Cherwell

The past is the future of TV

America is in the grips of a cultural revolution. While the general trends of TV tend towards a bright future of streaming, critically acclaimed mini-series, and a wealth of big-name talent on the smaller screen, the vice of nostalgia is beginning to grip America’s airwaves. That idea might make you jump automatically to Stranger Things, but a broader trend of decades-old shows being brought back for a new generation is gathering momentum.

Much like the worst of Hollywood’s continuing fascination with remakes and reboots, the current trend of TV shows being revived and the stale, unchanged nature of the revived shows are enough to make any TV lover weep with frustration. But that doesn’t mean they’re not worth examining. If the ratings for the Roseanne revival are anything to go by, the past may well be the future.

Roseanne is a show which has never had much of a cultural presence in the UK, but between 1988 and 1997 it was pretty much the number one show in the US. Its resurrection this month, after 20 years off the airwaves, has been met with headline-grabbing and controversy, from its astonishingly high ratings to the fact that President Trump called to congratulate Roseanne Barr, the show’s star and real-life vocal Conservative, despite not ringing a single family affected by the Parkland tragedy.

Its resurrection in today’s political climate is genuinely fascinating. It says a lot about the predominant creative mindset on ABC that they would rather resurrect a show about blue-collar, middle-American Conservatives than create a new show with similar ideals.

But it is nice to see a major network reviving a show that is at least conceptually noteworthy by virtue of being aired in a completely different pop cultural landscape than it initially aired in. Netflix haven’t yet managed to complete that same trick despite many more attempts, having ordered continuations of Arrested Development, Gilmore Girls and Fuller House, to name but a few.

Every new season Netflix has ordered seems to demonstrate the pitfalls of rebooting an old show. Arrested Development tried to redo an ensemble comedy where all the members of the ensemble were too famous and busy to sync up their schedules, resulting in a fractured, pale imitation of a once-great show. Revisiting Gilmore Girls seemed only to throw a spotlight on the very worst parts of the original series in the eyes of many fans, and Fuller House seemed only to fare well because Full House was never a show that set the bar very high to begin with.

But to Netflix, none of that really matters. They have a near-bottomless pit of cash to make content with, and as long as they’re creating original content that’s growing their subscriber base, they’re perfectly happy reviving old shows, even if the revivals aren’t particularly good. The revivals are still original, exclusive content, but with an inbuilt audience who are much more likely to revisit a show they remember than to flock to something brand new. Using an existing show as a springboard is also likely to make the creative process significantly easier.

The big question at the end of all if this is: which show will be revived next? Is it too soon to resurrect Parks and Recreation, How I Met Your Mother, or The US Office? Would Friends be able to weather another storm of Buzzfeed articles about how horrendously outdated many of its storylines now are? Has Curb Your Enthusiasm given you hope for a Seinfeld reunion? Make no mistake, folks: whether or not you’re happy with it being a controlling factor in what airs on your tellybox, nostalgia is a cultural force that’s here to stay.