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Revival of the Fittest: Science-Fiction TV Shows That Deserve a Second Chance

Revival of the Fittest: Science-Fiction TV Shows That Deserve a Second Chance:

As summer 2015 comes to an end, you’d be forgiven for thinking that maybe two of the season’s loudest flops at the box-office being either a reboot (Fantastic Four) or a reboot/sequel hybrid (Vacation) would dampen the enthusiasm for more unnecessary retreads on big and small screens alike.

Nope.

Even before the FF posters came down, news came that the much-beloved Galaxy Quest was being developed for TV — probably because Star Trek is highly unlikely to come back to series television any time soon — and that Xena: Warrior Princess is a candidate for a reboot in a likely attempt to cash in on Game of Thrones’ success (it may seem like a stretch, but swords is swords). It’s a trend that shows no signs of slowing down, either. Right before Labor Day, Amazon Studios joined in with its announcement of a planned reboot of the live-action superhero comedy The Tick — with Patrick Warburton returning as the titular star — for an upcoming round of pilots. With so much momentum, even this month’s Heroes Reborn — reviving a show that had overstayed its welcome by its second season, this time without a cheerleader to save or a Sylar to kill — isn’t going to stem the tide.

After all, as the number of TV outlets continues to grow — between network, basic cable, premium cable and online buyers like Netflix, Hulu, and Amazon — so does the number of new TV series needed to fill all those hours. In this zillion-network environment, the only way to stand out from the pack is to offer brands that audiences recognize. So more sequels and reboots are coming, and not just the desperately unnecessary sitcom revivals of Full House (Fuller House debuts on Netflix in 2016) or Boy Meets World (Girl Meets World is already in the middle of its second season on the Disney Channel).

The next wave is going to be all about genre.

Science-fiction, superhero, and fantasy fans have long memories and passions that often burn disproportionately to the quality of the things they love and miss so desperately (yes, Firefly fans, I’m talking about you). So it’s a good bet that while you didn’t care about Coach, the Galaxy Quest and Xena announcements were all over your social-media feeds.

That’s why we’re getting a new X-Files miniseries (did 200-plus episodes and two movies really manage to leave unanswered questions?). At least Showtime’s 25-years-later Twin Peaks sequel, with David Lynch directing all the episodes, will be, at worst, a really interesting disappointment, and Starz’s Ash vs. Evil Dead series has Bruce Campbell returning, so it’ll be, at a minimum, groovy.

But what’s next? Putting aside anthologies like Twilight Zone, which have had more than their share of reboots, here’s a roundup of some well-loved — or at least well-sorta-remembered — shows from the past that could be ripe for a comeback.


THE POWERS OF MATTHEW STAR
From the mind of Steven E. deSouza — the cowriter of Die Hard and many not-nearly-as-good-as-Die Hard movies and TV shows — came this short-lived series (which aired from 1982-83) about an alien prince with mind-based superpowers hiding on Earth as a high-school student, and living with a guardian who knows his secret. Maybe it’s the weird title, or the overwrought opening sequence, or just that it features Louis Gossett Jr. as the guardian, that makes it weirdly memorable for geeks of a certain age. A reboot from the likes of The CW would make a lot of sense, though with so much of the DC Comics library at that network’s disposal, they can come up with much-more-recognizable nerd-friendly touchstones in a flash. Pun absolutely intended.


VOYAGERS!
A time-traveler and his young companion ricochet through time to keep the world safe in yet another one-season-wonder from the early ‘80s. Like an American Doctor Who without aliens, charm, or complexity, the series is remembered only slightly for its premise — a special pocketwatch called the Omni leads our heroes to moments in history where things are not going as they’re supposed to and they heroically restore things — but more for the bizarre death of lead actor Jon-Erik Hexum (reported on here in a clip anchored by George Clooney’s father, oddly enough) a year after the show went off the air. An update with a better nemesis and higher stakes might be interesting, but if one wants a time-travel adventure series there’s better choices out there, like, say…


QUANTUM LEAP
“Setting right what once went wrong,” Scott Bakula’s Sam Becket spent five seasons (1989-93) taking the place of figures at the critical moments in their lives. The show’s gimmick — Bakula always looks like Bakula to us, but others around him see the person he’s “inhabiting,” whether it be a person of a different race, gender, or age — added comedy to the proceedings, as did Dean Stockwell’s performance as Sam’s gruff, sometimes-sage counsel “Al” from the future. Like Voyagers!, the show eventually introduced a villainous counterpart to the main character, in this case an “Evil Leaper” trying to disrupt history, but the show thankfully managed to steer mostly clear of overarching mythology for nearly 100 episodes. The trippy final episode had a pretty definitive, oddly uplifting conclusion (which I won’t spoil here), but on the other hand… If someone could rescue Bakula — who’s arguably even a better actor now than he was then — from NCIS: New Orleans there could be a great Leap forwards: science-fiction TV with a light touch, largely absent from TV today, even with hundreds of channels.


JERICHO
A perfect example of a show whose fans loved it maybe more than it deserved, this ambitious drama — set in a small Kansas town after a limited-scope nuclear attack hits almost two dozen cities across the U.S. — had a small, but vocal, fan base that won the show a super-short second season after the first season’s ratings earned it cancellation. With people pushed past their limits by tragedy, a sprawling mythology, and allusions to 9/11 and Hurricane Katrina-type disasters, it was, in some ways, The Walking Dead ahead of its time. But network TV had its limits in terms of how dark the show could get, and victims of radiation burns weren’t nearly as cool as zombies.


FIREFLY
Fourteen episodes and a movie (Serenity) never satisfied the fans of Joss Whedon’s space opera-western — following a ragtag group of smuggler in the aftermath of a galactic civil war — who feel it’s the equal of more-successful Whedon shows like Buffy or Angel. Despite a cast headed by Nathan Fillion (pre-Castle), Morena Baccarin (used here better than she ever was on Homeland), and Gina Torres (who has starred in so many short-lived oddball shows — among them Cleopatra 2525, M.A.N.T.I.S., FlashForward, and Hannibal — that she deserves her own list), the show was hampered by a jarring clash of styles, being a little too impressed by its own cleverness and, according to diehards, Fox bouncing the show all over the schedule and airing the episodes out of sequence. But in even the most optimistic view, Whedon and his cast have all moved on, and without those players, a revival of Firefly just isn’t going to happen.


SPACE: 1999
As weird a mix of genres as Firefly, with as bleak a kick-off event as Jericho, 1999 was the near-future when Space aired its two seasons in the mid-1970s. The show — clearly influenced by both 2001: A Space Odyseey and the original Star Trek — follows the inhabitants of Moonbase Alpha after a nuclear explosion causes the moon to be ripped out of Earth’s orbit and sent into deep space. (Worried about what happened to Earth when the Moon went away? Don’t be. It barely comes up.) Today, 1999 is mainly known for its influence on both the original Battlestar: Galactica and its decades-later reboot, but maybe that’s enough to earn it a shot at a reboot of its own. Besides, a science-fiction show set in a future that’s not too near, but not too far away, either (Space: 2099 has a nice retro ring to it), could provide an interesting mirror for the world we live in.


MAX HEADROOM
More of a funhouse mirror to the modern world came in the form of Max Headroom, one of the most recognizable icons of the 1980s. “The world’s first computer-generated talk-show host” (played by Matt Frewer) was secretly mostly analog, with prosthetics and hand-drawn backgrounds used to create the character’s disorienting vibe. In success, he was everywhere: commercials for New Coke, an interview on Letterman at the peak of the real-life host’s popularity, and an Art of Noise music video, as well as in his own short-lived, cyberpunk-anticipating series. The show’s cancellation took the Max Headroom phenomenon with it, but could Max come back in an era where a real CG character could easily run on our smartphones and tablets? As for its setting — a near-future dystopia ruled by television networks — in a world of streaming, cord-cutting, and media-stock freefall, that seems possibly more unlikely than Max himself.


SMALL WONDER
If you’ve seen the AMC series Humans, you’re well-acquainted with the idea that robots that look like human beings have a hard time fitting into family structures, as it’s impossible to know what hides beneath the shiny veneer of these machines that look like us. But if you’ve seen the first-run syndicated series Small Wonder (which, incredibly, ran from 1985-89 for almost 100 episodes), you know that having a robot in the family is hilarious. In the show, a robotics expert decides to bring his prototype robot child — named Vicki — home and see how it functions as a member of the family. With jokes that make “Say goodnight, Gracie” seem like high art, snooping neighbors and a troublesome boss lifted straight out of sitcoms from the ‘60s (without a drop of irony), and a premise that falls apart almost as soon as you hear it, the show holds a special spot as one of the least funny sitcoms in memory. Which makes it perfect for a fairly subversive update.


HEAT VISION AND JACK
But of all the shows I’ve mentioned here, there’s no show more ready for revival than 1999’s Heat Vision and Jack, the beloved comedy pilot co-created by Dan Harmon (Community, Rick and Morty) and his Sarah Silverman Program collaborator Rob Schrab. Parodying a bunch of classic genre series from the ‘70s and ‘80s, Heat Vision boasts a stellar pedigree all the way down the line. Directed by Ben Stiller, it stars Jack Black as an astronaut who, after an accident, gains super-intelligence whenever he’s exposed to sunlight. The “Heat Vision” of the title is Jack’s oddly named motorcycle, which has the mind and personality of Jack’s unemployed roommate, voiced by Owen Wilson. As deliberately ridiculous as Small Wonder was accidentally awful, Heat Vision has spurred rumors of movie remakes and cartoon adaptations every few years. But the most logical step in the streaming era would be for it to join fellow alt-comedy creations Mr. Show with Bob and David, Arrested Development, and Wet Hot American Summer in heading to Netflix for a binge-friendly short season.


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