Ever read Pet Sematary? The family cat gets run over by a truck. Such a sad thing, to see a pretty cat struck down in its prime. That cat could have amused the family for years! Fortunately for the family, their house is just a few doors down from the local Indian Burial Ground. Dad makes an executive decision and uses the Burial Ground magic to bring the cat back to life. Good as new! Better than ever! Except that the resurrected cat is different somehow. Stranger. Less fun. He’s not as energetic. He smells like death. At a certain point, Dad starts regretting his decision. Maybe he should’ve just gotten a new cat.
Now, Party Down died a quiet death in mid-2010. Such a sad thing, to see such a brilliant comedy of despair struck down in its prime. The show could have amused us for years! Fortunately for us, the TV business has its own private Magic Indian Burial Ground. It’s called Netflix, and it won’t rest until all your favorite shows are pumped full of zombie juice. Party Down hit Netflix about a year ago, and the show’s burgeoning youth-cult has grown larger and larger, one stoned roommate at a time. The calls for a Party Down movie have, in turn, grown larger and larger. Over the weekend, star Megan Mullally chattily announced that the movie’s script was currently being written, with plans to film it in 2012.
If the Party Down movie does get made, it will have taken less than two years to revive the show. By comparison, when Netflix announced the impending resurrection of Arrested Development, over half a decade had passed since Fox quietly burned off the sitcom’s final few episodes. Fox gave the same tell-me-about-the-rabbits-George treatment to Futurama, which originally ended in the summer of 2003; Comedy Central has since revived the series. The gold standard for reviving a low-rated TV series was yet another Fox series, Family Guy: Canceled in 2002, Family Guy was a TV-on-DVD smash in that beautiful brief window when TV-on-DVD was a thing, and the show’s second run has essentially taken over Fox’s Sunday night. (Both Family Guy and Futurama owe their resurrection to another Magic Indian Burial Ground: Cartoon Network’s Adult Swim, where the grace of lowered expectations transformed them from broadcast flops to cable hits.)
All of these shows have fervent, young, loud, demographically appealing, Internet-maiming fan bases. More importantly, they all come gilded with a built-in persecution narrative: Party Down was overlooked because it was airing on tiny pre-Spartacus Starz; the Fox shows were, well, on Fox, a network with a long history of shuttling underperforming shows all across the schedule. All fans love to feel persecuted, and the sense these shows were somehow victims of forces beyond their control — of network bean counters who only care about the bottom line, of our horrible fellow Americans who’d rather watch Two and a Half Men reruns, of capitalism — creates a powerful energetic impulse to demand more. (There’s a sense that, if Arrested Development actually can return, then a great victory will have been won, although exactly who is being defeated — Fox, stupidity, time itself — is up for debate.) Most importantly, all of these shows returned (or will return) with the main creative teams intact, thus assuring (in theory) that the shows will be just as good as they ever were.
There’s just one problem: Revivals don’t work. At best, they very occasionally achieve a reasonable facsimile of what made the original incarnation great. At worst, they are memory-tarnishing mediocrities, self-parody cash-ins, self-aware victory laps filled with fan-service self-congratulation. And it’s not Hollywood’s fault — not entirely. It’s our fault. Because we just can’t let our favorite shows die. We pick up their corroded carcasses. We hose them down. We spray them with cologne, to get rid of the intestine smell. We spray them with insect repellent, to get rid of the maggots. We demand that they dance for us.
NEXT PAGE: The perfect death and sad second life of Futurama