I’ve watched a lot of TV over the years. A lot. I’ve seen shows come and go; I’ve seen shows hang on for far too long, and other get cancelled far too soon. I’ve seen crappy reboots and really good ones. But there are a lot of shows I liked in the 1990s that never got rebooted (at least, not to my knowledge). Here are six of the best of them. (Spoilers for old TV shows incoming.)
6. Vengeance Unlimited — Imagine a version of The A-Team, except it’s one guy, and instead of just doing stuff he asks for favors in exchange. Or one million dollars, if you can afford it. The catch is that if you owe Mr. Chapel (the guy) a favor, you have to help him when he cashes in. The show only lasted for 16 episodes, but I enjoyed all of them.
The reboot: A lot of shows have the tried-and-true “one scruffy white guy against the evils of the world” plot, and a lot of them work, so it would be difficult to really reboot this show the way it would need to be. I figure you could do a 13-episode season with “Mr. Temple”, a young hothead going around and cashing in on favors to help people. But unlike Mr. Chapel, Mr. Temple makes mistakes. Over the course of the season, we find out that Mr. Temple’s mother was killed when he was in college — and that she was KC Griffin, Mr. Chapel’s companion. Through flashbacks we get hints that KC was still helping people, and eventually Mr. Temple tracks down Mr. Chapel and they team up to take out the people who killed KC.
The stars: Michael Madsen and Kathleen York reprise their roles as Mr. Chapel and KC Griffin, and some random twentysomething as Mr. Temple. He’d need to be white to make the viewer believe that Mr. Chapel is his father (which he won’t be), but beyond that I don’t have a lot of ideas. Maybe Wes Chatham, now that The Expanse has been cancelled.
5. Thunder in Paradise — Capitalizing on his massive popularity, Hulk Hogan was given the lead role of a TV show where he and an old army buddy drove around in their super-boat and saved people. TV Crimes did a fantastic episode about the show, but all you need to know is: Hulk Hogan, super-boat, explosions, attractive women.
The reboot: I think you go with a miniseries approach here, with an option to full series. If you set it on a post-apocalyptic Earth, Waterworld-style, then you can have Hurricane Spencer and Bru Brubaker be security for a rich guy who owns a big yacht. The apocalypse happens — something related to storms — and the rich guy and Spencer face off because the rich guy doesn’t want to help anyone. He gets marooned on an island somewhere at the end of the first episode, and we see the expression on Spencer’s face as he drives the boat off. Over the course of the miniseries, Spencer and Brubaker try to find Spencer’s daughter, who was left in the care of Brubaker’s wife. Unfortunately this will probably lead to a “save the women” storyline, although I would love to see Brubaker’s wife running a city with an iron fist and the two of them facing off to free its people.
The stars: I’d be fine with Hurricane Spencer being a professional wrestler again. There are several who act passably. It could be a vehicle for Dave Bautista. If you do it as a miniseries, you can get some name actors for the other roles, including your generic “white actress playing against type as the villain” that’s so popular in dystopian films these days.
4. Ghostwriter — The original series is educational in nature: a group of friends is contacted by a friendly ghost who helps them write better while also solving mysteries. It’s very, very slow going, but the themes of friendship and standing up against peer pressure were good ones. Also, Samuel L. Jackson was in it.
The reboot: Kids these days are a lot more tech-savvy, and you could have a lot of fun with a deus ex machina that hops from phone to phone, teaching kids good online etiquette while also solving mysteries.
The stars: Grab a handful of kids from the Disney Channel. And bring back Sheldon Turnipseed as Jamal, now a dad. Gotta have that continuity. Plus then you could have a team-up between the original Ghostwriter and the new one, or even have them go against each other somehow. And nowadays I think kids can handle the fact that the original was the ghost of a runaway slave who taught other slaves to read until he was killed, a storyline that was quashed during the original run.
3. Scrabble — Yes, it’s a game show. Yes, you figure out words by drawing and using tiles. Yes, it was hosted by Chuck Woolery. Yes, it was on in the 80s, but it was on in the 90s and it was basically the same show.
The reboot: For as old as it is, Wheel of Fortune still could be a compelling show if they scaled back on the sponsorships and the prizes in favor of a cleaner, more word-focused version. Scrabble could be that show. Three players, each one drawing tiles and guessing words. If they get a word, they add it to the board, and then they score the points. In the bonus round, the person with the highest score goes up against a celebrity guest — someone both famous and smart, like Mayim Bialik, Brian May, or Neil DeGrasse Tyson — in a battle to build and score as many words in two minutes as possible, but you have to place them using legal Scrabble moves and you only get ten seconds. Replace a couple of bonus squares with “steal” squares (to steal other players’ points) and you’re set.
The stars: I don’t know how they pick people to host game shows, but I’m sure it would be some flavor-of-the-moment. I don’t know who would be the best choice.
2. Highlander — Based on the cult film, Highlander: the Series follows Duncan MacLeod, cousin of Connor MacLeod (from the film), as he continues fighting for The Prize, whatever that is. It’s a spinoff from the movie, and you basically have to ignore the second and third movies. The fourth and fifth, though, marry the stories pretty well, and the fifth left off in a somewhat post-apocalyptic world after Duncan manages to impregnate his lover (immortals can’t have children).
The reboot: Adrian Paul is almost sixty years old, and at some point you stop looking like your forty-year-old self. He, Peter Wingfield (Methos), and Elizabeth Gracen (Amanda) don’t look young enough anymore to be their old selves. But I think you could go down the line a couple hundred years, where Duncan’s many-times-great-grandchild is a colonist on another planet and something there causes him or her to become immortal. Something in the genetics affects maybe one percent of all colonists, and then we can see immortals… in space!
The stars: I know they’ve been talking about Kevin McKidd taking on the role in a new film, and I’m sure he’d be fine, but does he want to be on another TV show after spending so long on Grey’s Anatomy? I think you could even make this a vehicle for a trans* actor, since we’ll be in the future and not everyone has to be a scruffy straight white dude anymore.
1. Murder, She Wrote — Jessica Fletcher, an older widow and mystery writer, solves mysteries in her small Maine town as well as across the world. It’s often fun, funny, sweet, clever, or some combination of all of them. (I know this one started in the 80s but it ran into the 90s, so it counts.)
The reboot: I don’t know if I’ve written about this in the column before, but I feel like Jessica Fletcher has enough relatives that we met over the course of the show that there could be someone who follows in her footsteps. Perhaps even start off where Jessica is accused of a crime in her past that she actually solved, and her great-grand-niece or whatever — a struggling mystery writer herself — has to solve it. Set it in a bigger city, make her forty-something, in a career she hates, wishing she could be a writer like her Aunt Jessica, who she spent time with over the years. She turns her investigation into her first novel, gets a book deal, and there you go.
The stars: If you do this soon enough, you can actually get Angela Lansbury to reprise her role as Jessica Fletcher. She’s 92, so hurry up. I don’t think the star should be someone or super-famous; I’d lean toward making it a Julia Stiles vehicle, or maybe Vera Farmiga or AJ Cook (she can’t be on Criminal Minds forever).
I’m sure you’re asking yourself why I didn’t pick Buffy to reboot. I think it’s because of the issues I’ve seen with Star Trek: Discovery. It would be too divisive, it would try to make too many people happy, and it would end up being a bland mess that nobody liked.
That said, bringing back Sarah Michelle Gellar, Alyson Hannigan, Nicholas Brendon (if he is able to recover from his addiction), and Anthony Stewart Head would be amazing, and it would be even better if Joss Whedon (or whoever the showrunner is) had the power to tell the studio “screw you, I’m making what I want,” and the show wasn’t beset by notes upon notes upon notes.
But that would never happen, and the show will never be as good as the fanfic (which, I mean, there’s a lot of it, and a lot of it is amazing). So I’ll live without a new version of Buffy. I’ll be happier that way, and I’m not alone.
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