Monday, October 01, 2007

Crusoe coming to NBC

The Hollywood Reporter says NBC has ordered 13 episodes of a new series for next Fall (or possibly mid-season) based on the 18th century adventure novel Robinson Crusoe. I've always really enjoyed the book and think that while this could be a really cool series; it has a much bigger chance to be absolutely terrible.

The obvious problem that arises with an adaptation of this material is the fantastically racist elements of the book. If you haven't read the story I would definitely encourage you to do so. It's an easy and entertaining story; and not much weightier than your average young adult book. The story follows the titular character, a castaway, who must learn to survive on a desert island with only the aid of his faithful "man-servant" Friday. Through ingenuity and steely British determination he faces all kinds of obstacles from pirates, to terrible hurricanes, to marauding cannibals.

I don't think Robinson Crusoe, in it's historical context, is any more racist than any other populist story of the time. By today's standards though EVEN as a period piece this will be a very hard thing for a network cable audience to accept. Thankfully NBC is fully prepared to rescue us from examining our questionable past.

According to series producer Ben Silverman "Crusoe will couch the 1719 novel with a contemporary feel and voice, including a 21st century take on race relations, but it will be a period drama, taking place in the 17th century, when the book is set. It's part 'MacGyver,' part contemporary morality tale about race and personal discovery, part comedy, and part 'Castaway' meets 'Survivor'."

I've got to say, this kind of subjective contemporization does not fill me with hope. This smells like a "message" show. I enjoy a pulp action adventure story as much as the next guy, but I'm not sure Crusoe can modernize it's racial sensibility (obviously destroying any historical integrity) without becoming a cheesy cliche. Perhaps unfortunately, this alone outweighs any other aspect of the story. To me this show sounds a lot like a bad mix race buddy cop show set on an island. It's not about the action, even if the action is really great, because that's just a frame for the real story about relationships, and how much the characters can learn from each other. And this series will need to do more than flash some beautiful South Pacific scenery to convince me it can be more.


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