What’s that old saying? The second time around can be so much better than the first? Well, sometimes that’s true and sometimes it’s not. Just look at movie sequels. Terminator 2 was better than the first Terminator. Aliens was better than Alien. Some would say The Empire Strikes Back was better than the first Star Wars. Of course, things can go downhill pretty fast too. The Matrix was brilliant while its sequels fell far short. Iron Man 2 was nowhere near as good as Iron Man, which successfully launched the MCU.
The same is often true with TV show reboots. Over the years, remakes of our favorite continuing series have had a mixed record. There are many cases where the classics just need to be left alone – why tamper with perfection? Less frequently, an existing show may have been kind of good, but never reached its potential. In those cases, audiences really can be looking at a new and improved version of a property which lacked in shine. We’ve scoured TV history for examples of both, and break down the winners and losers in repeat TV.
Here are 6 TV Remakes Better Than The Original (And 11 That Are Worse).
17 Worse: Wonder Woman (2011)
The original Wonder Woman series, which aired in the 1970s, did a lot of things at once. First, it broke a glass ceiling, being the first network primetime superhero effort to feature a female lead – an event which opened the door for a whole slew of female-driven metahuman TV fare from Birds of Prey to Supergirl and Jessica Jones. It also introduced the world to iconic leading lady Lynda Carter, who to this day is a fan favorite on the geek convention circuit. And of course, it laid the groundwork for the spectacular 2017 film version of Wonder Woman starring Gal Gadot.
It wasn’t the most serious or best-produced series, but it gave audiences access to the long and storied mythology of Princess Diana, who they had only really known to that point from comic books and Superfriends. Then, in 2011, Warner Bros. TV decided to revive the franchise for the small screen and made some bad decisions. For one thing, Diana was no longer the daughter of a supernatural island queen – she was just a modern corporate powerhouse of a lady.
She wasn’t fighting powerful Greek gods and German armies. She was sticking to street-level crime in Los Angeles.
The result: the expensive pilot was rejected for a series. The golden lasso of truth must have revealed that this show was a loser.
16 Worse: MacGyver (2016)
Ah, 1985 was such simpler time. In those days, the TV show MacGyver proved that a science nerd using nothing but a Swiss army knife and duct tape could solve literally any of the world’s problems. Richard Dean Anderson played the titular character and while the show never got incredible great ratings, it did have a loyal enough following to keep the show on the air for seven seasons.
On a basic spy fiction basis, the show delivered, regardless of how ridiculous it was to believe that ordinary household objects could do everything from defusing bombs to escaping from prisons. Anderson was key to the show’s success, playing the character likably enough that he’s beloved to this day. The 2016 reboot, however, starred Lucas Till, who delivered his lines so stiffly, he really did feel like a cold, dry, stuffy scientist.
The new MacGyver is harder to relate to, and its main protagonist left little for audiences to cling to. The remake felt like a lifeless effort, hoping that the brand name alone would carry into good ratings. Perhaps the producers were trying to make the series feel more “modern” by sucking the humanity out of MacGyver. It may simply be that the show works as a relic of the '80s and withers in a new century more obsessed with the Westworld reboot.
15 Better: The Office (US)
When the original version of The Office premiered in the United Kingdom, it was a bit of a revelation. The Ricky Gervais-driven uncomfortable comedy about the drudgeries of the corporate office daily grind was often grueling to watch. Employing the hand-held camera intimacy pioneered by HBO’s The Larry Sanders Show, lingering moments of tension hung in the air as audiences waited to see what awkward moments would come next.
As with many British shows, the original series only lasted for fourteen episodes.
Granted – they were a brilliant fourteen episodes, but when The Office was adapted in the U.S., Steve Carrell and his cast had 200 full episodes to explore the mind-numbing madness of being stuck in a suit and cubicle for 40 hours a week.
Even with Carrell’s departure, the show never became awful - aside from some shaky transitions with the cast changes). It may be fair to say that the quality of both versions of the series were equally good, but all things being equal, having so much more of a good thing wins out. The American version of The Office therefore wins on size alone. Let’s face it – when you don’t have to sacrifice quality for quantity, you’re ahead of the game!
14 Worse: Charlie’s Angels (2011)
Back in the 1970s, the original Charlie’s Angels was a huge ratings success. Featuring top talen in the starring roles such as Farrah Fawcett, Jaclyn Smith, and Cheryl Ladd, the initial draw was obviously convening a group of lovely ladies to be the best private eye squad in the world. It was a game-changer as the sensibilities of the day would rarely portray classically beautiful women as gritty, no-nonsense cops.
The chemistry in the cast survived many actor departures and replacements, and the show maintained a lighthearted tone with some decent sleuthing and action scenes to maintain at least the veneer of danger. Unfortunately the 2011 reboot made some bad changes to that simple formula.
None of the cast had the acting chops of the original Angels. Plots were needlessly convoluted and confusing where the 1976 version kept things simple. Lacking humor and heft, the women in this series were not convincing as crime fighters, and the whole enterprise just didn’t win over viewers. As a result, the show was canned after just nine episodes. The moral to this story is that a good idea alone means nothing if it's executed in lackluster way.
13 Worse: Knight Rider (2008)
Some classic TV shows don’t age as well as others. We look back through the rose-colored glasses of nostalgia to simpler times when mediocre television could sometimes be recalled as great. Knight Rider may be one such show.
The basic concept – a talking smart car named KITT with an arsenal that helps his driver Michael Knight fight crime – is pretty goofy. But hey, David Hasselhoff was that driver! Nobody messes with the Hoff! It was pure kitschy '80s camp in all its unabashed glory. When a reboot happened in 2008, how could they possibly replicate the secret sauce?
New actor Justin Bruening lacked the sheer animal charisma of Hasselhoff, so he was left in the dust.
The show decided to take on a far more “serious” tone where the original was pretty much the stuff of goofy Silver Age comics. Unfortunately, that intended seriousness was set against a background of some pretty dumb circumstances, like holding a casual conversation while KITT the car is on fire, or Michael driving around in his underwear. When you add up substandard acting, terrible writing, and extended sequences where the CGI scenes look better than everything else on screen, this ride didn't last long at all.
12 Better: Sherlock (2010)
As a character, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes has been seen in dozens of versions. Whether in print, on stage, in film or on home screens, the 19th century’s uber-sleuth has had a long and storied history in various adaptations. It’s been well over a hundred years since Holmes’ first appearance in 1887’s A Study in Scarlet and fans have both loved and hated the different movies and TV shows the fabled detective headlined.
Recent film adaptations starring Robert Downey Jr. And Jude Law – Sherlock Holmes & Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows – are counted among the better movie adaptations. For TV, the beloved 1984 series from Britain, starring Jeremy Brett as Holmes and David Burke as Watson, was top of the line. Fans loved the dedication to the source material, calling it definitive Doyle. But then in 2010, Sherlock arrived.
The dynamic duo of Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman starred as detective and sidekick, updated for the 21st century. In our modern times, Holmes is a high-functioning sociopath, while Watson is a traumatized war veteran. It’s a massive deviation from Doyle’s original vision – but it’s far more layered, far more twisted and uses our era to grow the mythology of Holmes rather than rewrite it. Sherlock transcends the more “authentic” Holmes, and it’s simply the superior product.
11 Worse: Skins (2011)
Few TV shows in recent memory has generated as much controversy as the British series Skins. Following the lives of a group of teenagers, the show takes on some very tough issues with frankness. Using a very young cast, themes and issues covered were less than what you would call polite dinner table subjects. Adult issues such as post-traumatic stress disorder, substance abuse and mental illness were taken head on and unapologetically.
Portraying such heavy troubles with an underage cast led to outrage in certain more conservative quarters. But English audiences were riveted, giving the series top ratings for seven seasons, even when the primary cast was replaced every two seasons.
When MTV took on an American version, the controversy was even bigger.
Parents groups were incensed, calling the show inappropriate and even demanding legal investigations. This led to a mass exodus of major advertisers and a tarnishing of the show’s brand. On top of that, for whatever reason, the series didn’t find a special spark which resonated with US audiences. Critics found the show to be overly ambitious and falling short of the very serious material it was portraying. It may be that the controversy never gave the show a chance. Regardless, MTV's Skins was canceled after 10 episodes and never got the opportunity to be as good as the original.
10 Worse: Bionic Woman (2007)
Along with Wonder Woman, the original Bionic Woman helped break that superhero glass ceiling. Coming a year after Lynda Carter’s 1975 series, the Six Million Dollar Man spinoff appealed to women and men alike, as wide audiences accepted the technologically enhanced Jamie Sommers as a formidable leading warrior for prime time.
While that show only lasted for three seasons, the character was so beloved, she went on to appear in books and comics to feed the fan base. Central to the lasting love for the series was Lindsay Wagner’s nuanced performance as the tough cyborg good gal with a heart of gold.
When the remake in 2007 rolled around, things were not the same. First of all, the show relied very heavily on unoriginal martial arts battles and Matrix-like fight scenes. Next, fan favorite Katee Sackhoff of Battlestar Galactica fame, outshone the show’s protagonist. Cast as the titular Jamie Sommers, Michelle Ryan was simply not as engaging as Sackhoff, who played another bionic woman and served as nemesis for Jamie. When the bad gal is cooler than the good gal, you got problems! On top of that, production was disrupted by a WGA strike, giving the show no chance to find its footing.
It got canceled, and the eight surviving episodes just don’t jump as high as the original.
9 Better: House of Cards (2013)
As of 2017, the comparison between the original '90s BBC version of House of Cards to the Netflix adaptation just isn’t fair anymore. In a stunning example of “Life Imitating Art,” the American's lead cast member suffered a real-life fall as devastating as the character he played.
First, a look back at the British version. In four intense episodes, the protagonist, Minister of Parliament Francis Urquhart breaks the fourth wall as he shows the audience how the sausage is made in politics. Tracking his quest for power, we see him do terrible things to climb the ladder up to running to be Prime Minister.
The 2013 American version ups the ante.
Running for five seasons, viewers get a far deeper look at the maliciousness which runs inside the D.C. beltway. The focus went beyond Francis Underwood’s misdeeds and into a more intricate portrait of all the secret handshakes that run governments. As with The Office, a lot more of a good thing. But things also jumped a level when the story went meta in 2017. Kevin Spacey, who portrays Underwood, was caught by the #MeToo movement as a serial harasser – and was fired from the show. Subsequent seasons will see Robin Wright, who plays Claire Underwood, will take the lead.
That kind of kismet between creativity and real life is uncommon and packs a punch that the original is probably glad it never went through.
8 Worse: Life on Mars (2008)
Another import from the United Kingdom, the original version of Life on Mars was a huge ratings hit for the BBC. The premise was simple: police officer Sam Tyler is doing his job in 2006 when he gets into a car accident. He wakes up to find himself in the year 1973 and he has no idea why. Is he dreaming in a coma? Has he lost his mind? Or has he somehow truly traveled back in time?
The show did a masterful job of not only confusing the character, but taking the audience on a strange trip where the truth was never certain. After two seasons, it wrapped up the story and resolved the mystery with Sam’s final leap into the afterlife.
The US version took things in a very unexpected direction which was so disruptive, it just lost audiences. In what felt like a forced twist, Sam tuned out to be neither in the past nor the present, but actually in the future and, well, on Mars. Like, the planet. The whole rest of the show turned out to really be some kind of VR trip.
Yes, Sam was an astronaut sleeping through a video game life until he arrived on the red world. Every loose end to the story was tied up with this new element shoved into the final part of the series. That “payoff” felt like a cop-out and left an otherwise pretty decent show not with a bang, but a whimper.
7 Worse: Get Smart (1995)
In the early 1960s, nobody was cooler than James Bond. Immortalized by Sean Connery’s iconic portrayal of the legendary Ian Fleming secret agent, the man dressed impeccably, had great taste, and was the slickest character in cinema. It was a matter of comedy genius that creators Mel Brooks and Buck Henry decided to spoof the spy with their hit series Get Smart.
Maxwell Smart was more of a Jacques Clouseau of Pink Panther fame, bumbling his way hilariously through his counterespionage duties. The jokes worked because Brooks and Henry were really funny guys, and would continue to be so for their very long careers. Unfortunately, they had nothing to do with the 1995 revival of the series.
While Don Adams came back as Smart, and Barbara Feldon returned as his wife and co-spy Agent 99, the original creative team was nowhere to be found.
Add to that the very '90s idea of bringing in Andy Dick as Smart’s son, well, you can see how this ends. The show just wasn’t funny. Applying '60s comedic sensibilities to the 90’s didn’t win over audiences, and polluting a 60’s classic with '90s tropes turned even lifelong fans off.
Seriously, Andy Dick was the doom to lots of shows back in those days. Yes, we will blame it all on Andy Dick.
6 Better: Shameless
Creating a dramedy about a wayward drunken father who pretty much leaves his children to fend for themselves isn’t a pitch that you would think would win over TV executives. The original UK version of Shameless, however, was a runaway hit. The misadventures of the extended Gallagher family engrossed British audiences for 139 episodes – pretty rare for a UK production. It proved that viewers were ready to face the deeply dysfunctional truth of many families, ready to laugh and cry at the implications.
When the American version made its way Showtime in 2011, it upped the ante by casting Oscar nominated and Emmy-winning actor William H. Macy in the role of Frank. Surrounded by a stellar cast, grounded by the stunning Emmy Rossum, the show mirrored its UK parent for the first two seasons – and then went off on a direction of its own. Closely watching what worked and what didn’t work in the initial series, the showrunners guided Shameless into heavier dramatic corners while never losing the core characterizations which were central to the show’s success.
This is a case of two incredibly great shows which we would rather not have compete against each other, but since we must, the US version is just better. That said, fans of one owe it to themselves to watch the other.
5 Worse: Dragnet (2003)
Even if you’ve never scene a single episode of Dragnet, you totally know its theme song. It’s trademark opening notes – “Dum - - - de - DUM – DUM!" – is a musical trope used in popular culture as a tonal cue: when you hear these notes, you are in trouble!
As for the show itself, it was the brainchild of actor and producer Jack Webb who started the franchise as a radio show in the 1940’s before moving it into television. Designed to highlight the heroism of the police force, it comes off as hokey by today’s audiences. But in its day, the series tackled issues and villains not seen on TV before. Desperado criminals, substance abusers, and worse never made it onto family-friendly airwaves before Dragnet.
Webb revived the series between producing gigs, and always had an open door to make more. When Law & Order creator Dick Wolf decided to make his own version in 2003, it seemed like a natural fit.
The first season followed the stripped-down original formula, but didn’t get good ratings.
For season 2, Wolf, tried his trademark ensemble approach to police procedurals, but it just didn’t work for viewers. Obviously, Law & Order was Wolf’s safe place and maybe Dragnet is really all about Jack Webb, who - barring a resurrection - can’t really be replicated.
4 Better: Battlestar Galactica (2004)
Back in 1978, sci-fi fans had an exciting new TV series to sink their teeth into, after a fairly long post-Star Trek dearth. The explosive success of Star Wars: A New Hope the year before opened the door for networks to risk a show with expensive special effects set in outer space. Originally conceived in the late '60s as Adam’s Ark, Battlestar Galactica was green-lit quickly after George Lucas reopened the door to the final frontier.
The show was goofy. It featured cheesy acting and dialogue, a two-dimensional “good guys/bad guys” story, clumsy robots who were easy to destroy, and even a ridiculous robot dog! But the central idea was very cool: an offshoot of humanity living in the stars lose their civilization and seek to rediscover their home planet – our Earth.
When the 2004 version came around, the cast was a powerhouse of talent. Leads Mary McDonnell and Edward James Olmos were both Oscar-nominated actors, and the previously mentioned Katee Sackhoff shone in a gender-swapped role. The story took on new dimensions, with loads of moral ambiguity and complex issues which delved into ethical and even religious questions.
Of course, 21st century FX kicked butt over the 1978 attempts at space battles. The writing and story arcs were intense and the final resolution was compelling. Truly, the 2004 BSG was one of the greatest sci-fi shows of all time. While the 1978 version was nowhere nearly as good, it did set a mythological and iconographic foundation for the remake.
3 Worse: Kojak (2005)
Sometimes a TV show is really all about one character. Series like House, for example, could never live without the performance of Hugh Laurie, and Veep without Julia Louis-Dreyfus wouldn't have lasted a season. It is similarly arguable that the original Kojak which aired on CBS from 1973-1978 was successful largely on the sheer magnetism of its star Telly Savalas.
Oozing what we would now call “toxic masculinity,” the starkly bald leading man chewed up the scenery with hammy acting which for some reason, worked in the context of the program (kind of like William Shatner did for Star Trek). You lose Telly, you’ve got pretty much just another forgettable cop show. That is why the reboot of Kojak in 2005 was such a terrible idea.
To be fair, replacing Telly with Ving Rhames was perhaps the best choice this production made.
Like Savalas, Rhames can really command a scene. The trouble was, they didn’t let Ving be Ving, even making him repeat Telly’s signature line, “Who loves you, baby?” Trying to get him to be a sometimes grittier, sometimes more vulnerable version of Kojak, the show leaned on gruesome scenes and the more permissible atmosphere of the 21st century landscape instead of concentrating on defining their own world and weaving tight stories within it. After nine episodes, 2005 Kojak sucked on its last lollipops, and was canceled by USA Network.
2 Better: One Day at a Time
Back in 1975, legendary television producer Norman Lear, who created hits like All in the Family and Maude, introduced the world to One Day at a Time. The classic sitcom broke new ground with its positive portrayal of a single-mother household, a family setup which was broadly derided in the less tolerant era all those years ago. The show was a huge hit and lasted nine seasons, while taking on controversial subjects which had been formerly taboo on American TV.
The 2017 reboot on Netflix has blown the original out of the water. Premiering to rave reviews from critics, the current cast outshines predecessors Bonnie Franklin, Mackenzie Phillips, and Valerie Bertinelli. Powerhouse performances from EGOT (Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, Tony) winner Rita Moreno and Justina Machado have brought the revamped series up to a whole other level. Adding more intense modern themes like LGBT issues, PTSD, and making the family immigrants has created a much stronger work.
Truthfully, 1975 probably wasn’t ready for this One Day at a Time. In the crazy political atmosphere of 2017, the timing just may have been perfect. Regardless, the showrunners and cast members have really knocked it out of the park, soundly besting what came before.
1 Worse: Twilight Zone (1985 and 2002)
There are some classics which are just way too perfect to even bother to touch. Rod Serling’s original Twilight Zone series, which first saw air in 1959, was a masterpiece of episodic science fiction television. Presaging modern fan favorites like Black Mirror and Electric Dreams, the self-contained morality tales were almost always perfect allegories. Flawed characters would find themselves in supernatural circumstances, as either a matter of magic, advanced science, or aliens, and would be forced to make a choice at a crossroads. Sometimes the protagonists would find redemption and joy. Other times, they would face the torments of a far darker fate.
The series was pure Rod Serling. His stamp was all over it and there was never a way to replicate that.
Two efforts so far have been tried for TV. First, in 1985, a team of determined veteran sci-fi writers like Harlan Ellison led the revival, enlisting future A-list actors like Bruce Willis. They even got The Grateful Dead to redo the theme music! Still, it fell flat. The transition to a color palate after the original series’ lush black and white aesthetic didn’t translate well. The stories just weren’t as impactful. A 2002 effort was even more poorly received and was canceled after just one season.
Is it impossible to reproduce Serling’s auteur-oriented template? Jordan Peele will be giving it a try in 2018 with his new Twilight Zone series. If his 2017 film Get Out is any indication, he may just pull it off.
What's your favorite TV remake? Let us know in the comments!
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