Wide Angle

The Class-Conscious Reboots Hollywood Should Make After Gossip Girl

Which other horrible rich characters should we remake to “wrestle with their privilege”?

A racially diverse group of three women in fancy outfits in front of vanity mirrors, looking concerned.
Zión Moreno, Jordan Alexander, and Savannah Smith in HBO Max’s rebooted Gossip Girl. “These kids wrestle with their privilege in a way that I think the original didn’t,” the showrunner told Variety. Karolina Wojtasik

Gossip Girl is coming to HBO Max, with a new season from the show’s original creators that’s half reboot, half sequel. The new Gossip Girl is still about the trials and tribulations of a group of extremely wealthy Manhattan high schoolers (plus one fish out of water), but this time, it’s a different group of extremely wealthy Manhattan high schoolers. A few other things have changed, too. “These kids wrestle with their privilege in a way that I think the original didn’t,” co-showrunner Josh Safran told Variety. “In light of [Black Lives Matter], in light of a lot of things, even going back to Occupy Wall Street, things have shifted.”

Advertisement

Safran went on to say that the original Gossip Girl leaned too hard on “wealth porn,” which he described as “Look at these cars, or here’s a montage of the best plated food you’ve ever seen,” suggesting that the new Gossip Girl will rely less on that kind of aspirational vision of extreme wealth. That may be true of the finished show, but it seems like HBO Max’s marketing department sees things a little differently:

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

It’s not fair to judge a show based on its marketing or the things a showrunner says in interviews. It’s quite possible Safran and co-showrunner Stephanie Savage have made a version of Gossip Girl that lets the audience vicariously enjoy the pleasures of wealth while also acknowledging that rich people are destroying the planet. Consider what it means, though, that the showrunner of a series that went off the air only nine years ago already feels the need to clarify that the new version will feature characters with a more modern relationship to their wealth and privilege. Left unchecked, that trend could endanger Hollywood’s strategic intellectual property reserve, the vast store of previously filmed material that keeps networks and studios supplied with a steady stream of remakes and reboots. To prevent a nightmare scenario where people trying to decide what to watch can no longer find new versions of things they’ve already seen and enjoyed, we’ve rounded up some reboot-ready movies and TV shows with problematic depictions of wealth and privilege, then offered suggestions to make them work in a post-BLM, post–Occupy Wall Street television landscape. Here’s what we found.

Advertisement
Advertisement

Cruel Intentions

Cruel Intentions faces the exact same problem as Gossip Girl: Rich kids haven’t gotten any less shitty since the 1990s, but they’ve gotten a little smarter about flaunting their depravity. There’s just no way to update Ryan Phillippe or Sarah Michelle Gellar’s loathsome characters in a way that would make them palatable to audiences of the 21st century, with our more sophisticated understanding of consent, class struggle, and the environmental impact of keeping a 1956 Jaguar XK140 on the road. (NBC tried to create a modern Cruel Intentions TV series back in 2016, and failed spectacularly.) There’s an elegant solution here, however: Rather than awkwardly dragging characters from the 1990s into the present day, the next incarnation of Cruel Intentions could send Kathryn and Sebastian back to a time period in which their obscene consumption would be a little less conspicuous. If you reinvented them as aristocrats in pre-revolutionary France, for instance, audiences might attribute their heartless and manipulative behavior to their time and place, rather than assuming they intended any cruelty.

The Beverly Hillbillies

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Unfortunately, there is no way to salvage The Beverly Hillbillies.

Hamlet

Advertisement

Hamlet has been a perennial favorite for screen adaptations, but Shakespeare’s relentless focus on the concerns of Scandinavian royalty rings false today, now that we understand how money and power work. Accordingly, the following lines should be added to Act 1, Scene 5 in all future film and television adaptations:

GHOST: Before we get too deep into the weeds

About the whole “you must revenge me” thing,

I needs must ask: How fare the poor?


HAMLET: My lord,

The social safety net you built hangs yet,

And gently catches those who slip and fall,

The poor have everything they need,

And none must sleep under the stars

(Except for Lear, who does it as a bit).

In short, all’s well, the poor are doing fine,

So let us never speak of them again.

Advertisement

Once it’s established that Denmark was already following the Nordic model back in Hamlet’s time, audiences can relax, secure in the knowledge that all of the play’s various attendants, lords, attendant lords, guards, musicians, traveling players, and soldiers are getting a living wage and affordable health care.

Hannibal

Advertisement
Advertisement

Bryan Fuller’s brilliant take on Thomas Harris’ epicurean cannibal seems uniquely unsuited for an injection of class-consciousness, what with all the ortolans and so on. But here’s what that analysis fails to consider: Hannibal was great, and we would like to watch more of it. If the only way that happens is by making Mads Mikkelsen look directly into the camera and say, “I am deeply concerned about income inequality” once per episode, then Mads Mikkelsen had better get ready to look directly into the camera and say, “I am deeply concerned about income inequality.”

American Psycho

Advertisement
Advertisement
Advertisement

Mary Harron’s adaptation of the Bret Easton Ellis novel is now old enough to drink, but the first installment of the beloved franchise was so well-made that it’s probably the only vintage piece of intellectual property about the wealthy that’s more suitable for a shot-for-shot remake than a reimagining. It was always a period piece, so a director attempting to give it the Gus Van Sant treatment wouldn’t have to worry about anachronisms. However, in light of contemporary attitudes about rich people, a 2021 version of American Psycho would need to incorporate two minor changes. First, the shot of Patrick Bateman giving a deadpan speech about ending apartheid, promoting equal rights for women, and feeding and sheltering homeless people should now play over stirring orchestral music—ideally, something from the Avatar score—to demonstrate to the audience how serious these issues are, even to wealthy psychopaths. Second, every other shot in the film should be cut.

Society

This one is perfect as is.

Advertisement