by G. Brown
The man who struck TV gold with “Black-ish” is ready to push the color lines again with a reboot of sitcom classic “Bewitched”. Kenya Barris has re-imagined the sitcom and is putting his own spin on the tale.
The 1960’s supernatural series was a hit that worked a spell on audiences for 8 seasons. The show centered around the Stephens family of Darrin–a mortal– and his wife Samantha–a witch. The comedy usually revolved around Samantha trying to comply with her husband’s golden rule of no witchcraft, often violated by his in laws.
Barris’ spin would take the White middle class family and turn them into a blended family. The updated plot goes something like this…”Darren, a white mortal who happens to be a bit of a slacker” marries Samantha, a “hardworking black single mom who happens to be a witch.” Barris continues summing up the reboot saying, the couple struggles “to navigate their differences as she discovers that even when a black girl is literally magic, she’s still not as powerful as a decently tall white man with a full head of hair in America.”
It seems some of the best new ideas in Hollywood these days are old ideas. “Mission Impossible”, The Equalizer”, “Star Trek”,”Ghostbusters”,”Planet of the Apes”, “Charlie’s Angels” all have been rebooted. Some are colossal hits while others were dusted off and brought back to life only to die a second time–(we’re looking at you “Ironside” and “The Mummy”).
Hollywood isn’t finished romanticizing about the good old days and more reboots are on the way…there’s talk of rebooting old favorites like “Living Single”and “Magnum PI”.
“Murphy Brown” is also returning, but since it has most of the original cast, not really sure if that is a reboot. But many shows are giving the reboots a hard makeover of grand design. ABC’s “Greatest American Hero” reboot is replacing the lead White male character with an Indian-American female. CBS is also trying to implement more diversity to reboots like “Magnum” by gender bending the key role of Higgins who will now be a female.
Reboots that bend gender roles(from male to female or vice versa) don’t seem to bother audiences nearly as much as bending race. “Fantastic Four” was a dismal disappointment for both Fox studios and audiences. While there was a lot of pushback from comic book fans about changing the Torch from a blonde, White male into Michael B. Jordan(who is neither blonde nor White), the movie didn’t fail because of race bending. If simply changing the race of the lead of a key character equals failure, then Denzel Washington’s “The Equalizer” should have tanked instead of being a box office hit-TWICE!. No what kills a movie is a script that is monotonous, overly dark, disjointed, not true to canon(the essence of the character and not his/her color) and pedestrian CGI—all of which afflicted the “Fantastic Four” reboot.
The small screen seems less intimidated by racial backlash and more concerned with finding the right formula of script, actors, re-imagining and tone.”Buffy the Vampire Slayer”, “Charmed” and now “Bewitched” are all looking to make reboots more culturally inclusive than the originals . “Bewitched” in the 60s rarely had a Black character on the show because it originated in the age of the civil rights battle when Black and Whites on the air were not a typical sitcom. Back then, TV shows and movies didn’t hire a lot of Blacks, Latinos, Asians and Native Americans to play roles even if the characters were actually written as minorities.
Bringing back shows that have been off the air 20, 30 or 50 years shouldn’t ignite resentments that the character is now Black or Native American. Younger audiences might be familiar with the originals since shows like “Bewitched” still live on in syndication, but they’re also more tolerate of cultural and gender changes.
When is it ok to change the race or gender of a character in a reboot? Whenever creators like Barris have the vision, talent and studio/network backing to make it happen. If some creative soul decides to reboot “Good Times” and cast the Evans family as all White, then have at it. The show was primarily about a family struggling in tough economic times–those aren’t exactly race specific conditions.
The same applies to Barris’ “Bewitched” reboot. If the script is good, then Samantha will be just as funny and entertaining with black, braided hair as she was with blonde hair.