It’s no secret that when a show is rebooted nowadays, showrunners typically try to right the wrongs of the past iteration. Whether that is including more people of color (The L Word), people from varying walks of life (The L Word), or just trying to stop being blatantly offensive to minority communities (also The L Word), the goal of a reboot is to contain all of the nostalgia and none of the hurtful rhetoric.
I know I just mentioned The L Word a lot in that first paragraph, mostly because it did a lot of things badly in the original, but I believe the quintessential reboot-trying-harder show would have to be And Just Like That, the 2022 reboot to Sex and the City. It was determined to include black women and queer people, and it did so without much regard for whether it was actually creating content where these groups would feel represented.
To make a reboot in 2022 is to have the dual responsibility of creating a show that embodies the original, while righting all of the wrongs that the early 2000s allowed rich/white/cis/straight people to perpetuate. It would have been so much easier if they’d just done it right the first time.
I grew up in the in between era, young enough that I never watched any of these shows live, but old enough that I was alive when they aired, meaning that I more often than not heard spoilers before I got around to watching them myself. The exception to this was Seinfeld, the 90s sitcom that laid the basis for Friends, How I Met Your Mother, and many other shows to come.
It was out of an excess of boredom and a similar excess of time that I opted to start it one summer evening after a long day at work. In the beginning, I didn’t pay that much attention, cooking dinner and scrolling through Twitter as it played in the background, but as the episodes ticked onwards I felt my investment in the friend group increase. There was something captivating about the way each of them engaged with each other, an honestness in the fact that they didn’t shy away from saying the truth, and a warmth in the way they remained friends through it all.
Needless to say, I fell in love with each and every one of the characters on Seinfeld. It was shocking to me the way they didn’t shy away from hard issues (in the way Friends and so many other shows did after it). On the night that Roe v Wade was overturned, I coincidentally watched the episode where Elaine breaks up with her “perfect” boyfriend for being pro-life. While I debated whether my right to marriage would be overturned as well, Elaine attended a (offscreen) gay wedding. Unlike the purely femme stereotypes of gay men in Sex and the City, Seinfeld‘s characters had a run-in with a gay male gang leader, who was accompanied by his boyfriend on his way to beat up both Kramer and George. In 2022, white people are all too ready to play the savior, jumping in to “save” poor or minority individuals for clout. In 1991, Jerry tried to do the same thing to Babu Batt, an act which was decried by the show’s omniscient voice.
Of course, Seinfeld was far from perfect. All four of the main characters were white and straight, and so were the people they dated. Offensive things were most definitely said without apology, especially with regard to BIPOC characters and other people of color. I am in no way saying that the show stands up, or that it will be a completely great watch for members of minority communities. I am, however, saying that it tried harder than nearly any show in the interim years, and did so more naturally than any of the reboots are doing today.
There is something uncomfortable about a show that blatantly ignored any attempt at diversity tossing in a handful of non-white characters and acting like that’s completely normal. And Just Like That is exceptionally egregious in the way it partnered each white Sex and the City character with a minority “partner” that they could be offensive to and get corrected. It’s as if there was no character growth over the past 10 years the show was not airing.
The show would have been better off introducing their new characters in the same way that Seinfeld introduced Mickey, Kramer’s actor friend with dwarfism. It was implied that they’d been friends for a while, despite Mickey never having appeared on our screen before, and his height was not ever his primary characteristic. It was relevant, with him stunt doubling for children during parts of his acting career, but it didn’t impact the friendship between the characters. They were genuine friends first.
I actually believe that The L Word: Generation Q did a great job of this with Micah. The show wanted to make amends for the terrible transgender representation in the original, and it did so by introducing Micah as a character. He was friends with the main group from the start, and although we knew he was trans and it affected various parts of his storyline, it was never the reason or focus of the friendship between him and the main cast.
What Gen Q failed to do was provide any offscreen character development for Bette, Alice, or Shane. The three original cast members stayed exactly the same, making no new friends until the reboot started up. Despite not actually getting cancelled and needing to reboot, Seinfeld excelled at off screen character development. When there were long periods of time that we’d go without seeing the characters, they were still growing and changing and developing new friendships, some of which would appear onscreen at some point but others that wouldn’t. Everything that happened in that show just felt exceedingly natural.
Perfection is difficult to achieve, and as a society we have grown a lot in terms of what we consider acceptable and what we do not. Still, watching Seinfeld made me realize just how long we’ve been aware of these same issues, because they actually made a point of addressing some of them. I have faith that if Seinfeld were rebooted today, it would be able to take on new issues and transition into the year of 2022, because it was already doing that in 1995.
As grateful as I am that these other shows are getting reboots, there may have been a reason that they were cancelled earlier this century. Maybe shows that don’t have a cohesive path to the present should stay in the past.