to embrace all the naughtiness that made it such a hit in the first place, 20 years ago. Sure, Carrie (Sarah Jessica Parker) still has a successful career and a closet full of expensive rags, but where’s the sex? In the first episode, she asks her husband Big (Chris Noth) to masturbate in front of her, but the scene was about as sexy as his heart attack. The rest of the series seems to be preoccupied with aging, diversity, and the problems of raising kids. That isn’t "Sex and the City," that’s "This is Us."

A sequel series to "Sex and the City" should be saucier, shouldn’t it?

America is obsessed with PornHub and OnlyFans, so why can’t HBO’s new take on their IP have some palpable randiness? Maybe Kim Cattrall was right—the hedonistic Samantha Jones character made the show. And, of course, she’s nowhere to be found this go-round.

True, times change, people age, and tastes evolve, but that doesn’t mean that reboots have to reflect every new flavor. Not if they’re going to rewrite Dexter, Tony and Carrie as dull, wet blankets.

If nothing else, the plague of such misguided reboots highlights another lesson for Hollywood—stop going back to the same wells.

The challenge shouldn’t be to write Carrie at 50 plus, it should be to come up with something original. The constant stream of reboots, remakes, re-imaginings … are we all such old dogs, both creators and audiences, that none of us can learn some new tricks? It may be wonderfully made, but did the world need a new West Side Story, another Matrix, the return of old villains in the new Spider-man film? Aren’t there dozens of Marvel comic-book baddies who have yet to be dramatized on the big screen in that franchise?

Still, if everything old is new again, then it would behoove those putting on the show to remember more of what made it work in the first place. "Dexter: New Blood" still has a few episodes left, and the eternal optimist in me hopes that it will finally get in touch with the character’s true self and become more of what fans fell for lo, those many years ago.

I mean, if you’re going to go home again, at least visit the right house. Here’s hoping Dexter even starts up a new slide collection. Now, that would be killer.

*Feature Image: Dexter by Jeff York

Jeff York is an optioned screenwriter, film critic, illustrator, and ad man. He’s also a member of the Chicago Indie Critics, SAG-AFTRA, and a cat lover.
More posts by Jeffrey York.
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