Remakes are nothing new. If it actually counted toward reducing carbon footprint, Hollywood would receive many environmental awards for its penchant for recycling. This year has been particularly kind to the past, as network television executives has been mining the vaults for new old material to rehash and introduce to millennial audiences. Beavis and Butthead is back. Pop-Up Video is back. Charlie’s Angels tried to come back. Everything old is new again.
As a part of the network’s 25th anniversary celebration, FOX has ordered two half hour specials of the hit early 90s sketch comedy series In Living Color, executive produced and hosted by the shows creator, Keenen Ivory Wayans. If successful, it could become a regular series next season. This is either a really great or a really bad idea.
When In Living Color premiered on FOX in 1990, its politically incorrect and boundary pushing humor made it the first successful sketch comedy series with a majority black principal cast since The Flip Wilson Show. Due to constant disputes over content and censorship, it only lasted 5 seasons and was off the air by 1994, but in its time it was able to launch the careers of Damon Wayans, Tommy Davidson, Kim Coles, Jamie Foxx, and Jim Carrey, to name a few.
After In Living Color went off the air, FOX struck gold with the long running and Emmy award winning MADtv, the biggest threat to the standard bearer of sketch comedy on network television, NBC’s Saturday Night Live. MADtv ended its 14 year run in 2009 and FOX attempted to fill the sketch comedy void in its lineup with In the Flow with Affion Crockett, which turned out to be an abject failure, both critically and commercially. So now FOX is taking a peek in its rearview mirror, hoping that a rebooted In Living Color with a new cast can breathe life into sketch comedy once again. They may find this to be a more daunting undertaking than they have bargained for.
Part of the magic of In Living Color was its embrace of Hollywood’s misfits. In his interview for HBO’s The Black List Vol. 1, Wayans said, “everyone Hollywood didn’t know what to do with, I knew what to do with them.” In 1990, that was revolutionary, but in 2011 its become par for the course. The Judd Apatow era of film-making has the inmates running the asylum, so to speak.
The Jonah Hills, the Steve Carrells, the Craig Robinsons, the Donald Glovers, the Tina Feys that might have once been exactly the type of outcasts attracted to a project like In Living Color now have mainstream appeal that affords them more exposure and bigger paydays in more prestigious roles. It will take some digging to find fresh talent.
The other thing that helped distinguish In Living Color was its embrace of hip-hop at a time when rap, rappers, and black youth culture were the enemies of mainstream America. But while it may have been novel then, at this point hip-hop is so ubiquitous in pop culture that if the revamp didn’t include it, it would be hopelessly out of touch. There isn’t any current counterculture musical movement to champion before it sweeps the nation and sells its soul.
This is the ultimate dilemma an In Living Color reboot faces: how does it recapture what made the original so special in a vastly different time? The barriers that it broke through upon its premiere are now standard. It will be difficult to shock and offend audiences into viewing in a world that heralded Chappelle’s Show as brilliant and includes South Park in prime-time. Even in FOX’s own stable of shows, it’s hard to outdo the irreverence and blatant political incorrectness of Family Guy, American Dad, and The Simpsons. How will a new In Living Color manage to stand out?
That isn’t to suggest that it’s impossible, but we are a saturated culture with hundreds of channels and thousands of programs, any number of which can satisfy our desire for absurd and outrageous. Any comedy looking to push boundaries in 2011 will have to go above and beyond, into territory none of us has ever seen. The question becomes: what haven’t we seen?
A brand new In Living Color may give us the opportunity to find out.