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Revivals: A Nostalgic Originality

Is originality dead? Has the entertainment industry run out of ideas? These are questions many wonder about since the COVID-19 pandemic. The industry has been victim to an uproar of TV and movie comebacks. Who does not remember when Leia, Luke, and Han Solo returned to the big screen with Star Wars: The Force Awakens (2015)? Or when Neo and Trinity fought once again against the Matrix in Matrix Resurrections (2021)? These are some of the many characters that have returned; some more successfully than others. In fact, the reason usually lies in the fact that the endings might not have satisfied the audience, or viewers wanted to know what had happened after they defeated the enemy. Yet, we are not talking about spin-offs, reboots, or remakes, but revivals. Obviously, all terms are related since all “strive to secure the ongoing existence of serial texts in changing media and cultural environments” (Loock, 2018, p. 301). It would be illogical to say that you cannot have a reboot or spin-off without the revival of the story and its significance to the public.

However, a revival brings back to life the original characters and cast while giving them new plots, usually continuing the original work. They can either appear as main characters, so the audience can return to that atmosphere and revisit characters so dear to the viewer. Or they can also make a brief appearance as supporting characters so as to provide the new generation with answers to their challenges, which would be closer to the case of spin-offs. The clear characteristic of a revival is that the production occurs circa. fifteen or twenty years of the original release or end; that is, the story had been officially closed for some time. This fact highlights the nostalgia and the reason for so many revivals after 2020. Hence, the mental aftereffects the pandemic provoked in many secluded at home had an impact on the cinematographic industry. In fact, “some would look for cinematic entertainment by revisiting their personal DVD or Blu-Ray collections, […] the majority made use of online services to access content” (Clayton, et al., 2022, p. 2). Therefore, the impact the pandemic had on streaming tendencies had an effect on the subsequent productions and the return of stories and characters to both the big and small screen.

Figure 1. The Matrix franchise was revived in 2021.

Differing from reboots or remakes, revivals do not reuse plot lines but consist of a narrative continuation of pre-existent characters and the reuse of an aged cast. Moreover, there are many reasons for the production of a revival. Commercially, producing revivals implies having a reliable audience, and thus, the economic and media benefits are assured. As cultural historian Kathleen Loock explains, “revivals of familiar programs from the past are able to stand out in the market and prove particularly effective in generating buzz in the months and years leading up to their premieres” (Loock, 2018, p. 361-2). Such is the case with Jurassic Park or Top Gun. This factor is connected to the notion of nostalgia. The significance of the production was such that it became part of a person’s identity in terms of domestic spaces. In other words, “nostalgia is perhaps more closely aligned with the notion of homecoming; [productions] have a place in these fans’ hearts and histories and are often linked to emotions or experiences felt when they were younger” (Jones, 2023, p.4). This can have its own disadvantages since a set of expectations complement the production. For the survival to succeed, it must consider its previous audience and the one being targeted so as to rise viewing hours. Actually, “before the revivals aired, then, there were worries that the nostalgia fans felt for the show would either be affected by […] the revival series, or that the revival episodes would play too much on fans’ nostalgia for the series’ original run to the detriment of the new episodes” (Jones, 2023, p.4).


Another reason for producing revivals might be that “the return of presumably dead media texts can be understood as a direct response to the oversupply of television shows and the fierce competition between traditional television networks, and new, digital players like Netflix, Amazon, and Hulu” (Loock, 2018, p.301). For example, the revival of the show Teen Wolf with Teen Wolf: The Movie meant Paramount+’s most-seen premiere on January 26th, 2023, hence, providing the streaming service with new users and media recognition. Similarly, Gilmore Girls: A Year in the Life provided Netflix with an entourage of new users for the release of the revival of Gilmore Girls. Additionally, the revival of Friends with the reunion show produced by HBOMax was a business success since its “inherent promise of pleasure in recognition – of revisiting familiar faces doing familiar things – appeal to audiences. Due to the overwhelming presence of the series’ past, however, the one-off reunion show exists uncannily out of time, out of context, and therefore ultimately out of touch” (Loock, 2018, p.304). This is a risk producers should be willing to make. Considering that the original work belongs to a previous social context, fitting it within a more modern narrative can lead the revival to completely flop or make the project a box-office bomb. The Matrix revival overused the nostalgic element in a social context in which special effects and science fiction were common and, to some extent, abused. The element of experimentalism and originality of the original trilogy was lost within the commerciality of the current entertainment industry.

Figure 2. The cast of Friends reunited in 2021.

Matrix’s case brings back the notion of originality. Because of so many revivals, plots are being exploited and repeated, “amplifying the nostalgic limbo effect” (Loock, 2018, p.304). Comparable to the countless screen adaptations being produced today, the renewal of plots creates in the viewer a sense of repetition as if watching the same narrative devices despite changing the film. Although “the revival of older texts inevitably means fans reflect on the person they were when they first began watching, the people they watched with and what it meant to them” (Jones, 2023, p.9). this leads to predictable narratives that bore the viewer. Therefore, questioning whether the overuse of not only revivals but also reboots and remakes vouches for the decay of cinematographic narratology.


Nonetheless, this predictability accounts for “the audience’s attachment to the original text and the ‘harms’ done to them by the updating of depictions of gender, race and sexuality” (Jones, 2023, p.3). The revival of Star Wars allowed for the inclusion of a female lead, Rey, and racialized characters, Finn and Poe. Similarly, the revival of the film Willow with its 2023 TV show of the same name included a queer biracial couple. Therefore, revivals give the opportunity to marginalized communities to integrate within mainstream productions. Moreover, it allows for the older original fandom to come in contact with these communities and “account [for] the cultural politics of change” (Jones, 2023, p.3) in order to naturalise their presence and acceptance in society.

Figure 3. The revival of Willow in 2023 has integrated the queer and racialised communities.

In a nutshell, the dominant presence of revivals, alongside reboots and spin-offs, in the entertainment industry reflects the nostalgic effect the lockdown and pandemic had on audiences. Because of the experience, revivals and reunion shows provided viewers with familiarity in times of confusion and desolation. Yet, this phenomenon had an affect in the following productions. The commercialisation of the industry and the streaming competition implied the transformation of the industry into a business, essentially producing revivals for viewing hours and media recognition. However, the automatic production of revivals could lead to a mismatch between the original social context and fandom and the new ones. Therefore, producers risked falling into repetitive and predictable narratives, questioning if originality was plausible and even boring the audience. Positively, the return of fictional atmospheres allowed for the integration of marginalized communities such as the queer or racialized. Consequently, revivals and reboots should be carefully considered in order to provide successful works to different social and generational fandoms.


Bibliography

Clayton, R., Clayton, C., & Potter, M. (2022). UK Families Experiences of Film and TV during COVID and Beyond. 1-8.


Jones, B. (2023). “I’ll see you again in twenty five years”: Life Course Fandom, Nostalgia and Cult Television Revivals. Open Cultural Studies, 7(1), 1-12. https://doi.org/10.1515/culture-2022-0169


Loock, K. (2018). American TV Series Revivals: Introduction. Television & New Media, 19(4), 299-309.


Loock, K. (2018). “Whatever Happened to Predictability?”: Fuller House, (Post) Feminism, and the Revival of Family-Friendly Viewing. Television & New Media, 19(4), 361-378.

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Natàlia Vila

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