And so the great gods of remaking have come down from their throne (comprised mostly of The Flinstones: Viva Rock Vegas DVDs), and deigned to speak with us mere mortals. In their great bellowing voices, they proclaimed for all to hear:
“Hey, you know it’s been awhile since people have talked about Gilligan’s Island. That could use an update.”
And it was so. Yes, Deadline (which may or may not be a mouthpiece for The Ancient Ones) reports that Gilligan’s Island will be the latest updated franchise that no one asked for and yet are receiving anyway. There’s at least one bright spot here, however- the man set to star in (and write) this new 21st century Gilligan is none other than Josh Gad. Gad’s a talented guy- he can act and write, has more than decent comedic chops, and can even sing (something Gilligan’s Island probably won’t need to rely on, but who knows). It’s worth noting that Gad won’t be scripting this one alone, but will be doing so with the help of Benji Samit and Dan Hernandez, both of whom were writers on Gad’s now-cancelled NBC series 1600 Penn. If the thought of Gad prancing about the White House gives you a case of the giggles, perhaps him prancing about a deserted island in coconut clothing will do the same. It’s also not been mentioned what part Gad will be playing, but anyone other than Gilligan or the Skipper seems highly unlikely.
Is Gad talented enough to keep Gilligan’s Island from ending up in the bargain bins? Maybe. Those same bins are basically a mass grave for every other 60s TV adaptation in existence. Dudley Do-Right, The Flintsones, The Honeymooners, The Beverly Hillbillies, George of the Jungle, My Favorite Martian, Lost in Space, and so forth- a genuinely entertaining Gilligan’s Island movie would be the exception, not the rule (another exception: Get Smart, which ascends to “just ok” status if viewed as a Steve Carell vehicle rather than an adaptation).
There has to be a reason why so many of these 60s shows-turned-movies end up being disastrously awful, and the most likely one is that 50 year-old humor simply doesn’t translate to a modern audience. To demonstrate, let’s watch a little Gilligan’s Island.
What’s getting the biggest laughs here? Two things: old-timey racism and people falling down. Were you to redo something like this for a modern audience (say, by leaving out the majority of the buck-toothed Japanese stereotypes), it still wouldn’t work. Something that would play to a 1960s audience, like a guy repeatedly getting knocked on his butt in fast-motion, isn’t gonna work on that audience’s children and grandchildren. Tastes have changed far too much in 50 years for that to ever work. So if you do a straight update- something like the 2005 Honeymooners that transposed Ralph Kramden and Ed Norton’s crazy get-rich-schemes into the present day- you get a dud. And if you try to make a snarky update, like Will Ferrel’s quip-heavy 2009 Land of the Lost… you also get a dud.
And what material can be mined from Gilligan’s Island in the first place? Most episodes follow the same pattern. Either Gilligan and the rest of his stranded crew would attempt to get off the island and fail miserably, or they’d discover some new presence on the island- a mad scientist, wild animal, or native tribe- and have a wacky adventure. Throw in a few modern conveniences recreated from coconuts and bamboo, and you’ve got yourself an episode. The goofiness that clings to every aspect of the show makes a Land of the Lost-style comedic reboot seem all but destined to be.
Hopefully, that’s not the case. Maybe Gad has some genius idea for a new Gilligan that we’ll all go crazy for. Or perhaps the writing will just be sharp enough (a la 21 Jump Street) that no one will care that it’s a remake in the first place. My guess is that Gilligan’s Island will actually be a short film. The passengers set sail for their three hour tour, and crash on an uncharted desert isle. There’s no phone, no lights, no motorcar, not a single luxury… except for Gilligan’s cell phone, which he immediately uses to call for help. Problem solved.