Obsessive Nostalgia Culture And The Need To Say Good-Bye — For Good

One of the more admirable qualities of most well-adjusted human beings is the capability, or at least potential, to reflect fondly on the past, regardless of how cloudy and gray it was in the moment. Over time, a tough breakup will temper, emotional conflicts will come into stark relief, and pains and wounds will heal. Another consequence of this maturity is that sometimes we make the past a little too rosy. While that’s all well and lovely, when we look back through such rose colored glasses, we forget how things really played out.

Sometimes the past needs to stay in the past.

When it comes to television and film, our obsession with nostalgia has reached a breaking point. Where once it was cute and romantic, it’s now wasteful and detrimental. Instead of reboots, we want sequels and extensions, some five and ten years removed, if not longer. We desperately crave to know what is going on in the lives of familiar characters, long after we were thought to have said goodbye. Except, we can’t say goodbye.

So we’ve many stories returning. There are talks of a Coach reunion (remember Coach!?), as well as Lucy Lawless maybe, possibly, perhaps returning as Xena. On film we had Jem and the Holograms, a movie that disappeared pretty quickly. Sex and the City 2 is our last encounter with Carrie and the gang, and it was awful. All because we couldn’t let go. Entourage was also superfluous.

The question isn’t whether these returns can and did work for the fans; the more important question is why they needed to come back (money, I know, but there is more to it than that). Stories that are successful exist in a certain time, a product of prevailing attitudes and beliefs of the era paired with some sort of unique ability to harness needs and desires of those who are consuming stories.

We need to be able to let go. We need to be able to enjoy stories and experiences for as long as they exist. Any list of the best shows ever made arguably include The Wire and Breaking Bad; they both told their stories in the time they wanted to tell their stories. And they were great.

Sometimes we just have to say goodbye. Because when shows return, it’s rarely ever going to be the same. Those reunions have manifested themselves in various ways over the last few years, sometimes for better, but often for worse. 

The Erratic: Arrested Development

By any account, Arrested Development was among the smartest and funniest shows ever written: a layered, hysterical, and thoughtful comedy about a dysfunctional family. Those who like it love it dearly, but unfortunately, many didn’t quite grasp what was happening. And thus it was cancelled.

But fans clamored, and they called out for the show ever so much that a fourth season was made. The problem was that seven years had passed; every actor on the show went on to other projects, and it was really hard to physically reunite the ensemble cast. What’s more, the greatness of the show was in part due to the fact that there were so many callbacks and allusions as stories from the first season connected to the third.

Moreover, there was a rhythm and cadence to the jokes and dialogue. But because scheduling the actors was so tricky, some scenes from season four in which two characters were talking were not actually filmed with those actors in the same spot, playing off each other. You lose something without that connection.

The Redundant: Fuller House

While Arrested Development didn’t quite feel the same as when it was on air, the return of Full House felt exactly like it did some 15 years ago. And that’s the problem. A show so cheesy, so full of insufferably, oblivious positivity, privilege, and mugging for the camera—not to mention a laugh track—does not really work that well in 2016. Yes, a lot of people watched it, or so says Netflix, but I hope it was done ironically or as some sort of punishment. There are better sources of blissful escapism.

Full House worked in its time, but it does not translate at all in the 21st century. I’m not holding my breath for the Power Rangers reboot. 

The Unnecessary: The X-Files

The X-Files came back for a six-episode event last year, and it earned a warm reception by fans despite less than stellar reviews. While X-philes surely enjoyed seeing Mulder and Scully back on screen, it felt utterly superfluous. There was no main story really left to tell. In fact, it’s now more fun watching the ‘Monster-of-the-Week’ episodes some 10 years after The X-Files left us because the mythology is exhausted.

Still, more may be on the way, but it’s not as if there isn’t plenty in the back catalogue to revisit and enjoy. This wasn’t a Gilmore Girls situation, where the writers didn’t get a chance to end it how they wanted to; the show ran its proper course and said farewell.

The Awful: Movies

While we happily welcome sequels here, we do so provided it’s not just for a cash-grab or to satisfy those who think they can relieve something that can never actually be recreated. Usually the making of sequels is due to some combination of both. Over the last couple of years, there has been a desire, for reasons unknown, to revive stories from films that have long since left the cinemas.

Dumb and Dumber and Zoolander both got sequels released with the original cast reprising their roles 20 and 15 years after their originals, respectively. And they were both terrible. To think you can just throw the same characters together to make something revelatory, absurd, and entertaining is smug and insensitive. Thank goodness the originals stand on their own and will forever remain quotable and endearing, but stop pretending that you can achieve something long gone in the past.

It’s time to get better at saying goodbye.

Anthony Marcusa
Anthony Marcusa is a Toronto-based freelance journalist whose writing dabbles in film, TV, music, sports, and relationships – though not necessarily in that order. He’s simultaneously youthfully idealistic and curmudgeonly cynical. But he’s always curious.