Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.
Pop culture obsessives writing for the pop culture obsessed.

It’ll be fine: 15 revamps that turned out better than expected

Fargo (Photo: Photo: Chris Large/FX ), Westworld (Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO), and Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp (Photo: Netflix).
Fargo (Photo: Photo: Chris Large/FX ), Westworld (Photo: John P. Johnson/HBO), and Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp (Photo: Netflix).

There is nothing more galling to loyal fans, more creatively bankrupt, more wholly unnecessary than the “revamp”—taking a beloved property and giving it a splashy makeover that renders it nigh-unrecognizable, all in the patently desperate hope to appeal to a new audience and extend its lifespan. Except maybe, sometimes it’s... fine? It all turns out... okay? In fact, this very Inventory is itself a revamp of one we did the last time The A.V. Club underwent a major redesign, and we still found enough new examples of revived properties that might have sounded like a terrible idea at first, but they actually turned out... good? Pretty great, even? It just goes to show, sometimes it’s worth giving it a shot.

1. 21 Jump Street (2012)

So many TV-to-film adaptations are terrible that audiences were understandably dubious of a 21 Jump Street movie, especially after the empty doldrums of Dukes Of Hazzard, Land Of The Lost, and Wild Wild West. Defying all expectations, the 2012 film turned out to be a brilliant send-up of reboots themselves, with directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller both paying homage to and riffing on the source material, while also openly commenting on the entire, unimaginative reboot industry. Along with funny lead performances from Jonah Hill and (who knew?) Channing Tatum, exemplary supporting work from people like Ice Cube and Jake Johnson, and some inspired cameos from the original Jump Street cast, the film ably blended big-budget action scenes, teen-party gags, and meta-comedy in a way that others have tried (and often failed) to replicate. Even more shocking: The sequel is almost as enjoyable. [Gwen Ihnat]

2. Wet Hot American Summer: First Day Of Camp (2015)
and Wet Hot American Summer: Ten Years Later (2017)

Talks of a follow-up to the 2001 cult comedy Wet Hot American Summer had been floated since at least 2008, when director David Wain first began saying he was in the early stages of an idea that, by his own admission, would be way too difficult to make and studios weren’t even interested in. After six more years of those caveats—during which the stars of the 2001 cult comedy only got bigger, busier, and older—Netflix’s announcement of a new prequel series was greeted with an understandably cautious enthusiasm. Even for a property as knowingly, giddily sloppy as Wet Hot, wouldn’t all those absences and age differences prove kind of distracting? Yet as it turns out, both 2015’s First Day Of Camp and 2017’s Ten Years Later succeeded by acknowledging its many single-bale-of-hay-like obstacles and leaping right over them—working around the limited availability of mega-celebrities like Bradley Cooper with winking jokes about ski masks and nose jobs, retconning the original film to wedge in new characters, and proving that having noticeably middle-aged people play teenagers is, actually, even funnier. The result was two series that expanded, deconstructed, and—in many ways—improved upon what might now be considered the saga of Camp Firewood. Let’s all agree to meet back here in another 10 years and see what they do with it then. [Sean O’Neal]

3. One Day At A Time (2017-)

There was always going to be an elephant in the room for any modern-day reimagining of One Day At A Time, and he wore a pencil-thin mustache and hung a tool belt around his waist. One Day At A Time’s setup of a single mother raising two teenagers is a story that could be told during any era, but the inclusion of apartment superintendent Dwayne F. Schneider—played to oozingly smarmy perfection by Pat Harrington Jr.—would mark any attempt to update the Norman Lear-developed sitcom as something still stuck muddling through the casual sexism of the 1970s. The solution? Make Schneider a clueless, gentrifying, white hipster who’s sharing a building with a family of Cuban-Americans in Los Angeles’ Echo Park. Netflix’s One Day At A Time redux keeps the parts of the original that aren’t broken—the family dynamic, the simple staging, the razor-sharp cast putting on comedic, topical playlets for a studio audience—while reflecting the changing face of America in its multicultural main characters. It also adds Rita Moreno as Lydia Alvarez, who needles her army-vet daughter, Penelope; has trouble understanding her granddaughter, Elena; and comes just shy of rearing up and socking Schneider when he drops by the Alvarez home wearing a Che Guevara T-shirt. Gloria Calderon Kellett and Mike Royce’s adaptation does something fresh with one of TV’s oldest formats, treating stories about immigration, deportation, coming out, and PTSD with a level of humor and heart that makes their show the TV equivalent of a life raft in 2017’s troubled cultural waters. [Erik Adams]

4. Fargo (2014-)

The idea for a TV adaptation of the Coen brothers’ Oscar-winning film had been floating around since Fargo was released in 1996—and in fact, it spawned a go-nowhere 1997 pilot starring Edie Falco in Frances McDormand’s role. So when FX announced plans to relocate that twisted “true story” to the small screen, the project was met with understandable skepticism. That brilliant, black comedy had such a specific tone and premise—call it Midwestern Vice—that any attempt to recreate it seemed misguided. But we’ll be darned if Noah Hawley’s anthology series hasn’t made believers of us all, unleashing hell in small-town Minnesota on three separate occasions now. While avoiding any direct adaptation, Hawley has captured the feel of the film and its nigh-mythical setting, placing a procession of average Jerrys in extraordinary circumstances among the snowbanks, which remain a blindingly white canvas on which to spill secrets and blood. Each season has featured an introspective lead (Allison Tolman, Patrick Wilson, and Carrie Coon) at the center, and an exceptional supporting cast to play in the grays of Fargo’s morality. The neatest trick—and most necessary import from the film—is how well the show balances brutality with humanity; there’s room in Fargo’s wide-open spaces for mayhem, wicked humor, and plain-old decency. [Danette Chavez]

5. The new Planet Of The Apes trilogy (2011-)

The 1968 sci-fi hit Planet Of The Apes and its run of off-putting and pessimistic ’70s sequels are such products of their time that the idea of a remake seems pointless; just ask Tim Burton and Mark Wahlberg. And the idea of a prequel series featuring entirely digital apes sounds even worse. Yet the rebooted Planet Of The Apes—which covers how super-evolved apes became the dominant species of a post-apocalyptic Earth before Charlton Heston’s angry astronaut crash-landed—has turned out to be one the few pleasant surprises to come out of our current nightmare of Hollywood IP strip-mining. Though entertaining, Rupert Wyatt’s Rise Of The Planet Of The Apes is the weakest of three; it expects too much out of a dull James Franco performance and keeps choking on its references to the 1968 film. But the film set the course for Matt Reeves’ superior (and much more somber) follow-ups, Dawn Of The Planet Of The Apes and War For The Planet Of The Apes. Besides featuring great special effects and some of the most subtle motion-capture performances around, Reeves’ Apes movies are intriguingly grounded, casting the chimp chieftain Caesar (Andy Serkis) and his band as observers of a grubby, declining human race, instead of stand-ins for our social wrongs. The movies aren’t without their flaws—namely, a tendency toward formulaic third acts and underwhelming climaxes. But even on a purely conceptual level, there’s something poignant about watching these animals (who are also, in a filmmaking sense, technological wonders) watch us fade away. [Ignatiy Vishnevetsky]


6. DuckTales (2017)

Disney XD’s DuckTales revival had to overcome the not-inconsiderable nostalgia today’s “’90s kids” have for just about everything, particularly the beloved TV series of their childhood. Turns out, no one need have worried. The new DuckTales may even come close to filling the hole that Disney’s Gravity Falls left behind: Both have amusingly snarky kids and their grumpy yet adventurous senior relative exploring myths and curses and adventures galore. The series also looks amazing, drawn in a style specifically intended to mimic Carl Barks’ acclaimed Uncle Scrooge comics series, while funny actors like Bobby Moynihan and Danny Pudi give voice to his nephews. But the casting masterstroke here is David Tennant, possessor of the world’s greatest Scottish accent, as Uncle Scrooge himself. Even though DuckTales has just kicked off, its first few episodes already bode well for a worthy future. [Gwen Ihnat]

7. Parenthood (2010-2015)

Ron Howard’s 1989 comedy—based in part on his own parenting experiences, as well as those of his producing partner Brian Grazer—was a funny, poignant film about the ups and downs of raising kids. The following year, NBC tried to adapt that fairly stock sitcom premise, but without the added charms of Steve Martin, Dianne Wiest et al., the first Parenthood series ended up in the failed adaptations heap alongside half-hour stabs at Ferris Bueller’s Day Off and Uncle Buck. It only took two words to get NBC to take another crack at it in 2010: Jason Katims, who already had a successful revamp in Friday Night Lights under his belt, and who gave Parenthood a second attempt as a similarly grounded family drama. The switch kept things from getting too sitcom-treacly, and it also boasted a cast, cobbled together from previous TV families like the Fishers and the Gilmores, that lacked for any slouches. The lived-in dynamic between Lauren Graham, Craig T. Nelson, Peter Krause, Monica Potter, Bonnie Bedelia, and Dax Shepard amade for a surprisingly solid show, full of warmth and tension—just like real families. [Danette Chavez]

8. Hannibal (2013-2015)

Long before 2013, the movies had already bled Hannibal Lecter dry. The murderous psychiatrist introduced in Thomas Harris’ Red Dragon had, over the decades, been passed down from Michael Mann to Jonathan Demme to Ridley Scott before clattering to the ground before Brett Ratner, with Dr. Lecter’s backstory finally cannibalized for the franchise’s nadir, 2007’s Hannibal Rising. To bring the character back, to retell the same stories—minus his most storied adversary, Silence Of The Lambs’ Clarice Starling—on a broadcast network? It smacked of overkill. But that description of the TV Hannibal also omits the man behind it, Bryan Fuller, a modern-day patron saint of the macabre and the high-concept, the short-lived and the surreal. Fuller’s vision for Dr. Lecter and his FBI pals-cum-prey was genuinely unlike any that came before it, a baroque waking dream that put the “psychology” in psychological thriller. It wasn’t all aesthetics: As Hannibal and FBI profiler Will Graham, Mads Mikkelsen and Hugh Dancy struck up a cat-and-mouse tension that was also a great, unrequited love story; elegantly arranged around this pairing were regular Fullerverse players like Caroline Dhavernas and Raúl Esparza, and welcome additions to his repertory company like Laurence Fishburne and Gillian Anderson. Miraculously, Hannibal brought its eponymous character back from the dead, with Mikkelsen’s icy, epicurean embodiment of the good doctor giving Anthony Hopkins—the previous odds on favorite for the definitive screen Hannibal—a run for his fava beans. [Erik Adams]

9. Doom (2016)

All signs pointed to the new Doom being a mess. Talk of a Doom 4 began way back in 2007, but the project fell into development hell and went through a revamp of its own. Seven years later, it would reemerge as Doom—just Doom—and the initial trailers landed with a bloody thud as their in-your-face edginess felt dated and try-hard. A public demo of its multiplayer mode similarly failed to excite, and when it came time to release this beast, its publisher even refused to send early copies to critics without explanation. Despite all that—or because of it—Doom turned out to be one of the greatest surprises of 2016, a shot of adrenaline into gaming’s most tired, sagging genre. Not content to force players to flit around like weaklings and wait for health to, ugh, recharge, it kicked you into the fray and gave you all the tools to feel like a monster-slaughtering god. When paired with the aggressively paced firefights and thunderous soundtrack, that laughable edgelord mentality worked like a charm. And Doom, knowing exactly what it ought to be, wore that charm proudly around its cartoonishly muscular neck. [Matt Gerardi]

10. The Office (2005-2013)

The annals of television history are littered with failed attempts to translate British shows to American audiences—everything from Roseanne Barr’s aborted Absolutely Fabulous and John Larroquette’s redux of Fawlty Towers, to one-season sort-of-wonders like Skins, Life On Mars, and Prime Suspect. NBC’s attempt to remake The Office arrived just two years after another BBC adaptation, Coupling, whose hubristic touting as the new Friends led to it becoming an instant high-profile disappointment. There was every reason to suspect The Office would fare just as poorly. After all, the original’s cringe comedy seemed inextricably tied to a uniquely dry and mordant British sensibility, one specifically structured around Ricky Gervais’ performance as unctuous buffoon David Brent. Besides, Steve Carell’s zany Daily Show segments and those Fed Ex ads gave us little reason to believe he was up to the task—and a mockumentary? As a primetime sitcom? And yet, after a rocky start in NBC’s bet-hedging midseason, both Carell and The Office quickly found their voice, one with noticeably more heart and empathy, and wisely began to draw on its much broader, much stronger supporting cast—and it soon became its own, distinctly American comedy institution. [Sean O’Neal]

11. Mystery Science Theater 3000 (2017-)

The garnishes of Mystery Science Theater 3000 are complex, but the main dish is simple: Funny people with a wide knowledge base, lobbing jokes at some of the worst movies ever made. But the only people who have ever really made the recipe work are the people who made Mystery Science Theater 3000, whether in the original cult series or in its spin-offs, Cinematic Titanic and RiffTrax. Creator Joel Hodgson’s unwavering faith in the premise, and his belief that it can be “refilled” like Saturday Night Live, Doctor Who, or James Bond, led to a record-setting Kickstarter campaign, followed by 14 new episodes that arrived on Netflix in 2017. Hodgson’s trust was rewarded: Anchored by new host Jonah Ray, along with new robot sidekicks Baron Vaughn and Hampton Yount, the series returned at full, rapid-fire-riffing strength, with a few novel twists and almost two decades’ worth of untapped reference points. The daffy heights of Wizards Of The Lost Kingdom, The Loves Of Hercules, and Avalanche represent the rich rewards of two comic generations coming together: The one whose irreverence and love/hate relationship with pop culture made the original MST3K possible, and the one who used MST3K as a road map to everything that’s cool and/or funny. [Erik Adams]

12. The Twilight Zone (1985-1989)

Reviving the classic anthology series The Twilight Zone without the involvement of its late creator, Rod Serling, sounds like just the sort of coldly bureaucratic boardroom decision to exploit a dead man that would make for a good Twilight Zone episode. Factor in the middling reception to 1983’s Twilight Zone: The Movie—and the fact that the original was never a ratings hit, exactly—and CBS’s 1985 revamp seems like an especially unnecessary gamble. But surprisingly, while the 1980s Twilight Zone didn’t garner the prestige of the original, it turned out far better than it had any right to. Armed with a talented ensemble of writers, directors, and stars who’d grown up on the series—people like George R.R. Martin, Harlan Ellison, Wes Craven, William Friedkin, Bruce Willis, and Helen Mirren—the show had its hits and misses, just like the original, but it also delivered segments like “A Little Peace And Quiet,” “Examination Day,” and “The Shadow Man” that served as worthy heirs to The Twilight Zone legacy—and left just as deep a mark on a new, traumatized generation. [Sean O’Neal]

13. My Little Pony: Friendship Is Magic (2011-)

The old My Little Pony cartoons were basically glorified toy commercials, so the thought of a valuable, inspired take on MLP seemed about as unlikely as an Oscar-nominated Care Bears film. But the participation of Lauren Faust raised the bar quite bit. The animator with a proven track record of girl-empowerment cartoon efforts, like The Powerpuff Girls and Foster’s Home For Imaginary Creatures, created ponies that were neither cloyingly insipid nor saddled (sorry) with unnecessary human companions. Those new ponies set out to prove the universal, magical value of friendship, as Applejack, Twilight Sparkle, Fluttershy, Rainbow Dash, Rarity, and Pinkie Pie deal with adolescent-like quandaries in Equestria, always finding new ways to help and support each other. The show is now in its seventh season, with a movie set for this fall that features guest voices from Kristen Chenowith, Liev Schreiber, and Emily Blunt. Maybe the bronies are onto something. [Gwen Ihnat]

14. Westworld (2016-)

Michael Crichton’s original 1973 film Westworld was good for its time, a fun exploration of a futuristic theme park where androids allowed paying guests to live out their Wild West fantasies, until a rampant computer virus culminates in Yul Brynner’s malfunctioning gunslinger stalking the hero all the way to the halls of adjacent Medieval World. But a sequel, 1976's Futureworld, and 1980's short-lived Beyond Westworld TV series proved that the concept was not nearly as adaptable, which prompted some pessimism toward HBO’s proposed update—particularly amid reports of production shut-downs and rewrites. But Jonathan Nolan and Lisa Joy’s updated HBO series managed to pull it off, creating a show that delves even deeper than Crichton’s original into the tension between our updated technological fears and the age-old philosophical questions about the nature of our existence. By broadening to focus on all participants—the guests, the park’s employees, and the AI denizens of Westworld themselves—the show gets to explore myriad aspects of its universe, all while still telling an exciting life-or-death yarn about people in circumstances beyond their control. Rarely are ones and zeroes brought to life with such soul. [Alex McLevy]

15. Clerks: The Animated Series (2000-2001)

A Clerks cartoon was always a dumb idea, mostly because the endless possibilities of animation are wasted on a story about two slackers planted behind the counter of a convenience store. Thing is, Kevin Smith totally knew that, and so rather than reproduce the profane conversational languor of his debut, he spearheaded an anything-goes jamboree, taking full advantage of the new medium’s elastic reality. Network execs never believed in the series, only two episodes of which ever aired on ABC—and out of order to boot. (Most fans caught up with the six-episode single season on DVD.) Perhaps sensing that they were on borrowed time, Smith and his team ran the show like they had nothing to lose. The results were often madly inspired: The second episode is a clip show, complete with clips from the pilot and from earlier in the same episode, and the series ended by cheekily addressing the fact that it was nothing like its big-screen inspiration through an episode set almost entirely within the Quick Stop… except that Dante and Randal spend most of the time describing the zany, high-concept crap happening outside. In its screwball irreverence, Clerks: The Animated Series proved that some of the best revamps are, surprisingly, the ones that chuck everything you liked about the original. [A.A. Dowd]

Share This Story

Get our newsletter