We’ve all experienced the pure magic of watching the pilot of a TV show for the first time and thinking, “This is fantastic. I can’t wait to keep tuning in week after week.” It’s rare these days for most shows to last past a second or third season, but when a show has a chance to stick around for nine seasons like The X-Files or ten seasons like Friends, sometimes we’re sad to see it end but you know it’s time.
With the onslaught of reboots and remakes happening for both film and television, the new trend for this medium is the revival of an old, fan favorite TV show that has long since ended maybe eight or ten years ago. Current examples include the aforementioned The X-Files, Heroes, Full House, and most recently Gilmore Girls. While there is a nostalgia factor driving these shows getting green lit to be revived, especially when most of the original cast of these shows are involved, I truly wonder if it’s better to leave these shows where they belong––in the past.
For better or for worse, Hollywood seems to like to look to the past at shows and films that were a critical success and somehow breathe new life into them for the modern day masses. I still believe this is plain lazy and it shows a lack of creativity (or the fear of creativity) to produce something unique and original. At least there’s some new and original ideas being created exclusively for the streaming platforms Hulu, Netflix, and Amazon Prime. Yet when it comes to mainstream cinema and network television, we seem to go backwards instead of forwards.
I’m not sure if I can say reviving some shows is a totally bad idea. Getting the original cast of a long dead TV show back to do a “new season” of a hit series certainly makes it easier for fans of the original to get excited about their favorite show coming back with new stories and a look into how these characters went about their lives in the years since the show ended. The real problem is when a revival feels more like an excuse to give faded and out of work actors from the original series a chance to relive their glory days on the coattails of a popular show, or the new stories told isn’t what you’re expecting or hoping for.
When Heroes first aired on NBC in 2006, this was during a time when television wasn’t quite overly saturated with superhero driven shows like it is today. It was a show no one has really seen before––ordinary people living ordinary lives until they realize they’re gifted with superpowers. The first season was great from start to finish and season two managed to remain relatively solid. It was when the show hit season three that it was clear the show was starting to lose its way and struggled to a barely satisfying series finale in its fourth season.
I loved Heroes and found myself somewhat obsessed with the characters and stories unfolding in each episode when it aired. Eventually, I started realizing the show wasn’t hitting all the right marks anymore once it went past a second season. Critics and other fans of the show also began expressing a lack of interest when I read articles online about the show. Heroes ending its time on TV by the fourth season made sense and I certainly wasn’t sorry to see it go.
Fast forward to some time in 2014 when it was announced Heroes will be brought back as a limited 13-episode run, I wasn’t at all excited about it. It frankly didn’t make any sense. The show didn’t really end on a high note and it felt more abrupt as a result of the cast and crew not really expecting NBC would decide to drop it from its lineup at the last possible second. I also didn’t think Heroes had a large enough fanbase clamoring for more Heroes. Not that I’m aware of anyway.
The Heroes revival, entitled Heroes: Reborn, debuted September 2015 and aired its final episode January 2016. Against my better judgement, I decided to watch all 13 episodes of Heroes: Reborn. My own instincts were right the first time––it wasn’t really worth my time to have watched it. This new chapter or story of Heroes brings back some of the old cast like Jack Coleman as Noah Bennet and Masi Oka as Hiro Nakamura with an introduction of new characters like Zachary Levi as Luke Collins and Robbie Kay (Peter Pan from Once Upon a Time) as Tommy Clark.
Throughout my entire viewing experience of Reborn I mostly felt like I was watching a rehash of the very first season of Heroes, except it wasn’t really good and we have a new set of characters I didn’t think were as strong or as interesting as the original ones. The revival of Heroes also didn’t bring anything new to the table. It largely recycled the same plot idea of saving the world from another catastrophic event and a race against time to bring together a unique set of individuals, whose fates would bring them together to do something extraordinary. Characters who were once good in the original run of Heroes have now become bad without any satisfying reason why they’d turn to the dark side, and they killed off a character from the original series, whose presence on Reborn was largely wasted by not really using him for anything significant.
The worst part of Reborn was how the limited mini-series ended. The final episode ended on a cliffhanger to tease a potential new threat and character the remaining heroes would have to go up against. Considering the show was only meant to have a temporary run on television, it seemed pretty presumptuous of Tim Kring to believe Heroes would have a chance to get picked up for future seasons. And as it turned out, NBC was not interested in anything past the 13-episode deal Heroes: Reborn got. It’s called a limited series for a reason. While Reborn as a whole was incredibly flawed, the show could have actually ended with a real ending. Instead, it’s a tacked on piece of the Heroes universe which will always have their last episode book ended by a cliffhanger. This is one instance they should have never revived Heroes at all.
At the other end of the spectrum, the announcement of The X-Files revival with Gillian Anderson and David Duchovny was actually one I was excited about and welcomed wholeheartedly. The 6-episode run, which aired last month and will draw to a close this month, made a lot of sense the show would find new life again. The fanbase for The X-Files is huge and has been enduring long after it finished its ninth season. Fans have at least rallied behind more movies for X-Files, if a new season wasn’t possible, and it helped that their two main stars were always open to doing more films. The nature of the show’s exploration of paranormal activity, government conspiracies, and aliens still gives this show plenty of room to tell more stories.
When The X-Files premiered and that familiar theme song played, it was like coming home. I’ve been a huge fan of the show since discovering it as a late junior high/early high school kid in the ’90s. I’m not really the biggest fan of the sci-fi genre, but I found something to love about their monster of the week episodes and their overarching story of government secrets and conspiracies. The biggest draw for sticking with the show and going back to the older seasons I missed when I started tuning in was the relationship between Agents Mulder and Scully.
Presenting two opposites, one who is a believer while the other is a skeptic, made a lot of their verbal exchanges amazing to watch. It was like a mental tennis match––these two agents, who are intelligent experts in their fields, constantly bounce back between arguing or persuading the other about their perceptions pertaining to a case or matter. Nine seasons and two movies also allowed fans to watch Mulder and Scully go from partners to friends to eventual lovers. Seeing this progression unfold made their changing relationship and dynamic to each other organic and something we don’t often get to see with many shows these days. Admittedly, it doesn’t hurt that both actors are insanely attractive to look at from week to week.
As of the writing of this post, The X-Files will have just aired its sixth and final episode of the revival. Having seen five of these episodes up until this point, I will say the revival is a bit rushed and not every episode was always strong. I’m not sure what I really expected from this revival of a show I’ve loved from the ’90s, but in many ways I might have been okay with the show staying finished at nine seasons instead of the short tenth season we got. Six episodes doesn’t really give you enough time for a new and overarching story, but it does at least give you a chance to see where some of the characters have ended up and a few new cases to solve. I viewed the episodes as a sort of homage, nostalgia trip to call back some plot points raised in the older seasons and remember the type of episodes The X-Files used to produce, such as having one funny, weird, but less serious episode and another being more serious and addressing a kind of idea or concept that may tie in with a previously established story thread many seasons ago.
The X-Files revival had maybe one or two episodes that were strong, but as a whole it’s largely weak. Am I disappointed with how the revival was handled? Yes and no. I can say I liked this revival more than Heroes: Reborn, despite the mostly weak episodes this tenth season had, but I learned we really need to leave a lot of things in the past. For instance, having Mulder and Scully broken up when the final season and a second movie had kept these two as a couple was very disappointing. Prior to the revival, I kinda liked the idea of Mulder and Scully living their lives together as retired FBI agents. Changing their relationship status to possibly add new tension between them and how they handle it going forward just felt really unnecessary. Apparently, having a happy and in love couple creates boring television. At the very least, their breakup and how they interact with each other after it was handled well and realistically. Just because these two aren’t romantically involved anymore, it doesn’t mean their bond and mutual respect and trust in each other has faded. They do care about each other, but I suppose there were certain issues they really couldn’t work out in the end.
I’m not entirely sure if these recent examples of revivals are already pinpointing a problem with bringing back a show in the first place. Both have shown writing and a new story has to be strong enough to warrant bringing these older shows back to life. If the only draw is to see the original cast reprising roles that made them famous once upon a time, then it’s really not a good reason at all. I see it as clogging more of our television space and online streams with unnecessary shows we could be saving it for new, creative shows that deserve their chance to get discovered and enjoy cult status. Talks of more shows getting resuscitated isn’t going away anytime soon and it remains to be seen if a revival is as good as the older seasons that precede it.
What are your thoughts on TV show revivals? Leave well enough in the past or keep the nostalgia train coming with brand new stories?