I'm a few episodes behind on MTV's Scream, but so far I'm enjoying it well enough. It's (obviously) not appointment viewing, but I like most of the kids, the mystery is compelling and most importantly they've more or less found a way around the seeming impossibility of making a slasher work in a TV show format (this being Scream, this concern was addressed in the show itself). I think part of its success is that it exists in its own universe, free of Woodsboro, Ghostface, Sidney, Dewey, etc. Had it taken place in their world (even if just mentioned in passing), it'd be a lot easier to compare it unfavorably - it was smart to start from scratch, tonally staying true to the films but carving their own identity so that we're not always thinking about it.
The folks behind the Friday the 13th series coming to the CW do not seem to share that mentality. Or at least, I THINK they don't. Talking to Legion of Leia, Steven Long Mitchell (one of the guys writing the show) offers this confusing explanation:
"What we’re going to do is basically acknowledge that the people came to this town after these killings happened, and they made all these movies. And now the town has a stigma. Our show is, here’s the true story. Here’s the real story of Jason. It’s been taken and exploited. So we have the young crowd who doesn’t know who he is except for what they’ve seen in the movies. The older crowd is afraid of him. We have a lot of people who have scars from him."
So does it take place in the world of the franchise, where they now have their own Stab-like series of movies based on Jason's killings? Or are they trying to suggest that our existing Friday the 13th movies are in fact based on the true stories of what happened in this town? (Let's not even confuse matters further with the remake.) His (purposely?) vague explanation could go either way, though I don't particularly care for either version, especially when you couple it with this other thing he said: "I don’t think we really wanted to do a show about a guy with a machete chasing girls in tube tops."
Let me translate that: "We don't want to make a Friday the 13th show that feels like the Friday the 13th movies that people like."
I mean, sure, even if we ignore the nudity and gore that were plentiful in the best of these movies, it'd be hard to get much of a body count in traditional Friday fashion on a week to week basis. By my math, every two episodes sans ads would equal the runtime of a movie, and this is the CW (not HBO) so we're looking at a minimum of 13 (heh) episodes instead of 8 or 10. Jason kills roughly 12 people per movie - the casting people would run out of pretty 20-something Canadians long before they reached their second season. But unless there's some sort of legal reason why they can't, I doubt anyone would be particularly angry about a slower-paced Jason Voorhees killing spreed each season, with one or two deaths per episode and a new cast every year. Mix up the locations to justify the larger cast (maybe redo Jason Takes Manhattan's class trip idea, for example), maybe shoot it like True Detective (i.e. with one director), and get creative enough with the kills to trade off with the gore/violence limits of network TV - what Friday fan would be opposed to that? The nudity isn't even a dealbreaker - Jason Lives has none and most fans love that one.
See, when they're so openly dismissive about what the movies ARE, I can't help but think that maybe they're not right for the job - or they're maybe making what could be a fun show on its own but are shooting themselves in the foot by tying it to a series with a pretty expansive and vocal fanbase. One that's been neglected for far too many years now (a new film is forever in development, having missed three promised release dates already) and wants nothing more than to see some good ol' fashioned Jason Voorhees action again. Mitchell's other comments don't inspire much confidence, either. Some highlights:
"The masked Jason is being reimagined with a stronger feel of grounded reality.”
"The underlying thematic of the whole thing is that Jason is a monster in this town. He openly wears a mask. But everybody in this town wears a mask. Underneath those is the monster."
"Part of the fun of the show is exploring, is this Jason or is this a copycat? Is it possible that Jason has been around all these years? Is Jason a monster? Is he real? Is he a serial killer? And really exploring who and what Jason is, is part of the whole thrill of the show."
"[The show is a] cross between the first season of True Detective and Twin Peaks on acid."
Basically what I'm getting from all that is that this will basically be like Bates Motel, but an even worse version of that show, one where Norman and Norma almost never appear so we can focus on the pot farmers, the crooked cops, the even more crooked politicians, and whoever those random people were that convinced Norma to run for city council. The copycat Jason thing doesn't concern me specifically (I am a defender of New Beginning, after all), but I suspect that there is no real reason for that beyond some rights issues keeping them from using the real Jason Voorhees too much, if at all. I mean, we already had a Friday the 13th: The Series in the late '80s and the most common complaint about it is the fact that Jason wasn't in it (unlike rival Freddy's Nightmares, which wasn't necessarily a better show but at least had Freddy in the goddamn thing). The fact that they're seemingly going down that road again (or, at the very least, splitting the difference) instead of just doing what every fan actually WANTS them to do is very baffling to me. I mean, "a grounded reality"? The most common complaint about Jason X wasn't that he was in space, but that they didn't use the setting ENOUGH. No one cared about the logic behind it, they were mad he didn't fling someone into the sun or something. So take your "grounded reality" elsewhere, sir, it ain't got no place here.
That said, a show about Crystal Lake dealing with this vicious psycho would actually be enticing... IF the show was airing alongside a still steadily running film series. I'd be curious about what goes on in the town in between Jason's misadventures, and that's something a TV show could get away with if we knew we'd get traditional Jason action at a steady clip, but that's not happening anymore. There were only two Friday-free years in the 1980s, but there have only been four, mostly polarizing movies in the 26 years since and that includes the remake - this is a series that needs some stability and dependability again. A Friday TV series without its main attraction could be a fun side-quel thing, no doubt (and could help smooth over the series weird plot holes, like the one-off change of the town name from Crystal Lake to Forest Green), but only with our goodwill, knowing we were still getting the regular movies every summer as well. Going this far out of the box seems silly when the audience is hungry for tradition - and acting like you're above that simple, SUCCESSFUL formula seems like a surefire way to turn off the fans, who are also likely the only ones to watch the damn thing. Barring a casting coup like Vera Farmiga for Bates Motel, who is going to watch this thing beyond people with at least one Jason mask or poster in their possession?
Friday the 13th is, and I say this with utmost love and respect, junk. Don't try to class it up by making it a True Detective wannabe. Please, I implore you - if you're going to make a Friday the 13th show, embrace the property. Again, we've been down this road before with the antique shop. This time, try making Friday the 13th: The Series into something that's exactly what the name suggests.