Reboot this! Franchises in need of a comeback (part 1)

(With special thanks to Dave Szmigiel.)

Man, with Power Rangers, a new Alien movie, Planet of the Apes in theaters, and an upcoming Blade Runner movie, as well as the news that the Teen Titans are coming back in a live-action streaming series, it seems that everything old is new again. Hollywood loves to recycle. Let’s face it, people; the combination of nostalgia plus the play-it-safe mentality of the entertainment industry practically guarantees that in twenty years’ time we’ll see the triumphant return of Breaking Bad, likely with me being able to watch it via direct feed to the wetware in my skull, while I sit in the back seat of my flying car, flown by my Lucy Liu replicant.

We all have dreams, man.

With so many studios, networks, and websites producing original content, it seems that TV shows that might never have had a chance before can find a home almost anywhere. So I thought it might be fun to speculate what properties could make a comeback, and if so, what the rebooted version might look like. Because while nostalgia works, being too wedded to the past will make any show DOA. In this article, I’ll cover two shows I’d like to see resurrected with a touch of new spirit, and next week I’ll talk about two more.

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1. Buck Rogers in the 25th Century

Back in the early ’80s, Gil Gerard, Erin Gray, and Pamela Hensley hammed it up in this entertaining sci-fi TV series about an astronaut being accidentally placed in suspended animation, to awaken in a universe where Earth was largely a barren wasteland and mankind had garnered its fair share of enemies. Buck Rogers was an invaluable asset, because he was the only human off the grid, with no one knowing who he was, hence making him an ideal secret agent. With sidekick Wilma Deering and adorable robot Twikki, they took on a variety of threats to planet Earth.

The series garnered a second season, but the tone changed completely as it tried to be Star Trek and largely sucked.

The lack of Ardala awesomeness certainly didn’t help matters any.

One of the many, many, many things that annoyed me was how they wimped out Deering by turning her from a military bad-ass to what felt like a space stewardess.

How can a woman be showing more skin and yet be less sexy?

Yes, there were a couple of decent episodes and Hawk was cool, but it felt like Buck Rogers was trying to be something it wasn’t, and it failed miserably. It wasn’t broke and the new producers tried to “fix” it with disastrous results, shying away from the militaristic themes of the first season.

So what would I like to see in a new Buck Rogers? The original series worked best with Buck being a man out of time and not entirely in step with the universe he found himself in, and I suppose by the end of season one of the original show that plot device had maybe run its course. So relying solely on that particular plot hook would be a mistake. I do think, though, that at least initially that needs to be a strong element of any new series, with Buck being our POV character, and with us seeing an utterly bizarre world through his eyes. And what sort of world does Buck Rogers wake up in?

Okay, South Park’s parody might have been silly, but I loved it because of its wild setting. Why not sentient animals? Let the writers’ imaginations go wild as Buck strives to come to grips with an outlandish world. Characters who are fish out of water are always popular…

…and pairing them with bad-ass female partners always works…

…and giving them cute sidekicks as comic relief is always a bonus…

…and hey, a good guy could always use a stoic, humorless friend, right?

All the above comparisons make me wonder if Buck Rogers ever had a plant person around. Or would I have to go all the way back to Quark for that?

Referencing Quark might become an annual thing at this rate.

So, what kind of adventures could Buck have? Right now, we live in a world where the LGBT community is making waves with issues like gender identity and proper pronoun usage and a government that has (maybe) banned transgendered people from serving in the military. What would a future look like where genders could be easily swapped, where people can opt to be truly sexless? How does even a moderately open-minded guy handle that? Imagine a community where SJW values are taken to their ultimate extreme, and the simple misuse of a pronoun is a death sentence. I’m not saying this hypothetical show should be a weekly forum for political and social issues, but even the original Buck Rogers took time out to tackle a hot-button subject once in a while, that is, between episodes about space vampires and the return of rock and roll.

Well, glam rock, anyway.

Those are just a couple of ideas, but mostly I’d like a new Buck Rogers to be high concept science fiction, and still be fun, too. The question now is: who could play Buck Rogers? One name comes immediately to mind: Tom Hardy.

Tom exemplifies the sort of rugged individualism Buck Rogers represents—a self-reliant man who can tackle any problem no matter how strange, and any enemy no matter how menacing. Hardy pulls off the scruffy look quite well, which can work to great effect while existing in a sanitized future world that desperately needs his help. Now onto the next show!

2. Land of the Lost

In the ’70s and ’80s, brothers Sid and Marty Krofft were prolific TV producers, generating a lot of live-action kids’ programming. And looking back at their shows I realize they were, by and large, shit. I’m not just talking about shows not aging well; I mean they’re just dumb. They seem to talk down to kids, and assume they’re stupid and easily distracted by bright, pretty colors. A lot of ’70s children’s shows were like that, with a few exceptions, such as Scooby Doo’s first season or Star Trek (the animated series). And then there was the Kroffts’ best series, Land of the Lost. Land of the Lost ran from 1974 to 1976, and was about Rick Marshall and his kids Will and Holly who go out on a camping trip, and while rafting fall through a crack in reality to wind up in a pocket dimension populated by dinosaurs, proto-humans, and reptilian humanoids called Sleestaks.

But when some of you hear Land of the Lost, you might be thinking of this:

Yeah, that stupid goddamn movie. Ferrell’s film is just one of many based on a ’70s-era series that existed to mock the source material, including Starsky & Hutch, CHiPs, The Brady Bunch (but to be fair, at least The Brady Bunch was ripe for mockery), and Dark Shadows. I get that in many ways these shows feel dated, but by and large they merit a bit more respect than they got.

But back to Land of the Lost, the series. Written largely by screenwriter and sci-fi author David Gerrold, this show displayed more maturity than you would expect in a kids’ TV program. Gerrold introduced some classic sci-fi themes into the show, such as evolution, time travel, and alternate dimensions. That’s because the episodes were penned by actual science fiction legends like Ben Bova, Larry Niven, Theodore Sturgeon (Gerrold and Sturgeon both wrote for Star Trek), and Norman Spinrad. Star Trek alumna D.C. Fontana also contributed.

I’m going to admit something, and it hurts to do so: Will Ferrell’s Land of the Lost had a few good ideas. The idea of random items littering the landscape? Those are effective plot hooks, giving the cast a means to better survive the harsh landscape, and also simply giving them a change of clothes (although, looting corpses does seem a touch morbid). Randomly dropped stuff could also be great potential threats as well. The other idea that I think had merit was how Will Holly was a scientist, actually looking for this lost land, rather than the trio winding up there due to some cosmic accident. Will getting his family stranded could have been a great source of guilt and drama; angst is a wonderful source of motivation, as long as it doesn’t get overwhelmingly grim.

You might be thinking the entire concept of Land of the Lost is just silly, but a group of castaways stranded in an isolated area facing weird threats as they attempt to unravel numerous mysteries while they look for a way to get home should sound really familiar. Hollywood has visited this concept many times, going back to movies like Swiss Family Robinson

…and Jules Verne’s Mysterious Island

…and does anybody remember Earth 2? It was a series that aired in the ’90s about colonists trying to survive on another planet…

…and even more recently, we had the Fox series Terra Nova

…but admittedly, those two series pretty much bombed, so you might think that the idea just isn’t sustainable. Allow me to direct you to the most successful interpretation of the concept:

Yeah. Time travel, strange technologies, weird mysteries, monsters, family dynamics. Lost shares a legacy with Land of the Lost in the same way The X-Files shares the same with Kolchak: The Night Stalker, so if I were you, I wouldn’t casually dismiss a Land of the Lost revival. With modern special effects and makeup techniques combined with taking the source material as seriously as the original series, it could be a damn good program. And for God’s sake, don’t be condescending to the kids!

Of course, such a project needs a strong lead. Specifically, a man who has star power and range. Who would I pick to play Professor Will Holly?

Tom Hardy could easily play the loving father and sometimes absentminded scientist who’s easily distracted by his work and the wonders and horrors of this new land that his family has been dropped into. He could handle the delicate balance of love for his family, guilt over being responsible for their fate, and the implacable drive to see them returned home. Hardy could also pull off the look of a rugged outdoorsman as well, looking equally comfortable wearing plaid flannel or a white lab coat.

Next up: Two more classic TV shows that could benefit from the reboot treatment. Will I also also imagine Tom Hardy playing the lead in both of these shows? Come back next week to find out!

Tag: Reboot this! Franchises in need of a comeback

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  • I appreciate your defense of Land of the Lost. I’ve been watching the series on DVD (first time I’ve actually seen it all the way through, rather than as scattered episodes I watched before school as a kid), and it’s aged remarkably well, all things considered. Sure, the effects are dated and the morals can be a little preachy, but the show is still spooky sometimes, and the Marshalls are surprisingly good at causing the messes they need to deal with, rather than always having it imposed on them by a villain as was common back then. It’s also been pretty decent at showing how dull the family’s subsistence lifestyle would be in between crises. I wouldn’t call it realistic, but it does get across an epic feel that they just didn’t have the budget to pull off.

    By the way, I assumed “Will Holly” was a joke name from the 2009 movie, but I guess it’s not? Bit of a headscratcher.

    • Thomas Stockel

      When I was considering this article I had talked about it with my friend Dave and we came up with six shows. Land of The Lost was one of his and a lot of what you’re reading came from him. I’d love to know how the Kroffts wound up producing the show because it’s so unlike anything they had done before or after.

      • danbreunig

        Thanks for starting this series, Tom. I imagine there being far more than the six you have in mind but if it’s only six, this is a great start–and two shows I would really approve of rebooting. (I take it you’re only suggesting live action shows because animated ones would be twenty times too many and potentially have a 5% success rate of being good and lasting.)

        Buck Rogers could be an ideal reboot of the original Glen A. Larson shows, although we already had two which were either successful re-imagined classics (Battlestar Galactica) or quickly flopped cash-ins (Knight Rider). What if Buck Rogers…falls somewhere in between?

        …and we still have those remaining animated Star Trek recaps to go.

        • Thomas Stockel

          Yeah, I talked to the boss and we were discussing the final four TAS recaps. Before I return to the Pulp Masterpieces articles (I want to do at least four more, but I know the concept can only be taken so far so don’t expect much more than that.) at least one of the TAS’ is going to be posted.

  • When I saw the title I was already starting to write out my suggestion of “Buck Rogers” in my head.
    And there it was in the article.

  • Deneb T. Hall

    I’d just like to point out – while I do agree that, yes, the Buck Rogers franchise would be a cool one to bring back, that particular series is just one fondly remembered iteration. Buck Rogers himself has been around since 1928; along with the ’70’s show, he’s been in innumerable comics, books, movie serials, radio shows, another TV show back in the ’50’s, and he came very close to getting a movie treatment a few years back (except that it was going to be directed by Frank Miller, and then the Spirit movie bombed and studios lost interest, so… yeah. Probably dodged a bullet there).

    Please don’t interpret this as me calling you an ignoramus or anything; I’m not, at all. I liked what you wrote, and thought you made some good points. I’m just saying, if Buck Rogers WERE to be resurrected somehow, chances are they’d go back to the original source material to do it, rather than the specific show you mentioned.

  • SPACE: 2099

    It’s not a chemical dump exploding, but an experiment that’s supposed to test a theory that could lead to FLT travel that goes awry. It works too well, and warps the entire Moon to some other location in the galaxy. By 2099, it’s conceivable that there would be a total lunar population of over 10,000 – the minimum you’d need for a stable population. It’s also enough so that you’ll have plenty of options for guest characters and stories. There’s room for several main story lines: 1. Trying to survive. 2. Figuring out what the heck happened, and if they can control the results. 3, Coping with the eventual realization that by ripping the Moon away from the Earth, you’ve screwed up tides to the point where civilization on the Earth just might have been destroyed, and you’re possibly the only humans left.

    • danbreunig

      This reboot was proposed and I think even started but currently don’t see any recent updates about it (…gasp?). Same with a proposed reboot of Battle Of The Planets. I’m on board for both when they happen.

  • Ian Kacprzak

    I’d like to see a Tugs reboot, it was an also ran made by some of the people who did the better parts of Thomas the Tank Engine but got canned because of studio problems, maybe keep the models.