Trend-watchers and those without ideas insist that imitation is the highest form of flattery. There’s no place that rings truer than The Magical World Of TV-Land, place of rip-offs, remakes, spin-offs, and endless sequels (even for movies that don’t really deserve them). But it’s not until when the medium changes that things get…interesting.
And that’s just us putting on our manners.
Transitioning an idea from the big screen to the small screen is tricky for a myriad of reasons, especially budget and the talent pool to be drawn from. Done right, the results can be magical (well, more like dark magic in the case of Bates Motel). Even a great movie can’t guarantee a good TV series, like the short-lived drama based on the classic YA novel/Brat Pack Movie The Outsiders.
Less talking, more kissing is always a good rule of thumb for what a good TV version makes, got it?
4) Pensacola: Wings of Gold
If you accept it for the late ‘90s cheese-fest it is, an episode of Pensacola is a perfectly fine way to spend 45 minutes. Also, Kenny Johnson as the rebellious, too-cool-for-flight-school “Burner” is the man and I’ll fight anyone who says different. Roughly a decade after the release of blockbuster smash Top Gun, some network exec (presumably fresh off a bender) said, “Yeah, man, but what if it was, like, on every week? It’d be totally radical!” The branch of service was changed from the Navy to the Marines. Someone else sweet-talked James Brolin into the leading role of flight instructor Col. Bill Kelly.
This was the late 1990’s, a simpler time. Back then, it was relatively common for shows to air that didn’t play the storylines straight enough to be a drama or wacky enough to be a comedy.
Pensacola: Wings of Gold was no exception.
By Season 2, it was trying SO HARD at times to be as cool as Top Gun but didn’t quite make it there. In fact, there were moments Pensacola skated right around the edges of copyright infringement. Rival pilots “Burner” and “Spoon” (played by Kenny Johnson and Michael Trucco, respectively) bore more than a passing physical resemblance to Tom Cruise and Val Kilmer. There’s an homage to Goose, in which the aforementioned “Spoon” and “Burner” belt out a ’50s song in a crowded bar.
Hell, there’s even a blond female character with bobbed hair.
The script writing teeters between average and inept, often during the same episode. One episode’s subplot involved the rookie pilots attempting to track down the admiral’s runaway Siamese cat. The Top Gun aesthetic extends to the setting of Pensacola itself, a sunny Florida Navy town populated with plenty of tan, attractive people in bathing suits.
3) Chicago Fire
Arguably one of the greatest firefighter movies of all time is Backdraft, featuring Robert DeNiro and Kurt Russell. I love it so much that, on a family trip to Chicago, I insisted we stop to take pictures of the firehouse where parts of the movie were filmed (a harrowing tale for another time). I never missed an episode of Denis Leary’s Rescue Me, so I was excited when Chicago Fire was announced in 2012, helmed by Dick Wolf of Law & Order fame.
This turned to wariness when I saw the first trailer, a scene in which blatantly rips off one of my all-time favorite movie moments: the “You go, we go” scene from Backdraft. This was far from where the similarities ended.
1) It’s set in the same city.
2) The firehouse’s grizzled old veteran, Severide, is an insufferable dick much like Kurt Russell’s character Stephen AKA “Bull.”
3) There’s Peter, the mandatory clueless but well-intentioned rookie.
The opening scene of the pilot is almost a shot-for-shot remake of the first several minutes of Backdraft with two minor exceptions:
1) Both firefighters trapped in the building die as opposed to Axe’s survival in the movie.
2) In the TV show, a firefighter’s youngest son does not witness his father’s tragic death and wind up on the cover of Time magazine.
During this period in my life, I was studying fire science in college, which involved taking some hands-on firefighting classes. I was also a certified EMT, so I was deeply annoyed by details other people wouldn’t have noticed.
The main thing I remember thinking was, “Where on God’s green earth did the props department find air masks that old? Long glass in the front, ‘elephant trunk’ style hose.” Oh yeah, probably leftover from, you guessed it, Backdraft. The most laughable part is that they were hooked up to NEW model Scott Air Paks. Most likely, the hoses would be incompatible. And remember, this show is set within the CHICAGO Fire Department. Even the most underfunded volunteer departments in small-town Kentucky have late-model Scott Paks and masks. (It’s actually required by law in order to run calls, but I digress).
And don’t get me started on how the female paramedics wore their hair down with just their department T-shirts, which fit more like the baby-doll T-shirts I was so fond of in high school.
I hate-watched Chicago for a couple of seasons until I finally got bored with it. Sometimes I’m amazed that it’s still airing now.
2) My Own Worst Enemy
This must’ve sounded like a sure thing for NBC: the star power of Christian Slater and a great, original premise. Average family man and 9-to-5 corporate drone Henry (Slater) found out that, thanks to a secret government experiment, his body was occupied by two separate people. His alter ego Edward is an international spy. Of course, the two personalities were never supposed to become aware of each other. Cue the shadowy government agency attempting to assassinate Christian every week.
I remember loving the shit out of this show. It was so different from anything else out there at the time. As a book nerd, I especially enjoyed the show’s classic reference: Henry and Edward are the names of the main characters in Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Christian made both of his personalities distinctly different; even though his voice didn’t change, you still knew if Edward or Henry was in front of you…
Or at least I could. Everyone else I know who ever tried to watch it complained that they couldn’t tell the dueling Christians apart. I’ll admit the nearly identical wardrobes didn’t help much. The show was chock full of gunfire, stunts, and explosions. The conspiracy surrounding it all gave the series this great Jason Bourne feel. Unfortunately, My Own Worst Enemy was yanked off the air after nine episodes.
I’m still kinda bitter and maintain it should’ve been a stand-alone movie.
1) The Mick
One of the more popular subgenres of comedy is this-person-really-shouldn’t-be-babysitting/teaching/supervising-kids. Take for instance Role Models, in which Sean William Scott and Paul “Ant-Man” Rudd are sentenced to community service so they won’t be fired/sent to jail for theft. They’re put into a Big Brothers/Big Sisters style program run by the delightfully foul-mouthed Jane Lynch. One kid they’re assigned to is just a brat and the other is a mostly-grown teenager obsessed with medieval fantasy role playing. It’s an hour and forty minutes of F-bombs, crude humor, and sheer hilarity. There are also some genuinely heartwarming moments like when Paul Rudd’s character throws himself headfirst into live-action role playing (LARPing).
The latest incarnation of this trope is FOX’s sitcom The Mick. Mackenzie AKA Mickey finds herself responsible for raising her sister’s three children after Sis flees the country to avoid federal criminal fraud charges. White trash Mickey is woefully unprepared to be an instant parent, especially to uppity rich brats like her niece and two nephews.
Aunt Mickey isn’t about to let a little thing like responsibility make her give up her hard-drinking, chain-smoking ways. Hijinks ensue, such as her encouraging her teenage niece to have sex with her boyfriend (yes, really).
Oh, and leaving pills out for the youngest nephew to find.
At its best, The Mick is kinda entertaining. In one episode, Aunt Mickey figures out a classmate is only pretending to be her nephew Chip’s friend and she encourages him to confront the situation.
If you’ve ever seen the trailers, you know it’s trying really hard to be an R-rated comedy in the style of The Hangover. The obvious problem with that is the show airs on FOX. The writers can’t go half as far with the jokes as they could if this was produced by a cable network or HBO. Because they can’t, things sometimes feel ickier than they should, particularly when it comes to the character of Mickey’s sorta boyfriend Jimmy. (In his own right, he’s a cheap knock-off of Cousin Eddie from the Vacation movies).
Although few people have the capacity to make a gasoline drenched beer-hazed trash heap with so much swagger…
Andrea is a sucker for old TV and can make a mean bait-and-switch recommendation for you on Twitter!
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