September 21, 2020
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Fresh Prince of Bel-Air remake: 5 more sitcoms that need a drama reboot


Will Smith as the original Fresh Prince. 


Chris Cuffaio/NBCU Photo Bank

Will Smith is rebooting ’90s comedy The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, but this time it’s a drama. Which got me thinking … what other sitcoms could be updated for the modern era with a compelling, character-driven, dramatic remake?

Technically, any story could be done as a drama, but some would work better than others. Bel-Air, the Fresh Prince reboot Smith is producing for NBC’s streaming service Peacock, mines the dramatic potential of the 1990 original show by exploring the chillingly relevant tensions of being a disadvantaged Black kid in modern America. However, many other sitcoms are based on a premise that’s inherently silly, or set in a static situation with lots of potential for humor but not much scope for dramatic necessities like character development or interesting plot twists. 

Let’s rule out the comedies that already have dramatic equivalents — the whole point of Brooklyn Nine-Nine is that it flips the familiar cop show dynamic into a sitcom. The likes of Get Smart and The Last Man on Earth also send up specific genres. 

Other comedies would lose their spark if played straight: Silicon ValleySpace Force or M*A*S*H, for example, find the inherent absurdity in very real situations like the tech industry, the militarization of space, and war. There’s drama in these environments, but the satirical black comedy is what gives these shows extra punch. It’s a whole, if you don’t laugh you’ll cry, kinda thing.

These days, the line between comedy and drama is much less clear in shows like Transparent, Fleabag or After Life. And I’m not saying comedy can’t be smart, poignant and devastatingly emotional (many sitcoms are all those things, including the aforementioned Fresh Prince). But there are plenty of comedy shows old and new that bury a compelling premise under a constant cycle of gags, or lose any development when the show resets week after week. So here’s a random selection of comedies ripe for reinterpretation with deeper exploration of the characters and themes Suggest more ideas in the comments, and tell us what you think!

Taxi

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The cast of the TV series Taxi in 1979. 


Harry Langdon/Getty Images

Famous for its ensemble cast including Danny DeVito, Tony Danza, Carol Kane, Christopher Lloyd and Andy Kaufman, beloved 1978 sitcom Taxi won a bunch of Emmys during its five seasons on ABC and then NBC. The story of a New York taxi outfit would look very different today in the era of ridesharing rivals like Uber and Lyft, not to mention self-driving cars and coronavirus quarantine. A new version could tackle the dramatic rivalry on the roads between taxi unions and Uber drivers.

Kevin Can Wait

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Erinn Hayes and Kevin James discuss Kevin Can Wait in 2016.


Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Years after the long-running show The King of Queens ended, Kevin James returned to familiar territory with 2016 sitcom Kevin Can Wait, in which he again played a slobby schlub with a beautiful wife. So far, so same-y. But then something very weird happened: In between seasons, the producers killed off Donna, the wife character. Co-star Erinn Hayes was dropped in favor of a beefed-up role for Leah Remini, who previously played James’ wife in King of Queens. Whether this made the show funnier is hard to say, as it was canceled after the second season. But the unexpected death throws up some dramatic questions: Who killed Donna? Who is this slob who manages to find a succession of beautiful wives? A rebooted Kevin Can Wait has all the makings of a thrilling suburban whodunnit.

The Ranch

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Sam Elliott and Debra Winger in The Ranch.


Greg Gayne / Netflix

Hear me out. Netflix’s The Ranch stars Ashton Kutcher in a traditional two-camera, cheesy as hell, sitcom-y sitcom. It’s super-traditional or super-cliched, depending on your tolerance for this kind of thing. But the core premise, about a washed-up football star returning to his family’s failing farm, is really dramatically compelling. Underneath the barrage of awful one-liners it’s basically that classic movie Junior Bonner, where Steve McQueen plays an aging rodeo star. The best thing about The Ranch is Sam Elliott and Debra Winger‘s heart-wrenching and deeply real performances, which could easily carry a drama. 

The Munsters*

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Al Lewis, Yvonne De Carlo and Fred Gwynne in The Munsters


John Springer Collection/CORBIS/Corbis via Getty Images

Admit it — how good would this be as a genuine horror story? Legendary fictional monsters preying on the modern world, with a heartwarming — or should that be blood-curdling — love story at its core. Dial down the laugh track and dial up the gore and you’ve got a spine-tingling tale on your hands. You just know Ryan Murphy has thought about it.

*Or The Addams Family, whatever your preference.

Gilligan’s Island

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Alan Hale Jr. as The Skipper, Tina Louise as Ginger Grant and Bob Denver as Gilligan in 1960s comedy Gilligan’s Island.


Silver Screen Collection/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

If you remember how thrilling Lost could be when it wasn’t folding itself into weird supernatural knots, then you can see where I’m going with this. A Wall Street millionaire, Hollywood movie star and a research scientist set sail on a three-hour tour, only to find themselves stranded on a desert island. Who sabotaged their boat? Why is their every attempt to escape thwarted? And what sinister motivation drives the lurking mysterious figure known only as… Gilligan?

Alternatively, the entertainment industry could come up with some original ideas for once. But if you’re reading this, Netflix, I have an uh-maz-ing idea for a big-budget, character-led re-imagining of My Mother The Car. Call me!


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