Hello, you've reached the winter of my discontent. That's because, for some unfathomable reason, Ben Stiller has decided to turn his great post-college coming-of-age comedy from 1994 (sorry, Singles, this is the far-superior flick) and turn it into a television series for NBC.
According toDeadline , "Stiller and writer Helen Childress have teamed for a TV series version of the movie. Childress will write the single-camera comedy project" that will continue to center around the exploits of recent college graduate Lelaina Pierce (played in the film by Winona Ryder) and her three pals douchebag rocker Troy (played in the film by Ethan Hawke), snarky sidekick Vickie (Janeane Garafolo), and charming gay pal Sammy (Steve Zahn) as they try to navigate love and life in their early twenties.
Now, the problem here isn't that Reality Bites won't be able to translate to the small screen. In fact, it would be just as easy to play Sammy's episodic guessing game for Reality Bites the way he did for Good Times ("Willona adopts Penny! Shit!"). There's the one where Lelaina gets hooked on calling a psychic friends hotline; the one where Vickie learns how to perfectly fold Gap shirts; and, of course, the one where Troy is an insufferable a-hole (every episode).
The real problem here is that the time period won't translate well. Watching Reality Bites now certainly doesn't feel outdated because the struggles with finances, friendships, jobs, and romances are still relatable, even if the movie itself looks like a time capsule. And, oh man, is it so very '90s: from the MTV knock-off station that Stiller's nice guy yuppie character Michael works for to the Lisa Loeb-infused soundtrack to the AIDS epidemic to land line phones to Melrose Place references.
If anything, a modern Reality Bites would work better, not because time period shows don't work but because '90s nostalgia has gone beyond the saturation point. The movie feels natural because, well, it was made in the '90s and was so tapped into what was happening, whereas this could look like a bunch of people dressed up like they are going to a '90s party.
The timing here, like Lelaina and Troy's ill-advised love, is just off. More often times than not, TV shows adapted from movies don't work. Not because they aren't good source material (it's actually kind of shocking My Big Fat Greek Life didn't take off with audiences, as My Big Fat Greek Wedding was so sitcom-y), but because the timing is everything.
The TV version of M*A*S*H struck a nerve because it's true subject matter (Vietnam, not Korea) was such a prevalent thing in Americans lives at that time. Now, take a look at something on the opposite end of the spectrum like Teen Wolf. The makers of that hit MTV show wisely chose to stray pretty far from the source material and tap into a more modern zeitgeist (kids today love their sexy werewolves) of the original.
That's because no one who grew up with these things wants to see them remade into something they don't recognize (ahem, The Karate Kid), but also because it runs the risk of looking too gimmicky. This could easily feel like an extension of I Love the '90s and go overkill on the stereotypes of the decade.
More importantly, I'd be more interested in seeing the film's four central characters further down the road: did Sammy's parents accept his sexuality? Did Vickie get out of retail? Did Lelaina become a legitimate documentary filmmaker? Did Hey, That's My Bike go on a worldwide tour with Troy leaving everyone back in Texas in the dust?
The reason why Reality Bites hit such a nerve with Gen X was because it reflected that era so well. Now that Gen X is grown up, shouldn't they get to see how these four turned out? Plus, can you even imagine anyone else in these roles? (It's a pretty safe bet the four leads aren't going to sign on and play the 20-year-old versions of themselves).
I'm willing to bet that Stiller --who made his directorial debut with Reality Bites -- and Childress wouldn't write or create anything that wasn't up to the standards of the movie, but this is also network TV. Their labor of love could wind up looking like Lelaina's mangled, watered-down project on In Your Face. And, unlike in the movie, there probably won't be nearly as much casual swearing or sex.
Gen Xers who saw themselves in these four have grown up and will always think of these characters a certain way, while Generation Selfie can't even begin to relate to a show in which nary a text message will be sent. I'll love the movie no matter how old I am (it feels like an perfect time capsule) but this TV show idea -- sorry -- bites. Leave this one in Generation X for Generation X.
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