Recasting and Rebooting Done Right

Posted: July 25, 2014 in Movies, Television
Tags: , , , , ,

By Andrew Fleet

“We’re reviving a canceled undercover police program from the ‘80s and revamping it for modern times. You see the guys in charge of this stuff lack creativity and are completely out of ideas, so all they do now is recycle shit from the past and expect us all to not notice.”

– Deputy Chief Hardy, 21 Jump Street

Hello dear readers,

Thank you for joining me, once again, as we traverse the fantastic and sometimes terrifying recesses of my mind. With the recent questionable trend of rebooting films and television series such as Robocop, Total Recall, 21 Jump Street, and their ilk, this week I wanted to look at a series that has gone through numerous reboots to its initial line-up. Hailed as one of the, if not the, longest running science fiction programs, Doctor Who is one of the best ways to show how well recasting can be done.

Doctor Who began airing in 1966 and follows “The Doctor”, the titular character who the show is named after, around on a series of time travelling and intergalactic adventures. Sounds straightforward enough, right? The show began well enough, but like everything, the producers found road bumps along the way. They soon found that their lead actor, William Hartnell, began to have difficulties both with health and working with the rest of the production team. To remedy this and in an attempt to provide themselves with a safety net, so to speak, the writers of the show created the idea of “regeneration”. Whenever the Doctor would die, he would immediately “regenerate” and a new actor would begin his tenure as the Doctor. Arguably one of my favorite elements of the show, this character trait for the Doctor would lead to an easy and fluid transition for whenever the lead actor would want to leave the show. Normally, recasting one of the lead actors in a series is an incredibly risky endeavor, with the ever-looming possibility of alienating the cast from the show they’re watching.

The whimsical nature through which the writers of Doctor Who were able to create this loophole is also one of the most important factors as to why the show has been on for so long (and arguably so popular). For Doctor Who, the writers had managed to take an often financial risky element of film and television making, casting a new actor as the main in a pre-existing program, and turn it in to an exciting visual experience. Some of the highest viewed episodes are the introductory episodes of the new Doctor. The best part about all of this is the constant reinvention and recasting of the beloved Doctor. If a viewer doesn’t like say Matt Smith’s rendition of the Doctor, then they only have to wait a few seasons before they’re introduced to a new one. This has allowed for an almost constant reinvention of the series every time a new Doctor is introduced, since with every new Doctor the viewer is given a new adventure, new villains, new costumes, a new T.A.R.D.I.S. interior and new companions. It’s like a brand new show but with the comfort of already knowing the main character. It helps to keep a program that has been on the air for over fifty years feeling fresh and exciting. This is a quality I have found lacking in many of the new reboots over the last few years. They might bring a new face in to the mix but at the end of the day it’s still the same old story.

All of this, I guess, is just a really roundabout way of saying when it comes to recasting or rebooting your series, it is incredibly important to make sure you leave your mark on your audience. With all the new rebooted films and television series, it is often too easy for writers and producers to simply stick to what is known. Few broadcast companies are willing to take a risk and would rather stick to a surefire thing. Of the earlier reboots I had mentioned (Robocop, etc.) I feel as though 21 Jump Street, and 22 Jump Street by relation, is a great example of rebooting a series. Taking the core concept of a cop drama based on the television series, the 21 Jump Street franchise envisioned the duo with a more comedic tone. It was a critical success, and if anything, helped garner interest in the older series by use of its name alone. So I say again, I’ve found that too many reboots stick to the color-by-numbers approach and just try to get by following this plan. For me, the most memorable reboots / recasts are often those that try to find their own way and really work on bringing it to life, regardless of whether it’s safe.

***Bonus time:

With the soon approaching end of many superhero actors contracts, take for instance that of Robert Downey Jr’s, who would you want to be recast as some of these iconic characters in their inevitable reboot?

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