Cultural Junkdrawer – Back to the Well, N.E.R.D.

GameStop, Inc.

revisitI had a revelation. This revelation hit, as many revelations tend to, on a Tuesday. But before I get to that I have to rewind to a Tuesday about seventeen years ago.

The scene is a cozy hole in the wall bar in Hollywood, 1998. The bar was known to be frequented by cinematic wunderkind Quenten Tarantino, had a good selection of imported beer, and a killer jukebox selection. All important things to a young(ish), single, LA geek like myself. Being an LA gadfly and film crewman I didn’t have regular work hours so it was late on a Tuesday night. I was having a Boddingtons and chatting with my friend Lou Anders about how cool Napster was and how things were changing. Lou had just accepted a job in San Francisco for a website start-up called Bookface, and he was going to be managing and recruiting content for the science fiction arm of the site. For some reason Lou found me interesting, reasonably smart, and enjoyed talking about ideas with me. The big idea we were kicking around was the notion of how entertainment would be consumed in the next century. Mind you this was nearly a decade before Nexflix even came into being, video streaming was Al Gore’s wet dream, and the first tech bubble hadn’t yet burst.

“Niche audiences!” I announced between swigs of the strong but creamy Brit beer. “Everything will fracture into smaller pieces. There’ll be tribes; fans of Babylon 5, fans of X-Files, John Woo movies, etc. Hell, I’m sure that fans of Doctor Who will have a little corner to hang out in.”

“There has been talk of reviving the series.” Lou responded.

“After that horrible movie a few years ago… I’ll believe it when I see it. No, it’ll run out like TV did when cable hit; a narrowing of focus – an all sports channel, a science fiction network. Instead of trying to be everything to everyone entertainment companies will be able to target specific audiences. More so we could see things that have cult followings get new life.”

“Like Doctor Who.”

“Stop trying to break my heart, Lou. They’ll be a lot of overlap, I mean only members of The Prisoner fan tribe gets the ‘be seeing you’ references in Babylon 5, doubly so for the Lord of the Rings fan tribe. But the focus can be pinpointed more exactly. Nothing ever really dies, now. Finding fan websites about little known TV shows mean that people are still carrying a torch. Look at your new job; niche market… science fiction covers a broad spectrum but it is narrower than “Fiction” and when numbers come in about WHAT science fiction is being read it can narrow still. People that green-light TV and movies will eventually take notice.”

“You’re probably right; smaller but further reaching. You should figure out some way to capitalize on this.”

Sadly, as right as I was, I never did do a speaking tour about the future of entertainment.

Fast forward to now and the revelation… Cult TV has become the superhero movie of the Netflix age. No, I’m not talking about the superhero TV shows on Netflix. No, I mean that for a lot of the new “studios” (or more accurately new content distributors), a reasonably calculated move to get people clicking on your website/game portal/search engine (?!?) is to revive a TV show that had a niche audience. This particular Tuesday of revelation was the day that Imagine entertainment’s co-honcho, Brian Grazer, announced that Netflix would have another season of “Arrested Development”. It was also the Tuesday that I saw the crew for “Mr. Show” doing a little guerilla filming across the street from the big honking, full crew, real craft service pilot I was working on (more on that in a minute). One of the new trends has been to take a show with critical praise, a small but fiercely loyal audience and not enough momentum to reach escape velocity into big mainstream, dust it off, and make it a selling point for your distribution network.

Pretty much what I was saying all those years ago to Lou.

I think this trend started when Netflix did another season of Arrested Development almost two years ago. Their first original series Lillyhammer didn’t really change the landscape of entertainment. They needed something with name recognition, Silvio from The Sopranos wasn’t enough. They needed a kinda big name of some sort, a tested name that would draw people in. What they came up with (odds are on a Tuesday) was a revisit. Arrested Development fit the bill. Netflix had the numbers on the show’s immense cult status by looking at their own records; streaming and orders of discs by mail showed that not only was Arrested Development popular, it had grown in viewership since Fox cancelled it a few years previous.

Arrested Development’s streaming success opened the door for other shows that have grown in following since they were last broadcast a new life. The trick was, and that’s why I’m classifying this new breed of old show as “Revisit”, there was a gap of years between AD on Fox and AD on Netflix. Many of the actor’s careers had grown exponentially since AD was on Fox (because of AD); I’m sure Teen Wolf Too is a lot further down on Jason Bateman’s resume than “Arrested Development” and not just for chronological reasons. Shows that had gotten a second life on other networks only had small time hiccups in production; before contracts ran out and sets were struck. Arrested Development coming back was a small miracle in the sheer logistics of reviving it. Large quantities of co-ordination, money, and sheer willpower had to be rallied. Netflix, apparently, had all of those components. What seemed risky and dubious at best and reckless at worst paid off.

Mr. Show with their little cube van full of lighting and grip equipment will be showing up on Netflix. I’m a bit of a novice with Mr. Show. I’m a big David Cross fan (He was one of the reasons I watched Arrested Development) but not having premium cable during the 90’s my recall doesn’t go beyond the Tenacious D material. I do know that the show was one of those “ground zero” shows (like Arrested Development) where EVERYBODY went on to do amazing stuff. The list, aside from Cross and Odenkirk… Brian Poshn, Paul F. Tompkins, Sarah Silverman, Tenacious D, Mary Lynn Rajskub, Scott Adsit, Marlon Waynes, and more. I’ll have to give it a try simply because of the mind-bendingly large volume of talent from the original show that’s coming back.

The less said about the Full House reunion on Netflix the better.

Yahoo has Community to launch Yahoo Screen, putting the odd duck ensemble comedy within striking distance of the fan chant “Six seasons and a movie!” (Also originally hash tagged on a Tuesday) And I couldn’t be more excited! I’ve been a hardcore fan of the show since the start but it has been like having a cat that likes to chew on lamp cords. Every time the little bastard gets zapped, you think it’s the last time. Chevy Chase left… ZAP! Donald Glover pursues a career in rap and leaves the show ZAP! ZAP! Sony backhandedly fired Dan Harmon as he was flying across the country BZZZAAAAPPPP! NBC freakin cancels the show after season five ZAPPPPP AND SPARKS WITH A LITTLE FIRE! Every time I saw the lights flicker and heard a sound like a meow going through autotune I would sigh, get the rubber gloves of expectation out, and emotionally prepared myself to find a fried cat of a favorite TV show dead and smoking behind the couch (metaphorically, of course). Each time I’ve found a pretty disturbed and frizzy cat; damaged but not pushing daisies. It is exhausting but I keep the metaphorical cat/TV show around because I love it. Now for that movie.

The networks, usually slow on the uptake in these areas, seems to be on the revisit bandwagon too. Fox primarily. I didn’t watch the revisit of 24: Live Another Day, but it was well received. I had stopped watching 24 after season four. It wasn’t because the show seemed jingoistic and hawkish, that was on the surface. It wasn’t because beneath that W. Bush era savagery the show was a meditation on the soul killing effects of violence. It was because the plot points were getting a bit repetitive; by the fourth time the entire CTU does their mid-season “drop everything and hunt Jack Bauer” shtick I got a bit frustrated. “Jesus Christ! Don’t you guys remember the last time you put Jack Bauer on the job there was ass-loads of moral compromises, questionable ethical decisions, and a mountain of dead bodies?” Nobody in CTU ever listened. But then if they did 24 would’ve been 6, so there you go.

Fox is also going back to the well for an X-Files mini-series with pretty much the entire original cast. This is great news; I’ve always liked Duchovny’s glib, distant, self-aware acting style. It was like he was the only person in on a funny joke that he thought we wouldn’t get. I thought it was specific for X-Files till I saw Californication but there were too many naked boobs in that show to really care.

NBC is going back to Heroes. I have mixed feeling about this in the same way I have mixed feelings about shaving with a rusty chainsaw; I’m definitely curious to see if I could do it, but it’ll probably end up a bloody mess. There is no word if Zachary Quinto, riding high off his mini-series The Slap will return. Probably not; because having super mega-powered Hiro, Peter Petrelli, AND Syler without seriously nerfing them was the corner that the original Heroes backed itself into in the first place. My biggest fear is revisiting my own idea drawer for Heroes story lines with a faint glimmer of hope…

As of this writing the revisit to Twin Peaks on Showtime might not happen. David Lynch has supposedly walked away from it over budget; I guess Showtime figured dwarfs walking backwards in slow motion was going to be cheap. Some accuse Lynch of using twitter and other social media to twist the cable network’s arm. These people have never seen a David Lynch movie apparently. If David Lynch were attempting to use social media as a bargaining chip he would have put out a video of a melting plastic baby head cross fading with Laura Dern screaming at, like, 240 frames per second while Dream Lover from Dion played in the background. That would rattle the shit outta the Showtime execs. Besides, how DO you go back to Twin Peaks? They tried that with season two and everybody yawned and walked away. Aside from the opportunity for some serious nudity and pervo sex that premium cable allows for I don’t see… oh wait, never mind.

This run of revisits, as everything else in entertainment, isn’t entirely new; grabbing series as sloppy seconds was going on as far back as Jag in the 90’s, perhaps even earlier. My personal bank account benefitted greatly from TNT picking up Cougar Town from network TV. People and pundits can lament about the dearth of fresh ideas but as Shakespeare said “There is nothing new under the sun”. Would you rather see a “new” police procedural that feels like a retread of all the other police procedurals on TV (“C.S.I. Cyber”? WTF, bro, only your paranoid uncle Bill uses the term “Cyber” and that’s when he’s speaking in hushed tones about Z.O.G., Obama as illuminati, water fluoridation, or some other nonsense) or watch NBC take a stab at un-borking a series that wasted its potential like Heroes?

Community is still willfully odd and seriously funny; who wouldn’t want to see more of a show like that wherever you can? As much as Arrested Development defines new era cult TV with its deeply self-referential internal logic and call-back joke structure, it is bold in the way it spools out the story and god damn funny! A show unwittingly but perfectly tailored for this day and age. And if you’re crying about such things because you have a great take on the Zombie/Hospital/character driven comedy that everyone should be clawing over each other to get to, good luck but get over yourself. This business has always been fixed with gatekeepers. You have to have a name before you can capitalize on that name; it’s the same old catch 22. The way it goes is this – Netflix’s success with Arrested Development opened the door for the likes of House of Cards which is itself a remake of an English show.

Thanks to the fracturing that the digital age has brought us Nothing Ever Really Dies and possibly has a chance to come back. Maybe it’ll happen to that show you watch. Check your web browser for a “coming soon”.

In the spirit of revisiting, I’m going back to the well of this column, which you finished reading a few seconds ago, and suggesting a few shows that would benefit from a revisit…

Alias – Jennifer Garner get out of that credit card commercial and spin kick your way back into my heart!
The War Next Door – Spy vs Spy meets suburban satire. So obscure I doubted I had even saw it. Thanks internet for confirming the show wasn’t a result of some teenaged ingested acid doing a revisit of its own.
Highlander – The immortal thing hasn’t gone away, right? BTW I’ve got tons of stories for the Highlander universe. Anyone…anyone? Also I keep waiting for Ioan Gruffudd to whip out a katana and scream “There can be only one!”
Fastlane – I’m not endorsing this but the show being so willfully dumb but smart enough to cross breed “Fast and Furious” with “Miami Vice – the next generation” I’m surprised this hasn’t had a revisit.
Malcom in the Middle – Simply because it would be a great challenge to try and reconcile post Breaking Bad dramatic Bryan Cranston with pre BB wacky comedy Cranston. Seinfeld repeats don’t cut it.

Lou Anders landed on his feet after the dot com bubble burst. He is an author and editor of the Pyr books label. Was born on a Tuesday, too. And even if his greatest claim to fame would’ve been writing the afterward for my first graphic novel (“Crazy Mary”, see how to get yours below) you can find out more about this talented taste maker’s award winning career at www.louanders.com

My personal history with Community includes announcing on twitter that the show was officially dead when I shot a commercial on their former stages (that was after season 4, I think) another ZAP! I also did a few days rigging the sets for the new season and if I hadn’t been booked on other shows would’ve done a lot more. Maybe I’ll work on the movie.

Next time I think I’ll chart the life of action movies and the inevitable transition to TV. And later this spring something called “Season’s End” (hint it’s not a duet with Enya), Stay Tuned.

Anytime Costumes

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