What can we expect from television in 2016?
The Nineties, that’s what.
Friends, Full House, The X-Files. The three programs, even after decades of being off the air, still garner a frenzied fandom where the announcement of reunions, reboots, and spin-offs has us squirming in the grip of gleeful familiarity.
Nostalgia is a vexingly compelling emotion. Its power is undeniable and frankly, easily susceptible to manipulation; therefore, highly marketable. It makes more than enough financial sense for these shows’ producers, showrunners, writers, and actors to reinvest their time in a series that already has not just merely reliable audience, but one insatiably hungry for more.
However, this brings us to a question: Just because we can, does it mean that we should?
I’ll Be There For You (Not)
When news broke there was to be a Friends “reunion” lots of folks decided to collectively FREAK THE FUCK OUT because OMG the Friends are back!
Then, like, we all read past the headlines and realized that, no, it’s really not a Friends “reunion” but rather a special for Jimmy Burrows who worked as a producer or something blah blah blah, and the big six have to share the stage with other unnamed actors from some other shows called Frasier and Cheers… or whatever.
But the Friends are all going to be there!
Well, no, not really. Chandler Bing Matthew Perry can’t be there because he has to be in a play in London ironically titled, The End of Longing.
But when will we see an end to our longing to see the whole gang back in Central Perk? (They probably have Wi-Fi now.)
When it comes to sitcoms, Friends is a juggernaut. Even a whiff of a rumour about the cast reuniting created a total eclipse of any coverage for the other parties participating in the so-called “television event.” Seriously, I’ve been hard pressed to find coverage that does not include a disproportionate amount of photos of the Friends.
The fans have spoken, over and over again that we want something, anything to bring us back to a time when all the Friends were just hanging out. However, when it comes to any such continuation of the series the actors and show creators have basically been a Taylor Swift song that like, they are never, ever getting back together.
Kill Your Darlings
The premise of Friends was simple: six semi-single friends living in Manhattan attempting to make their way through their twenties and early thirties. Even the theme song underscores this, “Your job’s a joke you broke/You’re love life’s DOA./ It’s like you’re stuck in second gear/ When it hasn’t been your week, your month, or even your year.”
Friends was of a certain time. A time when an all white cast in a seemingly all white Manhattan went unquestioned. Where homophoic, transphobic, heteronormative comedy was a-okay (apparently). A time where we were so enamored with our beloved characters that we didn’t stop to question how in the fuck they could afford their gigantic NY apartments with waitressing, acting, massaging, and cooking jobs. Despite rampant fat-phobia and utter lack of diversity, Friends was in it’s own ways progressive: it was the first television show to use the word “tampon”; it showed female characters having multiple sex partners without stigma or shame; it even had a lesbian couple raising a child together (although they were too often the butt of a joke).
In the tenth and final season, I would argue there was a service to the fans to provide a sense of finality. SPOILER ALERT: the series ends with the Friends leaving the ways of their seemingly carefree post-adolescence. They are starting families, moving to the suburbs, getting back with Ross for some stupid fucking reason, and leaving the oh-so-familiar (apparently rent controlled) apartment behind with a close-up of that lilac painted door. They bid us adieu by suggesting the time of their lives we got a glimpse of is all we are privy to.
But some of us just can’t let it go. I have to admit that if there was a movie, or ACTUAL special, or new season I would watch it — but what would my expectations be? Fans rely on the intimacy we feel with the characters, as though they are our Friends, in a way that would make it particularly tricky to attempt to develop the characters in any meaningful way.
Do we just want to see how much dumber Joey can get? Like his remarks have devolved into monosyllabic dick jokes? Do want to see Monica’s persnickety nature as applied to motherhood? Is Chandler’s role as sarcastic dad really that compelling? “Like could I BE anymore Dad bod?” And what the hell are we supposed to do with Ross and Rachel as a couple, hmmm? “We were on a break — AGAIN!”
Fan service does not equal quality of story. Honestly, the continuation of the Friends franchise doesn’t include any sense of urgency, and might be the equivalent of beating a dead horse. Perhaps there is something to be said about the Friends, on in years, and held accountable for their past actions? I for one would be interested to see what Ben has to say about his absent father Ross. Maybe it’s Ben’s wedding and he chooses to have Susan in his wedding party and not Ross — someone who was dedicated to raising him rather than hanging out with buddies, having multiple marriages, and fathering a child with another woman (who we never see him with)…
Even after ten years after playing these characters, the Friends actors have addressed by their character’s names by the media. Rachel Green Jennifer Anniston had something to say about rebooting the show — that all the Friends are dead and we see their funerals.
Obviously stealing this idea from Six Feet Under, her comment about killing the Friends seems to come from a place of annoyance, even contempt. The actors are forever marked as the characters we know and love, and it must get tiresome to constantly be asked if they are going to ever go back to a job they had a decade ago. Take for example, when Pheobe Buffay Lisa Kudrow, Monica Gellar Courtney Cox, and Rachel were on Jimmy Kimmel.
They are fucking exhausted with this Friends bullshit, and Kimmel’s fan fiction skit holds a mirror up to us, the bitching and complaining fans who want more. Aniston refuses to wear the wig, that classic “Rachel Hair Look” haunting her like a regrettable yearbook photo.
Joey Tribbiani Matthew LeBlanc also addressed the subject of the Friends’ mortality when asked about any reprisal of his role. He remarked how the characters of Friends lived in a finite period of time, and now Joey’s all, old, “’Nobody wants to see Joey at his prostate exam!’ he quipped.
Despite this obvious comedy gold mine proposed by LeBlanc, he has a point. Why fix something that isn’t broken? Why continue on with a show that was successful and lives on as one of the comedy giants?
Perhaps it’s time to let it go and let someone else make that “Schwimmer Money”?
Can You Ever Truly Go Home?
Full House featured familial exploits with moral lessons to be gleaned from the Tanner family and friends. The show guided many of us through our childhood and adolescence. Danny Tanner was the widowed forever un-cool dirtphobic dad trying to protect his daughters from the trials and tribulations the world has to offer. Uncle Jesse and Uncle Joey stole our hearts, and the Olsen twins united to play the adorable and sassy baby of the family.
Now the series has a reboot, Netlix’s Fuller House which is set to debut Feb. 21st. In Fuller House the grown DJ finds herself in the same position as her father — with a dead spouse and some children to raise (a very coincidental and extremely devastating thing to happen to two generations of a family). But of course, she can’t do it alone — and cue a cast of characters old and new.
Now, I do have a question: Who is Fuller House for?
As opposed to say the, Boy Meets World spin-off series, Girl Meets World, the show isn’t released on the week-by-week basis on The Disney Channel, or another channel specifically targeted at a younger audience. Instead, it’s to be released by Netflix, that all-to-bingeable format that allows the viewer to watch at their own leisure.
So will the fans who grew up with these beloved characters tune in? Or is it something for grown fans to enjoy with their own children? Or perhaps, is it for a whole new generation to enjoy independent of its predecessor?
My feeling is, for the show to be truly successful, it has to be a conflation of the three. Full House was a television staple, and for this spin-off to garner the audience it needs, it has to function in a way where it’s not only a nostalgic walk down memory lane, but also a story that can keep its audience — old and new — captivated.
I for one, know I’ll have to try and see Bob Saget as an innocent PG rated father and now grandfather, which will be hard after watching him deliver the dirtiest joke in the world, The Aristocrats; try to forget that Alanis Morisette’s You Outta Know was written about Dave Coulier; and I will be disappointed if I don’t get to see at least one of the Olsen twins return as — one can only pray — an aloof Michelle who’s now a performance artist in New York. (As of today neither Olsen is scheduled to be a part of the cast).
That is to say, because I know so much about the actor’s lives since they left the show, the new series functions on a level where I am both watching because of the characters themselves and because of who is playing the characters. But don’t get me wrong — the gimmick of nostalgia is not enough, it’s going to draw me in to watch the first episode, but I wonder if it has the stuff to keep me watching?
The Truth Is Out There
The X-Files was not just a popular television show, it was a cultural phenomenon (I know this is not a news flash). As a Millennial, I can attest to the popularity of belief in UFOs and the like that permeated the 1990s like vampires did in the early 2000s.
Now The X-Files returns, but unlike Fuller House, it’s not as a season of a show that might have potential to be renewed, but rather as a miniseries to be released over the course of a couple months.
This is an important distinction to be made, considering that from what I can tell from the trailer, the miniseries format is going to feature one complex case that is the cause for Mulder and Scully to reunite their forces. Fans are given a glimpse at the two’s familiar dynamic; Mulder with a fire in his belly to push hard for the truth, and the pragmatic Scully warning him to pull back on the throttle. We know, and love them, and here they are for a purpose — not just for old time’s sake.
The trailer teases us with appearances by old friends like Skinner (still a babe!) and the disembodied hand of the smoking man. I even have a hard time deducing if the shots of the desert being excavated are new or taken from a previous episode.
Mulder steps on and rips up the poster that once graced his office wall, “The Truth is Out There,” as if to say, “This isn’t just a continuation — it’s a whole new story.” And as a fan, a true fan, isn’t that what we hope for in a reboot of a series? Not just to see everyone back together, or to see what’s become of our favourite characters, but to be brought back into the world of the show and transported somewhere new?
Perhaps my hopes for The X-Files are too high. Maybe I’ll be disappointed by the lack of imagination and reliance on old episodes and dynamics. Or perhaps, as we see in the trailer with flashes of drones and Mulder’s ranting about surveillance, it will be the return to the past that is pushing us into the present.
These three television shows have the unifying similarity of being beloved by their fans. Perhaps it is our nostalgia that has us asking for more, but it still remains to be seen if we are going to be careful what we wished for.
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