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12 May 2023

The curse of the Noughties reboot

From Peep Show to Gossip Girl, new versions of classic 2000s shows fail to understand why their time period was essential to their success.

By Sarah Manavis

By many measures, we should be living through the greatest era of television. The creativity, writing and minutely detailed acting on TV today is unquestionable; shows like The Last of Us or even Nathan Fielder’s The Rehearsal are evidence that the medium can still evolve and surprise us. With all this talent – and all this money – available for grand, exciting and new projects, nothing feels quite as chilling as hearing the news that your favourite cult TV show from two decades ago is getting a sloppy studio reboot.

Reboots have become a major part of entertainment, a trend which is anecdotally loathed but has evidently become lucrative for studios. In the past few months, however, reboot culture appears to be going into overdrive – particularly when it comes to resurrecting shows from the 2000s. The latest to receive this treatment is the beloved British sitcom Peep Show, which it was announced last month will be getting a glitzy, girlboss American remake on FX, starring Minnie Driver and Amandla Jahava. “Taking inspiration from the original UK series Peep Show and its unique narrative format,” the official summary reads, “the pilot follows the relationship between a long-suffering assistant (Jahava) and her boss (Driver), an emotionally unstable tech entrepreneur.” The show will be executive produced by two of the original show’s writers, Sam Bain and Jesse Armstrong, though it’s unclear what their involvement will be.

There has been a steady string of Noughties TV reboots. First we had Gossip Girl, which died a swift death despite big budgets and big names; there was the Nineties-themed reboot of That 70s Show, featuring much of the original cast; in the last month, we’ve also had the news that both Harry Potter and Twilight will be getting TV remakes. Commercially, it makes sense for this trend to be happening: Y2K nostalgia has driven newfound interest in these shows and films among younger fans (TikTok has been awash with Gen-Z Twilight fans for the last year). The problem is that these reboots rarely work.

The challenge of remaking any show is capturing the magic of the original, but so many of these shows are inextricable from the political, cultural and social contexts of the decade. The grubbiness of Peep Show – grounded in centrist Blair/Bush politics, recession aesthetics and humour – is as fundamental to the show as its inner monologues. It’s difficult to see how any of this would translate into a post-Trump corporate environment. (You could even argue that the final episodes of Peep Show – which came out more than a decade after its much better first few seasons – flopped precisely because the characters no longer made sense in 2015.)

[See also: How nostalgia fuels the culture wars by Hannah Rose Woods review]

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Trying to apply Peep Show’s Noughties atmosphere to a contemporary show would surely lose what actually made the show a hit. The seediness of the characters – their sexual desperation, emotional repression, 9/11 jokes and intrusive thoughts about eating a romantic interest’s dog – is representative of a distinctly 2000s brand of humour. Today you might glimpse this depravity in dramas that take themselves very seriously (such as Euphoria) or in absurdist comedies (I Think You Should Leave), but mainstream sitcoms have been taken over by nicecore shows like Abbott Elementary and Ted Lasso.

While the point-of-view camerawork and internal monologue voiceovers seemed to be the show’s selling point – and no doubt it is this framing that a studio executive believes can be carelessly slapped onto any story – few would say that structure is what made Peep Show so special. And while the shallow political mindset of Mark and Jeremy could be applied to the social media activism and pseudo-leftism of today’s liberalism, the tenor of this politics is extremely different to what it was twenty years ago. This particular reboot feels especially doomed, given it appears set to satirise tech CEOs and Silicon Valley – a subject so extensively covered by the media today that you can already hear the AI-generated monologues writing themselves. The same issues that dogged a social media-focused Gossip Girl will inevitably hinder this reboot, just as they would upset a TikTok-era Twilight.

Producers and studios plundering the Noughties – or any era, for that matter – may find the odd hidden gem that would make an apt present-day remake, if creatively reimagined. Maybe, in 18 months’ time, I’ll be eating my words when Minnie Driver’s inner monologue describing experimental health supplements as “moreish” and insulting Elon Musk wins her dozens of Emmys. But it seems more likely that this trend will offer us little more than the weak shadow of a much-loved series. These shows, and their place in history, deserve to be preserved – rather than crudely jammed into a time they will never belong in.

[See also: The Britpop nostalgia complex]

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