Register Monday | June 17 | 2019

<i>Eight is Enough</i> is Enough

TV Shows That Shouldn’t Become Movies, Ever

This summer, movie studio executives have apparently raided the familiar comforts of my misspent youth and repackaged them to encourage the misspending of my young adulthood. This is the summer of, among other things, movie versions of The Honeymooners, Bewitched, and The Dukes of Hazzard. I'm trying to remain calm, but I think it would be prudent to say a few words about the ever-tenuous relationship between television and the movies. I think the time has come to declare some things simply off-limits. Who's with me?

Some television shows should never become movies. I was just being cute with regards to the show Eight is Enough, but it's believable enough, isn't it? That's what it's come to-you just never know: The Avengers, Lost in Space, Starsky and Hutch, the Brady Bunch movies, the Charlie's Angels movies, the Mission: Impossible movies, and others, all realized with varying degrees of success. Michael Mann is developing a new movie of Miami Vice, though most of his films are simply reiterations of that old show of his, anyway. TV is a dubious muse.

I couldn't take two minutes of this one, let alone two hours. Cop Rock, a, um, musical police procedural drama, was the sort of program that had us asking, "Did that really happen?" We're best left wondering.

We should draw the line. I'm not talking about movie-length episodes of a particular show; I mean movies that recast the characters and re-imagine their situations. I don't expect a moratorium on all TV-based films-that's unrealistic and unfair. I say, do what you will, Hollywood-but for all our sakes, let just a few of those tantalizing properties go free. Spare them not because they are sacred, but because they are, in some cases, so deeply profane. As such, they cannot be bettered, and should not be disturbed. For example:

It must be tempting; he has resurfaced in our culture (at least from the waist up), and managed an insouciant longevity that must be the envy of more tightly wound puppets/hangers-on, such as Cher. But please, for heaven's sake, keep him confined to the tube, where "Yo!" can still be a valid catchphrase.

All in the Family
If anyone on the small screen could manage Rod Steiger's role from In the Heat of the Night, it was the great Carroll O'Connor. But who could ever enlarge his Archie Bunker? It's not just actors who've lost the knack for empathetically rendering reactionary blowhards; it's the writers and directors. That's the great irony of Norman Lear's brazenly visionary show: here, in the era it helped advance, there's no audience for it. To imagine the inevitably sanctimonious movie version is to shudder from the same dismay with which Meathead and Gloria used to greet Archie's bullish ignorance.

Cop Rock
I couldn't take two minutes of this one, let alone two hours. Cop Rock, a, um, musical police procedural drama, was the sort of program that had us asking, "Did that really happen?" We're best left wondering.

Full House
I'm afraid to look. Are they doing it? They are, aren't they? I don't want to know. You can just imagine the Olsen twins putting their pretty little heads together, or their pretty big egos, and thinking, wouldn't it be cute to exec-produce some big-screen version of our old show? We could make it all campy, all Charlie's Angels or something, you know?

No, I don't. The only right way would be to bring it up to date, with the same cast, and strip away every last ounce of that family-friendly treacle. They could do it as one of those family reunion things, but they'd have to go all out: show how rotten and unstable that family really was, how all that button-cute pep festering under one gingerbread Victorian roof for so long could only lead to absolute horror.

That would mean letting Bob Saget do the astonishingly nasty, foul-mouthed comedy that is his real gift, and letting John Stamos's character become the ruthless, hard-living gigolo his characterizations politely alluded to in the show. Or let Dave Coulier go off his own personal deep end-maybe his character could tweak out on uppers and one-too-many Popeye impersonations. As for what would become of the girls, well, decency forbids. Look, Americans have this chronic problem with pretending that trash is wholesome. It could make for kinky fun if we had a better sense of humour about it-but of course we don't, so just forget it.

The reason not to make this thoughtfully titled 1983 Glen A. Larson flop into a feature film should be obvious. It's about a man who can change into not one but many animals. Which actually might make it a perfect contender for digital-effects-obsessed and story-aloof movie development. Bad idea. Plus, selfishly, I want Manimal to myself-I like dropping it in conversation, and scoring points for the most obscure, cheesiest pop culture reference of the day.

It's not to say there have never been entertaining movies about nothing (see the works of Jim Jarmusch). But the famous show about nothing found a stride in its minimal production values; its calibrated, irreplaceable cast; and its episodic structure. Seinfeld was arguably plotless, but became a Swiss watch of subplots. Tempting stuff for today's young directors, who should yield not to temptation. Aside from a documentary, the only kind of film to make from it is an utterly appalling one.

Oh, there are others. Barney Miller, Cheers, Family Ties, I Love Lucy, Murphy Brown, One Day at a Time, thirtysomething. I'm not evaluating these as good or bad TV, just declaring that there's no way in hell they could become good movies. Let's do what we can to make sure they don't become bad movies either. In other words, pray.

Maisonneuve contributing editor Jonathan Kiefer is associate arts editor of the Sacramento News & Review. One of his cats is named after Preston Sturges.