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The Light from the TV Shows: “We’re Back, Baby” – Attempts at Reviving Old TV Series

Tonight marks the return of “Dallas” to the airwaves, with TNT offering viewers a look at the latest generation of Ewings while also giving original cast members Larry Hagman, Patrick Duffy, and Linda Gray an opportunity to get in on the fun. For what it’s worth, I quite enjoyed the pilot, but I’ll freely admit that the only reason that I was interested in revisiting Southfork Ranch in 2012 was because of those original cast members.

No matter how brilliantly or badly they turn out, I’ve always been a sucker for TV series revivals, be it as a “next generation” sort of series like this one or as a reunion movie, so I thought I’d throw together a list of some of my favorites for your reading enjoyment. The only caveats: I’m not counting occasions when a series jumped to the big screen, i.e. the not-very-good theatrical “Get Smart” movie, “The Nude Bomb,” nor am I including animated series in the mix…although if I did, you can bet the animated “Star Trek” series would be at the top of my list.

Okay, let’s roll…

90210 (2008-present)

When The CW first kicked off its return to West Beverly High School, the burning questions from virtually every TV critic who covered the series involved which of the original cast members would be returning. In the end, Jennie Garth (Kelly), Shannen Doherty (Brenda), Tori Spelling (Donna), Ann Gillespie (Jackie Taylor, Kelly’s mom), and Joe E. Tata (Nat, the proprietor of the Peach Pit) all ended up making it back to the familiar zip code for an episode or two, generally proving to be the most entertaining parts of those particular episodes. Since the show’s gone all new-school, though, I can’t be bothered to keep up with it.

Homicide: The Movie (2000)

This feels like a bit of a cheat, since it wasn’t so much a revival of an old series as it was an attempt to wrap up plot threads that had been left dangling when “Homicide: Life on the Street” departed the airwaves the year before. With that said, however, it still technically falls within the realm of a reunion film, and it’s one of the best ones you’re likely to find, so that’s why it’s here.

Hey, Hey, It’s the Monkees (1997)

I always thought that the concept of this film, which posited that the Monkees continued to live together even after their series was cancelled, was an extremely clever one. I just wish the band’s reunion album, Justus, had been even half as enjoyable.

The Dukes of Hazzard: Reunion! (1997)

What can I tell you? I grew up about 15 minutes from the North Carolina border, and “The Dukes of Hazzard” was absolutely must-see TV for me when I was growing up. Even though I was 27 when Bo and Luke got back in the General Lee again, I was still hootin’ and a’hollerin’ with excitement. It’s just a shame that Boss Hogg didn’t live to see it. (RIP, Sorrell Booke.)

Get Smart, Again! (1989)

First things first: “The Nude Bomb” was terrible, and I hope whoever thought it was a good idea to put Maxwell Smart on the big screen without all of the elements that made “Get Smart” so funny got the punishment they deserved. I’m not saying that “Get Smart, Again!” is fantastic, either, but if you asked a fan of the original series to pick which of the two efforts they preferred, I absolutely cannot conceive of anyone picking anything other than this one. (I only wish the revival of the series with Andy Dick as Don Adams’ son had been as enjoyable.)

Mission: Impossible (1988-1990)

What started out as a way to get around a writer’s strike by re-filming episodes of the old series ultimately evolved into the adventures of a new generation of Impossible Missions Force agents, still led by Jim Phelps (Peter Graves). An additional tie to the classic “M:I” came via the character of Grant Collier, son of original team member Barney Collier, a situation which offered an addition wink at the audience by having Grant played by Phil Morris, the real son of Greg Morris, who played Barney. (Linda Day George also reprised her role as Linda Casey on an episode.)

A Very Brady Christmas (1988)

Schmaltzy, yes, but consider how much better it was than “The Brady Brides.” Okay, so maybe that’s not saying much. Still, the holiday theme served as a nice framing device, and it’s not like the original series didn’t live in a world of happily-ever-after on a regular basis.

The Return of the Six Million Dollar Man
and the Bionic Woman (1987)

The sequels were a case of declining returns, even if one of them did co-star a young Sandra Bullock, but I can still remember the depth of my geeking out when I found out about this. Having revisited it on the recent “Six Million Dollar Man” box set, I won’t claim that it’s aged well, but I still have my memories.

Return to Mayberry (1986)

This may sound strange, but I’m pretty sure that it was this TV movie that actually convinced me to watch “The Andy Griffith Show.” That’s backwards, I realize, but as a kid, I always preferred shows that features kids as main characters, and although Opie was a regular, the plots really didn’t revolve around him all that much. Since then, of course, I’ve come to realize what a wonderful series it is, and this was a lovely look back at Mayberry that worked quite well, I thought.

Perry Mason Returns (1985)

I can’t even be bothered to go to Wikipedia and see how many subsequent “Perry Mason” movies there were. I just remember how excited my mother was when this one first came on. (She’d been positively addicted to the original series.) The idea of Judge Mason stepping down from the bench in order to defend his former secretary Della Street against a murder charge was a great premise for the film, and I’m not surprised that it was successful enough to warrant further “Perry Mason” adventures. All things being equal, though, I think they would’ve been better served if they’d made it an hour-long series rather than a bunch of two-hour movies that invariably dragged at various points. Oh, well.

The Return of the Man from UNCLE (1983)

At the time this premiered, I’d never actually seen an episode of the original series – I only knew it from its reputation in a book about cult TV – but I still enjoyed it immensely. (I also wasn’t as bothered by some when Patrick Macnee stepped in to replace Leo G. Carroll out of necessity.) Having said that, the cameo by George Lazenby as a secret agent referred to as “J.B.” was a step too far into silliness.

Still the Beaver (1983)

A lot of people had problems with the idea of taking America’s perfect family – the Cleavers – and revealing that they ended up being just as dysfunctional as everyone else, with Beaver getting a divorce and so forth, but I just thought it made it seem more real. But, hell, I was only 13 at the time, so what did I know about reality?

The Wild Wild West Revisted (1979)

It was never going to be the same without the presence of Michael Dunn as Dr. Miguelito Loveless, but the conceit of having the not-nearly-as-diminutive Paul Williams playing Dr. Miguelito Loveless, Jr. just about made up for it. Robert Conrad and Ross Martin were clearly having the time of their lives playing a couple of old guys getting back in the saddle again, and the fun translated to the viewers quite well.

Rescue from Gilligan’s Island (1978)

For my money, this is the definitive TV-reunion film, even if Tina Louise couldn’t be arsed to play Ginger. It captures the spirit of the original series perfectly, it gives people something they’d wanted to see for more than a decade (the Castaways finally getting off the island and back to civilization) and delivers it with surprising emotion, and – best of all – it ends by going full circle. Alas, that means that it also set up two pretty lifeless sequels, including the infamous “The Harlem Globetrotters on Gilligan’s Island,” but as a standalone film, it’s about as good as these things get. Yeah, that’s right: I just put “Rescue from Gilligan’s Island” in the same category as “Homicide: The Movie.” How often do you think that happens?

Halloween with the New Addams Family (1977)

Don’t remember this one? Hell, I’m not even sure why I remember it, aside from the fact that I’ve been an “Addams Family” aficionado for as long as I can remember. But I think it’s the only time we got to see the original TV cast members playing their parts in glorious color, and as ’70s artifacts go, it’s pretty entertaining.

The 5 Most Disappointing TV Reunions

1. The New WKRP in Cincinnati (1991-1993): Setting aside the handful of episodes in which Howard Hesseman and Loni Anderson returned to reprise their roles as Dr. Johnny Fever and Jennifer Marlowe, respectively, this attempt to recapture the magic of one of the funniest sitcoms of the late ‘70s and early ‘80s failed far more often than it succeeded.

2. I Dream of Jeannie: 15 Years Later (1985): I’ll give them credit for trying to put together the best possible reunion movie they could with the cast they had available to them, but while it was good to see Barbara Eden, Bill Daily, and Hayden Rorke playing Jeannie, Roger, and Dr. Bellows again, it never should’ve been made without Larry Hagman. And to have Wayne Rogers playing Tony Nelson? Give me a break.

3. The Bradys (1990): Bobby becomes a paraplegic! Jan can’t conceive! Marcia battles alcoholism! Every one of these is an actual storyline from the short-lived attempt to transform the lives of a man named Brady, his lovely lady, and their six kids into an hour-long drama. It worked for a holiday movie because there was a happy ending to look forward to, but this was just depressing as all hell.

4. Mary and Rhoda (2000): I’m sure it sounded like a great idea on paper to revisit Mary Richards-Cronin and Rhoda Morgenstern-Rousseau as they enter their 60s, but the decision to offer precious little in the way of references to their friends from the old show and put two of the most memorable sitcom characters of the ‘70s into a two-hour dramedy just didn’t work.

5. The Facts of Life Reunion (2001): No Nancy McKeon. FAIL.

  

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