Friday, November 4, 2016

It's Like There's A Checkbox or Something

More, please!
Late the other night, I got sucked into a click-bait listicle about sci-fi shows that need a reboot.  Never a good idea.  You just know going in that it'll be the same list you've seen a dozen times - Blake's 7, Space:1999, Lost in Space - fine shows all, but this is the sort of empty word dump that generates what used to be called 'column inches'.  It's cheap fare with less real thought and content in the entire article than you'll get out of a single paragraph of Nathan Housely or Rawle Nyanzi.

Even that's forgivable.  I read it in an idle late night moment when I should have been sleeping and had no spare synapses for anything smarter than a simple, "Hey, remember that show?  That was great," kind of article.  It was brain candy meant to fill up a few spare moments, and it was fine...until the checkboxes.

As a fan of the pulp version of Buck Rogers, it was great to see his name on the list.  The article does acknowledge the IP's deeper roots, but it's clear that they included Buck as a sop to younger Boomers and older Gex-X types who can't think of Buck Rogers without thinking of Gil Gerard.  Back in the day, the plots of the 1970s version of Buck Rogers was too sophisticated for this Gen-Xer's young palette, but the adventure, the space fights, and the sci-fi trappings, and the pew-pew-pew! sure weren't.  To say nothing of Erin Gray.

Which is all to say that a new Buck Rogers could be great.  There's room in the market for a throwback style sci-fi, and a return to a wide-eyed, superversive and heroic action style of science-fiction in the new pulp style would be a great 'same but different' hook that media executives love because they think it gives them a safe and marketable property.  The writers admit as much.  So chalk one up for the un-named author(s) and authoress(es) of the article, their heart is in the right place.

So why can't they leave well enough alone?  They are on the right trail, they're so close to understanding, and they just yank the wheel off into a ditch:
The ultimate fish out of water, space pilot Buck Rogers was frozen in time and woke up in the 25th century. There he fought interplanetary menaces, romanced beautiful women, and lived like disco was never going out of fashion.
The 1970s Buck Rogers was already a remake of an earlier version, but it was a remake that deserves to be remade again. A ripping adventure series, it’s the perfect vehicle for a more light-hearted sort of action and adventure than Battlestar Galactica or Space: Above and Beyond. There’s plenty of fun to be had out of the confusion created by a man centuries out of time – or maybe even a woman. After all, the 1970s show gave us the kickass Wilma Deering, who’s to say we couldn’t have a female version in a Buck Rogers remake?
 Bang!  Car, meet bridge abutment.

Did you see that?  They acknowledge that Wilma Deering kicked ass - and this was made 40 years ago - but that's still not enough.  The main character has to be female, too!

They honestly believe, despite all evidence to the contrary, that the one thing that would need to be changed in a Buck Rogers remake is to gender flip the lead.  Let me tell you why that wouldn't satisfy the very people who are most likely to demand such a pointless change.

You never forget your first crush.
If you turn Buck Rogers into Becky Rogers, then in order to keep the romantic frisson between Buck and Wilma intact, you have to turn Wilma into Wilbur.  That means flipping the roles of the two characters as well.  Now Becky is the fish out of water, lost and confused in the strange modern times of the twenty-fifth century.  That turns Wilbur into the knowledgeable guiding figure.  And that means Wilbur is either a father figure (patriarchy!) or a man leading Becky through her confusion about the wider culture (patriarchy again!). 

The only way out of that quandary is to make Doe so hyper-competent that she doesn't need Wilbur around at all.  Which sucks all the drama out of the premise.  It completely negates the whole point of the exercise.

Now, I know what you're thinking.  Buck was a hero partially because he was able to bring surprising 20th century ideas into the 25th century and show the future folk better ways of doing things.  And you know what those better ways were, don't you?  The very 20th century middle-American cultural touchstones that the very people who would want a Becky Rogers loathe.  They can't have that, so they'd have to present the future as a feminist dystopia where Becky teaches the horrible patriarchy a thing or two about how feminism cures everything.

So what's the problem with that, you ask?  There's a slew of them.

For one thing, the patriarchy is on the "wrong side of history".  Showing the patriarchy victorious ranks as a serious no-no amongst the Not-OK crowd.  It also means that Becky Rogers would be the only female character with any real agency, what with women being condemned to the hideous fate of raising children, building a home and a future, and other nightmares such as avoiding decades of drudge work in a cubicle farm.  You can't have a show where women are oppressed, and at the same time the female characters are all fierce and strong and independent.  Not if you want a show that makes a lick of sense, you can't.

More to the point, the examples of what you get when you mix gender swapped IPs with feminist screeds are legion.  They've tried to make ripping adventures featuring light-hearted action and adventure married to political polemics about the patriarchy and girl power many times before, and every time they do know what happens:

Bombs away!
Honestly, it would be a lot faster and cheaper and more entertaining to just film an actual train-wreck every week and air that instead of a gender flipped Buck Rogers.


  1. If they were smart, they would leave the genders as is. Make Buck Rogers an old-fashioned square-jawed spaceman and the future very modern, avant-garde. You give people on both sides something to identify with, but play with the priors of both in a way that suggest that both are mostly wrong...and our current consensus right.
    But something it took me two sentences to explain is a little too complex for studio execs.

  2. Exactly, and well said. The past may be a foreign country, but that's true of the future as well.

    Ideally, you'd show how things have improved in the future...and how not all change is an improvement. You have Buck learn from them, and vice-versa - show how the present isn't perfect, but we're doing some things just fine, thank you very much.

    Again - nuance is not Hollywood's strong suit, so fat chance of that.