Why Reboot should be your next box set
James R | On 13, Nov 2022
“It is both the funniest thing that you’ve ever read and you won’t laugh once.” That’s Reed (Keegan-Michael Key) talking about the script for Step Right Up, a reboot of an old sitcom from 20 years ago. Before you can say “not another reboot”, Hulu’s comedy is one step ahead of you – Step Right Up is a fictional show, but comes with an entertainingly plausible ensemble of actors, none of whom have ended up better off in the two decades since their hit show was on air.
The original series followed a mother (played by Bree), her son (played by Zack) and two possible father figures (played by Reed and Caleb). Fast forward to now and Bree (played by Judy Greer) is a 30-something actor struggling to get good roles, Caleb (played by Johnny Knoxville) is recovering from alcoholism and Reed (played by Keegan-Michael Key) is a washed-up would-be-A-lister who quit Step Right Up for a movie gig but never successfully jumped to the big screen. So when indie filmmaker Hannah (Rachel Bloom) decides to revive Step Right Up for the modern age, they all leap at the chance for redemption and relevance. Even Zack (played by Calum Worthy) is grateful to be invited to something potentially more substantial than his run of derivative blockbusters that cater to his teen fanbase – not least because, for some time, he felt like he’d actually lost his family after the sitcom was cancelled.
So far, so conventional – Hollywood satires of Hollywood are, perhaps inevitably, a favourite of the self-regarding and self-mythologising industry, whether it’s The Bubble or the TV sitcom Episodes. The cast are all up for skewering conventions, expectations and commercial pressures, whether it’s Key’s preening ego or Worthy’s unthinking focus on his own brand. They’re joined by Alyah Chanelle Scott, a 20-something reality TV star fresh from the (also fictional) series “Fuckbuddy Mountain”, who brings with her – as well as easy jokes about reality TV – tensions regarding ageism and talent.
Those tensions, naturally, involve the insecure Bree, and one of the fun things about Reboot is seeing Judy Greer get a part to sink her teeth into, as Bree tries to navigate a way through the sexist industry while also being reminded that it’s important to support other women around her – not to mention out-act Reed, with whom she had a relationship that turned sour back when they were co-stars.
But while these kind of showbiz satirical jibes are fun – an understated Knoxville laces his character’s crude and familiar humour with a deceptive poignancy – the real meat of the show comes in its ambition to look at how things have changed since the 1990s. It chronicles changing senses of humour and sensitivities from a time when political correctness was a buzzword on the horizon to a social media age where the concept of identity has rarely been more politicised or potentially heated. Created by Modern Family co-creator Steven Levitan, Reboot is at its best when it’s less concerned with self-aware send-ups and more concerned with society’s self-awareness on a broader scale, skewering generational divides and nostalgia as it goes.
This is beautifully explored through the inspired decision to bring back Step Right Up’s original showrunner Gordon (Paul Reiser), who immediately clashes with Hannah for both professional and personal reasons. Their relationship straddles generations and understanding with nuance and heart, even as Hannah’s aim to make the sitcom format messier – with characters making the wrong decisions and holding dark secrets – is brushed aside by Gordon’s desire for broad strokes humour and outdated gags. By the time their own lives and pasts are being channelled into sitcom plot lines, you have a meta spoof that’s also character-driven and has something more on its mind than witty post-modern flourishes, as new and old comedy creatives learn from each other and begin to evolve as people as well as writers. “Let’s remake something original!” declares one excited Hulu executive, after Hannah pitches her series revival in a flawless pilot episode. Reboot, despite its recognisable trappings, shows signs of growing into exactly that.