The remake of Hawaii 5-O premiered last night, prompting a lot of head-scratching. I mean honestly, Hawaii 5-O? It’s not that there was anything wrong with the original, it’s just that the original wasn’t even the original, if you get my drift. It’s a show about an elite police unit led by a badass fighting crime. You can set another one of these in Hawaii if you want to, but could you at least come up with a new name and some new characters?
So let’s pose the question. When is it OK to remake a show? Here’re my thoughts.
(1) The original was a good idea poorly executed. This is the absolute best excuse for a remake. In fact, remakes are almost a moral imperative in such cases. The canonical example here would be Battlestar Galactica – both of them, as it turns out. Humanity is brought to the brink of extinction by a hostile alien attack; this is the story of the survivors. That’s a GREAT idea for a show – full of thematic potential – and it’s still out there waiting for someone to do it justice.
(2) The original takes place in a coherent fictional universe that is sufficiently interesting on its own. So, yes, Star Trek – where it always had more to do with the vision of the future than any of the individual characters. I’m not personally much in favor of yet another Star Trek series, but Star Trek is a cultural phenomenon. It belongs to the People now, as much as does Shakespeare, and people are free to remake and reimagine it to their hearts’ content.
(3) The original ended prematurely. So, pretty much anything Fox has ever cancelled. Firefly, Reunion, etc.
(4) The original was ahead of its time. I may get some boos from the audience, but Twin Peaks springs to mind. Not that the original wasn’t brilliant (and sure, it might be the kind of lucky draw on casting and timing that can’t be repeated – I admit the possibility) – just that I think it would have lasted longer and been better (because Lynch would’ve stayed on board) if it had aired at a time when the audience was ready for it. Back in 1990, audiences weren’t used to atmosphere for the sake of atmosphere and unresolved plots – not on TV, anyway. Now, largely because of Twin Peaks itself, of course, they are. It’s important to add here that “ahead of its time” is NOT a codeword for “brilliant but unpopular.” Season One of Space: 1999 is, as far as I’m concerned, still the single best year of television ever filmed, but it didn’t flop in the ratings because people weren’t ready for it. That show was about as 1970s as it’s possible to be; it was OF its time, and trying to do it again would be a colossal mistake. No, I mean that like it is, like it sounds: filmed according to standards of taste that will one day be acceptable, but are not yet at the time of the airing. So, things like Twin Peaks.
Are there any others? Probably. But one that’s definitely NOT on the list is “the original was a fetish show.” No, not THAT kind of fetish show! I just mean shows where you feel like the whole thing is just setup to the same bizarrely inconsequential moment. Things like “Ultraman,” where the whole point seems to be the moment where Hayata activates the beta capsule. Nothing else – not the fight, the monster, certainly not the story – seems to matter. Well, watching Hawaii 5-O sometimes gives me the sinking feeling that the whole point is to play the theme song and then, at some point (preferably the very end) let McGarret say “book’em Danno!” I read on Wikipedia that they’re keeping the theme music note-for-note intact. Whatcha wanna bet McGarret still gets to say “book’em, Danno” (nearly) every episode?
THIS is what moves a network budget?