The revival of the ‘80s sitcom “Roseanne” is arguably the most surprising bit of news to come to the television industry in 2018. The first two episodes garnered massive ratings, a shocking fact not only for a reboot of a 20-year-old show, but also for the era of streaming and cutting the cord.
The edgy family series isn’t the only reboot to come out of the woodwork, yet its success is causing fans, critics and industry workers to ponder whether or not other staples of television could succeed nowadays.
Such staple would be perfectly exemplified by “Friends,” the cultural phenomenon that still remains relevant thanks to its presence on Netflix. Can “Roseanne” help Rachel, Monica, Phoebe, Chandler, Joey and Ross return to television?
The Reboot Era
Nostalgia has a growing presence in modern times, and no business has taken advantage of it as much as the entertainment industry. On the film side, “Alien,” “Baywatch,” “Star Trek,” “Star Wars” and other franchises added new entries after lengthy absences.
For television shows, “Will & Grace,” “Prison Break,” “The X Files,” “Twin Peaks,” “Samurai Jack” and even the reality show “American Idol” are back in the fold.
An example of a job well done for a movie is “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle.” The 2017 Dwayne Johnson-led flick reimagined the 1995 Robin Williams classic.
By changing the story enough to fit into modern times while still respecting the original source material, the movie has fans flock to the cinemas, bringing its box office total to $944 million. The risk was worth a shot and it’s proven that there’s a market for reboots if done right.
“Roseanne” is the shining example of a reboot done right when it comes to television. During its original run, the show broke new ground in terms of storytelling and comedy. Fast forward more than 20 years later and the sitcom returns with political commentary and trendy topics such as gender fluidity.
While there’s no exact way to measure why people are tuning in, the right amount of mix between old and new, just as what “Jumanji” was able to achieve, may be the key to its ratings and critical success.
“Friends”: The Timeless Classic
NBC has an important place in television history, but the ‘80s and ‘90s had an even greater relevance with hits “Cheers,” “Frasier” and “Seinfeld.” With the success of the latter, NBC decided to go for another New York-based sitcom, although now it wouldn’t be “a show about nothing.” The peacock network hit the casting jackpot with the then unknown group of actors and actresses.
Throughout its ten seasons and 243 episodes, the series became a cultural phenomenon, inspiring women everywhere to get “the Rachel” at the salon, pushing people to take sides on the “we were on a break” feud and having one of Phoebe’s “hits” stuck in their head.
Despite its success and high ratings, the show usually played it safe, staying rather family friendly and away from potentially controversial subjects.
Still, the choice to stay safe didn’t affect its appeal even though the last episode aired in 2004. More than a decade later, the show is now part of Netflix’s streaming catalog, not only for the U.S. version but recently joined the U.K. catalog as well.
Although Netflix is tight-lipped in terms of disclosing viewership, it’s safe to assume “Friends” is probably quite popular with streamers.
A new generation of viewers is now watching the show, or at least paying attention to it, for the first time. Their parents probably laughed out loud at the series back in the day, and now they have the opportunity to see what all the fuss is about.
Given that the “Roseanne” revival generated a lot of attention in the coveted 18 – 49 demographic, “Friends” could be in a prime spot to return to television with new episodes.
Will They/Won’t They
Similar to Ross and Rachel’s volatile relationship, rumors of a “Friends” reunion have come and gone over the years after its final episode. At times, it seemed really plausible, yet something (or someone) usually got in the way.
Jennifer Aniston’s film career took off after the sitcom, Courtney Cox, Lisa Kudrow, Matthew Perry and Matt Le Blanc stayed busy on TV, with the latter winning a Golden Globe Award, and David Schwimmer focused on his work behind the camera.
The first “true” reunion came in 2016 when the friends gathered to celebrate the legacy of James Burrows, the man responsible for NBC’s biggest hits of the ‘80s and ‘90s. Unfortunately, Matthew Perry couldn’t be there physically, only appearing through a brief video. Even so, it seems the camaraderie between them is as good as the chemistry they showed on screen.
Nevertheless, chemistry isn’t that much of an important factor when it comes to the question of whether or not to reboot a show. For the group of friends, quality would probably be a bigger concern. Unfortunately, for every “Roseanne,” there are several nosedives out there.
“Heroes Reborn,” “Fuller House,” “MacGyver,” “The Odd Couple” and “Charlie’s Angels” are telltale signs that reboots can go wrong.
The unwillingness of the cast to appear in a reboot probably ties into the fear of failure. Matt LeBlanc thinks the show wouldn’t work and fellow pals Lisa Kudrow and David Schwimmer agreed. If the reboot happens and audiences, as well as critics, hate it, the legacy of the show would probably see some damage. That’s a big risk that potential writers, producers and the cast don’t want to take.
Despite Hollywood’s push for rebooting or remaking classic films, some seem to be untouchable, such as with “Citizen Kane” and “The Godfather.” While it’s probably sacrilege to compare “Friends” to two of the biggest films of all time, it’s not outrageous to see the sitcom as sort of an untouchable in the realm of television.
On top of that, the millennial backlash towards some of the show’s storylines proves the Central Perk gang is a product of their era and their comedy, which fit perfectly then, yet might not hit the spot for viewers today.
Even though “Roseanne” got it right, writers, producers and actors shouldn’t see this as a sign to green light every reboot out there. The family sitcom had an edge back in the day, which became fundamental in making the adaptation process to the 21st century seamless.
Other shows might not have such an advantage and “Friends” might just be at the top of the list. So, for now, the world will have to do without a peek at the five married buddies and Joey’s mid-life crisis antics.