I’ve spent some time the other day watching reworks of old failed genre shows.
It’s been many years since I’ve watched any Kolchak: The Night Stalker, but my memories of it are fond. Darren McGavin playing a parody of an old-school reporter stereotype (a type which would soon be killed by the new definer of reporters in the public’s image, All the President’s Men), who finds his late night beat leaves him encountering the supernatural side of life. Kolchak was really the precursor to much with came later, including Buffy. It’s not just the supernatural-oriented drama, it’s the sense of fun that comes with a character becoming comfortable accepting the supernatural presence.
Catching the second episode of the new remake Night Stalker, I notice that they have not only dumped “Kolchak” from the title (while keeping the name in the show), they dumped the “Night” from the show (it almost all takes place in the day) while keeping it in the title. But they’ve also dumped the sense of fun. The new Kolchak is not the self-made myth, slightly-larger-than-life character that the old one is. He’s a silent, inward, tormented by a figurative (and who knows, maybe literal) demon in the death of his wife. There is no flash, no joy, no sense that this is a story being told around the campfire. It’s played cool, realistic.
And yet, it would be wrong to say that there is nothing of the original Kolchak here. They capture the creepiness, the way that things play out so that keeps the stakes high. There is some soul of Kolchak here, even if it is Kolchak Jr. in his sophomore year when everything is dark, serious, and ever so Important. It’s worth more of a sampling, certainly.
Unlike Kolchak, the original Battlestar Galactica was definitely a creature of my time. Folks may not remember, but they actually released the pilot of that on the big screen. I not only went to see it in the theater, I sat through it twice in succession (and can tell you that by the end of the second showing, the seating-shaking technology known as Sensurround had become background noise). The original Galactica did have a serious theme, but it was really an attempt to bring Star Wars to the small screen, with triumphant space battles being a key part of the show.
I’m about 80% of the way through watching the miniseries that launched the new Battlestar Galactica, and it is clear this is not about joy and triumph. As with Night Stalker, the joy has been drained from it. No heroic robot dogs. Any jovial banter between pilots exists just to make the darkness that follows seconds later seem more tragic. This is very much a post-9/11 Galactica, with the enemy being culturally strange, with motivations set in religious belief, wantign to wipe us out with no chance for negotiation (yes, these elements were in place in the old one, but that just explains why the remake was made when it could serve as such a clear allegory; these elements are played up.)
This is smoothly made. What budget they’re spending shows up on the screen. They keep what trappings they could of the old series (or at least references to them) for the old fan base, but they offer no apologies for the hammeringly dark tone.
And yet, do we need this allegory? If it is merely reflective and not informative, we don’t gain intellectually from it. And if there is no triumph, we don’t gain emotionally from it. I probably will at least sample the ongoing series, but don’t be surprised if I judge it well-made, but not for me.
(Oh, and if anyone’s wondering why I have not watched the series before now: I have ethical problems with the SciFi Channel. Their long-running support of Crossing Over with John Edwards, which is not “SciFi” but mystical fraud, shows a willingness to be damaging to people and truth in order to get ratings. Yes, yes, they’ve still made money off of the DVD I’ve rented; I am not perfect. But any channel that claims to ally themselves with science on any level should not work so hard against the truth.)