No Heroes: 9 shows NBC should reboot before that one

No Heroes: 9 shows NBC should reboot before that one

Including Father Dowling Mysteries!

NBC’s recent announcement that it will reboot Heroes in limited-series form next year was one of the most swiftly mocked decisions in the history of the substantial Venn diagram intersection of TV and talking about TV on the Internet. From the point of view that sees Fox making waves by resurrecting 24, it made a kind of sense. From another perspective—the one that remembers Heroes was terrible and sees that TV now has superheroes everywhere (including on one terrific show)—it was a baffling decision. But we’re friends to all networks at The A.V. Club, and if NBC wants to reboot something, it has hundreds of other shows in its back catalog it could turn to first—and that’s ignoring pie-in-the-sky choices like Cheers or The Office, whose casts would never be reassembled right now. We chose nine of them, but there are probably many others.

1. Kidnapped (2006-2007)
Consider the possibilities of rebooting Kidnapped, one of three other dramas NBC launched the same fall it launched Heroes. (The other two were Studio 60 On The Sunset Strip and Friday Night Lights.) Kidnapped, which revolved around a pleasantly twisty kidnapping mystery, would have followed the same investigators through a new case with each season. The audience wasn’t sure what to make of it at the time, but now, in this age of season-long stories and revived anthology series, it seems like a show that was ahead of its time. Even better, you don’t really need to bring back the original cast (though if Suburgatory is canceled, grabbing Jeremy Sisto to reprise his role would make a lot of sense). All that’s needed is to get creator Jason Smilovic back on board, toss in some agreeably hard-boiled dialogue, and unleash 13 great episodes of kidnappers getting what’s coming to them. Lather. Rinse. Repeat.

2. Committed (2005)
This show, created by The Middle creators Eileen Heisler and DeAnn Heline, is one of the few on the list that really could be rebooted tomorrow—leads Josh Cooke and Jennifer Finnigan aren’t doing anything important (though Finnigan has FX drama Tyrant coming up). The original played off the eccentricity of their characters, as two New Yorkers dating in a group of weird friends and roommates. Let’s take it all a step further, NBC. Put ’em in a mental institution. You heard us! Double down on this “committed” pun. Cooke and Finnigan could meet when they’re forced to sit next to each other in group therapy, like in Go On, but without the tedious sports metaphors and the dead-end radio station scenes. Instead, the two characters make comedy out of lying about how they ended up in the institution. It becomes a competition where they invent increasingly ridiculous things to sell to their fellow inmates. Along the way? Love. And straitjackets used as sexual props. And definitely keep the clown that lives in the closet.

3. The Completely Mental Misadventures Of Ed Grimley (1988)
An entire generation of sketch comedy has taken place in the echoes of SCTV, encompassing the precise pop culture parodies of The Ben Stiller Show, the shared-universe deadpan of Portlandia, and the channel-surfing anarchy of Kroll Show. With a far-flung cast that isn’t getting any younger, a full-on Melonville revival is unlikely—not that Second City hasn’t tried. The best shot at rebooting the show that carried the sketch-comedy torch on NBC during Saturday Night Live’s rebuilding years might be this animated spin-off, which stuck out like a Saturday-morning sore thumb among The Smurfs, The Chipmunks, and Disney’s Adventures Of The Gummi Bears in 1988. Starring an animated version of Martin Short’s SCTV über-nerd Ed Grimley—with spooky-story interstitials from Joe Flaherty’s Count Floyd—The Completely Mental Misadventures’ universe could expand to feature other Network 90 staples like Andrea Martin’s Mrs. Falbo or Catherine O’Hara’s Lola Heatherton. (The latter necessitating a move from Saturday mornings to Saturday nights.) Short and O’Hara have done plenty of voice work in recent years, so it’s a good fit with their schedules—and, besides, a recording booth is the only place Rick Moranis does any work these days.

4. Miss Match (2003)
There are a lot of recognizable names in Miss Match’s cast and crew: The series was created in part by Darren Star, and starred Alicia Silverstone as Kate Fox, a divorce lawyer who doubles as a matchmaker in her downtime. James Roday, Lake Bell, and Nathan Fillion were all in the cast at some point. On its own, it’s a fine idea, but with the reboot, NBC should ditch the old cast and take things a step further: Miss Match.com. Think of the jokes! Think of the sponsorship opportunities. Instead of a matchmaker, Kate could be an introverted customer-service representative at a certain popular paid dating site. And instead of having a double life where she sets up people for fun, Kate lives a double life where she’s desperately trying to get laid. Every episode, after a hard day’s work in the office of love, she goes home, puts on lipstick, and sets herself up on another blind date. Liza Lapira, recently of Super Fun Night, could play the introverted but striving Kate; the co-worker she will inevitably end up kissing in the season-one finale could be played by a scruffily handsome guy who’s masking his deep need to be loved with laziness and schlub (so, Jake Johnson).

5. Little House On The Prairie (1974-1983)
They don’t all have to be one-season wonders, either. NBC could revive one of the biggest hits in its history and learn a lesson from corporate subsidiary Syfy by giving this down-home family series a gritty, Battlestar Galactica-style revamp. The world of Laura Ingalls Wilder’s Little House books is filtered through a child’s perspective, and things inevitably turn out pretty well. (Wilder removed the truly painful stuff, like the death of a baby brother, or the way that her father was pretty much a complete disaster when it came to financial matters.) But pioneer life wasn’t all sunshine and roses and fondly remembered Christmas celebrations (and, okay, a disconcerting amount of corporal punishment). It was hard, back-breaking work, and providing a kind of blend of the later Little House books—when Laura is a teenager—with an ultra-realistic look at what it was like to stay alive in that time and place could make for legitimately compelling historical television, with a big name to coast off of.

6. Father Dowling Mysteries (1989-1991)
Father Dowling Mysteries was a detective procedural with an interesting twist—a priest and a nun solving crimes in between Mass and confession. That gave it the advantage to find crime in the midst of the laity, and to demonstrate how wrapping up cases was all part of God’s work. Why not bring it back? You don’t even have to change it much. Maybe make them hip Catholics, or hippie Catholics. Or some religion that doesn’t mandate a vow of celibacy, because, ’shipping. Then let them loose in the wild, doing church work. The stories will roll right in! The church sex-abuse scandal could occupy most of season one, especially as it reflects the main characters. Amy Ryan would be great as an older Mother Superior type, and Sam Waterston could be the conflicted priest solving cases with her. Bonus points for episodes that question organized religion, seek to prove the existence of God, or indulge briefly in the supernatural.

7. The NBC Mystery Movie (1971-77)
For six years in the 1970s, The Peacock presented a “wheel” of dramas under the NBC Mystery Movie banner. It wasn’t an anthology in the strictest sense, but rather a rotating spotlight for characters like Peter Falk’s rumpled police lieutenant in Columbo or Rock Hudson and Susan Saint James as the crime-fighting duo of McMillan & Wife. That makes it a perfect match for an era of drama development defined by American Horror Story and True Detective, series that similarly bluff their “anthology” credentials. The strength of a show like Columbo is its episodic mysteries—but what if someone like Nic Pizzolatto extended those mysteries for weeks at a time? Presented in two-hour chunks, the spokes of the new Mystery Movie wheel would condense today’s yen for anthologies-that-aren’t-anthologies into recurring monthlong chunks. Casts and crew could rotate in and out with each new cycle, making the project alluring to actors, directors, or screenwriters who can’t commit to the rigors of a full-on TV series. The results probably wouldn’t wet the whistles of foreign theatrical distributors (the secondary target of the original Mystery Movie), but they’d be an easy sell in the short-run world of European TV—and who’s the National Broadcasting Company to turn down a little extra money?

8. Quark (1977-78)
Created by Buck Henry, the short-lived sci-fi spoof Quark wasn’t ahead of its time—debuting amid revived, post-Star Wars interest in all things science fiction, it’s an obvious product of 1978. Unfortunately, that means canned laughter and rampant homophobia mixed in with the riffs on The Force, Starfleet, and Flash Gordon. (And yet it’s never mentioned that the star, Richard Benjamin, looks like one of Gerry and Sylvia Andersons’ Thunderbirds.) But if Quark was overhauled, perhaps with a good sport like Nathan Fillion playing intergalactic trash man Adam Quark, it would enter a TV landscape that’s even more accepting of geek-friendly fare. By ditching the laugh track and upping the joke-per-minute rate to 2014 single-camera standards, Quark could finally be the space-opera answer to Get Smart that Henry’s creator credit always suggested (and the shaggy end product failed to be).

9. Supertrain (1979)
Supertrain’s reputation is that it’s one of the worst television series ever made. An awkward attempt by NBC to capture Love Boat fever by basically setting that program on a train, it was hugely expensive, little watched, and critically derided. But strip this series down to its most basic components, and you have the makings of a potentially interesting sci-fi series. First, there’s the Supertrain itself, a nuclear-powered super-fast train traveling between New York and Los Angeles, with stops in Chicago, Denver, and somewhere in Texas. Then there’s the motley cast of characters on board the train every week. Finally, you have the show’s vaguely futuristic setting. What NBC has here is the makings of the next great Lost or Twin Peaks-esque mystery show. A bunch of people end up on a super-fast train, howling through the darkness. They don’t know how they got there. They don’t know how to get off. And all around them, the world burns. By playing up the high concept, adding just a smidgen of post-apocalyptic fear, and casting a large, diverse ensemble, Supertrain 2.0 could be just what NBC needs. And even if it’s not, it would still be a damn sight better than fucking Heroes.


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