Elementary, My Dear Blogger: Has Remake-Happy PBS Run Out of Ideas?
It's become evident that the continuing fever to remake a huge pile of TV shows (V, 90210, Melrose Place, Hawaii 50, Rockford Files) and movies (Heathers, St. Elmo's Fire, Fame, Teen Wolf) isn't just infecting network or cable television. It's spread to PBS and Masterpiece Classic/Contemporary/Theatre/Mystery/Whatever.
Yes, I know that PBS and Masterpiece have a history of airing Brit-made remakes of all kinds. (What number Pride and Prejudice are we on, again?) The thing is, we've usually been able to count on a separation of at least a decade between those remakes. However, starting in 1996, when Kate Beckinsale's dreary BBC Emma came rather hard on the heels of Gwennie's candy-coated Hollywood version, it seems that television producers are now going back to the remake well before the corpse of previous iteration is even cool. Even worse, they give us remakes that are so awful most of their targeted audience can't watch them to completion.
I gave up on the recent -- and incredibly awkward -- Emma series after the first episode, and though I consider myself to be a hypercritical watcher, I was way more patient with it than another friend who suffered through 15 minutes of it before announcing, "NO!" and turning it off. (I can't say I blame her.) So you can imagine my state of mind when I got this Guardian article emailed to me by a reader who had seen my "Goddammit, PBS?!" rant at Television Without Pity.
Apparently, the most recent remake of Emma isn't the only horror we have to look forward to. According to the article, the BBC and PBS are now collaborating to create and air remakes of Upstairs, Downstairs, the Aurelio Zen mysteries, and Sherlock Holmes. To be fair, I've heard that the remake of The 39 Steps was quite good. (And by "heard," I mean that my mom told me it was good, and she's less forgiving than I am about remakes. She's also not alone in her opinion.)
Now, Sherlock Holmes remakes might be where I'm a slight hypocrite to my "all change is all bad" mindset. As a kid, I loved the Basil Rathbone/Nigel Bruce Sherlock Holmes series, and thought none could be better. But then Jeremy Brett came along, and I swore an undying love to Granada Productions and Brett's portrayal of the saturnine detective. Based on that admission, you'd think I'd have an open mind about a new Sherlock Holmes, right? After all, it has been nearly 20 years since we had a TV remake. Well, but then I read this part of the Guardian article, "Writers Mark Gatiss and Stephen Moffat have updated Sir Arthur Conan Doyle's classic detective stories to include modern references such as having Watson chronicle Holmes' adventures in a blog" -- and my mind slammed shut and threw all the locks in place.
I'm sorry, Watson will BLOG?! I really hope what they mean is that the Masterpiece site will host a blog that is "taken from the pages" of Watson's diary. You know, they'd parchment and quill it up with a few scatters of ink blots to give it that stamp of computer generated authenticity. That's the best we can hope for, but even that is a bit The Office 2005. Now, if I'm wrong about this and if they actually have the actor playing Watson say, "I'm so going to blog about this Moriarty dude," I will reach into my television set and personally yank out channel 9.
Even more disturbing than Watson-as-blogger is where the Guardian article quotes Rebecca Eaton, executive producer of Masterpiece dramas for WGBH Boston, saying that she would love do to more Marple and Poirot, "even if we have to start making them up".
First of all, they wouldn't even BE Maple and Poirot if they are not coming from the genius and pen of Agatha Christie. You could CALL them Marple and Poirot and see just how far that gets you with your fan base and viewership. Secondly, didn't they learn their lesson about making stuff up where Miss Marple was concerned? Do they not remember the unwatchable dreck that was the Geraldine McEwan/Miss Marple series? Oh, and the more recent Marple series with Julia McKenzie where they shoved Miss Marple into Christie novels that didn't even feature Marple in the first place?! I mean, in both cases, they were making stuff up ALL OVER the place! Since I adored her as Lucia, I would have been fine with McEwan as Marple if the remakes hadn't bald-facedly invented plot points and outright changed Christie's original stories. Finally -- and this is a sustained sore point for me -- they haven't even aired all the David Suchet Poirots that have been made, so why are they even talking about making stuff up?
Are they really so out of ideas at PBS that they feel the need to retread and retread until they wear right through the carpet? Because I have ideas. What about Patricia Wentworth's Miss Silver series? Or more Ngaio Marsh? Why not create something from the Elizabeth Peters/Amanda Peabody books? All that Egyptian stuff would be both awesome and educational, because isn't that really what PBS is all about? How about some Angela Thirkell instead of Austen? Or more Wodehouse? (And I mean P.G., not Emma.)
I guess what it comes down to is that I'd be excited about remakes, but I just don't have any reason to trust the remakers.
Jane Austen's World reviews the most recent Emma here.