Reboot this! Franchises in need of a comeback (part 3)

So here we are, the third and final installment of the Reboot this! series. And I admit what I’m about to talk about are two dark horses. Of all the franchises I’ve looked at, I think these two have the least chance of ever being rebooted; it’s not because they’re lacking a fanbase or quality, but rather, for one reason or another, they’ve got the proverbial cards stacked against them.

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5. The Green Hornet

Debuting in 1938 on Detroit radio station WXYZ, the Green Hornet has had a long career as a fictional crime fighter. He’s appeared in comics, television, and movies, with the two most enduring versions being the ’60s show with Van Johnson as the Hornet and the iconic Bruce Lee playing his sidekick Kato…

…and the shitstorm of a movie starring Seth Rogen, because like any horrific car wreck, it stays in your mind.

The Green Hornet (2011) was a classic case of producers having no respect for the franchise. It was a lazy film where those in charge thought that simply hiring Christoph Waltz would automatically make it bad-ass. Note to the producers: you have to give a great actor great lines and at least competent direction to get a good performance out of him or her. Why else did The Phantom Menace have three stellar leads who all acted like those animatronic presidents at Disneyworld?

The biggest thing going against a new Green Hornet TV series isn’t just the memory of that terrible movie, though; it’s the sheer number of superhero TV shows already airing today. When I talked about The Shadow previously, at least that show had it’s ’30s setting to set it apart from the herd. But Hornet? Admittedly, it’s a tough sell, so something has to make this show stand out from the rest. Let’s start with the popular perception of the Green Hornet. Heroes who are thought of by the public as villains are interesting. Batman was called a criminal by some in his early days…

…and J. Jonah Jameson led a campaign against Spider-Man to convince everybody he was a menace…

…but what makes the Green Hornet different from these other vigilantes is that he embraces the perception that he’s a criminal. In the first episode of the TV series, “The Silent Gun”, when the Hornet confronts a criminal, it’s implied that Britt Reed has been doing this vigilante thing for a while. And yeah, maybe he has. But what if the dialogue suggested that there had been a Green Hornet around… but it hadn’t necessarily been Reed all that time. What if the Green Hornet had been a crook, and he died and Reed took over his identity? I’m reading a lot into just a few lines, sure, but it’s an intriguing thought. What if Reed is like an idealistic engineer, an inventor who decides to adopt the mantle of a dead criminal? It would explain where his iconic weaponry and bad-ass ride the Black Beauty come from.

Green Hornet’s sidekick is Kato, his “houseboy” and chauffeur. These days, that simply wouldn’t fly. Kato should be Reed’s partner. Perhaps Kato was the original Hornet’s sidekick and he’s working with Reed to get revenge on the man who killed his friend. As the show progresses, we could see Reed struggle with moral decisions to maintain his secret identity, while at the same time attempting to make people believe the Hornet is still a criminal without actually hurting anyone. How far would he have to go to maintain this fiction? What laws would he have to break to uphold them? At the same time, we could see Kato working on the side of the angels and being slowly reformed. It could be an interesting dynamic between these characters who have different motivations and come from such different backgrounds.

So the question is, who should play these characters? Kato’s race and nationality have shifted over the years based on political and social climes, so to my mind Kato doesn’t really have to be Chinese now. And why does he have to be a man? The character has had female incarnations before:

So if Kato were a woman, who could play her? That’s easy: Thai actor JeeJa Yanin.

Just look at these fight scenes from her various movies:

JeeJa has the physical chops and charisma to easily pull of Kato. But who can play Britt Reed? Hm, let me think…

Why, yes, I think Tom Hardy might be a good choice to play an intelligent, fundamentally decent man exposed to and potentially corrupted by moral compromises.

Yes, bringing back the Green Hornet might be a tough sell compared to the other shows I looked at. But getting Hornet produced would be a cakewalk compared to getting this next series rebooted. And what series is that, you may ask?

6. Perry Mason

Yeah, you read that right. Perry. Mason. I love the hell out of this show. From 1957 thru 1966, the series lasted a powerful nine seasons, and two hundred and seventy one episodes. The show had a wonderful cast, with Raymond Burr as Mason, Barbara Hale as his faithful secretary Della Street, William Hopper as private eye Paul Drake, William Talman as DA Hamilton Berger (who was so popular with fans even in his numerous defeats that, when he was fired by CBS for allegedly attending a “wild nude party”, a massive letter writing campaign demanded his return. CBS bowed to the will of the fans and Berger returned for more crushing courtroom defeats at Mason’s merciless hands), and Ray Collins as Lt. Tragg (who was later replaced by Wesley Lau as Lt. “Andy” Anderson and later Richard “Oscar Goldman” Anderson’s Lt. Drumm.).

Left to right: Talman, Collins, Hale, Burr, Hopper.

The show had a host of guest stars: Star Trek’s Leonard Nimoy and DeForest Kelley, Gilligan’s Island’s Alan Hale Jr., Robert Redford, Ryan O’Neil (remember him from my Zero Effect article? You did read my Zero Effect article, right? No? Dammit, I need to get more spots on this year’s top thirty most read articles, so go read it now!), Bette Davis, Walter Pidgeon, and Batman stars Adam West and Neil Hamilton, the latter of whom appeared on the show seven times as seven different characters. He actually wasn’t bad in straight roles, but my favorite was when he played a scheming butler, showcasing the comedic talents he would later rely upon as Commissioner Gordon.

There was an attempt to bring back Perry Mason in 1973 with The New Perry Mason starring Monte Markham. I’ve never seen these episodes, but considering how it never went beyond its fifteen episode run you can imagine how unpopular it was with fans. With the original series being off the air less than ten years, people just weren’t nostalgic enough for Perry’s triumphant comeback. That in the mid-’80s came a series of highly successful TV movies with Burr and Hale reprising their roles, and with Mason now a judge who comes down off his bench to fight worthy causes, the first being to save Della Street from a murder charge. At about this time we saw what could be called a spiritual successor arrive on the small screen in Matlock

…which was Perry Mason in all but name, with an attractive female sidekick, a private detective to do his legwork, and court cases where he not only always proved his client innocent (not just “not guilty”, but innocent!) but also did the cops’ job for them and found the murderer to boot. Matlock too lasted nine seasons, and a hundred and eighty one episodes. Not too shabby.

So the question is, is the world ready for Perry Mason to make a comeback? I’m aware that fans’ tastes change, and courtroom dramas have come a long way since then. Shows about lawyers have been either very silly, like David E. Kelley’s Ally McBeal and Boston Legal

…or very grim, like Kelley’s The Practice, which portrayed lawyers dealing with heavy ethical issues…

…or The Good Wife, which was both a legal and political drama…

…or Suits, which is apparently about sexy men wearing suits, and to hell with a plot that makes any kind of sense.

Have we moved on from Perry Mason? I don’t deny it’s possible the concept has seen its day, and maybe I should just settle for indulging in the nostalgia of watching the classic series on MeTV. But then again, maybe people are ready for a different take on the legal drama, that of a lawyer with a strong sense of ethics and a powerful desire to fight for the little guy, someone who believes in more than just getting his client off but proving his innocence as well. It’s an old fashioned concept, but in a cynical age like ours, perhaps people could use a little escapism.

I think the series would need to be updated in both casting and format. The original show was pretty damn white, but it being ’60s TV, that was only natural. So the cast would naturally be multi-racial to reflect the current population of Los Angeles. Second, Della Street was Perry’s secretary, and while I think she was treated with a great deal of respect during the course of the series (seriously, watch the show; she’s put in danger, yeah, but almost as many times as Paul Drake lost a fistfight, so there was gender equality there), being shown as competent, intelligent, respected for her opinions, and while there was not once an episode where they stuck her in some stupid romantic subplot…

Shocking, I know. Who wouldn’t resist falling in love with Barbara Hale?

…I admit today Della could not be simply Perry’s secretary: she would need to be his partner. They’d have to make her his intellectual equal, a pragmatist to offset his idealism, who keeps their practice solvent while he tackles hard luck and seemingly hopeless cases. In fact, make her the senior partner. But for God’s sake, please don’t make them fall in love!

As to the show’s format, I think it would have to be changed. In the old days, you were introduced to the murder victim, Perry’s client, and a host of suspects, then the murder happened, then you had the trial and ultimately the big reveal. That describes about 95% of Perry Mason episodes. But there were notable exceptions, like the pilot, “The Case of the Moth Eaten Mink”, or “The Case of a Place Called Midnight” and “The Case of the Careless Kitten” which were resolved mostly or entirely outside of the courtroom. Mason’s legal brilliance should be a key part of the series, but rather than have him regularly beat up DA Berger in the courtroom, perhaps they could show him using his crime solving skills outside of the courtroom as much as in it?

So who could play Perry Mason? Hmm, let me think. Honestly, one name immediately rises to the top:

Seth Rogen has in him the acting chops to take on a serious role. And Perry Mason needs to be played by someone who doesn’t look physically intimidating, and who would need a Paul Drake to do his heavy lifting. So in my mind, Rogen is ideal.

What? Did you think I had someone else in mind? I can’t imagine who you think that might have been…

Tag: Reboot this! Franchises in need of a comeback

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  • Kenneth Morgan

    First, in the 1966 series, Reid/The Green Hornet was played by Van Williams, not Van Johnson. Next, the original backstory was that Kato was college educated, fixed up the Hornet’s gas gun and the Black Beauty, and he & Reid had been friends for years. The “houseboy” role was pretty much just a cover. (See John Dunning’s book “On the Air” for this info.) Also, there’s the fact, not mentioned in the TV series, that Reid inherited his crime fighting talents from his great uncle: John Reid, alias the Lone Ranger.
    As for Perry Mason, reportedly a revival is in the works with Robert Downey, Jr. as Mason. However, I hear it’ll be based on the Mason movies made by WB in the 1930’s, with Warren William as Mason. They are very different in tone from the Burr series, but are well worth watching.

  • Deneb T. Hall

    Actually, out of all the ones you’ve mentioned so far, I’d say the Green Hornet franchise stands the BEST chance of making a comeback. Why? Because it’s never really gone away, at least not for very long. There was, of course, the show, and the radio/comics/serials that inspired it, but then there was a fairly long-running comics series back in the ’90’s, various spin-off books from that, the movie (which, yeah, was not good, but hey, exposure), the proposed movie script which got turned into a comic, the Batman ’66/Green Hornet crossover sequel comic – and let’s not forget the original crossover itself, which has gained fresh interest since the Batman show finally came out on DVD (though it probably would have gained more if the GH show had ALSO come out on DVD, which, ye gods, needs to happen already). For non Marvel/DC characters, the Hornet and Kato have cast fairly long shadows.

    And, I would point out, besides the ‘good guy pretending to be a bad guy’ bit, there’s another interesting aspect to the series that has cropped up – that of the legacy hero. This was always there to some degree – the Hornet is supposed to be a descendant of the Lone Ranger – but it’s been emphasized in recent years. The ’90’s series did a LOT with it, with both the modern Hornet and Kato being directly descended from the TV versions, who in turn were also following in the footsteps of the Golden Age characters.

    Not a lot has been done with this sort of thing on superhero TV (at least, not that I’m aware of; there’s way too many shows at the moment for me to keep up with), and you could do some cool things with it. Imagine story-arcs stretching across the Hornet’s long history, rooted in the present but with flashbacks to events in the ’60’s, the ’40’s, and perhaps even a brief nod to those long-ago days of ‘Hey-ho, Silver’. There’s all SORTS of possibilities, especially if one expands the concept a bit to create an unbroken lineage across the decades. What if one Green Hornet actually WAS a gangster? What if one of the Hornet/Kato teams had an Asian Hornet and a white Kato? What about a team-up with the Phantom, another (in fact, probably the definitive) classic legacy hero? Huge amounts of material there.