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How Hulu’s Reboot Channels Our Nostalgia for Family Sitcoms

You’ve never seen Get upIt’s not difficult to remember, but it is a fact you probably already know. It’s a Y2K-era family sitcom about a couple co-parenting the wife’s young son with her ex—who also lives with them. It’s Voll House meets Step by stepWith a pinch of Two and Half Men boorishness. You will find zany antics and funny gags. They are lovable, but they also have a lot to offer and want to help one another.

The fact that the show doesn’t exist hasn’t stopped it from being revived—in RebootHulu’s smart and perfectly-cast comedy, “” premieres Sept. 20, 2010. Steven Levitan created the show, which includes two family sitcoms.Modern FamilyTelevision shows and shows related to TV (Larry Sanders Show), RebootThis is meta. This film begins with Hannah, an indie filmmaker of 30 years, pitching Hulu executives. Get up Led by Judy Greer or Keegan Michael Key, the sequel features original cast members. These suits seem incredulous. The young, edgy auteur is curious what would interest him about cooking 20-year old schmaltz. “You know how, in the old sitcom, the characters always did the right thing?” she explains. “They don’t do the right thing anymore.”


Paul Reiser, Rachel Bloom and ‘Reboot.’

Hulu

Just as Hannah’s vision of the show starts to take shape, the execs drop a bombshell: Get up’s baby boomer creator, Gordon (Paul Reiser), thinks her script is too dark and socially conscious, and has returned to “fix” it. “Now the world is just a mess,” he tells the shocked cast. “And people need comfort. They don’t want kale salad. Let’s give ’em mac and cheese.” As he and Hannah play tug-of-war in the writers’ room, and actors desperate for a second chance awkwardly reunite, Reboot becomes an observant show about the tension between a generation raised, in the late ’80s through the early aughts, on artificially sunny family sitcoms and the elders who manufactured that false optimism. But the conflict isn’t solely intergenerational. The show played a significant role in their childhoods and is now influencing their relationships.

Reboot is hardly the first series to get self-aware about TV’s endless torrent of reboots, remakes, and remixes. (In 2019, Fox’s BH90210You can follow the example. Beverly Hills 90210Cast, who played exaggerated, distorted versions of themselves as they attempted to revive their iconic teen soap. It does this by putting the profit-driven industry trend in a context where family sitcoms from two to three decades ago are pure fiction. The show suggests why so many viewers, millennials in particular, are so eager to revisit old favorites—and also why those revivals rarely work. It is impossible to satisfy nostalgia for a past world.

From left: Andrea Barber, Jodie Sweetin, and Candace Cameron Bure in 'Fuller House' (Michael Yarish—Netflix)

Left to right: Jodie Sweetin and Andrea Barber in “Fuller House”.

Michael Yarish—Netflix

It’s hard to say when TV’s recycling mania began in earnest, but the acclaimed mid-’00s reboots of sci-fi classics Doctor Who Battlestar GalacticaIt was clear that these projects can succeed. Streaming supercharged the trend, starting with Netflix’s 2013 revival of Arrested DevelopmentTechnically, a sitcom that was meant for family members. However, it is regarded as a comedy show for elementary-school students. The next year, Disney Channel made ’90s Boy Meets WorldCory and Topanga are sweethearts. Girl Meets World’s titular tween. And since then, platforms have made a practice of snatching the wholesome family comedies whose intellectual-property rights they control from the purgatory of after-school syndication.

These are often, as you would expect, comebacks. Girl Meets WorldThe series is simple and straightforward, and aims to replicate the comforting, familiar vibes of its original series. Netflix’s 2016 Voll House Following Fuller House moved the Tanner girls back into their famously overstuffed childhood home and slotted Candace Cameron Bure, Jodie Sweetin, and Andrea Barber into versions of the tripartite parental roles played by Bob Saget, John Stamos, and Dave Coulier in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s. Updated with a few nonwhite cast members and the occasional joke about social media, its tone—saccharine-sweet and optimistic to the point of delusion—could have come straight out of a time capsule from ABC’s bygone, family-friendly “TGIF” lineup.

At first Fuller House was a hit that seemed to justify Netflix’s investment in the same bland millennial-nostalgia content that had, years earlier, fueled everything from VH1’s talking-head franchise I Love the… BuzzFeed’s rise to prominence. It would last for five seasons. Maybe because it aired during a time Netflix was not known to cancel original programming, but viewership fell by 52% between seasons 2 and 3. Meanwhile, Voll House creator Jeff Franklin’s ouster midway through the revival’s run, after a misconduct investigation, cast the franchise’s signature gently didactic voice in a more cynical light. In 2021, a similarly straight-faced sequel to ’80s plucky-orphan comedy Punky Brewster—one that had Soleil Moon Frye’s title character, now in her 40s, repeating cringey catch phrases like “Punky power!”—had the distinction of becoming the first half-hour sitcom canceled by Peacock.

Olly Sholotan and Jabari Banks in 'Bel-Air' (Evans Vestal Ward—Peacock)

Olly Sholotan, Jabari banks in Bel-Air

Evans Vestal Ward—Peacock

This show existed during a time warp. American society of the 20th century wasn’t utopia. However, it was a time when family entertainment was allowed to indulge in quaint depictions of domestic life. However, these romantic fantasies rang hollow a generation later. They weren’t for parents raised on the Tanners, who’d spent adult lives plagued by economic instability and political flux bingeing Game of Thrones. And they weren’t for kids growing up with school shootings, global warming, and a pandemic, in an Internet-poisoned culture defined by nastiness. (Didn’t it just figure that ABC’s 2018 Roseanne The revival needed to put an end to its lead, and be replaced by something new. ConnersFollowing some vile Twitter abuse from Roseanne?

Streamers have started to accept changing times in recent years with irreverent revivals. This has yielded slightly better results. Peacock’s 2020 remix of Saved by the BellTracey Wigfield, millennial creator, added working-class children, a Trumpian heel for Zack Morris and a needed sense of irony. This was once a NBC teen sitcom that had been so tame it became boring. Boy Meets World You look ridiculous. But jokes at the expense of the original series got old fast, and Wigfield’s take got canceled after two seasons. We will see if it is possible to cancel the series. Bel-Air—a gritty, teen-drama reboot of Bel-Air: The New Prince that premiered on the same platform in February—will survive past Peacock’s initial two-season order.

'BoJack Horseman' (Netflix)

‘BoJack Horseman’

Netflix

Television’s family-comedy-nostalgiaComplex has produced two masterworks, according to my counting, but neither one of them is an extension for an established brand. “Too Many Cooks,” the viral 2014 Adult Swim short, spun a hokey, Full-House-The opening credits of the movie are transformed into a humorous satire of 20th-century television that succinctly explains its many absurd tropes. More poignant was Netflix’s BoJack Horseman, an animated dramedy about a vice-addled anthropomorphic horse who starred in a ’90s sitcom, Horsin’ AroundAs the surrogate father of three human orphans. Monologue Reboot’s mac-and-cheese analogy echoes, BoJack explains the appeal of shows like Horsin’ Around: after a hard day in the real world, people want to watch something where “no matter what happens, at the end of 30 minutes everything’s gonna turn out OK.” But what if those fictions only set up audiences for a lifetime of disappointment? BoJack’s six-season battle with depression, addiction and childhood trauma felt like an extension of his family-sitcom experience.

There are many parallels, despite their differences in tone. BoJack RebootThis includes an unnamed BoJack-lite character played by Clay Barber. Clay Barber is a rootless comedian who has been debauched and is intermittently imprisoned. Jackass ringmaster Johnny Knoxville. More importantly, both shows are interested in wholesome family sitcoms’ relationship to the experience of growing up in a real, imperfect family. In one scene, Elaine (Krista Marie Yu), a young executive, confesses: “When I was a kid, my parents worked all the time, and I was usually home alone, studying and watching TV shows about families that always seemed happier than mine.”

Keegan-Michael Key in 'Reboot' (Hulu)

Keegan Michael Key, ‘Reboot.

Hulu

Hannah is a product of many childhood traumas. She doesn’t want to offer viewers the comforts and security of a perfect world in half an hour. Instead, she wants to focus on the truth. She wants to hold them accountable for their sometimes-indefensible actions, and to see the grim realities of 2022 acknowledged within the three walls of their cozy living-room set. It is through this that she hopes to reconcile her childhood fantasies and a long history full of disappointment.

BoJack These efforts were viewed with suspicion. Although modest change may be possible over the course of decades of hard work and character changes, the legacy of the past cannot be erased. Reboot, an essentially optimistic comedy that exposes the artifice of a more antiquated brand of optimistic comedy, makes the case that kale and macaroni belong on the same plate—that Hannah and Gordon are better off collaborating across the generation gap. In one of the show’s smartest touches, Gordon disrupts Hannah’s diverse, young, high-achieving writers’ room by bringing in a handful of politically incorrect veteran comedy writers. The two sides appear to be at war initially. Yet through mutual good faith, they learn to not only work together, but also enjoy each other’s company.

I don’t think the aim of Reboot To heal traumatized millennials, mend rifts between generations, or to teach some kind of learning-by-hugging lesson. For one, this assumption would erase the joy and pure enjoyment of storylines that are based on self-dramatizing characters. Rather, it channels viewers’ ambivalence toward the unrealistic shows that shaped us into a compelling blend of comedic sensibilities new and old. While stale sitcoms are prone to decline, kindness remains a timeless classic.

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