Thursday, June 20, 2024

5 Magical Shows that Deserve a Reboot

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Today is my birthday! As I’ve been contemplating how old and decrepit I am looking back, I realized there were some pretty great shows in my childhood that I’d love to see get a second chance.

I’m a child of the 80s, so that means a lot of shows with magic, mythology, and the supernatural. I wasn’t technically allowed to watch shows with magic, because certain folk in the 80s believed magic would lead to devil worship (see: raised in a conservative Christian household). It’s funny because mythology had orgies, incest, bestiality, and Zeus being an all around dickbag, but I was allowed to read it. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ I still watched shows with magic, just not where my parents would know. (Shhhh, don’t tell.)

Now, not all reboots are created equal. As powerful as nostalgia is, failure to update to modern culture and conventions can lead to disastrous attempts at rebuilding a franchise. Not everything ages well. Reboots must be cognizant of the fact that we live in 2016, not 1996. Gay jokes aren’t funny, women are people, and racial diversity ought to be required.

With that in mind, I will propose two different approaches for a reboot. The first is “Minimum Requirements”: the bar to pass, for me, to make a reboot work with modern, shifting cultural values. And also to be cool and worth the effort. The second treatment I’ll call “The Full SJW” since ‘social justice warrior’ is a term I fully embrace for myself. The Full SJW is my ideal reboot. I’d probably never, ever get it for lots of reasons (including lack of marketing, lack of funding, and Hollywood being a cesspool). But a girl can dream right? Besides, today is my birthday. I’m giving myself the gift of zero limitations.

1: Charmed

The Original Premise: A trio of sisters are the heirs to a powerful magical lineage that makes them the most powerful witches in history. With the help of their whitelighter they protect innocents and battle evil beings both human and divine. They each have their own magical talents/skills that, when combined, become the ‘Power of Three’ and must learn how to balance their magical destiny with their normal, every day lives.

Minimum Requirements:

As only fitting in a show about trios, I have three requirements for a Charmed reboot (which, incidentally, might actually be in the works). First, all three protagonists are black. From a worldbuilding perspective, having women of color as the leads opens up more interesting avenues for the exploration of magical traditions. Instead of an ancestress burned in the Salem Witch trials, their ancestress practiced magic in New Orleans or the Caribbean. Instead of Celtic, Greco-Roman, or otherwise white coded/Eurocentric based symbols and myths, they have African ones. If done with care and sensitivity toward the perception of traditionally African mythology as demonic or evil, it could open up space for exploring and valuing traditions that have been devalued in Western society.

Pictured: Paige, Phoebe, Prue, and Piper. Much as I love these ladies, I’d like something completely different.

On a thematic level, the show would exist at the intersection of racism and misogyny, both currently and throughout history. It’s a way to explore the persecution and Othering/exotifcation of women of color as well. Have it pull a page from Book 1 Legend of Korra and make the Big Bad of the first season a champion of ‘anti-witch’ propaganda, which, because of them being women of color, stands in for white nationalism. Of course he’d be a warlock himself who intends on stealing all the witches’ powers for himself. Paige, the half sister, could be mixed race, which would bring up a whole other avenue to explore race, religion, and cultural identity.

My second requirement is that at least one of the sisters be LGBT. My preference would be to make Phoebe a lesbian, because then you could have Cole—her primary love interest from the original series, who is a morally grey demon—be a woman as well. The intersection of ‘forbidden romance’ and being LGBT is a perfectly coded way to discuss homophobia, especially if female!Cole is morally gray rather than evil. Having demonic forces more nuanced in general would be a great update for modern storytelling conventions where no one, not even divine beings, are wholly good or wholly evil.

My final requirement is that Leo, their whitelighter, have visible scars or disability from when he died. Let me backtrack to explain that in the Charmed universe, whitelighters are former (read: dead) human beings who are given a second chance to serve as guardian angels/guides for witches. The Halliwell sisters’ whitelighter Leo Wyatt served as a medic during World War II and died in the trenches. I would love to see him have a visible scar or injury even in his whitelighter form. He should be a visible veteran of war, and, if they really wanted to get nuanced, he could still have residual emotional scars or PTSD. He’s not an angel, so it could work and be a great way to discuss human trauma and healing.

I lied. I do actually have one more requirement. Rather than have Prue die, as she did in the third season, have her voluntarily give up her powers to save the world and her sisters. She could then retire to a ‘normal life’. She could even leave the show for a while to create space for Paige to come to her own. That way there’s space to bring her back later. Prue could even be the one to find Paige and send her back to Halliwell manor.

Full SJW:

If I’m going all out, I’d make all three of the Halliwell sisters LGBT+. Give me Ace!Prue, bi/pan!Piper, and lesbian!Phoebe please. I’d also make Leo non-binary, which would be an interesting layer to their serving in the military during WWII, especially if they were unable to live as themselves until their death and subsequent role as a whitelighter.

What I like about putting both Piper (who marries Leo) and Phoebe in wlw and non-traditional relationships is that the relationship with a celestial being would function really well for homophobia/gender non-conforming relationships. Like how on Supergirl, General Lane’s conversation with James Olsen about “not being good enough for Lucy” is a cipher for racism.

While I’m at it, I’d make female!Cole an Asian woman and throw in the worldbuilding detail that all celestial beings are bi/pan. Queer divine beings for the win.

Finally, I’d love to see trans!Paige. I honestly thought about making this one of my requirements because I love the idea so much. As much as I hate unnecessarily gendered things (or gendered things in general), magical heritage linked to gender provides a built in avenue to talk about trans persons being their identified gender rather than ‘pretending’ or ‘faking it’. Picture Prue losing her powers and all the bad guys crowing about how there will never be a Power of Three among the Halliwell sisters again. Then, Prue finds trans!Paige and guess what, she has powers because she’s a woman and the TERFS bad guys can suck it.

Fancast Ideas: Imagine Samira Wiley as Prue, Nicole Beharie as Piper, and Gugu Mbatha-Raw or Ambery Riley as Phoebe. If you want to go younger for Piper and Phoebe, there’s Keke Palmer for Piper, and Amandla Stenberg for Phoebe. In my full SJW version, I would love Bingbing Fan or Malese Jow as Cole and Kaitlyn Alexander as Leo.

2: Sabrina the Teenage Witch

The Original Premise: On her 16th birthday, Sabrina discovers that she is a witch and must learn how to use her powers while also navigating the complicated waters of being a teenager. Her 600 year old aunts guide and counsel her in magic and life. They live with Salem, a male witch turned into a snarky cat for trying to take over the world.

Salem is the best.

Minimum Requirements:

Make Sabrina a trans girl. It’s high time we have a trans hero in a youth/teen show. The January issue of National Geographic is a sign that as a society we’re more open to talking about these issues at younger ages (at least I hope so). Now seems the perfect time to fill this gap in youth programming in a fun, campy setting. Like Steven Universe, a rebooted Sabrina the Teenage Witch with a trans protagonist could straddle the line of fun/camp while also being willing to deal with harsh realities in a delicate way.

The 90s were really, really white y’all.

As with Charmed, magical heritage becomes a way to talk about being a minority, whether racial, LGBT, or disabled, under the guise of something else. Being a teen show, it would make this conversation accessible to younger people.

To further this theme, my second requirement is that either her love interest or her best friend be disabled. However, Sabrina never tries to ‘fix’ her friend/boyfriend with her magic, though she will sometimes use her magic to help get around situations where the disability is not being accommodated (turns stairs to a ramp, for example).

Lastly, I’d move it from Boston, Massachusetts to somewhere in the Southwest like Phoenix or Santa Fe. Her family could have moved from the East Coast because of persecution during the Salem Witch trials and then continued moving west until they found a place where they could practice their religion magic in peace. The Southwest is an underrepresented area of the US in visual media, and there’s space to explore both Latinx culture and that of Native Americans. Her high school better be diverse and at least one of her good friends/love interest ought to be non-white.

Full SJW:

I’ll start with the obvious: her ‘aunts’ aren’t both her genetic aunts, they’re a lesbian couple. I mean, that’s not even a hard choice when you have two women who have lived together for centuries. It’s right there for the taking. Make them interracial for even more representation; how about one be Native American and the other Latinx? I’m here for that.

Speaking of Native American, I’d make Sabrina and her family Native American. As with Charmed, if you make the protagonists family non-white, you have a greater opportunity to explore different magical systems, histories, and cultures. I’d much rather not have Harry Potter or Wizards of Waverly Place 2.0. It would also be a way to talk about the persecution of Indigenous Peoples in the history of the US and how that has continued into the modern era.

Fancast Ideas: It would be better to get raw talent for the teenage characters; I’m sure there’s a young trans girl just waiting to be discovered. For the aunts, what about Julia Jones and Charisma Carpenter? As for Salem, if they could get David Tennant to be the voice actor, I might faint

3: Xena,Warrior Princess

The Original Premise: Xena, a powerful warrior, seeks redemption for her past sins by helping the innocent and defending the defenseless. She travels with her best friend Gabrielle, a farm girl turned bard and warrior, and the comic relief, Joxer the Magnificent, a pacifist from a family of warlords. She’s basically a female Hercules.

Minimum Requirements:

This is another show that’s in discussion to be rebooted next year, and I already know that my first requirement is going to be canon if it’s made. I follow one of the head writers on Tumblr, and he’s made it clear that Xena and Gabrielle’s romantic relationship will no longer be subtext. That’s right, we’re getting an explicit Xena/Gabrielle love story. The Ur femslash ship is becoming canon! I’m not even sure what else I want from this.

Actually, that’s a lie. There needs to be much more racial diversity, for starters. We need to own up to the fact that our (American) perception of the Mediterranean is very Anglo centric. We may not know the exact racial make up of Ancient Greece, but in ancient writings, they classify themselves as midway between Egypt (most of whom should be black or dark skinned) and the Germanic tribes.

Moreover, Xena travels a lot in her adventures, and there ought to be more consistency in the historicity of the various cultures. I’m fine with a bit of leeway due to it being a fantasy show, but I’d like the various cultures to exist in roughly the same historical period. Why not add more cultural contact outside Greece right from the beginning, too? Ancient Greeks were trading with Africa, Asia, the Levant, Europe, India, and Arabia, any or all of which would be great locations to explore.

Both of these women are (supposedly) Grecian Amazons. I know which I prefer.

In a modern reboot, there’s much more space to play up Xena’s role as a defender of the innocent and marginalized. The current political climate is ripe for a hero who stands up for those oppressed by tyrannical structures and systems. Make it about choices and resistance. Xena’s physical power would function as an analogy for social and economic power, with her using her privilege to help the disenfranchised. She was a feminist icon when she first came out, and there’s even more room for her to be an intersectional feminist icon now. As such, I’d like to see her played by a non-white woman, preferably someone of Middle Eastern or otherwise Mediterranean descent.

Full SJW:

I’d like a straight up (heh) butch Xena. No boob cup armor or metal and leather bikini, but instead a culturally appropriate set of armor like you’d see on a male character. Make her muscular and thick bodied, too, while we’re at it.

A Xena built like Serena Williams would be amazing. Give me my butch, lesbian, non-white, ass kicking hero please and thank you.

While we’re at it, make Gabrielle black or biracial. I love the idea of a canon interracial f/f ship on Xena, plus it would provide space to talk about slavery in the ancient world since Xena rescues Gabrielle before she can become a slave. An Asian Joxer (with a name change) would be interesting so long as he was less of an idiot than in the original. Ditch the unrequited love of Gabrielle angle, too, though I hope the reboot does that anyway since Xena/Gabrielle will be canon.

There’s so much room to undermine expectations with the Olympians. Make them all bi/pan of some kind (I love this idea, if you can’t tell), and make it absolutely clear Zeus is a pretty awful father/deity. Hera could be the woman behind the throne who makes Olympus run smoothly. The Wicked + The Divine has proven that changing expected genders of deities generates interesting characters and conversations, so I would lean into that hard. Instead of the typical blonde haired, pink clad female Aphrodite, make them genderqueer and black. Ares could be a woman; Eros, trans. Seriously, you can do anything with them.

Fancast Ideas: If we’re going the full SJW route, Nathalie Immanuel as Gabrielle. If not, I don’t care so much as long as she’s not blonde. I think having a blonde Gabrielle would be too much visual similarity for me with the original, plus I would like to subvert the blonde/brunette f/f ship if I can. For Xena herself? I’m not sure I can think of an existing actress off the top of my head that fits my butch, thick bodied, Mediterranean ideal, but I’m sure there’s someone out there. A new rather than established face might be better anyway.

4: Hercules, The Legendary Journeys

The Original Premise: Son of Zeus and a human woman, Hercules is a half human, half god who roams Ancient Greece saving people. When Hera—Zeus’ wife and queen of the gods—isn’t sending monsters and minions to attack him, Hercules is battling his half brother Ares, the god of war, and defeating other evils. Hercules spends most of his time with traveling companions Iolaus and Salmoneus.

Guess what color they all are? Seriously. #90sSoWhite

Minimum Requirements:

For starters, flip the script from the original and make this the spin off of Xena. Introduce Hercules partway through Xena’s first season and have them part ways at the end. Pulling from the original Greek stories rather than the TV series for it’s plot could set up a really interesting subversion of the 90s male action hero drama. In the Greek myth, Hera drives Hercules mad and his kills his wife and family; as atonement, he must accomplish the 12 labors. Rather than have him actually kill his family, the first season could begin with Hercules waking up and being told he murdered his family in a fit of madness. He has no actual memory of the event, however, or they’re unclear/distorted.

Like the Greek myths, the labors are given to him by Hera as a chance to redeem himself from his crimes. Sounds like the perfect set up to a traditional toxically masculine action drama complete with fridged woman/children and a desire for revenge. Here’s where the subversion comes in. Instead of revenge, he chooses to atone out of his sorrow/grief.

Rather than brood, give him a healing arc like Book 4 Korra (The Legend of Korra), with the help of his friend and moral compass Iolaus. Another subversion occurs when we find out in the climax of season 1 that his family is alive. Hera and Hades had conspired together to hurt him because of Zeus’ infidelity, so Hades had taken his family to the underworld. Have Hercules’s wife work herself free, thereby subverting the fridged woman/damsel in distress trope.

Season 2 could then revolve around Hercules and his wife Megara teaming up together to save their children. Give Hera a redemption arc after she sees how devoted Hercules is to his family and healing and turn Hades into the primary antagonist. Give Hercules a stronger bond with his mother and her heritage throughout, rather than just dealing with daddy issues with Zeus, too. Basically, set it up to be a manpain angst arc but subvert it at every opportunity.

Like Xena, a reboot ought to include a more diverse cast. The two main heroes of Hercules: The Legendary Journeys were white and the third, a grossly anti-Semitic caricature. The main antagonist, Ares, is the only vaguely Mediterranean looking main character. Let’s avoid that.

Cut the greedy wheeling-dealing companion entirely and cast someone less Nordic looking for Iolaus. Make Hercules mixed race, and you open up opportunities for conversations about having multiple ethnic and cultural heritages. Hercules’ character is set up for it: he’s half god, half human, so he’s bound to have conflicting emotions about his identity and heritage already. Making him mixed race adds layers to the surface text and gives voice to an underrepresented struggle.

Full SJW:

Salmoneus, i.e., what even is this.

Xena and Hercules exist in the same universe, so the same opportunities exist for diversity of gender presentation and sexual orientation among the Olympians. I’d go even further and make Hercules explicitly bi and Iolaus non-binary. If I were to give Hercules a second traveling companion, rather than the mess of a stereotype Salmoneus, I’d give him a female companion. Make her disabled, but still a great fighter. She’d bring the snark rather than be the emotional center (that’s Iolaus). Basically, I’d want an unabashed Toph Beifong rip-off (I’ve been watching ATLA and LOK a lot recently, if you can’t tell), only older than Heracles and Iolaus. Perhaps middle aged?

There should be zero sexual tension between Hercules and his older female traveling companion. If there must be a romance, I’d make it between Iolus and Hercules. Once he finds his wife, you could even make it a polyamorous relationship, or it could be that from the very beginning of the show.

Fancast Ideas: I don’t know Ricky Whittle’s full genetic heritage, but I would love to see him as Hercules. He has the physique and acting chops to pull it off. Plus, he’s damn gorgeous. Can you imagine Lucy Liu as the female companion? Heaven save me.

5: King Arthur and the Knights of Justice

The Original Premise: King Arthur and his knights have been trapped by Morgana, so Merlin searches the human timeline for replacement knights in order to free them. He finds Arthur King, quarterback of a football team called the Knights. He transports Arthur and his entire team back in time to find the 12 Keys of Truth to defeat Morgana and free King Arthur. It’s equal parts mecha, medieval, and magic, and 100% awesome.

Isn’t it great? There’s a rocket launcher on the horse. And face spikes. The animation could us a lift, but that goes without saying. It was the 90s.

Minimum Requirements:

First, instead of a football team, make the Knights a high school girls’ soccer team. It’s a great way to capitalize on the recent success and popularity of the US women’s soccer team. Character designs could even do homage to famous women’s soccer players like Abby Wambach, Hope Solo, and Megan Rapinoe. Have the coach voiced by/designed around Mia Hamm while you’re at it.

Imagine all of these characters are ladies.

A female driven fantasy cartoon show is a great way to showcase varied gender expression, too. The contrast between modern and medieval gender norms allows for the appreciation of characters who express their gender differently and who can all value each other’s differences. Gwenevere and the Knights might have different cultural norms, but they respect each other and learn from each other as the season goes on.

Second, more diversity (I hope you’re sensing a theme). With an ensemble animated show like this, there’s no excuse for having an all or mostly white cast of characters. Steven Universe has set the bar and a reboot of King Arthur and the Knights of Justice ought to waltz right over it. The female characters ought to have different body types and gender expression. The main protagonist could be mixed race or Asian, and at least half of the rest of the soccer team ought to be non-white. Even the historical characters like Merlin, Gwenevere, and Morgana ought to be diverse. We know people of color existed in Medieval Europe and are underrepresented in visual media. This is a fantasy show in any case; there’s literally zero excuse for lack of diversity.

Finally, I’d like to see an updated storyline. “Jealous woman wants to steal power from the men” isn’t going to cut it without some nuance these days. One option would be to make Arthur the real usurper with Morgana simply trying to reclaim her birthright. Another would be to make Merlin the true antagonist of the series. Perhaps Arthur was going to abdicate in favor of Morgana, and Merlin, unwilling to lose his position of power, trapped King Arthur and the knights himself and framed Morgana. The story then becomes that of a man threatened by female power who is willing to maintain his power on the backs of other women (the Knights).

One could bring in the character of Mordred for a second season after the truth about Merlin is discovered and Morgana cleared of all charges. King Arthur and Morgana could fall mysteriously ill after her coronation. Soon afterward, a young man claiming to be Morgana’s son (or daughter) Mordred comes to ‘cure’ her and enthralls all the original knights to their power. Suspicious, Gwenevere summons the Knights of Justice once again to help her defeat Mordred. (I’ve been thinking a lot about this one, okay?).

Full SJW:

The captain of the woman’s soccer team who becomes the Arthur replacement is trans. Imagine having Merlin show up looking for an Arthur King (as in the original) and finds himself on the pitch of a girls soccer team. When he asks for Arthur King, a young woman steps up and says, “I go by Riana now.” (Get it? Riana? Like Arthuriana? Shut up. I make great jokes.) Merlin (and everyone else) is super chill about it and her being trans never becomes a ‘thing’ again.

Make at least one of the other characters on the team gender non-conforming or non-binary. With such a wide cast of female characters, I’d want at least one canon wlw couple on the team, as well.

There’s room for all kinds of wlw given how large an ensemble it would be, so go to town. In the original, Gwenevere believes Arthur King is her actual husband for a while, so it could be interesting to have her flirt with Riana a bit.

I’ve thought about having King Arthur die in the second season fighting Mordred, so in a full SJW version, I’d make Gwen bi and have her get together with Riana in the end. Or maybe even Morgana and Riana. Why not? Medieval wlw is clearly an untapped market right now.

Fancast Ideas: Voice appearances by current or retired women’s soccer players anyone? How about Katie McGrath as Morgana?

Why Reboot?

With all the changes, one could reasonably ask why I would bother pitching a reboot rather than a brand new show. As I mentioned, nostalgia has power. Sequels and reboots tend to do better at the box office (though not always), and two of the shows on my list are already being remade. Remakes tap into a pre-existing audience. If the show was successful first time around, like Xena, there’s likely a reason why, and that can be capitalized on. More than anything, I think all of these shows have meaningful themes and stories to tell that can be updated to be even more powerful for modern audiences even without a complete overhaul like my Full SJW section.

A lot depends on the writing and producing teams. A careful, sensitive team like the one writing Supergirl could handle a lot of these themes and conversations well, but not others who shall not be named. It all depends on who is involved and how good the leadership is at listening to and including diverse voices. At the end of the day, I may not get any of these reboots, or see what I’d like in the shows that are being rebooted. But there’s always fan fiction, right?

What do you think? Are there other supernatural or magical shows you’d like to see rebooted? Or, are there ways you’d do one of these reboots differently? Let me know in the comments! I could storyboard and worldbuild for hours.

Images Courtesy of The CW (formerly The WB), ABC, Universal Television, and Golden Films

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