Episode 510: The Frozen Lake of Ice at the Bottom of All the Reboots

On the Overthinking It Podcast, we talk about nostalgia, and wonder if there will be a reboot to end all reboots.

Peter Fenzel, Mark Lee, and Matthew Wrather are led by last week’s discussion of Ready Player One and a stray question about Magic: The Gathering to overthink nostalgia, the value of reboots, and whether an exhausted culture might eventually stop making them.

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Further Reading

Vicki, the robot girl from Small Wonder, has a lightbulb in her mouth.

That’s not disturbing at all. (click to enlarge)

18 Comments on “Episode 510: The Frozen Lake of Ice at the Bottom of All the Reboots”

  1. Charlie X #

    Great episode, especially as I’ve been having issues with nostalgia since experiencing Ready Player One. I’ve only read the book so far and while it felt laser-targeted to me as an inhabitant of the taint between Generation Y and Millennials, but I found it made me want to burn all the nostalgic items I had.

    I’m clean from Magic: The Gathering, but was there in the early days. It’s interesting hearing that they’re returning to their roots, especially as Dungeons & Dragons (also by Wizards of the Coast) has had great success rebooting a ton of their old adventures. Castle Ravenloft, Against the Giants and Temple of Elemental Evil have all seen D&D 5th Edition remakes, so maybe rebooting the old M:tG world is a card-based attempt to recapture that glory. Both properties are also getting some form of crossover soon, as it sounds like D&D will be getting a M:tG campaign setting.

    My final observation is another card-based one. I remember an article by John Wick (not that one) who is a game designer. Wizards of the Coast were looking to acquire Legend of the Five Rings and when they were observing the staff, someone asked what John did. It was remarked that he made the world and the flavour text. The WotC person mentioned that for Magic, it was often seen as a punishment to have to write the flavour text in the early days, which is why so many were things like Shakespeare quotes back then.


  2. Margo #

    Great podcast. I think it’s important to distinguish between a “Reboot” and a “Reimagining.” The latter tend to be more successful. See: Westworld and Battlestar Galactica. In the case of BGS it’s only a matter of time before re see a reboot of the reboot, or a re-reimagining, because nothing is ever allowed to die.

    (I loved the original BSG, but that’s whole other topic.)

    Netflix is rebooting Lost in Space because of course it is. This when The Expanse is easily the best Sci-Fi show on TV and almost no-one watches it. The Expanse is based on a series of novels but is still very much an artifact of the 2010’s

    I am waiting for the MASH reboot which takes place in Afghanistan and Hawkeye is a woman.


    • clayschuldt #

      I’d watch the MASH reboot set in Afghanistan in which Hawkeye is a woman. My question is, would the take character from the book, TV show or both?


    • Lavanya #

      I’m not sure you could remake MASH set during the modern day, simply because MASH was so anti-war. It’s not a sentiment you see on television all that much when explicitly discussing the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. To the extent there’s “anti-war” sentiments, it’s a kind of exhausted cynicism that doesn’t allow for an exit. SEAL Team on CBS is a good example of that, where even an vaguely Red State action-adventure show treats Afghanistan like an inescapable, unwinnable mire of corruption and violence.

      Granted, you could downplay or totally jettison the anti-war aspect, but then it’s just MASH in-name-only.


  3. clayschuldt #

    Hanna-Barbara has done a full scale comic reboot over the last year. Its not just Snaglepuss! It’s Flinstones, Scooby-Doo and Johnny Quest. I think a few others have been thrown in as well.
    Also, I think TV Land gave ALF a talk show like 10 years ago. It didn’t last long.


  4. DeanMoriarty #

    I would argue against the Hanna Barbera stuff being the bottom. I’d put it somewhere closer to the beginning of the reboot trend (maybe limbo, if we’re sticking with the Inferno metaphor).
    A big part of the reason is because this was how Adult Swim started, and that was 20 years ago.
    It also had a very different feel and audience. It felt like a repurposing and a commentary on what came before, not an attempt to hijack the nostalgia centers of the brain to create engagement. They were qualitatively different than a lot of the kinds of “reboots” that are happening now. I was just the right age (late teens/early twenties) to love them when they were on, too, so I have a good memory of how I engaged with them. It was a very different feeling than how I engage with may of the reboots and nostalgia forward properties of today. First of all, we in that audience were basically still children ourselves. We had no desire to remember a simpler time. Second, though I’d seen re-runs of some of those cartoons, they weren’t the ones I watched and loved as a kid. They also felt old and dated and not very good. A lot of the stuff those Adult Swim shows used I’d never even seen before. I’d never seen an episode of the real Space Ghost or Sealab 2020 cartoons before seeing their Adult Swim versions, for example. Those cartoons were also weird, sometimes veering into full on Dada territory. The Bizarro episode of SeaLab 2021 is a great example of this (I’d recommend watching it, it really is something). I think the aim of those cartoons, at least how I received them, was the opposite of today’s reboots and reference mining stories. They weren’t saying “hey, you remember how much you loved this as a kid? now, it’s back! [in pog form]” they were saying something like “hey you remember how weird and bad these kids shows were? now you’re old enough to laugh at dirty jokes at their expense!” Granted this still wasn’t very mature humor, but to a 20 year old, an entire episode used to make penis jokes about Apache Chief from Super friends, or the visual joke of Harvey Birdman’s pet eagle/personal assistant nonchalantly kill Scrappy Doo is the height of comedy.
    Many of the stories in Harvey Birdman came down to humorous, if rather sophomoric, explorations of how shallow those characters really were. “Recognition” was often a starting point, but almost never the goal. In fact, as the series progressed it referred back its own jokes more than to whatever old character they were using that week. (In fact, I’d argue that constantly re-using their best/most popular jokes was what made these shows eventually feel old and tired, not the re-use of actually old characters). It almost never had a reference a la Ready Player One where a character just shouts out the name of a thing that exists so that you can get the pleasure of knowing what that is and the echo of pleasure you got from that property. The show used its old characters primarily as a source of jokes (sometimes good, sometimes bad).
    The comics, on the other hand, especially the Snagglepuss and Flintstones ones have actually been recommended by people whose opinions on comics I definitely trust. I think both of these things are squarely in what Margo above called “reimaginings.” Sure there’s recognition involved and perhaps even nostalgia, but there is very little reverence for it. And it also lacks the sense, which I think a lot of reboots project, that the nostalgia is the draw. I watched Harvey Birdman in college, because as a college student I thought overly-intellectualized dirty jokes about characters from old children’s cartoons were funny. I’ll probably read the Snagglepuss comic because I enjoy BoJack Horseman and I’m interested in seeing if mixing the issues and characters of that time and place with cartoon animals is an interesting way to tell that story.
    All that being said, then, I think my personal reboot Lake of Ice would be something that was created, in its time, as a completely cynical cash grab
    Those are: Gobots, Street Sharks and The Mighty Ducks cartoon (in which anthropomorphized duck aliens landed on earth and fought crime, or maybe other aliens(?), in hockey pad-like armor)

    Also, by the way, I did just re-read The Divine Comedy not too long ago, so I can remind everyone that Dante and Virgil literally climb down Satan’s leg by grabbing on to giant hairs, into and through the center of the world, then climbing up and out the other side of the world and onto purgatory. Which is located at the antipode of Jerusalem. What I’m saying is that I don’t think people really appreciate how friggin weird the Divine Comedy is.


  5. ScholarSarah #

    A Well Actually on MTG story, the grand Dominiaran story isn’t as big as you described. It goes roughly from the release of the Weatherlight set in 1997 through the Apocalypse set in 2001, (which is actually two separate but converging stories around Urza and around the Weatherlight), and actually includes four worlds.

    Then there were 5 years of truly episodic storytelling, (with the Time Spiral return to Dominiara in the middle), before they returned to the long interplanar character-following arc, which has been going on for 10 years now. To compare, the new protagonist set, the Gatewatch, has had Nicol Bolas as the looming arch-enemy for over twice as long as the Weatherlight crew had Yawgmoth.

    On the topic of returning, Magic is returning to Dominiara after 11 years, but it returned to Mirrodin and Ravnica after 6, Zendikar after five, and in 2016 returned to Innistrad after 4 years.

    Perhaps this is supposed to be noteworthy, not for the players who were around for the Phyrexian invasion of Dominiara, but for newer players, like the new planeswalkers of the Gatewatch, visiting the land of the stories they were told, an experience for the Gatewatch analogous to someone visiting WWII battlefields and memorials.

    And so the return to Dominiara is less comparable to Ready Player One and nostalgia for old stories, and more like the narrative around Ghostbusters 2016, which failed is serving nostalgia but succeeded in inspiring the new generation with the story. (and now I’m imagining Urza and Gerard as cranky old-timers telling the Gatewatch that they’re saving the world incorrectly).

    As an aside, I haven’t returned to Magic since they killed Elspeth. She was my favorite and I loved her, and I’m still upset at WotC for killing her.


    • Peter Fenzel OTI Staff #

      Yeah, I was both pulling it forward a bit to Urza and the Brother’s War (but especially Mirage and Visions), and pushing out a bit, past the timeskip, to Kamahl, Akroma, the Mirari, all that nonsense.

      But yeah, I definitely got the timescales wrong. Ten sets of linear story rather than ten years – and then whatever you want to call Teferi and Jeska and the stuff that sort of part of Urza’s story, sort of retconned into it, sort of peripheral to it. Even Mirrodin had a Spock-in-JJ-Abrams-esque connection to the previous story (though the Umezawa family enmity with Nicol Bolas is a real stretch).

      And sure, Rath and Phyrexia are different planes, but when you’re literally creating overlays and portals between them it’s kind of the same thing.

      There are a lot of ways to draw the circles of where the “grand Dominaria story” is. But I see where you’re coming from.


      • ScholarSarah #

        I think it is interesting, because the Dominiara story certainly has the sort of capital-E Epic feel to it, partially because as you said, it imports meaning with its fantasy kitchen sink approach, and the newer stuff doesn’t feel epic, (maybe because whatever happens to a world the heroes can just leave). Which possibly leaves the older arc to loom larger in the mind.

        And I am very interested in hearing more about the relationship the new Dominiara set has to story, because I think the discourse around nostalgia hasn’t had enough foundation in why stories are important to begin with.


        • Peter Fenzel OTI Staff #

          One thing that comes to mind that you kind of have to whisper in mixed company, and which we talk about on the podcast a lot, but not in so many words, is that fantasy stories are important to people living with and relating to their dark sides.

          And as long as the belief persists in fashion that the things that a story depicts as successful are necessarily the things it endorses, and that stories need to be held accountable for that endorsement, I think certain kinds of stories pay a price. And the big arc of Dominaria is one of those stories.

          At it’s core Dominaria’s story is about the Mark of Cain as much as anything, about brothers fighting each other – which is one thing tabletop strategy games are about. But it’s hard for Magic to capture that spirit unless it’s comfortable with the idea of brothers trying to kill each other. As long as it’s about everybody coming together to save the world from catastrophe, it’s going to be relatively flat and low-stakes.

          Although I guess this also has a lot to do with whether you think what happens to Urza and Gerard in Phyrexia is a bug or a feature of the story, and in a larger sense of the kind of airbrushed-van fantasy we’re talking about


  6. Three Act Destructure #

    There’s something about this most recent wave of nostalgia that becomes painfully clear when you realize that nobody is considering a reboot of Sanford & Son.

    Hell, not even Family Matters.


    • Peter Fenzel OTI Staff #

      I’m curious what the microhistorical lever is here in the larger structurally racist trend – whether it’s that players like Netflix don’t think there’s an audience, whether the desire to pull in a global audience that by conventional wisdom is even more racist against Black actors than Americans are is a factor, or whether – and I think this might be a big part of it – opportunities for Black actors have been lacking for a long time, and so while people like the casts of Roseanne and Full House have stayed at least peripherally associated with show business, a lot of the people from these shows quit show business a long time ago and aren’t around for reunions. Or maybe they don’t get enough residuals or somesuch to justify staying attached with the shows?

      That was the answer Jaleel White gave recently at an Family Matters reunion set up by Entertainment Weekly – one of the cast members has died, and others “no longer reside in the State of California.”

      You gotta think if everything hadn’t gone down with Cosby the way it did and he hadn’t turned out to be so horrid a human being, he’d have a reboot going right now. Fat Albert had the remake movie 15 years ago or whatever, but that was a long time ago. I’d love to see a reboot of A Different World — that is probably the show sitcom screaming hardest for a reboot in my mind — but it was a Cosby show spin-off — does that affect things? But Lisa Boney, Kadeem Hardison and Jasmine Guy are still working.

      Chris Rock and Dave Chapelle both have new Netflix specials, and Sherman Helmsley of course has passed away, so there’s no Jefferson’s reboot, just like there’s no Facts of Life reboot without Charlotte Rea (as has Fred Berry, one of my favorite TV actors as a kid, from What’s Happening) – and Jackee (another one of my favorite TV actors as a kid) is starring as a lead in a new Tyler Perry Sitcom – so maybe she’s got better things to do than remake 227

      But I wonder. What’s feeding into it? I mean, obviously, “racism,” but by what mechanism? Are these reboots highly targeted, highly unimaginative, or highly correlated with something else?


      • Peter Fenzel OTI Staff #

        Another possibility – which is pretty unsavory and will most likely be very hard to deal with – is that when you take normative judgement out of decisionmaking in favor of things like big data, modeling and machine learning, no persuasive mechanism remains to extract subjectively undesirably behaviors that still happen.

        So, if you wanted to know what it would be like when the machines take over – the answer is, extremely segregated and racist, with everybody hammered via algorithm to deepen their prejudices.


        • Three Act Destructure #

          Tough stuff. Your last point here seems to me to be the most intuitively likely but I’d have to actually see some of that big data before passing judgment. It is a pretty well-documented strategy of racists in power to prey on the blind spots of people who are are just crunching the numbers (see: the GI Bill vs. Affirmative Action). So I don’t ever want to rule that out.

          But honestly, if I’m looking over the kind of content that’s being produced for streaming services right now, there are a lot more options for people of color now than there used to be. And the fact that a Family Matters sitcom was at least being suggested (something I found out after posting my comment above) tells me that at least one producer sees the possibilities there.

          Maybe this really is just another moment of history catching up to us and the degradations of the past stealing away the opportunities of the present. Regardless of the cause though, this still leaves us in a place right now wherein TV and movie nostalgia is yet another impossibly wide cultural fissure. Without even having to directly reference the political climate at the moment, it’s still a heavy thought that only white people are so publicly and joyfully looking backwards in time.


          • Peter Fenzel OTI Staff #

            “I’d have to actually see some of that big data before passing judgment”

            Good luck with that. Netflix doesn’t share :-)

            Looking at Amazon, their main KPI for streaming is cost-per-initial-stream for people who join Amazon Prime.

            Looking at a few of their most high-profile shows, The Grand Tour, which I love, but which is a boorish car show remake with three middle-aged white male hosts, costs $49 per subscriber, while Good Girls Revolt, which was greeted enthusiastically by feminist-leaning critics, cost $1,560 per subscriber and was canceled.

            Now, Top Gear with Jeremy Clarkson, Richard Hammond and James May was the most profitable and maybe the most popular show… in the world, so it’s not a good control group for conventional white-male-led shows, but at least that snippet of data suggests that data-driven production choices are going to be more exposed to prejudice, not less – because structural prejudice affects outcomes in a lot of ways.

          • Three Act Destructure #

            Pete, wasn’t able to reply to your post so I’ll reply to my own above it.

            Yeah, intuitively that still feels right. Capitalism is always hardest on groups without the numbers to overwhelm the discourse that it controls.

            We’re left in much the same situation that we are in everything else as regards identity in the West: teetering between segregation and integration, with neither option being a perfect fit. There’s always a B.E.T. approach but the problem there is that to support such a large infrastructure pitched at a smaller audience than usual, the too-obvious approach is to always lean towards the lowest common denominator. Aaron McGruder had plenty to say about that but his approach is an equally unsustainable form of more fatalistic segregation.

            On the other hand, integration leaves us with an equality vs. equitability question that too often is answered with pure, unrestrained equality alone. Such as in your example about Amazon’s cost-per-initial-stream.

            What we’re left with is a needle to be threaded that forces minority creators of all stripes to deliver more and better content for less money constantly. And they have to build it all on such shaky foundations that, as you’ve pointed out, there’s little to return to twenty years later. Because nothing there is sustainable. People get tired and leave the business.

            I’m not really sure where this leaves us as a culture except for royally screwed.

  7. Lavanya #

    In regards to what’s at the bottom, in the icy lake…

    Rebooting TNG? We’re all kind of expecting that to happen anyway.

    Rebooting the Matrix trilogy? Chilling, yet only faintly shocking.

    No, what’s frozen in that hellish nostalgia lake is… Casablanca.

    Colorizing Casablanca was once upon a time considered the do-or-die moment for the integrity of film. Remaking it would appeal to precious few moviegoers, but still… it’s a famous IP. It’s there for the taking. Think of the free publicity! And nobody said “Wait, no, this is a bad idea” when it came to remaking Ben-Hur.


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