In the “golden age of television,” revivals of older series have been a consistent trend. 2016 alone saw new instalments of The X-Files, Full House, and Gilmore Girls.
Determining the capitalistic motivations for producing a revival is simple. The rise of streaming services and the phenomenon of binge watching have allowed the viewership of concluded or cancelled series to grow and accumulate over time. Including both the original audience and the newly-accumulated audience, revivals have ready-made interest and viewership. Fans are guaranteed to become invested in a revival, as exemplified by the Veronica Mars film in 2014, crowdfunded from fans via Kickstarter.
Additionally, revivals have the potential to make more money off an already established brand. Similar to the recent trend of final instalments in successful film series such as Harry Potter and The Hunger Games being split in two parts, producers run with the idea that more content yields more revenue.
Therefore, it’s easy to see how a revival can be financially successful. However, when analyzing a revival critically, it’s important to ask: what makes a revival satisfying?
Determining the critical success of a revival is more nuanced. Ultimately, it isn’t enough just to gather the same characters together on a soundstage. Not only does there need to be a story, but there needs to be a story that is worth telling in the context of the original show.
Additionally, revivals are burdened with recreating those aspects of the original series that fans enjoyed, a task that is complicated by the length of time that has passed between the original series and the revival.
The 2008 film Sex and the City and the fourth season of Arrested Development that was released on Netflix in 2013 had two things in common. Firstly, both were highly anticipated by fans of the original series. Secondly, both original series already had satisfying conclusions. Even without the revival, fans still had the opportunity to watch Carrie Bradshaw return to New York with Mr. Big, and to discover which character was behind the criminal activity of the Bluth Company. Neither revival had a story that was necessary to tell.
Additionally, both revivals failed to capture the aspects of the original series that had endeared themselves to fans. Sex and the City lost its original charm, wit, and humour as a result of poor characterization, writing, and acting. Arrested Development’s new format of focusing on a single character per episode resulted in the loss of what made the original series enjoyable: the characters’ interaction with each other.
Compare these to the 2014 film Veronica Mars and the 2016 limited series Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life. In terms of story, both revivals were created out of necessity. Both Veronica Mars and Gilmore Girls were cancelled by The CW in 2007, without satisfying conclusions. Veronica Mars ended on a cliffhanger, where multiple character dynamics and storylines went unresolved. As a result, fans seeking closure flocked to the effort to crowdfund a sequel.
While the original Gilmore Girls series already had a conclusion, it was one that hadn’t been written by its creator and original showrunner Amy Sherman-Palladino, who left the show one season prior to its cancellation. With her trademark use of fast-paced dialogue laced with pop culture references, Sherman-Palladino had established herself as an auteur. A finale that was not written by Sherman-Palladino had not allowed fans the same closure as the revival series that was released on Netflix this past fall. Both the Veronica Mars film and the Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life series were well-received by critics and fans alike.
While the creation of revivals may be motivated by money, the products themselves are all about nostalgia for the original fans. Nostalgia also imposes expectations on revivals which, if unfulfilled, will cause them to be unsuccessful. Ultimately, when it comes to revivals, there needs to be a story — one worth telling.